At the Shreveport airport we
were instructed to get on the airport bus for Ft. Polk, which we did.
It took us to the reception center at Ft. Polk where the people there were
not very nice and they yelled a lot. I think we spent 3 or 4 days
there and I'm glad Russell was right there with me. The reception
center was the very first time I had seen and heard Cajun people.
They talked faster then the people in New York City and they even had a
language of their very own.
Russell and I were put into Company "B" of the 3rd Battalion of the 5th Training Brigade. There were 255 recruits in Company "B" and of that number I believe only 17 were in the Warrant Officer Training program. They put us all together in one platoon in the top half of one of the buildings.
The drill sergeants pretty much left us alone harassment wise because it soon became apparent that our platoon had it's act together and they had their hands full with all the other recruits. Within the first week some of the older candidates got together and figured out how to make things easy for us all. The older guys would oversee us and we in turn would oversee the guys in the adjacent double bunk across the room. The reason being that, if we kept them straight, we would benefit by fewer inspections, which would keep the drill sergeants off our backs. It worked.
Within days it became apparent that a highly waxed floor was the main concern and focus of gripe for the drill sergeants. The floor had to be waxed every night and that took hours. Got to hand this one to the older candidates and the way they took on the problem. As soon as we got off for the day they got everyone organized and on command we would carry every bunk on one side of the upstairs to the other side of the room. Then 4 of the smaller Mexicans would spread the wax by hand on hands and knees. They were picked because they worked so fast at it and were more than happy to be part of the group.
When they were about 10' down the row another set of guys would put 2 Army wool blankets down (that we all chipped in for) and 2 foot lockers were placed on each. They sat 1 or 2 of the huge black guys on each locker. When the Mexicans were finished waxing that side we all grabbed the free end of the blankets and pulled those oversized guys down the length of the room. "Instant" Buff. With that side done everything was moved to the buffed side and we did it all over again. All told that little piece of ingenuity brought down a 2-hr job to little over 30 minutes. The time it freed up allowed us to spend more time on other things the sergeants were looking for.
Because it was so apparent that we had our act together our floor never got a major inspection. We often heard the sergeants tearing up the guys downstairs and they got laid into good but we never did. In 8 weeks we graduated and were put into a holding company to wait out time (1 month) before Christmas leave and onto Ft. Walters for a Jan 2 sign-in.
The holding company was a whole
different way of life. We had freedom and could pretty much pick
our duty for the day. We were all kept together again and put on
the upper floor of a barracks that contained the "Wackos" that were being
thrown out of the Army. The older guys immediately let the wackos
know that messing with any one of us would result in an old fashion "Blanket
Party". A "blanket party" is when a bunch of guys jump a problem
person and throw a blanket on him, then proceed to beat the heck out of
him. That fear was enough to keep the wackos in line and other than
a little verbal abuse and a whole lot of visual abuse nothing much happened.
As I recall we could sleep in an extra hour and could volunteer for the day's duty for the most part. I liked being a scorer on the shooting range so that is what I chose when I could. I believe there were about 40 of us needed as scorers for the range. We were organized by one of the guys that was in another holdover company that had the AIT guys (Advanced Infantry Training). They had just graduated and were waiting out Christmas as we were.
Now the range was in poor shape. All the close targets had been hit so many times there were big holes in them that let the bullets go right through and not touch a thing so they would not go down and register a hit. It was easy to tell if one was hit because the bullets had wallowed out a rut behind the target that had filled with water and so a splash meant a hit even thought the target did not go down. The mornings were usually foggy and you could not see the far out targets or even the control tower that was running the show. The mornings were also cold.
When we got to the range we were put in a small building where we would wait until we were needed. The building had a heating stove in it and chairs and tables. Usually the company commander of the unit being tested had his mess sergeant lay out a fine spread of food for us. The bribe usually worked and the AIT guy that ran the group would tell us as to what level to "Bolo" (flunk) them or not. We all followed his lead.
On one occasion we were given a feast and we all skipped lunch to continue eating on it before the afternoon session. We didn't allow one "bolo" that day and we all left early. On another occasion a real horse's butt of a company commander came in a told us he didn't want even one "bolo" or our butts were his for the weekend. There was no food, not even coffee. We got our orders, "Bolo Everyone", and we did. There were so many bolos the Range Officer came in and gave us a talk. The guy was sharp though because he made a little comment about not seeing even coffee in the room. We "boloed" the "boloes" and had to call it quits at nightfall. That meant they had to do it all over again on Saturday. I volunteered for something else that day.
One day I almost got into trouble on the range. I was next to last on the right side of the range and almost out of site of the Range Tower. The targets were in very poor shape and would not go down for the most part. Between the next lane and me was a big tree that had been the object of attention for many a prior shooter. I told the shooter that he had his choice to fire at the targets that would not go down and I would give him a miss or to fire at the tree, when I told him to, and I would give him a hit. Since I had the score sheet I knew which target would be next. The scorer next to me did the same thing and we began cutting down that tree.
The tree fell late that day and believe me, a tree falling in the woods does make a lot of noise. The range officer heard it and shut down the range. He then called the last 4 lane scorers in and we were given a lecture. Our only defense was that trees fall in the woods all the time and it didn't block any of the lanes.
There was one young man in particular that I remember because he cried towards the end of his shoot. He was not very good and getting close to boloing. I asked him why he was crying and he said something about always being picked on because he was small and that he was told if he boloed he was "out". It had gotten to him and was effecting his shooting. I took a chance and told him that some of the targets would not go down because of all the holes in them but that I could see the splash behind the target and would give him the hit if I saw the splash. That calmed him a little and when I saw that I tried something else, I told him which target was coming up. That stopped his crying because he was now hitting all but the farthest targets and his confidence returned. With a little verbal encouragement I stopped my target announcements and he began doing it on his own. With a little help from the pencil on the last 2 targets he made it by one point. When I told him so and handed him his sheet to turn in he jumped for joy. That was one happy soldier. I sometimes wondered how long that confidence stayed with him because he passed the range test?
While we were in holdover there was a meningitis outbreak and most of Ft. Polk was restricted to post but not us. Several nights a week we would go into town and sample a few bars. We found one we liked and made that one our gathering point. There the guy with the money bought us poorer guys several drinks. They found out I was not a big drinker and over the course of several weeks I tried just about every drink there was to try. I remember that a Black Russian was the worst, next to a straight Scotch. I believe I liked rum and ginger the best. Never got drunk though.
Just about a week before Christmas being in the Army really hit me. The guys had gone into town to drink and I didn't want to because "Born Free" was playing at the nearby theatre and I wanted to see it. Nobody else did so I went alone. It was about a mile walk and when I got out of the movie being in the Army really hit me. I walked rather quickly and about 100 ft or so down the dark road I began to cry. I was alone, a long ways from home, all my hair had been shaved off, hadn't seen my girl in a long time and I had just seen one of the saddest movies ever made. I asked myself just what the heck I had gotten myself into. That was a long slow walk back to the barracks.
There was a 10-second period that I thought I was about to get thrown out of flight school even before I got there. It all began with the mess hall we were assigned to. The weekend warrior national guard types would get in one line, the one with the patches, and everybody else was in the other. Only problem was, they let in 4 of the patch guys for every 1 of the non-patch guys. That meant we ate last and all the good stuff was gone and it meant that we usually couldn't sit together. This really got to me because wrestling season was now behind me and I had a lot of lost meals to make up for.
I noticed that few of the patch guys knew each other so attention at the door was pretty much limited to who had a patch. So I went into town and bought 2 of the patches that they wore at Ft. Walters and had them sewn on 2 of my shirts. At the next opportunity and with all the guys watching I got into the patch line. I was scared but I made it in without any problem and within a few days we all had patches and were eating together. I didn't know it but word soon spread of my discovery to other candidate groups.
With one week to go to Christmas they called in all the Warrant Officer Candidates to a huge meeting hall where the Commander of Ft. Walters was to give us a talk. We could sit anywhere we wanted to so we sat as a group about 2/3rds the way down and to the right. I had no idea that so many others were going to flight school as well, there must have been over 200 of us there. As we waited I couldn't help but to notice that others were wearing the patches as well. I would say about 20 percent of the guys there were wearing them. I asked the other guys about this and found out that it apparently was a word-of-mouth thing.
When the Commander got up to speak the first thing that he said to us after his introduction was that the wearing of those patches was "not authorized". He told us that it was only to be worn once formally attached to the unit we were being assigned to. In other words, we were not suppose to wear them until we got there. He then paused for 10 seconds or so to let that sink in. Almost all of my group slumped low in their chairs. I just knew his next words were going to be "Who was responsible for it?" That was a long 10 seconds.
Guess the LORD was on my side because the next words he spoke were those of "praise" for our group (class #67-15) because it was the first time since he had taken over Ft. Walters that he had seen that much enthusiasm in an incoming class. Boy! Was that ever a relief. That was the first of my close calls. I didn't realize it at the time but I had just clearly displayed one of the attributes they were looking for in this new breed of chopper pilot.