At Play in the ASA
Timothy James Bazzett
In 1962 when Tim Bazzett graduated from high school he’d had enough of academia and classroom drudgery, so he joined the army – and received an education he’d never imagined. Perhaps one of the most unlikely and inept citizen-soldiers since Gomer Pyle, Tim somehow survives the terrors and tribulations of basic training at “Fort Lost-in-the-Woods, Misery,” and after further training in the mysteries of Morse code in Massachusetts and Maryland, the small-town innocent is launched overseas and into the larger world. In northern Turkey he finds himself a link in the outermost defenses of America during a Cold War he only imperfectly understands. There he sees poverty and hatred in the faces of children and is forced to confront his own faults and inner demons. Later on in Germany, no longer quite so innocent, he chases girls and dreams of being a rock star. But at the heart of Bazzett’s narrative are the characters – the friends he makes along the way. For this is ultimately a book about friendship – and about growing up.
In his first volume of memoirs, Bazzett made his Michigan hometown in the fifties come alive for all his readers. In Soldier Boy, his military experiences are made just as real. Get ready to laugh, and maybe cry a little too, as the irrepressible Reed City Boy rides again.
As I started to say, so many pages ago, I turned twenty-one at the Deuce. Minny minny beers were consumed that night. I have a vague memory of standing in the upper bar area halfway through the evening holding yet another sweating glass of chilled beer while Tom, Joe, Dusty and Bill toasted me again. When I attempted to raise my glass to join them in the toast, only my by-then numb hand went up in the air. The slippery glass went crashing to the floor, beer soaking my shoes and socks. Ilse, by then having long forgiven me for my Cunningham-affair indiscretion, came tsk-tsk-ing out from behind the bar with a broom and dustpan and quickly swept up the glass fragments, while Joe got me another beer and thrust it into my offending hand, and even helped me to carefully wrap my fingers around the glass in that painstaking attentive way that drunks often affect.
By the end of the evening – or perhaps I should just say later in the evening – we were all gathered around the round table in the Pit, stalwart knights all. By this time I was nearly beyond remembering anything, slumped very tenuously in the seat of honor, unfeeling boneless fingers wrapped around yet another beer, eyes glassy. I think I remember at some point in the evening that we joined in one of those swaying group sing-alongs at the table. You guys that were there know what I’m talking about – that ritual where everyone at the table would throw his arms about the shoulders of the guys on either side and the whole group would sway drunkenly in rhythm (or not) and sing some classic drinking ditty together, like “Show Me the Way to Go Home” or “Roll Me Over in the Clover.” We would all bray discordantly at the tops of our lungs as we lunged back and forth, back and forth, spilling beer, belching and scattering cigarette ashes everywhere.
Singing, I should perhaps interject here (digression alert), was a time-honored and important part of our regular socialization at the Deuce. Whenever we would finish a set of days swings or mids, it was an unwritten rule that we would all meet that night at the Deuce for a “prayer meeting.” Now if I followed my usual pattern of yammering on about my being a “good Catholic boy” here, you would probably expect me to interject something like See? I didn’t totally abandon my religion. Sorry, but the truth of the matter is there were no prayers at our “prayer meetings.” It was just an expression, although we did always open the meeting with a “hymn” – sort of.
When we were still new to Rothwesten and the Deuce, these prayer meetings were usually convened and presided over by Jim “Jeeter” Lester, a truly accomplished drinker among drinkers. No matter how much alcohol he consumed – and he could put away prodigious quantities – Lester always kept his cool and maintained an amazing equanimity. I don’t know if he composed the opening hymn for these prayer meetings, or if he was only carrying on a tradition begun by an earlier group of ditty-bopper drunks. I think when Jeeter left though, that Mike Chesley, the Panics lead singer, took the torch from him and led the singing of the hymn. It was a simple heartfelt hymn, probably a reaction to six days of chafing under the regimen of rules that governed our work week. It was intoned solemnly in a deep, resonant, and drawn out manner, and went like this:
And it was usually repeated several times, or as the spirits moved us.
I know. Nasty, disgusting, sacriligeous, and all that. But at the time it was all very cathartic, like taking a very deep cleansing breath, then letting it slowly out – AAAAHHH! All that built-up tension of the just-completed work week would hiss slowly away like a balloon deflating.
Hmmm. ... Prayer meetings, hymns, lifting our glasses, group sings at the round table. We may not have exactly been knights, but we were certainly “merry men” in those days of yore at the Deuce in downtown Kassel. (Heavy sigh here for days gone by.)
I’m sorry – lost in a reverie. Where the hell was I? ... Oh yes, my twenty-first birthday at the Deuce. The climax of the evening – or perhaps anti-climax – came when Ilse came down the steps into the Pit and presented me with a glass (not just a shot glass, but a small tumbler, perhaps five or six ounces) of a dark mysterious-looking liquid. Putting the drink down in front of me, she intoned gravely, “Today you are a man. You must trink this.”
I picked up the glass and sniffed the stuff suspiciously, wondering momentarily if this might perhaps be payback time for the Cunningham episode. But it had a kind of sweet scent, so I took a cautious sip. Mmmm, good! LI-cor-ish! Smacking my lips, I started to set the glass back down.
“No,” Ilse said, catching my hand with the glass, “You must trink it all. Then you will be a man!”
No prob-lem-o, I thought, and, raising the glass to my lips, I drank deeply – glug glug glug – and then, nothing. Darkness and oblivion. After a dozen or more beers, that small sweet glass of Jaegermeister did me in. According to later accounts from eyewitnesses, as I emptied the glass (and I did empty it, so, technically, I guess I was – am – a man), my eyes rolled back in my head, the glass dropped (someone caught it), my head lolled back toward my shoulders, and I slid slowly down my chair and under the table. (Have you ever heard the expression, “to drink someone under the table”? Well, it’s a valid turn of phrase. I know. Been there, done that, so to speak.)
The next morning I woke up in my bunk – a man. A miserably sick and hung-over man, but a man nonetheless. There you have it, kids. My twenty-first birthday memory. I know. I’m lucky I didn’t die on the spot of acute alcohol poisoning, something you read about now and then in the newspapers today, usually in a story about fraternity parties or initiation ceremonies. And I’m also lucky I had good friends who pulled my pitiful passed-out form from under the table, poured me into the car and took me back to the barracks and tucked me tenderly into bed. Thanks, guys. And thanks for being there to share in my special day too. (Like a Hallmark greeting card sentiment, no?)
Here’s one more Deuce memory I have to share. After last call at the bar, usually around one or two in the morning, I think, it was customary for all the hard-core drinkers who were still there to gather around the jukebox in the Pit for a final song. The old-timers knew how to crank up the noise to max by muscling the jukebox away from the wall and reaching behind it to turn the volume control all the way up. Then we would all stand swaying drunkenly, bellowing at the top of our lungs, along with J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers –
Oh where o where can my BAY-bee beee?
The Lord took ‘er a-WAYY from meee ...
and so on. That song, “The Last Kiss,” was a favorite closer at the Deuce that year, 1965.
"A coming of age story at times as wry as JD Salinger, Soldier Boy is an open door to the very human antics and testosterone driven activities of young men serving in the military ... The story is strong ... A fine meal of Americana and a very entertaining read."
Grady Harp, M.D.,
Co-author of War Songs: Metaphors in Clay and Poetry from the Vietnam Experience
"For the 'average' person in the army, Soldier Boy is probably more representative of army life than, say, Audie Murphy's To Hell and Back. Bazzett is a wonderful storyteller, and he never hesitates to poke fun at himself and his mistakes (which many people writing autobiographies have a hard time doing) ... A fine, well-written tale ... Enjoyable, an excellent read."
David W Straight, Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus of Computer Science, University of Tennesee Knoxville
"An Everyman story for those who grew up in the 1950s and 1960s ... Soldier Boy is a memoir, sometimes a highly personal one, a coming of age [tale], told with complete candor, laying out everything for all to see - good, bad, silly, sad - every emotion laid bare. Bazzett doesn’t try to defend his actions too much, and he doesn’t mince around with his faults either ... Soldier Boy will motivate your bones and stir your soul. It's well-crafted, invigorating, interesting, and fun! Great fun, that should not be missed!"
"It's really intriguing to get another perspective on what we all did as Cold Warriors, long, long ago ... I very much enjoyed Soldier Boy."
OBE, award-winning documentary film maker and author of the memoir, My Life as a Spy
"Written with honesty and intelligence and humor, Soldier Boy is a book full of fantastic details and spot-on memories ... The introduction by the author's mother is priceless, and the pictures add a special resonance to a special book ... [Bazzett] has done a tremendous job!"
author of the WWII memoir, When It Was Our War: A Soldier's Wife on the Home Front
"I greatly enjoyed Soldier Boy! Speaking as one of only a few Brits who served alongside ASA in Europe, it was especially evocative. There are few from here who remember eating and enjoying SOS, and fewer still who will admit to sampling the dangerous delights of Hamburg ... I look forward to [Bazzett's] next."
OBE, author of From Siberia with Love and co-author of the JSSL history, Secret Classrooms
"Bazzett's story is anything but dry military history .. I was so impressed by the sheer degree of his recall and the graphic quality of his memories ... And he purposely avoids the smoke and mirrors of his trade. Instead he recreates the experience of army life essentially through the eyes of the boy he was in the 60s ... A lot has changed in army life and the intelligence business since those days, which makes this a book for nostalgic septuagenarians, and for their grandchildren, who will enjoy learning about grampa's wild youth in Uncle Sam's army ... But this is far more than just a story about the US Army ... [It's] simply a helluva good story!"
Emeritus Fellow, St. Antony's College, Oxford, author of War or Revolution and co-author of Secret Classrooms
"I enjoyed [Bazzett's] stories, which brought back memories about my career, which tracked almost the same as his through SP5, before I went to OCS and changed direction a bit ... Good reading!"
Major General Rod Isler
US Army (ret.)
"The pictures are all too familiar - old German barracks, gasthauses, [and] quite a graphic description of beer processing at The Deuce ... I see why people buy it ...[Soldier Boy] passes muster!"
Col Wolfgang W.E. Samuel
USAF (ret.), author of the acclaimed memoir, German Boy, and I Always Wanted to Fly
"Soldier Boy transcends time and binds the sense of service to America during the transforming 1960s. I feel like I know and have come to like Tim Bazzett, even though I have never met him. Now that's an effective memoir!"
Quang X. Pham
CEO, former USMC pilot, and author of the acclaimed memoir, A Sense of Duty: My Father, My American Journey
"I greatly enjoyed Soldier Boy. [Bazzett] has a rare talent - I've seldom encountered the like in fifty years of college teaching: the ability to keep the reader moving forward!"
author of the WWII memoir, Doing Battle: The Making of a Skeptic, and The Great War and Modern Memory, winner of both the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award
"Plucked strings of memory with anyone who 'suffered' through years of army life -- or navy life for that matter."
Pioneer News Network
"I will highly recommend this book to any and every old ASA buddy I can track down, as well as to anyone who simply wants to know how a boy turns into a man. If you served, you will live it all over again. If you didn't, here's what it was like. A great read!"
LTC Chuck Squires
US Army (ret.), former Defense Attache, US Embassy Bishkek, Kirgyzstan - and former ASA ditty-bopper
"I read Soldier Boy with great enjoyment. Never mind that it doesn't have a war in it - it has a very likeable and convincing soldier ... A gift for detail and keeping the narrative moving. Well done."
author of the classic WWII memoir, Flights of Passage
"Bazzett, who wrote the completely charming Reed City Boy, has an insouciant approach to his own life, [which] he makes his way through with wit and humor and more than a bit of brazenness ... His look at his army days is unvarnished. He remembers everything ..."
Elizabeth Kane Buzzelli
Traverse City Record-Eagle
"I read Soldier Boy ... My main impression was that [Bazzzett is] a hell of a nice guy, raised in a family of kind and caring people, and who raised his family in the same way ... A remarkable achievement. Lord knows where this writing thing came from, but obviously he's got it. In spades."
author of The Right Madness and the cult classic ASA novel, One to Count Cadence
"Tim Bazzett's book should be a required read for any ASA veteran ... A touching and honest memoir that will make you veterans smile ... Reading this book will make most of you say, 'Holy Cow! I'd forgotten that and now it triggers my memory bank of old buddies' ... Forts Leonard Wood, Devens and Meade, then Turkey and Germany. It's all there in a whimsical style, with chicken crap and Mickey Mouse events scattered throughout the book."
Elder R.C. Green
1SG, US Army (ret.), and editor of the ASA Turkey veterans' newsletter, Days of Our Lives
"I'm still laughing my ass off ... classic!"
Capt. William Sims, USAF (ret.)
author of Somalia Diary
"Soldier Boy brought back memories of my own service as a young enlisted soldier in the early 1960s ... A world full of adventure and camaraderie only those who have served far from home in the military understand ... If you want a good read, this is a book well worth your time. I enjoyed it."
Col. Henry W. Neill, Jr.
US Army (ret.)
"A delightful read, and a recommended one for any veteran or for a family member. It's true to life, our life, as we experienced the good and bad times of our military service ... [Bazzett] got it correct!"
ASALIVES.com Webmaster, and author of Beller's Fellars: Letters from Viet Nam, 1966-1967
"A truly affectionate snapshot of a genuinely more innocent and gentle time ... A very funny service narrative that many with armed forces experience will automatically identify with. I am passing the book on to my father, who is a veteran of World War II ... I'm spreading the word, and look forward to the third installment!"
Dr. Neil A. Patten
Ferris State University Professor of Communications
"I really enjoyed reading Soldier Boy. It brought back memories, since all of the services have something in common."
author of The Last Detail and Cinderella Liberty
"I found it a real treat to read about the 'male' side of the military. Soldier Boy's honesty is simply mind-blowing - fantastic!"
author of the memoir, "Okay, Girls - Man Your Bunks!" Tales from the Life of a WWII Navy WAVE
"Soldier Boy is one of those rare gems where, you sit down in the afternoon intending to only read a few pages, and you find yourself finishing that same evening. The detail and the humor that mark each page make it a book that transcends the military memoir and transforms it into a universal coming of age story...If you've been in the military, you'll instantly smile at the recognition of shared experience, and if you haven't, it just might make you feel as if you had."
author of the 2007 military memoir, Blood Makes the Grass Grow Greener: A Year in the Desert with Team America
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