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.