Themes and Events:
* Yuri Gagarin, a Soviet cosmonaut, becomes the first man in space, he orbit Earth once in 89 minutes.
* The worlds biggest single unit radio telescope starts interpreting radio waves. The Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico used a spherical reflector 1000 feet wide.
* During January, John F. Kennedy was inaugurated President of the United States. Kennedy was the youngest President the country ever had. He spoke with a Harvard accent, was handsome, was of Irish descent and became the first Catholic to occupy the White House. It was John Kennedy’s dream of America conquering “New Frontiers” that gave impetus to space related research and propelled our national space program ahead. Kennedy’s concern with civil defense prompted him to advise families to build or buy a fallout shelter. His administration pushed for an increase in physical fitness particularly in the schools.
My 1st Leave in the Army: Rapid changes at home
Between A.I.T. and our next assignment, my training company was given a weeks Leave. I returned home to visit my family and friends in Pasadena.
No sooner had I walked in the front door when I was surprised to find the family hadn’t put up a Christmas tree for the holiday season. Somewhat shocked by the unexpected turn of events, I asked if they’d given up on Christmas. Mom explained, drawing some association between the death of Jesus on a wooden crucifix and the wood of a Christmas tree. I didn’t see the connection, but if that was their way, I figured I could live with it for a week.
Between my previous summer’s vacation in Michigan and being in the Army, I hadn’t seen my parents much during the last half-year. It was becoming clear, that during my absence they’d become even more religious and somewhat ‘unorthodox’ in their convictions.
After I left for the Service, no time had been wasted in converting my bedroom into a study for Dad, my clothes and belongings were all boxed up and stored in the closet. Fortunate for me, my twin bed was still available to sleep on. My old civilian clothes didn’t fit well any more and were beginning to look a little childish, so I walked to clothing store a few blocks away on Lake Street, and bought a new shirt and pair of trousers.
[Photograph above, early January 1961: I’m 18 years old, just out of Advanced Infantry Training at Fort Ord, CA and visiting home for the holidays.]
Introducing Miss Jackie
I attended church services with the family while on Leave, wearing my uniform each time. During one meeting, I noticed that Jackie, a girl whom I knew from high school, kept looking at me and smiling. I approached her after the services, where upon we had an extended conversation. Jackie wanted to chat, to find out how I liked the service and if I’d tell her about life in the Army.
Jackie was rather thin, five foot four inches tall, had short brown hair and brown eyes, she’d acted more mature than I during high school. Not only did she hang around with a group that seemed older and more popular than were any of my friends, but she had an aura of intelligence and presence that while friendly, was also aloof. Jackie’s father was a licensed medical professional, her family lived in a fashionable neighborhood near the mountains in Altadena.
Her apparent interest and friendliness piqued my curiosity, making me wonder why, after knowing each other for a year, suddenly she was befriending me. What ever relationship might have developed between us was put on hold, because my Leave was almost over.
Meanwhile in the Howard Street neighborhood: My friends were glad to see me and hear all about the Army, “boot camp”, etc. They were all involved with their lives, with previous obligations, school and new friends, so there wasn’t the opportunity to spend much time chatting. I spent much of my week doing nothing.
Arrival at Fort Campbell, Kentucky
Upon returning to Ft. Ord, I received my Transfer Orders to report to Ft. Campbell, Kentucky. Those of us going to Airborne School were put aboard a large commercial jet and flown across country.
When our small group arrived at Ft. Campbell we were individually assigned to platoons throughout the 101st Airborne Division. I was assigned to the Weapons Squad of the 2nd Platoon. My address became:
Pvt. Larry F. Pierce, Company B, 501st Infantry Battlegroup, 101st Airborne Division, Ft. Campbell, KY.
My quarters in Company B
My new quarters were in a rectangular (cracker box-shaped), four-story concrete building, with windows all along the side on each floor. There was a double wide door way toward either end and on both sides of the building. Just inside the front doors were wide concrete stairwells leading to the upper two floors where the soldiers were billeted. An outdoor ramp on the back side of the building lead down to a basement storage area and large classroom.
Each floor was divided by a hall that ran down the center lengthwise, from one end of the building to the other.
The recreation area was at one end, on the building’s main floor, above the Rec. area was the 1st Platoon bay, on the second floor was the 2nd platoon bay.
At the other end of the building, the Weapons Platoon was located on the main floor, 3rd Platoon above them on the 2nd floor, and 4th Platoon on the 2nd floor.
At either end of the building were the large platoon bays where most of the soldiers were quartered. Each platoon bay slept about thirty-eight to forty-four privates, PFCs and Sp4s (Private First Class and Specialist Fourth Class). The platoon bays terminated with a double swinging door. Just beyond the swinging doors, on one side of the hall, was the very clean, platoon bathroom with ceramic tiles on the walls and floor. Across the hall from the bathroom was the stairwell and “Rifle Room”. The “rifle room” was secure storage for our platoons rifles, bayonets, pistols, grenade launchers, rocket launchers, machine guns, communications radios and a variety of other sensitive equipment.
[Photograph above: 2nd Platoon bay is seen on the second story, center, this end of the building, (peeking over the roof of the Mess hall]
Continuing down both sides of the hall to the next platoon’s bathroom, were small semi private rooms for the NCOs (Non Commissioned Officers). Most of the NCOs were sergeants, but some were SP4s (pronounced “speck four”).
The buildings ground floor housed the Weapons Platoon at one end of the hall and a divided recreation area at the other. The recreation area was referred to as the “Day Room”. The Day Room was actually two rooms, one room had a television and several dozen folding chairs.
Soldiers with no plans for the holidays or were in the barracks on a weekend, frequently spent time here watching TV and eating a pizza. The other half of the of the recreation area was the Reading Room composed of a couple of desks, easy chairs, a couch and several magazine racks. The reading room was the least used space in the building. Between the Weapons platoon bay and the recreational area were the various administrative offices: the First Sergeant’s staff and Company commanders office, an officers room and an Operations room.
Extending out from one end of the building, just past the recreational area, was the attached, one floor kitchen and mess hall.
There was a basement where we held classes, were given lectures and had company wide meetings. The basement entrance was to the left, around the side of the building and down an inclined ramp.
The 2nd Platoon bay
The large platoon bay, which housed the rank and file of the 2nd Platoon, had a wide, tiled aisle down the center. On either side of the isle, evenly spaced, orderly cubicles had been created using large, gray, metallic dividers. Inside each cubicle was a walking space, on either side of which was a cot. The metal framed, olive drab-colored cots were about 6’4″ long and composed of tight, spring held, wire mesh with a four to six-inch thick mattress on top. The beds were all tightly made, there wasn’t as much as a wrinkle seen in any. Several pairs of highly polished boots and shoes sat side by side beneath each cot.
At the head of each cot were that given soldiers two locked, olive drab metal lockers, taller and larger than the type usually seen in school. One locker was only for uniforms and military equipment, the second locker held the soldier’s civilian clothes and limited other private paraphernalia. There was a heavy metal hook attached to the window side locker of each pair of lockers. The hook carried the soldiers web gear, consisting of: a harness, canteen, entrenching tool, two pouches for ammunition clips, and a butt pack; these items were always clean, assembled, packed (minus the ammunition) and ready to go. At the foot of every cot sat the soldier’s footlocker, containing such things as his neatly rolled underwear, socks, official shaving kit, long john underwear, etc.
First days at Ft. Campbell
It was a custom in Airborne for replacement troops to be lightly hazed and psychologically harassed. I was given errands to run, told to do push ups and generally treated like a third-rate person. Before long, I learned there were two kinds of people: Those who had gone through Jump School and earned their Airborne Wings insignia were referred to as “Troops”; those without “Wings” were simply and derogatorily known as, “Legs.” A major difference between Airborne and non Airborne soldiers was that, “Troops fly and jump. (said proudly) Legs walk. (said disparagingly)”
I found that there was a certain bravado, a dare and do comradeship that developed between the soldiers, derived from the inherent danger and bravado of being a paratrooper.
[Internet image: Jump School, photo taken a couple of years prior to 1961. There were a few minor upgrades in the training structures before I was stationed at Ft. Campbell.]
A few weeks after arriving at Ft. Campbell, I was assigned to attend the Airborne Jump School Training course. There were only about 1/8 the troops shown in the photo above in our jump school training class, making me think the pic was taken when jump school at Ft Campbell first opened, by the time I arrived, jump school classes were sized to handle division replacements.
Jump School was apparently designed to accomplish several military needs. The prime purpose was to teach the soldier to safely recover from a parachute jump from an aircraft in flight. Since this was a semi hazardous group effort, not only the proper techniques, but the proper mental attitude needed to be instilled in the individual troops.
So much for theory. Jump School was tough! I never spent a harder couple weeks in my life. During the long days we were nearly run into the ground with exhaustion. From sunrise until late in the afternoon we carried fifty pounds of equipment, including parachutes strapped to our bodies.
The Jump School cadre appeared to be the most venomous creatures that ever walked God’s green earth. They never talked to a trainee, except for yelling. They would never touch you except roughly. If you needed special attention, which was not a good omen, an instructor would grab the helmet safety strap that ran around your face and shake you silly, all the while screaming obscenities and spitting flecks of spittle in your face. During Jump School we wore all of our web belt and harness gear and parachutes bags. The loads were heavy and unwieldy making us somewhat clumsy, at first. With all this equipment on our back, chest and about our waist, we were required to do push ups, react promptly in everything we were required to do, run to and from cadre and between the school’s instructional areas.
First thing upon arriving at Jump School in the morning, the day was started with a detailed inspection of our equipment, hands, faces, clothes and attitude. One morning an instructor found a small dollop of white shaving cream on the back of a trainees neck. All the cadre gathered around to look at the unbelievable affront to their procedures and get a close look at that day’s victim. That poor fellow had a special cadre work with him off and on during the morning; he did hundreds of push ups and was run back and forth between instructors until he was unable to walk straight. He and several other miserable fellows, stood at attention beside the Jump School office all afternoon, holding painted rocks out at arm’s length.
After the first few days most of those who were going to be eliminated, were.
One important lesson we learned was how to make a safe parachute landing fall (P. L. F.). In civilian life you might see a recreational sky diver come floating down and land ever so gently on his feet, after a descent from 10,000 feet, but that is not the military way. First of all, a paratroopers main parachute is designed to descend at about nineteen feet per second, perhaps twenty-five percent faster that a recreational parachute, the emergency parachute only slows you to about twenty-one feet per second. The idea is to get the soldier from the 1,200 foot jump altitude onto the ground as fast as possible, reducing his chance of being shot while still in the air, but slow enough so he doesn’t ‘splatter’ when he ‘lands’.
Secondly, a paratrooper is weighted down with packs, ammunition, canteen, entrenching tool, sleeping bag, some extra clothing, some food, an army jacket, weapons, and all sorts of small things. There is a darn good chance if you tried to land on your feet you’d break an ankle, leg, your back or receive a concussion. “Parachute Landing Fall’s” (PLFs) were rehearsed by repeatedly jumping off a four-foot high platform, while wearing all our heavy gear. We were told to jump from either our left side , right side, forward or backwards. As soon as we’d made a proper P.L.F. roll in the sawdust pit beside the platform, we’d jump back up to our feet, run around the platform and get in line for another practice jump.
Members of the current Jump Class were spread around the school’s training areas and amongst the cadre. There weren’t any more than perhaps twelve troops practicing P.L.F.s at any one time. The old white, well used wooden platform we jumped from, was long enough so for two trainees to jump at
the same time. In order to keep the flow of jumpers on the platform constant we had to hurry back into line, climb the steps and jump again. Around and around we went. We would jump, roll, run around to get in line, climb the stairs and jump again for what seemed long periods of time. Finally, some fellows became so worn down from the strenuous effort, that they simply fell off the platform, crumpled to the ground and crawled out of the sawdust, eventually they just fell and laid there. It was odd to see really tough men, who were bigger and much stronger than I, reduced to a piece of meat that laid on the ground crying. Finally, when they were too weak to walk, they crawled, sobbing to themselves like babies.
[Above, Internet image, (James?) demonstrating how to stand before jumping off platform to make proper PLF. The exercise is done with main and chest parachute bundles, so the extra load is fairly heavy. Note barracks in background.]
In order for us to overcome our fear of heights we were required to make several jumps from an airplane mockup located on top of a thirty-four foot high wooden tower. We climbed the steep wooden steps loaded down with our heavy, bulky equipment. At the top, there was a small room in which one of the cadre waited, as we filed in. Taking each one of us in turn, he’d hook our harness to a pair of snap link fasteners and yell, “Stand in the door!” The contraption you were hooked to had a pair of heavy-duty nylon straps that went out the door and up to an overhead roller.
The roller was set firmly on a heavy steel cable that angled gently downward over a couple hundred feet to ground level. When a trainee jumped out of the tower top, airplane mockup, he had an exhilarating, but safe ride down the cable to the far end. When the tower instructor snapped, “Jump!”, you had better comply immediately! Any hesitation, no matter how slight, and he’d swing up on an overhead bar, plant both his feet in your back and kick you straight out the door flopping about like an ungainly gooney bird. If and when that happened, cadre on the ground would disconnect the hapless trainee from the cable slide and harass him something terrible.
[Internet image above: Photo taken in early 1960s. ‘The Tower’. Jumping from the 34 foot tower instilled confidence in one’s equipment. The soldier here are tethered to rollers that slide along steel cables above their heads.]
Fellows who acted tough, bragged, showed any sign of rebellion, or who didn’t instantly and properly comply with instructions, were mercilessly harassed. No person who was “picked out” by the cadre, ever earned their parachutist badge, non ever lasted the day.
As young men entering an elite military unit, we learned a strict, immediate and totally compliant obedience to instruction. This was important, because as a military parachutist, one must follow directions for everyone’s safety. You must learn how to put your main and reserve parachute on, and over your other equipment. You must know how to run a safety inspection on your own and another person’s parachute connections. You must know how to stand properly in the door of an aircraft, assume the correct posture and leap forward into the screaming wind. Then, without thought, you must immediately assume another posture until your parachute deploys. All the while you must “countdown” to yourself and be prepared to deploy the reserve parachute should your “main parachute” fail. While you descend toward the ground, you need know how to guide the parachute away from obstacles, both on the ground and approaching in the air. You must know how to hit the ground and roll while wearing heavy, bulky equipment and how to gain release from the parachute if it begins dragging you across the ground. You learn to protect yourself should you come down through power or phone lines, how to safely crash down through a tree, how to land on pavement…
At the end of the grueling third week of Jump School, we were required to make five qualifying parachute jumps in order to graduate.
The Airborne Division’s are America’s shock troops. It is their responsibility to move rapidly into a position requiring infantry and to stabilize or hold that position until other military or political units arrive to take control. An aggressive, “I won’t quit and I won’t be defeated.”, attitude and behavior is instilled in the paratrooper beginning in Jump School and reinforced during his entire period in the service.
My first parachute jump
I’ll always remember the morning of my first jump…of jogging in formation through the predawn darkness, up that slight hill to Jump School…being seated side by side, in rows with others inside the plywood mockup of an aircraft, waiting for the trucks to arrive that would carry us to the Fort’s airport.
[Internet image, left: Stand in the door! Pausing in the doorway for the briefest moment- and a second later, you’re in a swirl of momentary oblivion, sailing out and down behind the airplane. An exhilarating, nerve wracking event.]
I remember looking across the graveled grounds and seeing the now familiar, darkly silhouetted equipment. Everything was black or dark gray in the shadows of night’s darkness. A gentle drizzle fell and the cool wind felt good against my warm flesh. Across the yard were several flood lights. In their dim light I could see tiny particles of moisture falling. I became aware of my fingers gently gripping the seat on either side of me, feeling the coarse texture of the long wooden bench I was sitting on.
Across the isle from me were the dark, quiet, still forms of the other trainees. There was a faint smell of damp canvas and clothing in the air. I was aware of how good it was to be alive and that I was sensing everything about me with heightened appreciation. Would I survive the day?
We “Hit the blast” three times that day and two the next and Jump School became history. After our fifth and final jump qualifying jump, the Jump School Commandant pinned the coveted metal Parachute Badge on each of our uniforms. After the award ceremony each member of the Jump School Cadre gave a short friendly speech, telling us a little about themselves and their families. We learned they were “regular guys” like us, who were required to act exceptionally tough in order to instill the proper training and attitude for our somewhat hazardous duty. The parachute badges that are awarded at graduation were referred to as our “Blood Wings”, because of the hardship endured in earning them.
We never wore our ‘Blood Wings’ on our Class A dress uniform, but purchased replacement badges for secular use. Upon completion of Jump School we began drawing an additional $55.00 per month ‘hazardous duty pay’. For a Private, $55 per month was more than a fifty percent increase in pay, a very nice and necessary boost in spendable income. [Internet photo, right: parachutist badge identical to my ‘Blood Wings’.]
17 April: TheBay of Pigs
The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) launched an ill-fated attempt to overthrow Fidel Castro, by landing a small army of 1500 trained, exiled Cuban’s at the Bay of Pigs in Cuba. Castro’s army surprised the armed exiles on the beach, killing or capturing all of them within three days.
The defeat was seen as a disaster for the C.I.A. and American’s will to resolve issues in the Caribbean.
Shepard flies the Mercury space capsule
On May 5, Naval Commander, Alan B. Shepard Jr. flew America’s first suborbital flight in the Freedom 7 Mercury capsule. The mission carried Commander Shepard 116 miles high, at speeds of 5,181 MPH on his 15 minute flight.
I’m assigned to the Weapon’s squad
After graduation from Jump School, I was assigned as an Assistant to a 3.5 Inch Rocket Launcher. The term “assistant”, in reality meant “ammo carrier”. I studied the 3.5″ Rocket Launcher manual, attended classes to learn its operation, care and cleaning, and qualified as an Expert marksman with the weapon. Within a couple of months, I was promoted to ‘Rocket Launcher gunner’ and had an Assistant (ammo carrier) under me.
The rocket launch system consisted of a 3.5-Inch bore Anti-Tank Rocket Launcher (model M20A1) consisting of two aluminum tubes, which had to be screwed together before loading and firing a rocket. The assembled launch tube had a length of 60 inches and weighed 14 pounds. The weapon for the M20 launcher was a High-Explosive Anti-Tank Rocket (model M28)
[Photograph left: 1961, about half of the Weapons Squad during a field exercise. I’m leaning on my disassembled, 3.5 inch rocket launcher, second from left. Fellow on the right is holding a M60 machine gun.]
I was lucky to have fallen into a Weapons Squad, as I learned on our Battle Group’s first field exercise. When on a field maneuver or War Games, riflemen are sent out on night patrols, to forward listening posts or to stand guard duty. What sleep they miss during such activities is simply missed. On the other hand, the Weapons Squad’s machine guns and rocket launcher crews are set up in key defensive positions and usually not moved until the entire Platoon moves. This state of affairs translated into the probability of more sleep at night and a little less running around through the countryside at other times. Our small benefit was overshadowed by the heavier equipment weight, carried by each member of the Weapon’s Squad during the rest of the maneuver.
Platoon Sergeant Rameriz
Initially, Platoon Sergeant Rameriz was in charge of the Second platoon. Sgt. Rameriz had found himself a home in the Army ever since he served in the Korean War. He was a relatively short and muscular man of about five foot five inches. His solid frame, dark burly looks and way he crashed through brush during field problems, reminded me of a an old cantankerous bear. Sgt. Rameriz was not a particularly intelligent person, being somewhat more dogmatic, crafty and eager to make sure that nothing ever happened to shed any negative light on his job performance. I think he only had a couple of years to go before retirement and wanted to complete the rest of his enlistment with the least number of problems from the young soldiers, whose job it was for him to lead. At the same time, Sgt. Rameriz was friendly, yet remained distant from the troops as any one in a leadership position might be.
Sgt. Rameriz had a little sideline business with a photo shop. Ever so often he’d announce he would be setting up his professional portrait camera during such and such hours on the weekend. Anyone who wanted a photograph taken for friends or family would show up in their uniform and he’d take your picture. Occasionally he used company or platoon formations as a time to take group photographs. Every one who had a photo taken was obliged to buy several copies. Sgt. Rameriz received compensation from the sale of the photographs, as well as earning price reductions from the developing company for bulk work, film, etc. I had several photograph taken, but felt each time that I was being pressured to do so.
Once, while preparing for a parachute jump, Sgt. Rameriz and I inspected the safety condition of each others parachute. I nearly choked in surprise when Rameriz found a packing error on my main parachute. Who ever packed that parachute had run the static line (that deployed the parachute) through some webbing on the parachute’s canvas cover. If the error wasn’t caught I’d have likely been dragged through the air flopping, in the wind, behind the aircraft until either I or someone else cut me loose. Rameriz called another Sergeant to verify the improper packing, they rerouted my static line. The packers identification card (a number) was removed from my parachute and sent it through proper channels, so the packer could explain his workmanship to his superiors.
13 August: The Berlin Wall is erected
In the face of the alarming rate at which refugees East Germans were pouring into West Germany, through Berlin and in consideration that the United States had declared its intent to protect the independence of West Berlin, Soviet Premier, Nikita Khrushchev ordered the Berlin Wall built.
Learning to use the M-60 machine gun
In September, just before completion of my first year of military service, I was promoted to the rank of Private First Class (PFC.), pay grade E-3. Now, with one chevron on my shirt sleeve, I was earning $99 regular pay plus $55 hazardous duty pay, or $154 per month; that was more than twice my pay as a “recruit” in Basic Training.
[Internet image, right: A M60 machine gun mounted on its tripod. When in use, a continuous belt of ammo would have fed into the firing chamber.
Since the Weapons Squad team member’s jobs were somewhat interchangeable, I was given training on the M-30 Air-cooled Machine Gun. No sooner had I qualified with the weapon and the new M-60 Machine Gun was deployed among the 101st Airborne units. The M-60 had a much An different design than the old Korean War style M-30s, it was also lighter and fired a NATO compatible 7.62mm cartridge. After learning how to field strip, clean and care for the M-60, I qualified as an Expert marksman with it as well. Then, for a time I was assigned as the Assistant Gunner (tripod carrier), thus learning the ins and outs of machine gun deployment.
Second leave: Dating Jackie
Having accumulated a weeks Leave by early summer, I decided to fly home for a visit.
It was on this leave that I flew my first flight on a 707 commercial passenger jet. Jet aircraft had only been developed some sixteen years earlier so the 707s were a new, fast and luxurious way to travel.
Arriving in Los Angeles I took a shuttle bus to the Green Hotel in Pasadena, rode a local bus up Lake Street to Howard Street and walked the last block home.
Some changes had occurred during my absence. I was happy to find my sister, Linda, had recently been on her first date. Actually she’d been on a double date with a fellow from the church and another couple, I was glad to see she was also growing up and expanding her universe.
My good friend, Mike was attending summer school at California State College in Pomona.
Between his class schedule, round trip driving time to Pomona, and studies, we didn’t have much opportunity to visit.
My other good friend, Ted and his mother, Naomi, had moved out of Pasadena. Ted borrowed his Mom’s car to come over and visit, but we had only a couple short hours together before he had to leave.
I telephoned Jackie with hopes of getting together with her for a while. She was pleased to hear from me. She said her parents had bought her a Volkswagen “Bug”, so she could pick me up right away, if I wanted to go somewhere together. We went to a nearby restaurant for lunch. While we ate our sandwiches, Jackie informed me that she was attending California State College at Los Angeles with hopes of becoming a Grade School teacher.
It wasn’t until then that I realized just how many of my friends and acquaintances were moving on with their lives. It seemed everyone was rapidly preparing for adulthood, such a change from one short year earlier. Before dropping me off at home again, Jackie asked if I’d like to visit with her friend Margo the next evening. I replied, That sounds like fun.” I knew Margo from senior high school, she Jackie and several others had been part of a rather social, intellectual clique. I wondered if she was changing as was Jackie.
The next evening Jackie picked me up as planned. Instead of driving north to Margo’s house in Altadena, we went south to Rosemead. As we drove, Jackie explained that Margo was supposed to be staying at a girl friends house, but was actually staying over night with her boyfriend and it was his apartment where we were going. Well, I certainly would go for a little adventure and was interested finding out what was going on. We arrived at the rather old apartment building and walked up the stairs to the second story. Jackie knocked on the door and the boy friend let us in. Inside, we found the room was lit by candlelight. The apartment was furnished with old furniture and worn, brownish carpets that looked like survivors from the 1940s. The boyfriend appeared to be in his early to mid thirties, had a beard trimmed to a point below his chin, reminding me of an aging “beatnik”; he must have been twelve to fifteen years older than the rest of us. I was surprised to see Margo hanging all over this quiet, older man, sitting deep on his lap, frequently kissing him and demonstrating such affection so publicly in front of guests. The boy friend sat there stoically, taking her affections. Margo played a Brahm’s Symphony No.2 record album on the hi-fi record player while we sat about sipping red wine in the candlelight. It was an unusual night with strange, but stirring music, unexpected behavior from acquaintances and talk about existential philosophy.
Music [midi: Exodus]
A day at Miss Jackie’s house
A day or two later Jackie invited me over to her house saying she had permission from her parents for me to spend the night. Saturday afternoon she picked me up in her new Volkswagen and we drove back up the winding streets to her parents house in Altadena. Her parents weren’t home at the time. Jackie and I went through her record album collection where she selected and began playing Brahms Symphony No. 2 and Symphony No. 4 on the stereo. Jackie went to her room and quickly returned with a book, then led me into the Sun Room, where we sat cross-legged on the floor, to talk.
We took turns reading passages from her favorite book, The Prophet, by Kahlil Gibran. This was my first real exposure to classical music and poetry, I liked the feelings evoked by these forms of communication. Although alien to my experience, they seemed to reach into a deeper part of the mind, past the bounds of my normal daily consciousness. I savored the music and poetry and stored those feelings and ideas away for future exploration.
Before long we began kissing and doing some v-e-r-y heavy petting… [deletion]…At almost the last-minute, her parents drove into the driveway. Jackie began spraying the room with an aerosol air freshener…
I spent the night in the home’s basement, which had been converted into a very nice spare bedroom. Sunday morning I was awakened by the deep and beautiful, stereophonic soundtrack music from the movie, Exodus, being piped into my bedchamber. No sooner had I rolled over in bed to take my bearings, when Jackie walked in carrying a tray. She’d brought me a cup of coffee and a glass of orange juice. Setting the tray on the nightstand beside my bed, she bent down and gave me a warm kiss. Wow! This was turning into a heady experience! A while later, we made plans to see one another on my next Leave from the Service.
The next day, with my Leave nearly over, I caught a passenger jet from Los Angeles International Airport and flew back to Ft. Campbell.
Training cadets at West Point
As luck would have it, during the late summer, my outfit, Company B of the 501st Infantry Battle Group, was selected for an excellent assignment. We were transferred to West Point Military Academy in New York in order to teach the first year cadets how to fire small arms weapons and to act as “aggressor” foils against them in a field training exercises.
[Internet image, left: Cadet officers at West Point.]
When we arrived at West Point, several other troops and myself were detailed to give instruction on the firing of the .45 caliber automatic service pistol. The rest of the Company was divided into groups
giving the Cadets a broad spectrum introduction to rifles, automatic weapons, the 106mm recoilless rifle, hand grenades, etc.
My group was given an introduction on how to present the training; how to coach the young officer’s with their shooting posture and proper method of holding the pistol; as well as how to safely operate the firing range.
For the next few weeks, we went to the pistol range week day mornings, had a class every other hour throughout the day, and laid on the grass sleeping during those in-between non work hours.
When we worked, we were professional.
We were quartered at an old World War II, German Prisoner of War Work Camp barracks, somewhere deep in the toolies, yet not too far from West Point Academy. Any barbed wire that may have once surrounded the camp was long since gone. The camp was surrounded on several sides by heavily wooded hills and on another side by a long lake. We slept in three or four Quonset buildings. The double bunks were arranged in rows on either side of a central aisle running down the length of the building. Other structures in the compound included: a mess hall, motor pool compound, a small PX (post exchange), a large bathroom, and an open amphitheater for movies. Since there were no provisions for us to go to town, except on weekends, we were provided with free, top rate action movies nightly.
Since New Your state had a drinking age of 18 we we’re also allowed to buy small eight ounce cups of beer from our impromptu PX.
On weekends, were given leave to visit town. Several weekend evenings were spent sitting in dance club bars in Newburgh, New York. The clubs were really just bars where you could dance to juke box music, if there were any girls to dance with. During our stay, the USO held two dances in an auditorium on the West Point campus. I spent both evenings enjoyably dancing and talking with several local girls. The girls at the USO dances were a completely different type person than “what” frequented the dance sleazy club bars.
A bar fight almost erupted
One evening while in Newburgh I nearly became involved in a fight with a Sergeant who’d been temporarily assigned to our company. We’d been sitting at separate tables with our own friends drinking all evening. When I went up to the bar for another bottle of beer, the Sergeant pushed me saying he didn’t like me for some reason or other. I didn’t want to get in a fight, but was required by conduct not to take any unauthorized crap from another soldier even if he out ranked me, and stood about six inches taller. The sergeant said not to worry about his stripes, the fight would simply be between him and me. I was ready to throw a punch too. Seeing that things were spinning out of control fast, the bartender said he was going to call the police, immediately our friends took us by the arms and began pulling us apart and back toward our seats.
Seeing that the bar and Newburgh were not an appropriate place’s to fight we made an appointment to “have it out” when we got back to Ft Campbell. That sounded fine to me. I quietly hoped he’d calm down and forget the uncalled for hostility by the time we returned to base.
Po’ soldier; no money, nowhere to go
One weekend toward the end of the month, there were about five or six of us (from the same platoon) in town, all of us were broke until payday. Some one got an idea about going to the movies, so we dug out what ever money we had in our pockets and pooled it. Turned out there was just enough to get us into the movie theater, where the war movie, Guns of Navarone, was playing, buy some popcorn with a couple of dollars left over. It only took a moment between all us enterprising young men, to figure how to get the maximum yield from our meager cash….So, we went to a nearby liquor store and bought a half-gallon of cheap, sweet, red wine, walked down the rail road tracks to a private area amongst some trees and passed the bottle around and around until it was gone. With the bottle thrown into the bushes, we walked to the theater and were in our seats just before the show started.
Amazing! I still have to chuckle over that afternoon.
Oh, yes! We hooted and yelled cheers for the American troops during the battle scenes, it’s a wonder we weren’t thrown out of the theater.
Visiting New York City
Twice while we were at West Point, I caught a commuter bus into New York City. Both times I went to the city with fellow soldiers. After the first night in the big city we drifted apart each going his own direction, so both times I ended up wandering around in Time’s Square by myself. What an experience. I browsed through several large department stores, saw a semi-pornographic movie, was accosted by homosexuals, was refused service in a bar catering exclusively to “coloreds”, saw a variety of cripple and half crazed people panhandling on the street. The people in downtown New York City were either untrusting or unfriendly. Once when I became temporarily lost and couldn’t find my way back to the bus station, I tried stopping several people on the sidewalk to ask for directions. They jerked away without eye contact and hurried off without answering my innocent request. Elsewhere in the USA, I’ve found people were friendly and courteous to a soldier in uniform. Although it was quite an expensive treat for a Private’s salary, I stayed in a down town hotel room overnight on both trips and luxuriated in a hot private shower and big double bed.
Field maneuvers against the West Point Cadets
After several weeks providing “small arms” training, our company was divided into double squad strength (about twenty-two men each) “aggressor” units. The cadets were broken into groups of approximately the same size and put in preselected defensive positions here and there about the hilly forest. Everyday the cadets were rotated to a new defensive position, however the aggressor units kept attacking the same spot. We therefore learned the local terrain quite well.
On one occasion, we “aggressors” climbed a cliff, came up behind the cadet’s defensive position and crept up close to their foxholes, unseen. Immediately, before we began our attack, several members of our force threw smoke grenades and small charge explosives amongst the unwary defenders.
Then on signal, we ran down upon the would be Officers with our semi automatic weapons popping off blank cartridges. At the moment we jumped out from behind the brush and trees, the defenders were all slouched in their foxholes looking away from us, down hill, expecting us to come up the hill to them. We fell upon them yelling and whooping as loud as we could, whilst almost choking with laughter. They were caught totally by surprise. Smoke from the smoke grenades blanketed the area turning the hillside into a confusing hodgepodge of fast-moving gray silhouettes, mixed with loud, abrupt, sharp noises, yells and profanity. The explosive charges were detonating, so there was a nearly continuous ratcheting of gun fire punctuated by loud explosions. One of the explosive charges accidentally rolled and fell into a one man foxhole that I was passing, the cadet in the hole just stood dumbly looking at me in shock. I dropped my rifle, grabbed his coat collar and equipment webbing and pulling him bodily from the waist deep hole.
Immediately, the explosive detonated, cleaning out the foxhole and blowing a cloud of small pebbles, dirt and debris up into the trees. Without a word said between us, I picked up my rifle and continued moving through the hillside defensive position yelling and shooting blanks. At last glance, the surprised young man was laying on the ground beside his foxhole staring in disbelief at what was going on around him.
The fight was canceled
By the time our Company returned to Ft. Campbell from West Point, I’d forgotten about the Sergeant who’d picked a fight with me in Newburgh, New York. About a week after we returned, one of my friends approached me to say, “Do you remember that Sergeant that tried to start a fight with you at West Point?” I thought to myself, “Oh shit, here we go.”, but replied, “Yeah.” The soldier continued, “He went on leave from West Point and flew home to Chicago. His airplane crashed while it was coming in to land at the airport and he was killed.” What an amazing turn of events. Although I wouldn’t wish death on anyone, I remained glad that pesk was terminated. And so ended one of life’s little irritations.
Third leave: The hunt for Miss Jackie
Since my previous Leave about five months earlier, Jackie and I kept in touch by letter. In time, I accumulated a weeks Leave and would use it visiting with Jackie and my friends in Pasadena.
Jackie volunteered to pick me up at the L.A. International Airport and for the start of a fun period together. On the first day of my Leave, I flew across country to Los Angeles arriving as scheduled, but Jackie was not at the terminal. I waited an hour thinking she might have been tied up in traffic, which is of course, easy to do in Los Angeles, particularly on the highway leading to the airport. Finally, becoming concerned, I telephoned her house. Jackie’s mother answered, saying that she thought her daughter was out studying with her girl friend, Margo… I was confused. Everything had been properly planned, it was even Jackie’s idea to meet me at the airport. Now, barely a week later, it was clear something had gone wrong and I wanted to get to the bottom of it. Shortly thereafter, I caught a shuttle bus from the airport to the Pasadena’s Green Hotel, then took a taxi home.
Upon arriving at our house on Howard Street, and finding the family still gone, at school and work, I dropped off my duffel bag and made a sandwich. Still wearing my khaki “Class A” uniform, I walked down the street and around the corner to Mike’s house on Michigan Ave. Fortunately, Mike didn’t have any more classes that day, so after chatting awhile and discussing my problem we decided to try to track Jackie down. By this time it was evening.
It just so happened that I knew Margo, the girl with whom Jackie was supposed to be studying; we’d had classes together in high school and I’d seen her as recently as my last Leave. Mike and I drove up to her house, which was located only a few miles away in Altadena. As soon as she saw me, Margo knew what I wanted. She truthfully told me that Jackie was not there and that her whereabouts were suppose to be kept secret. I explained how Jackie had left me waiting at the airport after we’d done extensive
planning for our upcoming week together. Seeing the injustice done me, Margo broke down and gave me the address where Jackie could be found.
When we located the house, in northern Pasadena, Mike waited in the car while I went to the door. Things had occurred so fast since my arrival home that I hadn’t yet changed out of my uniform. Through the partially opened front door, I could see a couple sitting together and kissing on an easy chair in the unlit semi darkness of the living room. When I knocked, that girl answered the door,
apparently expecting me. She asked me to wait and disappeared to the left. Part of the house, a bedroom extended to my left where I heard some voices then it grew quiet again. About five minutes later, Jackie came outside crying and closed the door behind herself.
Frustrated, nervous and a little angry I asked, “Why in the hell did you just leave me waiting at the airport?!” I told her that if she was “going with” someone else I could live with the truth, but I didn’t want her treachery. I asked, “What have I done to warrant your treachery? Why have I been so dishonorably treated?” She was standing with her face close to mine, I could see her features in the dim light. She was crying hard now, her face upturned toward me, she was sobbing and began saying,
“Hit me. Hit me. I deserve it.”
During my senior year in high school, I respected and looked up to Jackie, and felt like a very lucky fellow when later she chose to become my girlfriend. But now her treachery and begging to be hit, disgusted me. Her behavior was loathsome and disturbed. Having said my piece as gentlemanly as was called for, I wheeled about and walked briskly back to Mike’s car, got in and we drove solemnly away. I never saw or spoke to Jackie again.
Military buildup in far away Vietnam
During November, President Kennedy decided to increase the number of American advisors in Vietnam from one thousand to sixteen thousand over the next couple of years.
Sergeant Rameriz was transferred
At nineteen years of age, I was a Private First Class (pay grade E-3) in the 101st Airborne Division. Once, my Platoon Sergeant, Sgt. Rameriz, had occasion to chew me out over some point whose import I’ve forgotten. In his closing statement, he said, “You don’t have the right material for promotion to Specialist 4th Class (pay grade E-4) and I’ll personally never promote you.”
Not long after this, Sgt. Rameriz was transferred and our platoon was assigned a new platoon sergeant. I think Rameriz and Master Sergeant Townsend(?) judged people by different sets of criteria. Where as Rameriz seemed to give greater responsibility and reward to the fellows who were “bigger, huskier men”, Master Sergeant Townsend preferred hustle, intelligence and efficiency.
At nineteen years of age, I still looked like a seventeen year old high school boy, albeit very agile, sinuous and tough. Although I didn’t have a commanding presence, I intelligently solved tactic situations, as well as being prompt and efficient in the completion and deportment of my own responsibility, and inspired anyone under me to do the same.
Within months after Rameriz was transferred, I was promoted to Specialist 4th Class (paygrade E-4), which simply demonstrates the importance that leadership personalities play in the affairs of man.
Weapons Squad Team Leader
During the last weeks of the year I became a Weapons Squad Team Leader, in charge of and responsible for a three man M60 Machine Gun crew and two man 3.5″ Rocket Launcher crew, of which I was the Rocket Launcher gunner.
[Photos above:Left: Valentine’s Day Jump, taken at approx 1000 feet altitude, after jumping from a C-124 transport airplane; below is the Suchon Drop Zone at Ft. Campbell, Kentucky.
Right: 1961-62. A picture taken at approximately 1000 ft. altitude after jumping from a C-123 troop transport, over Caretan Drop Zone, Ft. Campbell, KY. The inexpensive Brownie Instamatic camera used here, dropped out of my hands at about 200 feet and broke upon impact. Fortunately, the roll of film was finished, rolled up and salvageable.]
What’s on TV tonight?
1961- during this year I watched very little television.
Among the movie I saw this year (mostly at the Ft. Campbell theater) were:
Ben Hur with Charlton Heston, Jack Hawkins, Stephen Boyd, Haya Harareet
Blue Hawaii with Elvis Presley, Joan Blackman, Nancy Walters
Cimarron with Glen Ford, Maria Schell, Anne Baxter, Arthur O’Connell
El Cid with Charlton Heston, Sophia Loren, Raf Vallone
Judgment at Nuremburg with Spencer Tracy, Burt Lancaster, Richard Widmark
Mr. Sardonicus with Oscar Homolka, Ronald Lewis, Audrey Dalton
One-Eyed Jacks with Marlon Brando, Karl Malden, Pina Pellicer
Splender in the Grass with Warren Beatty, Natalie Wood, Pat Hingle (A semi tragic love story seen about 3 times in 2 weeks.)
The Alamo with John Wayne, Richard Widmark, Laurence Harvey, Richard Boone
The Comancheros with John Wayne, Stuart Whitman, Nehemiah Persoff
The Great Imposter with Tony Curtis, Edmond O’Brien, Arthor O’Connell
The Guns of Navarone with Gregory Peck, David Niven, Anthony Quinn
The Misfits with Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe, Montgomery Clift, Thelma Ritter
Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea with Walter Pidgeon, Peter Lorre, Joan Fontaine
West Side Story with Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer, Russ Tamblyn, Rita Moreno
Where the Boys Are with George Hamilton, Yvette Mimieux, Jim Hutton
 THE AIRBORNE MYSTIQUE (copied from the Internet 1 Nov 2000, author unknown)
“In French, they are known as “les Paras”, in German “die Fallschirmjager, in Spanish “los Paracaidistas and, in English, we call them “Paratroopers”. Whatever the language used, the connotation is that of soldiers who are held in awe and respect by their countrymen and possible adversaries.
They form a body of tough, elite, highly disciplined troops for any nation. For some, they have been held back as a general reserve; for others, they have been the first forces employed in time of trouble. More than any other types, airborne forces are most directly and effectively useful in cold war, limited conflict, and general war. In cold war they represent the nation’s “hole card”—mobile forces always ready for rapid deployment—and so are a deterrent force. In limited war they would likely be the first army forces strategically deployed. In general war they could carry out a variety of missions such as reinforcing combat elements already deployed, filling strategic gaps where there were no deployments and interdicting enemy forces by vertical envelopment.
A large part of the viability factor in the airborne as an important part of the force structure comes from the effect of airborne training on the individual. Why airborne? Aside from the practical value of airborne troops, there’s a tremendous psychological mystique that’s established around men who jump out of aeroplanes. The “mystique” is, in reality, a personality change undergone by those who become paratroopers. The change is based upon two major facets: the rite of initiation which allows a soldier to be called a “paratrooper”, and the continued reinforcement of this status.
Jumping encourages self-confidence, determination, self-reliance, masterful activity, aggression, courage, and other items symptomatic of the phallic-narcissistic type, all of which are very important in the military setting, especially in paratroop commando units, which rely heavily on individual action and are aggressive in nature. In a way, even the illusion of omnipotence enhanced by jumping can make a better soldier.
Paratroopers live a life of uncertainty. Not only must they continually be tested in the air, but they are also subjected to frequent alerts for deployment. At least an equal number are due to actual conditions which may require their presence. In recent history, we can think of a sufficient number of actual deployments to know that the paratrooper must be ready. Parachute jumping tests and hardens a soldier under stress in a way nothing short of battle can do. You never know about others. But paratroopers will fight. You can bet on that. They repeatedly face danger while jumping and develop self-discipline that conquers fear. Subconsciously, every trooper knows this. That’s why he has that extra cocky confidence.”
 See 1963, Anatomy of a combat style parachute jump.