Bear With Me

He’s back at it.  That damned bear I encountered as a young boy is still putting a responsibility on me that triggers shame and guilt.  It started out when I was a child.  “Only YOU can prevent forest fires!”  Me?  I’m the only one that can prevent a massive fire consuming acres and sometimes square miles of wooded land?  I didn’t even live close to a forest.

Smokey the Bear hasn’t aged that much.  However, he’s still placing blame on me as he’s expanded his message to go beyond forest fires.  Now, I have to prevent wildfires.  That could be right-of-way land along the railroad tracks where grass burns.  It could be a fire in your backyard.  It also includes prairie fires that get out of hand.  I don’t even have to be present when the burning occurs.  I’m still responsible. 

Growing up along the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad (now the Union Pacific), the town firetrucks were often called out to extinguish a grass fire by the tracks.  When the fire fighters came back to town, I would hear them talk.  They would often say that the cause of the fire was a “hot box”.  It took some time before I received an honest answer from a fire fighter about what that meant.  A hot box is a railroad car in which the axle bearing overheats, starting a fire.  It doesn’t occur as often as it did when I was kid. 

Railroad companies now have detectors inlaid within the tracks that help determine if a passing railcar has conditions that will identify a hot box.  Also, the use of “ball, roller, or tapered” bearings instead of the old-time journal bearings has cut down on the number of fires caused by hot boxes.  A modern bearing can still ignite a fire when it fails, and it can cause a significant fire if the railcar is hauling grain, coal, sawdust, or other pseudo-combustive material.  The responsibility for these fires belongs to the railroad companies.

What about lightning?  Am I still to blame because the lightning caused a fire?  According to The National Fire Protection Association, “the average number of acres burned per fire is much higher in lightning fires than in fires caused by humans.” Based upon this information, I question the Bear’s statement that “only YOU” can prevent wildfires.  Clearly, the responsibility falls on Mother Nature.

Finally, the deadliest and most costly wildfire in California history was the 2018 Camp Fire, which burnt the city of Paradise into nonexistence.  This fire was started by the failure of a major corporation trying to divert maintenance funds into profit for company shareholders.  Corporate culpability continues.

California’s largest utility company, Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), admits that it was its equipment that started the Camp Fire in November or 2018. 

Long before the failure suspected in the Paradise fire, a company email had noted that some of PG&E’s structures in the area, known for fierce winds, were at risk of collapse. It reported corrosion of one tower so severe that it endangered crews trying to repair the tower. The company’s own guidelines put Tower 27/222 a quarter-century beyond its useful life — but the tower remained.

A hot wire broke loose from Tower 27/222 and started a fire moving very fast and so intense it killed 88 people.  It could have been prevented.  But the cost of maintenance would have cut company’s profits.  “The state’s Public Utilities Commission, which regulates PG&E, concluded that the company was more concerned with profit than with safety.”  The PG&E’s answer to this entire mess – file for bankruptcy. 

“State officials also blamed PG&E equipment for starting 17 of 21 major fires in 2017 that ripped through Northern California, including wine-growing Napa and Sonoma Counties.”

The railroads have worked hard at trying to prevent fires.  No one can do anything about lightning strikes, but massive money-making corporations can file bankruptcy and continue to operate with impunity.

Railroads, lightning, and company greed have more to do with wildfires than human error.  Oh, sure, fires have been started by careless campers, hikers, homeowners, and other human sources, but I don’t see that damned bear pointing at them. 

I think I’m old enough now to realize that the bear was not pointing at me specifically, yet for some reason, I don’t think anyone is pointing a finger at corporations who seek profit over safety: safety for employees; safety for the environment; and safety for those of us who depend upon the services many corporations provide. 

Greed!  It’s one of the Seven Deadly Sins[1].  It’s my sin to bear since a pension plan I rely on may have invested in some of these greedy companies.  Greed, guilt, gullibility.  Gee, guess I’m the bear(er) of bad news.


Quotes in regards to the Camp Fire and PG&E are taken from: How PG&E Ignored Fire Risks in Favor of Profits. NY Times Business Section. Penn, Ivan; Eavis, Peter; & Glanz, James.  MARCH 18, 2019

[1] Pride is excessive belief in one’s own abilities, that interferes with the individual’s recognition of the grace of God. It has been called the sin from which all others arise. Pride is also known as Vanity.

Envy is the desire for others’ traits, status, abilities, or situation.

Gluttony is an inordinate desire to consume more than that which one requires.

Lust is an inordinate craving for the pleasures of the body.

Anger is manifested in the individual who spurns love and opts instead for fury. It is also known as Wrath.

Greed is the desire for material wealth or gain, ignoring the realm of the spiritual. It is also called Avarice or Covetousness.

Sloth is the avoidance of physical or spiritual work.

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Go Away, Sunshine

Each time I feel like I’ve written about every hare-brained thing I did in basic training, and that there is no more to write about, something comes up that reminds me of one more thing.

I was halfway through basic training and I evidently forgot to lock my locker when we were called out for evening MESS (that means Meals Essential to a Soldier’s Sustenance – or something like that).  I ate everything, all the time.  I was in the best shape of my life, and I was feeling pretty good.

I came back from the MESS hall and a few people were looking at clothing on the ground outside the barracks.  I casually walked over and saw that it was all my clothing and a few other items I owned.  I picked stuff up as quickly as I could and brought it in and threw it on my bunk.  I was angry.  “Who’s the son-of-a-bitch that threw all my shit out the window?”  I yelled.  Sgt. Greene came out of nowhere and, with his arms folded and a stern look on his face, said, “I did, Ryan.  Now, what was that you called me?”  I didn’t know what to say or what to do.  Sgt. Greene made it easy.  He began getting in my face about leaving my locker unlocked; about how I couldn’t be trusted with things that the enemy would want, and blah, blah, blah.  Chalk up this incident as one more reason to keep me out of Vietnam. 

My punishment was to go down to the low-crawl pit when I cleaned everything up and was required to make something like 5 rounds back and forth.  I did 6 just to make sure.  I knew he would be watching. 

Who’s your best man?

There were several other drill instructors besides Sgt. Greene but he was the one assigned to our platoon.  One of the other platoons had a drill instructor who claimed he had never been beaten in a 100-yard dash.  He came to our platoon when we were mixing with three other platoons in Charly Company and told us about his sprinting prowess.  “Put up your best man,” he said.  Everyone in Platoon 1 (my platoon) was calling for me to race him.  I tried and tried to tell my fellow draftees that I was not good at sprinting.  I wanted another guy to race him – Materas might have been his name.  The dude had glasses that became sunglasses in the sun.  I had never seen that before.  He was criticized for those prescription glasses by the staff.  He got about as much of a break as I did.  But he could run fast.

The rest of my comrades insisted that I be the representative from our platoon.  I was honored, but I could readily see that they had no idea about the difference between sprinting and cross country running.  I reluctantly agreed.  There were four of us trying to beat this character, one from each platoon.  No one came close.  What did surprise me is that I didn’t come in last. 

I look back on this event and shake my head.  What were we thinking?  We were running a sprint on loose white rock.  Had someone been injured it would have been the runner’s fault.  That would have called for disciplinary action.  I should have checked things out.  If it meant immediate discharge, I might have considered falling down. 

“How much does it cost?  I’ll buy it.  The time is all we’ve lost.  I’ll try it.  And he can’t even run his own life, I’ll be damned if he’ll run mine.”  That song didn’t come out until a year later but it was definitely about Sgt. Greene.  [Lyrics from Sunshine by Jonathan Edwards.]

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The United States Military is at its best when indoctrinating troops.  You’ll only make a mistake once.  I had more shit placed in my brain during nine weeks of basic training than in four years of high school.  Of course, if you look at a previous blog (I Went to School – Sometimes)  you’ll see that it shouldn’t be surprising, considering how little I attended.

You learn cadence.  “Hup, two, three, faw!”  Several recruits could not get that down.  So, we had a poem we recited as we marched along to accommodate those who couldn’t march without a beat.  The drill sergeant [DS} would recite the first line and we would repeat it, except for the last line:

DS: “A yellow bird,” PLATOON: “A yellow bird,”

DS: “With a yellow bill,” PLATOON: “With a yellow bill,”

DS: “Landed on” PLATOON: “Landed on”

DS: “My windowsill.” PLATOON: “My windowsill.”

DS: “I lured it in” PLATOON: “I lured it in”

DS: “With a piece of bread,” PLATOON: “With a piece of bread,”

PLATOON: “And then I smashed its FUCKING HEAD!”

Cruel, huh?  The Subliminal message is that killing can be fun.  Of course, they were teaching us to kill, not write poetry.

One day we were out in the woods, pretending we were in a war zone with lots of green and brown stuff – like Vietnam.  We were told to be on the lookout for snipers.  Suddenly, we heard what sounded like a machine gun firing at us.  “Take cover!” someone yelled.  The only cover near me was a giant ant hill.  This photo is the size of the ant hills in the forest.

Nope, I’m gonna die.  I told myself, ‘I am not going to jump behind or in that ant hill.’  If the machine gun bullets are real, the idiot responsible for my death will have to answer to my mom and her congressman.  I did know that Iowa’s former governor Harold E. Hughes was our U.S. Senator.  Everyone in Vail knew that he was a former drunk, and they all had a personal relationship with him at one time or another.  I hoped he would have been on my side.  I can’t remember what I did, but I do remember that I did not get near that ant hill.

What about smoking?  I entered the U.S. Army smoking cigarettes.  Throughout the first few weeks we came to a halt going somewhere and the DS would say, “Smoke ‘em if ya got ‘em.”  By the time you got a cigarette out of your pocket, lit it, and took a puff, you could hear the DS yell “put ‘em out.”  Let me tell you, you don’t toss the butt on the ground.  Do I have to tell you what humiliation you have to endure by being so stupid as to litter?  It never happened to me.  After a couple weeks I switched to chewing tobacco instead of cigarettes.  Red Man Chewing Tobacco was my preference.  I went back to cigarettes upon leaving camp.  I didn’t think it would be a good thing to spit on the plane.

Another day I was summoned to the captain’s office.  “What the hell did I do now?” was all I could think.  I had a telephone call.  My first thought, someone must have died.  Second thought: they’re going to free me!  No, as the captain handed me the phone, he said to be sure to say “sir”. 

It was a captain from another unit.  I knew him from when he lived across the street from us growing up in Vail.  The conversation was rather stiff, since the captain and two sergeants were listening in on our banter.  He invited me to have dinner with him and his wife in their quarters the following Saturday.  “Yes, sir!  I would like that.”  When I told my comrades in the barracks, after they incorrectly asked what trouble I caused, they devised a plan.  I can’t say that I approved, but I obviously had little choice.  When Saturday arrived, I was instructed to wear my khakis – brown suits, not dress blues.  Supposedly, Saturday was a dress down day.  I had a long list of shit to buy at the PX and a pocketful of cash.

I went outside at the appointed time and stood on the curb.  Lenny drove up and began to get into the car.  Oh, shit.  I was told I had to get back out and salute.  I should have known that.  Hindsight tells me that his instruction to me to salute was not his arrogance or ego, but that I was most likely being watched from the captain’s quarters.

We had grilled hamburgers at his house.  I was about as uncomfortable as you can get.  I’m not sure what caused my anxiety, but I was also told that my platoon was originally scheduled to be in his company.  It was an obvious explanation.  He was the captain in charge of Echo Company and I was in Charlie Company.  Our badges over the pocket opposite our name had sewn in E-2-1.  That would have been Lenny’s company.  We were actually in C-1-2.  It was confusing until I was told about the whole mess. 

The captain asked me if I wanted a ride home.  I declined and told him I would really like to take the bus.  I explained that I wanted to get a few things at the PX, and he understood.  You know, I needed to get some more Red Man Tobacco.  I got a lecture on chewing. 

I purchased so many items I was beginning to wonder if I might need a cab – or a deuce and a half (that’s slang for a 2 ½ ton Army truck – but actually, there are no trucks on the base except for the one on top of the flag pole.  Long story[1]).  I rode the bus with a huge plastic bag of items sitting in the seat in front of me.  I had to defend it with my life.  One guy wanted me to buy a radio, another wanted a camera.  Most of it was junk.

The last time I saw Lenny, I made a snide remark.  I need to lighten up.  It wasn’t his fault I had to salute him.  It was indoctrination. 

[1] ‘Truck’ is the term for the finial — or ball — on top of the base headquarters’ flagpole. It’s kind of a trick question because every other ‘truck‘ is either a militaryor privately-owned vehicle.

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The Grammar Policeman

After a few conversations this week between me and others, I had to check into my grammar usage.  I’m not a professional writer – yet, but I always seem to think I know enough to write some decent articles and essays.  I researched some controversial grammatical errors to see if I might be wrong and I’m not sure I like what I found.

Split Infinitives

I have always tried my best to possibly avoid split infinitives.  Did you catch it?  I just split an infinitive.  The phrase “to possibly avoid” is a split infinitive.  I placed an adverb in between the infinitive “to avoid”.  I found out this week that sometimes, split infinitives are okay to use. 

How can a split infinitive be okay?  When is it okay?  Rephrasing that phrase above is clumsy.  I could have written “to avoid possibly using split infinitives”, but that doesn’t sound right, does it?  The rephrase actually changes the meaning of the sentence.  Or, I could have written “tried my best possibly to avoid split infinitives”.  That sounds worse and doesn’t seem to make any sense.  Even the way it is written, “to possibly avoid”, is awkward. 

The reason why spilt infinitives are considered to be inappropriate grammar is that you cannot split an infinitive in Latin.  I didn’t know that, and I took Latin I in high school.  Sister Isiah gave me a “D”.  The only thing I remember from my Latin days is “tempus fugit” – time flies.  However, I did understand Latin enough to know about root words and how to easily figure out the meaning of a word by working around the root word (I slipped another one in).  Latin also helped me as a paralegal.  A significant amount of legalese is based in Latin.

The most famous split infinitive is the notorious “To boldly go” from Star Trek.  I’m not a Trekkie, but if millions of people throughout the world understand and accept that famous phrase, who am I to inanely question it?

Dangling Prepositions

Ending a sentence with a preposition is another grammatical mistake I tend to avoid.  This isn’t only when I’m writing, but when I speak, also. 

I’m reminded of a joke you may have heard:

She: “Where ya from?”

Her: “I’m from a place where we don’t end our sentences with prepositions.”

She: “Oh, I’m sorry.  Where ya from, bitch?”

In researching for this blog, I discovered that it is now acceptable to end a sentence with a preposition, under certain circumstances, that is.  What is this world coming to?  Oh, look what I did.  Perhaps it is appropriate at times to leave a preposition hanging at the end.  How else would you phrase that question of where the world is going?  “This world is coming to what?”  People might think you come from a foreign country speaking like that.  Or, perhaps they might think you were in another Star Trek planet in a far-off galaxy.

I had always thought this was Iowa talk.  However, I see that it is common language all over the world.  “Where you at?”  “Where you going to?”  Yes, the word “are” is implied, which makes it a complete sentence, even though the preposition is hanging.  But both sentences may be understood simply by leaving the prepositions “at” and “to” in the grammar box.  I think I speak leaving prepositions behind.  I rarely listen to myself.  And let me apologize for beginning a previous sentence with a conjunction (But).  Oh, my, I did it again with the sentence prior to this one.  Conjunctions should follow commas, not periods.


I have to admit; I have never been very good at distinguishing the difference between empathy and sympathy. 

Empathy is defined as “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.”  Can you understand or share feelings if you haven’t been through the same experience?  For instance, when asked about whether Iowa would be a haven for immigrant children from Central American, former Iowa Governor-for-life Terry Branstad said the “first thing we need to do is secure the border. I do have empathy for these kids.”  Using that logic, that he knows what those children are feeling and sharing those feelings, could he then empathize with a woman going through childbirth?  Could he share that feeling?  If I should ask any woman, I think she would say unpleasant things to me to mildly insinuate that Governor Branstad could imagine such a feeling.  (This is not a test, but did you notice I slipped a split infinitive in there?)

Going back to the reference above about root words.  Empathy’s root word is “empath”.  “An empath is someone who is highly aware of the emotions of those around them, to the point of feeling those emotions themselves.” Or, an Empath is a creature on Star Trek. 

Sympathy has two meanings; 1. “feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune.”  And, 2. “understanding between people; common feeling.”  I think it’s that second meaning that confuses people when attempting to properly use the correct word.  (I did it again; I used a split infinitive.)

Several times I have seen empathy used when a person means sympathy, and I’ve witnessed people using sympathy when they mean to use empathy.  I have now self-taught myself to be confused about the two words and their meanings, especially since it is now determined by grammar police that the two are somewhat interchangeable.  I give up.  The best suggestion I have to avoid getting empathy and sympathy mixed up is to never use either and look at both with apathy. 

Grammar is becoming a lost art.  So many of those English grammar skills that nuns taught me are passé.  It makes me feel that by just throwing words together that follow no rules could be the beginning of a career in writing Hip-Hop music.  Music?  Did I really put music in the same sentence as Hip-Hop?

Other grammatical tragedies

I don’t like it when authors use an incomplete sentence for effect.  I’m sticking to that objection.

Andy Rooney, of Sixty Minutes fame, once had a small segment on proper grammar.  I’ll never forget how he suggested some of us need to live in the real world.  He admitted that when he walked into the house he yelled to his wife: “It’s me”, instead of the grammatically correct, “It is I.” 

I learned a lot from Andy Rooney.

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I Went to School – Sometimes

Realizing that I have written a few things about my ability to question authority, I began to think many readers might want to know why I am, and why I have been somewhat of a maverick. 

The first memory I have that may lead one to think I was born a radical was in grade school.  I can remember where I sat in Sister Mark’s class when she showed us something in which Chinese children were saluting an image of Mao; arms out in unison and directed toward a big red flag with Chairman Mao larger than life in front of it.  I doubt it was a video or a movie.  It must have been an overhead projector.  Anyway, she made a comment that sounded like “how would you feel having to wear a grey uniform in school and proclaim yourself to a dictator?”  She was trying to make communism scary.

I was embarrassed to speak out and bring up the similarity of standing in a parochial school where the girls had to wear jumpers, we said the Pledge of Allegiance before class with our hands over our hearts, and later in class proclaimed ourselves to Jesus.  I was confused.  It became worse in high school when the girls still wore jumpers with white blouses, but now, the boys had to wear dress slacks and shirts that buttoned down the middle.  We still said “The Pledge.”

High school was a great place to challenge authority.  The first Friday of every month was called “dress-up day”.  Instead of the jumper and blouse staple of daily HS living, the girls were allowed to wear any dress, outfit, or skirt/blouse ensemble of their choice, as long as the hem was even with the knee, and the bodice was not revealing, or even close.  The guys had to wear a suit, or a sports coat with the dress pants, and a tie.  You received demerits for being “out of uniform”; not just on dress-up day, but every day.

One particular dress up day, I wore a Nehru jacket as a sports jacket, my corduroy pants with the cords running horizontal rather than the usual vertical, and a piece of rope as a belt.  My tie must have been okay because I don’t remember getting any flack for that.  I got 5 demerits for not having a belt.  Actually, I got the idea from Jethro on the Beverly Hillbillies.  I should have received more demerits since I had asked, “just what IS a belt?”

The late Jim Schulte and I would walk around the perimeter of the school during lunch hour.  Since it was forbidden to leave the curb, we would take turns tapping one foot on the road to see if school authorities would run out with the demerit slips.  A few times we did walk off the curb and run to a small neighborhood grocery store up the street.  There were two of these stores in the area.  Spaens was the most popular.  Those of us who were looked upon as trouble-makers hung out at Spaens before school to smoke cigarettes, buy gum and candy, and the usual pen because you didn’t have one and everybody was weary of lending one to you.  The neighborhood groceries were no bigger than a living room, and they were part of the front of the house.

We avoided Spaens.  The authorities would think obviously that we might scamper off to it – only ½ block away to the west.  No, we often went to the one east of the school.  It was the backside of the school and the escape and return path were protected by overgrown evergreen trees.  However, we did get caught once.  That cost more than demerits.

After a 3-day suspension, we had to be admitted back to school by our parents.  My mother came with me one morning to reenroll me in classes.  I love my mom.  Like me, she couldn’t see why you would suspend a kid from school for the crime of self-suspension by the kid.

“Mrs. Wolf,” the priest would say, “we have reviewed Marty’s file and discovered an absent note that looks different from the rest.”  Oh, shit, I thought.  I knew what was coming.  Mom asked, “What’s wrong with this?” 

“Is that your handwriting, Mrs. Wolf?” 

“Yes,” she replied.

“Well then, whose handwriting is this?” he said, holding a stack of excuses. 

Mom didn’t hesitate: “That’s Carol’s handwriting,” she said matter-of-factly.

I rode home with Mom.  Three more days of suspension.  She didn’t think it was funny.  Neither did I.  Nothing was done to Carol.  She was a grade ahead of me and did no wrong, at least, as far as school authorities and Mom was concerned. 

The first time I was called to Room 207 (no one wanted to be paged to Room 207), Mr. Galatich asked if I was Kathleen’s brother.  He never mentioned Carol.  I was doomed from the beginning, having to be compared to Kathleen rather than Carol. 

I may be the first and only student at Kuemper Catholic High School in Carroll, Iowa, to flunk shop.  Industrial Arts class had a teacher whose nickname was Gomer, but not to his face.  Gomer would take attendance and then have us disperse to other areas of the huge classroom.  I remember it looking like an oversized garage.  There was a door in the back.  I used it a lot.  I was counted as being in attendance, why not?

Electricity and I are not good friends.  I have been wary of it for a long time.  So, when it came time to be graded on our welding projects, Gomer showed my piece to the class and explained how beautiful it was.  “Ryan, show the class how you did this?”  I didn’t even know how to plug the welder into the socket.  I made a fool of myself, and that was Gomer’s goal.  I had paid Ray Julich $10 to do my project.  He was the best damned welder I’ve ever seen.  My bad.  I should have paid someone $5 to do a mediocre job.  See, I did learn in high school.

Out-of-class activity included being an altar boy.  This paragraph comes right from our website where this blog is posted:

He first questioned authority when an old-fashioned priest insisted that he cut his hair or he couldn’t be an altar boy.  Marty realized he had a choice and opted for the latter.  A cadre of altar boys that numbered close to 40 soon diminished to less than 20.  Not only did he learn that he could question Catholic dogma (altar boys must have short hair), he discovered that he had the ability to lead.  Fortunately, Marty was not excommunicated and graduated from Kuemper Catholic High School in Carroll with a thirst for social justice.

Because I worked after school and on weekends, it was only natural that I might be tired at times.  Putting my head on my arms and trying to sleep was an occasional distraction to teachers.  One afternoon, I popped my head up during the class, Contemporary Problems, to ask a question.  Mr. Galatich, yeah, that guy, made a big deal out of me rising from the dead – or something like that.  But he was glad I had a question that pertained to the class.  “What does ‘Contemporary Problems’ mean?”  The class laughed, but Galatich looked around and said, “good question.  Who can answer that?”  He asked several know-it-alls who failed to answer properly.  Finally, Ann Malloy gave a description of the class that pleased Galatich.  He told me I could put my head back on the desk. 

I did learn a lot from high school, but it wasn’t the one I wanted to attend.  My desire was to go to public school.  I may be better off having gone to high school where I did.  Catholic school taught me to push the envelope, to challenge that which may not seem right, and to challenge myself. 

Since leaving high school, I no longer stand or recite the Pledge of Allegiance to the American Flag.  And I rarely leave anything early or skip out.  But I still question authority.

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“Ryan, You Cheated!”

In a May 8 (Run, Ryan, Run) article, I wrote about some Army Basic Training events that attempted to carve me into the man the Army wanted me to be.  I hope my readers don’t think that was the end of it.  The U.S. Army truly tried to mold me into a fighting machine.  However, it’s difficult to make steel out of rubber.

Like me, you may have heard about some things that occur in Basic Training that have been passed down for years.  The first example is that the Army has “NO GUNS!”  No.  Guns are those big things on battleships that fire massive pieces of ammunition toward shore or other ships.  In the Army, we call our handheld defensive machine a rifle.  Prior to being drafted, I had heard of the shameful act of having a soldier stand in front of everyone with his pants’ zipper down, holding his manhood with one hand, his rifle in the opposite hand, and reciting over and over and over again:  “This is my rifle; this is my gun: This one’s for fighting; this one’s for fun.”  I never thought it was true.

Yes, it is true.  One of the guys in my platoon had to do it.  It was disgusting.  They made him stand out in front of the Mess Hall as we were entering for a meal.  He was a native-American from a reservation in South Dakota.  He got the last laugh.  He was medically or generally discharged because he could not adjust to military food.  Actually, I think he was discharged before the guy in the wheel chair.

I don’t know much about the guy in the wheel chair.  He was in our company, but not my platoon.  Members of the platoon with the wheel chair guy told us that he was drafted, even though he couldn’t walk, and hadn’t for years.  You have to wonder how someone like that made it through all the stopgaps.  It is, nonetheless, the government.  I suspect it was a grudge, or something like that.

Then, there was Hovey.  Hovey disappeared one day, his bunk stripped of blankets and sheets and his footlocker empty.  The barracks in Fort Lewis, Washington, were wooden.  Recruits were allowed to smoke, and many did.  Used Folgers’ coffee cans were painted a bright red, and served as ash trays.  Because a combination of smoking and wood might cause a fire, one person walked around the two-story barracks each night on “fire watch”.  Each soldier was scheduled for one hour.  When your hour was up, you woke up the next person on the schedule and so on and so forth.  I happened to be the one on watch one night when I turned around to see Hovey right behind me.  ‘What was he doing on the second floor in his briefs and T-shirt?’ I asked myself.  Both of us had bunks on the first floor; his was next to mine.  “Hovey?” I whispered.  He said, “It’s alright, I got my cap.”  He walked back and forth down the middle aisle of the second floor and went back downstairs to bed.

In the morning, those on watch are to report any strange activity.  I had to report Hovey.  He was sleepwalking.  That will get you a medical (or administrational) discharge faster than being in a wheel chair, supposedly. 

The wheel chair guy, the native-American, and Hovey.  Three people I didn’t get to know.  They accomplished something Corporal Klinger and I couldn’t get done – a quick way out of the Army.  But I didn’t envy any of the three, I thought I could be a good soldier.  Staff Sergeant Green’s attitude toward me was misunderstood.  I just don’t know why he didn’t like me.

The day no one looked forward to was the day in which recruits have to run 2.5 miles over rough terrain with a full pack, weapon, helmet, field jacket, etc.  There were approximately 40 men per platoon, and our company – Charlie Company (or “C” Company for non-slang conformity) had 4 platoons.  Although I was in the 1st Platoon of Charlie Company, we went 2nd.  Another platoon took off ahead of us.  After a 30-second wait, it was our turn.  I was in the front row.  I passed a lot of people, and when I came across the finish line Sgt. Green ran right over to me and said, “Ryan, you cheated!”  I didn’t realize that I came in first and passed an entire platoon.  While I lit up a cigarette, I told him that I passed each and every checkpoint.  He could check to make himself feel better, but I finished running the entire 2.5-mile course.  Oddly, no one came across the finish line while we were chatting.  He checked.  I was better at distance running than I was aware. 

I continued to run after Basic Training, and into my early 20s.  I still walk to this day, but running – no thank you.  It’s hard on the knees, feet, and lungs.

Let me squeeze in one more story about running in Basic Training.  About halfway through the nine-week term, we were lined up one Saturday morning to march across the street to get a haircut.  The PX was across the street with a barber shop.  We had to pay for our own haircuts this time.  “A little off the top” was not funny.  We were told that we would be allowed to purchase anything we could afford in the PX, including beer.  I don’t remember the order in which we were to receive haircuts, but I was toward the end.  I didn’t have more than one beer. 

Once everyone had their haircut, and spent time buying cigarettes and books and radios and beer – lots of beer, we were told to line up outside.  There was some noticeable staggering.  Thinking that we were going to be ordered to do an about face and march across the street, we were surprised by the command that made us left face and march up the street.  About one-minute into the march Sgt. Green yelled “double time”.  I hope you know that “double time” means run.  We double-timed for about one-half mile before we came to a stop (excuse me, that would be a “halt!”).  We lost about half of the platoon.  They were bent over vomiting in consistently segmented proportions to how much beer they had drank.  A few more began heaving once we stopped.  I can’t recall how few of us were standing there waiting for the next order with no adverse effects of the haircuts, but it wasn’t more than eight of us.

I have a few more Basic Training stories, but it’s too much for this blog.  I may have one more blog on Marty’s Basic Training.

By the way, it is NOT boot camp.  That’s what you do in the Navy and Marines.  I hear it’s not as strenuous. 

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