As we approach Memorial Day, I want to tell you a little about an Army officer under whom I once had the good fortune to serve. His name was Lt. Chickinelli. Make that Lt. Chickinelli, Sir! I don’t remember his first name, which I regret.
I had matriculated at a Land Grant college, the University of Missouri, and was required to serve a minimum of two years in the Reserve Officer Training Corps.
I had actually intended to join the Navy ROTC, but on the day I was to register for classes, the line in front of the Navy ROTC (pronounced ROT-see) desk was by far the longest. I didn’t want to waste my precious time standing in line, so I went to the shortest line, which was the Army one. In many ways, that wasn’t the best decision I ever made, but it did give me the opportunity to serve under Lt. Chickinelli, for which I have always been grateful.
Something you have to know is that very few of those who were in Army ROTC were happy to be there. In fact, most were skeptical, that it would do them any good, and most believed it was a colossal waste of time. They were there because the law said they had to be as long as they were physically fit.
I didn’t think that way. Once I got used to ROTC, and got a dressing down, or four or five, from Lt. Chickinelli, I decided there were worse things than having to keep my shoes and brass shined, than having to march in perfect step, than getting to shoot a howitzer.
Yes, a howitzer. Ours was an artillery battalion, and Lt. Chickinelli taught us a lot about trigonometry for calling in shots on an enemy, how to crawl on our stomachs and how to stay alive if we happened to draw the short straw and become forward observers.
He also taught us how to shoot other weapons. Some of us were pretty good shots, having grown up in the country, and we formed a rifle team of sorts. Chickinelli would take his own time to teach us to shoot the right way — both with carbines and handguns. It was a wonderful experience.
One day, though, in the second year of ROTC, he wasn’t there. His replacement told us only that he had been promoted to captain and was going off to lead a howitzer battalion in some place called Vietnam.
When I was in Washington, D.C., and visited the Vietnam Wall, I looked for his name, but didn’t find it, for which I felt relief.
He was a terrific soldier, a good man, a patriot — just exactly the kind of person we are honoring this weekend, both alive and departed. May his tribe increase.