It didn't take long to settle into life in my new assignment. We all got along well and, while I wasn't an expert at it, I enjoyed working on the equipment – especially the part about test driving it to ensure each piece of equipment worked correctly.
The after-duty hours weren't all that boring. We had our Day Room and the rest of the recreation facilities weren't that far away. Goring up, Grandma Duple would drag me to her social clubs to be her partner in card games like Canasta and Rummy. So, it didn't take me long to learn to play Hearts and Pinochle – the two most popular games for the guys in the camp. Having little money, I spent a lot of time at the Service Club or the camp's theater – I don't remember for certain but seem to think a ticket cost 25¢. I also learned to bowl and somehow got talked into being an extra on the platoon's team in a couple of bowling leagues. Young and agile, I seem to remember joining the 200 club early on and think my high score was somewhere around 250.
After my first trip into Bordeaux, I learned my lesson and only went the first weekend after payday with a limited amount of money – actually US MPCs - Military Payment Certificates – in my pocket. But I did take as many as the tours I could and got to see a lot of the French countryside.
My opinion? Some very pretty countryside. Lots of farms and fields. The land around the camp was pine forests that were well-tended. I don't know how ownership was established but there were always wagons on the roads hauling wood to the various towns – most horse-driven and a lot with teams of oxen. Occasionally, we would see one pulled by a very noisy and smoky tractor. And, there were lots of vineyards.
By the time I got over my courts-martial sentence, the platoon sergeant was impressed by my desire to do good and got me promoted to private first class – a month and more behind Harold. At that point, the platoon leader got a letter from Grandmother Duple complaining about how hard things were for her and asking if I might be able to send some money home to help out. I was furious! Not only had she and everyone else I thought of as families lied to me for 18 years, but she had used up all the money the woman I thought was my mother had set up for me in life insurance – paid double as she'd been killed in an accident. Now she wanted me to send her money?
Because of the way things went in the military back then, I had no choice. The lieutenant listened to my story and then had me make out an allotment to send her twenty-five percent of my take-home pay – even further limiting what little money I had to spend. She also complained that I never wrote to her so, each payday, I hand to give the lieutenant a letter to her – he didn't read it, just wanted to make sure I sent one.
One of the bonuses came when someone was ready to go back to The Real World. Most of what they possessed was sold off or given to friends and other guys in the platoon. I seem to remember that was how I got a Hifi record player – a really big deal back then.
My time in the shop abruptly ended one day after about six months of cracking my knuckles and mixing my blood with grease. The lieutenant called me into his office and asked me if I knew how to type. I'd had a typing class in elementary school and remember using Grandmother Duple's typewriter and had put it down during my inprocessing into the Army. As he had my Form 20, US Army Enlisted Qualifications Record, there was no way I could get out of saying no. It seems the platoon parts clerk was leaving soon [something everyone in the platoon as he had a huge Short-timer's Calendar on the wall of the parts room] and the lieutenant wanted me to fill in “temporarily” until a replacement arrived. What could I say?
It actually turned out to be a whole lot easier than working in the shop. And, having learned to be a mechanic, I didn't need a whole lot of explanation as to what parts were need for what job. The most frustrating part was the paperwork – reams and reams of forms and huge books filled with the nomenclatures and Federal Stock Numbers of each and every nut, bolt, washer, etal. I took to it like a fish takes to a scummy pond and had the place running smoothly as soon as the old clerk signed out for his Freedom Flight back home.
I also got pretty good at scrounging – learning from the warrant officer who actually ran the shop. We all joked about how he'd been responsible for shoeing George Washington's horses but he knew absolutely everything there was to know about every piece of equipment and what it took to fix them.
And a replacement did arrive – about a month after the previous guy left.
Then, the lieutenant called me into his office again. “Our company clerk is going to leave next month and the CO says he won't have a replacement for him for several months. And, our agreement with battalion is that we have to supply our own clerk. I want you to do that job.”
You don't say know to the man who holds your fate in his hands. As soon as the new guy got his feet on the ground, I gathered up my few personal things and headed for the battalion headquarters, the S-1 Section and the Personnel Office. I of course knew the clerk I was to replace, although he didn't spend much time around the platoon bay. He introduced me to the warrant officer who ran the section, then probably the most important sergeant I was to serve under – Sergeant Kapalua. [How on earth do I remember his name after 45 years?] He was a big guy, a veteran of WWII and Korea, and Hawaiian. Once he showed me his last DD Form 214 that showed his full last name – it took up four full lines of typing! He even want through the lengthy explanation of what it meant – a full family history.
I think what caused me the greatest concern about this new job was the responsibilities that went with it. Of course, the lieutenant was ultimately responsible but it was up to me to get everything right. I can still remember my first tries at preparing the daily Morning Report. A DA Form-1 the number should tell the importance the Army puts to it. It was from that form that all the information about the entire US Army got to the bigshots in the Pentagon. It had to be completed in time to go out with the daily courier and it had to be mistake-free! No erasures. No type-overs. No white-outs.
I could probably write a chapter about the duties of the job but, in summary, I was responsible for submitted the reports to see the men got paid correctly, earned the leave time they had coming, let the lieutenant know when they were eligible for promotion and ensure their pay and personnel records were kept up to date. I also typed up leave forms and passes. I grew up an egotistical, self-centered jerk and some of the ranch had knocked that out of me. Finding myself with so much responsibility sobered me up a whole lot more. I no longer dealt with inanimate machines but real living people – all who lived as close as family to me.