US Army Retired

US Army Retired

Sunday, June 5, 2011


It seemed to take forever for the train to get out of the railroad yards. I knew we headed north toward the San Fernando Valley, having grown up in Los Angeles. The train car appeared a little on the worn side and didn’t seem like any I’d remembered from a couple of trips I took before. It was only after a bit of looking around that I spotted the US Army Transportation Corps logo on the door at the front of the car. How had they hooked up an Army troop car to the regular train? That also explained the narrow aisle with two rows of three across seats.

I also noticed that a strange thing had occurred. We were all new recruits but it seemed everybody somehow sorted themselves into two very distinct groups. There were the acne-faced, beardless kids like me. And the other group clearly had more than two years under their skin. We young RA’s [for Regular Army] smiled and joked with each other, eager for the adventure before us. The US’s [Draftees} glumly sat in the seats, most with eyes closed, showing no interest in the sprawl of LA passing by us.

We RA’s calmed down by the time we got to Ventura, turning our attention to the ocean to our left. The train briefly stopped there before going on to our next stop in Santa Barbara.

The train car had only two toilets and a constant line formed up outside of them. I noticed another area in the front of the car and had no idea what it was for. The hour grew late and the sun lowered close to the horizon. All of us were hungry and wondered if and when they would feed us.

That’s when we learned what the compartment up front was for. Two men in white jackets, olive drab pants tucking into shiny brown boots, came out and ordered for recruits in the front row to follow them. They in turn returned carrying stacks of boxes in the arms. K-Rations! Our first real Army meal. The stuff that had carried GI’s across Europe, the Pacific and Korea.

We were really soldiers.

K-Ration Supper Unit: canned meat, consisting of either chicken paté, pork luncheon meat with carrot and apple (1st issue), beef and pork loaf (2nd issue), or sausages; biscuits; a 2-ounce D ration emergency chocolate bar, Tropical bar, or (in temperate climates) commercial sweet chocolate bar; a packet of toilet paper tissues; a 4-pack of cigarettes; chewing gum, and a bouillon soup cube or powder packet.

The only difference between the picture above is, instead of the little metal key-like thing, mine contained a can opener I knew from my Boy Scout days - a P-38.

We recruits eagerly opened and dug into our packets, examining every little part of them. I quickly learned that being a non-smoker provided me with some good leverage. My small packet of cigarettes and matches earned me two extra chocolate bars. One of the older guys who’d sorta been put in charge of us because he’d been in before, made it a point of telling us to keep everything we didn’t eat for “future use,” not explaining exactly what that meant. What on earth would I need the teepee or soup packet for?

The same guys who’d passed out the food came by an hour later to gather up the empty boxes. It grew dark outside and all we soon saw were lights and small towns we quickly passed through. We stopped at San Luis Obispo, Paso Robles and King City. [Growing up in California, it wasn’t until many years later that I learned Paso Robles meant Oak Tree Pass.]

Sometime about four in the morning, we stopped and the motion of the car jerked all of us awake. It became clear the car was being uncoupled from the rest of the train. Once something shoved us unto a siding, a gruff voice shouted, “All you ‘Cruits! Outa yer seats. On yer feet. Grab yer pitiful stuff and fall in outside.”

Somehow, the way he said “Cruit” told us we were the dumbest, most worthless pieces of excrement in all the universe. I must also point out that never once did I hear any of those noncoms use profanity or vulgarity at any of us. Yet, they could make one feel no bigger than an ant by the way they “informed you of the proper Army way.”

The stripes on his sleeve told us he was some kind of sergeant. I almost smiled at the cowboy hat he wore.
[Another lesson - it’s a “Campaign Hat” and denotes a Drill Instructor, one of the most bad-ass noncoms in the entire universe! At least back then.]

He spent the next half hour shouting and “lecturing” us in getting into a formation. We of course heard what was to become a litany I can never forget. “Do not call me Sir, ‘Cruit. I work for a living and you will call me Sergeant! Am I clear.”

“Y-yes, Si --- Sergeant.”

“What did you say, ‘Cruit? I can’t hear you!”

He sorted us out, tallest in front, shortest in the rear. At 6’1”, I was in the second row to the front. “Ah-left face!” he shouted. “You there! Your other left!”

Must of us were numb from the long day and even longer train ride. It was cold and dark and misty. But somehow, he got us into some kind of order and marched us to three school buses painted olive drab with US Army in black on their sides. We climbed in and sat back, wondering what came next.

We crossed some hills and, as the sky turned gray in the east, we saw the ocean in front of us as the buses turned left through a large gate with Military Police guards waving us through. They carried rifles and all of us wondered if they were real and filled with bullets.

We stopped in front of some building right out of movies I’d seen. Sergeants shouted and yelled as we stumbled out of the buses and somehow got ourselves into an almost orderly formation. Each of us carried a large, sealed manila envelope with our names and serial numbers on them.

Oh yeah. Did I mention that one of the things we heard over and over again at the processing station was, “You will memorize your serial number. Failure to do so will result in punishment.” I had to drop down to hands and feet to do pushups at least twice at the processing station and had it down pat by the time we got to Fort Ord. Yes - I still have it memorized more than 50 years later!! RA19 xxx xx8.

We lined up and passed through a series of stations. We turned over our records, had a quick run through a barber shop where our glorious hair was shaved to the scalp, moved to another where someone took our picture, yet another where we filled out a form before watching a soldier stamp a couple of pieces of metal with our names, ranks, serial numbers and blood types. We walked to the next station proudly wearing our Dog Tags. [However, the draftees weren’t all that happy with ‘em.]

Our next stop was a desk where we filled out another form - Last Name first, First Name and Middle Initial. “Not your middle name dummy!” That led to one other stop where we signed some kind of list and an officer wearing a single gold bar handed us $15!!! Our first military pay.

Then, came the issuance of our gear. A large, olive green duffel bag was soon filled with OG underclothing, socks, outer clothing, work uniforms, dress uniforms [to include an Ike Jacket], coats, jackets and hats. And, we got fitted for brown boots, combat and shoes, low quarter.

Finally, we stopped at one more station where we were given patches, shoulder, tags, name and cards, identity. [I didn’t recognize the guy in the photo!]

One final journey was to a WWII barracks where the sergeant told us to select our bunks. Each had a footlocker and a wall locker. We put our duffel bags on the bunk we wanted and followed the sergeant to where we were issued thin mattresses, sheets, a wool blanket, a pillow and pillow cover - all Green, Olive, Shade 107.

But, there was no time for rest. Several sergeants with three stripes on their sleeves came in and shouted, cajoled and otherwise bullied a bunch of stupid ‘Cruits in how to properly make a bed, fold and store our things in our footlockers and wall lockers.

Finally, properly dressed in our OG fatigue uniforms, we were marched to a building that turned out to be a mess hall.

Some of you veterans and even active duty types are probably lifting your noses and sneering about Mess Hall Slop, but I’m gonna tell you, that was probably the best banquet I’d tasted in as long as I can remember. The tin tray partitioned off into sections was heaped with a steaming stew, mashed potatoes, vegetables and a piece of chocolate cake. A plastic glass came to be filled with cold milk, a couple of pieces of white bread, real butter and we moved on to gather up our paper napkin and silverware.
We were marched to a small store after dinner where be bought some necessities from a list. Besides toothbrushes and toothpaste, soap, comb, razor, shaving cream and so on, it included shoe polish, shoe brush, shining rag and Brasso. [All you GI’s recognize that, don’t you!]

Back in the barracks, with sergeants hovering over us, we polished our boots and shoes and the brass insignia we were to wear on our Class A and B uniform.

Lights Out came at 9pm and every once of us collapsed into our bunks. I am certain I was asleep before my head hit the pillow.

[More next post. I’m sure you GI’s know what’s coming.]

1 comment:

  1. I agree with your conclusions and looking forward to your coming updates. Thanks for sharing.

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