Sunday, December 30, 2007

From Pool Shooter to Private

I was seventeen, had flunked every subject in the eleventh grade, and was wondering about the rest of my life. I decided that my biggest problem - apart from the fact that I was just a natural born jerk - was that I was running with a bad crowd. Now I hasten to add that I don't mean an evil crowd, just a crowd consisting of guys my age and older who had no ambition, had no desire to learn or get ahead, and were content to hang around the pool room and drink beer when they could get it. And I liked these people. I enjoyed hanging around the pool room. But what was I going to do? Try to get a job at Parker Brothers for twenty dollars a week? No, I had to break loose somehow.

The "somehow" turned out to be the Army. I decided to enlist. For reasons still unknown to me, I had always wanted to go to Germany, and I visited the local Army recruiting office to explore that possibility. I was told that the only way I could be guaranteed an assignment in Germany was to enlist for "Armor, Europe," and I opted in, at least in my mind.

My mother had to give written consent and getting that was like pulling teeth. However, with some nudging from my father and my vow to enlist anyway four months later, when I would be eighteen and would not need her consent, she surrendered.

I went to Boston for the required physical and several days later got a phone call from the recruiting NCO. He said that in order to enter any of the combat arms for the first time, a "class A" physical profile was required.

"And you have a crooked spine, flat feet, bad lungs, and a heart murmur, and you wear glasses."

"So I can't enlist 'Armor, Europe?'"


"Okay, draft me when I'm twenty-three."

After a moment's silence: "Let's not be hasty. Let me see what I can do."


Now this was just a bluff on my part, but it had no downside. I would still join the Army, but I really wanted to go to Germany.

A day or two later he called me again and told me that I now had a class A physical profile.

So . . . at seventeen years of age, five feet seven inches in height, and weighing one hundred fifteen pounds, I entered the military. I was sent to Fort Dix, New Jersey for eight weeks of basic infantry training. When I completed that despite a stint in the hospital due to pneumonia, I was five feet eight and a half inches tall and weighed one hundred fifty five pounds. Except for the gradual addition of another ten pounds, that's pretty much where I stayed for the next ten years. We're not gonna talk about now.

I was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky for eight weeks of training on tanks. It was November, cold, damp, and muddy. I got pneumonia again, spent too long in the hospital, and was recycled into a second training company because I had missed so much training.

Eventually, I completed my training and three of us from my company were sent to Fort Dix, to a "holding company," a company to billet and manage large numbers of transients awaiting orders and shipment to Europe. About two weeks later we got orders - Headquarters Company, Seventh Army Training Center, in Vilseck, Germany.

Came the big day and we boarded a large plane, type unknown to me now but a propeller driven plane - jets were not in use for passenger service yet. We flew up to Gander, Newfoundland, over to Shannon, Ireland, and from there to Frankfurt, Germany. During the trip across the Atlantic, I noticed that the wings were actually darkening. I asked the stewardess (for that's what they were called in those days) about it and she told me that the silver paint on the plane's exterior was rusting. I asked her what they did about that and she told me, "Oh, we'll repaint it before we go back."

The three of us caught another plane to Nuremburg, then a train to Vilseck or somewhere very close to it, and joined our new outfit.

1 comment:

Kathy said...

At least you were smart enough to realize you were running with a bad crowd--I didn't even realize it until some reflection many years later. Perhaps that's the reason my brother went the Army-Germany route too. His friends were the siblings of my friends.
Happy New Year!