by Jim Foreman


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.
      "Man, that was some drunk we had ourselves last night," said Billy Bob.
      "I think that I'm going to die," said Red. "What did that damn Lieutenant hit me with?"
      "Just his 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.
      "Let's open 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 completely.
      February was 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.
      "The 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."
      Rocks were 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.
      "Battalion 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.
      Colonel Davis jerked around, glared at Obert and demanded, "Who or what the hell is that?"
      "I think that his name is Fullpot or something like that, Sir," replied Col. Hull in a rather meek voice. "He is our barracks fireman."
      "Sergeant, 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.
      "But 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 boots?"
      "'Fraid so, Sir. People are always telling someone else to get me some boots, but no one ever does."
      "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.
      Orders were 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."
      "New 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.
      After a 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!
      The travel 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.
      Our trusty 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.
      "You guys 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.

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