How I Won The Cold War, Part 29 … A FORTUITOUS MISTAKE


What was that you said?

It’s astonishing how much can happen in a split second. Scientists tell us the entire universe big-banged into existence in just one-trillionth of a second. Some bridge-jumpers relate seeing reruns of their entire lives as they plummeted to what they thought was a watery grave.

My experience with such alacrity of thought occurred during what I assumed to be my last day in the army, after which I’d planned to scoot over to England for about a month, then to Finland and then wherever my fancy led me and my VW could carry me … all courtesy of the United States Army!

The plan’s genesis occurred about six months prior to my discharge date when an unknown and unheralded clerk in the bowels of the army’s vast bureaucracy decided that the Koblenz Detachment needed a complete set of Army Regulations (AR), which, when stacked, reaches the median height of a NBA basketball player.

Great! Just what we didn’t need! An encyclopedic compilation of everything military!

However, as much as these ARs represented unexpected, unnecessary and unproductive work, they did provide something for me to do on an idle afternoon or two … and during my doing it, one AR in particular caught my eye, which proved, in its small way, to be my equivalent to that bunch of San Francisco hippies who, when stumped as to what to call their band, opened a dictionary, dropped a finger on a page at random and found themselves christened the The Grateful Dead.


A bunch of San Francisco hippies looking for a name

My “Dead” moment arrived when I spotted the AR entitled:  Foreign Duty Discharge (FDD).

Intrigued I read through it. Fascinated I read it again. Excited I read it for a third time!

“What?” I shouted. “Can this be for real?”

If it was for real, and I knew it had to be pre-ordained … my fate so to speak. After all, following the time-lines in the AR (the applicant must submit fully completed application form along with passport not later than six (6) months prior to applicant’s discharge from active service) I had enough, just barely enough time to take advantage of it!

This little known AR opened up a whole new world of possibilities for me! It stated that a soldier serving overseas could request to be discharged at that post, and, for up to one year following that date, the army would be obliged to transport said soldier to his Point of Enlistment from anywhere in the world (Oakland, California for me)!

And further, during that year the army was obliged to send said soldier’s personal belongings or acquisitions back to his stateside home as often and whenever he or she needed that free service from anywhere on the globe … no questions asked!

Hmmm, let's see. Girls here, no girls there. Should I stay here or go there?

Hmmm, let’s see. Girls here, no girls there. Stay here or go there? Dumb question!

I took stock of my near term prospects, “Let’s see. I get out of the army in early March. I’ll start school in early September (courtesy of the GI education legislation enacted during my tour of duty). I have girl friends in Koblenz, Kenilworth and Helsinki but none back home. Hmmm, and the army’s willing to send me home whenever I want from wherever? Of course money’s a consideration. It’ll be tight, but what the hell! This is just too good to pass up!”

During the next few months I found few, if any, who’d heard of the FDD … so I took our copy of the AR with me in order to enlighten them and thus I ultimately received my coveted FDD!

Then I simply had to wait for my army career to come to a close. That was a painfully slow process, especially the last couple of months, remarkable for the quantities of alcohol I consumed in an effort to forget just how long minutes can be when counting them.

I was so close to freedom! The thought was exhilarating! Soon I’d be on the road to Kenilworth, followed by a trip to Helsinki … and from there who knows where and who cares! I’d be FREE! Sure I’d be a short of cash, but I figured I’d improvise and worst case, I could fly back to Oakland anytime courtesy of my generous Uncle Sam!

But first I had to get my discharge, which meant I had to get through the “clearing” process in an army post in a city called Giessen.

That's one mean molar soldier!

That’s one mean molar soldier!

Things proceeded smoothly during my clearing day. The only fright I had, before my last hurdle of the day, finance, occurred during my examination by an army dentist who informed me that I had a molar that needed extraction.

According to the dentist my suspect molar, if not removed, would gradually gnaw a hole in my cheek and possibly cause cancer. However, I’d have to stay in the army a couple of extra weeks for the procedure.

No deal! I politely declined the good doctor’s offer … nothing but nothing was going to delay my exit from my three years of national servitude … not even a masochistic molar (with which I still chew to this day sans hole in cheek, thank you very much).

After the dentist finance my last stop before getting out … finance.

Everything went swimmingly well there and I was tantalizingly close to being discharged when the fellow reviewing my file said, “Whoa! You’ve never taken any leave time! I don’t believe I’ve ever seen that before! No vacations!”

Well, as the saying goes, you could have knocked me over with a feather. I stood there like a statue, jaw hanging open with a dumb, perplexed look clawing my face.

That’s when an entire posse of random thoughts raced through my cranium at breakneck speed … my version of the Big Bang’s trillionth of a second!

I thought of the leave time I’d enjoyed in London, Paris, Rimini, Trier and Venice. I could still feel the wind combing my hair and the scenery going by as if in slo-mo as Jasko and I biked our way along the Rhein to Cologne. I could still see Jan drinking cheap red wine with me in a sidewalk cafe on the Left Bank.

In fact, I couldn’t remember a single drop of leave time that I didn’t take! I thought “What in the hell is this guy talking about? … OMG! a glitch! OMG! A glitch in Giessen means I’ll be in the army as long as it takes for them to unglitch it … and that could be weeks! OMG! I can’t lie … that could mean months … or years in a place I don’t even want to think about! OMG! What in the hell? What in the …”

Just then the finance fellow interrupted my screams of consciousness, “Oh no, wait a minute …”

Well, now that you mention it ... yes!

Well, yes, now that you mention it …

My mind continued its race to figure this out, “Okay, obviously the company clerk in HQ Company got in the habit of reporting Koblenz as “all present and accounted for” even when we were on leave … that’s it! That’s what happened! But still, it’s a glitch … and a glitch is a glitch is a glitch … OMG!”

“Oh wait a minute. I see you took three days leave in 1966” the fellow continued, studying the folder. Thank God he didn’t look up because my face must have looked like a wet, wrung-out towel!

But then inspiration struck! “Yes. Yes, you’re right. I did take three days in 1966!” I replied, not exactly lying, but …

No matter, and regardless of how morally compromising that interaction may have been, it did eliminate the glitch, not to mention putting a wad of much needed cash in my pocket … enough to fully fund a nine month European drive-about for me and my lovely VW!*

“Yep” I thought, “I guess that’s fate. There’s no other possible explanation! So look out world ’cause now I’m free! I’M FOOTLOOSE AND FANCY FREE FREE, FREE, FREE! THANK GOD ALMIGHTY, I’M FREE AT LAST!”


He’s got a horseshoe where?


*at various times in my life people told me I was born with a horseshoe up my … well, let’s just say I love my lucky horseshoe!


I hope you’ve enjoyed sharing my remembrances of my time in my ‘foxhole’ saving western civilization from communism as much as I’ve enjoyed sharing them with you … thanks for your indulgence!



About Joe Illing

I hope you'll find my posts entertaining, occasionally edifying and worth whatever time you can spend with them ... Joe
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4 Responses to How I Won The Cold War, Part 29 … A FORTUITOUS MISTAKE

  1. Ched Miller says:

    Looking forward to the road trip.


    • Joe Illing says:

      The nine months from my discharge in Koblenz to my return home to Berkeley (remember the late 1960s there?) had adventurelets enough for a lifetime. It’ll be fun re-living them. Think I’ll call it “Driving Around Europe Without A Map” … and thanks, it’s alway nice to know you’re not writing to no one!


  2. Pingback: Driving Around Europe Without A Map, Part 1 … KENILWORTH OR BUST | FINDING MY WAY

  3. Pingback: Berkeley, the Sixties and Me, Part 14 … IT WASN’T ALL FUN AND RIOTS | FINDING MY WAY

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