I made the mistake of flunking out of college just in time to get a draft number so low that I glumly realized I might as well just go ahead and throw the farewell party now and get it over with. And it didn’t take long for the dreaded “Greetings” letter from President Nixon to arrive.
And so I boarded a bus which shipped us off to a Army base in southern California, where we all got some lovely haircuts, were issued uniforms, and got acquainted with our new life of inspections, marching, and whatnot.
It would take Uncle Sam time to figure out what to do with us all, and since idle hands are the devil’s tools, we had to be given some busywork to keep us out of mischief.
We were given the task of rolling up and removing the sod in front of our barracks, removing a couple of inches of topsoil underneath, then replacing the sod.
(I suspect the next group was given the task of replacing the topsoil, thus completing the circle, but I digress.)
Where was all that soil supposed to go? The original plan was to shovel it into wheelbarrows and take it to a disposal site far away, but one of us came up with a brilliant labor and time-saving counterproposal.
Instead, we would remove a few slats to allow us to shovel the dirt into the crawlspace under the building, then replace the slats, with no one the wiser. For some reason our drill instructor gave his approval to this mad scheme.
This plan quickly stalled when the entrance became clogged. We realized one of us was going to need to crawl under the building to route all the incoming debris further underneath the building so the frantic shovelling could continue.
Well, at the time I was a scrawny stripling, the smallest guy in our platoon, so suddenly all eyes were on… me.
Gamely, I wriggled through the slats and frantically dealt with all the incoming shovelfuls of dirt, which caked my face as they rained down on me.
One of our drill instructors came to observe our progress and commented, “Nice work, trainees.”
He added with a perplexed look, “But who’s that squirrelly looking dude in there?” There was much laughter and merriment as I peered up at them.
And thus I acquired my Army nickname of “Squirrelly,” soon shortened to “Squirrel.” This name followed me all the way through boot camp and even advanced training, although I finally was able to shake it at my first duty station at Letterman General Hospital in San Francisco.
Many months later one of my boot camp buddies was coincidentally assigned to my hospital ward, and he greeted me warmly, as old Army buddies do. “Squirrel! I didn’t know you were stationed here!”
I earnestly begged him to deep-six this name at once.