Life in the Army
Before, during, and after Vietnam
1964 column with 2017 afterword
By Pfc. Bill Wetherall
1. Thu 29 Oct 1964
2. Fri 30 Oct 1964
3. Mon 2 Nov 1964
4. Fri 6 Nov 1964
5. Mon 9 Nov 1964
6. Tue 10 Nov 1964
7. Wed 11 Nov 1964
8. Thu 12 Nov 1964
9. Mon 16 Nov 1964
10. Tue 17 Nov 1964
11. Wed 18 Nov 1964
12. Thu 19 Nov 1964
13. Mon 23 Nov 1964
14. Tue 24 Nov 1964
15. Thu 26 Nov 1964
16. Thu 26 Nov 1964
Before Vietnam (Foreword)
In 1964, The Union, then an evening paper published in Grass Valley, my hometown, ran a column I started writing when I was 22 going on 23 called Life in the Army. I wrote the column while assigned to the 561st Medicial Ambulance Company at Fort Ord, about 250 miles from Grass Valley, or the better part of a day by a mix of local and express Greyhound busses via Monterey, San Francisco, and Sacramento.
The column ran in 16 installments from 29 October to 26 November 1994. The installments, compiled from 6 manuscripts representing 6 chapters, vary in length but average about 1500 words. The writing ranges from not bad to horrible.
Some of the comments I made in my correspondence to the editor, concerning my motives and ambitions as a chronicler of my military life, show me to be a very naive, presumptuous, and unabashedly confident young man, who totally believed he had story to tell and was desperate to see it in print.
First manuscript rejected
Early in 1964 I submitted a manuscript to Robert Ingram, then the president and editor of The Union, which the previous year had published my long diatribe on Nevada County Education and Culture.
I had long since forgotten about the column until 1998, when Robert Lobecker, a high school and college classmate and friend, sent a complete set of clippings to me at my Grass Valley address, which my parents held for me until my spring visit the following year. My father mentioned that he still had a copy of the galleys in a file somewhere, but I did not see it then. I recalled that he had been involved in helping the editor make some timely decisions, regarding personal remarks I had made in a couple of the installments, as they were going to press, as communications between me and the editor were limited to postal communications.
Then a couple of years or so before my father passed away, which was in 2013, he told me that he had received a phone call from Jeannie Ingram, the widow of Robert Peter Ingram (1926-1997), the third and last Ingram to manage and edit The Union. She had found an envelope with my name on it among her husband's papers, and wondered if I might like it. My father assumed I would, and one day she brought it to him. I would not see it, though, until 2015, when my brother, who had brought some of my father's papers to Honolulu, forwarded it to me.
The envelope kept first by Robert and then by Peter Ingram, as shown to the right, is postmarked Fort Ord, California, 10 April 1964. I had registered the mail, and the back shows Fort Ord franks for 10 April and a Grass Valley frank for 11 April 1964.
The envelope is addressed to Robert T. Ingram, who apparently used it as a file for the manuscripts and letter I had sent him in the envelope, as well as several two other manuscripts and letters from me dated as early as 30 March and as late as 15 October 1964 -- just 2 weeks before the publication of the 1st installment on 29 October 1964.
Contents of envelope
The envelope from the Ingrams contained the following letters and manuscripts.
30 March 1964 Long, rambling, 3-page single-spaced letter. In the letter, I thank Robert Ingram for critical comments he made regarding an earlier manuscript which he rejected and returned via registered mail. I acknowlege his critical points but make a counter proposal for a 6-part article I wished to title "Life in the Army". The proposal includes titles for the first 5 parts. I corrected the title for Part 5 by hand. I left the title of Part 6 "undecided" but I described what I intended to cover. I enclosed the manuscripts for Parts 1 and 2 with this letter.
Since receiving your letters two weeks ago I have written the first two parts. I believe I can finish the series up to the end of April. We are scheduled to go on a field problem south of the Needles area (called Desert Strike) during the month of May. It is unlikely that I will be able to do much work of this nature in the field. As it is I am spending every single moment on the series in an effort to finish before I go to the field.
It requires that I complete one three thousand word paper a week, which seems easy enough except when you consider the conditions I must work under, namely, sitting on the edge of my bunk to type, my desk being nothing more than a couple of foot lockers stacked up on one another. And never except be it on a weekend do I have more than two hours at a time to work.
[ Omitted ]
I must warn you that I am in a STRAC [Strategic Army Corps] unit, which means that I can be in combat tomorrow. We are constantly having alerts, which further means that even though I am in garrison, I could be so busy in the orderly room typing official documents that I would have but little if no time to work on the articles. As things look now I should be able to complete them. However, please realize that something could happen that would forbid me to.
[ Omitted ]
By the way, I've got my own typewriter now, a Smith Corona Sterling. Though it's a portable, it's got a standard (large) keyboard which allows me to really stretch my fingers.
10 April 1964 1-page single-spaced cover letter for Parts 3 and 4. I claim that I will have adequate time to complete Parts 5 and 6 before leaving Fort Ord for a field exercise in May -- alluding to what I described in the first letter as "a field problem south of the Needles area (called Desert Strike)". In this letter I provide the titles for Parts 5 and 6. I also ask Ingram to "Please allow me the privilege of seeing the galley proofs prior to running the parts."
3 May 1964 2-1/2-page cover letter for Chapters 5 and 6. I explain that Chapter 6, unlike the other chapters, has three parts -- and I provide not only titles for each part, but also titles for the subheads of each part. I explain that I had decided to call the 6 parts "chapters" in order to allow me to divide the 6th chapter into 3 parts. I provide my temporary military address in Needles, California. I also apologize for not having been able to register the mail enclosing this letter and Chapters 5 and 6. I write that Chapter 6 was "hurridly assembled" -- and apparently I fleshed it out with passages from the rejected manuscript. I may have missed an opportunity to mail it at Fort Ord and dropped it in a mailbox enroute to Needles, or mailed it from the camp we set up in the desert. In this letter, I made the following remarks regarding why, at the end of the April, on the eve of leaving for Needles, "I was wondering if Chapter Six would EVER be written."
My problem was not a small one. Believe me when I say I have material for a lengthy book. Chapter Six just about HAD TO BE a catch all, at least for THIS author it had to be a catch all.
Not to mention the fact that during the past three weeks I have had to write a UNIT HISTORY for the 561st Medical Company, which turned out to be a project and a half, twenty-five pages including an appendix and bibliography. And now it looks as though I will become the 58th Medical Battalion Historian, and will perhaps begin next fall compiling a Battalion history and a history of all units organic to the 58th Medical Battalion.
Writing war history during the day and writing about Life in the Army in the evening and on weekends has just about done me in. During the day, as I research for the Unit History, I read of the medical support our unit and other units gave to the allied forces in Europe and to the UN forces in Korea, of the blood and guts strung from the entrances of the surgical tents to the exits, of the dead piled in the latrines, and the medics and ambulances that became the principal targets for the Red Chinese, and in the evening I am to write something that is beautiful and inspiring and continuous. I am to write Life in the Army in twenty-five words or less, when perhaps 25 million words are required, and when perhaps DEATH in the Army is a more appropriate title.
26 July 1964 5-page letter itemizing corrections to Columns 16-20 of galleys, representing Chapter 4. This letter ends with the following request for 10 copies of the galleys to send friends.
By the way, a number of friends of mine (that are spread out all over the country) have requested copies of LIFE IN THE ARMY. I have been trying to figure out how to satisfy these requests. I would need about 10 copies. I suppose the best way to do this is to ask you for ten copies of each of the galleys AFTER corrections have been made. This would certaintly [sic = certainly] be easier and cheaper than my buying ten copies of each edition in which a fraction of a chapter appears. I would be willing to pay you for the service as these friends are my better critiques and I am anxious to oblige their requests. Please let me know if this suggestion suits you and the charges for the copies, or perhaps you can offer a cheaper alternative.
Undated (circa September 1964) 4-page letter written back-to-back on 2 sheets of lined paper torn from a spiral notebook. Pages 1 and 2 are missing. Pages 3 and 4 show corrections for Columns 21 and 22 of galleys. This letter ends with this remark about my military activities.
Am being special dutied for two months to act as the HERALD for the Battalion. My job will be to compile a unit history for official publication, and to design and justify the design for a unit Crest or Coat of Arms. Not especially interesting subject matter, or for that matter desireable subject matter, but at least I'll be applying a little grammer [sic = grammar] rather than "look busy at the motor pool" for eight hours a day.
I have no memory of the image of the crest I designed. The above approval came two years into the Vietnam War over a year after the 58th Medical Battalion was deployed in the Vietnam. I recall deploying serpents, as they are the essential parts of the caduceus -- the symbol the U.S. Army adopted for its medical corps -- which features two snakes coiled around a winged staff. I believe I also recommended a red cross for the reasons given, as they appealed to my personal justification of my own in-service conscientious objector (CO) status, which I had obtained by application at the time time I was writing the history for the 561st Medical Company, my primary affiliation as a medic and ambulance driver. The purple link with blood may also have been from my notes, as red on purple is one of my favorite color -- the rest I cannot. as a symbol of medicineelements of and a cross,
15 October 1964 7-page letter itemizing corrections for Columns 22-33 of galleys, representing Chapters 5 and 6. At the end of the letter, I reiterate my request for 10 copies of each chapter, preferrably in the form of falley proofs. I also request that, from this point, all correspondence regarding the column be sent to me in-care-of John Phelan, a high and college friend and classmate who lived in Pacific Grove, next door to Monterey.
Undated (nlt 30 March or 10 April) Original manuscripts of Part 1 (10 pages), Part 2 (9 pages), Part 3 (11 pages), and Part 4 (11 pages). The manuscripts for Chapters 5 and 6 are missing. The four surviving manuscripts are double-spaced typescript, loose leaf and paper-clipped. They are fairly clean but bear a few neat corrections in my hand. They also show some corrections and very light editing in another hand -- presumably Robert Ingram's, possibly Peter Ingram's. perhaps another copy editor's.
Editorial hands and galleys
Peter Ingram, like his father, had come up through the ranks doing everything related to the paper's publication, from newsgathering, writing, and editing to printing, distribution, subscriptions, and advertising sales. At the time my articles were being processed for publication, Peter was already doing a lot of the managerial editing, and it is possible that his father, while handling the correspondence with me, farmed out the grunt work to Peter if not a staff editor. My feeling, though, is that another editor, unless ordered to go easy, would have had a heavier hand.
My father was also involved in some of the last-minute editing in preparation for putting an installment to bed. He told me Robert Ingram had directly approached him regarding the need to make some changes concerning personal remarks which I had made in the original manuscript, but which had not been flagged in the pre-galleys edit.
Among my father's papers I found one practically mint copy of the galley proofs. The proofs run 5 broadsheet pages consisting of 34 numbered columns at 8 columns per page, thus only two columns on the last page. They bear a few -- though very few -- light pencil corrections in my father's hand -- most of them concerning the problematic personal remarks.
Whatever Peter Ingram's involvement, if any, the envelope I mailed his father on 10 April 1964, which came back to me stuffed with most of my letters to his father, and most of my original manuscripts, ended up in Peter's files -- possibly simply because he had inherited his father's files.
Whatever the chain of custody, clearly my letters and manuscripts were treated personally. For had they been consigned to company files, I would not have them today.
Pacific Grove safe house
The request to route all mail related to Life in the Army to Pacific Grove comes with the following back story, which involves a bit of intrigue on my part.
I spent a lot of time with my high school and college friend and classmate John Phelan and his wife Irene on weekends, watching him rebuild a Model A, playing catch, sometimes baby sitting their infant son. The back story is that his home had become a sort of "safe house" for me.
That fall I had begun writing a whistle-blowing report on the medical battalion and ambulance company for which I had been writing unit histories. Unable to type the clean copy of a formal report on legal paper in the barracks, I got John's wife to introduce me to a local aquaitance, a professional typist, who banged out the report for a modest fee. I am fairly certain that I had already mailed the report by October 1964, possibly as early as around the Tonkin Gulf Incident in August. By November, as I recall, orders had come down to transfer me to the physical examination section of Fort Ord Army Hospital.
The orders orginated after the Adjuctant General, to whom I submitted the report, kicked the report down the chain of command to the higher command at Fort Ord for appropriate action. After being transferred to hospital duty, I was called before a number of officers to answer questions concerning statements I had made in my report. I never heard about it again. Friends in the battalion and company told me there had been a few changes in activities. However, I could not tell if the changes were on account of fallout from my report, or because the units had been alerted to possibility that they might be mobilzed for duty in Vietnam.
By the the end of the year, I was transferred from Fort Ord Army Hospital to the Sixth U.S. Army Medical Laboratory at Fort Baker, near Sausalito, for training as a laboratory technician. Early the following year, the ambulance company went to Vietnam. While in training at Fort Baker, I corresponded with a former bunkmate and fellow ambulance driver who went to Vietnam with the ambulance company, and with a French-speaking friend who was pulled out of the ambulance company and sent to Vietnam to work in prisoner-of-war interrogation. I still have their letters.
I worked on the battalion history at a desk in the office next to the office of the battalion commander, who sometimes had me ghost letters for him and even help his junior officers draft plans for field operations. I had full access to current battalion records. I also had the authority, over an officer's signature, to request copies of archived historical records. In the ambulance company, I had volunteered to help out in the orderly room and become the de facto company clerk, with access to personnel records. My typing and writing abilities got the attention of the company commander, who recommended me to the battalion commander, who also found himself short of clerical talent.
Some entries in personnel records struck me as odd, and the oddness became clear when I read the battalion and company mission statements on file at the battalion headquarters. I discovered that the battalion, and the ambulance company under the battalion's supervision, were taking shortcuts in training and engaging in activities that somewhat jeopardized their STRAC missions -- something I later learned was a common problem in peacetime armies that get lazy about training and cover up their laziness by fudging their records. The records reflected that ambulance drivers were pulling occasional duty on Fort Ord Army Hospital wards, which was required to maintain and improve their familiarity with basic nursing skills. But I couldn't find anyone in the company who had spent any time working on a ward. Ambulances and other field vehicles were supposed to be combat-ready, but they were being waxed and polished -- with gasoline no less (it being an open secret that a waxed vehicle would shine more if buffed with gasoline) -- according to spit-and-polish "looking STRAC" peacetime parade standards. Moreover, I learned that battalion and company officers and cadre were being informed in advance of STRAC alert drills intended to test the ability of the units to muster their personnel and be ready to pull out on a nearby railhead within 24 hours of notification.
The Union was then an evening newspaper. It began as the The Grass Valley Daily Union in 1864, at which time it was a truly local Grass Valley paper. The flag changed to The Daily Morning Union in 1904, The Morning Union in 1908, then to just The Union in 1945 when it became an evening paper.
Sometime after my articles appeared in 1963 and 1964, its masthead began billing it as "Founded in 1864 to Preserve The Union -- One and Inseparable." This political hype dates from no earlier than this, and no later than 1978 (based on a clipping of a front page feature titled "Parking area covers Chinese burial grounds?" (Tuesday, January 17, 1978, Vol. 113, No. 70, Price 15 cents). The Union has traditionally been a Republican paper, and Abraham Lincoln was a Republican.
A brief history of The Union, focusing on the Ingram family, would read as follows.
|1864||Grass Valley Daily Union founded 26 October.|
|1866-1893||Charles H. Mitchell becomes publisher.|
|1882||Thomas Ingram Sr. and family arrive in Grass Valley from Nevada in September.
He works as pump man at Empire Mine.
|1885||Thomas Ingram Jr. apprentices as printer at age 16.|
|1893||Grass-Valley-born William F. Prisk (1870-1962) becomes editor and publisher.
Prisk runs the paper until about 1908 and retains ownership until 1946.
|1890s||Thomas Ingram Jr. joins Union staff.|
|1903||Moves on 30 July from the office and pressroom on southwest corner of Mill and Main streets to a building constructed expressly for The Union on 151 Mill Street, where the paper would be published and printed until 1978.|
|1904||Renamed The Daily Morning Union from 22 March.|
|1906||The paper is incorpated.|
|1908||Renamed The Morning Union from 7 August.
Thomas Ingram assumes most managerial responsibilities.
|1928||Thomas Ingram dies.
Prisk hires Robert Ingram to replace him.
|1945||Flag changes to just The Union as paper becomes evening paper from 18 June.|
|1946||Robert Ingram and Early Caddy buy out Prisk's interest in The Union.|
|1965||Robert Ingram retires.
Peter Ingram takes over many managerial responsibilities.
|1968||Nevada County Publishing Company buys The Union.
Peter Ingram remains its editor and publisher for 7 years.
|1975||Peter Ingram retires|
|1978||Relocates from 151 Mill Street to its present location at 464 Sutton Way in the Glenbrook Basin.|
|1988||Robert Ingram dies|
|1997||Peter Ingram dies|
Robert T. Ingram was the publisher of The Union at the time it ran "Life in the Army". His son, R. Peter Ingram, became the publisher the following year. The paper was bought by the Nevada City, and continued to be involved with The Union when his father sold his stock in The Union Publishing Col.
Life in the Army 1
By Pfc. Bill Wetherall
Chapter 1: A Long Day's Journey
A young stud in stiff Levis came in from the street side, sucking a soda pop. His hair was gooped back slick and oily. His boots tapped loudly across the floor. His free hand hung thumbed from his tooled-leather belt a palm's width away from an extravagant turquoise and silver buckle.
What They Read
He slouched over to the magazine stands, thumbed through some pulpy trash, snickered, set the emptied pop bottle on the floor, lit a cigarette and turned towards the novelty machines that set [sic = sat] against the street-side wall through whose door he had just minutes before passed. He patronized them all. The New Frontier! Make Your Own Metal Identification Tags! Seal It Yourself In Plastic! The Lord's Prayer Charm! One-cent Weighs You and Tells Your Fortune! Be a Mow-'em Down Machine-Gunner! What every man should do to wile away his leisure hours!
The women milling around were typical women, trying their best to look their best but somehow not knowing how to go about it. The few who had reason to feel successful looked successful. The others had no confidence in themselves, had achieved very little, and looked that way. Practically all the latter were over-dressed and gaudy with metallic and glassy, mobile-like danglings. Only a few seemed aware that it was the purpose of make-up to be seen in effect and not in actuality.
The younger women, in some circles referred to as girls, pranced about seemingly innocent of their inevitable fate, never suspecting that boys will be boys, that young men would someday, if they hadn't already, try to violate their most sacred endowments. They wished to be women but hadn't the knowledge of what being a woman involves.
Men Were Scroungy
Generally speaking, the men were scroungy. Some were big, some were small. Some were short, some were tall. It seemed fashionable to wear so-called executive-styled eye-glasses whether one needed corrective lenses or not! "Look at me, I'm a junior executive!" and superficiality is the rule.
In my near despair it was the members of my own sex who bore the brunt of my criticisms. I was just a little bit disgusted with a world which appeared to be existing solely by the merits of impressions, run by men who were hypocrites, men whose only substance laid conveniently undetected under a purposefully created veil of bureaucratic bluff. Perhaps my eyes were biased by the predicament I had become entangled with. It wasn't that I wished to be derogatory of my fellow men; contrarily, I was searching for a good reason to praise them. But what was I to do after the souvenir sales clerk informed me that she was sold out of rose-tinted glasses?!
Watching people is an educating pastime. But I reminded myself that I was most probably not alone in my engrossments, that somewhere in the depot were other persons staching me, wondering about me just as I was wondering about them, and making similar and equally numerous errors of judgment! How many minds had pigeonm-holed me for just another teeage punk outfitted in collegiate attire was a matter open for speculation.
What It Read
What would you have thought of me if you had watched me watch a couple of boat-jockeys pick up a pair of All-American girls and make a note of the incident on my clipboard? What would you have thought of me had you been the slob who glanced over my shoulder and read:
"After considerable and mutual flirting, the foursome began walking in the general direction of the coffee room. It was at the phone booths near the novelty machines that smiles were exchanged for giggles and where more formal introductions were made. How to win friends and influence people? Be a woman. Or, Better yet, join the Navy!
"May I help you, sir?
"I ah . . . are you a writer?"
"Not lately, sir."
"Well I . . . I couldn't help . . . l mean, your writing, seeing what you were writing . . ."
"Just notes, sir, just notes."
"Why? What in the world for?"
"Must I have a reason, sir?".
"Well of course!"
"Everything has to have a reason! Everything has a reason!"
"Agreed. But why does everything have a reason?"
"I suppose because everything has a purpose!"
"Exactly! And the reason I'm writing what I'm writing is for the purpose of keeping notes."
He frowned, naturally. I smiled both at his frown and at the announcement I had just heard broadcast over the public address system.
"Ladies and gentlemen, your attention please. The bus for Oakland is now receiving passengers at Door Four. All aboard, please, for Davis, Vacaville, Vallejo, Richmond and Oakland!"
When I bid him good afternoon, he looked at me as though he worried that the minutes of our verbal intercourse would be entered in my diary following the account of the young hustlers which began our transient encountering. Then I remembered the manner in which I had solicited his nosiness and wondered if I ever did help him. Again I was Army bound, feeling more and more like a bull in the cattle-chute being herded to the slaughter house.
I was sitting in the left and rear most seat of the super semicruiser where I could not see the driver. While watching the valley rush by, I forgot all about my destination, and in fact, about even the type of bus in which I was riding. My adventurous preoccupations were suddently pierced by the soundings of a horn from somewhere beside us. Still day-dreaming, I looked towards where our driver should have been, only to see what took a few confused seconds to resolve itself as the upper deck windshield. On that moment's stupored misperception I fell asleep, an alien to my ideosyncrasies.
It was the application of brakes and the deep and scratchy voice that claimed us to be pulling into the Oakland terminal that woke me; while assembling my faculties and gathering my effects, I recollected what I had been dreaming . . . something about loosing a filling!
Few Lights Away
I can still feel my tongue searching for to fondle the comminuted fragments that I imagined to be grinding in my bite as I stepped off the bus that foggy afternoon, knowing only one thing for sure, that I was but a few stop lights away from being a soldier!
While hurrying through the glass doors that doubled for loading gates, I was looking for something, for anything, that might take my mind off what had to come. And then, right there in front of me, I saw what I needed.
An elderly but solid and healthy woman was leading her hunch-backed and hard of hearing husband through the crowd, by the arm, though to my humor wanting eyes, by the ear!
"Come along now, Elmer. Our bus is here."
I could see it all years from then, when perhaps it would be Martha saying to me in her gentle way, "Come along now, Billy."
I conceded that it wouldn't be too bad a life if we loved each other; perhaps all I would have to do to keep her happy and to demonstrate to her how appreciative I was of her benevolent guidance is to nibble on her ear every other night or so while my dentures smiled at her's [sic = hers] from their glasses on the bed stand!
Red Carpet Rolled
The recruiting station put me up at the St. Mark's for that night and provided for my dinner and subsequent breakfast with two meal tickets to Mel's Drive-In. The red carpet had been rolled out, not deep pile, but, nevertheless, red! I was to process after breakfast the next morning and leave for Fort Ord the following afternoon.
Having established myself six floors above Oakland, I decided to seek philosophical reassurance and otherwise be cheered up by my friends and fellow students at the Big U. Berkeley never looked so good as it looked that evening; it was difficult to face the time I had to leave the sincere and congenial hospitality of those few young men I prided myself as having for my friends!
I don't remember the exact moment I fell asleep but that it seemed a mighty long time after I first felt the clean linen and began the restless pondering that kept me awake.
(To Be Continued)
Life in the Army 2
By Pfc. Bill Wetherall
Friday, 30 Oct 1964
Chapter 2: The Recruiting Station
It was just about the time had discovered an antiquated ore car nearly buried in the silt of a remote ravine that a phone began ringing. I couldn't quite comprehend a phone being in an area that was so far removed from even a jeep trail that I had had to hoof it an incredible distance to get there; nevertheless, there was the phone, behind the tail-gate, its receiver leaping out of its cradle towards my free hand, and, there I was, sitting on the edge of an unfamiliar bed, holding a Princess against my ear and hearing a stranger's machine-like voice infer a most disenspiriting message!
"Good morning, sir. It's 6:00 o'clock."
"Good morning, sir, and thank you kindly!" I replied, remembering where I was and my purpose for being there.
I really don't believe that the registrar was accustomed to such radiant response to his Department of Army subsidized reveille calls; however, his greeting was the last pleasant morning salute I had an occasion to return for a good many weeks.
Mel's wasn't the most enchanting place to be tray-served burnt eggs, either, but, because I was hungry, I was able to choke them down and be on my way to the recruiter's.
Plenty of Company
I was not to be alone with my intellectural [sic = intellectual] excruciations; approximately 30 others were already there, waiting as I would be waiting to be processed, and I was told that more were to come. When there were enough of us to justify that the operation be commenced, a roll-call was taken to account for those present and we were briefed as to what we could expect to be doing for the next four hours or so.
To begin with, about 50 of us were taken to a testing room where a mousy-mouthed lifer with a monotonous voice of authority talked us through the filling out of various information forms, including medical history and record forms.
"In Box 'A' print your last name first, first name and middle initial only! If you have no middle initial write NMI and surround with parenthesis [sic = parentheses]. Yes? What is it?!"
"What are . . . is a . . . surround with pharempt . . . ah . . . those things?" asked a freckle-faced kid from the third row.
"Parenthesis [sic = Parentheses]? Like this. . . ." explained the administrator with chalk and blackboard.
Satisfied that he had success fully demonstrated what parenthesis [sic = parentheses] were, but sensing an awkwardness about the boy's grasping nod, the administrator asked for the prospective soldier's name as though anticipating a "need to know'.
"What's your name, son?!"
It came weak and prideless, a manner which obviously irritated the administrator who, pretending not to be moved, tried to repress his perplexions by nonchalantly taking up from where he had been forced to leave off.
State Your Race
"In Box 'B' state your race. Now listen closely. All of you can be classified to fall in one of the following racial groups: white or Caucasian; black or Negroid; brown or Malayan, yellow or Oriental or Mongoloid. Also, if an American Indian, consider yourself as yet another classification. Are there any questions? Yes?"
"Is this what you mean?" asked the red-headed owner of an extended paw while rising from his chair.
All that followed the administrator's attentive footsteps was whispered ejaculation which sounded nothing like 'That's the idea, Johnson.'
"Now what did I say!" (soft) "Did I even suggest sex?" (a little bit louder) "I said race!" (very much louder) "We're in Box 'B'." (the intensity of his voice was diminshing [sic = diminishing] from that of his preceding utterance) "Your race is Caucasian, not male; now please, young man, sit down, place a check before caucasian [sic = Caucasian] in Box 'B' and in the future try paying attention to what I'm putting out. . ." (silence was his most virtuous tact)
"Anyone else having trouble beside friend here?" he continued, waving his hand towards Johnson. "Please stop me if I'm going too fast. All right now. In Box 'C' indicate your sex. One fellow has already accomplished this so you, Johnson, put your pencil down!
"Now if you're wearing britches and have short hair and don't lie you're definitely not a WAC. NO one in this room I should have circled female!
"Box 'F' pertains to your marital status. You're allowed to be single, married or divorced.
"In Box 'G' . . . Box 'G' is directly beneath Box 'F' . . . in Box 'G' I want you men who are married to print your current wife's Maiden name. Question! Johnson!"
Each of us contorted ourself what ever way was necessary to permit ourself an unobstructed view of the red hair and freckles that became nearly in distinguishable from the coloring that took to the lad's face when he stood up and asked, "What if you're not married. . . ?"
After finishing with the forms, we were administered what amounted to an Armed Forces Intelligence Test. We were told that the test would reveal the potentials of our native intelligences.
Next we were administered a series of aptitude tests covering the general vocational categories of mechanical, automotive, electrical and clerical. It was explained to us that the tests would disclose for which of these general vocational categories our combined assets of intelligence, cabability [sic = capability] and interest were best suited.
The various questions included sets of pictures among from which we were to choose, as for example in one such question from the electrical aptitude test, the picture which bore some relationship to a household fuse. If from among the pictures designated A, B, C and D respectively of a screw-driver, a carburetor, a household fuse clip and a typewriter eraser you chose the letter which corresponded to the household fuse clip, you were showing a "high" appitude [sic = aptitude] for electronics.
If you held a PhD in electrical engineering and had had years of civilian experience in microwave techniques but had never during your leisure hours taken the time to check-out the cellar fuse-box, well, there you were, just out of luck! On the other hand, if you had never in your life owned a car and had never become involved in automobile mechanics but had somewhere during your travels and seen a bill-board advertising a super-duper oil filter, and if in a similar analog question in the automotive aptitude test you had correctly chosen the picture of a can of SAE 30 motor oil as being related to an oil filter, well, there you were, made out to be ideally suited for a grease gun, a young fellow who just didn't know that his sub-conscious "and of course most important" motivations wanted him to be a mechanics helper in the United States Army.
Scores Give Clues
That you had the hands and self-discipline of a surgeon did not matter a job [sic = jot] beside your army aptitude profile scores which made you out to have the "potential" of being a damn good ambulance driver!
Having finished with the testing, those of us who had not already been given physical examinations were directed to the dispensary. The medical was hurried but thorough. It was not as simple as the one which is rumored to have been administered during the war years.
It is said that war-time draftees were lined up against a wall and individually paged over to an opposite corner for counseling. If they responded, they were considered in good shape. After all, they had heard their names being called, they had seen where to go and they had gone there. What farther information was relevant?
The last station before lunch was the security station. There we were asked to read the lengthy and fine-printed "Attorney General's List of Subversive Organizations", after which we were to answer various yes or no questions concerning both or either the degree of our affiliation with such organizations and or the extent of our relations with persons we knew to have had affiliations with such organizations.
(To Be Continued)
Life in the Army 3
By Pfc. Bill Wetherall
Monday, 2 November 1964
About a minute bad passed since we had been instructed to read the Attorney General's List and the related security risk information when the monitor asked, "Anyone not finished the reading?" I was the only one who raised my hand. "I'll give you a couple more minutes." His manner was short but polite.
Meanwhile, the other processees were as fidgety as a gang of athiests [sic = atheists] in church. By my being particularly careful to read every last word and by they being careless, they had only to sit and twiddle their thumbs, for the monitor would not allow them to answer such questions as "are you now or have you ever been a member of the communist party" until everyone had finished the reading.
"Are you finished reading back there?" I detected a trace of impatience in his military posture.
"No sir, not yet."
"Hmph!" You're kinda slow. Let's hurry it up; everyone else has been able to finish. . ."
"All right, sir, I'm done now."
Wanting to finish what he had started to say to me but wanting more to get on to lunch, the monitor proceded [sic = proceeded] to instruct us in the manner in which we were to complete the remainder of the questionnaire.
Only Answer Yes
"You will notice that the first question, I have read the foregoing statements and understand their implications, is already answered for you. The only possible answer to this question is yes, for if you hadn't read it and understood what you have just read, your answers to the questions you will answer wouldn't be valid and, therefore, couldn't be considered binding!" His tone reflected the rudiments that would make his statement an order. We would complete the questionnaire, wouldn't we!?
It is interesting to note that every last question was stated in the past tense, that is, the questions referred to your thoughts and actions as they occurred in the past. In no way could your answering the questions commit you to certain thoughts and actions that might come to involve you in the future. In other words, the security risk questionnaire was not a resolution of what you would or would not think and do, rather, it was an affidavit of what you had thought and done.
Such is how the sequence of events was transpiring as of about noon, 17 October 1964. I was just another processee being processed, an anonymous figure to say the least.
"Follow the red line to Station 'B'." "Follow the brown line to Station 'F'." And talk about lines. If I wasn't standing in one I was being led [to] one. Never in my life had I had to shovel my way through so much except be it the day I went to work for Smokey the Bear.
I was provided with a lunch ticket good only at Mel's and informed that I had three hours to kill before I was to undergo the final stages of my being recruited, namely, the determining of my choice, not chance training and the taking of the oath.
The grease burgers were terrible. Horsemeat, I believed them to be, seasoned with accent [sic = Accent], but of course! I gave them up for dog food, a value judgment arrived at through the mutual consent of my stomach which told me how basically tolerant it was and my emotions which led me to believe myself a dog. I ate as fast as I could so as to get started for the not too far distant used-book store I had glimpsed during my wanderings of the day before.
The book store was a true culural [sic = cultural] enclave against the surrounding mulitude [sic = multitude] of pawn shops whose every uttered vestibule framed its lousy proprietor who typically had nothing more than a belly, a cigar and a profane grunt to offer every Dick and Jane who happened to pass his place and have the audacity to ignore his sidewalk soliciting. . .
"Hey, Guy! You a soldier? I've got just the thing for you. Come on in."
"Sorry, sir, but you're wrong."
"I'm not a soldier and you've not a damn thing that could possibly interest me!"
Just for the fun of it, for I wouldn't dream of parting with them, I offered another clown who insisted that he had something I needed -- ninety pounds of square nails at 40 cents a pound! I gathered as much from his ensuing sneer that he didn't especially appreciate my philanthropic intentions to supplement his junk collection with the rusty authenticity so characteristic of my Gold Rush artifacts; in retrospect, I'm most grateful that he wasn't a genuine antiquarian, for if he was, and if he had desired to take advantage of my proposal to him, he certaintly [sic = certainly] had his bodyguard "business associates" as the only witnesses he needed to enable him to insist upon and legally enforce a transaction!
My mood was of a cantankerous nature modulated by a degree of sarcasm; 1 was embittered by the impositions I felt myself unjustly burdened with. Oh yes I was wrong and God only knows how many men and women thought that they saw in my face the very soul of the Devil's animosity! But who was I to know then that I was wrong; then, when even children's smiles were snarls and every laugh a shout?!
Thank God for used book stores whose fuggy yet wholesome atmospheres are somehow capable of enlightening and fascinating a mind so distressed as was mine; I had before sought refuge amongst teetering racks of musty volumes and thus knew well the nature of a dusty book's spiritual soothings.
It wasn't long before I had I had forgotten the dilemma that I had imagined myself a victim of; neither did it seem long before my Guardian Angel told me that my time was up by reminding me of my "sense of duty".!
Even though I was $3.50 lighter, I never once hosted the thought that I had lost in the bargaining; I was delighted that I had found such readable publications as I did find. "The Life of Pat Garrett! An Introduction to Human Anatomy! A Plea for Monogamy!" I was actually thawed out by the time I had climbed the stairs which led to the recruiter's office and sat myself down in the lounge to await my turn to be given my choice not chance "counselling".
These books were John Milton Scanland, The Life of Pat Garrett, Colorado Springs: J.J. Lipsey, 1952 (reprint of 1908 pamphlet); Clyde Marshall, An Introduction to Human Anatomy, Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders (went through several editions down to the time I was in the Army); and Wilfrid Lay, A Plea for Monogamy, New York: Boni and Liveright Publishers, 1923 (had many printings). I no longer have any of these titles. I replaced the anatomy book with a Japanese printing of the then current English edition of Gray's Anatomy, also published by Saunders, in 1966, when serving as a lab tech in the 106th General Hospital in Japan. In the fall of 1969, after completely my BA at Berkeley, just before going to Japan, I sold several boxes of books to a used book dealer in Berkeley. I did not begin the collection that would become Yosha Bunko until returning to graduate school at Berkeley in 1972. All of the books I acquired during my 3 years of grad-school residency were shipped to Japan when I permanently returned in 1975.
(To Be Continued)
Life in the Army 4
By Pfc. Bill Wetherall
Friday, 6 November 1964
The choice not chance bit was quick. Painless. Reckless. Foolish. And after we had all been thoroughly snowed, the 18 of us who were to leave for Fort Ord that evening were rushed to the rooms wherein we were to take the oath.
We had all taken the oath, eaten our last civilian mean and walked the five blocks to the bus depot when I first noticed that I was tired. It was only 5:30 and we had to wait 40 minutes for a bus to San Jose, which, when it did come, proved to be one of those evening commuters that stops at every housing project that has a shopping center as its nucleus and sports a fancy name conceived by some second rate architect to suggest paradise but usually provoking [sic = provoked] me to picture in my mind only the helpless suckers who think that No Money Down and 30 Years to Pay is the only way to fly . . . The fellows were pumping their last dimes into the game machines and taking pictures of themselves and pacing the depot as though life was a bore and pointless self-entertainment a manifestation of their "I'll show them how tough I am" neurosis.
Calm in Mood
When at last on the road, I became surprisingly calm, confident that there was not a thing on the earthly side of Hell that could break the will that took so many years of unknown determination to establish itself in the cavity that was my thick skull!
I don t remember much about our changing buses in San Jose; long before then I had become numb to anything that wasn't directly related to sleep. Not even the frequent and jerky roadside stops bothered me. I knew we would be late getting into Fort Ord and even later getting settled in our billets. And that omnipresent innate birdie had told me that we would be up and around very, very early the next morning!
It was a crescendo of mumbling that stirred me from my sleep and inspired me to look out my window in the void that was the darkness on its other side were the glaring lights of what settled down to become an MP Guard Post. Off to our flank and illmuinated by its own brightness stood a sign that told its own story. Welcome to Fort Ord!
After being hustled off the bus, we were packed into a room that seemed already filled with desks and ordered to be seated. For nearly two hours the sergeant in charge proceded [sic = proceeded] to spoon feed us through the filling out of two IBM cards which amounted to address cards.
We were then pseudo-marched over to a building which we were told was the reception company orderly room and for the next half hour Welcomed to Fort Ord and Assured that we would find our weeks of training there both profitable and interesting! Afterwards, we were filed past the supply building from which were thrown at us two blankets, two sheets, a pillow and case and believe it or not, a Military Gift Pac, a very big deal about like what you'd expect to find only at the very bottom of the most shelf-staled box of cracker jacks [sic = Cracker Jack]; a cardboard box, it was, filled with the following goodies from grandma's kitchen: safety razor, razor blades, shampoo, after-shave lotion, foot-powder, underarm deordant, mung! [sic = and an underarm deodorant called Mum!] Guaranteed to keep your arms glued to your sides for 24 hours! With mung [sic = Mum!] the odor can't get out!
For all I knew or cared, the Gift Pac could have been a package from care [sic = Care, CARE] or a morale booster from the Salvation Army. Actually, it was tax money in disguise.
Our arms will-loaded [sic = were loaded] with both our personal effects and the items that we had just been essued [sic = issues], we were double-timed to what was to be our barracks for the few days it would take us to be outfitted with clothing and "mentally conditioned" for what was to come and generally introduced to the fellow who had said, while his crippled finger pointed to us from his Post Office posters, "Uncle Sam needs You!"
We were shown how to make a military bed, a procedure no different than that of making a civilian bed as far as I could see except that army blankets were used, and the mattresses were thinner, and there were no box springs, and the pillows were scrawny little lumps of muslin-sacked feathers that were to the ones back home about like a hummingbird's rump is to an eagle's mustache! The sergeant managed to thoroughly confuse the majority who had never in their lives made a bed . . .
We were at last left to ourselves to get as much sleep as was possible; none of us knew just when to expect the lights to be turned on and our tired bodies harassed through pre-reveille chores. For the second night in a row my linen was clean, but that morning I knew the moment I fell asleep; it was just about the time a 60-watt bulb and a cadreman's war cry intruded on the privacies of my nocturnal meditations.
Chapter 3: Reception Company
"Where am I?! Where's my faded, pea-green quilt?! Who are those jokers with sleep in their eyes?! Who is that idiot in a soldier costume screaming for us to get out of those racks!"?!
"But yes! I am in the Army. I am in Barracks Twelve, upstairs and on the eastside, in the top bunk of the fifth double rack from the northside stairs.
"I am William Owen Weatherall [sic = Wetherall] alias RA19779952, alias Line Number 50 on Roster Number 205!" Standing, but still clinging to my rack for support, I yawned and I stretched and I dug the lacrimal deposits from the corners of my eyes.
The cadreman's yelling subsided as soon as everyone's feet had thumped on the deck thus signifying that all of us were at least up if not yet thoroughly awake. It was only 0430 and so black outside that one fellow couldn't decide if he was really getting up or just going to bed.
I learned immediately the significance of negative thinking. I had never before believed that so many fellows could be so completely serious when their replies to my "Good morning!" took on the firmness and acidity of sour grapes.
"Good morning, Dumbler!"
"What's good about it?!"
"Good morning, Carroll!"
"What are you, Wetherall, some kinda nut??!
"What's new and exciting, Dale?!"
"Get the hell out of here!"
(To Be Continued)
Life in the Army 5
By Pfc. Bill Wetherall
Monday, 9 November 1964
Never More Serious
I learned that while reflecting such dispositions, that these fellows were never more serious in their lives. And I realized what promoted one young San Franciscan to state that be thought conditions "better at the Fleishhacker [sic = Fleishaker] Zoo!" The morale was to say the least, at a dangerously low ebb.
It had been so late when we arrived the night before and we had all been so tired that it never occurred to any of the 18 of us that there were men asleep in the other barracks that were then unlit and so ghostly still. But that morning we could see at least 10 other barracks lit up, and we could see behind their windows what seemed like hundreds of young men caught up in the same insanity that had snared the 18 of us just the day before, hundreds of bald and white headed figures running around like so many chickens with their heads hacked off, most of them garbed in new, still sheeny, olive-green green uniforms but a few, like ourselves, still in their "civies," [sic = "civies",] all of them engaged in one activity or another, sweeping floors, emptying garbage cans, dusting window sills, laughing, horseplaying, momentarily serious like us, wondering, worrying, scared, expecting God only knew what!
We were allowed to ample time to wash our faces and shave from them the uncomfortable stubbles and make our bunks and GI the barracks and stand around and spread rumors and wait and wait and wonder what was going to happen next and when it was going to happen.
The sky in the east had grown lighter, until it glowed a softly streaked, orange blue-gray; it felt good to sit on the front porch and unleash my mind to wander through the memorious hallways wherein rested last summer's sunrises from American Hill cabin!
At last the order came to fall out. "Attention! All personnel in the reception company area! Fall out for Reveille and morning chow between barracks 13 and 14! On the double! Let's go! You men are moving e-n-t-i-r-e-l-y too slow! Attention! All personnel . . .!
When the outdoor speakers that culminated the wire voice tubes that were a part of the recruit mustering system that was controlled from the orderly room had stopped their nearly undecipherable blarring [sic = blaring], all I could hear was the hard-pounding of boots and shoes on the dirt paths and paved streets superimposed on the noise that was the product of a most mad commotion that I was in the very middle of, churning my legs, not having the faintest idea where Barracks 13 and 14 were, just keeping up with the herd and hoping it knew where it was going.
Everywhere we went we double-timed. From the barracks to chow and from chow back to the barracks and from the barracks again to where ever it was we were to go we double-timed Those that persisted to move out as though they had lead in their pants were violently reprimanded by the cadre sergeants whose appearance alone was enough to scare any man who wasn't accustomed to mirror-black helmets underscored scored by hard-set eyes peering suspiciously from leather-tough faces necked to rigidly starched uniforms that seemed to move automatically towards you if you so much as thought of slowing down to think!
"What do you think you're doing, young trooper?? Come here!! Get your hands out of your pockets! You smell like a civilian! You make me sick! Stand straight when you stand before me! What are you chewing?"
"Gum . . ."
"I'll take it . . ."
"I said to swallow it!"
". . . uglnk . . ."
Wipe Off Smile
"You may think you're still on the block but you aint . . . t-r-o-o-p-e-r you had better wipe that smirk off your mouth . . . you're in the Army now . . . and in the Army you'll act like a soldier! And soldiers move out when they're told to move out. Do you understand me?? D-o y-o-u u-n-d-e-r-s-t-a-n-d me?"
"Yeh . . ."
"Aint your mamma ever lernt you no manners? Yes Sergeant!"
"Yes, Sergeant . . ."
I didn't know whether the by would cry or go blind. He moved out as though death itself was on his trail, running all the way to the rear of the mass-formation of over 600 young men most of whom were equally as afraid as was he.
"You in the red sweater!" 'I'm wearing a red jacket . . .'
"You! Smiling!" 'I'm not smiling . . .'
"Come here!" 'What do you want with me? I'm from Grass Valley . . .'
When I turned towards the commanding voice. I saw the fellow who did fit the description already standing at attention before the sergeant and still smiling.
"What's your name, soldier?"
"Don't call me Sir; I work for a living!"
"Yeh . . . Yes Sir . . . ah Sergeant!"
"Rosenburg, you do not move. Rosenburg, you're an iceberg. Rosenburg, icebergs don't smile. Rosenburg, wipe that smile off your face. With your left hand, Rosenburg, wipe that smile off your face! With your other left, Rosenburg. Now throw it on the ground, Rosenburg. Now stomp on it, Rosenburg. Now pick it up and bring it to me, Rosenburg Thank you, Rosenburg. I said thank you, Rosenburg!"
"You're welcome, Sir . . . ah, Sergeant!"
"Get back in line and don't let me ever see you smile again, R-o-s-e-n-b-u-r-g-e-r!"
Chow Not Bad
The chow wasn't bad at all. Two eggs. Bacon. Hash browns. Hot or cold cereal. Juice. Toast. Butter. Jam. Coffee, or white or chocolate milk.
When finished with breakfast, we were allowed to brush our teeth and square away the bays and latrines. Afterwards, we were again fallen out, this time by Roster Number, for what proved to be a police call formation.
There hasn't been a morning since that I haven't had the discontented pleasure of walking around for ten minutes stooped over, picking up cigarette paper, cigarette butts, match sticks, used and discarded tissue paper, candy wrappers, pop-bottles, beer cans and the residue from that new craze that's sweeping the nation, the thumb-tabs from those quick-open and aluminum-topped beer cans.
That morning I counted laying heaped in my grubby hands 12 cigarette butts, 27 cardboard match sticks, 3 wooden match sticks, one ice cream stick, half a pretzel, the greater part of a broken button, and a thumbtack which I put into my pocket along with a good rubber band. Imagine, if you will, how I feel when I see the majority of those who smoke who are the majority of all soldiers rid themselves of their nearly vaporized but still steaming cancer-sticks by the simple flicking of their social finger in the most convenient direction totally disregardant of the "very difficult Confucian concept" that if they would throw nothing on the ground that [sic = then] there would be nothing on the ground that would require being picked up and therefore no need for police call . . .
(To Be Continued)
Life in the Army 6
By Pfc. Bill Wetherall
Tuesday, 10 November 1964
As it was, it seemed as though we would have a daily police call if for no other reason than to be "kept busy doing something in case an inspector should 'chance' by." The way it was was this. If it moved salute it. If it didn't move pick it up. If you couldn't pick it up plant it.
Get Fatigue Clothing
After police call we were marched over to a group of buildings that were collectively called the ARMY QUARTERMASTER'S store and I knew that I was wearing my civilian clothes for the last minutes for many weeks. At one Quartermaster's building we were issued our fatigue clothing.
Now fatigues, as issued, are not exactly custom tailored. But you do have a sizeable choice. Small, medium or large. You can take your pick between their being either too small or too large. Seldom will they ever be "just right!" I prefer my fatigues on the large Side if I can't have them fit correctly.
"Everyone who is of medium build up here!" Good-bye "civies"!
Dressed in fatigues and a soft cap but still with our civilian footwear, we were marched, each of us with his half-full duffle [sic = duffel] bag thrown over his shoulder, to a second Quartermaster's building where we were issued our dress uniforms and shoes and our boots and underwear. These items are issued by the same spectrum of measured sizes as ready-made slacks, sport jackets and dress shirts are available in in civilian life. It should be pointed out for purposes of clarity, however, that the Army Quartermaster's Store isn't exactly a Bennett's Bootery and Haberdashery!
"What can I do you for, Bill?"
"Howdy, Frank! I'd like to see something new in fatigues!"
"You've come to the right place, Willy; why don^ you take five or six pairs in assorted colors?"
"Well, really, a nice olive drab will do . . ."
And so is the way things progressed for the next five days at Reception Company. We were given shots, all by the pneumatic gun technique. We were subjected to further apptitude [sic = aptitude] testing. We were escorted to football games. We were marched to movies. Attendance was, of course, mandatory.
We were given dog tags and identification cards. The pictures on the ID Cards resembled mug shots, to be sure; I didn't see a one that could be considered flattering!
Their faces had lost their character when the greasy hair that had once hung down over their eyebrows had been pulled back over their foreheads and cut off. But let me tell you about those haircuts.
Every recruit on Roster 205 with the exception of myself was scalped raspy-smooth all but for a little mop on top about three-eighths of an inch tall. I was scolded for having my hair too short. (Good work, Mairon!) But what else could they have expected, what, I coming from an area where summertime swimming at Bridgeport wants my hair to be short? However, since I didn't even have the three-eighths of an inch mop on top, I was different, not uniform with the others, and, thought the Army, showing much too much individualism therefore! In other words, my haircut was not according to reception company SOP (Standard Operating Proceedure [sic = Procedure]). But what is perhaps the most appalling of all reception company SOPs is the requirement that new recruits pay 75 cents for their very first and most painful military haircut!
To watch the expressions on a recruit's face as he loses his locks is indeed a most phenomenally unforgetable [sic = unforgettable] experience. You would think the new recruit's civilian hair his dearest possession, his hairdo in fact the most magnitudinal self-erected edifice self-dedicated to his personality . . .
Said one barber to the first pimply complexioned hot-rodder that was to have his hair cut, "How do you want it cut?"
Taking the barber seriously, believing that Roster 205 was an experimental control group organic to the Commanding General's doctoral theses [sic = thesis] "psychological identity as a function of self-organized fibrous scepular [sic = scalpular] appendages," the boy answered, "Leave the sideburns, just trim up the edges and lay off the top!"
No words in my vocabulary are capable of properly portraying the expression that crossed and hung on the boys face when the barber's heavy-duty shears mowed a saggital grove a full two inches wide and at least that deep straight down the middle of the dandruff clogged excrescence that was the boys very last individual expression of his contempt for society!
Sewn over the left pocket of all fatigue shirts and jackets is a strip of black cloth embroidered in yellow thread U.S. Army. Over the right pocket is your name tag, a white cloth with your name embroidered or printed in black thread or ink. The idea is that, while standing before a mirror, you are supposed to associate your name with the other name that is "nearest your heart"! Everywhere we went, everything we did, reminded us of the predicament of our being in the Army. No one would let us forget that fact.
We drew field gear. Shelter halves (pup tents). Steel pots (helmets). Entrenching tools (shovels). Canteens. Pistol belts. Mess kits. Back Packs and suspenders.
We were introduced to the chaplain who encouraged us all to seek "spiritual guidance" during those troubled days when we felt like going AWOL (Away With Out Leave).
We were put to mowing, trimming, raking and watering the lawns that surrounded the barracks. We learned the funda- methods [sic = fundamentals, fundamental methods] of sweeping, mopping, waxing and buffing tile floors. And painting. And folding blankets. And preparing soiled linen for the laundry. And there came to be understood the Army's paraphrase of Candid Camera's famous pseudo-aphorism: Smile! You're on KP!
While strolling through the company area on Sunday afternoon I turned a sharp corner only to run into a fast walking uniform that bore the momentous weight of badges and patches ostentatiously sufficient to make the man inside it feel right at home if he were to stand beside a Tahoe National Forest office boy! Since the old soldier wore Master Sergeant stripes with a star in the middle, I figured him for an officer, and I snapped him a rather crude, uncoordinated salute. He was nice about it.
"That's all right, soldier. You don't have to salute me. I'm a non-com. Salute only those whose uniforms have black strips of cloth around the wrists of the sleeves and down the trouser seams."
"Thank you for the information, Sir. Would you please tell me what the star indicates?"
"No need to call me sir, either. The star simply means I'm a Sergeant Major. And so you're to address me simply as sergeant. It won't take you long to learn to recognize the various ranks."
It was a pleasant change of atmosphere to be talked to and not screamed at.
For recruits, reception company is a wayside stop between civilian life and military life. It provides recruits with the essentials preparatory to their military life, namely, their clothing and their orientation.
The processing procedure at reception company is to hurry up and wait, to hurry up to stand in line for period [sic = periods] of time that frequently approach two two [sic = two] hours.
(To Be Continued)
Life in the Army 7
By Pfc. Bill Wetherall
Wednesday, 11 November 1964
It was during those six days at Reception Company that I learned the advantages of being blessed with a surname that is so far removed from the front of the alphabet as is W-e-t-h-e-r-a-l-l.
Having had all my life to stand at the end of most lines has contributed a great deal to the building of my more or less patient character; in fact, even when having the opportunity to compete by running for a position at the front of a line, I've more often that not found myself walking and assuming my normal alphabetical position. I've always found it definitly [sic = definitely] interesting and infinitely educational to watch the others become a mob. Not to mention the fact that those who first complete a particular phase of processing usually pull silly little time-biding details while waiting for the tail of the line to complete the phase.
During those six days at reception company I witnessed mobs whenever we were ordered to fall out of the barracks. And occasionally a group I was near would so suddenly and without the smallest warning become rowdy that time didn't permit my escaping them; thus finding myself in the middle of their demonstrations I would simply relax, and very soon I would be shuffled free of their expulsive shouting and shoving.
Harassment was constant. Evidently, however, we were more in this department than were our fathers. We were told that they had had to put up with many times the harassment that we would have to tolerate.
The barracks at reception company are dismally miserable dwellings. And it is always the common opinion amongst new recruits that everything at reception company is mild compared to what conditions would be like "up on the hill".
Because of its being mentioned by the sergeants, we knew the "hill" to be the place where basic training was actually to begin.
"You mongrels are gonna hafta shape up when you get "up on the hill"! [sic = get up on the hill!"]
As to where the "hill" was, all we knew was that it was "up that-a-way" somewhere . . .
Occasionally, a soldier who had been through a few weeks of basic would be walking through the reception company area on administrative business; whereupon seeing us he would bawl out, "You'll be sorry . . . you suckers!"
We were to find out later that day of Wednesday, 23 October 1964, that everything improves "up on the hill".
Chapter 4: Basic Infantry Training
We sat squashed in open-topped cattle trucks, each of us holding as best he could the heavy duffle [sic = duffel] bag that held his entire clothing issue, the laundry bag that held his field gear, and his personal particulars, the latter items being wedged between his arms and his rib cage; he daren't wave good bye to reception company lest he spill everything and have to suffer the harassment that would consequently hail down upon him.
We were not so sure we were glad to be leaving reception company; we were still of the opinion that the routine harassment had yet to begin.
We couldn't see just where we were going; we had only the dusk sky and motion to tell us that wherever it was we were going, lay a good walk south of the reception company area. We could feel the truck take the corners and pull the hills and brake to occasional stops only to buck forward and again be on its way. We felt like the blind man who wishes he could see all that he felt, smelled, tasted and heard.
Treated Quite Well
To our surprise we were treated reasonably well by the basic training cadre. We had to hustle, to be sure, but we had been led to believe that our landing "up on the Hill" would be so terrible that anything just short of being terrible was ecstasy.
Most of the barracks for basic trainees are new, three story, concrete and glass buildings, quite in keeping with the trend in apartment housing these days. Nothing so far as private rooms, you understand, but at least you have a bay that you and 50 others can call your very own.
I was fortunate enough to be on a roster that was assigned to the older but rejuvenated barracks. These barracks are wooden structures that were constructed during World War II as "temporary" buildings. The master plan calls for the gradual replacement of these older billets with the newer, concrete and glass architecture.
The older barracks, however, provide all the creature comforts and advantages of the newer dwellings, plus, I believe, the added convenience of having only one small building per platoon of 50 troops rather than a larger building for an entire company of 250 troops. Not only are their latrines tiled and plastic-paneled, but their bay walls and ceilings are sheet-rocked and their heating systems actually function after an adequate fashion. And the softness of their wooden members as contrasted with the aesthetic hardness of the newer barrack's [sic = barracks'] reinforced concrete beams greatly appeals to me.
Not Always Elite
There are ten men per basic training squad plus a squad leader, and four squads per platoon plus a platoon guide, a platoon sergeant and a platoon leader. The platoon leader is a non-commissioned officer (NCO), usually a sergeant, or a commissioned officer, normally a second lieutenant. The platoon sergeant and guide and the squad leaders are trainees chosen supposedly for their leadership abilities, et cetera. Needless to say, it is not uncommon to find that many of these "acting jacks" are in fact not the elite to be had from the young men available.
A company consists of five platoons plus the mess, supply and administrative personnel, a senior drill instructor (SDI) who is responsible for safely marching the trainees to and from classes and training areas and disciplining them in manners concerning dismounted drill, a first sergeant who is the NCO in charge (NCOIC), an executive officer (XO) and a commanding officer (CO), both of whom are in most cases a company grade officer, that is, second lieutenant, first lieutenant or captain.
At Fort Ord, the Company is the basic training unit. Reception company makes up as many as eight basic training companies per week, though the weekly quota is not normally so high.
(To Be Continued)
Life in the Army 8
By Pfc. Bill Wetherall
Thursday, 12 November 1964
Basic training itself was an extremely interesting bore. What I mean to say is that I would have been bored to tears had I not been extremely interested in human nature.
For two weeks we all but lived at the train fire ranges. A fellow got so tired of firing round after round of ammunition, day after day after day.
We had field classes in target detection wherein we were instructed in the first principles of distinguishing camouflaged enemy troops and war implements from the terrain, its foliage and its geological irregularities. We were taught the principles of first-aid and hygeine [sic = hygiene]. We were instructed in the procedures for handling intelligence information.
We were extensively briefed on matters involving the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), or military law; we were told what we could do and what we could not do as a soldier. Correction. We were told what we would do and what we would not do as a soldier.
We were introduced to night-fire techniques. We were instructed in the art of pitching hand grenades; indeed, we threw live hand grenades.
We practiced night and day tactical marches; we were made aware of the combative problems that could be encountered during such marches. We were drilled in precision marching and facing movements with and without our rifles. We were trained in manual of arms movements.
We learned hand-to-hand combat techniques. We were exercised in bayonet maneuvers until they became second nature to us.
What is the spirit of the bayonet? we were asked.
"To kill!" we were ordered to scream in reply.
Two types of bayonet fighters?
"The quick and the dead!"
And which are you?
We were told that there was no room for mercy in the heart of the bayonet fighter. I had to tell many a training sergeant who called me down for not screaming as I was ordered to scream that it was not the spirit of my heart to kill. Not understanding me, nor caring to, the sergeants would order me to drop to the ground and do a few pushups. If only they had known that vigorous exercise is to me no punishment at all . . .
We were taught the fundamentals of individual tactical movements, namely, how to crawl on our bellies and backs through tangled mazes of barbed wire while under machine-gun fire. How to crawl over logs and how to get into and out of trenches and over barriers while under machine-gun fire. In daytime and at night. That was called the infiltration course.
You Never Forget
And you could never forget lying on your back somewhere, you didn't know just where, out in the middle of the field, at night, listening to the machine-guns throw out burst after burst, listening to the projectiles crack over your head as the shock waves they pushed before their apexes slapped the moist air against your tympanic membranes, tracking the tracers that flew by, following their falling and watching them ricochet off the hill behind and arc gracefully high up into the black of night and describe a soft red trajectory, like does a planet amongst the stars; and that boot in your ribs from some other soldier who was trying to kick his way out of the barbed wire that he had caught himself up in, his mouth full of vulgar sand, you, forgetting the mysterious depths of the universe, rolling over on your stomach and digging your sore elbows and knees into the coarse and damp sand and pulling yourself forward, left elbow right knee, right elbow left knee, left elbow right knee, sliding down into the final trench, breathing, heavily, the machine-guns at last behind you, you, waiting, waiting, Alpha one charge, you crawling out of the trench, crouching, running, towards the bunker, down, prone, ready, kneeling, rocking, throwing a grenade, burying your face in your arm and your head in the sand, listening, expecting, knowing, looking, rising, running, charging, screaming, parring, thrusting, killing, withdrawing walking, sitting, resting, laying, sleeping . . .
God never made anything finer than a good soldier, had read a wooden arch that we had twice had to march under; while walking, while sitting, while resting, while laying, while sleeping, a few of us wondered. About many things.
The gas chamber was an experience to be had in civilian life only by those who are involved either as inciting participants or as innocent bystanders in a riot whose acme is quelled by tear gas.
We became most proficient in various physical training routines consisting of pushups and body-twists and chinups and horizontal ladder movements and running the mile.
We took a 20 mile march that was nothing less and nothing more than hiking from Auburn to Grass Valley via the shoulder of Highway 49.
Bivouac was another big event during which we were given an opportune chance to practice what we had been taught concerning methods of field sanitation. Lasting for three days, the bivouac exercise stimulated more unprintable remarks than did any other phase of basic training.
It seems that not too many of the fellows were familiar with the ways of the woods. I was really impressed just how many of them had never before in their life camped-out. I sympathised with them only because I could never know just exactly what it feels like to feel so unsure of your environment that you are afraid of it. But I discovered that such fear was a common feeling among the recruits. They knew nothing about navigation, about remembering prominent landmarks, about ridges and drainages and creeks and the sun's path across the sky and that of the stars and moon at night and the nature of nature; when the sun did set and the stars and moon did come out, many of the troops feared even their own shadow.
We were thoroughly indoctrinated in the ethics and etiquettes of military courtesy. In summary, in eight long weeks, we were taught to march, to shoot and to salute.
It is required of all soldiers that they learn their chain of command, which consists of their squad leader up to and including the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, President Lyndon B. Johnson. It is further required of all soldiers that they learn both their eleven general orders and the six articles of their code of conduct.
The General Orders
- To take charge of this post and all government property in view.
- To walk my post in a military manner, keeping always on the alert and observing everything that takes place within sight or hearing.
- To report all violations of orders I am instructed to enforce.
- To repeat all calls from posts more distant from the guardhouse than my own.
- To quit my post only when properly relieved.
- To receive, obey and pass on to the sentinel who relieves me all orders from the commanding officer, officer of the day, and officers and non-commissioned officers of the guard only.
- To talk to no one except in the line of duty.
- To give the alarm in case of fire or disorder.
- To call the commander of the relief in any case not covered by instructions.
- To salute all officers and all colors and standards not cased.
- To be especially watchful at night and during the time for challenging, to challenge all persons on or near my post, and to allow no one to pass without proper authority.
The Code of Conduct
- I am an American fighting man. I serve in the forces which guard my country and our way of life. I am prepared to give my life in their defense.
- I will never surrender of my own free will. If in command I will never surrender my men while they still have the means to resist.
- If I am captured I will continue to resist by all means available. I will make every effort to escape and aid others to escape. I will accept neither parole nor special favors from the enemy.
- If I become a prisoner of war, I will keep faith with my fellow prisoners. I will give no information nor take part in any action which might be harmful to my comrades. If I am senior, I will take command. If not, I will obey the lawful orders of those appointed over me and will back them up in every way.
- When questioned, should I became a prisoner of war, I am bound to give only name, rank, service number, and date of birth. I will evade answering further questions to the utmost of my ability. I will make no oral or written statements disloyal to my country and its allies or harmful to their cause.
- I will never forget that I am an American fighting man, responsible for my actions and dedicated to the principles which made my country free. I will trust in my God and in the United States of America.
"Woe will be he who does not know his chain of command, his general orders and his code of conduct verbatim by next Monday," we were told by our company commander.
(To Be Continued)
Life in the Army 9
By Pfc. Bill Wetherall
Monday, 16 November 1964
What is apparently more important in the Army than being practical and efficient, practicality and efficiency supposidly [sic = supposedly] being the primary military cirterias [sic = criteria], is being uniform. Uniform in dress as well as in operational procedure.
If one man wears a field jacket all men wear field jackets. If one man doesn't wear a field jacket, no man wears a field jacket.
Inspections are big-dealed to the point of disgust; they are carried out in true "federal" tradition. Always you are led to believe it most important that you have your display exactly as prescribed by battalion SOP . . . and always it proves least important that you so precisely comply.
During one of the many such inspections I had to stand during basic [training], the battalion commander, a Lieutenant Colonel, found socks in my boots and, as he pulled them out, slowly, one at a time, dropping them to the floor, his face twisted at me in blushing detestment of my "gall". I could hardly keep from laughing; neither could platoon sergeant. My company commander didn't take the incident to be so funny, however, he being most concerned about the silver bar on his lapel.
CER vs. NCO
The CER/NCO (College Educated Recruit/Non Commissioned Officer) relationship is, as a rule, a precarious and agitated relationship. Many NCOs have come to resent CERs because so many CERs have proved too smart-alecky in their employment of certain "college level" arguments in their debating of certain AR, SOP and "disciplinary" issues with NCOs. Generally speaking NCOs are not "equipped to counter college level reasoning" and, when confronted with such reasoning, become so irked by the collegiate sterotype's [sic = stereotype's] "intellectual probing" that they resort to a typically Army or "mediocre" line of reasoning, thus further stirring the CER/NCO relationship.
A small percentage of NCOs became so antagonized by that peculiar breed of insolence known as "fraternity-spurned- [sic = spawned-] brattiness" that they go so far as to take every opportunity that avails itself to gain a sort of "insulting revenge" on CERs, for example as evidenced by the verbal attacks I had occasion to witness an NCO deliver via his control-tower-microphone during the week I spent at a particular train fire range.
In a certain sense I feel that this NCO's vindictive sarcasms, being typical of all NCO remarks concerning the rank and file CER, were justifiable on the grounds that only a negligible few of the CERs in my basic training unit even attempted to understand the position that most NCOs are constrained by fate and attitude to assume . . . not to mention the very real fact that most of the criticisms brought against CERs by NCOs contain so much truth that they are beyond denial.
"Check that goof-up out. He's probably a college graduate."
"Soldier on firing Point 56 y-o-u a-r-e l-o-s-t! You really messed up your life when you went to college . . ."
"I wish all you college men would commence using common sense . . ."
"As you college men would say, 'All this is mind over matter!' That's right! I don't mind that you don't matter!"
"Soldier on Point 6 . . . you are b-e-a-u-tiful . . . soldier on Point 6 . . . listen to me . . . Point 6 .. . your weapon's position is incorrect . . . how much college have you had? Three years? I thought so!"
"Will the Lieutenant nearest the soldier who is trying to repair his weapon demonstrate to that chim-pan-zee the proper way to hold a screw-driver? Probably has a master's degree in mechanical engineering, Sir!"
In basic training we yelled everytime [sic = every time] we fell out of the barracks for a company formation. We yelled "ahhhhh . . ." from the moment we crossed the barracks threshold till the moment we came to attention in ranks. We called cadence while we marched. We chanted unit songs while we double-timed. What with the cold ocean winds, the variable climatic conditions and the rain-or-shine scheduled training activities complicated by yelling, it was not surprising the number of throats that were continually so sore as to experience constant difficulty in swallowing.
We entered classrooms jogging to the blasting scratches of old marching records. We stood at attention before our chairs, holding our caps as designated by SOP and listening to the military soap opera until everyone had entered. When the instructor noticed that two many heads were nodding, we were ordered to rise and stretch. In the Army a man is ordered to do practically everything that a man can be ordered to do.
Everything we were taught in basic training was taught by the numbers. The manual of arms, by the numbers; dismounted drill, by the numbers; tent pitching, by the numbers. That we weren't taught how to eat and sleep and shave by the numbers was just short of being miraculous.
Inspirational reminders hung everywhere we could possibly look.
Over the wash basins: Posters showing three cherry trees, a cherry tree stump, George the Wash's mug, two tooth bushes and the maxim "be true to your teeth or they'll be false to you."
In some way, by some strange and twisted thinking, it is sacreligious [sic = sacrilegious] and blasphemous and generally disrespectful to the flag to ever allow the wind to slip through your hair and massage your mind and the sun to tan your face. The cap with the bill that shades your forehead and the sweat band that keeps your hair sticky with salt is the most important clothing item a soldier is issued. So help me God!
Sweet music goes so good in a shower where even the steam floats in mellow resonance to the heart-sounds that emerge from an aching soldiers lungs to reverberate from tile wall to tile wall, cleansing his tired soul as warm spray rinses sweat and mud from his body . . .
While in the Army, you think so much of your parents. You think so much of your friends. You think so much of Martha Jean. And you think so much of home!
Thoughts of Home
I love to gaze into her sky
and of its vastness wonder why
and of my smallness only know
and wish that in it I could fly . . .
I love to kneel near her brooks
and at my own reflection look
and at her trees behind me stare
and wonder at the work they took . . .
I love to live her windy days
and watch her Ponderosas sway
and watch their needles falling down
and on my earthen mattress lay . . .
and you think so much of home!
(To Be Continued)
Life in the Army 10
By Pfc. Bill Wetherall
Tuesday, 17 November 1964
Chapter 5: MOS and Permanent Duty
When finished with his eight weeks of BIT or basic infantry training, a soldier has completed only the first of two phases of his minimum service training.
If he is to be an infantryman, his second phase of training will consist of eight weeks of AIT, or advanced infantry training. If be is to be a clerk-typist, a signalman, a medic, a mechanic, a truck driver, an artilleryman or anything other than an infantryman, his second phase of training will consist of any number of weeks (depending on the school he is to attend) of AIT, or advanced individual training.
In either case whether a soldier does or does not go infantry, each soldier is assigned to and is involved in a particular MOS, or military occupational specialty.
Everyone Gets MOS
The MOS classification structure itself need not be gone into here; briefly, each area of post-BIT training has been assigned an identification or MOS number. For example: MOS 111 is Light Weapons Infantryman; MOS 112 is Heavy Weapons Infantryman; MOS 207 is Airborne Radar Specialist; MOS 208 is Medical Equipment Repairman; MOS 640 is Light Vehicle Driver; MOS 642 is Heavy Vehicle Driver; MOS 710 is Clerk; MOS 711 is Clerk-Typist, MOS 716 is Personnel Specialist; MOS 910 is Medical Corpsman; MOS 911 is Medical Specialist; MOS 913 is Operating Room Specialist; et cetera. There are more MOSs in the Army than there are warts on a bullfrog's hindquarters; you name the vocation and the Army's got an MOS to fit it.
When enlisting in the Army, a young man is given a choice as to which AIT MOS he wishes to recieve [sic = receive] training in. This program of enlistment is popularly known as the choice not chance program. Thus a young man is guaranteed upon his enlistment training in a particular MOS.
As a draftee, a young man is guaranteed nothing but that he will spend two years in the active service of the benevolent uncle that is forever watching over him, cuddling him, sheltering him and generally protecting him from the terrors of the knowledge gained should he ever be allowed to cherish and entertain practical and economic and efficient ideas. If the draftee isn't trained in the infantry MOSs, however, he is trained in a critical or shortage MOS such as the electronics and medical MOSs and others.
A soldier may receive training in his MOS by virtue of OJT, or on the job training. OJT training may or may not be supplemented by formal classroom instruction.
Most AIT MOS training curricula are presented in a typically eight week schedule of classes and field exercises. The completion of post-AIT or advanced MOS courses may require as much as a year of formal instruction, variegated by self-study and supervised practice, however.
In the case of most AIT MOS training efforts, if the tiger-soup and smoke breaks and dirty-joke sessions and war-story-telling times were cut down 25 per cent the training time of eight weeks would be cut down 50 per cent; figure out that mathematics will you!
However, without further ado, permit me to escort you through the scholarly halls of a typical army academic palace, as for example that aristolelian chamber wherein the five week AIT in MOS 640, Light Vehicle Driver Course (LVDC), is beginning to get ready to start commencing getting underway for the 236th time since its conception.
"Any Resemblances . . ."
Any resemblances or similarities either between the characters employed henceforth and any real persons living or dead, or between the environments in which these characters are placed and any actual spatial-temporal situation existing in or historical to the universe are in some cases purely coincidental while in most other instances connivingly purposeful. Furthermore, it may be necessary to forewarn the unwary reader that the incoherent speech-patterns peculiar to particular peculiar characters are due neither to this narrator's nor to this newspaper's linotyper's shortcomings; rather, they are honest paraphrases of what every soldier must necessarily tolerate; necessarily tolerate because of the fact that incoherency and inconsistency and incompetency are the natures of the bulk of formal peace-time-military thought . . .
The time: 0830, 09 March 1964 Anno Domini, in the year of our Lord . . .
The place: The military reservation of Fort Ord; the County of Monterey; the State of California; the United States of America; the Planet Earth; the Solar Planetary System; the Milky Way Galaxy; the Universe . . .
The scene: In the Second Battalion, Fourth Brigade, LVDC First Committee (First Week's Instructor's) Classroom. . .
The speaker: Joe Average Army Instructor, The Most Reverend Sergeant First Class (SFC) MacLifer . . .
In [sic = on] behalf of the great American fighting man's peace-time-military spirit, both the battalion commander and the motor officer have finished introducing themselves to Class 286 and have traditionally welcomed its soldiers to LVDC. SFC MacLifer begins the final third of the introductory hour lecture by reading the well-soiled mimeographed lesson-plan that was originally provided by an anonymous aboriginal motor officer some unknown years ago when his contemporary motor pool commander first concocted the idea of big-dealing a five day driver course into an abortion of five weeks instructional duration . . .
"Welcome to the United States Army light vehicle driver course. During the next five weeks you will become familiar with the operation and first-echelon or driver maintenance of various light-duty-tactical vehicles, including the one-quarter-ton truck, or jeep, and the three-quarter-ton and two-and-one-half-ton trucks, or general-purpose cargo-carriers. You will be concerned primarily with the two-and-one-half-ton truck, however, since familiarity with this heavier vehicle includes having mastered the skills requisite for the successful operation and maintenance of the lighter vehicles."
At this point of his sermon his honor SFC MacLifer lays the acetate enveloped lesson-plan beside his brief case on the floor, boldly steps from behind the podium and to the forward edge of the rostrum, clears his throat, leans towards the class and begins ad-libbing . . .
"Drivers are necessary because they were designed to be driven by them the ingredients of a good driver is not to . . . is intelligence and physical. Ability is necessary and common plain old common sense is necessary also. As drivers you will be pre-forming a vital job and trucks are harder to drive than you think possible. Only common every-day intelligence is what is an important ingredient of a good driving . . . a good driver, however, because even a PhD is not needed when a third or fourth grade school boy can push the old hay burner right along. But we don't have no horses not any more in the Army nohow. The cavalry went out with Custer's Last Stand ha . . . ha ha . . . ha ha ha ha hm m m m m m . . . now where was I?! Oh yeh! . . . Did you hear the story of the travelin' salesman who . . . ha ha hee hee you get it? you get it? ho ho . . . (nine minutes and seven jokes later) . . . now where was I?! Oh yeh! . . . But still you must always keep physically fit because you never know what happened . . . might happen! To even you! My wife ran into me when I was stationed overseas which is why she don't drive no more. I didn't know how to give her the proper heavy-armored- army-tank hand signals (HAATHS) to guide her into the driveway. Yes! You must try to stay physically prepared for anything! At last ingredient is common sense. What is common sense, Riviera?"
"Sergeant! Private Riviera! Ah . . . common sense . . . ah . . . is . . . ah . . ."
"That's pretty close. How about you, Samuels?!"
"Sergeant! Private Samuels! I would say that . . . it seems to me that . . . in my opinion . . . it is obvious that . . . that is to say that . . . it would be safe to say that . . . it would be safer to say that . . . it would be safest to say that . . . it is reasonable to say that . . . it follows that . . . according to Plato, now . . ."
"Now how-a-bout that! That's right! Common sense is doing what society wants us to do. Why the frown, Phelan . . .?!"
"Well ah . . . you see . . . I caught this morning morning's minion, kingdom of daylight's dauphin, dapple dawn drawn melancholy Falcon . . . Sergeant! Corporal Phelan!"
(To Be Continued)
Life in the Army 11
By Pfc. Bill Wetherall
Wednesday, 18 November 1964
"That's must be true to certainly a kind of extent or something, but remember that equally of similar impotance . . . importance is also emotional statability! You was drivers must have a seat, Phelan . . . you as drivers must have a high mental mind! The average driver who gets . . . whom get behind the wheel and puts his foot in the gas tank, he's not really a good driver because he never was trained by the army to take care of a two-and-one-half-ton truck, metal, general-purpose, cargo, Motor Pool Stock Number MPSN 17-912, GMC, M135, 6x6. All this and more you must be able to compretate. Private Robertson, suppose you tell me, what do I meant by 6x6?!"
"Well, let's see . . . Sergeant! Private Robertson! Gee Whiz . . . Shoot, Sarge . . . ant, I don't know . . ."
"That's what you get for playing stick-ball in those Bronx alleys while all the other guys on the block were down at the neighborhood garages in the grease pits. Of course, no reflection on you personally, Robertson . . . YOU can't help it if you're so stupid! Sit down! You're disgusting! Every swinging swinger in this classroom should know that 6x6 means six axles on the truck and six axles driving. But also you will be taught more things you don't know. But don't think it is our purpose to make you think you're ignorant. We want to bring only to your attention in a connection connected with this thing is because you jerks never did a day's work in your life! For example . . . Hey back there! Lobecker! What's goin' on back there?!"
"Just playin' around . . ."
"You play around on your own time, son, not on mine . . . you got that? Straighten out or get out! Now what was I saying?! For example, Wetherall! On your feet and face the class. In Army trucks are electric type circuits. They depend on electricity. Wetherall, suppose you tell us, what is electricity?!"
"Sergeant! Private Wetherall! Electricity is the activity and the potential activity of electrons . . ."
"Hold it! No! Stop right there! Don't go any farther! Quit while you're just a little bit behind the eight-ball! By the way, Wetherall, where's your notebook?! Get it out! You had better start jottin' this stuff down or you'll bolo the tests! I've been a battery muffler bearing specialist for the last 21 years so you can rely upon what I'm telling you . . . sit down, Wetherall! I'm telling you that electricity is positive and negative electrons stored by capacitators! Write that down and don't forget it. Also, the two-and-one-half-ton truck is made entirely of metal, except for the wooden, canvas, plastic and rubber parts. We will ask you questions like these on the tests. What is the purpose of lubrication? You will learn next week as your studies advance that the answer is to lubricate parts. Another question is how many wheels on a normal truck? True or false! True, of course. And so forth . . . most of the questions aren't this hard, so maybe I'm wrong to mislead you and scare you like this. Anyway, we always review the questions that will be on the test immediately before the test so as to insure your scoring as high as possible. Just keep your eyes and ears open and take complete notes and you'll have no trouble passing. Also, you have to stop at railroad crossings and open the door. Yes, Fitsimmons?"
"Sergeant! Private Fitsimmons! There's one time when you don't have to stop, and that's when you see an exempt sign before you see the rail-crossing sign."
"Oh yeh? Well, ah . . . well, ah . . . that's not mentioned in Army Regulation Manual ARM 34-161870069279 7-A21! So! Are there any more childish questions on what we've covered this vehicle? Hour? Speaking of vehicles, you know, there's nuthin' that looks any better'n a convoy goin' down the road in which each vehicle is maintaining proper distance. To sum up what we've . . . I forgot to tell you that before leaving on convoys all the drivers sanforize their watches which makes them know which of them are on time . . . to sum up what we've covered this past hour there are important ingredients that you must know that you have to have to be a driver better than the average driver when you know these things. Class! At-ten-hut! Class-leader, fall your men out for a ten-minute smoke break!"
At this time salutes are exchanged between the instructing sergeant and the class-leader, after which the class is filed out to the break area, which consists of a roped-off area set aside for smoking.
How I Love Thee Alma Mater . . . commencement exercises . . . in fatigues . . . the whole bit . . . baccalaureate . . . onion skin "Department of The Army, United States of America, This We'll Defend, MDCCLXXVIII, War Office, Certificate of Training: This is to certify that Private William 0. Wetherall, RA 19 779 952, has successfully completed Light Vehicle Driver Course (5 Weeks) Given at Headquarters 2d Battalion, 4th Brigade, Fort Ord, California, 10 April 1964, Signed: James H. Harrill, 1st Lt., Infantry, Chief, LVDC. DA (Department of the Army) Form 87,1 SEP 54, Replaces DA Form 87, 1 Jan 49, Which Is Obsolete."
What few notes I have taken since my entering the service that have concerned themselves with military subject matter (MSM) have been brief notes; however, my notebook is always ready for action, in fact no further from my pen-in-hand than by breast pocket, for I can never know when some sergeant or general mightn't goof up and say something important!
After receiving his AIT MOS training, the soldier is assigned to a permanent duty station which is, as the name implies, the duty station to which the soldier is permanently assigned . . . permanently assigned, that is, until he is reassigned! Permanently reassigned, of course! What I mean to say is that about the only things permanent and-or predictable in the Army are laziness, ignorance, fear, and wasted time and money.
The draftee's AIT training assignment and his ultimate permanent duty assignment are supposedly based on a supply and demand and individual aptitude and civilian background and civilian accomplishment criteria.
Supply and Demand
The enlistee's ultimate permanent duty assignment is based on supply and demand in the enlistee's chosen MOS field. Individual aptitude plays a negligent role in the enlistee's AIT training assignment, for as long as the enlistee has met the minimum standards of his chosen MOS, he is generally safe from being transferred into an MOS which his Army tests may indicate him as having a greater aptitude for. For the enlistee, aptitude, civilian background and civilian accomplishment become a significant and deciding factor regarding his permanent duty assignment only at which time when higher echelon or advanced training is to be considered.
The soldier's permanent duty assignment may be a compassion assignment, which means that a member of his immediate family is experiencing such a physical or mental plight that the soldier's being stationed as near as possible to his struggling relative's bedside would significantly benefit that relative's convalescence. A soldier's wife being pregnant would warrant that soldier a temporary compassion assignment. It is regulation, however, that as soon as the criteria which justify a soldier's compassion assignment are sufficiently alleviated or rendered non-existent or non-pertinent, that that soldier be returned to normal world-wide duty status.
Permanent duty assignments are made to countries throughout the world, though primarily to Viet Nam, West Germany, Korea and stateside, or continental United States, Alaska and Hawaii. A young man can enlist for overseas duty in lieu of being guaranteed training in a particular MOS. He has choice not chance in only one aspect of his tour of service; for sure he will be trained in a particular MOS prior to his being shipped overseas to his select duty station, but as to what that MOS will be, he has but little choice. He may be fortunate enough to be granted both training in a chosen MOS and permanent duty at a chosen duty station, however.
Choice Not Chance
Normally, though, only one component of his Army life is his choice; the remaining components which go to make up the total element of his military candescence are the Army's choice and his chance. In these facts lay the true meaning and etymology of the phrase "choice not chance."
For all the time a soldier is ordered to waste during his normal duty day, he certaintly [sic = certainly] has abundant off duty time during which he can at his discretion pursue any number of a variety of extra-military activities.
(To Be Continued)
Life in the Army 12
By Pfc. Bill Wetherall
Thursday, 19 November 1964
To mention only a few: He can take correspondence courses as offered at both high school and college level by USAFI (United States Armed Forces Institute) from both military and civilian sources; he can work out at the gym; he can swim in the Olympic Pool that is annexed to the gym; he can make use of the post library facilities which are more conducive to study than are his barracks or his company's day room; he can take advantage of the photo, art and auto craft shops spread throughout the campus; he can buy all kinds of good things at the post exchanges (PXs) at reduced prices; he can pay a quarter for admission to a single feature flick plus cartoon plus newsreel plus previews of coming celluloid attractions; he can bowl at the special services lanes; he can hang out at the local pubs, better known as the service clubs; he can associate with hired Girl Scouts at the USOs, wherever they are; he can borrow money at exorbitant interest rates from loan sharks who haunt the adjacent towns for his benefit; he can hustle women and patronize the bars that frequent the wild neon-lit streets that block neighboring metropolises and otherwise keep the American economy going on an even keel if not stimulate its growing; he can attend religious services at his favorite chapel and thereby keep from pulling weekend kitchen police or guard duty; he can write flowery letters to the girls he's cheating on; he can lay around the barracks, which the majority of inmates insist be kept free of fresh air but rich in hot, smokey, stagnant air, and chew the cud with his incubatee comrades in miserable filth; he can look at the Playboy magazines that his company's unit fund provide for its day room's reading racks; he can read comic books that he bought all by his lonesome self; he can swear; while polishing boots and brass, while bearing a faraway distant look on his face, he can foster the thoughts of home that fester within him; or he can write articles for his hometown newspaper and pray to God that the truth he wishes to blurt out to the world is not so subtlely hidden in his narrative of "Life in The Army" so as to be obscure from satirical obviousness; only to mention a few . . .
As consolations, at most permanent duty stations, a soldier is allowed to wear civilian clothes during his off duty hours, and if he owns one, he may keep his car on post; but somehow, even these token privileges, even these opportunities to express his individualities, fail to adequately compensate for the needless harassment that is continually impressed upon him . . .
A conversation on cinema between three soldiers of questionable individual motivation may serve to illustrate the typical soldier's omnipresent boredom.
"What show should we see now?" asked the first.
"Let's see Lawrence of Fort Ord," suggested the second.
"Come now . . . We saw that this morning!!" corrected the third.
"Oh. Well, what about The Evening Before the Morning After?" [sic = "?] resuggested the second.
"But I thought we were going to see that after lunch!" reminded the first.
A conversation on experience between two troopers of questionable moral character might hasten your understanding of the typical soldier's never ceasing concern for his relations with his sexual homologue:
"Principally, we're good people; it's just when we get together and talk . . . you see, some of us have more experience than others . . .and there's only one way to get experience, you know . . ." began the first.
"Yeh! Experience! I'd like some experience . . . I mean some more experience . . ." finished the the second.
But it isn't always with his buddies that a depressed soldier seeks escape from the life that he so detests. When a guy is with his buddies, his jaws work while his cerebrum relaxes. When a guy is alone, however, his mouth rests and his mind takes to the havens of personal thought, of most men crude, shallow, frightening thought, of few men complex, deep, revealing thought, but all men thinking of their future and of their not forgotten past . . .
Chapter 6: Fort Ord, The Army, and Life
Fort Ord (Part 1 of Chapter 6)
In the early winter months late in the year 1542, from the deck of the Spanish Flagship San Salvador, the deeply sensitive eyes of the Portuguese explorer Juan Rodriquez Cabrillo studied the awesomely forbidding but dramatic terrain of the coastline that cups the waters of Monterey Bay. Little did they realize that such a beautifully rugged country would 300 years hence became a part of a nation that had yet to be conceived. Little did they suspect that in 400 years that 28,600 acres of those weather-whipped, brush-covered dunes would process thousands upon thousands of warriors and be a principal supplier of warm blood for a war that raged across the same two oceans that provided them the many pleasures of their far-ranging adventures. Little did they know that a furry little creature sat curiously alert ashore upon the crest of a small knoll, beside a cluster of golden poppies that had just been released from the morning shade of a storm-twisted oak, a ground squirrel, his surprise-widened eyes wondering what were those strange, rolling and pitching things appearing on the dark, white-capped grey from where the cold, wet and salty winds blew . . .
Fort Ord, alias Pneumonia Gulch, alias Meningitis Mote, was named in honor of Major General Edward Otho Cresap Ord (1818-1883), Indian fighter and Union General during the Civil War. The post extends inland from the southeast coast of Monterey Bay, between Seaside on the south and Marina on the north, to State Highway 68 and the Salinas Valley.
250 Miles Away
Geographically, Fort Ord lies 110 miles south of San Francisco, 6400 miles primarily west but a bit south of London and 250 miles southwest of Grass Valley (which is, according to Webster's Geographical Dictionary (1949): Grass Valley (gras). City, Nevada Co., E California, 45 m. W of Lake Tahoe; pop. 5701; in gold-mining region.).
The variety of flora and fauna within the Fort Ord complex and surrounding areas is impressive. Frequenting the forest-like groves of gnarled, moss-weeping scrub-oak is a scrawny sub-specie of mule-deer that is peculiar to the California coastal Region. Healthy stands of digger pine and Monterey pine and Cyprus provide the places of nesting for common and red-poll sparrows and mountain blue birds.
The usual lot of skunks keep hidden in the thick underbrush, their odorous powers enough of a deterent [sic = deterrent] against the companionship of zealeoas [sic = zealous], over-curious skunk-watchers. California mountain quail run across every road, chicks helter skelter behind their hens, just like they do back home. An occasional pheasant can be seen in the fields. Woodpeckers are heard but seldom seen as anything but a nearly unrecognizable flash of red, white and black. As you might expect of the ugliest rodent on earth, moles burrow their tunnels from root to root to root, and manage to be seen only when splattered on the pavement where it is their fang-like tusks that give away their identity.
The steeply rolling, grassy hills that topographize the southern acreage of the Fort Ord Reservation tend to remind the casual observer of Ireland. The flocks of sheep that stray grazing on the grasslands and slopes and the lone shepherds that follow climbing with their walking sticks and the many sheepdogs that run the sheep with their sharp barks that pierce the more rounded baa-baa-baas that like summer haze linger over hill and dale add the final and convincing charms.
On sunny days Fort Ord becomes "tropical" when Pacific breezes are smoothed and warmed by the upjutting, ice-plant covered dunes that form the backbone of the Monterey Bay coastline. These warm breezes arrive at the inland hills and cause the grasses there to dance in kaleidoscopically wild patterns.
(To Be Continued)
Life in the Army 13
By Pfc. Bill Wetherall
Monday, 23 November 1964
Fields of Lupin
The brush fields north of Fort Or's Little Ireland are thickly adorned with wild blue lupins. The fragrance of the lupin flower is at least as lovely as the fragrance of the orange blossom. With equal affinity for the olfactory senses, even the faint, incense-like fragrances of the spring-green sweet-grasses hitch-hike on the winds.
Occasionally, crows from the vast, outspreading Salinas Valley truck-farms wander into the reservation area and add their caw-caws to the short but melodic chirps of the tree sparrows. Everywhere there are common blackbirds, and once in a while a scrupulous eye will catch a red-winged blackbird fall-gliding from a tree before pump-winging itself across the meadow three feet off the clover heads.
Sea gulls and pigeons have all but taken over Fisherman's Wharf in Monterey. To watch either bird scavenge is a most amusing pastime.
The brush rabbit, well, what can I say of him from what little I have seen of him; from his tracks and scats, and from the stick-breaking heard when he plunges unseen through the thickets, I conclude him to be the most evasive of all the furry and feathered creatures that roam the coastal gamelands.
The squirrels will at least sit tall and still for you and watch you as you watch them sunning themselves, safe with the knowledge that the front door to their home underground is but a dash to their rear, and that if they should miss the front door that there are always a few dozen side entrances.
The deer will at least point their rumps towards you and glare at you over their backs, safe with the knowledge that they are headed in the right direction just in case you should prove hostile or wander suspiciously near.
The birds, they simply love to show off for you, knowing that the sky is their bosom's friend if providence has it that you're not. But the birds back home are the best birds; no, not best because they as birds differ from birds anywhere else on earth, but best because they are the birds back home!
In Nevada County, while stars sparkle their last sparkles, there are no songs from the birds, nor can you see them; they are sleeping wherever birds sleep, perhaps in the bushes and trees, or perhaps under the eaves. In twilight I have heard them yawn . . . until just before the sun's first rays consummate their marriage to the crimson glory that throbs on the eastern horizon . . . when it is but a single bird that solos the morning benediction . . . the choir waiting; the forests are awake, the crisp mountain air is filled with song and the sky of morning acrobatics of birds exercising, fragile, rythmically (sic = rhythmically) fluttering wings, formations everywhere, some tight, some loose, all dynamic, changing; and suddenly birds will whisk from God only knows where into the air and like sunflowers burst into petals of feathers, as though the angels had beckoned them home; the sky full of birds scattering like burning powder of bursting rockets and no less colorful and graceful; tiny, dark, downy silhouettes in fantastic motion against a curving backdrop of timber-broken dawn's spectra; fluffy cupids spraying the countryside with love songs.
Middle of Paradise!
With hash-browns sizzling in the skillet over flames that have settled in the coals . . . I love to face the morning's sun and smell the air of melting snow and smoke of burning firewood and watch the mist lift off the snow . . . and watch the dogs and kids at play, their tiny feet that crunch the snow and leave behind shadowed holes . . . and watch the smoke from distant chimneys curl between the trees around the rise into the sky. Geographically, Grass Valley is in the middle of paradise!
But the brush rabbits, they are strange ones. They would rather play games. They would rather that they weren't watched by the eyes of those queer beasts that fire devastating explosives at their kind while their kind attempt to cross the shrapnel-erroded (sic = eroded) dunes that happen to be the impact areas of the queer beast's weapons ranges. The word got around on the brush rabbit's grapevine that human trespassers were wicked even when not armed with guns and grenades (brush rabbit general order number one: Watch those humans but don't let them watch you!) But occasionally a trained peripheral vision will catch a pair or a pair of a pair of ears dart through the brush . . .
The outlaying areas of Fort Ord are pretty . . . as is the country that lays southward beautiful . . . as is the ocean and Carmel coastline fascinating . . . on off-duty times when magically a soldier forgets for a few hours that he is a soldier . . . and the landscapes are reminiscent of the country back home . . .
"Where are you from, Wetherall?!"
"Grass Valley . . ."
"Between You Bet and Rough and Ready . . . "
"You Bet!! Where's that?!"
"Near Red Dog . . ."
"Oh . . ."
"And where did you say you were from?"
"Where's that . . . ?"
"It is not God that I miss by being in the Army, for God is found wherever there are birds and sunny skies and creeks and trees and breezes and mountains and valleys . . . it is, I think, the charm of a small town cradled in the roots of evergreen timber . . . and trunks and cellars and attics and mine shafts and square nails . . .
The Army (Part 2 of Chapter 6)
Essentially, I know what I want to talk about but not quite how to begin. How do you begin to tell truths that will inevitably be thought vulgar, scandalous and subversive?
How do you tell a country her Army's a spirit-breaker, not a man-maker? A breeding ground for immorality? How do you hold a snowflake in your hand?!
The nearer you bring your face to it, the closer your eyes come to focusing on its crystalline delicacy . . . the warmer becomes the air in proximity . . . the brighter becomes the glistening marvel that rests unfelt on your crude but steady, calloused hands . . . a liquid drop of the most elusive wonder that has ever drifted downward from heaven's sphere . . . except be it starlight . . . and no doubt but that the two phenomena are related . . .
Making of a Decision
A young man thinks of many things. Of his future, he wonders what is in store for him. Of his past, he wonders why it couldn't have been different. As for the present, he is confused; should he continue to school, should he work, or should he rid himself of his military obligation?
Perhaps he hasn't the attitude for school. Perhaps he is vocationally unestablished and, furthermore, undecided. Perhaps all that is left for him is the satisfying of his military obligation.
At the recruiter's he is confronted with slogans: Join the Army and became a man! Join the Marines and be proud! Join the Navy and ride the waves! Join the Air Force and become a vital part of America's Aerospace Team! The appeal is to his adventurous spirit.
"School and travel and promotion in a man's enviroment (sic = environment)!" The recruiter is skilled is persuasive technique. His motto: To verbally sweeten the young man's expectations and so hasten his irreversible decision. His primary interest: Not the future of the young man, but the satisfying of an enlistment quota.
A young man is gullible. He listens. He wonders, but asks few questions. He thinks, but not much. He succumbs. He commits himself by the taking of an oath which ends . . . "So help me God." And only God knows how much help he does need!
Spirit-breaker, Not a Man-maker
Going into the service is like being catapulted to the jaws of a hungry lion. The mind is torn up, motivation swallowed, the good absorbed and the bad excreted.
For the majority, the life is new and unappealing. Most find it difficult to adjust and in fact fail ever to adjust. Too many are discharged in the world discouraged men, jobless, futureless and hopeless.
Being fresh from the block, the new soldier has had to sacrifice much. His wheels! His blade! His peggars and his hair.
He's no longer the man of the street. His tenement glories, his scabby ego, his Freudian identity, have been like so much hay pitched to the teeth of the military bailer (sic = baler). He is molded to a uniform, submerged in olive drab and stamped U.S. Army.
He is shocked . . . that he is the lowest cog of the military machine. He becomes resentful and bitter with convictions of being persecuted.
(To Be Continued)
Life in the Army 14
By Pfc. Bill Wetherall
Tuesday, 24 November 1964
But it is not entirely the fault of tactless and security-mongrel sergeants that a soldier's morale is forever low. For in fact, military protocol and disciplinary techniques are to a young man's adjustment to the service as a catalyst is to an inevitable chemical reaction. For even as it is in civilian life, it is the attitude a young man carries into or develops while in the service and the attitude a young man maintains while in the service, that provide the nourishment for his subsequent state of mind. And it is his parents, whose pampering apathy encouraged his typically careless and narcissistic attitude, who must ultimately be labeled the ignorant who bred ignorance.
A Breeding Ground
The soldier requires no aphrodisiacs to overcome his sexual inhibitions, the reason being that he has no such inhibitions. Almost with pride he openly brags about his pre and-or extra marital experiences. And believe me, for I have heard too many of them, his narratives of perversion are as nauseous as they are monosylabically (sic = monosyllabically) monatonous.
While a soldier, he is anonymous, a nomadic stranger in a welcoming town, just a money spending boy in uniform passing through like a storm! While a soldier on pass or furlough he involves himself in the sort of piggish activities he would think twice about before involving himself in while a nice young man back home.
The soldier is the amateur who goes professional. He is the fish destitute and impassionate women thrive upon.
The soldier is the stereotype bad influence that the good citizens of all soldier towns stateside as well as abroad detest the nature and presence of but shower and smother with women, wine and song come the end of each month and every evening in between.
Need I say more? Need I remind myself that this is a family newspaper and that perhaps such topics as immorality should be reserved for PLAYBOY satires? Need I fear the California Citizens for Decent Literature?
Perhaps I should wonder only to myself what has become of the moral toughness that has supposedly made this grand nation of our worthy of God's favors. Perhaps I should wonder only to myself if perhaps it is true that Americans smell of hypocrisy.
Make the Best of Worst
Ninety percent of the young men who come into the Army are toe-headed twisters and surfer Joes. And so it is not surprising that the typical soldier is disrespectful of the rights and properties of others and unappreciative of life's blessings.
He prefers "playing it cool" to carrying out orders. When he does follow orders, his response is not out of respect for order, nor out of respect for those who issue orders, but out of fear of the consequences if he is insubordinate.
He complains that the only way to tolerate life in the Army is by not taking the Army seriously, by making a game of it, by seeing in how many ways he can cheat, shortcut, deceive, and otherwise beat the organization he feels is so rudely imposing on his God-given-rights. He doesn't believe that what is worthwhile is worth sacrificing for, for in fact he has no conception of what is worthwhile.
Soldiers attempt to relieve their depression through rowdy activity. As their individual self-pity coagulates, they become a pack of restless, drunken mongrels who would rather disfigure than beautify, who would rather criticize than praise, who would rather tear down than build up. For these bored men of circumstance anything goes so long as it provides temporary escape from the routines and disciplines of life in the Army.
But watch him at mail call when his name is called. A smile bursts from his pimply face and warmth returns to his razor torn cheeks. That such a small piece of paper can fill such a whole lot of emptyness (sic = emptiness) is miraculous. But it does, for it is for the soldier, a spiritless youth, as it is for most men long separated from their families and loved ones. Home is the magic word!
Savings are for the ten percent who are building for the years that will follow their discharge. Habitual of the ninety cent who are future-blind is spending of money as though it was going out of style. No wonder the soldier's cliche . . . "I'm all fouled up; I'm broke . . . no cigarrettes (sic = cigarettes), no beer . . ." followed by a pathetically blank and desperate stare at nothing in particular, his mind enveloped with black dsepondency.
In the final analysis, it is fear, more than anything else, that constrains a man to do what is worst for his future rather than what is best for it. It is fear of being thought intelligent. Fear of being thought interested in life and considerate of life's standards. Fear that constructive behavior contradicts the mainstream and that social resistance is the only reward for the oarsman who so points his bow.
The ten percent who are considered Gung Ho care not so much for life in the Army as they care for their life in the Army. In other words, they intend to make the best of their years in the service. They intend . . . to take advantage of those opportunities that do come to them . . . and to create further opportunities by showing interest in and initiative towards their military occupational specialty . . . and to take with an optimistic and tolerant grain of salt the hours wasted by military discipline that was designed not for them but for the ninety percent who so sorrowfully need such discipline.
What separates these few from the hundreds is perhaps their understanding that it is a good tradesman who knows the tools of his trade even though he doesn't like his trade. What separates these few from the hundreds is perhaps their willingness to care less about what the lazy think and their relentless efforts to make the best of the worst.
The Army has a movie for every subject. All of them begin with the same score of dramatic music, a very big attempt to build the soldier up emotionally, and then, after all flags have been waved, the title appears: "Categories of Supply."
But the food is good. The menus are well-balanced, sufficiently nutritious, and of surprising variety. The servings, normally supplemented by all the milk you can drink, are quite satisfactory. Many a soldier never as a civilian ate so well.
And the clothing is of extremely high quality. Two dress-green winter uniforms. Four khaki summer uniforms. Four fatigue uniforms. A field jacket. A raincoat. An overcoat. Two pairs of boots. One pair of dress low-quarters. Socks. Underwear. Belts. Hats and caps and towels and brass and a duffel bag in which to carry it all. Many times I have heard the new soldier utter, in amazement, "These are the most clothes Ive ever had in my life!"
But so his stomach is full. And his body warm. When his mind is empty, a man ceases to be a man, and in fact perhaps becomes what many anthropologists claim a man to be even when he does think. An animal. A missing link. A ridge runner.
What becomes of a fellow who, when discharged from the service, finds himself unable to gain employment? A fellow who entered the service a man of no special education, a man of little if no vocational experience? Or because of there being a war to be fought, couldn't make the most of it? Years of isolation from civilian life and civilian occupations cause many such men to re-enlist.
So it comes out of the wash that the 20 and 30 year commitments of professional soldiers are made, more often than not, for bread, clothing and shelter, rather than for service to country. Many old timers have admitted as much, how difficult it was in post-war times for them to find civilian security, what, they, veterans, broken men, competitively sterile and lacking confidence in themselves and lacking interest in life, experienced only in violences.
Such men are victims of unfortunate circumstance, not to be criticized, indeed only thanked, for a difficult job well done. They have been where most of us have not been. Nevertheless, as a rule, there is a degree of superficiality about their patriotic postures. And as an additional rule, NCO means not non-commissioned-officer but no civilian occupation and no chance outside.
A master sergeant once told me: "When I went into the Army, it wasn't because the Army was looking for me. It was because I was looking for the Army. I was hungry. I still am hungry, which is why I'm still in the Army." I could only admire him for his exceptional honesty.
If I seem always confident in myself, it is because I believe in God, and because I believe that only through hard, patient and honest work can worthy dreams be realized. God has been good to me. He has given me the opportunity to make the most of life. It is this same opportunity being prevalent in our
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(To Be Continued)
Life in the Army 15
By Pfc. Bill Wetherall
Thursday, 26 November 1964
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American way of life that, when considering the worlds anxieties, justifies to my mind my military obligation. Or, in the mare eloquent words of Benjamin Franklin: "The Constitution guarantees us only the PURSUIT of happiness; it is up to us to catch up to it."
What is so unpleasant about giving of advice is the realization that advice is needed. But I am going to wind up the Army portion of this inconsistent and discontinuous conglomeration of thoughts by offering advice . . . advice I only hope is heeded by every prospective recruit, whether he be a draftee, an enlistee or a reservist.
Finish high school before coming into the service. Though the various services offer educational programs at both high school and college level, none of these programs provide the advantages and rewards of a civilian education.
Don't get married just to avoid your military obligation. Marriage is for life whereas the service is for but a few years.
While in the service say a sympathetic To Hell With the lazy, the apathetic and the careless. Laziness is contagious. It propagates spontaneously among and contaminates all that are by laziness stupored.
Be your own man and forever maintain possession of your mind. Always think for yourself. Always keep in touch with self-reliancy; sacrifice self-reliance for nothing!
And, to sum up all that I have herebefore (sic = heretofore) written, perhaps being a bit melodramatic about it but nevertheless truthful: Your tour of military service will take the best and most crucial years of your life. It behooves you not to waste them . . .
E Pluribus Unum
Epluribus unum . . . it is on all our coinage and it is on the United States Army ring (which I don't recommend any soldier buying even as a manifestation of his esprit de corps). It is Latin for what we as a nation . . . what we as a democratic people are, in the realm of political theory; it means, literally, one composed of many; it means, really, two things, either one people of Weakness composed of many individuals of weakness or one people of strength composed of many individuals of strength. What ever it will mean for us depends on each one oi us . . . it depends on you and me.
Life (Part 3 of Chapter 6)
Besides feeling like an evangelist just excommunicated from a revival center, I feel like the janitor who was sweeping the stage on opening night at the Opera house when suddenly the curtains parted, the orchestra began, and an audience of thousands of stuck-up society slobs waited . . . for him to begin . . .
But he was a union man, and he was a custodial engineer, and he had paid his union dues three years in advance four years ago, and he was not about to sing out the truth, for it was not required of him that he think and speak profoundly . . .
Myself, I am a literary vagabond who is wandering on rather expensive newsprint when he should be winding his writings up and proof-reading them for clearness, conciseness and completeness.
The narrative thus far has been in most places well-enough organized, though often it has taken on the flavor of philosophical ruminating; when finished, which, believe it or not will be shortly, it will be incomplete in so far as goes the telling of the entire story that its author hopes, someday to be qualified and capable of telling; so much that is so important has had to be omitted until fair philosophical treatment takes precedence over the author's present mood of emotional single-sidedness . . . my youthful prejudice, in other words!
This sixth and last chapter has been and will continue to be a catch all . . . it is hoped to be more inspirational than informational . . . and this is all I am committed to admit to you, the reader . . . as for what I have accomplished in this part, or, for that matter, in the preceeding (sic = preceding) chapters . . . I'll leave such a weighty judgment for you . . . as Aldous Huxley brought to my attention with the concluding remark in the Forward to his "Brave New World", "You pays your money and you takes your choice!"
We are riding the times half of whose experts claim we are on the verge of nuclear holocaust while the other half deny such imminent dangers. And I, who had to search through the junk in his closet to find his shoes and then had to dust them off when he was summoned to help fight his nation's battle in the cold war . . . I am a non expert, but a cult-of-the-average hick from the sticks, who is as afraid as the next oaf that neither expert knows what the hell he is talking about and in fact advances opinions merely because it is traditionally expected of him to advance opinions . . .
And I'm to incorporate coherency and continuity in my prose?
"Listen to me, fine folks back home," Caesar might have orated before his Roman Countrymen if he were I and they were you, "and tell me if our economical existance (sic = existence) hasn't became dependent on our adventation (sic = advocation) of war!"
So we live in a quaint little town, unkown (sic = unknown) to the world, cutting our wood, shovelling our snow, milking our cows, slopping our hogs, feeding our chickens and counting our dogs, trying to live a peaceful and fruitful, meaningful life, wondering why the rest of the world persists to create smog and immorality only to cringe in fear before the threat of mutual extermination that hovers over their known-to-be inadequate bomb-shelters!
Ha! And I'm to inspire the young-hearts and reassure the old ones by telling them that everything will be all right . . . when never in history has everything been so tranquil as to be all right . . . and yet that omnipresent guiding light that within me flares for its love for life tells me that man is basically good, that it is only men who are corrupt . . .
I'll inspire the young and reassure the aged in the only way I know how. Perhaps my language is familiar to you, my style compatible with your train of thought; then again, perhaps I'm the square peg that's trying to plunge into the round hole.
However, if I had to recite to the world the wisdom that I have thus far distilled out of the military side of my still maturing life it would go about as follows:
People are as reluctant to accept discouraging truth as the United Nations is stubborn to recognize Red China. As though ignoring a situation will cause it to go away. For reasons of not wishing to breach one's social security, it always seems for the moment easier to cling to a fallacious belief than to admit having been mistaken and face up to facts. Similarly, people find it profitable to ignore the truth. So we'll never in our life time hear American Tobacco admit that "Smoking is a filthy habit!"
We fear truth because welcoming the truth means . . . thinking! Committing ourselves! Becoming involved! Accepting the truth means shedding the dogmas that are perhaps the very souls of our emotional crutches. It means, sometimes, tasting a bitter pill. Taking a dull needle . . . in the heart.
Ignoring the truth today means just that much bigger the lie our children must bear tomorrow. Accepting the truth means being commonsensical, rather than fanatical, about our patriotism. Above all, accepting the truth means clearer vision.
There is no easy way to endure pain . . . but to endure it. And so there is but one way to transform a discouraging truth into an enlightening one. Stand solidly before the culprit and with sincerity, common sense and hard work FIGHT him until you win or loose!
But it isn't only accepting the truth that is difficult. Telling the truth requires its own breed of courage.
Telling the truth, means, sometimes, being misunderstood. Being misunderstood means being misjudged. Being misjudged means being rejected and looked down upon. For telling the truth means being thought . . . nosy! A do gooder! A trouble maker!
Telling the truth means, sometimes, loosing the love and respect of those you want most of all to love and respect you. For telling the truth means offending! Offending by challenging cherished beliefs. Offending by employing common vernacular in your lively illustrations of life in the Army. And always telling the truth means stepping on somebody's toes. And some of us are clumsy enough, as am I sometimes, to step on our own toes when we tell the truth about ourselves.
A businessman on the supper-bound streetcar may notice the student sitting next to him writing an essay entitled "Is the
[ TALK ABOUT A CLIFF HANGER ]
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(To Be Continued)
Life in the Army 16
By Pfc. Bill Wetherall
Thursday, 26 November 1964
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Pope Really Infallible?" Being Catholic, the businessman might feel offended.
While writing the woman he loves about the vulgarity of his comrades, a fellow may include in his letter vernacular examples of the sort of speech he is objecting to. Being a woman of tender thoughts, she might feel offended.
Granted, what may appear to be true to one man may not appear to be so true to another man. And, granted, some people just don't care to know what is happening throughout the world. So the right of one man to unsolicitly (sic = unsolicitedly) tell another man what he believes to be true is indeed questionable. No doubt a sufficient degree of diplomacy is required, as well as consideration for the other fellow's freedom to hold sacred, have faith in and believe true what ever he wishes. It is a difficult question that asks what does and what does i not infringe on the freedoms and privacies of the ear.
I remind you of these facts of life . . . of the nature of truth . . . as I tell you that it would be difficult for me to judge my comrades differently. Perhaps I haven't the right to purposefully observe and study them, the soldiers I am compelled by orders to live with. But then again, never have I seen needed truth evolve without purposeful observation and study . . .
Wanted to Know
I ask a lot of questions. Just recently a friend of mine asked me why I ask so many questions. I asked him why he asked. He told me he just wanted to know. I told him that I, too, just wanted to know.
By blaming others, as I have perhaps done above, for the predicaments we find ourselves circumstanded (sic = circumstanced) by, we solve not even the smallest problem and in fact only procrastinate its solution. And by blaming others we too often imply that we are blameless.
We are never blameless . . . we are never free from fault . . . so long as we are not hermits. So rather than blame others, perhaps we who believe we know better should like our Nevada County trees stand tall, and ourselves improve and grow. And then, in the shade of our examples and accomplishments, the seedlings overcome by the winds and snows will either stretch through our beckoning and guiding boughs and reach for our sun, or shrivel to the duff of the forests floor . . .
There is a quality about truth that only those who seek truth understand. It is the same quality God makes manifest in nature . . . in the way a bird flies . . . in the way the wind blows. It is the quality of being honest . . . of being real . . . of being true to yourself and to those you love.
I can't begin to comprehend the horrible confusion that must be the nature of war, of men engaging men in battle; I have never been there. But if tragedy is akin to the intangible human wastes organic to a peace time army, then I can begin to comprehend the destruction, the disintergration (sic = disintegration), of cities, of families, of minds, the making of the homeless, the fatherless, the rendering of men lifeless and limbless . . .
I have seen the legless man who sits on a roller-skate mounted board propelling himself along the sidewalk by pushing with his hands against the filthy concrete squares, from corner to corner, from store front to store front, peddling pencils and newspapers, his shoulders and head out of proportion to the wasted stubs of his traumatically amputated lower extremities, his clothing ragged, his face unshaven, his eyes like burnt holes in a snowbank and they are not happy eyes; once a day his lips may smile, when he is alone in his flop-house cubicle and crawling between his damp, soiled, vermin infested linen; or perhaps his heart palpitates when he sees children giggle behind their mothers skirts, peeping at his grotesquenesses, children innocent of the horrors of human conflict. How he must feel, each day awaken with the knowledge that he has no legs and nothing to do but look at the world from a level thigh high . . . at the ungrateful world! These men know of war . . . for they have been there!
Glasses, sun, man's spectacle type, with dark blue carrying case, with snap fastener closure.
Iron, tire, metal bar, rolling-head type, with leverage, with capabilities of breaking either tire or arm, whichever the weaker.
Puppet, lifer, human male type, with olive drab uniform, with subordinate passion.
Weapon, shoulder, musket rifle type, with long, cold, blue steel barrel, with bullets and easy-to-read, easy-to-follow kill-it-yourself instructions.
Casket, pine wood, human male type, with blood-tight sealed seams, with appropriate flag.
Mourner, professional, simulated-tear type, with black robe, Bible and bowed head.
Dick is a boy. Dick has a ball. The ball is red. The ball bounces. The red ball bounces. The red ball goes bouncy-bouncy-bounce. "Good morning, sir!" "Good morning, troop!" And salutes and a mutual agreement that we will play the silly little game. But so do bell-hops have gold and silver bands over their visors and scrambled eggs on their visors and I have saluted more than one taxi-cab driver . . .
I don't much like it . . . somehow its wrong . . . to bear arms against one another . . . yet a few illustrious scholars tell me that it is human that we slaughter each other and rape the wives and daughters of our enemies . . . who ever they are . . .
The excuse is pent up international passions. But may Hell be Holy if comes the day those passions are released in a world-encompassing fireball.
Fight, Gladiator, fight! The Medal of Honor awaits you . . . posthumously . . . and the plunders of battle blood and orphans and widows and graveyards miles long and fathoms deep and archives of Onward Christian Soldiers.
When my mother told one of the little girls she tutors that I had been constricted (sic = conscripted), the little girl asked, "Who is he fighting?"
When my mother told a little boy she tutors that I had come home for Christmas, the little boy asked, "Did he bring his gun?"
Children innocent of the horrors of human conflict. But they have legs, they have life, and they have liberty . . . they have been given these things . . . and they have taken these things for granted . . . and they, too, if they must, will fight for these things until they win or lose.
As I know how few contemporary adults understand the significance of life, I wonder how many of their children will come to understand the significance of life and what fools are those who draw their swords. I'm afraid that most of what I have seen in the Army has roused only my compassionate spirit.
Life in the Army
It is a rather drab title, Life in the Army. Not quite as emotional as . . . Foxholes for Bridgeport and No More Ore Cars.
Looking back on this, my first newspaper column, I have to laugh at my own pretentiousness, even arrogance, and utter innocence. Whatever else my writing lacked then, it was not raw, practically uncensored passion.
While the world hasn't really changed much, I have. I don't rise, as reflexively as I used to, in the levels of emotional disgust with current affairs. I am more likely to smile, and shrug my shoulders, at the thought of human civilization imploding on its own collective stupidity.
I am not saying that humanity is going to collapse anytime soon. Hopefully it will stumble on for a few more millennia, so that trillions of more people will have an opportunity to fall in love and reproduce and become addicted to the technological and cultural flavors of their day, and possible discover the meaning of beauty.
I am just saying that I wouldn't be surprised if, sooner than later, the industrialized world's materialistic greeds and delusions of control caught up with earth's environmental limitations, complaints, and powers, and humankind collapsed under the weight of its vanities.
The Vietnam War
I wrote some parts of "Life in the Army" during the winter of 1963-1964, but I did most of the writing in the spring of 1964 while at Fort Ord. Such editing as was done was completed during the summer, and the galleys were out by fall, about one year after I had enlisted in the U.S. Army, having received a draft notice and deciding to serve an extra year in order to chose to be trained as a medical corpsman. The column ran almost daily for a month between late October and late November.
When writing the article, I had no idea that the United States would soon be at war in Vietnam. I don't think I could then have even pointed the country out on a map with confidence. I know I could not have cited a single fact about its history or why it was sometimes the focus of news reports in the United States.
By the end of the year, the war changed the course of the slightly less than 2 years that remained on my 3-year enlisted. I never stepped foot in Vietnam, but Vietnam stepped foot in me. See Kishine Barracks and the 106th General Hospital: Life and death in the Vietnam War medical communications zone in Japan for the entire story.
Half a century later
It never occurred to me, when putting the finishing touches on "Life in the Army" in the summer of 1964, that there would be a war in Vietnam. Much less did I imagine that, 50 years later, I would be a Japanese national, the result of a long life in Japan following years of college studies of the country and its language -- partly inspired by my life in the Army during the Vietnam War, which brought me to Japan.
My father was born half a century after the U.S. Civil War. A few of his eldest living relatives at the time had been youth or adults at the time of the war, and one may even have participated in it. They were all gone by the time my father was old enough to learn about the war in school.
He was just a child, barely 6 years old, when his father was drafted for service in the Great War, and he had no inkling of the war until much later, and he was only 25 when his father died, and does seem to have heard any stories about the war from him. He knew only that his father had reached Europe just after the armistice and came right back to America, but not back home.
My father was about to be drafted during World War II, but his supervisor at the Office of Price Administration successfully argued that he would better serve the war cause as a civilian attorney in the OPA, which oversaw the wartime economy. But I grew up hearing stories about the Pacific War, and World War II in Europe, from adults of my father's generation. I could partly relate to the war because, in San Francisco, I was surrounded by evidence of it in the form of warships and amputees, and the testing of neighborhood air-raid sirens that continued for a while after the war.
I followed the Korean war in real time, in newspaper stories about the air and ground battles, and in newsreels at the neighborhood movie theater. I heard war stories from a scout master who had been there. I played war games in the neighborhood, or at the beach or in Golden Gate Park. And I was an avid building of model planes of World War II and Korean War vintage.
The Vietnam War, though, was "my" war in the sense that it was my generation that contributed most to the casualty lists. And it was the war I witnessed from a distance, while serving as a laboratory technician in an U.S. Army hospital in Japan that was established for the sole purpose of treating soldiers wounded in Vietnam.
Yet my own children, born in the late 1970s and early 1980s, know nothing about any of these wars except by name and what little they may remember of the little they were taught about them in schools. And my granddaughter, born in 2014, a full half-century after the Tonkin Gulf incident that sparked the war, who as of this writing is going on 3, has no idea what adults are capable of doing to each other in the name of nationalistic justice.
As much as I read about the history of Vietnam while in the Army, it wasn't until much later, when fully engaged in my studies of Japanese history, that it dawned on me just how much the developments that led to "Asia" as we know it today owe their impetus to the Empire of Japan and America's reactions to Japan's actions, which were partly in reaction to American and other actions.
All manner of "alternative histories" have occurred to me as I wonder how the political map of Asia would look today if Japan had not taken the various actions it took in East and Southeast Asia both before and during what became the Pacific War, or as it is also called in Japan, the Great (Greater) East Asia War. How the United States and other countries responded to Japan's actions are also alternative history variables.
Hypothetical alternative actions can be contemplated at any point in the chicken-and-egg sequence of events of real history. Had the United States not sided with the Republic of China after Japan's military intervention in the Republic of China in 1937-1938, but let Chiang Kai-shek's ROC government wither in exile and recognized the pro-Japan government formed by Wang Ching-wei (Wang Jingwei) in the spring of 1940, and otherwise cultivated constructive relations with Japan, things might have been very different.
If not for the American, British, and Dutch embargoes against supplies of iron, oil, and other vital raw materials to Japan, in support of the exiled ROC government, Japan may never have felt the need to establish a foothold in Vietnam in the fall (30 August - 22 September 1940), shortly before signing the Tripartite Pact with Germany and Italy (27 September 1940), after which, in early 1941, it also sought free passage through Siam (Thailand). And consequently, there may never have been a Pacific War -- hence postwar disorder, which bred the revolutionary war in China, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, among other conflicts that caused so much suffering and divided countries into parts that continue to confront each other.
But this is tantamount to saying that, if my paternal grandmother had never been hospitalized for depression shortly after my father's birth, his father would probably never have taken him to Idaho to live the first 6 years of his life with her parents. And he might never have developed the sort of ties with her family that brought him back to Idaho for college, where he met my mother, which led to my birth.
And neither of my parents would have been born where they were if the United States had not existed, as a result of European colonization of the Americas.
Yet here I am, accounted for by a sequence of events that owe their relationship entirely to the whims of decisions that could have been otherwise.
3 April 2017