Private Lucky

by

Larry Martines


Prologue


Early in 1950, or it might have been late in 1949, I answered a call by the Air force to apply for pilot training. I was not following a patriotic urge, but rather a passion to learn how to fly. A stint in the Air force seemed a small price to pay for the opportunity. What the heck we weren’t at war.

            I arrived at Mitchel Field on Long Island at the appointed time and joined what had to be about a thousand other young men looking to become pilots. Testing for this assignment was arduous, to say the least. It went on for three days with many applicants falling by the wayside. Early on the third day, I was one of seven guys who had survived the rigors of what had to be the mother-of-all physical, mental, and vision testing. It was the vision testing that eliminated most. At that time of my life I was able to see things others couldn’t. I had better than twenty twenty eyesight.

            The final hurdle was to go before a board of officers. Their job was to interview each survivor and decide whether or not they were suitable officer material. Only three of the seven were judged acceptable. I was not one of them. This upset me terribly, but unwittingly I had encountered my first bit of luck wherein serving in the armed forces was concerned.

            My interview centered on the origin of my name. This came as a shock to me, since I never considered myself anything but American. My explanation that three generations before, my grandfathers on both sides had emigrated from Italy didn’t seem to satisfy them. These three interviewers were after all southerners and congressionally confirmed officers and gentleman. They obviously thought I was a recent arrival from south of the border. My name has that confusion factor attached to it.

            Where the luck came into it stemmed from the fact that had I been accepted and had I become a pilot, I would have wound up in Korea in the early days of the war. The Air Force had a critical shortage of fighter pilots, which I’m sure I would have been a good one, and most of the pilots remained there long enough to get blown out of the sky over North Korea.

            Another young man, a kid I grew up with, qualified at a later date, and he subsequently died in his F86 fighter jet that reportedly malfunctioned over North Korea. It had been a brand new plane issued to him for his thirty-first mission. Karma, or what ever, I considered myself just plain lucky.

 


Chapter One

 

The name of the game

 

            There was a war going on – but in spite of that my two years in the army was one big laugh-in. There was always something to laugh at – gallows humor perhaps – but playing at being soldiers, to a kid from Brooklyn, was funny stuff. Of course if we ever had to be real soldiers laughing wouldn’t have been an option. That it all turned out for me to be just for laughs was just plain luck.

            The Korean War began in June of 1950 and the proverbial ‘Greetings’ arrived in September. It would have been easy to avoid the draft, but I was blissfully unaware a war was going on. It was summer, I was off from school, and I was in ‘hot pursuit’. The love of my life, at the time, lived in Brooklyn, and I lived in Ronkonkoma – a sixty-mile separation.

            My name had been at the top of the list at the selection center, because when WWII ended I just missed being drafted. Too bad I wasn’t paying attention, or the war hadn’t started sooner, or later, when I was attending evening classes at Hofstra College. Maybe I should’ve enrolled in summer classes. I’m sure the buzz would have been staying draft-free by signing up for Reserve Officer Training, more commonly known as ROTC. That would’ve kept me out of the draft at least until I graduated. But this was not to be. Instead I naively accepted my fate, was told to get my affairs in order and that I would be inducted in three weeks. In typical army fashion, induction didn’t happen for another three months.

            If the greetings had been delayed another month until I was back in school, the ROTC option might have played. But then there wouldn’t have been this story to relate, which was probably the funniest time of my life. Not necessarily enjoyable, but funny.

            For instance, right from the get-go, I’m in the induction center in Fort Devins, Massachusetts undergoing an interview to determine what possible use I might be to the army. Not much as it turned out, some things never change, but that’s getting ahead of the story.

            Anyway, a young lad, a teenage corporal recently activated with the Tennessee National Guard who probably wasn’t wearing shoes a few weeks before, conducted the interview. Four months into my twenty-first year, having spent most of them growing up in Brooklyn, made mentally dealing with an innocent young hillbilly no contest.

            It took about three microseconds to scope out the scam. His job was to assign me something with the grand sounding designation of ‘Military Occupational Specialty’, MOS as it is commonly referred to by army insiders. I would’ve been happy to leave it to the insiders, but I soon got the drift of where he was heading with this approach. Or at least where I thought he thought he was heading. I think matching an MOS to someone was a first for both of us. Anyway, being the ever helpful volunteering type the Army loves, I volunteered to help him wade through the complex task of finding a suitable MOS home for me.

            So here’s the way it went, more or less. I said, “Corporal, maybe I can help out with this.” Not waiting for his consent, I continued. “In civilian life I was an electronic’s expert.” This was a wopper, I had half-finished a home study course on radio, but what would he know? I noticed I had his undivided attention. It was unlikely that he actually could’ve divided it, so working the developing angle, guys from Brooklyn were good at this. I continued. “I think I might be a great help to the army working on electronics, like radar.” He got all excited and started leafing through a book that resembled a New York telephone directory, emblazoned with the title “United States Army Military Occupational Specialties – MOS – For Official Use Only.”

            I couldn’t imagine what was in those lists, but I watched and wondered as the poor guy leafed desperately through its ‘official’ pages. Just when I thought I would have to try a different approach, the corporal began to show high excitement. “Hey, I looked under electronics and I think I found something. How does this sound?’ He haltingly read, obviously not sure of how to pronounce what had to be to him some big strange words. “ Mi . . . Micro . . . Microwave . . . Radio Repair . . . M O S . . . 1 4 1 9.”

            He wasn’t the only one for whom these were strange words. I never heard them before, but with my best ‘I’m real proud of you look’ I said, “Wow, Corporal, you hit the nail right on the head. That’s perfect!”

            The corporal was all smiles. He seemed to be ecstatic to have identified an important technical asset for what he must have imagined to be a rapidly expanding army assembly of important technical assets. And so, I was assigned MOS 1419, a very fortuitous occurrence, and the first real piece of luck in this involuntary interruption in my life. Private Lucky was off to the races.

            Then we were obliged to submit to a series of written examinations. Strange procedure for creating rifle-toting grunts. This turned out to be an all day affair and there were ten individual examinations that covered many areas. At the end of the process they tabulated the individual scores and averaged them into a single number. As it turned out it was the army’s version of an intelligence test. It actually didn’t have much meaning except that an average score over one hundred and thirty marked you as potential officer material. I scored one hundred and forty out of a possible one hundred and fifty and so began the badgering to get me to go to officer’s training. It didn’t seem like a bad idea until I learned it meant extending my time in the army. As the say in Brooklyn, fagedabodit.

            Aside from killing a day with the testing and another getting an MOS interview, all of us draftees were run through the induction center grinder that ingested hapless civilians and turned them into even more hapless GI wannabees, or donwannabees – no easy matter. Several days were spent doing what soldiers do best, stand and wait and smoke if you got ‘em.

            Young men, at that time young ladies were not subject to the draft – too bad – came in all sizes and shapes. This placed a terrible strain on the ‘one size fits all’ khaki-colored mentality prevalent in the army ruling structure. To wit, most of us didn’t get issued full suits of army clothes and those that did had size problems – a never ending supply dilemma.

            Supply logistics notwithstanding, somehow we got through a full week of this nonsense – graded, sorted, and ready to be funneled out to that big waiting army of military occupational specialties. Fat chance! The inductors had one thing in mind for the vast majority of the thousands of inductees facing them at six AM the final morning of the army induction process. With the exception of myself and several others, everyone was sent to Fort Polk, Louisiana for basic training in the infantry, followed by immediate deployment to the killing fields in Korea – few of them came back. Because of the assigned MOS, I was sent to the Signal Corps right there in Fort Devins. What luck? I said a special prayer for my friendly Tennessee National Guard corporal. Nearly sixty years on, I still retain a good feeling for friendly hillbillies.

            Basic training, was just that, basic, very basic. Learn how to salute, say yes sir, make hospital corners on a bed, polish boots, do KP, and among many other basics, learn to fire a rifle. Now here was a challenge. Even though I had lived in Brooklyn, where tough gangs roamed the streets, I had never fired a gun. In fact I don’t recall ever having seen one before I was issued a semi-automatic carbine. The Signal Corps had a non-combat designation. Therefore we weren’t issued, or even required to train on heavier duty weapons such as the M1 rifle. Carbines were light, easy to carry, and primarily issued to non-combatants for ‘close-in’ self defense.

            Anyway, to even an army dedicated misfit like myself, it was pretty obvious what ‘close-in self-defense’ meant. I mean there was a real war going on. In a war zone, non-combatant doesn’t really count for much. When I was issued my own personal carbine, they got my attention.

            Instruction began with learning to field-strip the carbine. That meant disassembling it completely, inspecting the parts and then reassembling it – presumably with your eyes closed. Well, I paid close attention to all this and treated my carbine like a brother, reasoning it might be all that stands between me and becoming a ‘close-in’ statistic. I didn’t know it then, but I subsequently learned they were piling up dead GIs like cordwood in good old ‘give em hell’ Harry Truman’s Korean butcher shop.

            Then one fine day we all went out to the rifle range. We were actually going to fire these weapons of brotherly love. Each of us amateurs were issued exactly ten ‘rounds’, bullets to the uninitiated, of ammo, again to the uninitiated, ammunition. These were practice rounds. Preceding this we were drilled on the importance of keeping our weapons pointed down-range at all times. The drill sergeants were testy about this, since they were standing behind a bunch of men who for the most part had never handled, let alone fired, a loaded rifle before.

            We were standing on the firing line at the one hundred yard range. When told to do so, we were to fire those practice rounds at the targets, just to get the feel of the weapon. And so we did. Now keeping in mind the potential future ‘close-in’ importance of all this, I wanted to see just how well I could hit what I aimed at. I really had no desire to see how close ‘close-in’ could get. Not to worry. God-given better than 20-20 eyesight and also God-given steady hands of a healthy, not yet twenty-one year old physically fit body, I nicely put all ten rounds smack in the bull’s eye. In the attending confusion, no one but me noticed. Great, I thought. Now I know I can shoot this thing, but no one else has to. The last thing I need is a rifle-man MOS. I was happy with the MOS my real good somebody corporal had given me.

            Then it came time to fire for the record and presumably for the coveted marksmanship medals that could be worn proudly on the breast of your dress uniform. Feigning all sorts of difficulties, I hit everything I aimed at but never hit the target. The sergeant noticed. Especially the dust kicked up by rounds that completely missed the target. He came up behind me roaring expletive-punctuated insults all the while and telling me what a poor excuse for a soldier I was. Not wanting to be disrespectful to this leader of men, I turned to face him. Alas, the rifle turned with me and wound up aimed directly at him – just about as close-in as it gets.

            Now, as the saying goes, you ain’t heard nothing yet. In one swift move he yanked the rifle out of my hands, bellowed like a hyena in heat, and ripped into me as he was born to do. Of course I stood my ground and just used my good ‘streets of Brooklyn stare’ as I locked onto his eyes daring him to take a swing at me. Anyway, he backed off, but not before he let me know what a miserable specimen I was and that I flunked rifle-range 101. I smiled inwardly thinking how lucky this moron was that he was not facing me when I had a loaded weapon in my hands if I really meant to use it. Pow! right between the eyes.

            No marksmanship medal for this misfit. Another piece of luck. Staying off Harry’s Korean race track was the name of the game.

            Basic training came and went. It took eight weeks to turn us non combatants into soldiers, more or less. Aside from the few obligatory fist fights that goes with being a little guy, forced to live with Neanderthals, the only sustaining memory I retained out of that episode was drawing KP (Kitchen Police) duty on the final day. Bad luck. That did it for me, one way or another I would seek to avoid that nonsense in the future.

 


Chapter Two

 

Basic training ended and it was time to be assigned to microwave radio repair school. This would take place in Fort Monmouth New Jersey, but not without the obligatory and mysterious delays army life is famous for, you know, the hurry up and wait routine. So what to do while waiting? Those in charge had limited ideas, and on top of their short list was a week long bivouac. Sleeping in the woods in a squad tent – in the winter yet.

            We were driven in the back of trucks out somewhere in the wilds of Massachusetts. The tents were already there and looked to be a more or less permanent set-up. This had to be a favorite place to hide men with nothing else to do. We were marched sort of in formation to the tent area, and column by column directed into tents. Myself and my friends immediately marched out the back of the tents we were ordered into and re-assembled in one of the empty tents down the line.

            An uncomfortable night followed in which I learned that sleeping on an army cot in a tent in the winter for several more nights was not an inviting prospect. Even with all the gear that I had and could pile under and over me, it was a shivering episode. This, I thought is ridiculous. What was the point? What the heck are we doing out here? There were nice warm bunks back at the base. There had to be way out of this.

            The following morning, me and one of my buddies opted for going on sick call. This meant a trip back to camp to see the medics. We duly received the ‘take two aspirins and don’t call me in the morning routine.’ Then we returned from the base infirmary to the company area to wait for transportation back to the bivouac area, where we planned to scout out any potential avenue of escape. As luck would have it, I noticed another of my friends coming out of the mess hall.

            “Heh, Goug. How’s it going. How’d you get out of bivouac?”

            “Easy, I’m helping paint the mess hall.”

            “Really, do you need any help?” Anything would be better than sleeping in a squad tent. Besides, ‘The Great Caruso’ with Mario Lanza was playing at the post theater.

            Goug immediately said, “I’ll check with the captain, he’s in charge of the detail.”

            I did a double take on that. “A captain’s in charge of painting the mess hall?”

            “Yeah, he was in the inactive reserve, but now he’s active, at least he has a uniform on.”

            Anyway, Goug checked and sure enough he came back in about ten minutes and told us we were in.

            “Great,” I said, “How’d you do it?”

            “Oh, it was easy, I told the captain we needed more help if we were gonna get the job done before the troops get back. He agreed and asked if I could get some more men who knew how to paint. I told him I got the right two guys standing just outside, waiting to go back out on bivouac. Before he could ask, I told him one of you guys used to paint murals on the wall like Michelangelo, and the other guy painted white lines on roads.”

            And so it went. We painted the mess hall. Easy job, went to see the movie, and slept in our own beds in barracks that now seemed like a five star hotel. Another piece of good luck. I heard they sleep in tents in Korea. I didn’t want to learn that MOS.

            While painting the mess hall, I got to know the captain, who as it turned out was a poor schmuck who managed to get re-activated after having spent several years in the army during WWII. In retrospect, he could easily have been a character straight out of ‘Catch 22.’ No one knew what to do with him, so he was keeping himself busy supervising painting details. We became good friends, and I painted all kinds of signs to hang from doors such as, Latrine, Mess Hall, Headquarters, etc. Also we added new signs over the GI cans in back of the mess hall, Edible Garbage, Non-Edible Garbage, and so on. Edible Garbage? I couldn’t imagine what army oxymoron I’d get to see next.

            But like all good things, this goof-ball job ended when I got my orders to ship-out to Fort Monmouth. The captain offered me a promotion if I would stay and keep painting. No way, I was a buck private, and that was fine by me. With rank came responsibility, and in the army I didn’t need any of that. There were too many guys like me determined to make non-com life miserable. Besides, I really wanted to earn my MOS designation, whatever it meant.

            During the two month interlude between leaving Fort Devins and heading to Fort Monmouth, I managed to hitch hike back home on weekends to Long Island in New York. It was a long, arduous trip, but since I had nothing better to do that’s what I did. A lot of my other fierce compatriots opted to do the same thing. Sometimes I was able to get a ride with someone who was fortunate enough to have a car. This usually involved a five dollar fee. A huge amount of money back then, so most of the time I just hitched.

            In the course of events, I met another New Yorker who said he was going to pick up his car when he was in New York. and he invited me to ride back with him. I gladly accepted the offer and showed up at the address he gave me at the appointed time early one Sunday evening. I was in for a big surprise. His residence was in Manhattan where the first person I encountered was the doorman. He asked, “To whom do you wish to see, my good man?” He didn’t refer to me by my rank, buck private, in spite of the total lack of stripes on my class A jacket. Anyway, my presence was announced and the elevator operator whisked me up to a penthouse apartment. “Wow! Talk about living at the Ritz.” This place was enormous, replete with butler, maid and God knows what else.

            A rather distinguished appearing gentleman approached me and shook my hand. He introduced himself as Robert’s father, the young army fledgling I knew as Bob. I wasn’t too sure of how to introduce my self, either as Larry or Lawrence, since we seemed to be on a different level. Maybe it had something to do with the air up this high overlooking the city. He mentioned that he had been in the service during the first World War and thought being in the army would be good for his son. I didn’t respond to that. Man, if I had the juice he obviously has, my son would never have gotten drafted. Oh well, to each his own.

            Anyway, my world of surprises wasn’t finished. Bob and I found his car in the subterranean garage located beneath this rich man’s enclave. I couldn’t believe what I was looking at. It was straight out of Looney Tunes. It was the smallest car I had ever been this close to. A Henry J – a real tinker toy. I wondered if you had to wind it up to make it go, but no, it had a tiny engine to go along with its diminutive size. It was going to be a hell of ride for the several hundred miles back to camp.

            Once under way, we kept in the right hand lane on the highway as the traffic whizzed by with big eighteen wheelers nearly blowing us off the road. With my chin resting on my knees most of the way, we made it up to a place on the highway just outside of Hartford, Connecticut. A loud pop and a quick rise in engine temperature brought us to an emergency stop on the side of the road. I lifted the hood, Bob had absolutely no understanding of what made the car run. Using a small flashlight Bob carried in his glove compartment, it quickly became evident to me that the fan belt had snapped and disappeared. I looked at the diminutive size of the pulleys. There were only two involved, and they were not separated by very much.

            Part of our class A uniform involved bloused trousers over combat boots. Normally the blousing was held in place by heavy rubber bands, but some enterprising GIs had come up with the idea to use surgical tubing for that purpose. Surgical tubing is pretty strong stuff. I slipped one out of the bloused pants and over my boot. Sure enough with a little effort I managed to slip it over both pulleys. Walla, we were back in business. The rest of the trip, although with some concern about how long the jury-rigged fan belt would hold up, actually went along with no further problems. What the heck, I did have a spare on my other leg.

            After that experience, I guess Bob discussed the matter with his father and the following week we drove back down to New York and came back in his father’s new Lincoln. It was fun to see the guards at the gate salute the car without realizing there were two buck privates in it.

 

Next stop, Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, a short hundred mile hitch to Long Island where I would spend every weekend thereafter. Of course this meant plying all the crafty evasion tactics necessary to stay duty free on weekends. As time went on, I raised this skill to a high level. It meant being alert to every potential scam that one could use to buck the duty roster.

            The first stop in Fort Monmouth was a short stay in Camp Woods, a relic left over from WW I – a temporary stop until more permanent lodgings became available on the main base. Whenever you got transferred from one base to another, you had to turn in certain clothing items like field jackets and overcoats at the base you were leaving and draw new ones at the base you went to. That didn’t sit well with my mind set. I had become attached to my field jacket, and it fit me pretty good. It was another fine example of the type of directives that emanated from the khaki colored minds in the slave-holder army hierarchy.

            At the supply depot, a fat supply sergeant tossed an overcoat in my direction that he knew was ten sizes too big for me. I held it up. It could easily double for a squad tent. I rolled it up again and flung it back across the counter where it wound up in his lap.

            After disentangling himself from it he glared at me and said, “Where’re you from soldier?”

            “Brooklyn,” I snapped back.

            “Oh,” he said, and went to find a coat that would fit me. He knew better than to tangle with a mean-spirited kid from Brooklyn. Good move on his part. More good luck on my part.

            The second thing was unavoidably getting assigned to latrine duty. Not a nice job. The latrines in Camp Woods were stand alone buildings with endless rows of commodes, sinks, and group showers, built to service an army in a hurry. The after effects of a day’s use were exactly what you would expect from a gang of less than house-broken young slobs having sloshed their way through the place. Even though there was a good sized group of us assigned to this detail, I was not into scrubbing this rotting, rapidly-ripening repository of God only knows what.

            I held my nose, looked the sorry scene of soil over, then told everyone to stand back and I grabbed the fire hose hanging just outside the door. One of the others turned it on full blast, and I proceeded to hose the place out. Like Tom Sawyer’s fence, everyone wanted to have a turn with the hose. The building was so old there were generous spaces between the floor boards, so drainage was not a problem. Every thing that wasn’t permanently in place got washed away. Ten minutes later the place was cleaner than it had ever been. So we relaxed out in the grass, smoking, sleeping, reading, and just goofing off.

            A couple of hours later the officer in charge came by to check out our progress. After a quick look he came out astonished by what he found or rather didn’t find. Gone was all evidence of Sherman’s march through the monster latrine at Camp Woods – the place actually glistened and smelled fresh. We had opened the doors and all the windows to let the wind blow through and dry the place out. The Lieutenant never said a word, he just got back in his jeep and drove off to his next stop.

            Then came the move to the barracks in Fort Monmouth proper.

            Doing my usual non-committal, ready for anything approach to moving into a new situation, I picked out an empty bunk second from the end after you came in the door. I dropped my stuff on the floor and flaked out on a bed with its mattress rolled up on one end. This was a normal routine when beds were turned over to new arrivals. The guy similarly ensconced in the end bunk introduced himself, and said his name was Coia. I recognized him as Italian, told him my name, and he asked what nationality it was. A question that always follows whenever someone new hears my name. I told him the name came by way of my grandfather who had emigrated from Sicily in the last century. With that we went back to reading some magazines.

            A few minutes later some jerks who were horsing around throwing hunting knives let one slip, and it landed on the floor next to my bunk. I was pissed, so I reached down, picked it up and flung it back toward where the knuckle-heads were playing. The next thing that happened had Hollywood written all over it. The knife flew down the length of the barracks, impaled itself in the last post and quivered there menacingly – another bit of luck. With that, my paisan neighbor, Coia, volunteered for all to hear, “My God, a Sicilian knife thrower!” I was the most surprised guy there, but I didn’t say a word and just nonchalantly went back to reading a magazine. The knives disappeared, and I never saw them again.

 


Chapter Three

 

Okay, so classes would actually begin. What a joke. Nine hours a day we sat in class rooms and were expected to somehow absorb some idiotically presented technical material that seemed to have no beginning and no end. If I was nothing else, I was a student. Learning was never a problem until I tried to do it the army way. Too bad, getting to know something about microwave radio repair might have been worthwhile. Not so, as far as army instruction goes. Having attended school both before and after the army for nearly thirty years I can say unequivocally I know something about teachers. To be sure, in the civilian world there’s an acute shortage of truly competent teachers, but what I encountered in the army defied description. Perhaps they use the euphemism ‘instructor’ in lieu of teacher for good reason.

            Anyway, as I subsequently learned, the army was into acquiring equipment, warehousing it, and it didn’t matter if any of it worked or anyone knew how to operate it. At that particular point in time, a larger understanding of these matters was beyond my comprehension. A lot of it became clearer by subsequent exposure to Army life. But here, I have to digress for a moment. It wasn’t until much later in my life, when I became involved in a military warehouse automation project that I came to comprehend what a wasteful process the military procurement system really is. And on an another occasion when I was in charge of a complex ship-board radar evaluation, I had to inform a supervisor that equipment he was responsible for didn’t work. His answer was, “What’s the matter? When I was in the navy most of the electronic equipment didn’t work.” We’ll revisit this subject later on. In the meantime, Private Lucky still had to attend to matters that required his immediate attention. 

            There were two duty-roster biggies to be avoided at all costs, Kitchen Police, KP, and Guard Duty. Naturally these were relegated to weekends for those of us attending classes. Go figure, given the abysmal instruction process, and most of our class time was spent sleeping or staring out the window. Anyway, I wasn’t about to be caught up in any KP or guard duty rotation schedule, so I steadfastly examined every potential avenue of escape.

            There’s an old army saying, never volunteer. I don’t know how that idea started, but I have to tell you, applying it as a rule can be, and often is, a fundamental mistake. There are a lot of details and jobs the army offers up that carry with them some pretty good perks. One such detail caught my attention as it slipped neatly beneath the notice of my brain-dead comrades-in-arms. This was Troop Information Program (TIP) instructor.

            TIP is another grand army scheme, otherwise known as a boondoggle that involved spreading army-style propaganda. That not withstanding, those who presented the army TIP message were TIP instructors. These guys lead a special existence. I immediately noticed the instructors were other buck privates just like myself. How come? The inquisitive mind wanted to know. After attending my first Saturday morning TIP lecture, I spoke with the Instructor.

            Complimenting him on a ‘great’ presentation (I was bored out of my skull) he was happy to speak with me. After a few moments, I learned several crucial things. First, this job carried with it an exclusion from all other duty roster details. Second, he was about to ship out, and hence the army needed a new TIP instructor. So, you guessed it, I volunteered for the job, by way of talking my new well-flattered friend into recommending me to become his replacement. And so it went. I became the new TIP instructor. Piece of cake, and another great piece of luck. But wait, it even gets better.

            As the job requirement unfolded, it turned out that the army provided the material to be used in each week’s presentation. Again, it’s typical army propaganda. It’s designed to acquaint the troops with the world they lived in and is their duty to protect. Never mind they might wind up experiencing some close-in combat in the process. My job simply required studying the material and then presenting it to the troops who didn’t have any choice but to listen.

            Actually, the job appealed to the ham actor in me, and I had a good time generating some listener interest in the material. I actually enjoyed being the teacher, ahem, instructor. At least I kept them awake – no small achievement when dealing with a bunch of GIs who would rather be goofing off. Immediately after each TIP presentation, I went one way and the troops another. Their way was marching around the parade grounds, so some egotistical maniac could get off on reviewing the troops under his command. My way, was out the post gate, class A pass in hand and off to Long Island for the weekend – not too bad!

            But as I said, it got better. There was another young private who yearned to be a TIP presenter. He approached me and told me of his desire. He also told me how he was fearful of standing up in front of all those men and losing his nerve. I didn’t need a replacement, but this guy had one important thing going for him, namely his home was in the state of Washington. This meant he wasn’t in any dire need of weekend passes, and he didn’t seem to mind being part of the duty roster contingent. I managed to get him out of that anyway. It was the least I could do for my newly-designated TIP Research Assistant. I never thought to see if there was an MOS for TIP instructors or assistants.

            My scheming mind immediately saw the benefit of recruiting a nice assistant TIP presenter. He was ecstatic when I told him that as my Research Assistant, I would help him get a start at being a TIP instructor. Over the next few weeks I gave him part of the presentation to do and soon he was able to do the whole thing. With that, I told him he could do the entire Saturday morning TIP session and that I had to be somewhere else. I left for the weekend on Friday night. And so it went. My recruit was happy as a clam that I let him do the TIP, and he did it faithfully every weekend thereafter.

            So between weekends on Long Island and weekdays snoozing my way into MOS 1419, the six months in Fort Monmouth breezed by. Soon I was back in Fort Devins with the 24th Signal Service Battalion.

            It was at this juncture, about half way through the two-year obligation of being a draftee that I made a startling observation. As hard as I thought about it, I couldn’t relate to the idea that I had ever been anywhere else but in the army. What was even worse, as I looked into the future I couldn’t see any possible life ahead of me not being in the army. No matter which way my mind looked, all it saw was army. Not good. I wondered what I might be doing five years from then. That, as I write this, was nearly sixty years ago, proving once again the speed at which time actually does fly.

            Anyway, there I was back in Fort Devins with my newly minted MOS bolstered by a notation on my service record that I had successfully completed a course in microwave radio repair. Some joke! Only I didn’t know whether the joke was on me or the army. As it all turned out, it really didn’t matter. I was just one more bought-and-paid for resource the army was totally unprepared to make use of.

            For the next several months the closest I got to microwave radio relay equipment was inventorying it in one of the many warehouses on the base. It seems this was another favorite pass-time for the fearless leaders in charge of a bunch of adolescent men with basically nothing of any importance to do. So high up on the short list, probably just below bivouac, was warehouse inventory.

            That ranking of importance became all too clear the first time I stepped into the warehouse to count and identify things stored there. About the only order encountered was that the stacks of items were arranged in long aisles. But as I walked down the aisles all I saw was piles of stuff in total disarray. Obviously my predecessors were not into neat. No one seemed to care. All that mattered was that we came up with some sort of count. I suspect whatever we reported was summarily tossed, and the only record was that on such and such a day a satisfactory inventory was dutifully conducted. And so it went.

            Many years later into what at that time in my army days was an extremely uncertain future, I had become part of a management team designing an automated system for the military supply world, wherein I learned more than I ever really wanted to know about the military supply system. But that’s another story. Suffice it to say that whatever advantage we enjoyed in our military edge over whomever our enemy du jour happened to be, it was only because we could produce military materiel faster than the military could lose it. As a case in point, recall if you will the final scene in the popular Indiana Jones epic ‘Raiders of The Lost Ark,’ and remember where they put the Ark so no one would ever find it again, namely in a government warehouse. Good choice.

            It didn’t take long to realize, MOS notwithstanding, nothing had really changed. There was still no activity of any real importance to occupy all the ‘duty’ hours in any given day. Looking back on it all, once one learned how to shoot a rifle that was all there was to being in the army except for when you may actually have to put that expertise to use. All the rest is really irrelevant. Once you manage to out-supply your enemy with firepower and mobility the rest is pre-ordained, with one caveat. It doesn’t work in guerrilla warfare as our fearless, imperial-bent, leaders have managed to learn the hard way. This, even though the powers that be continue to resist the lessons learned in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, etc.

            So to avoid the one constant in army life, the duty roster, I had to come up with a new scam. I soon found it – working in the base motor pool. This had a few real advantages. It was like having a regular job with regular hours. I got an army license to drive every kind of vehicle they had. I could walk down the company street with grease covered fatigues, a sure sign of how hard I worked. And happily, I could take whatever vehicle I was working on out on long test drives. Army bases are pretty big places with a lot of roads that really don’t go anywhere important, but they are there. I made good use of them on my ‘test drives.’

            Motor-pool duty took care of an important interval that soon came to an end when the 24th was ordered into action in the snow covered world of northern New York State. Operation ‘Snow Drop’ had been ordered to give the 82nd Airborne practice in parachuting onto snow and ice covered terrain. Given that the war was being fought in the rice paddies of Korea this seemed a little odd. But that’s par for the course in the world of khaki colored minds. Of course at that point in time it wasn’t generally known that the army planned to move across the Yalu River and into some pretty cold weather.

            Getting from Fort Devins to Camp Drum in Watertown, New York was a bit of an adventure. Naturally the Battalion had to move a lot of its equipment to support the operation. A convoy was assembled consisting of many two and a half ton trucks, called deuce and a halfs, some three quarter ton trucks and a couple of jeeps for the command personnel. Since I was one of the few men licenced to operate a deuce and a half, I was assigned to drive one of them along with a corporal who apparently was issued a license that same morning.

            The corporal pulled rank and took the first driving shift. We drove out of Fort Devins towing a generator unit on the first leg of the journey. We were third in line following another deuce and a half towing a large trailer. It was following the lead vehicle , a jeep with a second lieutenant in command.

            All went well enough after the corporal got the truck into third gear grinding off a few teeth in the process. After a little more than two hours had gone by, and with the convoy moving slowly, it began to snow. Soon the road was covered with a nice looking pristine white overlay. We were traveling along Route 2, a narrow two-lane highway with a stream running alongside. The lead vehicle rounded one of the many curves in the road, and momentarily was out of sight. The lieutenant got the bright idea to make a fast stop on what looked like a nice trail that ran parallel to the road we were on. It was probably there for access by campers and tourists who wanted to picnic or just gaze at the river flowing by.

            As command decisions go, this ranked right up there with what I had come to expect from the khaki colored minds that ran the military. A jeep is a fairly maneuverable vehicle, at least compared with the heavier vehicles in this parade. So when the lieutenant made his split-second decision to make a hard right turn followed by a quick left to pull off onto the parallel road, he was able to do it. Not so for the deuce-and-half towing a trailer behind it. Surprised as it came around the same curve only to see the jeep turn off the road, the driver tried to follow as he steered the front wheels into a sharp turn. The heavy truck immediately went into a skidding slide before its wheels grabbed abruptly, and the trailer jack-knifed behind it as the truck crashed broadside into the trees. The trailer ended up perpendicular to the road and blocked it almost completely.

            The corporal, true to form, panicked and not knowing from down shifting, stood on the brakes, slid right into the trailer causing us to spin out, and the generator trailing behind us whipped around and bounced off the side of the truck I was on. Wasting no time, I leaned on the door and managed to push it open enough to squeeze out. The fender had been bent and was leaning up against the door. My first reaction was to get far away from that truck and the ones cascading down the road behind us.

            Good decision. Just like falling dominoes each truck in succession managed to slide into the one in front of it. It was a sorry sight. Trucks were scattered all over the road, but no one was injured and there were no fires. Good luck once again.

            I stood off to the side of the road and watched the debacle that seemed to unfold in slow motion. After all convoy traffic came to a halt and with light snow still falling, an eerie silence descended on the scene. Then I watched as a big eighteen wheeler expertly made its way around each vehicle scattered along the roadway. I’m sure that driver’s truck license had a few more miles on it than the corporal’s.

            After a while with all damage assessed and finding that most of the vehicles could still move under their own power, more or less, we regrouped and set out again. The corporal was still in a state of shock and was just able to do as he was told. Good thing for him, because I had already made up my mind that if he got behind the wheel again, I was walking. Anyway, he sat in the passenger side and didn’t utter another word.

            Farther down the road we passed through Schenectady, where of all things one of the sergeants from our outfit was signaling for us to pick him up. I told the corporal to ride in the back of the truck so the sergeant could sit up in front. A docile corporal did as he was told. It seems the sergeant’s truck had to pull into a repair depot in Schenectady, and he needed a ride to Camp Drum. The rest of the trip was uneventful, and we arrived late at night and had a special mess set up to feed us.

 


 

 

Chapter Four

 

Upstate New York has some of the most beautiful country that can be found anywhere on the planet. At least so I learned back then, and I still think fondly of that area. The area in which Camp Drum (renamed Fort Drum in a later incarnation) is located sits on some priceless real estate as do most military installations around the country – and the world, for that matter – our tax dollars at work. Military bases are seen as financial bonanzas to the communities they locate in. Congress makes sure the bases get spread around the country and the world. This ensures a comfortable majority of politicos voting favorably on funding the military budget. It keeps the international corporations well protected and hence big contributors to congressional campaigns.

            Anyway, here I was once again in need of a scam. However, there in the frozen wastelands of the northern parts of the state, and the country for that matter, no immediate possibilities, even to my scheming mind, presented themselves.

            As a practical matter, myself and others with MOS 1419 were ordered to set up a microwave radio relay station not too far from the base hospital. Of course we had to do this in the deep snow and ice that was spread around us as far as the eye could see, assuming of course you found an elevated place that overlooked the several feet of snow that covered the surrounding terrain. The fact that the equipment didn’t work was irrelevant. We were only playing at being high-tech equipment operating soldiers and everything else that entailed. We dutifully erected the antennas and hooked up the moribund equipment and aside from it being totally impotent it did make an impressive sight to anyone passing by who didn’t stop for a close inspection.

            A young Second Lieutenant full of himself and other stuff, came by and wanted to know why the equipment wasn’t up and running. The army never seemed to run out of these dummies. Anyway one of the faster minds in the lower ranks volunteered in a very knowledgeable way, “Sir, I believe the high power oscillator juice is frozen. As soon as the transmitter warms up in the sun for awhile, I think we’ll be able to fire this baby up.”

            Somehow, everyone managed to keep a straight face as the Lieutenant tried to absorb the information. The best he could come up with was, “Very good, Private, radio in when you’re operational.” With that official sounding pronouncement he considered his duty done and left after receiving a Yes, Sir, and a salute that was more like a slap in the side of the head. We didn’t hear from him again. Could’ve been that he reported what he was told up the line. Could’ve been they all believed it.

            Anyway, there we sat in the snow surrounded by the equipment boxes. All the equipment was housed in khaki colored containers that all looked alike and were more or less the same size. They stacked neatly and made a pretty good shelter from the wind. Then the fun began as wave after wave of army transport planes flew over and dumped equipment and human cargo all over the area. Operation Snow Drop was officially underway. The 82nd Airborne showed their stuff, and we saw an endless parade of ambulances arrive at the hospital to unload the many casualties of the spectacle.

            This debacle lasted for several days. It wasn’t clear whether they ran out of time or men that weren’t crippled in some way from jumping into that frozen mess. The Army, true to its reputation for spin, duly released glowing reports to the local reporters in time for the evening news. Belying the extensive amount of injuries that filled up the hospital, they pronounced the operation a huge success with very few casualties. And so it went, and so it still goes.

 

Finally Operation Snow-Drop was history and we were scheduled to return to Fort Devins. Before that happened, I wound up on a real stupid detail – collecting garbage. This is where Army life gets a little sadistic. Note that garbage collection involved lifting heavily loaded GI cans, very large garbage cans, over the tailgate on the back of a deuce and a half in order to dump the garbage into the truck. Further note in that climate the GI cans are mostly frozen into ice. Then add to that, a real sadistic creep masquerading as a duty sergeant singled out the smallest guys to do the heavy lifting. To this khaki colored mind I was a standout qualifier.

            It was tough work. We worked in teams of two behind the trucks. My partner tired quickly, and soon he was unable to hold up his side of things. His side was one side of a GI can and mine was the other. This arrangement allowed us to lift the cans over the tailgate. On one such occasion my partner slipped on the ice, let go of his side as he pushed the entire load onto my side. There I was, momentarily holding this heavier than hell GI can full of ice and God knows what else. I didn’t hold it for long, but long enough to do some serious straining to various parts of my anatomy. I wondered if I could get a Purple Heart for sustaining injury on garbage detail.

            The GI Can went in one direction and I in another. After the crash, I was a basket case. We did the army equivalent of a 911 call, and I was rushed off to the hospital. Fate works in strange ways. I sustained a hernia. Not life threatening, but until it could be repaired, I was placed on light duty, meaning no heavy work, such as garbage detail, KP, guard duty, or any other detail that required physical activity. One would wonder what I was doing still in the Army. Anyone that is, except for any of the geniuses that make those kind of decisions in the Army equivalent of corporate corner offices.

            So if nothing else, there was little for me to do but become a day-room commando. Now we were getting to something I could live with while playing out my time in bonded servitude. This, of course, didn’t sit well with the duty sergeant. Too bad, I very politely reminded him that it was doctor’s orders that I not aggravate my injury, and that I was a candidate for corrective surgery when we returned to Devins. So I spent most of each day shooting pool in the day room where I got to know a few of the non-coms that managed to spend almost as much time there as I did.

            One of them, a regular army type corporal, asked me if I had an army driver’s license. When I told him I did, he said he needed a driver to take him off base on an official errand. Well driving a jeep was no strain, so I agreed to be his driver if he set it up. He did, and early the next morning off we went.

            I had no idea where we were going, but I just followed the corporal’s directions. After about an hour we entered a nearby small town wherein the corporal directed me into a driveway next to a bar. He got out, opened a garage door, and told me to park the jeep inside the garage and meet him in the bar. So much for the official errand bit. I joined him in the bar and was surprised to see several people sitting there in spite of the early hour – a scene right out of “The Ice Man Cometh”.

            The corporal was already enjoying a drink, and said, “What’ll you have?” To which I replied, “Coke” since at the time I didn’t drink, not even a beer. I had never acquired a taste for any alcoholic beverages and it wasn’t until many years later that I learned to appreciate the taste of good Scotch whiskey, a bevy of good wines, and yep, even beer. The corporal told me to make myself comfortable, and he would let me know when we would be moving on.

            Well moving on was the furthest thing from his mind. The deeper he got into his cups, the less inclined he was to move anywhere. So there I sat. The morning came and went. I had a hamburger and another coke and just watched the people who seemed content to just waste themselves and time away.

            One of the men sitting hunched over the bar, who I presumed was one of the regulars, made a spectacular order from the bartender. Slurring badly he said, “Fill me a large glass with a shot of every kind of whiskey you got back there.”

            Without batting an eye, the bartender did just that and placed a tall water glass filled to the top with a blend of whatever whiskeys he could fit into the glass. Then, also without batting an eye, the intrepid bar fly raised the glass and drank it straight down. An amazing sight to behold. What followed was also an amazing sight. One that I was happy to witness from the other side of the room.

            Well, the concoction after having gone down apparently landed on some volatile matter consumed earlier that almost immediately became an extremely unstable mass. A Vesuvius like eruption followed whereupon several nearby patrons got the benefit of some slightly used free alcohol. In the commotion that followed the consumer of the ultimate in mixed drinks disappeared. I learned he staggered up to his room over the bar – a convenient arrangement. I also wondered how these people managed to support their habits.

            A little while later he was back, somewhat cleaned up and ready to have another go at it. Sure enough, he ordered up another of the ultimates. Obviously this was something he had done many times before. One of the other steady locals looked warily over his glass and said to the bar-tender, “If you give him another one of those, you’d better hand out raincoats.”

            The rest of the day wasted away in the ever diminishing consciousness of the bar patrons, including the corporal. As the afternoon receded into early evening, I realized that if we didn’t get back to the base before six o’clock, I would miss mess call – not a very inspiring thought. By this time the corporal was a basket case and amenable to any order I gave him. Being sober outranked him it seemed. He did as he was told and managed to crawl into the Jeep where he promptly passed out.

            The roads were deserted, as well they should have been given the abysmal temperature and the grey sky that threatened more snow. I pushed the jeep to its limit and sped down the highway in gathering darkness determined to get to the mess hall before it closed. It was a close call but I made it and parked the jeep just outside the building and didn’t bother to see if the corporal wanted to join me for dinner. As far as I was concerned he was on his own. Anyway when I finished chow and went out to move the Jeep back to the motor pool, the corporal had disappeared.

 

A few days later we prepared to move out and return to Fort Devins. A little side job came up that required moving six vehicles back to Devins to be surveyed – meaning they were going to be scrapped or put out for auction. Yep, I wound up driving one of these relics as a neat way of separating myself from all the rigors of company rule for a few days. Once again, a Second Lieutenant with apparently no other purpose in life, led the way.

            It soon became clear that this second louie was running true to form. Whatever his claim to fame was, if he had one, certainly had nothing to do with leading a convoy of army vehicles – no less one comprised of a bunch of worn-out, run-down trucks ready for the scrap heap. This position of command was really a no-brainer, but our leader wasn’t even up to that. So like many of his predecessors he happily led the way.

            It soon became clear that he was a total moron who was destined for bigger things in the army. This came to light after we traversed a few steep hills. The jeep was new and nimble. Our trucks were old and tired. This translated into him climbing the hills at a good clip and then waiting at the top of them until we huffed and puffed our way up to join him. This is where he showed his stuff.

            On the downhill trek he maintained a very steady speed, at or below the speed limit. Well if you’ve ever driven on the highways and byways where trucks pound along, you know that trucks try to go down hill as fast as possible so they can use their momentum to help them get up the next hill. In any event, we had to downshift and brake to hold these old relics back. Well, the moron just wasn’t with the program.

            I was third vehicle and figured that perhaps it was time to give the esteemed second louie a little highway truck driving 101 crash course. When we came to a rest stop, I passed the truck in front of me after he stopped and, with brakes squealing, pulled in directly behind the jeep. The moron looked concerned and I said, “These old vehicles probably need some brake work, Sir. I think it would be a good idea to keep well ahead on the downhill runs. Some of these trucks might need all the room they can get to come to a safe stop, Sir.”

            This got through and undoubtedly with visions of six old army trucks running over his little jeep he made sure he kept way out in front, especially on the down-hill runs. How sweet it was romping along on the open road with no real obstacles to overcome.

 


 

             

                                                                         Chapter Five

 

            Finally, back at Fort Devins, I reported to the base hospital for a follow up examination of the hernia condition sustained doing ‘combat maneuvers’ in the frozen hinterlands of Watertown, New York. In retrospect, I can’t really say unequivocally that I had been a real candidate for an operation, or rather, I was a candidate for some surgical practice by an army intern. In any event, I wasn’t up to the concept back then that second opinions in the world of medical procedures are a splendid idea.

            However, I had other more important matters to attend to, such as attending a wedding in New York, my own. During one of my many trips back home on Long Island, I had met a young lady that subsequently would become my wife. We courted mainly on weekends when I made my normal bee line for home. It was a whirlwind romance, and it culminated in what was known in the day as a football wedding. It took place in a rented hall in South Brooklyn with the brides family on one side of the hall and the groom’s on the other. Food was supplied on a help your self basis and everyone paid their dutiful respects to the lucky couple.

            Canned music was provided by a DJ wannabe friend of the bride’s family. Pretty low fi, low tech stuff. The obligatory photographer featured a 3D 35 mm camera. It provided a visual record of the affair. What I remember about those pictures is that they really brought out the detail. My perpetual five oclock shadow came through big time. I looked like one of the boys. Probably that’s what endeared me to my well connected father-in-law.

            Later when we arrived at the bride’s home, prior to leaving for our honeymoon, my new father-in-law made a point of opening all the envelopes to see what his friends gave his daughter. He was shocked to learn that most people contributed two dollars and the few really big spenders managed to come with a five dollar bill. There were very few of them. Anyway, we weren’t too concerned with any of that, what the heck our wedding night was still awaiting the consummation of our marriage.

            We checked into the Granada Hotel in Brooklyn for the night. In the following morning we set out in my younger brothers Ford coupe to begin a honeymoon trip to Maine. We had no specific destination in mind, but with luck guiding our way we wound up at a resort in North Sabago Lake. On the way up there an all too alert Massachusetts state trooper pulled me over for crossing a section of highway that had double yellow lines. He was not very conciliatory and hence I got the ticket.

            The outcome of that was really stupid. After sending in the fine I got a notice that I was henceforth banished from ever driving in the state of Massachusetts again. That was interesting since I was stationed in Massachusetts and had an Army drivers license. Anyway nothing ever came of that and I continued to drive there and as far as I know, the ban is probably still in effect. I mean talk about provincial stupidity.

 

Honeymoon over, I returned to camp and scheduled the operation. Without any real input on my part, I was ushered along to my first experience in a hospital and a first experience with a surgical procedure. About the only conscious memories that survive that adventure have to do with the pre-op medication and anesthesia. It seems I had been given a sedative when awakened on the morning of the scheduled operation, and after a short while a Gurney was wheeled in that would transport me to the operating room.

            Those who witnessed the event, told me later I was totally out of it when the orderlies arrived and said, “Okay, soldier, hop on so we can be on our way.” Everyone had a good time as they watched my total lack of response to this command. I was already well out of it. Whatever they had given me put me under to the point where I probably didn’t need an anaesthetic. So the orderlies had to lift my floppy body onto the Gurney as the other patients watched and had a good chuckle over the event. Hospital humor knows no bounds.

            About the only good thing that came out of this experience was a two week convalescence leave. After that I returned to Army life such as it was. As a post operative, recovering private with less than six months to go, one would have thought I would have been a prime candidate for an early separation from the military world. Apparently this type of reasoning was beyond the capabilities of the military system. So at the conclusion of the convalescence leave, I dutifully commenced inactive duty wherein I then became an even more spectacular misfit in the system.

            Here’s where things really became weird. For all practical purposes I was totally beyond being an active participant in army life. There was literally nothing I was qualified to do in the normal course of events. I could reasonably not even be expected to march in any of the endless formations the army loves to run the troops around in. I became just an observer. As a person convalescing from major surgery and under strict medical supervision, I had no identifiable function.

            Finally, the duty Sargent asked me if I could handle becoming a projectionist. This involved a short course in learning how to operate the projection equipment and then using it to show training films. I responded to the effect that I’d be willing to do this if he provided a jeep and a driver who could transport me and the equipment to wherever the need existed. He gladly agreed, happy to get me assigned to some sort of duty.

            So I attended a three day course at the post film library where I learned how to become a projectionist. This turned out, once again, to be another major piece of luck. Upon completing the course, I returned to my outfit and spread the word that I was available to show films during the many classes conducted by the non-coms.

            These classes were monumental boondoggles, a total waste of time the Army creates to keep the troops busy and out of the hot sun. Anyway, it didn’t take the non-coms long to realize the benefit of having a training film occupy most of the lecture time. As far as the troops were concerned it was a great time to catch up on sleep when the lights went out and the film began. This led to a very busy film showing schedule. Additionally, I set up movie shows in the evening drawn from the countless first run movies contained in the post film library. These proved to be very popular.

            Well, it wasn’t too long before the head of the post film library noticed the high quantity of films being used by my operation. It was then he got the idea to create a little attention for his own operation. To wit, he concocted a new military honor – Projectionist of the Month. Yep, you guessed it, I became his nominee for that honor as the first Projectionist of the Month in Fort Devins.

            Now it really became a little much at this point. It seems the army doesn’t give these honors lightly. No, this has to be done in a manner right up near where they might be honoring some returning war hero. Saturday morning on the parade grounds with every outfit on the post dressed in Class A’s standing at attention while the honor is bestowed. About the only thing missing was a twenty-one gun salute. I suspect my duty Sargent would have been happy with just a well aimed one gun salute.

            Anyway, from misfit to a Saturday morning honoree in what amounts to the speed of light in army time.

            Not too long after that, my outfit was notified it would be shipping out. I don’t even remember where they were going as I was notified that as a ‘short-timer’ I wouldn’t be going with them. Another piece of luck. I really didn’t need to be going anywhere but home. However that wasn’t to be just yet. Again, determined to make me serve my two years out to the day, I was sent to the separation center where I was to spend the next two months waiting to get discharged.

            Yikes! This could be a disaster, endless days of KP and other senseless details. This wouldn’t do. I wasn’t sure how valid my medical dispensation would be. Again, a quick survey of the scene revealed there were other duties that were preferable. I volunteered as a typist. Two finger style was more than adequate for what the needs were. Anyway, this job didn’t last very long. In fact, I wasn’t sitting behind the typewriter for more than a few hours when I was ordered to see the Officer in charge of the center.  

            With my normal apprehension, I reported as ordered, fully expecting that I would be told that my two finger expertise with army typewriters wasn’t cutting it. Anyway, what followed was really surreal. The officer in charge said, “The post film library director has requested that you be assigned to his operation. You are hereby transferred to that duty station. Any questions?”

            Flabbergasted, I said, “ No, Sir. When should I report to the film library?”

            “Immediately.”

            And so it went. I couldn’t believe my luck. As it turned out, the head of the library found out my outfit shipped out and that I was sent to the separation center, and the rest as they say is history.

            The history of that which followed was nothing short of a spectacular way to spend my last two months in the service of my country, even if I was by this time a truly total non-combatant.

            At the post film library I became a projectionist instructor. This meant I would teach projectionist school three days a week and have the rest of the week off. Four day weekends – not too shabby. Then we got to Christmas and New Years. Me and my boss agreed there was no point in holding classes during the holidays, so I took the next two weeks off. When I returned after New Years I had less than two weeks left before being separated.

            Sure enough, on a Sunday morning, two years to the day, I was issued my separation papers and headed home. Good bye and good luck . . .