More of my father’s World War II memoir. Don’t get excited, he never got overseas. Still…
After a few days of this routine, my adventure really got under way, as orders came through transferring a small group of us to Ft. Benning, Georgia to undergo customary infantry basic training. We were several slated eventually to go to college under the Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP). This was a device invented, no doubt, by some Congressman whose son faced going overseas with the fighting troops.
We entrained in Denver, and the Army afforded us Pullman berths, a luxury I was never again to enjoy as a soldier. There was a bitch, however – two to a berth, and my berth companion was Mexican-American. My small-town, middle-class upbringing had relegated such people, along with the Indians and the blacks, literally to the other side of the tracks, and I was not quite comfortable about sharing a berth built for one with someone whose skin was so much darker than mine. I do not remember his name, but he turned out to be a rather nice fellow, and my prejudice against skins of another color crumbled a bit more.
The trip to Georgia was uneventful, and I do not remember much about arrival at Ft. Benning, except that I was issued leggings, a pack, pup tent, rifle belt, and all the other paraphernalia that go with being a combat soldier, with the exception of a rifle. That was to come later.
The following Monday morning basic training started in earnest. We began to learn the niceties of class order drill, how to GI a barracks for inspection, how to assemble a full field and combat pack, and the 12 general orders. I, too, thought there were only ten (“I will walk my post in a military manner”) until some of the old-timers with a week’s more service than I informed me that number Eleven was “Thou shalt remember the other ten,” and that number Twelve was “Thou shalt not stick thy wick in the WACs.” Since the only WACs I had seen up to that point looked like Russian farm laborers, the last one didn’t concern me much.
I was plagued off and on by the aforementioned “Is this really me?” feeling. I felt most of the time as if I were in a dream world, that this couldn’t be happening, and that I would some day just wake up and find myself back in Alliance, Nebraska, in my own bed. This feeling remained throughout most of my broken 20-year Army career*, although eventually reality began to crowd it out of my thoughts more and more. I know my mother didn’t raise her boy to be a soldier. The fact that he became one was due to a series of circumstances starting with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, altered by many later happenings. It just never seemed as though I were there, learning to do all the things a soldier must in order to preserve himself in combat. (The emphasis was on self-preservation then – “Keep your ass down!” – rather than on the Korea and Viet Nam indoctrination of “Kill, kill!”). This “in limbo” feeling, of course, was shattered periodically by the reality of fatigue, by the damp Georgia cold, or simple hunger.
to be continued…
*Curious. When said career ended, I was already thirteen.