I wonder how many people out there remember Dragnet, an early black-and-white television show starring Jack Webb and Ben Alexander. That law-and-order series was my very first exposure to television, viewed in an Atlanta, Georgia motel on Peachtree Street in 1952, the same year that I returned from a two-year tour of the Orient (Japan and Korea). Oops, I forgot something—I watched part of the 1947 World Series, the very first time it was broadcast in color. You can read all about it here.
The television in my room on Peachtree Street was activated and kept active by inserting quarters into a coin slot mounted on the set—one quarter bought thirty minutes of viewing—if the minutes ran out in the middle of a show, a viewer had to be fast on the draw to recover the picture by inserting another quarter—not being particularly fast on the draw, I compensated for that deficiency by sitting close to the set.
I slept very little that night—I fed all my quarters to the television, and made two trips to the motel office for more quarters. I was in Atlanta to reenlist in the military, a process I completed the following day, one that was both hilarious and sad.
The next day, December 20, 1952, dawned clear and cold, a day that holds memories both funny and psychologically painful for me. I left my motel room on Peachtree Street early, and arrived at Fort McPherson at 0830 hours to submit to a physical examination required for my reenlistment for another four years in the United States Air Force. On that day 500 men reported to Fort McPherson for physicals, a huge group that included volunteer enlistees, re-enlistees and draftees. After a brief signing-in process, we were ordered to remove all clothing except shorts, and were told that, should we be so inclined, we could remove that item as well.
The provision to retain underwear did not apply to those wearing long-handles, a winter underwear garment that covers everything except head, neck, hands and feet—you know, that one-piece winter accessory that is strategically fitted with a button-up drop flap in back. There were no long-handle wearing participants present, a fortunate exception for the wearer and for the rest of us. It would prove to be a very long day, and having someone’s Johnson or someone’s Willie, depending on one’s terminology preference, staring (or peeking) and waving at us as we moved from one location to another would have been disconcerting—for some, perhaps, but perhaps not for others.
I have spent what may be regarded as an inordinate amount of space and number of words in this first paragraph, but it was necessary because I needed to present some important details. We were told to bundle our clothes, place them on the floor and then form a single line. We obediently obeyed those orders, all 500 of us. That line snaked out the door and down a long corridor, then a 90-degree left turn and farther down another long corridor. Buildings at the installation were connected by those corridors, enabling people to move from building to building without being exposed to inclement weather, including rain, heat and cold. And cold is the operative word for that day. Those corridors were not heated, and their floors were covered with linoleum.
I was near the end of the line that formed, and my feet were bare—yes, I removed everything except my shorts—I have always been one to follow orders unless I stood to sustain injuries in doing so. As a result of leaving my socks with my bundle, I stood on one foot for much of the day, letting one foot freeze while its counterpart warmed up a bit—I felt, and probably looked like, a Florida flamingo.
Now that I’ve laid the stage, this posting will be mercifully short. Our physical exams progressed as the sun reached its zenith, and continued well into the afternoon as shadows lengthened. We filled out innumerable forms and presented ourselves for weight measurement, height measurement, eye exams, dental exams, exams of our privates, rectal exams, IQ tests, blood draws, urine sampling, dexterity tests, etc., etc., ad nauseum.
The only moment of comedy relief came after we marched into a large room and lined ourselves around its perimeter while a doctor stopped in front of each man, had him drop his shorts so the doctor could take a cursory look at his genitals, then pull his shorts back up. The doctor then stepped in front of the next man, and on and on until the line was completed. He then ordered us to face the wall, drop our shorts and bend over so he could make the rounds again, ostensibly making a visual rectal examination.
When he finished that round he told us to restore our shorts to their original position and face front. At that point the doctor made a declarative statement. He had earlier directed a rhetorical question to an individual while the doctor was performing a visual examination of that individual’s genitals: He said, “Damn, boy, have you been driving nails with that thing?”
Revealing the racial composition of the man to which the question was directed should not be necessary, but I will point to the doctor’s use of the term “boy.” This was in Georgia and the year was 1952, long before the passage of civil rights legislation, and long before the concept of political correctness swept the nation.
And in the words of Tom Horn, as portrayed in the movie by Steve McQueen, “I’ll have nothing further to say on the subject.” (I love that movie!)
The doctor’s declarative statement was made just after he ordered us to pull our shorts up and face front after he completed his visual rectal examination. When we were faced front he said, “Well, it’s just as I expected—they’re all brown!” There were several chuckles, titters and giggles, but none from me—my feet were so cold that, had I attempted a laugh it would have sounded like something akin to the “He-haw, he-haw” of an Alabama mule—a bit more subdued, of course.
The long day eventually came to a successful close, and I embarked on my second enlistment in the U.S. Air Force, a career that would end several months after I completed my twenty-second year and retired for length of service
Nope—my retirement did not include even one percent of disability. I had no lower back pain and I even passed the hearing test—bummer!
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.