By Leslie Moon
The heavy air weighed on his shoulders as Private Bob Hanks walked to his post in Iwakuni, Japan. He was grateful that he had the opportunity to fix the airplanes that would be flying into Vietnam rather than manning them himself. He was doing his part in the war with his intelligence instead of his gun. In 1969 the F4J fighter jets that were being flown by the Navy had been having some issues with their radars in the humidity and heat of Vietnam, and his job was to find a solution to the problem.
Just missing being shipped to fight in the dangerous jungles, Hanks felt immense gratitude that he had been given this opportunity. In 1968 young men in the US were haunted by the fear of being drafted. Boys on the precipice of manhood had to understand that fighting in a war was inevitable.
In 1968 young men in the US were haunted by the fear of being drafted.
The war was collecting more draft cards than ever before, and Bob Hanks would be no exception to the impending call to duty. As a 17-year-old with no physical disabilities, he knew that at his next birthday he would be eligible to be drafted. Then, he cut school to give a friend a ride to the recruiting office to enlist in the Marines. While there, a recruiter informed him that if he was drafted he would probably be given minimal training in boot camp and sent straight to Vietnam, but if he enlisted, he would be given more training and the opportunity for a better assignment. Hanks decided this sounded like a better plan and took the aptitude tests to see what offers the different branches of the military could give him. After scoring high on the tests, the Marines offered him an aviation guarantee. According to Hanks, “This meant that I would be working on airplanes rather than carrying a rifle out in the mud.”
Hanks was shipped to boot camp where he spent a miserable six weeks. He had always been in trouble in high school for petty offenses. Once, he was suspended for a day from school for throwing food at the “lunch lady” when he himself was attempting to dodge the airborne pudding. The highly structured and intense environment of boot camp worked to mature him quickly. He had to have respect for the people around him while still being confident in himself. This teetering balance seemed to be a thin edge that he had to learn to maneuver. He discovered that he could run miles in full combat gear while being yelled at by officers and maintain respectful responses to his angry superiors.
The respect that Hanks learned in the military also reached out to the people around him. He said, “I got to meet people from all members of society.” This was one of the most important experiences the military gave him, because he was able to learn about connecting with a diverse group of people. Growing up in Georgetown, Indiana, in the 50s and 60s meant that Hanks was surrounded by people that looked like him and mostly thought like him. In boot camp, he was grouped together with guys that had been in gangs in Chicago, quite a departure from his previous experiences. All races, all classes and most religions are a part of the military; this level of diversity allowed Hanks to understand how different people can work together and make a unified team.
Boys on the precipice of manhood had to understand that fighting in a war was inevitable.
When Hanks was discharged in 1972 as an E4 Corporal, he decided to return home to Indiana. IU Southeast had recently moved to New Albany, and using his GI Bill, he enrolled in classes in 1974. His time at Southeast built on the foundation the military had given him. College was, of course, more relaxed and lenient, but the respect and maturity he had learned while serving helped him to garner a bachelor’s degree in biology. He had learned that quitting was not an option. Without the military, Hanks would never have been able to attend college because he could not afford it, and because he felt like he was not mature enough before his four years in the Marines.
When he came to IU Southeast, he says there was somewhat less diversity than in the military, but Southeast helped him to formulate a world view that allowed curiosity and exploration into different types of thought and politics than he was accustomed to as a part of a largely white and Protestant small town in the midwest. |t|
Transformations is a publication of IU Southeast Diversity.