By Bob West
Feb. 1, 2001
My military career started one cold January morning in 1943 when I and seven other young men from this community boarded a bus for Spokane. We were the first of many that were called into military service after the draft age was lowered to 18. Our destination was the Armory where we joined many other draftees from Washington and Idaho. About 7:30 that night we were bussed to the train station to board a train for Ft. Douglas, Utah, to be inducted into the army of the United States of America.
Once there we were issued Army clothing and given a GI haircut, which took all of three minutes, using clippers only. Some of the guys actually cried when they saw their curly locks lying on the ground. After several days of total confusion, orders, indoctrinations, training films, and a hundred immunization shots (well, almost!), we were separated into companies and shipped to camps or forts all over the country. My company was sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana for basic training. It was at this point of my military service I witnessed my first of many, many SNAFU’s (Situation Normal, All Fouled Up). There was no room for us – there were no sleeping barracks. We spent the first night at camp sleeping in the aisles and under the tables in the mess hall. The next morning, 8-man squad tents were erected around the perimeter of a drill field. Each tent was assigned a barracks for showering and sanitary needs. This was to be our home for several months.
My tent was lucky #13. All but one of us was in this young age group. Pierre was the old man of the tent, all of 25 years of age. He was about 30 pounds overweight and soon had the nickname Porky. He was a happy-go-lucky guy, always in a good mood, and a real comedian. At first, we all wanted to be his friend, but this changed a little later when we found he had one major fault.
For many of us young men, this was the first time we had been away from home for any length of time, and we were extremely homesick. During the day they kept us so busy we didn’t have time to think of our loved ones back home. Nighttime was different. After we showered and ate our evening mess we had several hours of leisure time. Most of us used this time to write letters to our friends and loved ones. When the order, “Lights Out” came, and “Taps” was played, homesickness really set in. I think most of us cried a little, I did. As tired as we were, it was hard to fall asleep. There were so many strange and weird sounds we were not used to – groaning, coughing, sneezing, snoring, just to name a few. Because of our eating habits and the change in our diet, we all suffered from irritations of the lower digestive tract. Soon after we retired, it sounded as if our tent was involved in a small-arms firefight. Pierre brought in the heavy artillery. He had a severe case of chronic flatulence. His was not the nighttime only variety, but the 24-hour, every 10 or 15-minute variety. None of us wanted to sit at the same mess table with him. When we got passes to go to town, we avoided getting in the same bus with him. He was excused from close-order drill (marching) because he drowned out the drill instructor’s orders and cadence count.
After we completed our basic training we were sent to Camp Chaffee, Arkansas to begin training for combat duty with the 16th armored division. In late September a bulletin was sent to all units informing us that on the following Saturday a special ceremony was being held to celebrate the induction of the division into the active fighting service of the United State ground forces. This was to be a very formal affair with several Army generals and big wig officials from the nation’s capitol in attendance. The memo stated we were all to be on our best behavior (meaning, no SNAFUs). Perpetrators would be severely dealt with.
Arkansas is very hot and humid this time of year. By noon of the day of the big event, the temperature was over the 100-degree mark. To add to our miseries our uniform of the day was ODs (woolen olive drab), no jacket but shirt collar buttoned with a tie. By the time we marched 12 blocks to the field where the affair was held, our uniforms were wet with perspiration. Marching that far in this heat was bad enough but standing at parade rest until all the troops were assembled was worse. I heard later that over 200 troops suffered from heat prostration and had to be carried off the field. Although all the troops were sweating it out, I think our company, especially members of Tent 13, were doing more sweating. Pierre had not been heard from. I will give him credit, he tried to be good, but there were forces he could not control and it finally happened. Even those of us who knew what he was capable of were astounded. I truly believe that if this could have been recorded, and there was a record for this event, his would be on the top of the list for its longevity and the record high on the decibel scale in the Guinness Book of Records. At first, we were so shocked we failed to react, but someone snickered, setting off a chain reaction of laughter in our section of the area. The guilty ones spent the next week confined to our company area, doing KP, washing windows, scrubbing barracks floors and other company duties.
I admit this event did not capture worldwide attention as “the shot heard around the world” at the Concord Bridge during the Revolutionary War did, but the shot on the drill field at Camp Chaffee did attract attention on the base for several weeks.