Old Fort Ord Hospital
The hospital was located in the older part of Fort Ord where the in-processing center was. The buildings were converted WWII barracks with ramps connecting them.
I spent the first couple of days in bed, a tube stuck in my arm with something dripping into my veins from one of those plastic bags hung on a wheeled metal pole. I wore a stupid robe that tied in the back and leaves your buns open to the world. I had a blue cotton robe to put over that and blue slippers so I could make my way to the latrine.
There were three of us to start but it didn’t take long until the ward was full and they had to expand it to the one next door. As nobody quite understood what was wrong with us, we were quarantined and the staff wore masks. Fortunately, some docs came from a lab back east and quickly diagnosed us as having a new and very virulent version of influenza. That’s when we first heard of Asian Flu.
It wasn’t a case of lying around and doing nothing. Even with the IV’s in our arms, we were expected to keep things clean to include mopping the floors and daily exchanging our linen. We had a color television set and plenty of books. A community area had card tables with lots of game and puzzles. That’s where I learned more about Pinochle and, although I thought I knew how to play poker, I soon learned I didn’t!
The hardest part of the whole thing was the regular blood-letting. The nurses came through three times a day to take blood samples. I never knew there were so many places to find veins from which to take my blood. And, I remember more than once actually sticking the needle into my own veins to draw blood when the nurse was busy with another patient.
They released me - at last. Of course, my original company had graduated so I was sent to another, one week along in the cycle.
I'd exercised once the IV was gone. Most of that was walking the endless halls with occasional things like sit-ups and push-up. So, I wasn’t that out of shape. Within a day or so, I was back up to speed with the daily calisthenics.
The new Drill Sergeant was very different than my first - he got right in your face and let loose a string of epithets to turn one’s ears red. I had no idea such profanity existed - difficult after having heard it from the adults I grew up around.
At least he spotted my proficiency with the Manual of Arms. He assigned me to the company drill team where I learned some of the truly fancy moves such as the one below.
They, of course, didn’t start us out with bayonets on our weapons! That would’ve been suicide.
When they at last took us to the rifle range, I was not surprised when I managed to qualify as an Expert. That earned me the right to familiarize myself with the M-1 Carbine and I also qualified Expert with that.
The rest of training went without a problem. My time on the ranch helped me to go through all the other stuff such as crawling through The Pit, on our backs with our weapons on our chest, going under barbed wire with a machine gun firing live rounds over us. I looked forward to going through the field exercises and training. And, when they got to the point of taking us on five and ten mile hikes, I enjoyed them.
If it hadn’t been for latrine duty, kitchen police and guard duty, basic training would have been almost enjoyable.
The best thing about basic was making friends. Not only with the guy in the bunk above or below, but the rest of the squad and platoon.
This is where I’m going to show one of my major failings - I can’t, for the life of me, remember the names of any of the guys I served with! I can close my eyes and see their faces. I can remember us doing things together. It becomes worse as I think towards the end of my military career but we won’t go through that here.
[The above is only an example of the uniform I wore. The patch on the shoulder was different at Fort Ord but is the one I wore at Fort Belvoir. I know I had to look that young and it makes me smile. Ah but the years go by so fast!]
This is the Sixth US Army shoulder patch.
At last, it came time to complete our training. I was very surprised when Duple [the woman I’d known all my life as my grandmother] showed up. She’d ridden the Greyhound bus up from Los Angeles and was in the stands for the graduation ceremony. I’d already packed my things and had my orders to the Army Engineer School at Fort Belvoir. So, once the parade was over, I gathered up my duffel bag and went with her on an army bus to downtown Monterey. There were several buses that went each graduation day to the bus terminals [Trailways also operated back then], the train station and the airport.
Step One was over. Now on to the next!
Advanced Individual Training
(For those unaware, there are two types of teaching soldiers a variety of skills. The technical skills are taught at schools similar to trade schools. The ones more easily learned come from On The Job Training.)
It was a strange bus ride home from Fort Ord. Duple knew how angry I was with her and we spoke little during the long ride. We stopped once or twice to stretch and eat. Otherwise, she stared out at the passing countryside while I did something all soldiers are trained to do - take advantage of the chance to sleep and rest.
Basic training changed everything for me at home. The house was the same, the neighbors greeted me as if I hadn’t been away, and I got some smiles for wearing my uniform. And, everyone greeted me with handshakes and hugs when I went to church. The youths I'd known were now grown up and had far different interests. But, the house was different. Smaller somehow. And restrictive.
But, the biggest change came when I went out to Redlands. Having no car, I took the Greyhound. The people were nice and the Lunts waited for me at the bus station. The other guys my age were gone but the young gathered around, curious about what it had been like to go through basic. However, the greatest change was at the Wednesday evening church social event. None of my old buddies were there! Ned and Donald were up in Utah attending college and Tom was involved in working with his father. And, the girls, while very nice, had their eyes on other guys.
Against my will, I made the visit I dreaded; with the man I had thought was my father. Jack [he was no longer Dad to me] and Kit were far more interested in their little girl. Patty looked at me as a big brother but that didn't ease the anger and hurt I felt at having been lied to.
It was with a great deal of relief that I packed my things and headed for LAX. I had never flown in anything but the WWII trainer my mother and her boyfriend had died in. The Boeing-C7 looked impressive out of the window of the terminal. But, the sleek Connie caught my eye. Something about the three rudders and aerodynamic nose spoke of safety and speed. Even then, boarding the more mundane Boeing was enough of an adventure.
I seem to remember our landing twice on the way to Washington, D.C. - I have no idea where. I was seated next to a man who'd served in Korea and he was extremely nice to a new recruit, as he could tell from my uniform. He gave up his window seat so I could sit transfixed to catch glimpses of the country passing below through breaks in the clouds. It seemed totally different from the land I had passed through in a stake bed truck the previous year and the one before that.
Arriving at Washington National Airport told me right away my vacation was over and I was back in the army. A huge sign directed all military personnel to a special section of the terminal. Once there, another sign segregated the officers from the enlisted personnel. A Specialist Five grumbled for a copy of my orders, then pointed me to a waiting area. “A bus for Fort Belvoir will be here at thirteen hundred hours. Make sure you're on it.”
The area was run by the USO and had a lot of amenities for military personnel. There were all sorts of military types there; Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines. We tended to gather in our own groups and I found the ones waiting to go to Belvoir. We chatted about where we came from and, when I said Redlands, one of the guys grinned and came over, offering his hand. “I'm from Redding. Everybody gets the two mixed up.”
His name was Harold and I had no idea then that we'd be spending well over two years together.
I'd been to the Washington area a couple of years earlier with my Boy Scout Troop so it wasn't that strange to me. The bus arrived and we all loaded on, Harold and I sitting next to each other. I was able to point out a few things as we drove, even remembering where Mount Vernon was.
Of even greater surprise was learning Harold and I would attend the same school for Engineer Equipment Maintenance. He had worked on such stuff in his hometown, growing up in an area with a lot of timber.
Advanced Individual Training (AIT) was far different from Basic in many ways. But, in others, it was similar. Daily PT followed by breakfast, then off to class. I must tell you that, although it's been a whole lot of years, I remember how well the material was presented to us.
We not only had classroom work but they took us out into the field and taught us how to operate each piece of equipment. To me, that was the best part of all. The reason was simple – how could we fix 'em if we didn't know what they were supposed to do? Sitting up there on the seat of a massive bulldozer, guiding it with two handles and the brake pedals was fun as I'd done the same on a smaller version on the ranch.
And the classroom work was also hands-on as pieces of equipment were laid out before us and we took them apart and put them back together. It was like learning to field strip a rifle. We only took them apart enough to clean, oil and replace the major parts.
Barracks life was somewhat different but we still stood foot and wall locker inspections, had GI Parties cleaning the area to include latrines, pulled Sentry Duty and – yes! - Kitchen Police. But, we were there to learn how to fix some serious pieces of equipment and that was what they had us concentrate on.
Harold and I graduated number one/two from the class (He was #1 having spent his youth working in a lumber mill) and were selected to go on to more advanced training. And then, I got an introduction to something my life in Southern California had not prepared me for – a major, road-closing snow storm. I awakened in the middle of the night to visit the latrine. I glanced out of the barracks window, amazed to see nothing but white. It wasn't that cold inside but someone went into the basement and fired up the oil-fueled heater.
We couldn't fall out for Revile as the snow had piled up and sealed the ground floor doors shut. Some guys from upstairs went down the outside staircase where someone from the post engineers met them with shovels. They had used bulldozers to clear snow from the streets. As soon as we got out, we were put to work with snow shovels. Even with hundreds of us working, it took at least a couple of hours before we could make our way to the mess hall.
It continued to snow all day, that night and the next two days. We had heavy overcoats, boots and gloves, so more than a thousand soldiers were kept busy shoveling sidewalks and roads. The rough part was that the entire fort was cut off from the rest of the area. Virginia state workers couldn't clear the major highway so lots and lots of civilians were stranded.
And yes, the mess halls ran low on food to cook. So, a warehouse was opened and we all ate K-Rations and C-Rations. At least we had the mess halls to heat our food and drink.
Harold and a lot of the others just shrugged it off. Ah yes – Army life.
Once everything was cleared away, it stopped snowing and we went back to learning how to be heavy construction equipment mechanics. Once again, Harold and I finished numbers one and two in the class. We even learned we were being sent to Europe to the same outfit. We didn't know where, only that it was a separated platoon of an Engineer Field Maintenance Company.
Off to Europe!