My departure from the Army was SNAFUed beginning about a month before the actual occurrence. It's not easy to know where to begin, so I'll begin well before that.
Around September of 1967 I bought a 1968 Plymouth Belvedere (In all the time that has passed from then until now, I have only seen one other on the road). In October, the driver of an Army two and a half ton truck ran a stop sign on post (Fort Huachuca, Arizona) and my brave little Belvedere t-boned the truck at about 25 miles per hour.
I was on my way to the mess hall for lunch when this happened - it will amaze most of you, I'm sure, to know that this little tidbit was important.
I had the car towed to an off-post repair shop, which I visited for a
conversation with the owner. I told him about the accident and that the Army would be reimbursing me for the damages, and I would not be able to pay him for the repairs until that time. He very kindly agreed to this.
I rented a car (for which the Army would also reimburse me) for a month or so, and then got my car back. I filed a claim for reimbursement for the repairs and the rental car.
Fast forward to the middle of April, 1968. Procedure at that time was that the Personnel Office was supposed to make up clearance papers for me, indicating all the various offices I was to visit and make sure everything related to me was wrapped up before my discharge. This was to be done thirty days before my discharge date, May 16, 1968.
It took several calls to personnel to convince them that I was not going to reenlist. I was a Staff Sergeant (E-6 for you non-Army military) with nearly ten years of service and they just didn't want to believe it. I finally got my clearance papers with about three weeks to go.
OK, got through that, and arrived at the big day. I went to the Personnel office to pick up my discharge papers and certificate, only to find that they had screwed this up too. Absolutely nothing had been done. I wound up sitting in front of the desk of some private who had never made up discharge papers for anyone.
I watched him like a hawk. At some point I caught him typing a letter notifying the Commanding General of the Army's reserve forces in Massachusetts, that "The following obligated reservist . . . ." I informed him that my 9 years, 8 months, 5 days of active duty more than fulfilled my obligation, and this sort of letter should not be sent. He went off to verify this with a Second Lieutenant who was the Personnel Officer or Assistant Personnel Officer or something. The letter was aborted and the private began fumbling through the rest of the process.
At some point I became impatient and I asked him, "Would you like me to do that?" Without a word he got up and I replaced him. Two minutes later I walked over to the Lieutenant to get signatures on the certificate and the papers.
"What are you doing with that? You're not supposed to have that until I sign it?"
"Lieutenant, your clerk didn't know how to complete these forms so I offered to help him."
For some reason this displeased him and he said, "You know, I can keep you here until midnight."
"Yes sir, but come midnight I'll be gone and you'll still be here."
He signed, I left, and I was nearly done with the Army. There was still the matter of the money I was owed. This was nearly forty years ago and my memory is not to be trusted, but I believe the total was about $1,200.00, of which $300 would be mine - for the rental car bill (which I had paid).
After a couple of weeks in Phoenix, about which more in another post, I headed for my home town, Beverly, Massachusetts, a couple thousand miles away, with $20.00 in my pocket, figuring that I might actually make it, and if I ran out of gas money then I could find some sort of one day job.
I drove straight through, stopping once at a rest area to catch some sleep, eating nothing, drinking only water. The best thing that happened was finding that gas was only eighteen cents a gallon in Kansas and filling up just before leaving that state.
I had to get off the Massachusetts Turnpike. I had nearly a full tank of gas when I reached it, but no money at all for tolls. So it was secondary highways and local roads for the last several hours. I reached Peabody, Massachusetts, a few miles from home, with an empty gas tank and nineteen cents in my pocket. I pumped the gas into the tank, the station attendant came out, I handed him the nineteen cents, and he looked at me and said, "Good luck." I got into the car and noted that the nineteen cent purchase hadn't caused the fuel gauge needle to move one iota.
I made it home - a two day drive - looking, as my mother put it, like "the last survivor from World War II."
Several months later I got a telephone call from the owner of the auto repair shop in Sierra Vista, Arizona. He said he had called the appropriate office (I no longer remember what that was) in Washington, D.C., and had been told by some lieutenant that yes, I had been reimbursed. I assured him that I had not, got the lieutenant's phone number from him, and told him that I would call him back in a few minutes.
I called the lieutenant, who had no explanation for having told anyone that I had been reimbursed when in fact I had not. This claim was nearly a year old, and the holdup was - scout's honor - that they wanted to know why I was driving my car at the time of the accident. Was I going to another office, was I going off duty, or what? They needed this information in order to allocate the expenditure correctly. I had taken the precaution of leaving this information with the JAG (Judge Advocate General) office at Fort Huachuca, which precaution obviously did me no good.
I'm afraid I rather lit into him at that point. I told him I'd been going to the mess hall for lunch, and that I wanted that money very soon, and that if I didn't get it he'd be explaining why to Ted Kennedy, one of "my" (Massachusetts) Senators.
I called the owner of the repair shop, and told him that the lieutenant had confessed that I had not been reimbursed. I said I expected to get the check in a week or so and that I would send it to him immediately, and I thanked him for his patience.
A week or so later I received the check, made out (definitely not in accordance with Army regulations) to both the repair shop and me. This must have been the lieutenant's petty revenge, but it didn't really bother me. I signed the check, sent it to the repair shop owner, he cashed it, and sent me the $300.00 or so that wasn't his.