A soldier’s story


54 summers ago found me and 150 other new draftees standing on painted boot prints arranged in a company formation as a U.S. Army sergeant lectured us. “You all have enjoyed 18 to 22 years of a life insurance policy. You are paying the premium now You owe your country two years….two good years. We don’t care if it takes 2 years, 3 years, 5 years or 10 years to get the 2 good years, (bad time doesn’t count) we’ll get it.” We were ‘right faced’ and marched away to begin 9 weeks of basic training. Two weeks later a fellow from Pontiac was before our company. “A week ago this soldier got tired of our unit,” announced Captain Duke, our commander. “He went home. Two sergeants from the Criminal Investigation Division flew to Michigan to get him. He now owes the army for 2 round trip air fares (our pay was $90.60/mo.), his time away won’t count and he begins basic training again with a new unit. He was led away. Two weeks later Pvt Sherman, head hanging, stood beside Cpt Duke at formation. Exasperated, Cpt Duke began. “Most of us enjoy the beauty of flowers. The fragrance, the color, watching them develop and grow. They bring joy to our life. Then… some of us don’t, do they Pvt Sherman?” Sherman, on a lawn mowing detail had mowed all of the captain’s prized flower beds. He was led away. A week later I was on KP, Kitchen Patrol, working in the deserted dining hall. It was 9:00 PM, I was buffing the floor when Greenwald, outside, knocked on the window. He wanted a glass of juice. I got it for him, then asked what he was doing with a flashlight mowing the lawn, hadn’t he done that earlier in the daylight? He had, but what he had also done was mow the 4 letter universal obscenity into the lawn. Discovered, he was ordered to ‘erase’ it. Greenwald spent the next 5 evenings in SSgt Yeast’s low crawl pit. The morning of our final bivouac (campout) SSgt Yeast was about to brief us. Standing on the barrack’s porch the double entrance doors behind him suddenly burst open. It was Jones, late for formation. He got as far as the bottom step before Yeast barked, “Halt“. A Chinese bullet to the throat during the Korean War had rendered his voice a growl. “Low crawl“, Yeast commanded. Low crawl is like the swimming side stroke, only performed on the ground. One arm pulls you forward, your legs push you forward and your free hand holds the muzzle of your rifle from digging in the dirt. Our company howled with laughter as Jones began. Yeast shouted us to ‘attention’ and warned: “If one set of eyes move or anyone grins you’ll be the sorriest SOB’s ever”. Dead silence broken only by the scrape of Jone’s helmet on the sidewalk followed by the lighter scrape of his butt plate as he pulled his rifle along. The mound of army gear: tent half and poles, sleeping bag, poncho, gas mask, ammo pouches, c-rations and pack topped by a laundry bag (it was Monday) moved into my field of vision. My side vision detected SSgt, Yeast, high on the porch, bouncing up and down on the balls of his feet scanning the 200 man company for movement. A hawk seeking an unsuspecting rodent. I locked my eyes forward and bit my lip. The mound moved into position in our platoon and Jones appeared from underneath. SSgt Yeast put us at ease and finished the briefing. Two weeks later basic training ended. 165 of us from this cycle were OCS qualified. All had turned Officer Candidate School down (it was an extra year in the army). The next day all 165 of us were shipped to Fort Ord, California to begin 9 weeks of Advanced Infantry Training.

William Sirtola



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