Wednesday, January 20, 2010

45 years ago today I entered the Army

45 years ago today I entered the Army

By Walter Haan, www.war-books.com, www.southfarmpress.com

I was inducted into the US Army 45 years ago today, January 20th in Hempstead, New York. My father had driven me to Hempstead from Peekskill, New York where I was living at the time. I was taken, along with the rest of the inductees from Hempstead to Pennsylvania Station on Manhattan for the train taking us south to Fort Jackson, South Carolina.

On my first night at Fort Jackson, another inductee took it upon himself to read a Wonder Woman comic book as a bedtime story to the approximately 20 new soldiers in the barracks after lights out. And so started my almost two years in the Army. Looking back, those two years were frequently cartoonish, random and comical.

It was at Fort Jackson I learned it was cold in the south in January. I didn’t have appropriate clothing for days before we were issued Army clothes. The barracks were heated by old coal furnaces and one of the duties on the roster was to feed them with coal and remove the clinkers.

After about a week we were bussed to Fort Gordon, Georgia. It was at Gordon that I had six weeks of basic training and eight weeks of Signal School.

Basic training was what you would expect with one surprise. The Army wanted us to be able to run the mile in eight minutes. I had been in the Peace Corps before being drafted into the Army and the Peace Corps expected its trainees to run the mile in seven minutes.

I was commended in basic training for choking and strangling. It was good I had mastered these techniques because I was a lousy shot with my rifle. In combat, I would have had to throw the rifle down to choke enemy soldiers who reached me because I couldn't hit the side of a barn if I wanted to.

During Signal Corps training it became obvious that when we returned for dinner each night, some sergeant would round up everyone for digging duty to install a brick patio in the compound. I skipped dinner for weeks, paying for a hamburger or something at a snack bar.

Every Friday at Signal School they would line us up at a parade ground to hold up, open and read the contents of an envelope that told where the latest group to finish Signal School would be stationed. For the first six weeks, the destination was Korea. For the seventh week graduating class, they announced they had no envelope and the group was held until the envelope arrived. Yep, you guessed it, this group went to South Vietnam. So when the eighth week group’s turn came, my group, we were a little apprehensive. But the officer up front had an envelope and when he read the contents, he announced we were going to Germany. Frauleins, here we come.

After two week’s leave at home, we all had to report to a Brooklyn dock to board Army transport for crossing the Atlantic. My bunk in that ship, the ex-President Adams of the American Presidents Line, was so low in the ship that those of us bunking there were given no duties. We gambled for the 10 day crossing. The most valuable lesson I learned on that cruise was that when you hear someone behind you in a companionway start to throw up, walk faster.

I’ll continue my Army story in another posting soon. Copyright © 2010 by Walter Haan; www.war-books.com, www.southfarmpress.com

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