Our basic training at Fort Benning was somewhat longer than some of the programs for basic. It was hot in Fort Benning that summer. There were bowls of salt tablets on the mess hall tables and everywhere you went. There were Lister Bags (canvas bags of water for drinking) everywhere, too.
Our platoon Sergeant was at least in his late 30s or maybe even 40. We liked him and he was quite a leader, at least in most respects. He was quite fond of his booze but did not allow it to interfere with his work. In spite of it all he could run most of us in our teens or early 20s into the ground.
He would wear us out all day in training, celebrate with his drinking buddies far into the night and wake us up every morning, neatly dressed, full of vim and vigor, and wear us out another day. We had bayonet drill with bayonets fixed on an M1 rifle. We practiced very carefully with another live soldier parrying and thrusting and then ran the bayonet course. The course had straw stuffed dummies and a hinged apparatus on a post representing a chin. We ran through the course thrusting and jabbing the bayonet into the straw dummies and giving a stroke with the rifle butt "under the chin" on each post. Inevitably at least one poor trainee would run along and thrust his bayonet into a dummy forgetting to withdraw. If you did this and kept running around the dummy it bent the bayonet into an arc shape. This raised the ire of the non-com (non-commissioned officers in charge at the course) who had specifically warned us about not bending our bayonets.
I broke my glasses during basic and had to be sent into Columbus, Georgia, (the nearest town) to get new ones. My Platoon Sergeant gave me a wrapped addressed package to take with me. He was having trouble with his fountain pen (this is before ballpoints and even infantry soldiers used fountain pens). He decided to send it home to his wife and have her get it repaired. The package looked like the appropriate shape for a fountain pen and I delivered it to the post office near the eye doctor's.
A couple of weeks later he broke into a big sheepish grin and asked me if I remembered mailing his package. Apparently he had wrapped up his package late one night after a long session with his drinking cronies and instead of his fountain pen he had wrapped up his tooth brush. He had just received a letter from his wife who wanted to know why he had sent his toothbrush home.
Our officers and non-commissioned officers were regular army and I have a picture of the whole outfit of about 250-300 men, there are many faces that bring back memories.
One of these faces reminds me I learned lots of unexpected things at Fort Benning, like how to keep Kosher. In the chow line and they were serving pork chops. I was really hungry and heard the guy in front of me make some exasperated remark about not being able to eat pork. I offered to take the pork chop. He turned, looked at me as though I had lost my mind and allowed as how he wouldn't think of taking the pork chop and contaminating his plate. I still thought he could have taken it for me.
Other faces bring memories of the overweight boys who really suffered in the heat and the faces of some who went on with me into the infantry, but never came home.
One face in that picture belongs to a very small slight boy named Carlin who looked as though he should be in grammar school rather than the army. He was just as nice and friendly as he was small. He was one of the first casualties on Hill 310.
Another face reminds me of a call from my mother when I was at work after the war was over. She said "Guess who is here to visit?" "No idea," I told her. She replied "Chuck Graham."
"Who the hell is Chuck Graham?" I said.
She said "He says he was in the army with you."
After some deep thought the name began to ring a bell. At the end of basic training when we were all being split up with groups going to different colleges, we all said something like "If you ever get to where I come from be sure to come see me." Chuck Graham had apparently taken this to heart and was traveling around the country seeing all the guys who said this.
My Platoon Lt. was a marksman who shot on the Infantry Rifle Team at Camp Peary every year. I guess he had some heavy bets with his fellows because our platoon scored very well on the range and I qualified as Expert Rifle, Expert Carbine, and Expert Gunner (Machine gun). (This led to an interesting experience later.)
While at Benning I learned I had misunderstood the terms of the A.S.T.P. I thought I would be sent to a college and return to the same company I was training with after finishing school.
My brothers had been in the service for some time by now and I wanted to be a "regular soldier" too. My brothers went through training with the same men they were serving with.They wrote home about their experiences, were proud of their units and the friends they had made and the esprit de corps was quite obvious.
I thought that I was going to have the same experience. I found out that in the A.S.T.P. I would be assigned to colleges with a group after basic training and would not belong to any regular outfit. In my mind it was just like staying in school, whereas I wanted to be grown up and be a regular soldier, not a school student. I didn't give a lot of thought to going overseas, but realized that that would be the step I would take after training if I stayed in a regular unit.
I was young and foolish enough to feel left out at this and discussed it with my Lieutenant. He said that if I wanted to stay with him as cadre for a couple of training cycles, he would help me get into the officers training school there at Ft. Benning. I was ready to do this when one fine day we were called out and given our school assignments, and that changed my mind.