Thursday, October 23, 2014

Some Things The Army Taught Me

It was almost sixty years ago but it was clear in his mind today as though it happened yesterday. He was in the middle of his first eight weeks of basic training and he was sure he hated the Army and would get out as soon as his time was up which would be in a little less than two years but for now he had to put up with all this "chicken s**t". From the very first day it was a battle for control. They, the Cadre, wanted to control him but he wasn't going to let those SOB's take away his identity, his very sense of self. They could go screw themselves. And so the battle for control, survival was on, waged. The question was who was going to win.

This exercise was starting in a trench. You had to crawl out of it and reaching barbed wire, roll on your back put your M1 on your chest and lift the barbed wire up so you could crawl to the end of the run while live bullets, or so he was told, were fired about ten feet above you. They were told the war stories of how some guys stood up and the machine guns yanked off their anchors and those guys were killed. Personally he thought this was a lot of BS, but all the same he wasn't going to test the theory.

The first exercise was done during daylight. When your company got through the full course instead of going back to the barracks to clean up from all the dirt and dust the Cadre made them police, clean up, the place and dig holes with their entrenching tools. Being in Company C (Charlie Company), they were among the first ones finished and they worked the longest and hardest whereas the last company didn't work at at all.
He figured the night exercise would be the same and he swore to himself he wasn't going to be controlled by these sadist anymore. He would start out with Charlie Company but it would be dark and he would stop crawling once he first got on his back under the barbed wire and wait for the last company to come out and he would finish the course with them. He didn't want to be left behind because the exercise was being conducted out in the boon docks and he wouldn't be able to find his way back, which could lead to him being marked AWOL and then there would be hell to pay.

The night was dark even though the skies were lit up by the moon and skies. He never saw skies like that in the city but out here it was a sight to behold, beautiful. The exercise  started and the first wave left the trench. The bullets lit up the overhead with their fiery blasts but he was certain they could not see the crawlers. He was with the next wave and then all of a sudden the firing stopped and big lights lit the whole area up and everyone stopped while a voice over the loud speakers told everyone not to move until the lights went out again. He wondered if this unexpected happening would foul up his plan. We shall see what we shall see, he thought. The lights went out, the machine guns exploded with their rat-a-tat and he crawled to the wire turned over on his back and with the rifle, M1, he lifted the wire up crawled under it and stopped. The next wave of guys came and he asked how many more till the last wave of guys would come. The guys crawled past him and he waited, actually snoozing at one point, the bright lights woke him.

Then something unusual happened, a guy started yelling and trying to get out from under the barbed wire, the bullets stopped, the spotlights went on and there were Cadre cutting the wire to free the guy who was about fifty yards away from him. The guy cracked, was yelling for his mama and crying like a baby. He recognized him. He was with another company, he was a bully, a wise guy, always looking for a fight. This tough guy cracked. He thought "I guess he wasn't so tough after all.". Later he heard he was mustered out on a Section 8, which in those days was a mental discharge but later was a discharge for pregnancy, only God knows what it might be today. The Cadre removed the guy, the waves of companies kept coming as the machine guns kept firing their rat-a-tat. Finally one guy said his was the last wave so he crawled out with them. Got on the truck for the ride back to camp and found his barracks.

When he walked into the barracks his Sargent and two other Cadre came up to him yelling. screaming curses wanting to know where he had been. He claimed he got separated somehow but he was here now and OK. The Sargent wasn't really a bright light, maybe a helluva soldier but not too much gray matter.
After he vented he went into his room leaving him to take a shower and talk to his buddies. In those days The shower was open and you didn't drop the soap even if you weren't in the navy. The barracks was an open space with bunk beds and a small aera was yours. He heard it was quite different now, even co-ed. Hey maybe today's Army wouldn't be bad except of course for all the fighting one may be involved in. His buddies told him that they were worked liked slaves until the full exercise was over.

Looking back on those days he chuckled to himself. The Army taught him patience; to plan; to find other ways to accomplish a plan; that some tough guys aren't so tough after all; to never let someone or something control you. There may be times when it appears that you have lost control of your destiny but the only real time that happens is when you get sick and die. In the long run it is always good to have the last laugh even if it doesn't look that way in the short run.

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