Write Again … A whole new world

Published 9:00 am Saturday, July 18, 2020

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Memories. The things we remember.

No, this isn’t going to be a sentimental dose of nostalgia. You know, when we sometimes imbue certain memories with a sweetness that probably exceeds the reality of how things actually were.

It would be my sense that we all make a bit more, a bit sweeter, of parts of our past, that aren’t exactly like the experience, in truth, really was. Call it human nature, I suppose.

The memory I wish to share with you is simply something that happened to me a long time ago. No spin. OK?

So. It was, perhaps, my third or fourth day in the Army. I had enlisted on the 27th day of April, 1959 — the induction took place in Raleigh — and by that evening my fellow inductees and I were on a train enroute to Columbia, South Carolina. From there it was only a short ride in an Army vehicle to Fort Jackson.

Now, on to my (not particularly significant) story. First, however, let me digress just a bit. I had completed a year and a half in college, and had also been in the ROTC program. This was at Wake Forest. In truth, I really didn’t know what I wanted to study, nor what I wanted to do vocationally. I decided that a time away from school, and taking care of my military obligation, was the short-term best thing for me.

So that’s why and how I found myself a brand new recruit at Fort Jackson. And oh, my, was the reality of my decision coming down on me. If you’ve never been in the service, understanding how I felt would be almost impossible.

On maybe the third or fourth day of my Army experience, as we were just going to bed in our barracks, an NCO came into our bay, and began tying a white strip of cloth on the foot of several bunks. Mine included.

The purpose of doing this? At around 4:30 in the morning we found out. Did we ever. You see, we were the “chosen ones.” That is, we were picked to pull KP, in a consolidated mess hall, no less. For those sans military experience, a “consolidated mess” feeds hundreds, literally hundreds, of soldiers each meal, every day. That’s close to a thousand meals a day, folks, if not more.

Well. We were fed a hearty breakfast of SOS, then given our assignments. I had been to college a year and a half, and had taken a year of ROTC. All of which had really prepared me for this KP assignment: GI-ing (cleaning) garbage cans. Oh, yes. And so doing that for all three meals, following which we had additional duties in the cleanup process.

In all, I spent 13-14 hours that day on my first assigned away-from-the-barracks job.

We had been issued at that time only one pair of fatigue pants and one fatigue shirt. I think I could have stood that “aromatic” attire at attention without me being in them.

My companion at our work site at the back of the mess hall gave himself a few breaks from time to time, whereas I was too concerned about being caught to take such liberties. As it turned out, one of the regular cooks spotted him, and asked him if he had a heart condition.

Seeing the confusion on the fellow’s face, I guess, he said, “Son, just about every time I’ve looked out, you have dropped down to rest. It seems to me you must have a case of dropsy, and don’t have the heart to get up.”

Now, why would I remember all of that? Nevertheless, after 10 days a handful of us were flown to Louisville, Kentucky, where we were then transported to Fort Knox. It was there that I was in basic training, advanced training, all in I Company, 3rd Battalion, 6th Armored Cavalry Regiment, then was sent to an eight-weeks clerical school on post.

And no, they never did seem interested in my college or ROTC experience.

Can you believe that?!

Note — After seven months at Fort Knox, we were all flown to Germany, where I was for 29 months. Memories.