Aerial Discharge………………..#77 (the 50’s)


It was late afternoon Gary and the army fatigue uniformed soldiers were absorbing  the cool breeze cascading from the pacific, traversing inland over Ft. Ord’s 2000 acre east range.  Gary surmising there was one scheduled field instruction class remaining, concluding it would be an introduction to gas warfare as each member of the platoon had been issued a gas mask.   With its issue came a brief instructional class of the basics, how to adjust the straps and clear the mask, check for proper sealing, and informed further instructions to follow.  The dust cloaked platoon coming to a halt before a section of sun-scorched bleachers.  At Ease was accorded and the formation rested in position awaiting for a fall-out command to mount the bleachers.  Gary noticing two NCO’s milling about behind and up wind of the standing formation and saw what looked like metal container in their hands. Immediately an odor aspired, eyes began to burn,  watering  profusely, the skin irritation was reminiscent of stinging-nettle, rifles chastising the ground as the men grasp the snaps to access their imprisoned mask.   The group was in total disarray, it was undisciplined attempt in apprehension of what was taking place.  Gary was among the many whose first thoughts were to seek refuge from the consternation vapor that enhanced the area hastily donning his mask.  Once embellish in its protection  he established the location of the two canisters which were placed quiescent behind the formation, observing as they continued to emit a clouded mist, It was the platoons inaugural introduction to teargas.

Standard issue M-17 Mask

Standard issue M-17 Mask

The eastward sea breeze soon cleared the discharge of effluvium, but not the vehement sound of the imperious lecture that followed.  The soldier’s listen to a despotic demeaned NCO instructor aggressively convey that it was a cardinal contravening act to let your weapon ever recline to the ground.   The formation regrouped, the veracity and connotation of NCO’s admonishment having conveyed a lasting message, the ad hoc demonstration a lesson in the necessity for proper training.  Upon return to the barracks it was learned the instructional lesson was to be continued in the morning followed by participating in a practical test to demonstrate their skills by entering  what was noted as the gas chamber.

The morning found the Fourth Platoon arriving at the instructional station located somewhere noted as “in the boondocks”, the Company’s Third  Platoon pulling out having completed the exercise.  Two tent enshrouded structures were stationed on an elevated  bluff overlooking the silent brush of the East Range.  The formation was at ease, but intense attentiveness was present.  Orders were accorded, “extract, adjust and clear” the mask were fixed in place.  Single file by squad, twelve men at a time entering the Tear-Gas cloud veiled tent interior, halting at attention.  Instruction were given to the expression concealed soldiers, on command the mask were to be removed and properly stored.  It was ordained, the mask were to be taken off.  Gary like the others holding their breath but beginning to feel the pandemonium that accompanies a person  experiencing a vexatious situation.   The Squad having to remain until the cadre was satisfied with the proper stance and then acknowledging them to proceed to the bluff and allow the oncoming breeze to cleansed the captive pungent mist.

Large army tents noted as the gas chambers

Large army tents noted as the gas chambers

The Fourth Platoon anticipated the final aerial experience,  informed the tent structure they would be entering contained chlorine gas,  similar to chemicals exploited amid the combatants of the  first world war.  The signature for entrance would be to march in a squad at a time,  holding one’s breath until all were present, then given a command to extract, adjust and clear,  the mask to be adorned.  The platoon sergeant giving assurance the exercise would acquire less than a minute.  Gary was comfortable, no stinging or eye watering substance, only an odor similar to an over-chlorinated swimming pool.  The Fourth Squad entering,  the order given to extract, adjust and clear, Gary immediately discovering a problem, the mask enclosure snaps would not cooperate, refusing to unsnap, he struggled , holding his breath, unable to  call out,  tugging at the snaps, still no results.   He focused, concentrating on in his attempt and no longer able to maintain a breathless vacuum when the snaps suddenly released and simultaneously he inhaled a breath of the flavored aura, immediately according the mask, the order to exit given.

The soldier once again established in the cool sunlit morning, even applauding the call to fall in for formation especially after his gas chamber exigency, his experience remaining a silent testimony to what was a chlorine gas charade.

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