Stateside Service: Camp Upton

On December 22, with my weeping and family to see me off, my fellow draft board selectees and I boarded a Long Island RR train for the Camp Upton Induction Center located in Yaphank near the end of the Island. There we were given uniforms, shots, assigned to barracks and, of course, which became one of my favorite occupations, to KP (kitchen police) duty in a mess hall that fed thousands at a time. I can vividly remember on Christmas Eve singing "Silent Night" and "I'll Be Home for Christmas" into the two-way barrack speaker (I had a pretty good voice in those days) as we tried to entertain ourselves. I was homesick already but the excitement of it all overcame everything, not like future holidays away from home wondering if you would ever get there again. We got the usual processing including: issuance of uniforms (anything close to your size was a bonanza); films on "Why We Fight" and the horrors of venereal diseases; some rudimentary basic instruction in military courtesy (meaning how and when to salute officers); intelligence and aptitude tests (usually given when you were exhausted); injections; and what have you. Usually a new draftee was out of Camp Upton in a few days and off for basic training as part of preparation for a pre-determined branch (infantry, artillery, etc.) or a unit assignment. However, those of us freaks classified as "limited service" stayed almost two weeks while they collected a sufficient number for "branch immaterial" basic training. We were given an MOS (I think that stood for Military Occupation Status code) of basic/generalist. This implied that one could do low-level, routine and manual work and little more (this designation as a non-entity was to haunt me for the rest of my military days because someone was too lazy to change it and I didn't understand then the importance of career codes). Then, again in typical Army style, we were assigned for branch immaterial basis training clear across the country in California.

Stateside Service: Camp Roberts

We boarded the train in Camp Upton and were loaded aboard ancient passenger cars but any discomfort was allayed by the excitement and anticipation. For some of us, it was to be our first opportunity to see a wide swath of the United States and to begin the adventure that we envisioned awaiting us. For others, it meant being away from home, family and even wives for the first time so the excitement that was running through me was not necessarily universally shared, to say the least. There were many, older and mature businessmen, husbands, workers, etc., and perhaps even some unlucky fathers, who were not in any happy mood but bearing up nevertheless. I remember, as we chugged away west of Chicago, seeing the Utah desert, going along the Royal George, passing by Boulder and Pueblo, Colorado and the home of the (then unknown to me) 89th Infantry Division and on into northern California - beautiful country. We were headed for Camp Roberts, an artillery-training base located near the Pacific Coast midway between Santa Barbara and San Francisco near Lompoc and Paso Robles. If my memory is correct, we arrived in the middle of the night and were immediately given a short arm inspection (this refers to the process of requiring a soldier to expose himself and strip his penis while an officer watches to see if there is any secretion due to a venereal disease). This became a routine drill in the army, usually performed at the most inconvenient times and inhospitable places but then, boys will be boys, especially when pent up for weeks and months at a time. I had yet to experience this type of desperation.

Basic training was normally for three months but it was only two months for us misfits, and that's what most of us soon began to feel like. Essentially, it was a slightly truncated artillery basic course covering almost everything: i.e., learning the manual of arms; how to march and hike; salute; shoot a rifle, strip and care for it; use a bayonet and throw a hand grenade; roll a backpack; do guard duty; learn the Articles of War; and, above all, memorize your Army Serial Number (ASN) which was more important than your name (I can still remember it-32684995). All in all, to me it was fun; including one or two visits to town. [It should be noted that my Private's monthly salary of $50 was reduced by one-third when I selected a matching allotment for my mother. This severely limited my recreational activities while in the States.] One interesting note: At that time, there was very popular movie star named Van Heflin (can't remember his first name). He had taken ROTC in college and found himself at Camp Roberts with us as our platoon leader. He was very nice guy and you don't say that much about 2nd Louies. During our training his latest picture came out which was highly acclaimed. He played President Johnson who succeeded Lincoln after his assassination and was almost impeached by a hostile Congress. He had a special showing of it arranged at the base theater and took the whole Battery. It was strange watching him on screen as he sat just in front of me. After the show, we retired to the mess hall for a raucous beer party. I didn't yet drink/like beer.

While our basic training wasn't far from the normal training given, our make-up was. Under the sweep of "limited service' were guys with short arms, a mangled hand, a defective foot, poor eyesight and, I'm sure, tiny brainpower. Most were nice guys and capable of carrying out normal functions; others were frustrated, nasty and downright mean. Some of them were undoubtedly malingerers. At least, the Army thought so and as we neared the end of basic, new and complete physical exams were required for everybody to screen them out. At this moment I decided to try and take things into my own hands. I wanted to be a SOLDIER and in the fight! While waiting my turn, I memorized the eye chart. At the end of my physical, the examining medical officer commented on the remarkable improvement in my eyesight. I explained my desire to fight for my country and not be in an outfit with a bunch of misfits. He obviously admired my spirit as I was promptly reclassified 1-A.

Sunday Guard Duty

Finally, a real soldier

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