Monday, November 24, 2008

The Trip To Oxford, MS-1965

It was March 1965. The 720th MP Battalion was in the field at Fort Hood, TX. We were undergoing routine field training. One thing about the military police, when they go to the field for training, they end up doing their normal police duties too. The mission was going along quite well. We were securing convoys, manning traffic control points, providing security for important sites, and generally trying to keep from being miserable. Late in the day, early evening if my memory serves me right, we were ordered back to garrison to prepare for an early morning deployment. We were given a couple of hours to get whatever gear we needed from our homes, but we could not tell our families where we were going.

We had all been keeping up with the "outside world". It was the time of civil rights movement and many important things were happening. This was the time when James Meredith was enrolled at the University of Mississippi. Our job would be to provide personal security for him during his tenure there.

The battalion packed up and went to Killeen AFB to board military transports for the flight to Memphis. It is amazing how you can make bed out of packing crates in a 1/4 ton trailer. Upon landing at Memphis we received a briefing concerning our assignments. My platoon was going to be split up to establish road blocks at the major routes in and out of Oxford, Mississippi.

We boarded helicopters to be transported to our duty sites. We were all equipped with the appropriate "combat" gear for the time. We were issued the tear gas grenades that looked like baseballs. It was a common practice to hang them on our web gear by their pin rings. The reason being, that if you needed to deploy them in a hurry, you just had to yank on the grenade and it would come free of the pin. There is not much danger when doing this as long as the handle is held firmly. As soon as the handle is released the grenade will blow tear gas all over hell and back, or at least in a relatively large radius. And, it doesn't pay to be down wind of one without a gas mask.

I traveled with one of the squads that was led by an "old timer". He was a good NCO, and could be very funny. While in flight Sarge was trying to get comfortable and was adjusting his gear when his rifle sling pushed against one of his tear gas grenades separating it from its pin. He did not have the grenade in his hand and it came loose from the pin. All of the MPs on board had gas masks. The flight crew did not. A potentially dangerous situation. However, the helicopter banked the proper direction and the grenade rolled harmlessly out of the door.

We made it to our duty post without further incident. The Sarge and I did have a little discussion about this. He realized that we were all very fortunate.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

How I learned to like Scallops

The year was 1961 it was my first duty assignment as a Second Lieutenant--Company B, 720th MP Battalion, Fort Hood, TX. As a company officer I had many additional duties to supplement my primary duty as Platoon Leader. One of my favorite duties was that of Mess Officer. It was through this duty that I learned to enjoy scallops again. As a kid I got sick one time from eating them so I swore off of them for the rest of my life.

Well, fate has a unique way of getting your attention. This time it was very pleasant. While walking through the company area near noon I could not help but notice the most enticing aroma emanating from the mess hall. Any conscientious leader has to investigate everything that is happening within the olfactory range as well as within sight and hearing. Realizing my duties and responsibilities I forged ahead and entered the mess hall. Upon asking the Mess Sergeant what was the cause of that most marvelous aroma permeating the company area, I was informed that the luncheon special was deep-fried scallops.

Arrgh! I hate them. I cannot abide them. They make me sick. Yuck!!

I then approached the steam table where the first scallops out of the deep-fryer were waiting to be served. They looked as good as they smelled. Now I have a real dilemma. I don't like scallops, but I have a duty to the troops to test them to insure they are edible. After all we don't want the troops coming down with an illness. Scallops can do that you know.

You guessed it, I screwed up my courage. (It only took a couple of twists of the screw driver.) I asked the Mess Sergeant if I might try one. He agreed to get me one. We did have a breakdown in communication. I meant one scallop, he meant one bowl. I tried that "one" and have been eating them ever since. Thanks, Sarge.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Allegro Non troppo

allegro non troppo -(L) fast, but not too fast

That Latin phrase is usually an aside reserved for a stage performer and not generally descriptive of one's military career. As an after thought, that sentence I should redress; to be fair, my service time was only a tour of duty, hardly worthy of being referred to as a career.

I am humbled to contribute to this blog as a mere enlisted man who simply wished to fulfill his military obligation and to return to civilian life as fast as possible. Jack, the creator of this blog, dedicated a fair portion of his life to a military career, I, I gave only a sliver.

Don't get me wrong, I did not resent the military or my time serving my country. Back then, going into the service was practically a rite of passage. Of course, there was also ... the draft!

Now, while those who did had their reasons, I felt that I could never have lowered myself to actively or defiantly avoid my obligation. It never crossed my mind to declare myself a conscientious objector, to burn my draft card or to flee to Canada; I would have never been able to sleep knowing I would have been acting in cowardice.

They didn't call that era "the turbulent sixties" for nothing. The fly in the ointment was our country's military involvement in Vietnam, a small country in Southeast Asia that most of us would have been unable to find on a map. The prevailing sentiments were that we didn't belong over there. This was evidenced by the violent protests and it was the theme of our music's lyrics. For What It's Worth by the Buffalo Springfield was adopted as the anthem of protest.

February 15, 1968, on my 18th birthday I received that dreaded envelope from Uncle Sam. You know the one, it begins with "Greetings." I had 30 days before I was to report to the nearest Army Recruiting office. On the 25th day I walked into the nearest Navy Recruiting office and enlisted for 4 years. I was of the mindset that four years in the Navy would be a lot healthier than to accept being drafted into the Army for two years.

I never saw action. Even though I was a half a world away from any conflicts while I was serving my country, I was no less out there doing my part to protect my country.

The accounts that I will post here will be mostly anecdotal: some funny, some sad and some dramatic. The title I used? At times my time in the service seemed to linger, but in the end those four years seemed to pass rather quickly. There were no regrets.

Allegro non troppo.