© Theo Pavlidis

In July of 1957 I graduated from the National Technical University of Athens with a degree in Mechanical and Electrical Engineering. A few months earlier I had heard that I had won a Fulbright Fellowship for graduate work at MIT. I had been elated but I was soon deflated when I was told by Greek officials that I could not leave the country until after I completed the compulsory two years of military service.

A few months later I was in uniform undergoing basic training. After two months at the boot camp I was transferred to the Reserve Officer’s School of the Technical Branch. This was the army branch responsible for the maintenance of the vehicles and other mechanical equipment. Many of my classmates from college were also there. We were glad to be out of the grueling physical challenges of the boot camp and were looking forward to an easier time in place where the emphasis would be on technology, no matter how mundane.

Unfortunately, the Greek Army leadership had formed the opinion that even career officers of the Technical Branch were not sufficiently imbued with military spirit and therefore they could not, by themselves, transform civilians into proper soldiers. As a result the Officer’s School was under the command of an infantry major. This person had a mean streak and never missed a chance to give us a tough time or humiliate us.

We were allowed to go out into town once a week for a few hours and we all looked forward to that liberty. One day we were told that our hair had to be short, no more than one inch in length. The infantry major walked into our dormitory with a ruler. We lined up in front of our bunks and he would place the ruler on each person’s skull and pull the hair to make sure that it did not go beyond the one-inch mark. It turns out that the zero mark of the ruler was not at end and there was about a quarter of an inch gap between the end and the zero mark. The major made no adjustment for that discrepancy.

When he came to measure my hair he found out that it was a quarter of an inch too long. “But sir,” I blurted, “you forgot to subtract the amount of the gap at the start of the ruler.” “You are right,” the major snapped back, “you can go.”

Of course, the correct adjustment would have been to add the quarter of an inch rather than subtract it, so I got away with hair too long by half an inch!

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