Four racks for our weapons stood in the center of each bay.
“You will sling your weapon over your right shoulder with the muzzle pointing downwards. Do you understand?”
“Yes, Drill Sergeant.”
When our less than gusty reply dissatisfied him, the DI shouted, “Are you a bunch of little children? Let me hear you.”
“YES, DRILL SERGEANT.”
When all had done as directed - two ‘Cruits slinging them over the left shoulder, of course - the DI ordered us to sit on our foot lockers. “Pay attention, ‘Cruits. I am going to show you how to break down your weapon, clean it, then reassemble it.” He paused, then asked, “Has any of you ever owned or fired a weapon?”
I was one of three who raised our hands.
“Come forward and watch closely what I am about to do.”
We complied. I stared in amazement as he broke the weapon down in what seemed a matter of seconds.
He first turned it over and pulled up on the trigger guard to remove the trigger group.
Having owned and used rifles while living on the ranch, I quickly learned how to break down the weapon. I then bit my lip as the guy to my right couldn’t figure out how to remove the trigger group.
Once everybody had their weapons field stripped, the DI pulled out the cleaning kit from the butt of the stock of his weapon. It held a small can of oil and a rod. He had us do the same and we removed a small piece of cloth from our cleaning kits and he showed us how to put it into the end of the rod.
He was surprisingly patient with those who had never before held any kind of weapon. He didn’t even yell at the three who kept calling them “guns.”
“This is not a gun, recruits. This is a rifle. You will refer to it as a weapon.” He further explained that guns were artillery pieces. “When you go into combat, this will save your life and the lives of your companions. You must learn to treat it more carefully than your wives or girlfriends.”
I wondered about that. Going into combat? Korea was over and we didn’t have anything brewing that I knew of.
He then went up and down the barracks, stopping to ask every one of us our name, rank, serial number and the serial number of our weapon. He also inspected each weapon, pointing our where pieces of Cosmoline had not been cleaned away. [That’s the waxy stuff they smeared all over weapons when storing or shipping them.] He managed to find the tiniest motes of dust in the darndest places.
When it was time for the evening flag lowering, we were told to stack our weapons in the racks and fall out. As it was our third time of the time, we did so faster. He told us before dismissing us for chow that, as the next day was Sunday, we would fall out wearing our khaki uniforms.
I’d heard a lot of stories about Army food. So far, everything they’d served us had been okay. Not exactly haute cuisine but good, filling meat and potatoes type food. There was always soup, a main entrée and dessert for dinner. The baked goods were fresh and often oven-warm. With nothing pending, we could take our time.
I know my bunk mate and I came from different backgrounds. I’d been raised in the Mormon church and kinda found it hard to melt in with those who were “Gentiles” as we called them.
One thing surprised me. There were six or seven blacks [that’s what we called them in the 50’s, nothing racist about it] and several Latinos. Being in the army broke down any barriers. We were recruits trying to adjust to massive changes in our lives and we turned to anyone who could help us get along. Our ten man squad was mixed and we hung together as we knew we’d be going through a lot of things together.
As in our bay, the mess hall had a bulletin board. Before leaving, I stopped at it, finding a small notice in one corner indicating where one could fall out the next morning for church services. There was even a place for Jewish personnel that evening after chow. There was even a Mormon church service.
We had no idea what to do. We had until nine o’clock to be in bed but didn’t have enough money to do much more. Monday was the first of July, meaning payday for those who had any coming. For those further along in the cycle, buses ran through the training area to take them to the base theaters - I think there were four or five of them - and the Enlisted Club. As for newbies like us, it was either the company Day Room or our bunks. I wandered to the Day Room to find it had a small library of paperback books and magazines along with a pool table [always in use], several tables for card players and a color television set.
Duple had been an inveterate card player, dragging me to many of her “hen sessions” to make a fourth, so I picked a table looking for a fourth and quickly learned the basics of Pinochle. Two tables were playing poker using matchsticks instead of money. But, I quickly learned the stakes were for real.
As Taps played that evening, I lay in my bunk and thought being in the army wasn’t going to be all that difficult. Just follow the rules, listen to the DI and do my best to stay out of trouble.