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Mistaken identification—no gold tooth . . .

Long, long ago in 1951 in Japan, a far off land across the sea, a young American corporal, 18 years old, arrived late in the evening to the Transient Quarters at Itazuki, an American air base near the city of Fukuoka on Kyushu, Japan’s most southern island. That young corporal was on an authorized three-day pass for the purpose of resting, relaxing and recuperating from the rigors of singlehandedly fighting a war from Taegue Air Base at Taegue, South Korea, a war that raged between South Korea and North Korea and lasted four years, but was never won by either side—a truce was declared, and that truce exists to this day.

I was assisted in my efforts by the South Korean army and the US Army, Navy, Marines and National Guard units. That assistance was warranted because Communist China’s vast army was assisting North Korea in its effort to take over the entire Korean peninsula.

The hour was late and the lights were already out in the Transient Quarters. I found my way to an empty lower bunk, stuffed my stuff under the bunk, undressed, slipped under the covers and went to sleep. I awoke early the next morning and headed straight for the showers. When my ablutions were completed I returned to my bunk, donned my uniform and prepared to depart for the city for that aforementioned rest, relaxation and recuperation, activities that were considerably more available than in Korea or on the air base.

And then fate crossed me up—I took a cursory glance at the sleeping figure on the top bunk and recognized him immediately. His name was Ord Dunham, a friend I made in basic training, and we completed technical training together at Chanute Air Force Base, Illinois. We both shipped out of San Francisco on the same Army troop ship early in 1950, a few months before the Korean War began and I hadn’t seen him since that time.

I waited around for awhile for him to awaken, and passed the time by reading a comic book that was lying at the foot of bunk—well, at least I was looking at the pictures. I believe it was titled “Wings” or something similar, and its cover featured a beautiful girl drifting to earth under a parachute, one of the older type chutes, one of those with the straps between the legs of the parachutist—I will neither bore nor arouse my viewers by describing the girl’s dress or the lack thereof—suffice it to say that the cover was interesting, memorable and to a certain extent, stimulating. I sincerely hope that she made a safe landing.

I grew tired of waiting, knowing that the waiting was cutting into my time for rest, relaxation and recuperation, so I rolled up the comic book and smartly tapped Ord’s nose with it. His eyes snapped open, he raised up and glared at me, and I said, “Hey, boy, aren’t you a long way from home? He said, “Yeah, I guess I am, so what about it?” As he spoke I was treated to a good look at his front teeth, probably because he was smiling—well, actually he wasn’t smiling—it was more like he was snarling. The Ord Dunham I knew had one gold upper front tooth—the man I swatted across the face with a comic book did not have a gold tooth.

I said, in a very low and probably trembling voice, “You’re not Ord Dunham, are you?’ He replied, “No, I’m not, and that’s a hell of a way to wake a man up in the morning!” I did what any sane, intelligent and reasonable person would do and should do in such a situation—I said, “I made a mistake, and I’m sorry, really sorry, please forgive me,” and I grabbed my ditty bag and tried to restrain my feet to a casual walk towards the exit door. To others I would probably seem to be skipping, or perhaps speed walking.

I survived my faux pas and extended my three-day pass from three to seven days—why and how that was possible, and why I was never given a second three-day pass while in Korea is explained in an earlier posting—click here for the pertinent detailsI can say truthfully and modestly say that the posting is worth a visit.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

PeeEss:

To Ord Dunham, the Ord with the gold tooth: If you should happen to read this, please know that I forgive you for having a remarkable look-alike, one that almost got me in a heap of trouble!

And to Ord Dunham, the Ord with no gold tooth, the Ord on the top bunk: If you should happen to read this and remember the incident, please know that I appreciate the fact that you kept your temper in check that day—thanks—I needed that!

 
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Posted by on July 10, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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Paint a Picture, Mississippi (via Jlmccoy86’s Blog)

Kudos to the author for the emotion expressed in Jlmccoy86’s Blog. It effectively captures and transmits the sights and sounds of Mississippi, an oft maligned state, one that in far too many categories lands at the bottom or near the bottom in a list of our fifty states. The love for Mississippi and the personal observations expressed in this posting add emotions and thoughts to those sights and sounds.

I was born in Alabama but I left there as soon as I could, and have claimed Mississippian status since the age of five, a period spanning more than seven decades. Many of my blog postings include references to Mississippi, including discussions of executions, drive-in theaters, drive-up restaurants, gravel pits and orphan homes, Mississippi’s Army National Guard, elementary schools and high schools, squirrel nests, honey bees and summer vacations, ad infinitum.

Click here—https://thekingoftexas.wordpress.com/ to travel from Alabama to Mississippi and from there to various other states and foreign countries including Viet Nam, South Africa, Germany, Mexico, Canada and England—when you get there tell ’em the King of Texas sent you!

This is a preview of Paint a Picture, Mississippi:

When you first think of Mississippi, what comes to mind? Could it be the idea of racist rednecks or cotton?  Do you think about the poverty rate or how Mississippi is the most obese state in the Union? Maybe you are thinking that this state has nothing and is just but a big wasteland. But Mississippi is not this big wasteland that everyone believes she is. She is unique. What makes Mississippi what she is is not in the big high rise building … Read More

via Jlmccoy86’s Blog

 
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Posted by on June 24, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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MS National Guard, Dixie Division, Korean War . . .

In the early days of 1949 I joined the Mississippi Army National Guard, not for any urge to serve my state or my country, but simply because the Guard promised to pay me ten dollars each month if I would attend training for one 8-hour day each month. I was a tenth-grade high school dropout and was at loose ends, with no parental supervision and nothing to do except shoot pool and scheme on ways of coming into some cash—any amount of cash, with very little regard as to how it could be gained. That ten dollars was a pittance, of course, but with pool games just ten cents a rack, it meant that I could lose a hundred games and pay for the racks—ten dollars traveled a lot farther in those days.

This will be a brief posting, just long enough to cover the three items in the above title. I just covered the MS National Guard part, so on to the Dixie Division and the Korean War. As for the Korean War, I have several postings relating to my unwilling participation in that fracas. Google the war and you’ll find me somewhere in the wealth of information available.

As for the Dixie Division, that organization has a long and illustrious history, with ream after ream of information available online. My connection with it is somewhat nebulous—I was involved with it only on a could have been, and probably would have been basis. The division was activated during the Korean War and segments of it were shipped off to Korea at the height of the war.

Those segments incurred tremendous losses in battle. I vividly remember reading an article in the Pacific Stars and Stripes, an article in which one of our generals in Korea made the following statement concerning the Dixie Division in reference to their casualties:

They arrived in Korea expecting to ride into battle on pneumatic tires.

That sounds rather callous, but it’s true. Had I not joined the Air Force before the war, and had I stayed in the Mississippi Army National Guard, the odds are very high that I would have arrived in Korea as a foot soldier, and you may be assured that my expectations would have included riding into battle on pneumatic tires. That’s how it was in training—we never marched—and that’s how it should have been in battles.

The odds are also very high that had I gone to Korea with the Dixie Division, the name of my mother’s youngest son—mine—would be etched on the wall of the Korean War monument on the Washington mall, just one of more than 40,000 Americans that died in an unnecessary and futile war, a war officially considered a truce but one that I consider a war lost. It could have been won, just as honorably and just as conclusively as World War II was won.

That’s my opinion—what’s yours?

I said this would be a brief posting—remember?

 
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Posted by on April 30, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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Underage enlistment and other stuff . . .

Underage enlistment

My initial enlistment in the United States Air Force required perjury on the part of three people. The recruiting sergeant, my mother and I all lied about my age. I lacked six months and 12 days before my seventeenth birthday, the mandatory minimum age for enlistment with parental or guardian permission. The recruiting sergeant used ink eradicator on a certified copy of my birth certificate to change my year of birth and my mother perjured herself by signing the required parental consent form, and I was off on a great adventure—all 16 years, 110 pounds and 66 and three-fourths inches of me.

Speaking of height—I was unable to comply with the very first order given by an Air Force officer. Several of us, all new enlistees, were ushered into a room furnished with one desk, one chair and two flags—the U.S. flag and the official U.S. Air Force flag. The NCO that took us to the room told us the captain would be there in a few minutes to administer the oath of enlistment. A bit later the captain came in, said good morning, looked at his watch and said, Stand tall, men. I’ll be right back. I lacked one-fourth of an inch being five feet, seven inches tall, and I was dwarfed by the NBA wanna-bees with whom I was to share the oath of enlistment. Need I say more?

For those that have never had the pleasure of being sworn into the United States Air Force, here is the complete text of the oath I took:

US AIR FORCE OATH OF ENLISTMENT

I, (state your name), swear to sign away 4 years of my life to the UNITED STATES AIR FORCE because I know I couldn’t hack it in the Army, because the Marines frighten me, and because I am afraid of water over waist-deep. I swear to sit behind a desk. I also swear not to do any form of real exercise, but promise to defend our bike-riding test as a valid form of exercise. I promise to walk around calling everyone by their first name because I find it amusing to annoy the other services. I will have a better quality of life than those around me and will, at all times, be sure to make them aware of that fact. After completion of Basic Training I will be a lean, mean, donut-eating, Lazy-Boy sitting, civilian-wearing-blue-clothes, a Chair-borne Ranger. I will believe I am superior to all others and will make an effort to clean the knife before stabbing the next person in the back. I will annoy those around me, and will go home early every day. So Help Me God!

Hey, I’m just kidding! That oath came from the internet—you can check it and other hilarious pseudo military service oaths out here. That site is well worth a visit—trust me, you’ll like it!

The real oath of enlistment, the one that is administered by all services except the National Guard follows—this oath differs from the National Guard only because it includes the name of the state of enlistment. Click here for a history of the real oath of enlistment.

In the Armed Forces EXCEPT the National Guard (Army or Air)

I, (NAME), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.

The months and days between enlistment and the attainment of the required age of 17 were considered minority time, and had the law governing minority time in service not been changed, it would not have been counted in determining the time required for retirement from the military. The law was changed, I believe, in the 1950s through congressional action—my minority time was counted in my total service for retirement purposes.

Re: Minority time:

A funny thing happened to me on the way to retirement from the U.S. Air Force. About a month after I began basic training, our training NCO told one of the trainees to break formation following breakfast and report to the commanding officer. He then took a long look at me and said, You might as well go with himyou’re not seventeen either.

The two of us were ushered into the commander’s office and told to be seated. In addition to the commander, a military chaplain was present. The chaplain told my fellow trainee that his mother had contacted him, saying that her son was underage and she missed him and wanted him back home with her. Following that information, the commander told the trainee that it was his choice—he could be released from his oath of enlistment and be separated from the Air Force immediately without prejudice, or if he chose, he could continue his training and his enlistment.

When my fellow trainee elected to remain in service against his mother’s wishes, the commander told me that nobody believed that I was 17 years old, but that he would give me  the same option. I could continue my training, or I could choose to be released from the military without prejudice. He didn’t bother to ask me if I was underage, and I didn’t admit that I was—he probably figured I would lie if he asked me. I guess the commander and I were well ahead of the curve on the don’t ask, don’t tell option—mind you, this pertained to age only.

And the rest is history—I elected to remain in service. I managed to successfully complete basic training and I continued to reenlist over a period of 22 years plus before retiring. My retirement was based purely on years completed—no percentage for disability—no lower back pain, no loss of hearing, no bad feet, 20-20 eyesight, good teeth, etc.

I mention the absence of disabilities because some retirees feign medical problems in an effort to retire with a disability percentage—yes, Virginia, it’s true, some do—it’s only a few perhaps, but still some do try to fake it. Any percentage of disability will reduce taxes on their retirement pay and give them a leg up for employment in federal service—a disability of just five percent qualifies one for employment preferences and a reduction in federal taxes—a slight reduction, perhaps, but still a reduction. In many cases the full amount of retired pay is exempted from federal tax.

A bit of advice for future retirees—only the claim of lower back pain has even a slight chance to fool the medics. If one holds one’s ground, a disability may be given, probably the minimum five percent. Don’t even consider trying to fool the machines used to determine loss of hearing—it can’t be done. I’m not speaking from personal experience—had I known the ins and outs of faking medical problems I may have made the attempt, but I learned all this only after I completed my retirement physical. The doctor told me that my case was unusual—I took that as a compliment.

That’s it—that’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

Pee Ess: I subsequently retired from a second career as a United States federal law enforcement officer after 26 years of spotless service, and still with no disability percentage, not even five percent—damn it!

 
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Posted by on April 25, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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Why I joined the U.S. Air Force . . .

The immediate reason I joined the U.S. Air Force rather than the Army was because the U.S. Army recruiting office in my town had reached its quota for March, 1949. The Army recruiting sergeant said his quota was filled for the month, so he offered me a position in the Air Force—yes, Virginia, the armed forces had fixed quotas in those days.

There were openings in the U.S. Navy for March, but that service held no attractions for me. I’m not a strong swimmer, and I also feared that the Navy’s uniform whites with the thirteen trouser buttons might be a bit unwieldy. I know, I know—I can swim far better than I can fly, but I joined the Air Force anyway—I liked the khaki uniforms and the Air Force was immediately available. Added to that was the fact that I needed to get out of town quickly.

The events leading up to my enlistment in the active duty military were numerous and varied. Some of those events were pleasant, but others were harrowing. I was enlisted in the Mississippi National Guard at the time, purely in order to get the $10 per month I was paid for training on one Saturday of each month—big money! I lied about my age in order to join—either the Guard recruiter believed me or really didn’t care whether I was old enough to join. I also lied about my age in order to join the Air Force—click here for a brief autobiographical dissertation that includes my underage enlistment. It’s a long read but I can unblushingly assure you, with no hint of personal bias or prejudice, that the read is worth your time and effort.

Now on to the real reason I joined the U.S. Air Force:

Picture this: A billiard hall on the second floor of a building that also housed a market, located a five-minute walk from the city’s combination high school and junior high school. The pool room was a favorite with young men and boys, particularly at noon during school hours, in the evenings (it closed at six pm), and on Saturdays. The proprietor served no alcoholic beverages and had strict rules for conduct in his establishment. Our local police officers came in occasionally for a free Coke and hot dog, and military recruiters made frequent visits to the pool room to discuss the benefits of military enlistments. Many students, including my mother’s youngest son, spend their lunch hour there every day during school terms—shooting pool, eating hot dogs and drinking cokes.

Special notes: A hot dog with all the trimmings cost a whopping ten cents, and the Mae West-shaped Coke was five cents, with no sales tax involved. Pool games cost ten cents each, paid by the players before the balls were racked by a rack boy. Most games were Eight Ball, played between two players and the loser paid for the rack before the next game began. One only needed to approach a table with two shooters and say, “I’ll play the winner.”

And so it was—the loser paid for the new rack, and the next shooter took on the winner. That process was normally honored, and if any shooter balked at giving up the table, the proprietor was called into action to arbitrate—the loser always lost in the arbitration. At least in theory, a proficient shooter could hold sway over a table for the full hour and never have to pay for a game.

I was a proficient shooter. On many school days I arrived at the poolroom with twenty-five cents, no more and no less. I bought a coke and a hot dog with fifteen cents and pocketed the other dime in the somewhat unlikely chance that I lost a game—it happened, of course, but not very often. If I still had the dime when it was time to return to school, I picked up a second hot dog and coke and finished them off on the way back to school. Ah, those were the days!

My encounter with the Army recruiter took place as I was shooting pool with two friends—the three of us were high-school dropouts, and the recruiter painted such a rosy picture of life in the Army that two of us accepted his invitation to appear at his office the following Monday for testing.

The third person at the pool table was physically unfit for military service—while sound in mind and body in most respects, his back was severely hunched, or humped—I’m unsure of the proper term to use. His deformity was so severe that he resembled a fiddler crab in his forward progress—he wore a sports jacket year-round, regardless of the weather. Before feeling too much pity, one needs to know that he was very much favored by the girls—we were never told what made him so attractive but we had our suspicions, and it sure wasn’t his intellect, his good looks or his conversational charm!

With all necessary apologies to our soldiers, both active duty and veterans, whether discharged or retired, I must state that the U.S. Army’s written test was ridiculously easy for me, but my friend made such a low score that the recruiting sergeant suggested that he not bother asking for a retest—statistics showed that he would never be able to pass the test, no matter how many times he tried. I have long harbored a suspicion that he deliberately failed the exam, but at this late date it is a matter of no importance—at that time he was out and I was in, and that’s all that counted.

Aside from the fact that I was at loose ends, bobbing about on a sea of endless days and nights with no particular feelings or expectations concerning the future, I admit that I was involved in some activities that did not bode well for my future. I passed the written exam and the physical, and I accepted the Army recruiter’s offer of allowing me to enlist in the Air Force rather than waiting for the following month to go into the U.S. Army. Mine was a wise choice, and I have never looked back—well, perhaps a few times during my 15 months in Korea at the height of the Korean War. In my looking back, I am thankful that I did not enlist in the army—had I waited another month I would probably have been in Korea anyway, but fighting on the front lines instead of maintaining aircraft in the rear echelon of troops in country.

I managed to hang on to my sanity through 13 weeks of basic training—click here for some thoughts on that period. Following graduation from basic training, I was treated to a two-week excursion on a U.S. Army troop ship bound for Japan, all expenses paid. I was fine until the third day out, but on that day I was so seasick I seriously considered jumping ship, right in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. However, being fully aware of my swimming capabilities and the lack thereof, I turned myself inside out over a 24-hour period and survived my bout with seasickness—a monumental turnaround, especially considering the quality of food served by the Army cooks.

 

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13 weeks of basic training . . .

This is the first of what may be many postings concerning my 13 weeks of basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. The training was a lifetime crowded into a mere ninety-one days. A related posting covering my enlistment and arrival in San Antonio can be seen here. That posting also has some interesting insights on Boy Scouts, rattlesnakes, John Wayne, Mississippi’s National Guard, tortoises, snipes and bacon and eggs and wieners and various other unrelated items—trust me, a visit is well worth your time!

And now on to the first day of my 13 weeks of basic training:

I entered the United States Air Force’s basic training course on March 7, 1949 exactly 61 years, one month and 29 days ago as of this date. I was there for 13 weeks, and to this day the sights and sounds and smells and events, whether positive or negative—and there were plenty of both—of that 13 weeks are just as strong as they were then, more than 61 years later. I can successfully recreate in my mind—and as one will see, in print—the tiniest happenings and recall of the faces and many of the names of most of the people involved—fellow trainees, training instructors, commanding officers, chaplains, cooks and Red Cross representatives. I can vividly recall my first day at Lackland Air Force Base here in San Antonio, Texas, a day of whirlwind events involved in the requirements of first-day processing.

We started by stripping to the buff—off with shirts, pants, shoes, socks, undershirts and shorts. Our clothing and shoes were picked up and placed in a container labeled with our names. We were told they would be held and returned to us at the conclusion of basic training—unless we indicated that we did not want them back, and in that case we were told they would be donated to various charities. I cheerfully abandoned my T-shirt, shorts, jeans, socks and scuffed sneakers. They were called tennis shoes back in those days, even though nobody played tennis, at least not in my level of society—come to think of it, nobody plays tennis in my current level of society either—not much change there.

In return for giving up our garments and our modesty, we were issued a Towel, bath, olive drab, 1, an item that we dutifully wrapped around our waists—unrolled, of course, to provide a modicum of cover both front and rear. There were several people that had to hang on to both ends of their towel at all times—their ample waistlines prohibited knotting the corners together at one side or the other to provide cover.

From there we submitted to the official ministrations of barbers, gentlemen that were proficient in rendering one unrecognizable to one’s mother or any other person, with just a few strokes of an electric clipper. The barber shop was a large room with multiple barber chairs, each with a long wooden bench directly in line with each barber’s chair. We straddled the benches and hitched our way from the rear to the front as the work progressed, and then from the front position to the chair. The hitching along generated lots of jokes, most obscene but all funny, many involving splinters and sitting too close to the man ahead, or for lagging behind (so to speak) and not putting enough distance between one’s self and the man directly behind (again so to speak).

When the barbers finished with us, not a hair was left standing—one could see where the hair had been but could only speculate as to the nature of the departed coiffures. For many of the trainees, ears that had been invisible—including mine– were now quite prominent. We were directed from there to the shower room, a huge area with multiple shower heads on both sides, closely spaced, and once there we doffed our towels and showered. Here, as in the barber shop, there were many jokes, most off color but most were funny depending, of course, on whether one was the butt of one or more jokes—and I’ll have no more to say on that subject!

After showering, we girded our loins with our towels, now quite wet, and joined a line to pick up military clothing—olive drab undershirts, olive drab shorts, olive drab one-piece fatigues, an olive drab fatigue cap, kakii shirts and trousers, collar brass, an olive drab web belt and brass buckle, hat brass and a garrison hat, a stiff-brimmed hat that was issued in two pieces—the hat cover was separate but was not available. We wore the hats to our quarters with no covers, nothing to protect our bald pates from the merciless summer sun of South Texas. Our issue of clothing included four sheets and two pillowcases, one pair of brown low-quarter (dress) shoes and two pairs of  brown brogans (work shoes), a laundry bag and and a duffel bag—both olive drab—carriers in which we stuffed our newly acquired wardrobe.

Yep, I joined the Brown Shoe Air Force—black shoes and blue uniforms came in 1951—I was in Japan when the first GIs arrived with the blue winter uniforms and the blue accessories for the summer kakis. When any of the Japanese girls asked why the others wore blue, we told them that the blue uniforms identified men that were afflicted with a social disease, men that  should be avoided at all costs. It worked for a little while, but it was too good to last.

As an aside, I must state that I was the only trainee that was issued white T-shirts instead of the olive-drab wife-beater undershirts. The smallest size available  was too large for me, so I was given a supply of T-shirt, white, round neck, 7. At first I felt special because I had always worn T-shirts, but as basic training progressed I would come to hate those T-shirts—more details on that later.

We marched several blocks to our barracks, a two-story edifice built before World War II began, constructed of wood with asbestos siding and standard roofing. Our home for the next 13 weeks was identical to all the others in that area, differing only in the building numbers—ours was numbered 4029, just one of many in Lackland’s 3724th Basic Military Training Squadron (BMTS). I said we marched, but it wasn’t much of a march—our combined movements were simply pitiful attempts to keep in step to the cadence voiced by our training instructor (our TI).

We entered the barracks, picked out a spot on the lower floor of the building, put down our bags and sat on them while our TI briefed us on things to come in the next 13 weeks. His first words on entering the building, after taking a long look at the group, a prolonged look at each man, some of the looks prolonged to the point of nervousness on the individual’s part. After staring at each trainee, his gaze returned to me, and he held that gaze while he said “Well, you look like a pretty good group—with a few exceptions.”

As one might expect, I took that to mean that I would find some obstacles in the road ahead—and I did. However, although I took some pretty hard hits none stopped me—I encountered rocks frequently in the 13 weeks, but one by one I conquered them by ignoring them, climbing over them or going around them. I graduated successfully in spite of being one of a few exceptions. At the end of the 13 weeks I proudly sewed on the single stripes of a Private First Class in the world’s greatest air force, a promotion after only 13 weeks in service! I accepted my pay raise of $2.50 a month, making my total compensation a whopping $75 per month and left for home, with a ten-day delay authorized while en route to technical training at Chanute Air Force Base at Rantoul, Illinois.

Hey, don’t laugh about my salary! My food, lodging, clothing, cleaning, laundry, medical care and dental care were all free, and all I had to do was follow orders and say sir to everybody with more than one stripe. I was just 16 years old and I had the world by the tail with a downhill pull—a veritable bird’s nest on the ground. And I was no longer under the watchful eye of a certain Salvation Army captain, the duly empowered truant officer in my small Mississippi town. I was free at last, and all I had to do was  go to places such as Japan and Korea and Germany and Vietnam whenever I was told to go—I figured that was not too bad a deal, except when wars were being fought in such places. Since none were being fought at the time, I felt little concern about future wars—perhaps I should have, but I didn’t.

I’ll get back to you later with more details.

 
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Posted by on April 6, 2010 in Humor, Military, Travel, wartime, Writing

 

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Snipe hunting—a tale retold . . .

From wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snipe_hunt

A snipe hunt, a form of wild-goose chase that is also known as a fool’s errand, is a type of practical joke that involves experienced people making fun of credulous newcomers by giving them an impossible or imaginary task. The origin of the term is a practical joke where inexperienced campers are told about a bird or animal called the snipe as well as a usually preposterous method of catching it, such as running around the woods carrying a bag or making strange noises. Incidentally, the snipe  (a family of shorebirds) is difficult to catch for experienced hunters, so much so that the word “sniper” is derived from it to refer to anyone skilled enough to shoot one.

In the most popular version of the snipe hunt, especially in the American South, a newcomer is taken deep into the woods late at night and told to make a clucking noise while holding a large sack. The others, who are in on the joke, say that they will sneak away and then walk back towards the newcomer, thereby driving snipes towards the bag holder. The frightened snipes, they say, will be attracted to the clucking noise and be easily caught in the bag. The newcomer is then simply left in the dark forest, holding the bag, to eventually realize his gullibility and find his way home or back to camp.

What follows is my posting dated June 21, 2009. Click here to read the original.

Age 13—banished from Boy Scouts of America . . .

Long, long ago in another century, having completed 16 years of life and in my seventeenth year, I told a little white lie concerning my age and enlisted in the Army National Guard of the sovereign state of Mississippi. My reason for enlisting was purely selfish—members reported for training one day each month on a Saturday. We dressed in one-piece fatigues, combat boots and fatigue cap, all of which (except for the cap) were far too big for me, and were paid $10 each for our attendance and efforts.

Big money.

My enlistment lasted for one month and 23 days, and then I resigned so I could enlist in the United States Air Force. I told a big non-white lie about my age, a lie which was duly sworn to by me, my mother and the recruiting sergeant (I was still six months short of 17, the age at which enlistment was permitted with parental consent).

A whole set of circumstances prompted that enlistment, not the least of which was the starting salary—$72.50 per month, with a guarantee of promotion from Private to Private First-class after only 13 weeks of training, providing, of course, that  I successfully completed the training. That promotion would include a pay raise of $2.50 per month for a grand total of $75 per month.

Don’t laugh—housing, food, clothing and the opportunity to see the world (after learning a trade) would all be  free.

Sweet!

But I digress—back to my truncated tour of duty in the Boy Scouts of America:

Just three years before I became a member of America’s fighting forces at age 16, I became a member of the Boy Scouts of America at age 13 in a small town (pop. 2,500) in Mississippi. I was the new kid on the block, and the Scoutmaster of the local Boy Scout troop invited me to join his group. Lured by the promise of adventure, companionship, and the opportunity to learn all sorts of useful crafts and how to survive in the wilderness, I unhesitatingly signed up.

My membership in the state’s Boy Scouts of America chapter lasted even less time than my membership in the state’s National Guard—I was a Boy Scout for one month—just one month, and I was given the boot, ejected with malice and aforethought. Had the Boy Scouts of America been giving dishonorable discharges, I would have received one.

In two short weeks after I joined the Boy Scouts of America, my fascination with that organization had soured, and I was not one to keep discontent bottled up inside. When things went awry in my life, I complained. One shining example of my treatment in the troop, and of my penchant to complain, was a boxing event scheduled by the Scoutmaster, an exercise ostensibly intended to teach us self-defense and proper sportsmanship.

The Scoutmaster divided the troop into pairs, and coupled me with a boy roughly twice my big—older, taller and heavier than I. After my opponent landed several hard blows in the first round (I landed none), I stepped out of the ring. Actually, I stepped across the ring’s perimeter—it was a square marked by a chalk line drawn on the floor. Once safely outside the ring and out of my opponent’s reach, I stated forcefully and emphatically that I was quitting (the fight, not the troop). When I made known my reluctance to continue the fight and my decision to concede, I included some improper language concerning the event. That language was in reference to my opponent and to the obvious lack of fairness in the selection of sparring partners, and was applied forcefully and impartially to my opponent and the Scoutmaster.

The improper language was properly addressed by the Scoutmaster. He admonished me on my behavior, my language and my obvious lack of sportsmanship, and told me that my tenure in the troop depended on my future performance. His lecture was delivered forcefully and loudly in full sight and sound of my erstwhile opponent and the rest of the troop.

Bummer.

Two weeks later the troop went on a 12-mile hike (six miles out, six miles back) to a nature area for an overnight stay. We started our trek early on Saturday morning and reached our destination several hours later, with stops along the way so the Scoutmaster could lecture us on local flora and fauna.For much of the trek we traveled at the Boy Scout pace—10 steps running, then 10 steps walking, 10 steps running, then 10 steps walking, etc.

We arrived at the nature area and established our camp near a small lake, where we  were scheduled for a morning swim the next day before setting out on our return hike to civilization. The rest of the day was devoted to hikes along well-established trails, with the Scoutmaster pointing out items of interest—with explanations such as these:

“This is a pine tree, and these are pine cones.”

“This is an oak tree, and these are acorns.”

“This is a turtle.”

The turtle comment was prompted when one of the Scouts spotted a species of reptile idling along near the trail. I knew it was a land-based tortoise, but being fully aware that I was in enough trouble already, I wisely kept that knowledge to myself.

Near nightfall while returning to our camp, we encountered a remarkably lethargic full-grown Eastern Diamondback rattlesnake lying in the trail. It was a creature of heroic proportions—our Scoutmaster properly identified the snake thusly: “This is a rattlesnake, and its bite is deadly poisonous.” He explained that since snakes are nocturnal and hunt for food at night, this one was probably still digesting his catch of the night before.

He then efficiently and effectively killed the snake, consigned it to the bushes beside the trail so later passersby would not be alarmed by the sight of a dead rattlesnake lying in the trail—a very thoughtful and solicitous person, our Scoutmaster.

At the time my sympathies were with the rattlesnake, but considering an event that transpired later that night I came to appreciate and even admire—nay, I came to bless—the Scoutmaster for his actions.

Read on:

For our evening meal we had an open fire over which we burned, and feasted on, wieners and marshmallows. At a late hour, near midnight, one of the older boys asked if any of us wanted to go snipe hunting. I innocently declared that I had never heard of snipe hunting—as a result of my innocence, I was selected to straddle a ditch in the woods and hold open a burlap bag, and the other boys would spread out and drive any snipe in the area in my direction. I was told that the snipe would be moving very fast, and that I would feel them when they hit the inside of the bag. When I felt them hit, I was to close the bag and return to camp with my catch.

I straddled the ditch, held the bag open and listened to the others shouting and shaking limbs to get the snipe moving in my direction. I held my position and the bag firmly as the noises  faded into the distance and for several hours after that. I held my position and that damn bag into the wee small hours of the morning, until I finally realized, and accepted, the fact that I had been had, thoroughly and severely.

And during all that time I kept my head on a swivel with my eyes and ears wide open, looking and listening for rattlesnakes, deadly poisonous creatures that search for food during the hours of darkness, knowledge that I had gleaned—and retained—from the Scoutmaster’s lecture a few hours earlier. Blessed, or perhaps cursed, with deductive powers, I deduced that their food could possibly include a Boy Scout, especially one of diminutive size.

When I returned to camp all the others were asleep.

I awoke the next morning to an empty camp and footprints all over my opened backpack, a container that had sheltered my breakfast, a meal that should have included bread, bacon and fresh eggs—and would have except for the fact that the eggs were smashed and the bacon and bread slices were in the dirt. I could faintly hear the shouts and laughter of my fellow scouts—my friends—down at the lake, enjoying a morning swim after a hearty breakfast, one which I slept through because of my late return to camp.

Please be patient—I’m almost to the end of this tragic tale.

I arose, dressed, tinkled into the smoldering campfire ashes (I felt that as a Boy Scout, it was my solemn duty to do my best to prevent forest fires) and started a search for the dead rattlesnake. I found it, took it by the tail and dragged it, unseen behind me, down to the water’s edge near the dock. All my fellow scouts—my friends—were in the water and none paid any attention to me as I walked down the slope.

When I got to the water’s edge I began whirling the dead snake around over my head, and when I had it moving fast I shouted, “Snake!” and loosed the rattler toward the largest group of Boy Scouts in the water. The snake scored a direct hit, a splash-down right in the middle of the group. The boys scattered in all directions, some swimming for the dock, some for the bank, and some for open water—one boy put his head down and frantically thrashed toward the dock, sporting a rooster tail as he swam. He neglected to raise his head to take his bearings and crashed into the dock, opening a nice gash in his scalp as a result of his negligence.

When we left the nature area the Scoutmaster would not allow me to march with the troop for the return trip—I was banished to the rear of the formation and ordered to “stay there and eat dust.” That was no problem for me—I hated that routine of running ten steps, then walking ten steps, etc., etc. The troop stuck to the routine and trotted out of my sight long before we reached town.

On our return to town I was drummed out of the Boy Scouts unceremoniously, without being accorded the entertaining formalities used by old-time military commanders and depicted in Hollywood western movies.

Picture this:

John Wayne standing stiffly at attention with his commanding officer ripping off epaulets, stripes, shoulder patches, sleeve patches showing years of service and service overseas, and the chest-full of medals and decorations Wayne had earned by fighting the deadly redskins, all witnessed by the entire company, and then his hip-twitching slow walk out of the fort as the massive gates were swung open for his exit, away from the fort, the U. S. Army and his long-time fighting companions and into whatever the future might hold in store for him, all accompanied by the sonorously sad beat of the drum.

No, I had not earned the privilege of being officially drummed out of the Service—I was simply told, “You’re out. Don’t come back.”

No explanation was necessary—I knew very well why I was no longer a Boy Scout. In retrospect, I rationalized that I never really wanted to be a Boy Scout anyway—after all, I was invited to join in the beginning, and I succumbed to pressure exerted by the Scoutmaster and a few of my peers.

I was innocent—the fault was theirs.

That’s it—my enlistment in the Boy Scouts lasted only one month, three weeks short of my stint in the Mississippi National Guard. I earned no merit badges, not one, didn’t even come close to earning one. I earned no diplomas, received no recognition (other than the Scoutmaster’s acknowledgment of my nefarious activities). I never had an opportunity to assist a little old lady across the street or splint a bird’s broken wing or start a fire by rubbing two sticks together, and I never had a prayer of attaining the rank of Eagle Scout.

Joke:

Wanna know how to start a fire in the wilderness?

Rub two Boy Scouts together.

Sorry about that and I apologize, but it’s out of my control. I can’t help it—it’s in my nature.

 
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Posted by on March 29, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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