We arrived at Fort Leonard Wood sometime in the early morning hours. It was still snowing and was very cold. We were marched several blocks
to our barracks. When we got into the barracks there was a GI Party going on. A GI Party is a group of trainees that were being punished
for some offense. They were on their knees scrubbing the wooden floors with tooth brushes. This was the first of many GI Parties that we
would be involved with. The Road to Korea
After about two hours of sleep, we were awakened by a loud sharp whistle and yelling from a drill sergeant. This was the day we would shed our civillian clothes for our army clothing. They sent us through this big building and we would throw our civillian clothes in a pile, and then we were issued army clothing. They were supposed to measure each guy for the perfect fit, but I truly believe One size fits all. We were given fatigues, which were work clothes, and a dress uniform, boots, a steel helmet and an M-1 rifle. When we came out the other end of the building, we all looked alike. The rest of the day was orientation and getting us set for military life. I can not and would not try to give a day to day account of basic training, but will try to relate some of the more humorous and serious events during basic training.
We found out that as long as it was so near to Christmas, our group would not start basic training until January 1, 1952, and we had a couple of weeks to wait. We were told we could go home for a week if we could figure out a way to get there. As it was already so close to the holidays, all forms of transportation were all sold out from the Fort. There were five of us from the northwest Iowa area that had got acquainted, and we got a bright idea. "Why not take a taxi?"
We hailed a cab down that was driving through the base, and as we got in, the driver said, "Where to, boys?" We said, "Sioux City, Iowa." He responded, "You've got to be kidding! That's over 500 miles away!" We told him that we were not kidding. He said, "OK, I'll do it for $60.00 each. Let me call my wife and let her know where I'm going."
So about fifteen hours later we were back home again. After enjoying a week at home, my brother Glenn took two of us back to Fort Leonard Wood, in what was then a brand new Chevy pick-up. I don't know how the other three got back. As foggy as it was on the trip back, I'm not sure how we got there, either. There were no interstates in those days, so it was all the way on two-lane roads.
The next morning we were all to report to a large auditorium for more orientation from some very important people. The Big Brass, as they are known. Another guy and I had been on early morning work detail. When we got back to the barracks, everyone had left for the auditorium. Each day on the bulletin board there was a list called Uniform of the Day. This could be work clothes, dress uniform, or any combination of the two. This was all new to us, and the service uses a lot of abbreviations so we weren't sure what to wear. I figured out what I was sure they meant, and my partner agreed, because he said he had no idea what to wear. So we dressed quickly and headed for the auditorium. It was kind of like a church. The front rows were empty, so that is where we sat.
An officer with more brass, medals and ribbons than I had ever seen stepped up to the podium and started to welcome us to the US Army and Fort Leonard Wood. All of a sudden he stopped talking and focused his attention on my buddy sitting next to me. Realizing that we were definately out of uniform, I quickly pulled my coat shut so he couldn't see that we were both dressed the same. He made my buddy stand up and proceeded to chew him out something terrible. He asked him if he didn't know by now that he was in the army, or if he thought he was some kind of an indidualist or something. I felt sorry for him, but not sorry enough to admit that it was my idea. When we got out of there, my ex-buddy started yelling at me, but it wasn't bad, because the officer that got him was a professional, he was just an amateur at chewing someone out. All in all, we both had a good laugh about it.
By now, we all had our GI haircuts, our clothing had all been through the laundry a time or two, so we were starting to look somewhat like we belonged there.
Basic training is a series of learning experiences. Such as learning how to march in formation, inspections, care of the rifle, rifle range, map reading and much much more. Another important thing in the life of the army recruit: Mail Call. We would gather at a building called a day room for handing out of our mail. The mail clerk (usually a sergeant) would call out our names, and we would go up and get our letters. And letters from home were very important.I remember this one guy was very homesick, and hadn't received any mail from home yet. The sergeant hollered out his name. "Harrison!!" The guy yelled back, "Here! Here!" and ran up to get his mail. When he got up front, the old sarge said, " Here's your letter you tried to mail out. You forgot to put a stamp on it!! Now drop and give me twenty push-ups!" So the poor guy didn't get a letter, was embarrassed, had to do twenty push-ups for punishment, and was still homesick. But he survived the eight weeks, just like the rest of us.
Before I went in, I was told by people that had been in the army, "Never volunteer for anything." Well, one morning we were all standing in formation, and the sergeant asked if there were any truck drivers in the outfit. As bad as I would have liked to get behind the wheel of one of those big army trucks, I held steadfast and didn't volunteer. About six guys held their hands up, and the sergeant told them to follow him. They stepped behind a large building, and pretty soon here come those six guys pushing wheel-barrows. We learned quick that when they said truck drivers, they really meant wheelbarrow pushers. Like I said before, never volunteer for anything!
The rifle range was an experience to behold. They ususally hauled us out in trucks, as it was quite a ways from the main part of the base. It lay in kind of a large valley with trees all around it, except behind the targets. As this fort was a training camp for WWII as well as Korea and some in between, there has been a lot of rounds fired at those targets. Over the years, the trees behind the targets had actually been mowed off from the bullets ripping through the forest.
They would divide our group in half. One half would be on the firing range, and the other half would be doing what was called pulling targets. That meant we were out where the targets were. There was a cement wall that we stood behind for protection, and the targets were attached to a rope and pulley mechanism, and when the other group was ready to fire, we would pull the targets up, then let them down to count the holes and score them on a score sheet. If they missed the target altogether, we would run up a large piece of red cloth resembling women's underwear. This was known as Maggie's Drawers.
Then it was our turn on the firing line. It was in the cold part of January, so we had thos heavy wool coats on, more commonly known as horse blankets. We also wore a full field pack that weighed 90 lbs. It was next to impossible to get the butt of the rifle placed on my shoulder as it should be. The rifle butt would invariably slip down on the upper part of my arm. Those M-1 rifles had a terrific kick to them, and by the end of the day, my whole upper arm was black and blue, and it was mighty sore the next day. Maybe that's the reason I got so many Maggie's Drawers!!
Bayonet training and running the obstacle course was quite a feat. They had sandbags hanging from ropes that we had to attack with the bayonets attached to the rifle. There was the smash, which was putting the bayonet into the enemy's body, the the slash, bringing the bayonet down across the enemy, and then the butt stroke, which brought the butt of the rifle up into the enemy's face. There were others also, but I cant remember all of them at this writing. I realize these descriptions of bayonet training are kind of gory, but need to be told, as it is part of the training.
Now to the obstacle course. There was a lot of climbing over walls, hand over hand on ropes, jumping over fences, through and under barbed wire, and probably some that I have fogotten. I do remember the wall, as it was a plank wall about eight feet tall with very little to grasp on to. We had to climb it and get down the other side. It was raining that day and everything was wet and slippery, which made it extra hard. We had to carry our rifles over with us. As I finally got to the top and was ready to go down the other side, I slipped and fell face down on the ground. The next guy behind me also fell, but as he came down on top of me, the barrel of his rifle jammed into my back, with his body weight on top of it. Why it didn't go through me I'll never know. We had just removed the bayonets moments before. Had they not been removed, I probably wouldn't be writing this today. This injury knocked the wind out of me and I laid there on the ground for a while to get my breathing going again, then somehow I made it the rest of the way. This was sore for a long time, but I just kept on going anyway.
About two weeks earlier, we received a lot of shots for many diseases. I can't remember many of them now, but they sure could make you feel bad. Some gave a reaction, also. After I got all those shots I came down with the flu, plus the reaction to some of the shots. I was a mess. It so happened we had the weekend off, so I went to the bus depot and got a ticket to a small town called Rolla, MO, about twenty miles from the fort. Once there, I rented a hotel room for the weekend, took a hot bath and went to bed, using all the covers and blankets available. I must have slept nearly all of both days. It worked, because by Sunday afternoon I was feeling much better. I knew that if I had stayed on base I would have been on KP or some work detail.
I remember this old hotel. It was three floors tall and the room I had was on the third floor. There was a sign on the wall that read FIRE ESCAPE UNDER BED. I looked under the bed and sure enough, there it was. A big coil of large diameter rope with knots tied about every two feet, and anchored securely to a large metal ring bolted to the floor. A note with it read In case of fire, throw rope out and let yourself down to safety. I guess they thought of everything.
Working in the kitchen (KP) came around all too often, it seemed. A list of men who were on KP would be posted each night for the following day, which usually started about 4:00 AM. If our name was on the list, we were required to tie a towel to the end of our bunk, so as the night guards made their rounds, they would know who to wake up. We figured out how to get an extra hour of sleep. Just wait until everyone was asleep, then get up and remove the towel from our bunks and tie it to someone else's bunk. The guard would wake that guy up, and they would go round and round and he would finally convince the guard that it wasn't him that was supposed to be on KP. I only pulled that once, as all the confusion wasn't worth it, and I ended up on KP anyway.
Guard duty was another duty we had to learn. There were ususally about five or six routes that had to be walked; they were called guard posts. It could be around a group of buildings, or a motor pool where trucks were parked, or any other area within our company boundaries.
There were guards on duty from 6:00 PM to 6:00 AM, so each person was on two hours and off four hours. So if you went on duty at 6:00 PM, you would walk your post until 8:00 PM, then be off until midnight, be on again until 2:00 AM, and then be off the rest of the night. That's the shift everyone liked.
There was a group of general orders we had to learn. One of them was To take charge of my post and all government property in view. We had another way to say it: To take charge of my plate and all potatoes and gravy in sight. Another one I remember is To walk my post in a military manner, observing everything that takes place within sight or hearing. Or, To walk my post in a military manner, take no crap from the Company Commander. Of course, those weren't said in front of anyone with authority.
Now I'll describe the infiltration course. This was an area where we had to crawl on our bellies or our backs across a field that was usually muddy and strung with rolls of barbed wire and many other obstacles. They had small explosions going off all around us to simulate the real thing. They also had machine guns firing live ammo about 3 feet above the ground, so no one dared to stand up. We had to carry our rifles through all of this also, so it was not an easy task. But as with all the other seemingly impossible ventures, we all survived.
The twenty-mile march always came at the conclusion of eight week basic training. This was carrying a full field pack which contained everything that was needed to survive in the field. Everyone carried one half of a two-man pup tent. It was called a shelter half. The idea was that you always camped with a buddy. I always wondered what I would do if I wound up by myself. It would be kind of hard to set up half of a tent.
Getting back to the twenty-mile march. That's a long way on level ground, but Fort Leonard Wood was known for its hilly country. They would give us a ten minute break every hour. They would halt us from the march, and holler "Take ten. Expect five, and get three. Smoke if you got 'em. If not, get 'em from your squad leader." That was kind of a joke, but it seems like it was true more times than not. They had ambulances and peronnel carriers following behind to pick up anyone who couldn't make it. I'm very proud to say that I made it the full twenty miles, as did many others. I was really hurting at times, but I had heard of the twenty mile march, and I was determined to make it, no matter what.
There is much more to basic training than I have described, but this is a general view of what went on, and the things that stuck in my mind the most.
The next day was graduation. There were several companies going through training at the same time, but were at different levels of training. We all marched to a large parade field and had to stand as a group for several hours it seemed. Finally it was our turn to march before the stands where the top dignitaries and VIPs could view our group. When that was over we could go back to our quarters and relax, for we were now really soldiers and had the rigors of basic training behind us. We all felt very proud. The next eight weeks was going to school to prepare us for what was to be our occupation during the rest of our term. Fort Leonard Wood was an engineering fort, so we were destined to be in the Combat Engineers.
There are many different things an Engineer Battalion is responsible for; building bridges and roads, maintaining water supplies and just about anything it takes to keep an army moving. The group that took the first eight weeks of basic training together were split up and sent to different schools, so the friendships we made were now just a memeory, and we had to get acquainted with a new group all over again. I was sent to a school called tractor-scraper. This was learning to run bull dozers and motor graders. This eight weeks was a lot different than the the first eight. Not nearly as rough. We still had to do our marching, KP and guard duty, but we were treated a lot better now.
In tractor-scraper school there were several dozers pulling huge scrapers. Our class would dig a huge ditch and create a large hill. The next class that went through would reverse the procedure. There wasn't too much out of the ordinary to write about during that school.
The one thing that I hadn't mentioned was the PX, or Post Exchange. This was a store that we could buy all our personal needs. They also sold watches, cameras and things like that. All kinds of souvenirs that we could send home. There was usually a place to sit and have a Coke and listen to some music on the nickelodian. Hank Williams hits of the day, Johnny Ray singing "The Little White Cloud that Cries", Kay Starr singing "Wheel of Fortune", and other artists that I don't remember now. Elvis Presley wouldn't be along for five years yet.
Graduation time was here again from the tractor-scraper school, and then we had to wait a day or two for our orders to come down telling us where we would be sen to serve our time. We finally received our orders. Mine read "2nd Division Far East Command", which meant Korea.
We were now eligible for a twenty-six day leave before being sent to Korea. What a happy day, being able to go home for twenty-six days! We found a guy that had a car on the base and was going home on leave, also. He lived in North Dakota, and would be going right through Sioux City, IA. There were three of us going that way, so it worked out well. He was driving a 1948 Chevrolet. We gathered our bags and other belongings, and bid farewell to the place that had been our home for about three months. We learned a lot during our stay there, but were glad to leave.
Somewhere around St. Joseph, MO a highway patrolman stopped our driver for speeding. The officer was a pretty good guy, though. When he saw us all in uniform and we told him we were going home on leave, he let us off with a warning that if we wanted to enjoy our furlough, to drive more safely.
We were traveling toward Sioux City on the Nebraska side of the Missouri River, and the closer we got to Sioux City, the more we heard about the great Missouri River flood that had been going on. We were getting concerned that the Combination Bridge would be closed due to the flooding in South Sioux City, NE. Luckily, the water had receded before we got there, so we had no trouble getting into Sioux City.
It was about 5:00 in the morning when our driver left me off in downtown Sioux City. I got a cab and he brought me out to the farm. What a great feeling to be back home again. And it was in the middle of April, a lot nicer weather than when I was home for Christmas. Needless to say, there was a lot of visiting going in as I had lots of things to tell my mother, father and brother.
This leave time was to become the best and most important time of my life, as it was during these three weeks I would meet Dolores, the girl that would become my wife and mother of our children. After a three-week whirlwind romance, it was time to go back to the military life. Oh yes, I said in the beginning of this narrative that there would be more about the 1937 Oldsmobile. This was the car that Dolores and I had our first date in. We went to the 75 Drive-In. What movie was showing? Who cares!
The Road to Korea