It was almost the merriest of times in Basic Training under the Drill Instructor’s guiding yoke at H23 Company, Fort Ord, California, 1969. Initiation to the US Army began with a few days at Reception Station, where everyone was given a "Yule Brenner" haircut and marched about by sergeants who seemed to be stuck about five octaves above normal speech, followed by the introduction to a wardrobe of "khaki and Lincoln green!" Everyone got a literal taste of “KP” (kitchen police duty), and late night “fire watch,” even though there were no cigarette butts in sight. A comic memory of military life through the "Beetle Bailey" cartoon series was the image of peeling potatoes. True to form, this writer found himself commissioned and seated on a barrel, peeling an even larger barrel of spuds by day number two!
The sworn duty (a rich mix of the former), of the seasoned cadre was to whip into mental and physical toughness our motley population of 250 fresh trainees. Many were draftees from sundry physical and social environs that almost defied cultural anthropological diagnosis! Since we were all "fresh meat," with virtually no knowledge or savvy of military protocol, the first Basic Training day was a total baptism at the mercy of the cadre. Being highly physically fit from a summer of rigorous irrigation work in Idaho's Snake River Valley, my twin brother Ron and I had somewhat of a "survivalist's edge." However, my first global mistake was addressing the Company Commander as "Sergeant," rather than “Captain, Sir." That was worth about 50 immediate push ups! Quickly I realized that visibility could be a detriment, as one could easily become scapegoated, and the recipient of an avalanche of corrective verbal and physical surprises. A favorite punitive event to miscreant trainees was to have them lie on their backs, arms and legs pointed skyway, confessing sins they had yet to accomplish! This experience was titled "the dying cockroach." Part of the process of creating fitness and existential humility were frequent sessions of making all trainees crawl around the Company grounds. Viewing this procession, one could almost imagine a colony of frenetic silkworms charging for mulberry trees!
The physical regime was demanding, and food rations became trimmed to force the more obese trainees to drop pounds-- much to the growling stomachs of the rest of us. Ultimately, stealth and "taking the initiative" evolved into night forays for leftovers in the well-steamed cans behind the Mess Hall. The histrionic Mess sergeant the following day may have had his own “memorable movement” wondering how his prized cans had lost so much volume overnight.
One of the most dreaded activities was the "low crawl." Twin brother Ron quickly evolved as one of the "swiftest crawlers" along with trainee Kawakami (aptly dubbed “Kamakazi”), for his speed like a gator doused with Louisiana hot sauce. This duo could slither in equal fashion to the excitement of observing Drill Instructors, leaving the other trainees far behind, who were often motivated by the able DI's shiny boot!
At one practice session, Sgt. Clifton was in charge of the timing. In the intensity of watching the two speed demons going "nose to nose," he completely forgot to time the other flight of trainees. The Supreme Court solution: No problem! They were all commanded to re-crawl the course. The ensuing orchestra of grunts and groans must have rivaled the best strains of Wagnerian classics-- to the discerning ear and widening smile under Drill Instructor Smokey's righteous broad-brimmed sombrero...
Submitted with Bumps and Bruises No Longer!
Post Script: The author, the other twin, scored the perfect 500 on the final PT Test as the only such score in the Brigade.
Jim Barker is an Iowa native who spent many summer vacations on the Whitefish Chain in Minnesota. He now lives in San Jose, California.