Saturday, October 29, 2011

Continuation of Writing Historical Fiction

This is all the personal items the friars carried with them.
They were allowed to ride horses or mules but often used them to carry the religious artifacts they took with them. It is reported that, except for the time he spent on board ships, Father Serra limped everywhere he went in Old Mexico as well as the Californias.

We now move on to my second character, the Indian boy.

The first thing I had to do was decide who he was and where he came from. I found a number of tribes in 18th Century western Mexico – and all of them were hostile to the Spanish. I sifted through a lot, especially about places in Mexico where Father Serra and his friars might contact him. I found a tribe called the Cahita who lived not very far from the town of Culiacán where the Spanish had been for more than a century. It was not that important to the Spanish as their silver mines were much further to the north.

Search, search, and research.

The Cahita, never a large tribe, had been decimated by European diseases so I decided to create my Indian as a member of their tribe. So, how would he come in contact with the Spanish. It was the time when Franciscans were moving in to replace Jesuits. I simply came up with two friars traveling through the area who find the boy and take him in. They first of all give him a new name. Cuauhtémoc or Fallen Eagle in Nahuatl was certainly not appropriate so I came up with the name Jaimenacho for Saint James and Saint Ignatius. He has a facility for carving beautiful figures out of wood, so the friars put him under the tutelage of the mission's carpenter. Hence his new name of Jaime the carpenter.

Well, I now had him in the hands of the Spanish. How to get him to where he can meet Timothy, the sailor?

Search, search and research.

I couldn't find a Nahuatl dictionary but discovered it was related to Yaqui, which did have a dictionary. So, when it came to having him speak his native tongue, that's what I used.

So, how did the friars treat the Indians? I discovered that, unlike what I'd heard in school and read in news accounts, the friars looked upon the Indians as children and felt as responsible for them as if they were their own children – which in a sense they were. How about the reputed beatings? Again, I discovered that European standards of treating children came from the saying, “Spare the rod, spoil the child.” Discipline in the 18th century was, by today's standards, often inhumane. The friars actually disciplines themselves for what they saw as their sins and failings by publicly lashing their backs with chains or leather whips studded with sharp blades. They would also use a rock to pound on their chests to get their points across to their flocks.

The Indians? Unlike what the military did, the friars held to a belief that, as children, it was wise to keep punishment to what we would call spanking. No blood. No bruises. The worst punishment to an Indian male would be to be chastised in front of the others.

We've now reached the point where the two youths meet. Both have already encountered major cultural shocks and changes. So, when they meet, they bond and become like brothers. But, what would their lives be like? Where and how did they live?

Here's another point to the story – when I started, beside Fathers Serra, Crespí, and Palóu, I made up all the rest because I couldn't find anything more detailed online. That is until I received a book from the Franciscans of Santa Barbara detailing how the friars interacted with the California Indians. So, back to the drawing board to do a whole lot of revisions. But, what really stopped me in my tracks was finding a book I'd seen references to but had never actually looked at, History of the Pacific states of North America (volume 13) by Hubert Bancroft written in 1887. Phew, what a task that was! But, it not only contained the names and some history for every friar who served in the Californias up until 1835, it did the same for all military and civilians who were there during the same period. It also gave a detailed account of the Spanish government's interactions during this period.

I probably spent more than two months adding important dates, actions, and people. I learned things about the Spanish governors and officers missing from all the other sources I could find. All of that had to be incorporated into the already-written two novels but the third as well.

Edit. Revise. And edit.

I can see why, in the “old days” writers kept notes posted and filed all over the place. Now, how to arrange a useful filing system on my computer so I could find things when I needed them? [I still don't think it's complete or easy or fully helpful.]

So, the latest revision of book one is at the publisher. I know, without a doubt, that it will undergo some more revisions but the worst is over. I've done a whole lot of search, search and research so anyone who reads it will know what REALLY went on more than three centuries ago that created the Californias we know today. [I'll keep my own personal views of today's California out of this post.]

Do any of you have your own systems for ensuring accurate background to your novels?Share them with us, please.

Until next post, probably a bit more about my tour of duty in France.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

What? Who are you to write a historical novel?

It's a good thing I didn't ask myself this when I started to write The Sailor and The Carpenter.

So, why did I?

I've read historical novels for as long as I can remember. Egypt. Greece. Rome. Feudal times. The Renaissance. The United States. The Indian wars. My all-time favorites were the Horatio Hornblower novels by C.S  Forester. I think I read every single one of them before I reached my teens. I literally haunted the Los Angeles County public libraries.

But, does that make me qualified to write one? Well, I sure as heck don't have any impressive scholastic qualifications – my college education is comprised of some classes at community colleges during my latter years in the army.

I'd written and finished the non-fiction book about gambling in Las Vegas from my years as a professional slot machine player. I then put my hand to the one about terror on The Strip from my time driving a Yellow Cab. Then, just because the idea came to me, I wrote the science fiction/fantasy novel set some time between the Romans and the invasion of Britain, complete with a wizard, dragons and other monsters – something else I read a lot of in my youth. And then, I wrote the “epic” spy story based upon my years serving at the American embassy in Vienna. With those out of the way – what next?

Well, I grew up in California and remember visiting the missions there, along with hours spent hanging out in the county museum adjacent to USC. Then, when I entered the army, I was assigned to both Fort Ord and the Presidio of San Francisco. I somehow managed to visit every mission from San Diego to Solano in the Napa/Sonoma valleys. Soon after I married my wife, Alejandrina, we traveled from Mazatlan to La Paz on a car ferry and then drove north to Tijuana. I remember seeing a couple the beautiful churches along the way.

I don't know how or why I came up with the idea, but thought, “Why not write something about the founding of the missions?” I did some research, and other than the story Ramona, written in the late 1800's, there wasn't anything I could find other than dry, intellectual tomes. [I also learned that, while there was some basis in fact, there was a lot of “author's license in the story, Ramona.]

I also came up with a faint idea of writing it from the viewpoint of two boys from very different backgrounds and cultures. An Englishman and an Indian from western Mexico. Somewhere in my cache of writing material, was a character worksheet and another with about thirty things one should know when creating a character. [I think the last one came from Absolute Writer Water Cooler website.]

So, I decided to start writing. I first created Timothy, to include a biography. That brought up lot of questions. What were the times like? What kind of family would he come from? Where in England would he live? And so on. That's when I learned the most important part of writing historical fiction – search, search, and research.

The starting point of the story was already set -1767. That was when the Spanish king agreed with the French king that the Jesuits would be removed from the New World to be replaced by Franciscans and Dominicans. Why then? Because that's when Father Serra was first tasked with taking over the Jesuit missions in California.

That meant delving into the situation in England so I could put Timothy in the right state of affairs. That didn't mean I had to include it in the novel, just to have a clear idea of the times. Then, thank goodness for Google Maps. Huh? Well, if your going to write about historical times, it's a pretty good idea to locate where your character is and how he's gonna get where he's going. Then, when I got him to Plymouth and about to go aboard a ship, more questions came. What kind of ship? What would it properly be named. What did I know about 18th century ships? How were they built? What was all that nautical stuff? If he was going to be a cabin boy, what were the living and working spaces aboard the ship like. He would have to talk with the captain and crew so what would that be like? What were the names of all the stuff on the ship and what nautical language would he have to learn?

Search, search and research.

And, how would they sail from England to the shores of the far away west coast of North America? And why? Where would they land to replenish stores? What are the winds and currents like?

Search, search and research.

Now, how about my second character? The Indian boy? Who would he be. Where would he come from? What tribe or race? And a thousand questions more. [I'll deal with him in my next post.]

Well, enough of this for now. Time to start surfing the web to try to sell what I've got up on Kindle and PubIt! And to get back to work on Part II of the trilogy. More search, search and research.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Not for sale!

Sonora Symphony is no longer for sale.
For legal reasons, I can't explain why, only that it hurts. Especially as I was told it was a very good story and well-written. It also hurts from the effort and hours I spent seeking reviews and publicizing it.
However, I can guarantee all of you that, in three months, it will be in the process of going on sale once again.
To those who've bought it, please send my comments for my future efforts about this.
Meanwhile, all of you are more than welcome to check out my other works listed in the novels, books and short stories page to the right.
Well, at least that means I now have time to get back to Mission Trail, the second novel of my Father Serra's Trilogy. I think I am going to post a few excerpts of the first, The Sailor and The Carpenter, so you can all get a sense of what will be published sometime next year.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Another Sonora Symphony Review

Sergeant Ray Daniels is in a daze that the medics cannot seem to clear.  Joe, a
Papago elder, and a former special forces operator, recognizes the thousand yard
stare in Ray's eyes.  After buying him breakfast, and sensing the depth of Ray's
loss, Joe invites him to stay with him for a while in his desert home.  Joe, a
magnificent story teller, and an intimate of the Sonoran desert, fills the next
days and weeks with nature walks and legend filled talks. 

Hearing the stories of Coyote, and Rabbit, and Puma stirs something deep inside Ray, something that starts the healing.  This story is rich in Native American legend, and provides a compelling look into PTSD, including a patient, compassionate approach to addressing this condition.  The book climaxes with memories of a firefight and of a life left behind, and with hope for the future.  Be prepared to think long and hard about compelling subjects while reading Sonora Symphony.  And be prepared to think about the world around us, and the people in it, especially returned soldiers, in a different way after reading Sonora Symphony. 

Thank you Dale Day for writing and sharing this story.

JT Kalnay
Author of The Keeper

[I'm especially proud of this as the reviewer is deeply into computers and gaming and I have a feeling that he doesn't normally read these type of books.]

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.

Friday, October 14, 2011

A Circumcision at 72?

I never thought …

For various reasons, my urologist and I decided I had to have one of the oldest surgical procedures in history. Surprisingly, I felt no hesitation about having it done, feeling the results would be worth any discomfort.

As it turned out, the worst part was stopping the blood thinner I'm on and replacing it with a medicine called Lovenox. It has to be the most painful, bruising and long-lasting discomfort of any injection I've ever had in my life. Both of my thighs have huge bruises with painful lumps that don't seem to go away.

As a retired army sergeant, I've had my operations at the Air Forces hospital at Nellis Air Force Base. In my experience, the staff there has always been exceptionally professional and caring beyond any medical care I've received in non-military installations and clinics. So, when it came to being operated on in a 40-year old medical facility, I had no few reservations. The building looks to be 40 and the corridors go on forever with no seeming organization. So, I was surprised that I received a call the Monday before the operation to go through pre-registration. I then went to the hospital the day before surgery and found two computer screens with very easy instructions on how to check in. From there, I went to another window where the lady gave me a pager and told me to relax and wait - “Shouldn't be long, you're next in line.”

Oh yeah? Never gonna happen.

Turned out to only take about 15 minutes until I got called up. We then spent at least a half hour going through an unbelievable numbers of forms. And then there were all the little sticky tabs that got put on everything to include a paper bracelet for my arm. And, after having filled out all the forms, the clerk then scanned them into her computer.

At last it was off to check in for the pre-op interview. We walked ten blocks down drab hallways with little arrows pointing to the various locations. All to find another waiting room where I turned in paperwork and was told to wait for someone to call me. Another long wait and, when I last I saw a registered nurse, it was to watch her fill out more and more papers.

Oh Lord! Is this gonna be this bad when it comes time to go into surgery?

I wasn't quite finished. It was off to the laboratory to have blood drawn and give a urine sample. Surprisingly, the phlebotomist got a vein at the first try and even didn't leave that much of a bruise. From there, I went to cardiology for an EKG. This guy was a pro, admitting that he been doing it for more than 30 years.

Early the next morning, I show up at the hospital, go through the very easy check-in thingie and am off to the surgery area. Whatever expectations I had from the physical layout were shattered by the staff and the equipment at their disposal. First of all, they gave me a hospital gown that actually covered my backside! And a pair of those socks that never seem to fit that actually fit. As is always the case, one tends to freeze to death in hospitals. So, once I was ready, I asked someone for a blanket. Much to my amazement, the nurse came in a pulled a hose out from somewhere and hooked it up to my hospital gown – that had a kind of sack inside for the warm air blowing out of the hose. It even had holes so I could put my hands inside to keep them warm. And even more surprising, the nurse hooked up an IV without spending forever digging around in my arm for a vein.

My wife was able to stay with me until it was time to be hauled off to the operating room. I don't know how the staff finds its way around that place as the nurse wheeled me down endless, drab halls, through a bunch of automatic doors and into another place where another nurse took charge of me. The anesthesiologist put a mask over my face and told me the syringe would hurt – which it didn't.

An hour or so later, a woke up and felt just fine. They wheeled me back through the endless maze to something near where I first went in. My wife was brought in and it wasn't long before I was dressed and on my way out of there.

I have nothing but good memories of my experience. Valley Hospital Medical Center of Las Vegas, Nevada, was exceptionally professional and I never had a single instance of any unpleasant or brusque employees. And, most important, I have no experienced any bleeding or even pain as a result of the surgery.

I certainly help this horrid mess of Obamacare doesn't change all this.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Setting Out to Tour Southern France

I bought a motor-powered bicycle - it had a “clip-on: motor mounted over the front wheel. One pedaled to start and it would almost get up to 25 or 35 mph on flat land. Of course, one disconnected it when going downhill and I often had to get off and push going uphill. 1 liter would take me over 100 kilometers “clicks“ as we called them..
The best thing about this was how easy it was to work on. The down side was everything was in metric so none of the tools we used in the shop of US equipment worked. However, the ever-useful screwdriver, pliers and adjustable wrench solved most of the problems. Oh yeah! Don't forget the patch kit for the tires' inner tubes.
Royan is a village on the Gironde Estuary of the western coast of France. river near the sea. While the rest of France was old and drab - they seem to glory in their gray buildings that have not been upgraded since the middle ages - the town was almost completely new. Modern buildings and several nice beaches, although unlike California ones with lots of surf. The water sort of lapped the shore. I wondered how this unusual town came about and was told a story about typical Gallic ignorance or bravado or whatever.
Seems there were a couple of major Nazi installations nearby. The Allies were sent to bomb it. Using American and British aircraft, Free French air crews screwed up and bombed the town instead of the German targets they were sent after. Later, other raids took place in which huge loads of napalm were dropped to finish the job.
When the war ended, the French demanded the town be rebuilt due to the errors. The money came from American coffers and the town was rebuilt from the ground up. Even then, in 1958 when I was there, it had already started to transform to the drab Gallic color scheme, covered with coal soot.
As the land was flat, going to Royan on the bicycle was easy, I only had to pedal a few times. Once I got off restriction and had purchased the bike, it was summer time and I heard about the seaside resort. Being from Southern California, I wanted to see what French beaches looked like. Of course, I’d heard about the scandalous ones that were topless and even nude.
There was a number of villages between the camp and Royan. If I left early in the morning, it was the time when the bakeries had just taken their big, long loaves of bread - Baguette - out of the oven, I would stop to buy a half-load, then go next door to the butcher shop to buy goose-liver pâté de foie gras. One further stop would result in a nice bottle of red wine. Thank goodness I’d purchased a Swiss Army Knife in the Post Exchange as it had a corkscrew.

With all this in my backpack, I’d pull into Royan to find a nice bench under a shade tree.
The bikini had been around since the late 1940s but was rarely seen in the USA. 1958 was a time when girls wore big, wide pleated skirts with hemlines just below the knees and high necklines. Only gowns showed a hint of cleavage. So, it was really something else for a young American like me to sit overlooking the beach where women lay in the sun wearing such skimpy swim wear. Some topless!
The major problem was that French women, unlike the American counterparts, didn’t shave themselves! One might see a truly attractive female only to have her lift her arm to show a thick mass of hair. Legs, at a distance, were okay but up close left much to desire covered with hair.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

A Sonora Symphony Review

4.0 out of 5 stars A Spiritual as Well as Geographic Journey, October 7, 2011
This review is from: Sonora Symphony (Kindle Edition)
Dale Day has written a book that both educates and moralizes, bridging the modern warrior and his travails with the ancient legends and wisdom of Native Americans. The result is a fascinating journey into a man's soul as he embraces, sometimes painfully, the traditional to help heal a wounded modern soul.

Master Sergeant Ray Daniels is an Afghanistan veteran who has overcome his physical battle wounds. But the psychological wounds remain. Daniels is afflicted with nightmares rooted in battles in which he had lost comrades to the Taliban, losses he blames on himself for not being able to rescue them. But his mind won't allow him to recall the nightmares. This is a man caught in a ring of torment. He also represents the very real problem of America's soldiers afflicted with PTSD after repeated tours of duty in war zones. Daniels is helped by a sympathetic Papago tribe member and fellow vet named Joe Redmond who patiently introduces the injured Daniels to the magic and sear beauty of the Sonora desert as well as the healing powers of Indian legends. In a potentially dangerous ritual, Redmond exorcises the mental demons that afflict the soldier. The experience is transformative and bonds the two men spiritually.

SONORA SYMPHONY is as much a journey into one man's soul and his quest to recover his past in order to regain his future as it is one through America's majestic Southwest deserts. The author also recounts rich Native American lore that is so much overlooked in Western culture, lore that has much to offer in teaching morality and balance in human relations. SONORA SYMPHONY is not for readers looking for action and adventure, but rather for those who relish introspection, cultural depth and moral transformation. As such, it is literary in nature. Dale Day draws from the writer's nostrum, "Write what you know." A twenty-three-year Army vet and long-term resident of the Southwest, he has much to invest into his stories. SONORA SYMPHONY lends itself to a series, which Dale's readership would assuredly welcome.

James is the author of The Tribe which is selling extremely well on Amazon and which is an exciting book that will hold your interest throughout.

Thursday, October 6, 2011


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.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

A US Military Base in France in the late 50's

Being confined to the camp wasn't as bad as I expected. While not a big place, it had just about everything one needed. Beyond the Post Exchange, something like Sears and Roebucks, there was a book store that sold all sorts of stuff and was operated by Stars & Stripes, the American newspaper for soldiers stationed overseas. The other amenities included the expected barber shop, a small snack bar, a theater, bowling alley, and a Special Services club with a complete library, recreation room, pool tables, lots of tables for playing cards and other games.
And, the on-base things were perfect for my meager paycheck.
The hardest part was watching the guys load onto buses Friday and Saturday afternoon for the ride into Bordeaux – that that were given passes, that is. And, when they returned to the barracks after an afternoon and evening of carousing, I had to listen to all their tales of beautiful French women falling all over them and the fantastic food and drink.
The next hardest thing was missing out on the local tours provided by the Service Club. Once a week, they provided free bus tours to a variety of places not too far from the camp. I promised myself, that as soon as I was free, I'd take advantage of them. As my Freedom Day came in the middle of the month – and I only had very little cash in my pants – one of the Service Club tours was my first outing away from the camp – and into the French countryside.
To be perfectly honest, after all these years, I really have no idea where the tour went to. I do know that during the next few months, I took one tour to Cognac where we saw the vineyards and a distillery where the “real thing” was brewed. And yes, we got a taste of it, along with some Pâté and fresh bread.
One of the other tours I remember was to the town of Saint-Émilion. I clearly remember the church carved out of the face of a cliff with the bell tower rising above it. And yes, we had a free wine tasting with Pâté and fresh bread.
And yes – the first Friday after payday, I was on that bus for the long ride into Bordeaux. There was a plaza facing the River Garrone with a large stone arch. I stopped to check out a discolored bronze plaque and saw it dated from some time in 150 or so AD and had been built by the Romans. On a later tour of the city, I learned that many Roman building had been rebuilt by the Franks and when were razed by the Moors in 732 AD.
But, with that tiny bit of curiosity taken care of, it was off to partake of the delights of France!
Following the file of clearly American GIs, we went up a cobble-stoned street and everyone turned into one particular side street. Two guys from the platoon had taken me under their wings and we walked directly to one particular bar – to find it filled with more GIs. And, of course, some ladies who worked there. They sure were not Brigitte Bardots! [If you're not old enough, she was a hot babe that every young guy in the world swooned over in the 50's – especially as she loved to wear the risqué new bikini bathing suits. The Queen of that particular bar was a well-worn woman from Algeria. The one think I remember about her was her mustache and tendrils of hair peeking out of her arm pits. Bienvenue en France !
I'd never been in a bar before in my life so I had no idea what to expect. Thanks to my friends, I managed not to make a total fool of myself. First of all, the girls crawled all over the guys trying to get them to buy a “piccolo” - a small bottle of what was supposed to be champagne and hugely over-priced. The first thing I learned was a dice game played with a cup and match sticks. Somehow the deal was that the first to lose named to drink to be ordered, the second paid for it and the winner got to drink it. I somehow stayed true to my religious up-bringing and spent the night nursing several soft drinks equally over-priced. As a wide variety of people might read this, I will completely skip over my introduction of French bars.
I do remember riding the bus back to camp wondering what the big deal about France was all about.