Learning about leadership
I ended up, due to the fact that I was sent directly to Fort Devens to wait for my clearance rather than having to go to basic first while the background check started, in the casual company for a long time, and I learned a lot there.
Kennedy got shot while I was at Fort Devens and I was from Dallas. So much for off-post activities. If that sounds a little self-centered, I would like to point out that I had nothing whatever to do with Kennedy getting shot, though I am from Dallas. In fact, I regretted it. I have known several people more intimately though, who also lost their lives tragically, and, to be honest, I think of them more often.
How I got to be a Platoon Sergeant
Since I was a SP4, I didn't have to pull any awful details (I'd already had my chance), so, at first, I was appointed A&R NCO. Great job, checking out basketballs during the day, and initialing the papers of everyone who had to clear post. I worked 2 hours a day. There were several complaints about my work hours, and so, to punish me, I was assigned Platoon Sergeant of the 6th Platoon, which was the fuck-up platoon. I was taken out of my cozy room and bunked in with a fellow (if I recall the correct spelling of his name), Ron Bergerson, who was a great contract bridge player and a damnably passable poker player. We used to go (sometimes) with the Thibault (sp?) brothers who, like Bergerson were, as I recall, from Arkansas, and play duplicate bridge at Harvard and MIT and we (whichever partnership did not have me in it) would generally take all the master points. Those guys sure did like playing the hick and taking advantage of the prejudices against them.
What GI Parties teach about Human Nature
They had a neat system at Fort Devens then. On Tuesday - Friday the CO (or his rep) inspected the platoon bay and rated it, including what common area (hallway or latrine) the platoon was assigned, as well as, I would like to point out, the Platoon Sergeants' room. Then, at the end of the week, the platoon with the best accumulated rating got a three day pass; the platoon with the second best rating got a week-end pass; third best got an overnight pass on Friday and Saturday; on down to the platoon which came in last, and, therefore, got all the shit details like shoveling coal into the boilers, KP, CQ runner. In addition the platoon sergeant had to pull CQ all weekend. Each Monday evening, every platoon, by tradition, had a GI party to get ready for the weekly grind.
I was naive then, and believed in the brotherhood of man, and the idea that reasonable people would listen to reason. This insight had evidently been given to me, and me alone, since the Army did not generally do things in a reasonable fashion. Obviously they had not thought things through as carefully as I had.
So, that first Monday evening, when our platoon met for our GI party, I took these fine fellows into my confidence and explained the system to them, pointing out that, since we were in the service, anyway, it would be much, much better to have a three day pass on the weekend than stoke boilers. Assured in my own heart that this brilliant revelation would spur these fine young men to inspired action, I went to my room and cheerfully began readying it for inspection, waxing the floor, etc until you could stand up and see your face in it. After completing my task, and chucking with disapproval at Bergerson, who lacked my insight, and who, therefore, had spent all of his time yelling at the poor fellows in his platoon while I cleaned our room, I went to the latrine (our common area assigned that week) and began cleaning up, after all, I wanted to do my share. I was only a little taken aback when I found myself the only one cleaning, but I was sure people would soon arrive to help, as they finished with their tasks, and were, perhaps, spurred to greater action by my excellent example. After working for about an hour, with no help, I went to the bay and found but few members there, and little work being done, and, for the first time, doubts began to crack my facade of self-confidence, to erode my inspiration, to inspire portents of doom the next morning, when the old man came through for inspection.
No miracle occurred, so, right on time, as advertised, the next morning the old man came through, and since the platoon had gone out on their daily details, as was usual, I waited alone at the door to the platoon bay, spit shined, for him. He went through our barracks and pointed out dozens of problems, as he saw them. He inspected the latrine and pointed out dozens more problems, and lectured me on the effects of bad hygiene, which cause grim infectious diseases when large groups of people shared facilities. When he finally went through the room Bergeson and I shared, he was pleased (thanks Ron for all those things you showed me about how to prepare for inspections). The 6th platoon finished last that day, and I was distressed, seeing my weekend going down the tubes. That night at formation I informed the fellows what had happened, and suggested we could do better, and asked them all to pitch in and get things fixed up for the next day. Everyone, I think, went to the Little Club that night, and the next morning, the same Old Man, the same deal. I, by this time, was losing faith in my fellow man. Of course it's too late to make this story short, but, suffice to say, the week ended with Thursday and Friday's inspection results the same as Tuesday and Wednesday's, and, as a result the Sixth Platoon finished dead last.
I spent the weekend on CQ, stewing. By Monday I had seen the error of my ways, and, finally, understood the thinking of every martinet who had ever lived, every handkerchief-sniffing aristocrat who had caused a trooper to be flogged, every sneering Captain who had cut the grog ration. Despite my former inclinations, I determined to make myself over into all of them.
I announced to the platoon that Monday evening that we were having a GI party that night at formation, and told the married guys to forget seeing their wives for quite a while, they could clean the common area. I told them I was going to inspect the bay at 10 PM, and every soldier in the platoon, married and living off post, single and living in the bay. I screamed like a banshee from hell, I used every profanity I knew and could invent. I found deep within myself that it was good. At 10 we had an inspection and I had everyone in uniform, by their bunks, and I went through there tearing up beds, knocking over boots, etc etc. I busted some of the squad leaders, appointed new ones, and they cleaned the mess I had made with my tantrum.
The next morning when the old man came through and inspected us, ] he found fewer things wrong, and noted the improvement. Our platoon finished in the middle. That evening, at formation, while the other platoons went off on their merry evening's entertainment, we had a GI party, ditto ditto ditto. And, by Friday, we were, I'm proud to say, in 1st place, though not for the week. That was the last week we finished in any place other than first until I relinquished the platoon when I started my own classes, and I enjoyed a three day pass every weekend, as did the wonderful fellows in the platoon.
I still get dewy-eyed when I recall how they carefully took all the OD paint off the bolt heads on their bunks and brassoed them, then carefully lined them up so the eye riveted on them when passing from the door to the center aisle. This they did on their own initiative. Another time they brassoed down the garbage can--I never knew a zinc coating could shine like that, what a wonderful surprise when the old man saw it that morning.
Then there was the day they took all the tags for shoe repair we had purloined in case someone's boots or shoes needed hiding, and carefully typed all the information. I tell you, I was proud, proud, proud. This last act, of course, brought a funny look from the Old Man, but he never said anything it looked so good. Of course all the other platoon sergeants hated me, and all the other people in all the other platoons hated the 6th platoon. I think good old Bergerson really enjoyed beating the shit out of me at cards later on, much more than could be accounted for by normal competitiveness. But, as I explained to him, what was I to do? Stifle initiative? After all he could still go for second place, and the room we shared was a showplace.
Who cared what they thought anyway because the Old Man loved us, and the 1st Sergeant loved us, we got the three day pass every weekend, and all was right with the world, even though no girls in Boston would talk to me (I think it was because I'm from Dallas, others might have other opinions...). I can also tell you imitation is not the sincerest form of flattery. Envy, cold, green-eyed, back-stabbing, down and dirty, envy is.
What makes the Army the Army
In Radio Traffic Analyst School, a fellow named Jim Copley and I were number one and number two in the class during the whole course. The top two got to choose their assignment. Anyway, on the final, Copley and I both blew it (heh) and ended up three-four. The guys that had been three-four got cushy assignments in Taiwan and Europe, if I recall correctly. Copley and I went to Viet Nam.
The Honor Guard
I was platoon sergeant of the honor guard for a while, but that didn't work out for me, I eventually got relieved. It was mostly for fellows who were going to OCS, anyway, like Gene Bratton, and Dave Babich and Charlie (?) who you can ask about an evening with two ladies in a mobile home right there on post, but he won't say anything about it, he just stands behind his wife and frantically waves his arms and shakes his head. I met a few of them later, Charlie, by then a Captain, in Europe, under the circumstances described. And Dave Babich, a bright new 2nd lieutenant, just before I left Viet Nam, came in country straight from OCS. He called me up and I went out and met him at the Tan San Nhut airport terminal and had a cup of coffee with him and told him what little I knew of Viet Nam. He wasn't ASA then, if I recall correctly, they had given him a rifle platoon. Salute, Dave.
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