Ken Beaton: The things he didn’t do
“Louie, there’s a letter for you on the kitchen table.” Soon hundreds of thousands of our draft-age males received the same letter from Uncle Sam, his draft notice. The first thing Louie didn’t do was run to Canada.
Louis Anthony Muratore was working at a U.S. Post Office when he received his draft notice. The Postmaster, James C. Wallace, walked with Louie out the post office’s backdoor. As they walked, he told Louie, “I want you to always remember these words, ‘You’re not the only one.’” Those words helped Louie through every difficult situation he faced during his 12 months in ‘Nam and throughout his life.
Three days after Christmas 1965, Louie was 19 when his dad drove him to the selective service office in Santa Ana. The new recruits were bused to L.A. International Airport for their flight to Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas for basic training. El Paso is so far west in Texas, it’s on Mountain Time not Central Time.
Basic training was a mental vacation for Army recruits. They’re told everything to do and when to do it from reveille at dark thirty to lights out at 10 p.m. Louie quickly discovered there’s the right way, the wrong way and the Army way.
Even though it seemed that “everyone else was smoking weed,” Louie didn’t smoke any weed while on guard duty. If “Charlie” set off a tripwire, when Louie was on guard duty, “Charlie” and his fellow “VC” buddies would become very holey persons from 7.62 mm rounds.
Another thing Louie didn’t do, he was not the “Best Man” at his sister’s, Rosalie’s, wedding on April 8, 1967 because he was in Vietnam. Rosalie and Ken were willing to delay their wedding until Louie returned home. Louie told his sister, “Don’t wait for me. I may not return home vertically.” Years later, it was a special moment for Louie when he met Gary, who was the best man at his sister’s wedding.
In his preteen, teen and young adult years nobody in Louie’s family shared, “I love you,” with another family member. There wasn’t a reason. They didn’t verbally express their love. Nobody told Louie they loved him before he flew to report to Basic Training. In later years, his family began expressing, “I love you,” with each other.
As an enlistee or a draftee, you learned the military’s vocabulary with numerous acronyms. Louie’s first acronym was M.O.S., Military Occupational Specialty code. Your M.O.S. is your job in the military with 10,000 possibilities.
In November 1966 Louie’s M.O.S. was Radio Operator at Ft. Bliss. Suddenly there was a need for more Combat Engineers in Vietnam. Magically, Louie’s M.O.S. became Combat Engineer. Before he knew it, Louie was on a Pan Am jet to Saigon and his new M.O.S. with the 588th Combat Engineers Headquarters Co. The 588th was based at a former French Air Base located 80 miles north of Saigon and 10 miles from the South Vietnam/Cambodia border, “in country.”
The Combat Engineers were talented. They built great “hooches” with bunk beds. There was no way combat engineers were going to sleep on the ground in the “elements.”
About two weeks before a “grunt” was scheduled to return to the “states,” he was ordered to a safe area. Nov. 15, 1967 was Louie’s last day as an active soldier. He turned in his rifle, ammunition, grenades and similar items. Louie decided to have his teeth cleaned, have all his hairs cut and receive a shave. The barber was a Vietnamese male. First, the barber cut Louie’s hair. When he saw the barber holding a straight razor about to shave him, he thought, How do I know this barber isn’t a Viet Cong sympathizer and slit my throat? Fortunately, Louie received a smooth shave and his neck doesn’t have any scars.
Finally, the big day arrived, Louie boarded a returning Pan Am passenger jet with American female flight attendants. He had almost forgotten how an American woman looked and talked. A short time after Louie’s flight had taken off, the pilot announced, “We’re out of range!” Immediately every grunt erupted with cheers, whistling, handshakes and glistening eyes. They had waited 12 months to be headed to the states, HOME!
The excitement began to build as they flew across the entire Pacific Ocean. When their plane descended, their conversations increased in volume. Finally, the big jet touched down and taxied on the tarmac to the stairs. The cabin door opened and happy grunts began exiting in an orderly fashion. As soon as Louie’s right foot touched the tarmac, American soil, he got on his knees and kissed the ground. “I made it back in one piece! It’s great to be on American soil again!”
Louie worked for the USPS in California and transferred to the old post office on E. Washington St. One of the women who worked with Louie introduced him to her friend, Cris. Louie and Cris were married by Robey Willis on Feb. 14, 1990 in the lobby of the E. Washington Street Post Office. KOLO channel 8 covered their wedding. Cris had two sons from a previous marriage. They produced four grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. After 43 years Louie retired from the Post Office in Carson City. When school is in session, you can see Louie’s big smile as a Bordewich crossing guard on W. King Street.
FYI, The Vietnam Memorial Wall has 58,279 names. Included in those names are the names of seven Army nurses and one Air Force nurse. The names of 16 clergy are on the wall: seven Catholic, seven Protestant and two Jewish. Take a moment to reflect. If you were Killed In Action at age 19 years, what memories would be missing in your life?