Sunday, January 6, 2008

AWOL in Philadelphia

In late January of 1959, I completed my second eight weeks of training. My first eight weeks had been infantry training at Fort Dix, New Jersey, and this was armored training at Fort Knox, Kentucky. Upon graduation, we all got orders for our next assignments. One set of orders assigned three of us, Mike, Malon, and me, to a holding company at Fort Dix, New Jersey, awaiting flight assignment to the same company in Germany. (I had been in the Army one week longer than they, due to a case of pneumonia resulting in my missing a week of training and therefore being reassigned to their company, which was one week earlier in the cycle. Such attention to detail does the Army pay that this gave me seniority - my date of rank as a Private was a week prior to theirs - so *eye* was responsible for all our records and for our arrival at the holding company.)

We arrived, were assigned bunks, and stood formation with our Platoon Sergeant and the company's First Sergeant. The latter instructed us on the routine, which was pretty much that we were on our own except that rosters would be posted every day with the names of those responsible for policing the grounds and for other menial chores. His last words to us were, "There will be no passes, no leaves, and no bedchecks."

I decided I would go home (Beverly, Massachusetts) for a visit, and gave Mike and Malon my home phone number. They agreed to call me collect if anything came up that required my presence.

Nine days later Malon called. My name had come up on a duty roster. I was to be part of the detail cleaning up the area on the following day.

I returned to the company, pulled my detail, and headed for home again. This time, however, I was just about broke, and was going to have to hitchhike. Nobody wanted to pick me up for a couple of hours, however. I was about to give up when a gentleman stopped and said he was going to Philadelphia. I decided to take the ride, reasoning that I would have better luck getting a ride in that busy city.

Well, I didn't. I guess I gave up. I found out where the USO was and paid it a visit. But while I was there, something, I don't know what, made me call the company. I got Malon who expressed great relief that we were in touch and told me that we were flying out the next day. This was critical information. I was already AWOL, although that was unimportant provided that I didn't get into some other trouble, but if I missed the flight, the company to which I was supposed to report would drop me from the rolls - that is, declare me a deserter.

It was early evening and I was afraid to trust my hitchhiking luck. I explained the situation to one of the USO hostesses and asked her to call the Military Police. She said there were none in the area, but there were Air Police, the Air Force equivalent. I asked her to call them. She allowed me to listen on an extension as she told them there was an AWOL GI at the club who needed a ride to Fort Dix. They asked her not to tell me that she had called, and we smiled.

Soon two of them arrived. There were perhaps a half dozen servicemen in the club, and the APs announced that they wanted to see everyone's IDs. I walked over and told them I was the one they were looking for. Having determined that this was the case they escorted me to McGuire AFB, where I was booked, then drove me to my company at Fort Dix. My First Sergeant had to sign papers transferring custody from them to him.

When they left he turned to me, scowled, and asked, "Are you bucking for something?"

"No, Sarge. I found out that we're shipping tomorrow and I had the USO call the APs so I could get a ride back here."

After a pause, he scowled again and said, "Get out of here."

Right ho.


Tom said...

"No passes, no leaves, and no bedchecks", and he finds himself AWOL in Philly; then gets busted in order to get back to base. Are you sure you're not the original John Winger?

Tom G.

BrokenDownProgrammer said...

Ah ha ha ha ha ha. Well, awkward as he was, he was the more urbane of the two of us. I was 10 days past my 18th birthday when we flew to Germany.

Another major difference is that his two MP friends were women - the AP's who picked me up were definitely guys.

Looking back at it all, I am now horrified by the fact that I spent 9 days at home, AWOL (however informally). I was certainly more adventurous at 18 than I am at 66, and had much more faith that things would always turn out OK.

But you've given me something else to post about. Remember when some of Winger's outfit became prisoners in Czechoslovakia? I might have myself, and I'll have to write abut that.

(For readers not familiar with John Winger, he was Bill Murray's character in the movie Stripes.

BrokenDownProgrammer said...


Ah ha ha ha ha ha.

tgiotio said...

I'm sure if you ran into a czech guard, he would be a bit more imposing than Joe Flaherty or the other guy whose name escapes me. Although his "Chi-cago, Bang Bang!" line is awesome.

Tom G.