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.]