Soldier Boy: At Play in the ASA brought back memories for me, some good, some bad, some happy, some sad, just as the stories that Tim Bazzett tells here. While this book is an especially good read for anybody who’s ever done time with the Army Security Agency or its cousins, it’s still very interesting and funny for all readers. It’s an Everyman story for those who grew up in the 1950s and 1960s. And some of us who were alive then are still trying to grow up.
Life was very different in the early 1960s, regardless of whether you were in the Army. It was the time of political awakening for the youth of many countries, the U.S. no different, and perhaps even more so. It was a time of great political unrest as well, and anybody coming of age in that period was confused. You’re at an age where you’re trying to form your own values, and so you listen to everybody and try to filter through it all to come up with your own personal values. At times it seems possible, while at other times it becomes completely impossible. Families had to sometimes work very hard to overcome internal political differences, and many of them failed. A young man especially, somebody who was subject to the draft, was often torn within, and many of them never became whole again; the rift was simply too much to overcome.
For many in the military, it was especially difficult. Your friends, acquaintances, the people you worked with, total strangers whom you’d never seen before, all seemed to be loosening up, gaining more freedoms; morals and mores both were relaxing; young people, for the first time in the history of America, actually had money to spend, thanks to hard work by their parents and grandparents. Even on the meager monthly pay of a buck private in the Army in 1962, $68, while not much, considering that the Army paid for “three hots and a cot,” plus all your clothing that was required, it wasn’t unbearable. Fifteen or twenty bucks a month covered your shaving gear, cigarettes if you smoked, and any other incidentals that were required. Movies on post were a quarter, even though the selection was not always great. A bottle of coke was still a dime, or maybe fifteen cents, cigarettes were a quarter a deck, and you could still find a good five- or six-year-old used car for less than a couple hundred bucks.