Monday, November 23, 2015

Thanksgiving memory. 1955
 It was the Friday afternoon before Thanksgiving, 1955, and school was out for the holidays. I had a whole week to be a free range child, riding my horse, swinging in the trees like Tarzan or just playing around the farm. The weather was changing and the day so cool that it made me race through the pasture, roll in the grass, and leap like a deer. If there had been a hill I would have rolled down to the bottom laughing all the way. 

My birthday would be the day after Thanksgiving, and I was excited for I was turning 12 even though I wouldn't be having a party because of the holiday. Besides, what few friends I had would be with families anyway. But I didn't care a whole lot, I enjoyed my own company. I could play for hours by my lonesome and with a whole wonderful week to be free from the classroom, I looked forward to taking advantage of it.

Early Monday morning,before the birds began to sing, I heard an unusual noise outside. I quickly brushed my teeth while falling all over myself getting my clothes on. I rushed outside, forgetting about breakfast, because I needed to see what was happening. A rather large truck was backing up in our pasture lane on the side of the house. Three muscular men began unloading some strange rather large pipe contraption, welded together in the shape of a U. It was huge, over 12 feet high. The camellia bushes were blocking my view so I ran to the sycamore tree and climbed out on a limb to watch. After laying the pipes down near the house, two men took out their post hole diggers while the third extended his tape measure and began marking two spots on the ground. They began to dig. After the men dug the holes they stood the pipes up into the holes, making sure they were straight before pouring concrete into and around the pipes. The U shaped contraption appeared even higher standing so erect. There were shoulder forged eye bolts attached to the cross piece at the top. What could this be? My mind began to imagine several things.

 Now, I was a country boy, growing up around farm animals, so naturally, I thought it had something to do with animals. I stretched out on the limb, thinking, but all I could think of was they were erecting a scaffold to hang a hog after we butchered it...but why so close to the house? Shouldn't that be in the barn lot? 

The last two years my daddy had hung the hogs on a rope attached to a pulley on the barn roof. 

Why would he want to butcher a hog so close to the house?
Maybe these men had their directions wrong. Maybe they should be at the barn. I ran to tell daddy, but mama said he was out hunting with his best friend and promised to be home for Thanksgiving dinner. Mama said I shouldn't worry, it was a surprise and I would find out later. “They are placing it exactly where it should be,” she said as she gave me a pat on the back. “Just wait, you will see.” Maybe it was to be some strange hitching post for my horse that I lived on every breathing minute? I was puzzled.
The men left after smoothing the concrete around the post and attaching supports to insure it stayed level. They stretched a note across it saying “Do not Touch”. Bummer. I guess I would have to wait. Early Wednesday morning the men returned. They brought a smaller pipe with two chains attached on each end. This did not make sense. After taking the supports loose and making sure the pipes were secure, and not moving about, they attached the two chains to the larger cross pipe, measuring to make sure the two were level. The men called me over and asked me to stand underneath and hold my hands just above my head. They then adjusted the chains so that the pipe fit in my hands. I told them it wouldn't be high enough and should be higher because the hogs would drag the ground and the dogs would have to be watched carefully so they didn't get into the meat. Besides, it would be harder to skin and burn the hairs off the hogs if they drug on the ground. After a few laughs, the men assured me it was not for hog killing. However, they did agree to raise the pipe high enough that I had to jump up to catch it. When they were finished, I grabbed the bar and began to swing. 
 Suddenly I realized what this hog killing contraption really was. It was a trapeze. 
 A real trapeze like in the circus, just not as high off the ground. It was my birthday present!

 I ran to tell Mama how much I loved it. With a smile on her face, Mama hugged me and said she had watched me on too many occasions swing from tree limbs by my knees, letting go at just the right moment to swing to the limb below. She had watched me do acrobatics on the swing set, swinging and flipping over the top bar then landing on my feet. “This is the perfect gift for such a gymnastic boy,” she said.
I had never received so glorious a birthday gift. My very own special trapeze. One of the first things I did was attach a rope to the bar before moving the swing set closer so I could stand on the top of it, retrieve the trapeze bar and swing. I swung freely all day long, like a trapeze artist, my legs arched over the bar in a back bend, or swinging by my knees as high as I could. At the highest point I soon learned to let go and flip to the ground, landing like a cat on my feet.

The next day was Thanksgiving and I already knew what I would say I was thankful for. That night I helped mama make the cornbread dressing and prepare the turkey before bed time. I pulled the cover over my head and closed my eyes tight but I still could not sleep. I tossed and turned all night, dreaming of the wind blowing in my hair while I swung upside down, legs locked into place ready to catch the girl swinging toward me, or my solo act where I did a triple flip into the air to land on the top of the swing set while crowds stood clapping and shouting my name.
My birthday came early that year and I was thankful.

 Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

Note: I was swinging upside down, on the trapeze,Thanksgiving morning when daddy came home with a wild turkey he had shot. He proudly took it in to mama and asked her if we could have that wild turkey instead. Mama, who had been working hard for two days getting the meal ready, looked at that undressed turkey and exploded. After Mama finished her tirade Daddy decided the wild turkey could wait another day and placed it in the freezer before making himself scarce.

© Nippy Blair 2015. Posts and pictures on this blog cannot be copied, downloaded, printed, or used without the permission of the blog owner, Nippy Blair.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015


(the end of a-not-fit-to-be-a-soldier-saga)

 After Vietnam I had a year left and was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky.
  One of the first things I did was go to Louisville and buy a car.

I bought a beautiful 1970 blue Volkswagen Karmann Ghia. I paid cash with the money I had saved overseas.

Since I was an E5 now, I was supposed to have a private room, but that was given away to a cook who outranked me. I lived once more in the barracks with soldiers that spent their nights drinking or gambling around my bunk. I was miserable.
 Fort Knox was, at that time, the place where they trained the Army Armor tanks.
 In the middle of the night when night firing would occur, I found myself along with several others, suddenly springing from my bed and racing for the bunker, even though I never did that in Vietnam. Strange, I thought. 

I was losing sleep from the men driving me crazy with their gambling and my racing for bunkers in the middle of the night. I began sleeping in my car off base. One night I drove to Elizabethtown, Kentucky, to sleep in the Severn Valley Baptist Church parking lot. I started attending and eventually joined. I became active in Sunday School, sang in the choir and gave a devotion or two on occasion. People invited me home for lunch. I felt very much at home except for my schedule.
 I'd sleep in the car on the church parking lot. 
 In the morning, I'd rush back to base for a quick shower and morning roll call formations.

 My days were then spent in the darkroom cranking out hundreds of photos of unknown generals and military buildings. This went on for several weeks.

Life at the photo lab was not pleasant. We were not allowed to experiment or develop our own film when things were slow.  On top of that, the Master Sargent in charge of the photo lab was paranoid. He was afraid someone would find us idle and he would be blamed. He made unexpected visits, constantly staying on our case demanding we always looked busy. If we weren't developing in the lab then we should be cleaning photo trays, sweeping, mopping or emptying trash. I had been through this before. I needed to find a way around this difficult situation. I began arriving early,always being busy sweeping or buffing floors when the Master Sargent arrived. He took notice. I never had trouble from that man again. That problem solved, I needed to make the morning formations for inspection and roll call more pleasant. I hated this part of Army life as well as the many all night guard duties we were expected to perform.
My nights were also becoming less enjoyable sleeping in the car and I needed a solution. I had begun to make friends at my new church. I mentioned my problem to a choir member. He suggested I talk to his aunt. She was elderly and alone and would possibly rent a room to me, even though she never had done that before. He brought me over to meet her one Sunday afternoon. We got along well and she decided to let me rent her basement.
 Mrs. Hall was just what I needed.
She loved to make hooked rugs and sew quilts.
 Her daughter did china painting. We were a match made in heaven. 

The next day, I told my company Sargent that I was renting a room in Elizabethtown and would be moving out of the barracks. He informed me that this was not allowed unless I lived with a family member. Without thinking, I lied and told him she was my grandmother and gave him the address and phone number. The Sargent immediately called her and asked if she were a family member. She said, yes, she was my grandmother. I loved her even more. He never asked any more questions and I moved that weekend. Now, since Elizabethtown was about 15 or so miles away, it was considered long distance so all of the guard duty fell to those who lived on base.
 I never had morning roll call formations or all night guard duty again.
Bye Bye roll call formations.

It was a wonderful situation. I would go to work in the mornings, drive home and watch TV with Mrs. Hall. Soon she began cooking for me as well. That dear woman was really like a grandmother. On weekends I would spend time traveling in the area or spend Saturdays with her daughter and son-in-law, barbecuing in their back yard. 
 The family also loved to square dance. Soon I fell in love with square dancing too. I traveled and danced with them around Kentucky and Indiana.

 Soon Mrs. Hall began showing me how to hook rugs. When she learned I loved to paint we made plans to paint a quilt. I found some fabric paint and painted red roses on a white sheet. She and I quilted it. We made another one for my mama, blue flowers of course, Susie's favorite color.

 I learned she used to weave and I became fascinated with weaving and looms.  Her son traveled the state and said he would keep his eye out for any that might be for sale. One day, he said I might find one outside of Frankfort at an estate sale he heard about. We went way back in the woods, down a narrow one lane path, over a creek, to a farmstead. An elderly couple were giving up their home and moving away. There was a loom among the items for auction. The man said his sister stopped using it 50 years ago and that it had been his grandmothers. That loom was over 100 years old. I bought it for $13,00, my opening bid. No one else was interested. That's right, $13.00. The son helped us bring it to Mrs. Hall's basement and I began to learn to weave. She had been taught how to warp the loom from her 90 year old aunt, years ago and taught me. I once shared a picture of it with an antique shop in Louisville and they said I must have paid a fortune for it, that they were hard to come by. I smiled.
I still have that two harness loom.  My son Marty used it for a jungle gym when he was little. For several years I wove rag rugs and place mats.

One fall my mama came to visit so I could drive her around to see the brilliant foliage. I took two weeks off and Mrs. Hall led us around interesting places in the area before Mama and I drove in my Karmann Ghia all the way to Washington, D.C. Cruising through mountain roads in a sports car with your mama is one for the books. We had a blast. Mama had never seen D.C. She had gone there when I was a baby to see Daddy off overseas in WWII but had to immediately return on the next train because I was deathly ill and was being flown to Shreveport. She had never left the train station. I owed her this trip. We saw everything we could in the space of a few days. 

We argued over whether a certain autumn tree was red or yellow. On our return trip, we spotted the tree again at night. I stopped, stood on top of the car and pulled a limb off. We were both right. The tree had both colors.
What a laugh on these naive southerners.
Meanwhile, back to the army.
I was sick of working in the dark lab all day developing boring prints. About four months after arriving, I found an opportunity for change. Across base at the main headquarters building the man taking photos of new people arriving on base was being discharged. I had been delivering chemicals to him once a week. It was a job for a private, but I asked for the job anyway. Since no one else was available, they gave me the job. I moved across base and away from the Master Sargent, never to return to that lab again.

 Now the catch was this. I did not have to take pictures of the new arrivals. We had a machine like those photo booths where you sit inside for four pictures. 

All I had to do was press the button and change the chemicals once a week.
 I had fun with this job. I began teasing children when I took their pictures and told them about the little guy that had to sit in that booth all day developing everyone's pictures. I would let him out at noon, I said, and, yes he went home at night. I had learned how long it took for the machine to develop the film and would knock on the side when I knew it was ready to discharge the photos. I'd ask Harry to hurry up and demanded he send the picture out right now...then it would come out to all of their surprise and I would thank the little man inside the machine. Parents loved my work.

 At noon I would sit in the main lounge and eat with the officers while we watched soap operas.
 A Colonel and I became friends at these lunch meetings. At five I would drive home to Elizabethtown and a warm meal, like a civilian.  My routine of square dancing, painting, quilting and going to work fraternizing with the officers continued. 

 Once, around Easter, Mrs. Hall and I decided we would make neckties to sell on the weekends. I painted the designs on the material, she sewed them together, then we rented space at a flea market and sold our ties.

Good old 1970's wide ties with bright designs. 
 We did fairly well. I wore a different tie every Sunday from then on.

Two months before the end of my duty, I decided to apply for an early out so I could return to college. I told the company Sargent, who did not like me, and he said I had missed the deadline for early outs and could not apply. I knew he was wrong. I thanked him and went directly to my friend, the Colonel, in the main office. He said I still had time and he could speed up the paperwork. I was processed out by the end of the day, went back to the barracks and told the Sargent, who was furious. I left the service that very next day without ever going back or saying my goodbyes to the people in the lab. My days in the Army were over. I stayed with Mrs. Hall for a few more weeks then returned to Alexandria and Louisiana College to finished my degree. I kept up with Mrs. Hall until her death a few years later.

Thus ends the not so ordinary life of one soldier, the ending of a not-fit-to-be-a-soldier saga. A man who found a way to make himself happy in bad situations. A man that survived the horrors of Vietnam without long residual effects.
The first thing I did was grow my hair!

© Nippy Blair 2015. Posts and pictures on this blog cannot be copied, downloaded, printed, or used without the permission of the blog owner, Nippy Blair.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

I'm in the Army Now
(the not so ordinary life of one soldier)

My plane left from California.  A very unpleasant experience.
 There were protesters, ugly posters and hippies. I was all alone. Venomous things were shouted in my direction. 
On the plane, I sat next to an Hispanic, from New Mexico,who spoke rather accented English. I asked his name. He said, proudly, “Juan Ignacio Valentin Patricio Salvador Felipe Garcia Gonzalez. I am proud to be the first in my family to serve my country, America.” After a stunned silence on my part, he asked my name and where I was from. I couldn't resist. I sat up straight and said, like any southern gentleman from the south, complete with that southern drawl, “I am from Louisiana and yes, we do sip our mint julips on the veranda and wrestle our alligators in the mornings before working. My name is James Richard Ashley Scott Montgomery Napoleon Beauregard Blair the III. But friends call me Nippy, short for Napoleon.” He never blinked an eye at my name, but Juan did have lots of questions as to my wrestling alligators. Naturally, I supplied all the tall tales I could. It was a long flight from California to Alaska to Guam to Vietnam but Juan and I had a great time becoming friends and the flight went smoothly. I'm sorry I never saw him again or even told him my real name. I hope he survived.

It was eerie as we landed, in the dark of night, and were quickly loaded on buses and taken away. I could hear rockets in the distance and explosions. The streets were narrow. Cardboard boxes lined the street with people living in them. Dogs barked. People, barely clothed, were sitting around makeshift fires or sleeping on the curbs, children played in the gutters. I had entered another world. One I was not familiar with. It looked like a land of poverty.

I was assigned to the 199thLight Infantry Brigade.
I had been trained to be a Photo Lab Specialist and work in a lab.. The 199th did not have a lab! I panicked because this usually meant that I would be out in the fields fighting and taking pictures. I was sick to my stomach. Would I be able to fight? Thankfully, the lab was in Long Binh next door to my brigade. Whew. The Lord heard my prayer.

 I was to work in the Information Office which was basically a newspaper office. Sargent Eckler, the Sargent in charge, met me. He was fat, scared of his shadow and alcoholic. He was very nervous and always sweating. His motto was: I will get you before you get me. He made my skin crawl. The other men assured me it would be fine as long as I did what he asked and never crossed him.
There was another person who also wanted my job when I arrived. He had been out fighting, and taking pictures of the war for six months. The Sargent asked us both to go build a bunker, with sandbags, outside the office. I complied. I was still green. The other man refused. I got the job as Photo Editor for the brigade and another promotion to E5.  All these promotions after only a year in the service. What were they thinking? I was still a newbie. Not long after I arrived, this mess of a Sargent barricaded himself in his room with a pistol (where he got it is questionable) threatening himself and everyone around him. The barracks were evacuated and he was quickly subdued by the MP's. He was terrified of being at war, and apparently had snapped. We never heard from him again.
My job was to collect the negatives from the photographers in the field and have them developed next door. Then, once a week, I would take them into Saigon to be censored before sending them to AP and UPI to be published in newspapers across the country. I enjoyed my fellow newspapermen. We were a loose bunch of soldiers, similar to Hogan's Heroes. There was Italian Frank who, I promise, had ties to the mafia. He even had a Doberman Pinscher sent over. Arthur had dreams of becoming a Nobel Prize winning reporter and working on famous newspapers. Mike, a short fellow from Oregon was a fantastic artist and preferred drawing than writing. Our clerk typist had his left index finger missing and had difficulty typing. He preferred working on our jeep instead. I quietly began typing for him while our jeep was kept in perfect order. The reporters noticed. I became a better typist. In fact, I became so good, they started dictating their stories rather than writing them out for me to decipher. I was becoming invaluable.
Sharing our office was a Lieutenant and his Sargent from New Jersey. They decoded messages from the Vietnamese. They were not regular army either. The Lieutenant had a hot water heater flown in so he could have hot showers - the only one on our base. We became good friends, especially after I shared my New York experiences. Sargent Cadolini was a man of many words. He claimed he knew all the popular musicians that played New York, and kept us interested with little private tidbits of things he witnessed. He had worked as a bouncer at a night club and had met all of them, he said. He had danced on American Bandstand with Dick Clark. He met the Supremes, the Beach Boys, Connie Francis, the Bee Gees, Buddy Holly, the Everly Brothers, the Four Seasons, Tina Turner, Janis Joplin, Aretha Franklin, Dionne Warwick. The list goes on. He talked a lot about the Gold Diggers, because his cousin from the Bronx had once dated one of the girls. We were never sure of the truth to his stories.

I had trouble sleeping in the barracks on the base, although I had a private room, so to speak. We were expected to make formations twice daily with spit shined boots. I thought this was rather nuts . We were in war and they wanted spit shinned boots? I was not that kind of army guy. I rebelled quietly. I walked to the Signal Corp. office and told them of my dilemma. They asked if there was an unoccupied bunker near by. I said yes, the one next to our office, that I helped build.
 They told me to move into the bunker and they would have me reassigned to their office. 

Problem solved. I didn't have to make formations again, although I did keep my boots shined, sort of. Now, I had a better private room and could sleep through the night, safe from direct bomb hits. Eventually I also became a member of the hot water shower club. 

 One of my duties as the Photo Lab Specialist was to travel on Sundays with the General to visit the wounded. My first General seldom did so. Instead, he asked me to take pictures of his “parties” with the Doughnut Dollies, the Red Cross volunteers who were primarily used as morale boosters for U.S. Troops in Vietnam. These were not clean parties so I assigned another person to take my place.

 General Bond, my second General, was different.

 He was a decent man that I respected greatly. We traveled weekly to visit the wounded. 

I was picked up, after lunch, in the helicopter and flown to the hospitals.

  It was scary flying with the doors open over potentially hostile areas with the machine gunners searching the ground. Once, when we banked to the right, it seemed I would fall into the jungle, I instinctively grabbed the person next to me, the General - he laughed.
I took Polaroid pictures of him with the wounded soldiers for them to send home. I was humbled, and somewhat embarrassed, roaming around with General Bond on Sunday afternoons while these solders lay in beds with stitches from head to toe, some with limbs missing. Some were difficult to take a picture of for they were so terribly scarred. I may not have been out front fighting but I certainly saw the horrors of the war. One Sunday, while at the 24th Evacuation Hospital in Long Binh, General Bond received a message. There was fighting at the front and wounded were on the ground with no medivac helicopter coming. He quickly decided to help. “But, first,” he said, “drop Blair off, we may need to relay messages to him and his office.” They did. The message I received was that the General was on the ground carrying a wounded private when he and everyone on his helicopter were killed. I still get chills and find it hard to discuss, how close I came. He was a great General. One day I hope to see the Vietnam memorial and find his name. 

 Bob Hope visited our base that   December.
 Since I was a member of the Information Office I had a badge saying “Press” and was able to go backstage with other reporters and meet everyone. Sargent Cadolini borrowed a pass too because the Gold Diggers were with the troupe. Our doubts were answered because he really did know them and they knew him. Small world. I got to shake hands with Bob Hope but, sadly, didn't get an autograph. I also got to meet Neil Armstrong and, yes, I got to hug all the Gold Diggers.

Since it was hot in Vietnam we began spending our days at the base swimming pool and doing our work at night when it was cooler. I continued collecting film and traveling to Saigon, going to excellent Vietnamese restaurants, riding rickshaws, visiting the USO and even trying to skate at an ice skating rink in Saigon. That is, until I was asked if I knew about lay outs and proof reading since I had been an art major. It seems, the brigade needed a person to replace someone in Japan, working with Japanese publishers who were printing a brigade yearbook for us. Wow! Of course, I said yes, even though I knew absolutely nothing. I met my replacement and he taught me everything I needed to know in one day. 
 So I spent my last two months in Vietnam working in Japan. This was rough. I worked 3 hours every third day. The rest of my time was spent touring Tokyo. Riding the Tokyo Metro (the subway) was easy. All the signs were written in Japanese and English. I also visited a friend, Sam, that I grew up with, and his wife Jill, who I, briefly, dated in college. Sam was stationed in the air force in Tokyo and flying TDY to Korea and Jill was pregnant. This was when I learned about Frances (whom I had never met) who was dating Jill's brother. But that should be a later story. 

 I got to see Mt.Fuji, traveling by bullet train.

 I saw fantastic department stores with rooftop gardens and swimming pools, visited Japanese shrines and saw the great Buddha.

Afternoons were spent at the Kabuki theater, an experience more wonderful than Broadway. 

 Most times the school children would gather around me outside the theater asking for my autograph. It appears they got extra credit if they talked to an American using their English. I felt like a movie star standing outside the Kabuki theater in civilian clothes, signing Nippy Blair. I wonder if they ever wonder about that strange American with the strange name.
Everyone in Japan was friendly. Businessmen would try out their English on me. I once was invited to visit a man's home and have a meal with his family so they could use their English.
The Japanese publishers were delightful. They took me to top restaurants where I tried exotic dishes, Sushi, Sashimi, Kaiseki Ryori, squid, octopus. Not food for my taste, but I couldn't be rude or disrespectful.

The yearbook was published on time.  My name is in the credits as Photo Editor.

 I returned to Vietnam where I spent a day and a half before flying home to ungrateful Americans. Upon landing, our plane was diverted to another air base in California because we were being shot upon. Welcome home, ungrateful nation.

The final chapter of my unusual journey as a not-fit-to-be-soldier will continue in Part 3.

© Nippy Blair 2015. Posts and pictures on this blog cannot be copied, downloaded, printed, or used without the permission of the blog owner, Nippy Blair.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Part One
 It was 1968 and the world was in turmoil from the Vietnam war. I was in college and very aware of the protests, the rallies, the killings. I prayed for those involved but that was about the extent of my concern about a war I didn't understand. Sure, I worried about the draft calling me up, but I was a student. It just wasn't something I thought would affect me directly. I couldn't see myself in the military and doing all those macho things, besides, I was not the outdoors type that loved living in tents and shooting weapons. I didn't even hunt or fish, for goodness sake. I never considered myself as the soldier type. I would be a horrible, reluctant soldier. I even briefly, (very, very, briefly) toyed with moving to Canada if Uncle Sam called me.
I was a carefree college student, doing back flips, being a school mascot when it happened. I was drafted, or about to be. Mrs. Valentine, a friend of my daddy's, and in charge of the local draft board, called. “Nippy”, she said, “I can't hold you back any longer. I just have to send your draft notice. It will mean, without a doubt that you will be doing combat in Vietnam if you're drafted. I will give you a week to seek a branch of service before I send your notice out. I'm sorry.” What a blow. I prayed about it and asked the Lord to help me get through this period of my life and keep me safe if it was his will for me to go. I searched around unable to find anything to my satisfaction. Eventually, I returned to the Army recruiter. He noticed I was an art major and suggested photography lab work. I joined the army and prepared to quit college. At the end, Canada was not an option, I could not do that to my family or my country.

My basic training was at Fort Polk.

This was tough. I had never exercised so much in my life and I was not a jogger. God made me to do back flips and gymnastic stuff, and draw pretty pictures, not all this hand to hand combat, running at each other yelling at the top of our voices, practicing shooting and throwing grenades. I was not the macho type.

 I hated long walks in heavy boots or crawling on my belly like a reptile.
 I hated standing in formation while the drill Sargent shouted at me to straighten up, his mouth so close to mine that I could see his fillings.
 Thank goodness I was a morning person and used to waking early, this helped some. I was also somewhat of a clean freak and had no trouble keeping my bunk blanket so tight a quarter could bounce off it. But I hated having to sleep in an open area with lots of other people that were so completely different than me; the guys who stayed up late and gambled and cursed and were scary - the guys who woke you from your sleep threatening you, like the creepy guy above me who thought people were out to get him...thankfully he was discharged quickly. 
 I liked my sleep and long hours cleaning the barracks for an inspection was NOT my thing. 
 I remember, once, hiding in a stand up locker and scrunching down inside sleeping, my head resting on my left knee with my right leg squeezed above my head, while others prepared for inspection, unaware I had disappeared. Luckily, no one opened that locker door and found me that way. Thank goodness for my agile, flexible body that night.

Fort Monmouth, New Jersey

After basic, I was sent to Ft. Monmouth, New Jersey for my photography training. It was November and snowing up north. I had never been around snow very much, especially where it was banked above my head on the sidewalks and still coming down. It was exciting, and even more so when I discovered Fort Monmouth was an hours bus ride from New York city. It was a perfect assignment for a man that loved musicals and dramas and Broadway and had never seen New York. I was in heaven. Basic training was over and I could be a regular person again in this army.
I spent almost two months in a holding pattern at Fort Monmouth that November because my luggage had been lost. It seems my luggage was flown to New Jersey while I arrived by bus. Go figure. That's the army for you. All I had was my dress uniform and a warm coat. They had nothing for me to do until my luggage arrived. I was upset. My school was to start at the end of the month. I missed that class. They assigned me to the next one in January. Eventually, I was given money to buy some civilian clothes and told to check in daily for my luggage. Otherwise I was free to roam about the base and community of which I took full advantage. There was a small coffee shop just off the base that I loved to visit everyday and an art gallery near by. I spent a lot of time reading and writing home. When my bags did finally arrive I received my orders and was told to report for duty.
  Immediately I was assigned KP for a solid month.
 This was so I would not have to be bothered once school started, they explained.
 I pictured myself, sitting on a bucket, sleeves rolled up, sweat pouring down my face, messy apron around my lap peeling potato after potato with the mess Sargent breathing down my back chewing his cigar out the side of his mouth like a Norman Rockwell magazine cover.
 What a miserable month I thought I was in for.

 What I really did was set the tables with silverware for the officers and cleaned floors and tables, all day, every day for one whole month, Sundays included. It really was like working in a restaurant. I was so good at it they let me start waiting on tables for the officers. I didn't have to take food orders but did have to serve plates and make sure water and other drinks weren't neglected. I became the perfect waiter, getting to know the officers names and they mine.. I was treated like a favorite waiter, and I never ever had to peal even one potato. I must admit, I was a little disappointed at that.

In the evenings my friends and I played pool or roamed the base and watched movies, at a theater on base, in our civilian clothes.

Photography School Starts
When school did start, it was like being in college again, except for wearing army uniforms. Army green was not my favorite but I did grow to like it. My particular company did not treat us like we were in the army. We did not have to muster in formations and march like soldiers to school, like the guys in the other schools and barracks. I was in the signal corp they said and we were the artists of the army and stretched the rules. Every morning we walked like regular people to our class, books in hand, trying not to look or make remarks, at the soldiers marching in formation to their classes. In the evenings we were free to study on our own. No rules. No duties. One of my friends, from upstate New York had brought his 1965 red Ford Fairlane convertible.
In the evenings, we visited Asbury Park or Palace Amusements and rode the bumper cars and relaxed walking up and down the boardwalk, looking at the ocean or gawking at the people.

 Yes, it was like you thought a retirement community would be like. Fat old men sitting on benches feeding seagulls in their obscene bathing suits while reading newspapers or women in their not-to-be-seen-in-public two piece bikinis no longer able to hold those bodies they envisioned they still had. Yes, most of the people who visited the boardwalk were elderly but there were young people too, especially girls looking for soldiers. We also ate lots of hot dogs and corn dogs from the vendors or ganged up on pretty girls riding bumper cars, knocking them off guard and flirting. 

On several weekends I rode the bus to the city, checked into a hotel and attended Broadway plays. I did this alone because my new friends had no interest in anything on Broadway except the strip joints. I didn't mind. I had the privilege of seeing Pearl Bailey in Hello Dolly, Angela Lansbury in It's a Dear World, Rosalind Russell in Mame. Lauren Bacall in Cactus Flower. ( This could be a whole blog in itself.) On Sundays I would attend Second Avenue Baptist church where there were a lot of southerners in attendance. Once I went to Marble Collegiate Church to hear Norman Vincent Peale. He was such a powerful, positive man and became a great influence of mine.

On Sunday nights I rode the bus back and prepared for school. My teachers were professional photographers. Many had worked with, and for, large newspapers. It was a lot of hard work learning the camera, taking pictures and having critiques. There were chemicals to learn about and lots of lab work developing pictures. This was quite an extensive college course. At the end of all this training I was given a promotion for being one of the top graduates. I was now a PFC. Well, only for one day. The next day, I discovered my company also gave a promotion to those who graduated. So I became an E1 without ever sewing on my PFC patch. I still didn't understand this Army stuff. I was still a newbie. But, I was in the Signal Corp., the artists of the army. I was still afraid of doing something wrong, still afraid of authority and where I might be going. The class before me, the one that I missed were all assigned to Germany. Darn. I would have loved that. Rumor had it that the next class, yep, mine, would be deployed to Vietnam. I was scared but willing to go.
 Part Two to follow.

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