By Nathan Baker
In fact, during his two-year commitment, Proffitt slept on cold barracks floors and huddled in the dirt among the roots of jungle trees, but the only time he recalls getting a good night’s sleep, save from a brief stint of jungle training that offered a real bunk, was in a hospital bed after being shot in the leg while his unit attempted to secure a landing zone.
In 1969, with the draft in full effect, Proffitt left the safety and warmth of his bed in Mountain City and reported for duty at Fort Jackson, S.C., for Zero Week, where he received his uniforms and his standard-issue haircut.
“I was in shock most of the time,” he said. “I stayed there a whole entire week, and it didn’t count toward our time.”
After learning the basics of KP and general maintenance practices, Proffitt went to Fort Gordon, Ga., where his true basic training began.
“I went there in June of that year all the way up to August, which is really comfortable,” he said sarcastically. “I guess I ate more red clay than anybody else there.”
Following in his brother’s bootsteps, he signed up for airborne infantry training to become a paratrooper, which he soon found out was taxing on both the mind and body.
“During jump school, we were not allowed to walk anywhere. If you were standing still, you were supposed to run in place,” Proffitt recalled. “It was so cold; we got up before 5 a.m. and had to do your exercises. We ran five miles every morning before training started and then we had about five minutes to eat breakfast.
“The drill instructors all wore black baseball caps, and they really put the fear of God in you.”
After his training, Proffitt learned he was to be shipped off to Vietnam, but luckily, he was allowed a short break to spend Christmas with his family back home.
“It was just good to have the break, I tried not to think about where I was going to end up that much,” he said. “What I remember most from that break was getting on the plane at the Tri-Cities Airport and realizing I’d forgotten my orders.
“They were all really nice about it. They stopped the airliner and waited until my brother went and got them.”