After we went through a metamorphosis on
Christmas morning and struggled our way back to the realm of the living, we had hangovers
which would have killed a horse. In addition to a roaring headache, Red Ryder's eyes were
swelled nearly shut and his nose was the size and color of a Granny Smith apple.
was some drunk we had ourselves last night," said Billy Bob.
that I'm going to die," said Red. "What did that damn Lieutenant hit me
fist," replied Billy Bob. "You went down like a poled ox. We thought that you
were dead for a while."
"I'm not too
sure that I'm not," said Red.
our presents and see what we got," said Billy Bob.
My parents had
sent me a new portable typewriter, exactly what I had been wanting for a long time but had
never gotten around to buying. Janet sent me an electric razor and her mother sent a box
of cookies and a really awful yellow silk tie with a hand-painted picture of a horse on
it. It was the sort of tie which would be worn only by rodeo clowns.
The prevailing rumor
floating around the 1903rd at this particular time was that we were bound for Korea the
minute that our basic training was finished. Since the National Guard Cadre viewed their
call to active duty as simply a long summer camp, they weren't interested in a quick trip
to Korea. They reasoned that if basic training was never finished, they would never be
sent to a combat area. Basic training, or what little of it had been going on, ceased
ending and the snows of winter melted. Even though the number of weeks that we had been in
service dictated that our basic training should have been completed, we found ourselves
almost as untrained as the day that we arrived.
Inspectors are Coming! The Inspectors are Coming!" shouted Lt. High as he rushed into
the barracks. "An inspection team from the Fifth Army will be here in four days and
we have to be ready for them."
gathered to line the streets and walks. A flag pole was erected with a neat circle of
stones placed around it. The artistic talents of Arthur Arthur Arthur were called upon to
paint a Battalion sign. It was to read, "1903rd Engineer Aviation Battalion".
Arthur Arthur Arthur, as a silent protest for having to stoop so low as to become a sign
painter, got a certain amount of silent revenge by misspelling Aviation. He spelled it,
"Avaition" but I don't think that anyone ever noticed the difference.
On the first day of
March, we went through the pay line to receive our monthly pittance, only to be greeted by
Sergeant Santino, who was taking up a collection to buy items for the upcoming inspection.
With the funds which he extorted from us, he bought things like whitewash for the rocks,
oilcloth table covers for the mess hall and welcome mats to go in front of each door.
The 1903rd leaped
into a frenzy of activity. Wooden floors were scrubbed and bleached until they were as
white as desert bones, rocks were whitewashed and brass was polished. Rifles, which had
yet to be fired, were cleaned and oiled to perfection. We were ready for inspection, or at
least we thought that we were.
formation at 10:00. All personnel except for cooks and KPs will be there. Class A Uniform
with helmet liners, belts and rifles," Announced Lt. High at reveille formation.
"Today is the day!"
To be sure that
we would not be late for the 10:00 AM formation, whistles began blowing at 9:00 AM. We
snatched up our rifles and ran into the street. Boots had been spit-polished, belt buckles
glistened, the creases in our uniforms were so sharp that they would almost shave.
This was the
first time that we had gathered in a full battalion formation and it was awesome to see.
First was Headquarters Company, which also included the people which made up Battalion
Headquarters. Evenly spaced after Headquarters Company came the three Line Companies, A, B
and C, the ones which would do the actual construction once we were in full operation.
Eight to ten men formed a Squad, four Squads formed a Platoon and four Platoons were a
Company. Four Companies total a Battalion of some 650 men and 160 officers.
I stood at the
head of the First Squad of the First Platoon of Headquarters Company. In front of us was
Sgt. Schultz, and in front of him stood Lt. High. Captain Sanders and Sergeant Santino
stood at rigid attention in their assigned places at the head of Headquarters Company. Out
in front of the four Companies stood the Battalion Headquarters Officers, with Lt. Col.
Hull at the peak of the brass pyramid.
A staff car,
trailed by a bus, pulled to a stop in front of the Orderly Room. Out of the car stepped
Colonel Davis, a full Bird Colonel. He was a West Point graduate and as Regular Army as
anyone could ever be. He ate, slept and lived nothing except the army. He was followed by
a Major, a Captain and finally a Sergeant, who was carrying a clip board. From the bus
emerged about twenty-five enlisted men, whose casual but very businesslike manner reminded
me of a bunch of bank auditors.
We braced in
rigid attention as the occupants of the staff car strode to a position in front of Lt.
Col, Hull, who snapped a smart salute to the Colonel with eagles on his shoulders. As
Colonel Davis returned the salute, Obert emerged from his burrow in the boiler room and
headed for the Officer's Barracks to stoke up their furnace. As he passed behind Colonel
Davis, he came out with his usual greeting, "Oink, Oink," after which he lifted
his leg and let fly with one of his better farts.
jerked around, glared at Obert and demanded, "Who or what the hell is that?"
that his name is Fullpot or something like that, Sir," replied Col. Hull in a rather
meek voice. "He is our barracks fireman."
make a note of that man's name," said Colonel Davis, as the Sergeant scribbled a note
on his clip board.
The Bird Colonel
was making a rather cursory inspection tour of the troops until he came to Billy Bob and
noticed his green cowboy boots. "This man is out of uniform. I want him on
report," he said.
Colonel, these are the only boots I have. They can't seem to find any to fit me,"
said Billy Bob.
"Do you men
to tell me that you have been in the army for four months and still don't have
Sir. People are always telling someone else to get me some boots, but no one ever
"Make a note
of this, Sergeant," ordered the Colonel as he moved along the line of troops.
When he had
finished the inspection, he announced, "Each of you will be interviewed by my staff
before we leave."
He then turned to
Col. Hull and said, "I've seen your barracks fireman and a soldier who has to wear
cowboy boots, now I want to see your supply rooms and company records. I certainly hope
that they aren't in the same condition."
Col. Davis and
his team went through the 1903rd like Sherman marching to Atlanta. Before they were
finished, they had systematically explored every shortcoming, every omission and every
error in the whole operation. Their evaluations showed that there was much to be desired,
both in training and leadership.
issued in which about half of the original members of the National Guard units were either
discharged or transferred to reassignment centers. Headquarters Company bid farewell to
the greatest number of them. Lt. High and several other officers were seen with packed
duffle bags, waiting for a truck to take them to the other side of the base. Sergeants
Santino, Schultz and Kowalski, who were part of the group which had received paper
promotions on the night before activation, hit the road. Two or three dozen of the worst
misfits and oddballs who came into the unit by way of Selective Service, including Obert,
were either transferred for reassignment or else scheduled for discharge as unsuitable for
service. They also discovered that Goldberg had been missing since day one and notified
the FBI to arrest him as a deserter. This didn't take any genius because he had never
collected his monthly pay. When the wrecking crew departed, the 1903rd was a mere shell of
its original self.
Colonel Hull, who
by some miracle, had managed to survive the blood bath, spoke to a much smaller battalion
formation, "Men, we have one week in which to qualify the entire battalion on the
rifle ranges. After that, most of you will be sent to various schools for advanced
engineer training before we regroup at our new assignment."
Assignment!" With the war continuing at a hot and heavy pace, that could mean only
one place, Korea! There was a suggestion going around while we practiced on the rifle
ranges, that we had better learn how to shoot accurately, because in a very short time, we
would be shooting at North Koreans and Chinese.
Captain Sanders called
me into his office. "You will serve as my company clerk for the next two weeks while
we see if we can bring some sort of order to our records. At the end of that time, you
will leave for Engineer Construction Supervisors School at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. Also,
I'm promoting you to Corporal before you go," he added.
I was so
inundated with morning reports, duty rosters, orders and requisitions that the next two
weeks were simply a blur. Billy Bob left for Fort Hood to learn how to run a motor pool
while Red Ryder went to Fort Monmouth, New Jersey to learn photography. I found that
Lester Price was going to demolition school and Arthur Arthur Arthur was being sent to
drafting school at Fort Belvoir at the same time that I was. Since we were all going to
the same place, we decided to collect our travel pay, buy a car and drive through.
considerable amount of shopping around, the only thing that we could find which fit within
our budget was a dinky little British Austin which had served the better part of its
useful life as a London Taxi. The price was $200, but the sergeant who had brought it with
him on a transfer from England, claimed that it was in perfect shape.
It was a tall,
narrow, black thing with flat sides, large disc wheels and a luggage rack on top. The tiny
engine appeared to have been designed to power a model car rather than a real one but we
were assured that it had lots of power and would take us any place we needed to go.
There was only a
single driver's seat in the front, located on the right side in typical British fashion.
The space where a driver's seat should have been was occupied by a luggage rack. There was
a full seat across the back. Three people and three seats, no problem!
allowance was $90 for each person, so after buying our "Pride and Joy", we had a
total of seventy bucks to carry us the nearly fifteen hundred miles to Fort Belvoir. We
set about preparing the car for the long trip to Virginia. A black, asphaltic substance
was drained from the engine and new oil put back in. Water was added to the battery and
radiator and the air checked in the tires.
vehicle had to have a name, so I suggested that we call it Rocinante, which you may or may
not remember, was the name of Don Quixote's horse. A rather literal translation of the
Spanish word, Rocinante, means an old nag, well past its prime but still able to pull a
cart. It seemed to be an appropriate name for our noble steed. Arthur Arthur Arthur called
on his artistic talents and lettered the name in Old English Script just under the tiny
rear window. He also lettered "Belvoir or Bust" on either side.
are going to the left armpit of the world while I get to go to within a hunderd miles of
my home," said Billy Bob as he tossed his duffle bag into the trunk of Old Paint.
"I can go home every weekend if I want to."
The day came for us to
depart for our new home and we were ready. Duffle bags were packed, orders printed, rifles
turned in and supply cleared. We secured our duffle bags onto the luggage rack atop our
vehicle. As a final step before we departed, Lester was sent to the base service station
to fill the tiny tank with fuel. He jumped into the driver's seat and motored away from
the barracks, As he turned onto the street, his velocity was a bit too great and
centrifugal forces reacting on the weight of the duffle bags on top became more than the
hard, narrow tires could resist. The little car heeled over like a schooner in a brisk
wind, lifted the inside tires off the ground, wobbled momentarily on two wheels and
finally flopped onto its side.
Half a dozen
people rushed to the little car's aid and gently lifted it back upright. Other than a
broken left front window glass and a certain amount of scratching and grinding that it
received from sliding along on the pavement, it was as good as ever. Arthur Arthur Arthur
picked up his brush and painted an addendum, "BUSTED ONCE", immediately under
his first message and we were on our way.
Index | Next Chapter