Thursday, October 20, 2011

1958 – My first full year in France

Surprisingly, I quickly settled into my new job as company clerk. Sergeant Kapalino was a good teacher and the guy I replace had everything well-organized. It also helped that every single job had an SOP – Standard Operating Procedure – a step-by-step guide to doing it. That and the ever-present Army Regulation. I was always up and at work before revile and was excused from physical training and the morning formation – that meant I had to do my exercises on my own. Luckily, as in every military installation in the world, there was a gymnasium that included a steam room – one of my favorite places to relax.

Although thousands of miles from home, we knew what was going on “back in the world” due to The Stars and Stripes. The newspaper kept us up to date and the book stand had loads of books and magazines. I'd always been a voracious reader so that and the camp library kept me in reading material. We also had Armed Forced Radio and could easily pick up BBC on my Grundig AM/FM/SW radio. I can't find any pictures of anything similar but this was at during the early stages of transistors so it was a very large item. It is also necessary to point out we were on French electricity which was 220 volt, so every electrical item had to meet that standard.

The big news of 1958 was the induction of Elvis Presley into the US Army. Mister Swivel Hips had to get a GI haircut and go through Basic like the rest of us.

In April, something called The World Fair in Brussels opened. The theme was some strange looking thing 

Of somewhat major interest to us was that in June, General De Gaulle was brought out of retirement to lead France - & immediately made noises about Americans based in his country. Later in September, 79% of Frenchmen voted for the 5th Republic. Guallists won French parliamentary elections – a sure sign of things to come. And then, The General as he was called in every French publication, was elected president. There was no doubt as to his unhappiness over the leading role the United States was playing in European affairs.

President Ike signed the declaration that made Alaska a state.

In sort of a byline that few of us GIs understood, The Quarrymen recorded their first record, That'll be the Day by Buddy Holly and In Spite of All the Danger by two of their members, a McCartney and Harrison.

A De Havilland Comet jets started first trans-Atlantic flights for BOAC. Of greater pride to us was that Boeing's 707 was also placed into service in October.

And, how could we miss the news as all of Europe was riveted to that smoke stack on top of the Vatican when Pope John XXIII succeeded Pope Pius XII.

On a local slant, the one major thing I remember about the area was the rain. Every single day since my arrival, it would begin to cloud up around three o'clock in the afternoon to rain for at least one hour. Every single day. That the Lord for the army poncho we were issued. Unlike modern versions, ours was rubberized cloth in a solid Olive Drab. It covered us well and had the standard hood. Mine surely got put to good use.

Being company clerk also has the best perk of all – making me exempt from pulling Kitchen Police. But, I was still required to perform Charge of Quarters basically because it ensured I'd be up early enough to prepare the daily Morning Report. It was during tours as CQ that I think my desire to write blossomed. Up until then, it had been a case of writing notes in a small journal. Now, I had from five in the evening until five in the morning to sit at a typewriter and pound out page after page of writing. I don't remember what I wrote about but can honestly say not a word of it was ever meant to be for public consumption. I do seem to remember a couple of very short pieces that were published in the camp newsletter – clearly about military topics. I have no idea how many words moved themselves from my gray matter to paper. I only know that I spent endless evening hours sitting at my desk writing – always using paper that had been used and thrown away for other purposes.

Coming up next – whenever that happens – to tell about 1959 and my buying a Lambretta motor scooter – along with a trip to Holland and visiting the big Expo in Brussels. There was also a trip to Italy and a number of trips into the Pyrenees Mountains.

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