US Army Retired

US Army Retired

Monday, June 6, 2011


The older part of Fort Ord

Revile reverberated through my skull like the sound of a blacksmith pounding on an anvil. Probably worse as the loudspeaker was directly outside the open window from my bunk. And, it didn’t help that it was scratchy and overcome by the sound from speakers further away.

Of course, our barracks sergeant arrived to admonish us that it was time to rise and shine. “Git yer lazy rear ends outta them bunks! Hit the floor! Ya got exactly fifteen minutes ta git yer stuff done and fall out in front of the barracks!”

Now, I have to admit to my readers my slight advantage over my fellow ‘Cruits. During World War Deuce, my dad had been an LA cop and mom was a Rosie The Riveter. [I still couldn’t get over the fact they weren’t my real parents and had spent 18 years lying to me.] They sent me to a boarding school called Page Military Academy. There, I learned about military life to include all the appropriate bugle calls, military protocols, how to stand and march, even the Manual of Arms for weapons. We lived in barracks-type conditions and went through the exact same things we were being called upon to do.

One of the guys forgot he was in a top bunk and ended up flat on his face on the floor. Of course, the barracks sergeant came to assist him to his feet with a few well-chosen admonitions.  That soldier earned the name of Fall on Yer Face - probably for the remainder of his basic training.

“Boy, they sure keep this place clean. Must have a heck of a janitor.”

I almost choked when I heard one of the Rubes say that. He’d proudly told everyone he’d lived on a produce farm out in The Valley.

I knew what to do and quickly splashed water on my face, brushed my teeth, donned my OG socks, pants and blouse - we never wore shirts. After Lights Out the night before, I’d sat on my footlocker using a small flashlight I’d bought in the Exchange store to finish polishing my brass belt buckle and brown boots. When the sergeant told us to “Fall out!” I was first out the door. I immediately saw the small white lines painted in the middle of the street and found the same spot I’d been in during our march to the barracks. I stood there At Ease while our sergeant carefully instructed the others where to stand, going a bit further to explain the proper posture - as well as “suggesting” what minor infractions in uniform wear certain members had performed.

I knew to stand At East until called to Attention. Feet shoulder-width apart, hands clasped behind my back, upper torso slightly relaxed, able to look around and talk - UNLESS one was a ‘Cruit at which time one kept his mouth closed.


When the vast majority of my fellow ‘Cruits had no idea what to do, we went through a fifteen minute lesson on the proper way of standing at attention.

Heels together, toes as a forty-five degree angle. Knees slightly bent. Stomach in. Chin tight. Eyes straight front. Hands down at your sides, thumbs on the seam of your pants. Do not - I repeat - do not look around or speak to the individual next to you.

Our barracks sergeant paid particular attention to Fall on Yer Face as well as others who could not manage to get outside in a timely manner. The rest of us were told “At ease!”

The fuzzy sound of another bugle call brought the formation to Attention, followed by the order “Pree-sent Harms!”

I saw the sergeant cringe at a goodly number of my fellow ‘Cruits who didn’t know which hand to salute with. A couple had watched too many British movies because they tried it with the palm out.

The Star Spangled Banner blurred through the air, overwhelmed by other loudspeakers far in the distance. One note sounded close, then again several blocks over and yet again further on until the last note sounded way up on the hill. And, when it was over where we were, several men in my formation dropped their salutes, the rest of us holding on until the final note sounded from the nether-lands.

“Hor-der Harms!” That was followed by a question. “Who told you to stop saluting? You do not honor our National Anthem? What is wrong with you, ‘Cruit?” That was followed with an order to “Drop and give me twenty!” The ‘Cruit dropped to his hands and feet, struggling to perform the 20 push-ups.

Knowing there was no way the platoon knew how to march in formation, the sergeant finally ordered, “Route Step, MARCH!” and told me to lead the way to the mess hall. Without expecting it, I’d become the platoon Guidon.

Having lived on a ranch, I was used to hearty breakfasts. After getting my tray and utensils, I walked down the line and watched as cooks piled on scrambled eggs, potatoes, bacon, small pancakes and toast. There were pats of butter and maple syrup along with grape jelly. A small carton of juice and a larger one of milk. There were cups and several huge urns for those who drank coffee.

I did notice the sergeants ate the same food as we, even though they sat together in a special section.

At the end of thirty minutes, the sergeant came and told the few who’d not finished to pick up their trays and follow him. There was a place to scrape the left over food from the plates, rinse them in a dirty tub of water, then drop the trays in one place, silverware in another, and our drinking vessels in another.

We spent an hour on instructions how to stand in formation, follow commands and even march. [I had to fight back snickering at the few who had two left feet.] We also heard how we were expected to have shined boots and polished brass. For those who did not understand the latter, they were detailed to polish the metal fixtures in the latrine. For those who didn’t understand polishing boots, they got to polish the floor - on their hands and knees with tooth brushes.

We were then marched to a building where we received cloth name tags. We marched back to the barracks, given five minutes to gather our blouses and jackets, then marched to another building where name tags and patches were sewn on.

With that out of the way, we returned to the barracks where the sergeant individually “instructed” us on how to arrange our footlockers and wall lockers. There was a closet with five steam irons and ironing boards and we were given the opportunity to press our uniforms - at least those who knew what an iron was.

There was no way the barracks sergeant was going to teach us what we needed to do in such a short time. His job was to give us the basics so we wouldn’t make complete fools of ourselves.

Oh yeah, the Rube who’d asked how the barracks had been so clean learned when the sergeant detailed him and others to clean the latrine and polish the floors - yes, they had one of those big floor polishers and cans of floor polish. And one did not simply drape a mop anywhere to dry - there was a very specific way of rinsing it and then placing it in its designated place to dry - along with brooms, dust pans and rags.

Lunch was filling and we had time afterwards to go to the Exchange store to buy a few extra things we hadn’t realized we needed. Most importantly, it was time to follow the drawing on exactly how things were to be placed in our foot and wall lockers. Oh yes, each of us had to buy combination padlocks.

We fell out for Retreat and then marched to the mess hall for dinner. I wondered what we were going to do after that and wasn’t disappointed when they marched us to a theater where we and another platoon of ’Cruits spent two hours watching movies on The Code of Conduct and History of the US Army.

While some guys flaked out on their bunks back in the barracks, I sat on my footlocker reading the field manual they’d issued us along with the rest of our stuff. I also knew that what we’d been given to that point was just a start.

I lay on my bunk thinking about the day just past when the sounds of Taps came through the night air. Somehow the soft, even sad notes, were clear instead of fuzzy like the rest.

So far, so good.

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