There are a several memories swirling around in my head that do not warrant lengthy treatment, but I thought I would share them anyway.
“Where’s the Red Thing?” As I may have mentioned before, a fair number of guys in my basic training company in December 1968 were college graduates (graduate school deferments – except for medical school – went by the boards for the Class of ’68). I believe that most of the guys who were not college graduates had been drafted after high school graduation. We did, however, have a couple guys who were only seventeen and who did not finish high school. I believe that, at that age, their parents had to consent to their enlistment. It may sound silly, but the differences between the seventeen year olds and those of us who had finished college and reached the ripe old age of twenty-two were palpable.
One day, I found myself sitting at a table in the mess hall with one of the seventeen-year-olds (I’ll call him “Jones;” I do not remember his name). I knew that he had enlisted to be in the infantry, with an ultimate goal of attending jump school to be a paratrooper. As you know, that was not exactly my Army “career” plan (see, Remington Raider), but I digress. He was an exceedingly nice guy, who sometimes viewed us “older” (can you imagine?) guys as if we were his high school teachers, which, I suppose, is something we could have been, but for the draft.
The meal that day came with a salad that contained olives. Jones looked down at his tray and, pointing to the olives, said, “What are those things?”
“They’re olives,” I said.
“No they’re not,” Jones replied.
“Sure they are, Jones. What do you think they are?”
“Be damned if I know, but they sure as hell ain’t olives.”
“Jones, fer Chrissake, they’re olives!”
“Well, where is the red thing?”
“The red thing?”
“Yeah, the red thing in olives.”
“Jones, you’re kidding me, right? You mean the pimento?”
“What’s a pimento?”
“It’s a little piece of red pepper that gets stuffed into olives after the pits are removed.” I began to laugh, and asked, “Jones, did you think the olives grew with the red things in them?”
I stopped laughing when I saw how utterly embarrassed he was. He stared down at the table, shook his head from side to side and in a voice barely above a whisper, said, “Jesus, Jim, I actually thought that they grew that way. Please don’t tell the guys about this.”
Upon seeing his expression, there could be only one answer. “Don’t worry about it, Jones. I won’t say a thing.”
He looked up, smiled, and said, “Thanks, I appreciate that.”
Then we both went about eating our salads, including the olives.
Facing Movements. A great deal of time is spent in basic training on “facing movements” (e.g. “right face,” “left face,” and “about face”). Having learned this in the Boy Scouts, I had a bit of a jump on many of the guys, but facing movements can easily be mastered with a little practice (although we did have one guy from northern Maine who never got it down).
One day, our drill sergeant proudly told us that he believed that he executed facing movements better than most soldiers. He attributed his self-proclaimed degree of skill to regularly practicing his facing movements at home, every time he went to the bathroom. I have often wondered if he had thought through sharing this little gem with us, because, at the time, the mental picture of this man left facing, right facing and about facing before and after peeing or brushing his teeth made me laugh.
It still makes me laugh.
“Police the Brass”. After a day’s shooting at the rifle range, we would all have to line up shoulder to shoulder and walk across the area to “police the brass.” In English, this means that we had to pick up empty shell casings and place them in our steel pots (the multi-functional outer portion of the helmet) to be collected, presumably for re-loading.
One day, after a long day of firing, we were given the customary “police the brass” order. By this time, it had become routine. As we were walking shoulder to shoulder and bending over to pick up spent casings, the guy to my right (a typical New York Italian wise-cracking guy that one always sees in World War II movies) said, “You know what? By the time we get to Vietnam, the f****** war will be over, and they’ll line us up across the Mekong Delta and march us north to police the goddamn brass.”
Back then, mental pictures of myself in Vietnam were not something I particularly enjoyed. This one, however, made me laugh hysterically.