A Fort Ord Presence…………….#76 (the 50’s)

Recent Barracks addition

Pvt. E-1 Willson’s new home for the next eight weeks, Company B, 5th Battle Group, 1st Training Battalion, its location referred to as the “new barracks”, modern three-storied cement buildings located a mile from the main gate, and bordering on the east range,  a military exercise area stretching  over 2000 acres…   Each building providing  for an Infantry Training Company, consisting of four platoons, each platoon occupying a quadrant in the upper two floors.  Gary soon discovering the army was consumed with lack of a better term, alphabetical syndrome, his last name starting with W  finding himself assigned to the fourth platoon,  fourth squad.


The day commencing at 5 A M… the lights attaining illumination, the intonation of a baton striking the metal frames of the bunk beds and the compendium voice of a platoon sergeant encouraging the troops to rise.  The basic training contingency was diversified by their eight digit service number prefix,  U S  designating (drafted) and R A (enlisted).  The distinction between the drafted and enlisted trainees was not noticeable, but what Gary thought was conspicuous was the frequent aphoristic use of four letter words.  The young Oakland soldier was not one to partake of the abhorrent language discourse,  having been raised in a household void of swear words.  He reasoned its current use with the analogy that it was similar to students entering junior high, whereas 7th graders frequented an analogous vocabulary, but  by the 8th grade it all but disappeared except for a few,  concluding that its current proclamation would also subside.


The first week in the unit discovering expeditiousness a convention, there was  neither time for commission or convenience,  continuous assignments, dawning from the reveille formation till evening dormancy with lights out, and the echoing sounds of taps heard over loud speakers throughout the post.  Whether as a company or platoon, the training fold had standing marching orders , both for  classroom attendance or practical field application exercises.  a soldiering foundation of discipline prevailed, from the exact folding and placement of clothing in a footlocker,  to the temporary silence in the mess hall, all highlighted with the never-ending use of kiwi shoe polish, and the charge of spit-shining both boots and shoes.  A little known secret to hastily obtain a patent leather or spit shine appearance was to wipe a normally brushed shined boot with a 5 day deodorant pad, but only done in an extreme emergency, as this procedure would damage the leather over prolong use..   a competition was instilled between platoons, each sergeant in their role as a drill instructor ambitiously motivating his array,  some complained, but Gary finding the continuous introduction of engaging military activities very relevant to his past youthful apparitions, and now becoming  a discerning and meaningful reality.


The day of anticipation having finally arrived, the issuance of a weapon.   It was like accepting a merit of confidence, unsaid, but Gary could ascertain he was not alone with these thoughts when his platoon received the cordon of a soldier,  a rifle.   The M1 Garand, air-cooled, gas-operated , clip fed, semi-automatic 30.6 caliber, mainstay of WWII  was the Company’s designated training ordinance.   Holding the rifle for the first time, Gary reflected, his father trained with this very same weapon and now another generation.  He had heard the final test on the breakdown and reassemble of the component parts of the M1 would be required to be done blindfolded and to his amazement it was true.

The initial firing range was located across highway One, on the sand dunes, the breaking waves of the pacific as a backdrop, needlessly the sand made the inhibited instructional march to and from more difficult.  The M1 Garand weighing 9 point five pounds, and sustained at port-arms for a prolonged double time march,  it was discovered that some in the company were unable to maintain the port arms position for a long period of time.  The NCO overseeing each platoon would note those of questionable performance, and on return to the company area have them fall-out for extracurricular PT.  Gary was one who fell short in his response, his 113 lb. frame had yet to develop the arm strength for an extended double time port-arm excursion, but the desire was present and he accepted responsibility for his lacking, with resolve.


The physical training aspect was never a concern to the young trainee, the P T calisthenics were routine except for those gung-ho individuals having enlisted to go   “Airborne”, and were subject to an added P T program after the company had been dismissed.  The continuous daily regimen of marching displayed a difficulty for some,  the company instep-columns  was normally confined to the streets and parade field except when tracking the attenuated paths to the field exercises on the East Range.  Gary soon experiencing the 4th squad of the 4th platoon at the rear of the Company was susceptible to the accumulated dust of  the procession.  It reminded him of being in the last wagon in a western movie wagon train, subject to all the airborne crustaceans created by those proceeding him.  It was by coincidence being appointed and later volunteering as a rear guard when the company was on the paved roads, discovering once in the field he could lingering far enough behind the columns, enabling most of the dust to clear.


A new interest was in stilled when word was communicated within the Company,  for a person possessing journalism skills to assist the PIO  (Post Information Officer),  with interviews of company trainee’s,  the results to be written and submitted to hometown newspapers.  Gary making an inquiry, being directed to the PIO officer for an interview, submitting a verbal resume of his high school journalistic qualification, and was notified by his platoon sergeant that he had been accepted, only later discovering he was the only applicant.


Acquiring this assignment,  added to his already inundated training agenda, but on occasion did allow him to forgo the ambulatory morning dispatch, of marching with the company to their scheduled class, allowing him because of his extra duty to procure passenger status on a deuce and half or jeep to the field.  He thought that assisting the training cadre staff might in some way enlighten his presence,   Pvt. Willson discovering he was correct with his reasoning,  soon finding his name posted on almost every work detail list, and that volunteering also has its consequences.

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