Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Three Veterans

By Philip Gardocki

In America, we don’t know our history.  And in some cases this is a good thing.  How many conflicts reemerge when the next generation comes of age because of those dirty so and so’s across the river killed your grandfather’s cousin and his two brothers.  So hopefully, this is a sign of the new age.

A Motorola Pager, Circa 1990.
In the late 80’s I was a Field Service Engineer for Siemens Medical Systems, specializing in digital imaging systems.  At this time I was working on aligning the receiving coils for a MRI machine along with two other men when my pager went off.

For those of you under 30, a pager is what was used to notify people of messages when they were working a wide area.  Basically if someone needed to contact you, they would call a service, and leave a phone number.  The service would then punch in your ID number, and the phone number to call.  The pager would vibrate or beep, you would read the number.  Then you would have to go in search for a pay phone to call the number on your pager.  The service would then give you your message.  Since most of the numbers you needed to call were “long distance”, we were issued telephone credit cards that we would have to punch in so all this communication was logged in and paid for.  This took 37 digits.  Later pagers were upgraded to display text messages, 30 character display, with a limit of 140 characters per message.  But they also would receive random, usually useless news information items as well.  A portend of things to come.

A Motorola Analog Cell Phone. 
3 watts signal strength, with battery pack and bag.
Weight, 3.5 pounds, Net price $1,995.

It wasn’t that cell phones didn’t exist, but they were expensive to buy, about $4,000, expensive to run, about $1-3 per minute, were large and heavy, about the size of a brick.  The battery alone was about the size of 6 I-Phones, and lasted about 4 hours.  

The phone number was not one I recognized, but had a 908 area code, northern New Jersey, so it was probably Siemens Corporate HQ, so I made the call.

A woman's voice answered, “Siemens Medical Systems, how may I help you?”

“This is Phil Gardocki, I was paged to call this number,” I replied.

“Yes Mr. Gardocki, are you a veteran?” she asked.

Ah, I understood.  The US Government offers corporate incentives, usually in the form of tax breaks, for companies that hire and employ veterans.  Occasionally corporations will take a census to inventory their veteran count.  Siemens was more sensitive to this than most corporations because they were a German based company, and competing against several major American companies, and needed to show it can be a good corporate citizen in the USA as well.  

“Yes, I am,” I replied.

“Did you serve during the Vietnam War?” she continued.

“No, I did not,” I replied.

“Thank you,” she said, and then hung up.

Some veterans are worth more than others as far as the tax code goes.  I missed being a “Vietnam War” veteran by 6 months.  

I came back into the room just in time for Sorin’s pager to go off.  

“Is the area code 908?” I asked.

“Yes it is,” He replied.

After I explained what it was about, Sorin said, “I was a soldier during the Vietnam War.”  I raised an eyebrow at this, and ran through my mental notes.  Sorin immigrated to the United States from Israel, and from before that, Romania!

“You were in the Warsaw Pact,” I asked?

“Top Sergeant,” he declared proudly!

This tickled my sense of humor, as the Siemens rep didn’t ask which country I was veteran of, and that a veteran of a Soviet ally would be counted as well, so I advised him, “I would tell them you’re a vet.”

At that time, Chang loosed his pager, waiting for its prompting, and asked me, “What do you think I should tell them?”

I didn’t know much of Chang’s backstory, but I knew he originally hailed from mainland China.  So I asked, “What were you doing during the Vietnam War?”

Then he floored me with his quiet statement, “I was mercenary pilot for People’s Liberation Army Air Force flying MIG-21’s for North Vietnam.”

Chang’s pager went off, and we stared at it.  “Chang, I would be quiet about this, that wound is still a bit fresh.”

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