A Tribute to Senator John McCain R-AZ Prologue
My Introduction to Military Life
I was looking at Vietnam in my rear-view mirror. I had done my duty as painful as it was, at the time. I had served my country. My bride and I had served at Fort McClellan AL from 1971 to 1973. In military speak 1 year, 8 months, 24 days (which included basic training at Fort Leonard Wood Missouri). I must tell you a story from that experience.
As a Young Man I had Enjoyed Camping on Occasion - Fort Leonard Wood Missouri
After the order of the day was called it was time to embark on bivouac. I was not unduly stressed. I had enjoyed camping in my youth. I had matured in the last few weeks hadn't I? At twenty-one I was mature and in control. I was not an eighteen-year-old or nineteen-year-old like these other guys. Hmmm...
A Look in My Rear-view Mirror Today Reveals a Different 'Look' to the Army I knew
Except the food and water for meals, we loaded everything on our backs that we would need for the next day or however long. We were never told anything in boot camp. I imagine it was so that these green behind the ears inductees would not dream up some preconceived or incorrect expectations. Of course my thought at the time was that the Army thought we were just too dumb.
The march to the bivouac area somewhere on the vast expanse that was Fort Leonard MS, was brutal. It was the home of the Combat Engineers (the guys with the big trucks and things that went KA-BOOM!). It was Hot! It was Muggy! This was not the Minnesota I had left a short time ago. In March or April, whatever this month was, Northern Minnesota was still blanketed in snow. If it was April the March blizzards had passed and the sun had probably melted most of what was left. A dusting once in a while but just the snowbanks from the plows were left. They too were probably easy to step over. (I just realized as I wrote this year was 1971. My bride and I had gotten married on February 6th.). We would not have marched to the bivouac area. We would have been bused. What a relief. Now I have my memory straight. We were bused to the Firing Range for that day for live fire.
Past the Warm Ups. Now to the Good Stuff
The significant part of this tale is not that we sweated all day, ate Army rations (K rations not MREs - Meals Ready to Eat). The cookies and the tiny sausages (or wieners I guess) were pretty tasty by that time of the day. We are at the grueling part of this tale. The misery began as we put up the tent for the night. The Army, in its wisdom gave every man one-half of a tent. They called them shelter halves. Pretty good name for a piece of oiled pretty heavy cotton tarp. I know camping gear is not made that heavy any more. But this was more than forty years ago! Well, it was getting dark (not full blown darkness just yet) but not much good light to be staking out a tent. I was teamed up (we didn't call it teams back then either) with another young man from my same town. I had not known him until we got on the plane for my new future. It was adventuresome trip (a tale for another day). His name was Mark Russell. He was shorter than I and wore glasses too. I remember that he got one heck of a urinary tract infection. They gave him some kind of pill that made his pee run red. In basic!
Sorry! I Thought I Was at the Good Stuff.
We were getting our packs off (damn they were heavy). Just then it began, a real life Missouri deluge. In Northern Minnesota terms, we didn't get deluges but it did rain buckets. Mike and I were miserable. Why? Because in the dark and the wet and the hurry we mixed up the front and back of the shelter halves, We hooked my front to his back, or was it the other way around? Well in one of the buckets that came down we managed to put our sleeping bags, US Army issue mummy bags (goose down, with an enclosure that would covered your head so that only your nose popped out. A soldier would look like a mummy.) We struggled to rearrange our pup tent and gushed the water out of our boots. Wet boots, we pants, wet field jackets and a down sleeping bag. (Did I mention that the sleeping bags were down? When we pulled them out of the proverbial buckets they weighed not twenty pounds, not forty pounds. Who knows maybe ninety pounds. They were heavy. And wet down? Down slurped up any water that came even close to it. Sticks to every part of of your exposed skin. Stuck worse to wet pants. Clammy, wet sleeping bags.) We didn't even get into them. Somehow, we eventually quit wrestling and fell asleep. All I remember was MISERY.
Morning did come. We had hot meals - delivered. The mess hall cooked up something and trucked it out to us. That felt good. We dunked our trays in each of the three steaming barrels of hot water, soap, rinse and fluff rinse. We grabbed our last slurp of coffee and went for a smoke. In those days smoking was a necessity. It was a good thing a very good thing. At least if you had one minute on your hands. After the Drill Sergeant called "Light 'em up if ya got 'em and then hollered 'put 'em out, was about a minute. (I know they loved doing that.) The worst part of our expedition came next. 'Police your butts'. Now a company of not too smart inductees had not yet learned to smoke Camels or Pall Malls. No we smoked filtered cigarettes. We had to strip the remaining tobacco from the butt and put the butt in our pants until such time you could dump them in the trash (oh you take them out before you put them in the washing machine. Oh Ok thanks.) This was the modern Army after all. Half the building was showers, the other half latrines. The other half was washers and dryers. Only a few though can't spoil the troops.
But we are policing our butts. Some duffesses never learned to strip their butts. They kept throwing them on the ground just as in civilian life. And then were they never the ones to pick them up either. That was another good excuse for a blanket party.
Now the Fun Begins
Formation was called. Everybody grunted and groaned under the weight of the now soaking wet packs and shuffled into line. Hmmm...
The ground was different this morning. Not firm but squishy. The more it was walked on... MUD! Not MUD! But WORSE! Every step was excruciating! The mud sticking to the bottom of our boots until it was 6" thick! I then became intimately acquainted with something I rarely ran into back home. Not MUD! CLAY!! Our clay I was familiar with. Grab a pair of mud water boots and climb along the banks of the Mississippi. (Mississippi Mud was in a tune if I remember.) That river ran right thru the town and powered the paper mill. But this wasn't even THAT clay. This was Missouri! It was RED CLAY! (Are you getting the flavor of why we called Ft Leonard Wood 'Little Misery'? The clay weighed the boots down by at least 10 pounds each. The march, or slog back to the barracks took the better part of a day. I don't know if we were that far away but it sure seemed a very long march in miles. We made it back to the barracks. Our company was fortunate, We had Quonset huts rather than the fancy brick buildings (that too is another tale). After hours of slogging under the hot Missouri sun, in the horrible Missouri humidity we finally arrived! A NAP! You are kidding right? The first things first. DI's (Drill Instructors, I don't think they were all sergeants. Some by force of their very nature got busted down in rank a time or two or more).
Hose the mud off the boots, pants, packs. Crawl into the bunk. I was so exhausted I don't remember that night. Was that the night I fell asleep on fire watch? Don't ever, I mean never! do that. I do remember having to get my boots back in order before the next inspection. Sitting in a field on the few hours we had off a week, scrapping, and digging, wiping and digging. Then comes the polish. Hours of rubbing and rubbing and rubbing to get at least a semblance of shine back on them.
Well I am out of time. I will have to get to the most important part of this tale, The Tribute, next post.
Thanks for stopping by.
The Song 'Mississippi Mud' Even Bing Crosby had a version
© 2017 Craig Martineau