Sunday, February 7, 2016

SHAPING UP

We fell out for the Sunday morning flag-raising in our khaki uniforms. Even without any of the ribbons and badges worn by the veterans, it looked kinda good with the shiny lapel US tabs and the Sixth US Army patch. Instead of the “Flying Saucer” we were told to wear our garrison caps.

Garrison Cap

Church Call was held after breakfast. They provided buses for those who wished to go to services, one for Catholics, another for Protestants and even one for Mormons. I guess because we were in California there were enough of us to merit one. Before and after the service, I met a couple of guys who had gone to the church in Los Angeles I grew up in so I didn’t feel so all alone and isolated. We didn’t get to socialize as they were almost in their eighth week, far ahead of me.

Sunday supper was a pretty good meal with roast beef and baked potatoes, if I remember right. We then had the remainder of the day to relax until evening Retreat and meal. I seems to remember sitting in the Day Room to watch baseball.

We got down to business Monday morning. As soon as the flag had been raised, we were ordered to remove our caps and blouses for the morning Daily Dozen Calisthenics. Our DI carefully showed us each move before starting it. We did twelve four-count repetitions of each of the following:

 
Side Bender

First exercise, the Side Bender.

And, we were told to count ALOUD!

What is wrong with you, ’Cruits? I CAN’T HEAR YOU!”

So, the, “One. Two, Three and One. One, Two, Three and Two” echoed between the two massive buildings as several hundred men voiced the cadence until twelve repetitions were completed.

 
Toe Touch
Second exercise, the Toe Touch.

 
Side Straddle Hop

The third exercise, the Side Straddle Hop [I thought about this all night! I'm certain we called them Jumping Jacks, but that was probably too non-PC for today's military].

By this time, my heart was going along at a good pace and I enjoyed the chill morning air off the ocean filling my lungs.

 
Windmill

The fourth exercise, the Windmill.

A couple of “City Boys” were finding keeping up difficult and received some kindly urging by the Cadre members there to keep an eye on us.

 
Trunk Twister

The fifth exercise, the Trunk Twisters

 
Leg Lift

The sixth exercise, the Leg Lift. (And no, we didn't have mats to protect us from the concrete of the parade area.]


Flutter Kick

The seventh exercise, the Flutter Kick.

 
Crunch

The eighth exercise, the Crunch [although I think it had another name in the late '50s]

 
Sit Up

The ninth exercise, the Sit-up. We took turns, each one holding the others' feet until the twelve repetitions were completed. Both of us shouted cadence. This was where about half our platoon just about had all they could deal with. A cadre member came over and order the faltering ‘Cruits to gather up their covers and blouses and to fall in before the formation.

 
Squat Thrust

The tenth exercise, the Squat Thrust - There were two types of these but we didn’t get to the harder ones until after two weeks.

 
Squat Thrust

By now, well over half of our platoon and no few from the others were formed up behind the company formation.

 
Push Ups

The eleventh exercise, the 8-count push-up.

I seem to remembering making it through all but the last few repetitions before I had to sort of cheat and go only half-way up and down. By this time, out of 160 of us in the company, no more than two dozen were still going.

 
Run in Place

The twelfth exercise, the Run-in place. We even kept cadence to this but did twenty-four four-count repetitions.

It took many years for me to realize the subtle psychology and cunning physiology behind these exercises. Each step was designed to loosen us up and tone certain muscles we would need in the combat arms. The shouting cadence took one’s mind off one’s own efforts and made us feel a part of something bigger - a team. Completing the full Daily Dozen gave each of us a sense of accomplishment, a feeling that we could do anything we set out minds to.

At the same time, those who dropped out were united with others who looked on while the rest of us continued as a team. It made them want to be as good as we were and gave them a benchmark to set themselves against.

Of course, the quitters and “I can’ts” were slowly weeded out. And, the DIs and cadre members set out to help those in bad shape to catch up.

Having lived on the ranch and enjoying gym class in school, I didn’t have a lot of problems with any of the exercises - except push-ups. That surprised me as I thought I was strong in the arms.

From that morning on, we never “walked” anywhere. It was either in March Step or, most often, Double Time.

Afterward, we were dismissed to shower and change into clean fatigues, showing why we’d been issued three of everything. From there, it was breakfast followed by our real introduction to training - The Manual of Arms and How to March.

MARCHING AND MANUAL OF ARMS


[In doing research for these articles, to illustrate the various moves is probably the hardest I’ve found in writing this.]

We gathered up our weapons and fell out in the company street under the watchful eye of our Drill Sergeant. As we settled into formation, he went through the platoon showing each of us how to properly sling our weapon on the right shoulder. He then spent the next half hour running us through the various parade drills.

We weren’t alone. The other four platoons were going through the same drills. I couldn’t help but notice ours was the only Drill Sergeant who didn’t scream and swear. It wasn’t that he wasn’t tough and didn’t make “drop and gimme twenty” but that he did it in a civilized manner.

 
Manual of Arms

My military school training once again helped as I somehow remembered all the commands and what to do. I managed to find my left and right and even felt comfortable on what foot to start with when we were finally told to turn left, then “Fooo-wahd MARCH!” down the street and into the large parade ground.

We spent the entire morning going through moving the weapon from one position to another. The Drill Sergeant spotted me right away and stood me in front of the formation as his demonstrator of how the various moves were supposed to be done.

That earned me a lot of comments out of the sides of mouths about being a “brown noser” and other, slightly more profane comments. But, it didn’t bother me. In fact, it earned me the position of being appointed the first squad leader with a brassard bearing a Private First Class stripe. That didn’t really earn me anything more than a whole lot more attention from the cadre members. I was expected to be “more GI” than anyone else. It also didn’t exclude me from the Extra Duty List.

We put our weapons back in the bay before going to lunch. Afterward, we were marched to a huge hanger-like building where we sat on hard chairs and spent the afternoon listening to sergeants reciting their subjects and watching a bunch a grainy US Army Training films. [nowadays they have real fancy training videos with all the graphics and stuff.] The films were all black and white ,but some with very good footage.

This proved to be our basic routine for the first week of training. calisthenics, breakfast, parade drill, lunch, lectures, the flag lowering, dinner and working on our things in the squad bay. That often meant all of us cleaning the latrine and hand-polishing the floors.

It was during that first week that I was introduced to Kitchen Police.

 
KP

The cadre called him Cookie. We ’Cruits stood nervously as he introduced us to that huge area behind the serving tables. It was hot. And steamy. With lots and lots of very hot, sudsy water. The pictures we’d all seen of a soldier sitting on a stool peeling onions proved totally untrue. They had machines to do most of the preparation like that and it was up to us ‘Cruits to keep them clean. And the mess sergeant was gonna make damned sure they were clean.

The Assistant Drill Sergeant roused those of us selected for KP two hours before revile. We were sorted out and assigned to various areas of the massive kitchen, about half sent out to clean the dining area. We quickly learned how much work went into feeding a little over 500 young men with large appetites after all the exercising, marching, drilling and instruction. Nobody would ever mistake it for a five-star dining establishment but the food was healthy and designed to keep up our energy.

The one duty that confused me was Sentry Duty. We all had to memorize the following General Orders:

1. To take charge of this post and all government property in view.

2. To walk my post in a military manner, keeping always on the alert and observing everything that takes place within sight or hearing.

3. To report all violations of orders I am instructed to enforce.

4. To repeat all calls from posts more distant from the guardhouse than my own.

5. To quit my post only when properly relieved.

6. To receive, obey, and pass on to the sentry who relieves me, all orders from the Commanding Officer, Duty Officer, and Officers and Noncommissioned Officers of the watch only.

7. To talk to no one except in the line of duty.

8. To give the alarm in case of fire or disorder.

9. To call the Corporal of the Guard in any case not covered by instructions.

10. To salute all officers and all colors and standards not cased.

11. To be especially watchful at night and during the time for challenging, to challenge all persons on or near my post, and to allow no one to pass without proper authority.
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[As I understand it, in today’s “sissy” army that doesn’t recite all eleven, they only have THREE General Orders to memorize.]

But, here was my problem; we were on a massive army post completely surrounded by high barbed wire fences. Every singly entry was guarded by armed Military Policemen. The fort housed thousands of soldiers, not just recruits but many who’d been hardened by service in Korea and even the Big Deuce. Why on earth did they need some wet-behind-the-ears private marching around with a weapon with no bullets in it? Yeah, I know. It was to prepare us for The Real Thing.

Actually, sentry duty didn’t bother me. We were outside in the cool evening air with salty breezes blowing inshore from Monterey Bay. The air was clear and one could spend the hours making special forms out of the starry sky. And, it was really beautiful when the moon hung huge above.

Alas, my training only last another week. One day, while standing at Attention in formation, I keeled over. Didn’t see it coming. One minute, listening to the military music aware of being surrounded by my fellow trainees. The next, being loaded into an ambulance to be carried to the base hospital.

I learned I was among a group of trainees who had succumbed to the Asian Flu, a brand new form that had appeared on the West Coast out of nowhere.

And, for the next two months, I learned what it was to be a human guinea pig. They took blood samples morning, noon and night, explaining it was to find a vaccine to prevent it spreading further.

Great. I spent the days wandering around the ward, the hospital Day Room and Library - after mopping floors, square cornering my bed and whatever little tasks they could find for us patients. At least no KP or Sentry Duty.