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Entry date: 5-20-2022 - Private Reardon Speaking - Letters to My Friends

Dear Friends,

Going to the PX with a pocket full of money was fun, I must admit. By this point, I’d gotten my first paycheck and had nothing to spend it on. It was also the biggest paycheck I’d ever gotten, so that was a new and fun feeling, too.

If I remember correctly, I got paid almost $600 on that first check after taxes and such. I knew I wanted a Walkman and for the first time in my life, I could afford a real Sony one that I paid for myself. I also could by any tape I wanted, too, and still have hundreds left over. I felt like a kid in a candy story except for one small problem: the music selection at the PX was dreadful.

Like so bad.


I should probably rewind and describe the PX. They call it that because it is short for Post Exchange. To me, it reminded me of the Smitty’s on Hatcher and Cave Creek, back in the day, or the Gemco which used to be on 19th avenue and Glendale. It had a little bit of everything since Fort Benning was home to a lot of soldiers and their families.

I needed some tunes as I had not thought to bring any cassettes with me like my new friend from Ohio. What I ended up with was the newest Metallica, which was the Garage Days Revisited Ep, Rolling Stones’ Hot Rocks compilation, the Ozzy Osbourne Randy Rhoads Tribute, and REM’s Document, which had just come out, too. The REM record was the closest thing to punk or alternative they had so I snagged it.

I also bought two cartons of Marlboro Reds. There was no way I would have gotten through two cartons if I would have been there for a year at that point, but I knew I could sell them during the week and make some money.

I had picked up on this by watching the soldiers from basic training that came through to our mess hall bum smokes or offer to buy them from my fellow rejects every day. I could buy a carton for just under $5 at the PX and then sell them for as much as $5 a pack and $1 per cigarette. It was a bit of a goldmine for young go getters like me. Sure, it was a risk. I could get in trouble for it, but I figured the worst thing they could do is confiscate my cigarettes and tell me not to do it again.

All you had to do was hang out by the pay phones and light up a smoke. For some reason, the drill instructors all seemed to bail as soon as their units came to our mess hall to eat, so the units had a bit of free time. I sold out of all my smokes in a couple of days and was bummed that I couldn’t go back to the PX until the following weekend. I also made all the money back I’d spent on the Walkman and the cassettes.

I had standing orders for smokes for the following week, so I knew I better grab more cartons. The hard part would be figuring out how to get them back and storing them in a way that did not create any suspicion. Luckily, I would get a little assist in this with my new job.

While I was building my tobacco empire, I was assigned to a new position at Headquarters and Service Company (HSC). I was to be the new secretary for the leadership, which was comprised of a Captain, a Lieutenant, and a first sergeant. Most of this was answering the phones and being a gatekeeper for each guy.

The lieutenant was a young guy and pretty cool. He sized me up right away and told me I was lucky to be getting out. He said for a guy like me, being an officer was where it was at and if I wanted to come back, to do college first. He had played college soccer and was all about the base soccer team. It seemed like that was pretty much all he did, and he was rarely in his office. He looked like your typical college jock guy, too, with blond hair, blue eyes, and was in great shape.

The captain was a bit older (or seemed like it at the time). Probably mid-30s and a family guy. He had dark hair and wore glasses. He resembled Harold Ramis, in a way, so the Stripes connections continued for me. Come to think of it, Stripes may be one of the biggest reasons, subconsciously, why I joined in the first place. But the captain was cool, and he didn’t give me a hard time at all. He showed me what to do which was basically to do any task the three of them needed done, and answer the phones by saying this every time:

“Headquarters and Service Company. Private Reardon speaking, may I help you, sir?”

I’ll probably never forget those twelve words in my entire life. In the coming weeks, I would say it hundreds of times per day. The phone at the HSC office rang all day long. Most of the time, it was for the 1st Sergeant, Wilson was his name, and I was ordered to never, under any circumstances, put anyone through to his phone. I was supposed to take a message and then deliver the message to him. 1st Sergeant Wilson was almost always at his desk, too, so I had to make many trips into his office.

Wilson was a very intimidating dude. He was at least an inch taller than me, early 40s, and in great shape. Kind of that barrel-chested look where you knew that if he were to hit you or give you a solid shove, you were going to go flying. I was instructed to call him “First Sergeant” at all times, and I quickly learned that those guys are well respected in the army because you can’t get much higher as a non-commissioned officer. It was clear, for example, that the captain and the lieutenant were both in awe of him and he was in charge.

Those first few days of working for him were definitely scary, but working in that office, as I soon found out, had serious perks.

See you tomorrow.

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