When I was 18 one of the fabled Green Berets from the U.S. Army Special Forces was attached temporarily to my company at Fort Devens, Massachusetts. Silence would fall over the mess hall when he walked in.
As code-breakers and analysts in training -- techno-geeks of that era -- we were in awe of a real warrior. We had all heard Barry Sadler’s “Ballad of the Green Berets.” I was mightily impressed and during a brief period of temporary derangement, I found out where they gave the screening test and signed up to take it.
Caught up in visions of glory and fired up by testosterone, I showed up early on a Saturday morning with 10 or 12 other would-be warriors. Despite the fact that I hadn’t kept in shape since basic, I made it through the chin-ups, push-ups and assorted other physical torture.
Then we had to run a prescribed distance around a parade ground. Whether it was 2 miles or 5 miles I don’t remember. What did come to mind in the first few hundred yards was that at the end of basic training -- when I was in good condition -- my drill instructor only got the required mile run out of me by running beside me, threatening mayhem if I stopped.
It was a very bad position for a would-be Green Beret. I knew I wasn’t going to make the entire run, having always been a sprinter not a distance runner. To quit would have been too humiliating, so I did the only logical thing for an 18-year-old soldier; I ran until I collapsed.
Later I realized that my inability to cover long distances had probably saved the embarrassment I might have received if I had made it through the screening and found myself on one of the legendary airborne training towers-- petrified by my fear of heights.
Things tend to work out for the best, even for young men under the thrall of testosterone.