Serrano wasn’t on a pleasure outing; he was traveling on orders from the United States military. In essence, he was on a business trip and was working for the U.S. government. The airline undoubtedly took the military’s money for Serrano’s original ticket, but somehow failed to realize that his baggage was an essential part of his military equipment and should be included with Serrano’s travel package.
Inequities exist during all military operations, but in this case, Serrano was a volunteer. He was, in some respects, risking his life for our country and the airline was fleecing him for his hard-fought dollars.
While undergoing training at Fort Lewis, Wash., during the height of the unpopular Vietnam War, a bunch of us young guys were on weekend pass in Tacoma, Wash., and were invited by a guy on the street to attend a dance. Being red-blooded Americans we weren’t about to miss a chance to meet some young ladies our age so we went to the “dance.” It turned out that it was a protest rally of sorts against the war. The fellow who had met us on the street was saying that the officers in Vietnam were taken to the front lines in air-conditioned buses while the regular grunts were forced to march in the horrendous heat on foot to the front lines. That was all a bunch of hooey, but we didn’t know for sure any different as we had never been to Vietnam.
The divisiveness of the Vietnam War was all over the country at that time. Even the normally sedate campus of the University of Nevada, Reno, was caught up in its own version of abhorrence, which boiled over during Governor’s Day in May 1970 with picketing and various other anti-war protests.
The dichotomy of the various sides of the war hit me when I visited home en route to Vietnam. I had been promoted to first lieutenant and had asked the professor of military science at UNR at the time, Col. Hill, if he wouldn’t mind officially promoting me in front of my parents and family. He graciously agreed, but I had to get the first lieutenant bars. The closest place was an Army surplus store called The Supply Sergeant on Sierra Street in Reno. While I was getting my new rank insignias, an anti-war type was purchasing a surplus Army fatigue jacket, undoubtedly to protest in costume. How weird that the two sides would meet in the same place to pick up their needed supplies.
We left Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, Calif., at midnight on July 8, 1970, on a chartered commercial airplane. We had two movies, “In the Heat of the Night” and “Ice Station Zebra,” and our last meal was a steak dinner — just like the meal that originally was offered to condemned men before they were taken to be executed. The plane was air conditioned as well, but we were a mix of ranks and branches of the service, not just officers as the man in Tacoma had predicted.
I found it interesting that our plane left at midnight. Wasn’t that the time Cinderella’s coach was to turn back into a pumpkin? We left on Wednesday and landed in Bien Hoa, South Vietnam at noon on Friday, but it didn’t take us two days to get there. Welcome to passage of the international date line and jet lag.
Our baggage was limited to one checked bag and no carry-ons, sorry. This is very different from SFC Serrano, who had three bags when flying from El Paso to Camp Bowie and had to pay $100 extra for the last bag. He was going to receive additional training in preparation for deployment to a war zone at a later date. Why he had three bags, including a bag of weapons, is beyond me. We drew any war supplies once we got “in country,” as they say. I ended up sending 90 percent of my baggage home after my arrival as it wasn’t necessary and became a pain to move around.
Most soldiers going off to war these days go alone and travel on commercial airlines unless their whole unit is activated, in which case military aircraft are used. It seems the federal government and the military could have negotiated a better program than fleecing a soldier for his last buck while he is en route to stick his neck out for his country. That is as bad as having to pay Carrion, the ferry boat captain from Greek mythology, for passage across the river Styx from the Land of the Living to the Land of the Dead by placing a coin on your tongue. The coin kept a dead man from talking and maybe that’s what the airlines are counting on: speechless soldiers.
Larry Wilson is a 50-year resident of Sparks and a retired elementary school teacher. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.