Author's Name: Gus Buttice
Title: "Decisions"St. Mary's high school class of 1971, what next? I had to make that big decision, continue on with my education, go to work or join the military. Vietnam was in full swing and I'd seen the news and guys coming home to the neighborhood who had served, ok now what to do. I wasn't the best student by a long shot and after working part of the summer at St. Louis Ship and Barge on the labor gang I knew I had only one real choice. I sat down with my Dad and we talked about what would come next. Dad was a veteran of World War II, he had served with General Patton's First Armor Divison in Europe and was on a troop ship headed for Japan when the war finally ended. There was a program in the Army that if you signed up for three years you would be sent to Europe and not to Vietnam. We went down to the re recruitment office which was located at Hampton and Southwest. I had decided on the Army because of the three year program with no trip to Vietnam. I wanted to go into the military police and was ready to go, but not so fast. The enlistment sergeant said that there where no openings and the only thing he had open were the "combat arms", infantry..armor..artillery, I later found out he was full of crap and that if I had pushed for the MP program I would have gotten in. My Dad took my arm and said we needed to have a talk. We stepped out of the office, much to the sergeant's dismay and began to walk down Hampton Ave.. He began go explain to me what exactly all of that meant, "in the infantry you're carrying everything you have on your back and you're walking everywhere and people are shooting at you all the time, the armor divisions are metal boxes where bullets com's in rattle around the inside and come out the other side, in the artillery you are far away from the action you shoot at an unseen target and very seldom do people shoot at you". Enough said. We went back and I joined the Army and took the three year plan in the artillery. Fort Leonard Wood for basic and Fort Sill for artillery training and assignment to 94th field artillery unit, Furth, Germany, Christmas Eve, 1971.
I came home once over the next two and half years, I wished that I hadn't worn my uniform but we had to. At every stop on the way home the looks I got from the general public in the airports made me feel like I had done something wrong, like I was a criminal or worse. I heard the smart ass remarks as I walked thru the Chicago airport "baby killer" was the one that stuck. Hard to forget that one. You want to stop and say "hey I'm stationed in Germany".
July, 1974..I'm done. On he way home from Fort Dix I was still in uniform because it was the only clothes I had that weren't sent home or packed away. The airport in Philadelphia was full of guys going home either on leave of getting out so we didn't stand out so much. Flying into St. Louis was going to be the last leg of this journey. Getting off the plane and seeing my family at the gate waiting was something you can't put into words. Hugs all around and then you hear it, the snide remarks the sideways glances and then in your own home town you hear it "baby killer". I was lucky I never had to fire one round at another human being I never had to load one artillery round and fire it down range to an unseen target, but yet I was the guy coming home in uniform. To this day it still hurts when I talk about those events but I proudly served my country and maybe by me going some guy didn't have to go and maybe he didn't have to come home to being called names or even better he didn't have to come home in a box.
Years later there discussion at a family outing about the war and I sat there and listened to it all not saying anything. It went on for awhile, everyone had their say about but the only three people who didn't say a word, myself and my uncle, who had also served in the late 50's in Europe, and my Dad a guy who had seen the real horrors of war who came home to a hero's welcome. Just as I was about to let them all have it with both barrels my Dad touched my arm looked at me and said to them all at the table.."Gus served in a war that should have never been and I'm proud him". We never talked about it again.