Once I had completed Morse code training, it was time to select my permanent company assignment. Generally, if you you had no preference, you would just be assigned to a random platoon in whatever company had slots available. I was informed shortly after my arrival that there were a variety of different “special assignments” available, should I be interested.
Without even the slightest hesitation, I selected the first platoon in Company “D” which was described as housing the 14th Continental Army Regiment… an active duty U.S.Army unit…supported and sustained by the Freedom Foundation in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. I honestly can’t say I knew what I was doing. It seemed like the right thing to do at the time. It turned out to be the beginning of a journey that would alter the course of my life. But let’s begin at the beginning.
I had no idea what had happened to me, and even less of an idea of what to do about it. It was almost like I was sleepwalking through the first few weeks of my “indoctrination” into the Continental Army. I had to appear before a board of the senior members of the group in order to “pass muster.” I was brought summarily to the meeting, almost like a prisoner facing a tribunal. They questioned me for almost an hour. Why had it taken me so long to make application to join? What were my aspirations? What made me select this particular platoon? Do I even know anything about the organization?
After nearly an hour of questions and attempts to dissuade me, I was asked to step out of the room. It seemed like an hour in the hallway, but it was probably only about five minutes. The sergeant-at-arms escorted me back into the room, and I was told, after careful consideration, I would be accepted as a candidate in training for the 14th Continental Army, and that I should report in the morning for duty as expected. I saluted smartly and properly and left the room when I was dismissed by the Colonel. As I walked down the hallway, with one voice, all of those assembled in that room hollered after me….”NEWG!” I had no idea what it meant, but I would soon find out.
A “Newg” was a “new guy,” and I was subjected to some of the most unappealing harassment and “hazing” for a number of weeks afterwards. It seemed like it was in the spirit of good will for the most part, and once I had accumulated a sufficient amount of it, I was informed that I had successfully been granted membership in the group.
Along the way, I began to get a keen sense of what the organization was all about. These were men of good character. They were patriots and fellow soldiers, dedicated to the values we all hold so dear here in America. It turns out, that the original 14th regiment in the American Revolutionary War, was the very same one that had squired George Washington across the Delaware River on Christmas Eve almost two hundred years ago. As the details of the history of the unit unfolded for me, it became clear that this was no ordinary military unit. By an act of Congress in 1967, the unit was officially reinstated as an active duty unit, and assigned to the Army Security Agency School at the base where I landed in 1973. As an active member of this unit, I became part of history.
Throughout my training and indoctrination, I learned all about the history of the unit, and of the individuals who were associated with it during the Revolutionary War. It didn’t take long to understand that as a member of this unit, I was upholding the finest traditions of the American people, and I embraced the experience with my whole being. Eventually, I became a senior member of the organization and achieved the rank of Lieutenant of the 2nd Infantry Division, which was the training company. I marched in the regional parades throughout New England, participated in re-enactments of Revolutionary War battles, attended large gatherings of other continental units called “musters,” and spent many hours outside of my regular Army training, training the new recruits to the organization. I spent nearly two years engaged in numerous Continental Army activities, as a member of an active duty Continental Regiment.
Throughout this experience, there were periods of time where my identity seemed to fluctuate depending on where I was and what I was doing. I remember specific moments, where I would find myself in Continental Army uniform, completely decked out in the tricon, or three-cornered hat, spats and boots, sword and black powder pistol of the times, fully immersed in full regalia of the continental soldier, and felt totally lost in the role. In the photo above, I was put in charge of the regiment for the day, during a battle re-enactment, and when I was preparing to bring the unit to attention, someone called out to me, not by my name, but used instead, the title–Commander–and I instantly turned toward the voice–almost in disbelief–and someone snapped the photo of me, with a fairly confused or startled look on my face. The photographer swore he had said nothing.
These were men of exceptional character and dedication to the traditions of our American heritage. Not everyone who applied was granted membership. There had to be something about you that could “pass muster.” Throughout my service in this unit, I was never able to fully shake the idea that I was being guided or directed to continue for some purpose. At the time, I was a very young man, out on his own for the very first time, and knew so little of the world that it seems, in retrospect, that there was no way I could truly comprehend what was transpiring. I continued to study and to investigate and to allow the experience to take me wherever it took me. It was an extraordinary time.
After my traumatic episode in the early months of my assignment, the only part of my life that kept me grounded was my military training. Had I not been forced by circumstances to adhere to a fairly strict regimen of duty and responsibility, I might not have been able to sustain the level of continuity that followed. There were moments when I absolutely did not recognize myself during these years in New England, and the story that began to form, became an obsession with me at nearly every moment I wasn’t otherwise occupied.
The historical person of Jonas Rice lived in the mid-to-late 1700’s in colonial America, and many of the elements of the story that seemed to be unfolding within me to explain it all, came into my consciousness during my tenure as a member of the 14th Continental Army Regiment in Massachusetts. One of the central characters in the evolving story, was a young female companion, Eve, to whom Jonas writes in a journal entry that he has promised to keep while he is on his journey of discovery. Once underway, he discovers a note left in his pocket by Eve, and in response he wrote the following:
“Your words, like minute drops of rain in a summer sprinkle, touch my heart with a tender softness, and cool my heated loneliness in your absence. For truly, every moment without you beside me, is as empty as it is seemingly endless, and my only caress is in the crystal clarity of my memory of your sweet face. These words should not be unfamiliar to you, for they come straight from my heart, where you reside eternally with me.”
Next time: Off to California…