No sooner had I graduated (just barely passing) Bridgewater State Teachers College, but I received the dreaded notice from my Draft Board. Seeing my patriotic duty in front of me I immediately signed on to be an Air Force pilot. Don’t ask how I ever saw myself at the controls of a jet plane, being just an average driver of an automobile at best, but away to Camp Edwards I went for testing. Somehow I passed the written exams, but failed the eye test. No problem; I’d just be a navigator then. As one who could get lost between here and Scituate, I’m not a prime candidate for navigator of any sort, never mind a fast moving jet plane.
Lucky for me and the country, I was turned down again because of borderline eye sight.
Now confronted with a two year gig in the Army I responded to a story in the Enterprise about the need for people in a National Guard Field Artillary unit in Plymouth. Here I would do just six months active duty and a lifetime of Reserve time. I signed right on and landed in Fort Dix to become a Company Clerk. Just off the farms and in top physical condition the basic training was a breeze for me. I spent the whole six months in New Jersey. So much for seeing the countryside through the military service.
Ever the entrepreneur I used my old 1951 Buick convertible as a taxi taking fellow recruits from Fort Dix to the Boston area for a fee that let me pay for the gas and give me a little spending money. Always pretty good at poker I managed to run up additional spare change to assure myself of a good time. In one game I held a full house against the other guy’s straight. He was out of cash, so I asked him what he had to put up. He showed me a nice 38 caliber pistol (rules of weapon carrying were much more lax in those days), so I put up my $50 against it. Once home with the side arm my mom nearly had a fit. She commandeered the gun, but did let me trade it for a tooth filling to Dr. Walter Chisholm a few years later. I never took a touch of the devil’s brew until I was twenty six years of age, so all my escapades took place while I was cold sober.
Once in the Reserves I moved to Brooklyn, New York to do a stint on Wall Street as a specialist broker’s clerk. I was assigned to a field artillery unit in Brooklyn out of the Flatbush section. The personnel were mostly African American, a few of Italian descent and myself, the one New England Yankee. I was tasked as a Supply Clerk, a very boring MOS (Military Occupational Specialty). A notice on the bulletin board seeking a Company Cook drew me to volunteer and to swap a “cushy” clerk’s job for one of twelve hour shifts pushing reluctant KPers into unwanted kitchen duty. My past experience at the MerryMacs in Easton, a second cook at the Casino Restaurant at Hampton Beach, New Hampshire and a two year stint at the Sylvia Sweets Tea Room in Brockton gave me a leg up on the other applicants for the kitchen duty.
The mess sergeant was a fellow with a German accent who knew little or nothing about preparing food. I wound up in charge in the first week on duty. I set up a “slush fund” of 75 cents per soldier per two week pay period and used the money to buy herbs, spices and other ingredients to make the GI food more palatable. I was a hero in no time with the troops. We did weekend overnight bivouacs and I had a ball feeding the men, however, it did make for long twelve to fourteen hour days for the kitchen crew. Summers we went to Camp Drum in upstate New York. The Major or Colonel would come through the kitchen and invariably catch me without my “steel pot” that covers a helmet. They weighed several pounds and I had trouble keeping in on while prepping veggies, etc.
Luckily, I was not put in the brig for the infractions.
We made coffee in a twenty gallon steel pot over a big gas burner. The water was brought to a boil, the coffee dropped in along with a half dozen eggs (to supposedly make the grounds drop to the bottom of the pot) and most of the soldiers could drink a quart black from their canteens.
I never advanced beyond Buck Private, but in the past few years I was allowed to be the Commander of Post 7 American Legion here in Easton. This put me (more or less) in charge of many veterans who were real veterans, some with high officer rank when in the service, and who had seen some horrendous action in battle. I always have had a soft spot for those who serve our country and have tried to make up for my pathetic military career.