More of my father’s barely-begun World War II memoir, barely edited for run-on paragraphs.
Our leaders were, for the most part, efficient and pleasant. The company commander was one Captain Cohen, first name forgotten, whom we saw once a day at reveille. Our platoon leader was Lt. Floyd Hiller, commissioned for excellence on the battlefields of North Africa and sent back eventually to the States as cadre. I do not remember much about our platoon sergeant, except that he was regular Army, not overly bright and seemed more concerned about some physical irregularity in his navel than about training us. The cadre was rounded out by Corporal Barnhart (Cupp’l Fanbelt to us), a draftee who used to bound into the barracks every morning before light, singing at the top of his voice and throwing light switches. The tune never varied – “Oh, what a beautiful mooooorrrnning,” – and he thought it was great fun to roust us all out this way even on the dreariest of rainy days.
Lt. Hiller was a gem – rough and gentle at the same time – a man who could dress you down for a mistake and yet leave you with the feeling that he respected you as a human being.
Several events of the fourteen weeks of basic training stand out indelibly in my mind. One was Christmas time, 1943. Having taken some of my hard-earned $50 a month and purchased gifts for my parents, I wrapped them and waited for the chance to mail them. The opportunity came one day when we were suddenly told at noon that we would not fall out again until 1400 hours (2 p.m. real time). I rushed to the post office down the road, stood in line for a while, and accomplished my objective. On arriving back at the barracks, though, I found it empty. I rushed over to the orderly room to be told that the company had fallen out early to march out to a training site quite a distance from there. Corporal Redsecker, the company clerk, told me to run, not walk, to battalion HQ to see if I couldn’t get a ride on the truck that was being dispatched from there to carry blackboards, etc. to the area.
At HQ, a major informed me that the truck had already left, but he officially excused me from the afternoon’s training, after I told him my sob story about the mixup. I reported back to Cpl. Redsecker, whose observation was, “Well, maybe the major excused you, but I won’t. Report to the mess hall tomorrow morning for KP.”
Feeling thoroughly chastised and a little chagrined, I spent a miserable afternoon in the barracks alone, and was not much heartened by my compatriots’ comments of “lucky you” when they returned from the field.
That tour of KP started out miserably and ended weirdly. My first assignment after breakfast was to clean grease traps under the sinks, and I can’t remember ever performing a more distasteful task. The traps were completely fouled with cold grease, slimy and smelly, which had to be scooped out by hand into a bucket and thence carried out to the garbage cans. Then I was put to work cleaning pots and pans, and thus the day went.
Along about four in the afternoon I was told by one of the cooks to go over to the PX and take four 1-gallon vinegar jugs with me. He informed me that the PX manager would know what to do with them, and he did. He filled each of them with beer from the tap, and I carried them back to the kitchen and watched them go into the refrigerator. As soon as the company had vacated the mess hall after the evening meal, Cookie broke out the beer, winked, poured a thick china mug full and handed it to me, with some kind of comment about me being a good worker.
We alternately drank beer and finished cleaning up the day’s mess, and about 7 p.m. took the remaining three gallons of beer upstairs in my barracks, where Cookie lived. I drank free beer until lights out, then attempted to retire. It was the first time I had ever had too much to drink, and, as I put my head on the pillow, the whole barracks began to revolve slowly around my bed. I sat up. It stopped. I lay down again. It started rotating once more. Up. Down. Then, finally, the inevitable nausea gripped me, and I dashed for the latrine. Rid of a lot of the offending liquid, I returned to bed, managed to get the room quieted down, and finally dropped off to sleep. I cannot remember how I felt the next morning, but I looked forward to my next tour on KP – an event which never came to pass.
to be continued…