Friday, April 14, 2006

My Military Experience in the Peace Corps

As I said in my profile, I served in the Peace Corps before serving in the US Army in the sixties. I arrived in Allahabad, India in September 1962 and not long after I arrived, war broke out between India and China over the positions of the borders between them. I was teaching printing technology at a government of India printing college near the Ganges River. Immediately upon the war news hitting the papers and radio, the principal of my college called me down to his office. He wanted me to take charge of air raid drills and supervise the digging of trenches around the hostel for students to jump into if we came under Chinese air attack.

I pointed out to him that I was a Peace Corps Volunteer and not trained for what he wanted me to accomplish. He replied, “You’re an American. You know what to do.”

Arranging air raid drills in that Indian College wasn’t easy. When I was in high school in the fifties in Floral Park, New York, we’d line up in the school hallways and face our lockers during air raid drill. But hallways in Indian schools and other institutions are usually on the outside of the buildings, open to the outside. Birds came in the classrooms from the hallways and open windows. I managed to arrange a few drills inside the classrooms away from windows and doors.

But my greatest failing came in supervising those trenches being dug. I enlisted the students to dig them and they were very enthusiastic about it, so it didn’t take long. Then one night we had a visitor for supper, another American about 10 years older than me who was a Fulbright Scholar. When conversation waned, I invited him to admire my trenches.

“Walt,” he said, “You have a big problem here. Your trenches are all in a straight line. Students seeking refuge in them would be mowed down by a plane on a strafing run. You need zigzag trenches.”

The next day I ordered new, zigzag trenches.

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