Tag Archives: army

Chapter 1961, age 18-19

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
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.[1]

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.[2]  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.

[Internet image: an assembled 3.5” rocket launcher and  live rocket with dummy warhead.]

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


[1] 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.”
[2]  See 1963, Anatomy of a combat style parachute jump.


Filed under Autobiography, __2. Childhood: 1942-1963

Chapter 1960, age 17-18

Themes and Events:
* The Civil Right Bill passes Congress. This year Tax Freedom Day falls on 17 April, in 1950 tax freedom was two weeks earlier, on 3 April. The U.S. nuclear submarine, Triton, completes the first underwater circumnavigation of the globe, traveling 30,708 miles in 84 days.
* Teflon coated cookware comes to market and is met by an enthusiastic public. The first felt tipped marker, by Pentel, are sold. The laser (Light Amplification through the Stimulated Emission of Radiation) is patented.
* The new head of government in Cuba, Fidel Castro, nationalized all American interests in his country. The U.S. retaliated by suspending sugar shipments from Cuba. One thing led to another and animosities grew between the Us government and the communist, Castro regime.
* The US Census shows the U.S.population is currently 179,323,175, up 27,997,377 from the 1950 census, for the largest population growth in population to date. Meanwhile, the world population has grown to 3 billion people, up from 2 billion in 1930.
* The contraceptive pill was approved by the USDA for public use on May 9th. In my younger years, while hiking or riding my bicycle, I would occasionally came across a semi remote “lovers lane” parking spot. In such places I saw  wadded tissue paper and well used “rubbers” laying about the ground, all testimony to the effectiveness of  “lovers lane”.
* Until the early 1960s, one occasionally saw a “condom” dispensing, vending machine, in gas station bathrooms. Before, “The Pill”, sexually active couples relied on “rubbers” much more frequently to curtail an unwanted pregnancy  than they did after birth control pills became available. In these times condoms were also used to protect against syphilis and gonorrhea, which were the only two sexually transmitted diseases active in the American population. The sexual freedom offered by the contraceptive pill gave rise, in the years ahead,  to an era of promiscuity. As promiscuity spread so did the numbers of varieties of venereal disease. By the early 1990s, there was occurring several VD epidemics at once including: Chlamydia, A.I.D.S., Herpes, antibiotic resistant Gonorrhea, Syphilis, Genital Warts…

Pasadena High School, JROTC
When first enrolling in PHS (Pasadena High School), I was surprised to find they offered  JROTC (Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps). JROTC was something like advanced Boy Scouts, with pre military training,  uniforms, inspections, marching drills, rifle practice, etc. The class sounded interesting, so I registered to take it.

Although time has erased memory of the particulars of the class, I remember the marching drills and the rifle training. Each one of us JROTC students learned the proper method to care for and fire a .22 rifle. There was a permanent rifle range set up adjacent to the JROTC class room and armory in the  basement beneath one of tha campus buildings.
After several rounds of competition between the schools several JROTC classes, about five of us were left as the top marksman.  We became the Pasadena High School Rifle Team, and went into state competitions. We won the shooting completion against several other area schools and were bussed to Pendleton Marine Base for the state championships. I remember exiting the school bus and walking across a corner of the Marine parade grounds, while formations of Marine recruits were marching around learning to follow orders while moving in a tight formation. [Internet image showing a rifle range with targets similar to what we had in JROTC]

During competition, we fired heavy, competition grade .22 rifles from the prone position. Our targets were of the small ‘bulls eye’ variety, hung 50-75 feet away each in its own brightly illuminated lane.

When sighting to fire, the procedure was to take a final shallow breath, gently exhale whilst slowly squeezing the trigger. It seemed that with each heart beat, the pulse of blood flowing through your body would make the rifle slightly rise and fall or arc across the dead center of the bull’s eye. As your breath exhaled, and pulse moved the rifle, your trigger finger slowly pulled the trigger, in that last moment when the micro adjustments were coming together, the target would fall onto the sights, and the rifle would report. The moment you were aware the gun had fired, you could feel if it resulted in a good shot. After each shot we moved our heads to the side and looked down range with a spotting scope to see where  the target had been hit.

Our rifle team didn’t win the state championship, nor were we in second place, but I’d had a small personal time of glory, rising several levels in the state rifle marksman competitions.

After moving from Arizona and with the passage of time, I’d started a new school, made new friends and was moving along in life. I had a tender spot in my heart for my ex girl friend, Shanna, we’d had a great summer together. We wrote to one another, about monthly, frequently enough to keep in contact, but not often enough to make our emotional fires kindle to flame. As teen age kids, our letters were short and talked mostly about school and friends, they were not not the kind filled with passion. I think we both rightfully figured that there was too much time, circumstance and distance for us to ever get together. How could it ever happen? One had to face it, we were teens living with our parents, neither of us had transportation, no money of our own, no jobs, we were in school. You simply cannot expect to maintain a long-term relationship when you live in a child’s world. Fortunately, we approached the problem with only a vague understanding the time and event factors that kept us apart, friends who could never’ be together. So, we occasionally wrote one another and went about the important daily activities of everyday life.

One night, alone in the mountains
One Friday afternoon, I made plans for a solo overnight campout in Eaton Canyon.
It so happens that Eaton Canyon is the same mountainous canyon that Ted and I hiked down returning from Mt Wilson the previous summer. The portion of Eaton Canyon we were use to hiking in was the lower part, the part accessable from northern Pasadena neighborhoods.

Ted and I had been in the lower elevations of the canyon while hiking and exploring many times, so I was familiar with the area. Anyway, I assembled my gear, an old war surplus Army jacket, a canteen of water, K-Bar hunting knife, some bologna, a can of beans and my Boy Scout mess kit. Mom and Dad agreed to drive me up to the closest point and I’d hike back from there. It was only about a ten minute drive on the road, I left from there on foot.

Within about a half hour I’d gone quite a ways back up the canyon and it was becoming dark. Making my way along the dry stream bed, I finally came to a widening in the valley floor, the place where I’d planned to stay the night. There was a bright moon so I could see fairly well. However, there were scrub oak trees around the flat area which created some deep dark areas that were pitch black. As I quietly approached a dark area within the trees, I heard a light ‘crash’ as if something had jumped down from a tree. Then I heard small brittle fallen tree limbs and leaves crackle as something made its way across the cluttered ground. Alarmed, I stopped, tensed up, pulled my hunting knife from its sheath and gulped with a little fear, and looked hard into the shadows for movement. I was worried that a mountain lion might be directly ahead of me and only 50-70 feet away. There had been the occasional reports of mountain lions in the San Bernardino mountains, but they were very infrequent (in those days) and had been reported deeper in the mountain range, not so close to human habitation.

The sounds could also have been a deer, raccoon or other non predator…? Irregardless of what it was, I wasn’t going to challenge it’s right to be there, so after a few short moments, I began backing away. After a minute or so I’d backed out into the moonlight,  not hearing any more movement, I turned and walked briskly back down the canyon, stopping now and again to look and listen. Shortly, I came to a fork in the canyon, one way went back the way I’d origionally come in, the other led into a rather narrow dry river bed channel with steep cliff sides and sandy floor. I veered off into the narrow canyon.

After walking less than a  hundred yards, I found that the base of the cliff  on one side, had an approximate two foot high crevice eroded out at stream bed level. The crevice was maybe twelve feet long, about two feet high and three feet deep (back under the cliff’s overhang). The overhang was just the right size for me to climb into and sleep, safe from attack except from a ‘straight on’ direction.

The thought that maybe there might still be an animal stalking me was still in my mind, enough to make me cautious, but not enough to make me go home. I collected as much fire wood as I though I’d need that night and started a campfire just a few feet outside my crevice-cave. I figured the fire would keep any animals at bay and the smoke would cover my scent.

With a nice fire illuminating the area, I fried my slices of  bologna and heated the can of beans. After eating, I buried the can and washed out my eating utensils with sand, fed more wood on the fire and crawled back into the crevice. Lastly,  making sure I could reach the kindling, to  feed my fire during the night and even pulled some of it  up close up by my legs, to alert me if something tried coming through under the crevice.
[At right an Internet image of the type and approximate size of crevice that I slept in.]

As the fire died down, I laid there listening to the silence of the wild, there was no snapping twigs nor rustling leaves, only the sound of an owl.

Suddenly, it was morning.  I dragged myself out of the crevice stiff and chilly, and stood to look around. Having soundly slept through the night, I was glad to see the gray of dawn. After going to the ‘bathroom’, burying the ashes from my dead campfire and having a big drink of water, I proceeded back down and out of Eaton Canyon on the  several mile walk home.

I had accomplished what was to me at the time, was a courageous deed and faced some modicum of potential danger from some  wild creature the night before. I had faced the creature within, and won.

The family was just getting up and moving around the house when I came in.

My new friend, Mike
Not long after our family moved to Pasadena, probably within a month of the time I met Ted, I  was introduced to another neighborhood fellow, named Mike.
Mike, like Ted, turned out to be a friend for the rest of my life.
It’s funny how you can live in several places around the U.S. as I had, and have relatively few long memories of the people met. Then suddenly, as  if out of the blue, with in a month or two, meet two people with whom you maintain friendship and continued communicating with for over 50 years. And so it was with my new friend, Mike.
I remember meeting Mike at his house and standing around in the back yard chatting for a while while we got to know one another.
As I eventually learned, Mike’s father had a long-term, successful business on Colorado Blvd, in Pasadena; as a result, the family was affluent, but in a  quiet, comfortable way. Their large extended family, who lived in the area, were very close and frequently got together for traditional, old world  pasta feeds.

After chatting for a while, Mike invited me indoors to see his ‘lab’.  We walked to a door in the kitchen, which he opened, then flipping a light switch, he led the way down a flight of stairs into a partial basement.
What I saw at the bottom of the stairs took my breath away. Mike had a ‘complete chemistry lab’ on one wall, a book-case of science books in another area, and various electronics gear including an oscilliscope on a large L shaped work bench. I mean, he had a high school grade science laboratory packed into his basement.

I think why I liked Mike from the beginning was that he was very focused in science oriented studies and he was curious. He was like a teenage scientist; heck, he was a teen-aged scientist!
On the many occasions we were together down in “the lab,'” Mike would be working on a project of his design, or testing a circuit while we chatted, or we’d discuss various theoretical concepts, or talk about the other guys or neighbors in the immediate neighborhood.
Between the two of us, we designed a small robot with mechanical, vice like, gripping ‘hands’. We had discussions of, and at least a partial design for building a Van de Graaff generator – using a coffee can.
From Mike’s enthusiasm for science, I was moved to borrow and read the biography of Nichola Tesla from the  school library.

Ted and Mike were very different people and for the first time in my life I was really learning from and being inspired by others. While Ted was my friend in adventure, Mike was my friend in studied observations. I was neither as free thinking or mature as Ted (despite my being older) nor possessing the dedicated intelligence that Mike had. I was something in between the two, perhaps lending an enthusiastic, creative bend to our endeavors.

[Photograph at right:  Mike ca. 1962, a few years older than when we met.]

In a way, Mike was like a social hub in his location within the neighborhood. Directly next door to Mike lived a fellow named, Russell, whose family had lived in the very large, old multiple story house since its construction in the late 1800s. Russell’s great-grandfather invented a part for oil drilling rigs that prevented oil blowouts when the drill struck pressurized oil formations. Russell’s family had, at one time in the past, been ‘well to do’.
About a block from Mike and Russell’s homes, generally back in the direction of my house, lived the two brothers, Dick and Dale. Dale was my age and Dick a year younger.
Mike lived about 2-1/2 blocks east of our house and Ted lived  a couple blocks to the west, Dick and Dale lived almost in between. During the first few months that our family lived in Pasadena, I became friends with Ted, Mike, Russell, Dick and Dale.






[Photograph, 1959: Mike in his basement lab. The lab’s  focus gradually underwent a change from chemistry to electronics. Many hours of good times were spent here chatting about science topics and life in general.]

 Easter vacation at Crystal Lake
With Easter vacation 1960 approaching several teens from the Howard Street area planned a camping trip. We decided to stay at the Crystal Lake campground in the San Gabriel Mountains north of Azusa, CA., about fifty miles from home. Our group consisted of neighborhood friends, Ted, Russell, the brothers Dick and Dale and myself. We planned what food and equipment to take then divided the shopping and logistics amongst ourselves.  Russell’s mother drove us campers and our equipment to the campground in her family station wagon; no soon were we unloaded when she promptly left.
[Internet image of Crystal Lake: The small lake was a short hike from our tent in the campgrounds. We tried fishing a couple of times, but only a couple fellows managed to make a catch, which were very small- maybe two fish caught 4-5 inches long.]

We hurriedly set up our tents and laid out our other equipment then began looking around for fun things to do. Not more than two hundred feet from where we were set up,  was another group of five or six teenage guys. Our two groups immediately got together; we found they would be camping for a week also.
Early in our vacation, there was a storm which blew down a couple of our combined groups makeshift tarps and tents, this caused some of the fellows to share lodgings between groups. From that time on, a couple of our group slept at the neighbors camp and a couple of their group slept in ours. I had a canvas two-man Mountain tent, the other group had a large canvas square, large enough to cover four fellows. The other four or five young men made tents constructed from a tarp, and old blankets that had been laid over a rope strung between trees, tied at the corners and staked down.

Any time you’d awaken during the night there were always a couple of our expanded camp group sitting around the campfire and chatting and any time of day, several people could be found sleeping or trying to sleep.
With the exception of meal times, someone was always fishing, hiking, involved in a rock fight, climbing on the mountain, or dragging firewood back to camp (which was simply another infraction of park rules). There was a lot of running, shouting, swearing and complaining, particularly as the better food supplies were exhausted.

As the days passed, everyone inspected each others food provisions trying to work out decent recipes from what was available. Neither group had an ideal selection of foods to live high on, so we tried to mix meals that were, if not tasty, at least filling and warm.

After a week of camping, with little or no bathing or changes of clothing, meager food supplies and long hours running around, Mrs. Garner returned for us in her station wagon. We had a great time. If we’d had a good meal, a bath and change of clothes, and more provisions, none of us would have been interested in returning home.

Memories of the Telephone System[1], 1960
By the early 1960s, essentially every family had one telephone in their house, some families enjoyed the extravagance of having two or more. Since almost every dwelling had a telephone, it should be realized that every person in the nation was for the first time in potential, immediate contact with every other person. The shared “party line” had become a thing of the past.

Although the telephone companies advertised declining rates for long distance calls, the average person of the 1960s still didn’t make many out of area calls during any given year. From this period up through the mid 1990s, if you wished to make long distance call, the most economical times were during non business hours, i.e., after 5:00PM on weekdays, anytime on holidays, or on weekends.

When making a long distance call, we had the new option of dialing “station to station” directly by using the long distance area code. If the area code concept was still a little vague, one needed only dial “O” and the Operator would place the call for you. In an Operated Assisted long distance call you were given the options of: 1) “Person to person”, If you wished to speak to a particular person and no one else at the given number. This service was charged at a higher rate. 2) “Station to station”, if you would talk to whom ever answered the telephone at the dialed number. This service was charged at a lower rate.

It was common practice to cheat the phone company out of fees on certain occasions. If you were going to visit a person who had a long distance number as dialed from your home, you could make a toll-free call through the Operator to let your host know, “All was well and you were leaving on schedule. ” This was accomplished by prearrangement: At the time of your departure, you would place a Person to Person call through the Operator to your hosts number and ask for yourself or a fictitious person in their family. The host family receiving the coded name from the Operator knew you were about to leave home as scheduled. The standard response to the Operators inquiry after the fictitious person was to say, “Sam (or who ever) is not here right now.” On the other hand if you wanted to accept the call and chat for a moment or pass on some last minute information the host would just accept the call.

During these years, a local call made from a coin operated, public, “pay telephone,” cost 10¢. Pay phones were located at supermarkets, gas stations, airports, hotel lobbies, some street corners, in large department stores, in the lobby of public buildings, factory lobbies, etc.

Too many mouths to feed at home? (family triage)
By this time, Dad was writing “hardship” letters to his Mother, Elsie  Pierce for partial financial support while he attended Fuller Seminary. Although Grandma Pierce would periodically send some money, her assistance couldn’t be counted on. Mom and Dad never said how much they received, like so much about themselves, they remained secretive. Mom continued working at a local garment factory.

My three fateful choices
I graduated from High School in the late Spring, graduation service were held in the Rose Bowl. When I arrived home after the ceremony, Dad was reading school texts and stopped for a minute to congratulate me and present me with a wrist watch.
Within a couple of days after graduation, Dad asked me to decide what I was going to do, now that I was out of school. He asked if I would be going to work, college or in the Armed Services? Suddenly and unexpectedly, I was faced with adult decisions, yet neither school, my parents, nor personal experience had ever trained me to make such decisions.

I was told to sit in my bedroom with a sheet of paper, consider my alternatives and list them- so that’s what I did:
1) Work? I didn’t know anything about work for I hadn’t heard any “work stories” from Dad. He hadn’t worked in the last five years and before that he never talked about work in front of us kids. Yes, people worked, they knew how to do things, I didn’t know how to do anything, but kid stuff.
2) College? From what Dad said about college, it was hard and he didn’t think I was ready for the commitment it would require.
3) Armed Services?  I didn’t know anything about the military either. The idea of the military seemed to set well with Dad, as he told me that there was hiking, camping and rifle practice. I took J.R.O.T.C. class in high school so was familiar with wearing a uniform, drill practice, saluting, etc. Going into the Army sounded like the best route, but I was “hemming and hawing” with indecision when Dad sweetened the pot, saying,
“If you decide to go into the Army, we’ll send you back to Michigan to visit your Grandmother and cousins for the summer. But when you return at the end of the summer, you must keep your part of the bargain and go into the Army. OK?”
Hahaha, what a deal!
(I took the bait)

[Photograph, 14 February 1960: Left to right: Larry (me), sister Linda, mother Hazel May  (Shafer) Pierce and father, Robert Francis Pierce taken in Pasadena, CA. Photo taken by Ken Milhouse, a cousin to President Richard Nixon. Ken was a Youth group director at the Altadena Baptist Church]

I chose the Michigan/Army route, knowing that I could always go to college after the Army and find work after college. The main problem was, I simply lacked information about my three choices. I didn’t know a thing about the world of work, didn’t have the commitment for college, but ended up on the right path by default.

Returning to Michigan for summer vacation
Soon after the ‘decision making process’, Mom, Dad and Linda saw me off at the Greyhound Bus Station on Greene Street in Pasadena, CA.
For the second time in six years I was embarking on a round trip bus ride across county.
Several days later, my first cousin, Jack, picked me up at the small Greyhound bus station in Paw Paw, MI, about five miles from Lawton. Mom and Dad sent with my luggage, a nicely framed Eighth Grade graduation photograph of Linda. During the trip it was smashed and ruined by shifting luggage in the bus luggage compartment. Jacky drove me to Grandma Elsie Pierce’s apartment rental in Lawton.

Grandma had never returned to the rural Coloma farm, since Grandpa Glen’s death two years earlier.  She lived with her middle son, Jack’s family for a while, then rented a flat, a block from their house.

Grandma, Elsie Pierce’s apartment
Grandma Elsie had an upstairs flat, above a large family garage. It was a nice efficient apartment with a small kitchen, bathroom, one bedroom and a livingroom.  The livingroom couch folded out into a bed, which is where I slept.
The only problem with Grandma’s quarters was that it was upstairs. The  rather steep, exposed outdoor  wooden stairway led up along the side of the building to her flat. During the winter, I imagine this was at times a precarious climb through ice and snow for a 70-year-old woman, for anyone.

Most of the furniture in Grandmother’s semi furnished flat was of a newer, plain, lower quality type, not unlike you’d find in a motel. She had a couple very old pieces (which had decades earlier belonged to her mother, Anna Flora (Anderson) Grubb) that son’s, Bill and Jack, brought over from the farm. Among these was an antique writing-table and a small spindle legged table on which she always kept a variety of potted green plants. Elsie loved African Violets and raised several variety, just as her Mother, Anna Flora (Anderson) Grubb had done before.  [Internet image of the main street through Lawton, MI. ca 2000AD]
No sooner was I situated when, Grandma gave me a set of keys to her 1956 Pontiac and told me to use it at my convenience.

As the summer passed, cousins Jack and Bob, several of my new friends and myself took jobs loading bales of hay for local farmers in order to earn spending cash.

Although we never spoke about Grandpa Glen, Grandma’s loneliness was apparent. She had lost in a moment– her husband, her farm home, most of her farm hobby interests, and all that was their family’s way of life. Now she was an old woman, quaintly passing her time with a few friends and relatives.
Grandma maintained a fairly large garden by the garage, as she pointed out, “Just to keep me busy.”  Indeed ever once in a while I’d  come home from tossing bales of hay and Grandma would be either out weeding or would have a few fresh vegetables on the sink for our supper salad. Grandmother wasn’t canning, just raising some vegetables to eat and mostly give away. She wasn’t as tough as she’d been before, she seemed older, less cheerful, with less gumption. I remember that every time I saw Grandma Pierce, after our family moved away from Michigan, I developed a tear in my eye.
Grandma was always my favorite person, we had similar spirits, she loved me and I loved her. Every few years when I saw Grandma, she looked older and older, she was weaker and less steady, her strength seemed to be ebbing away, her face more deeply wrinkled and hair not as dark, then becoming speckled white. When I saw Grandma, tears well up and I choked them back so as not to make her feel bad. I didn’t like what nature was doing to her.[2]

My Uncle, Jack Pershing Pierce
I  liked my Uncle Jack, He was a friendly, mellow man who was always ready with a big smile and a pat on the back. Years earlier, while visiting their house, he fixed me my first alcoholic beverage, a Grasshopper, while admonishing me not to tell my parents.
Uncle Jack was a college graduate. He served as a Captain in a Transportation unit, in Europe during World War II. It was said that when he went to war his hair was dark brown. He must have seem some terrible things and lived under great stress while in Europe, because when he returned from the war his hair was white. From my earliest memories of Uncle Jack, his hair was white.

After the war, Jack found a job working in a farm supply company, selling Allied Chemical products. Over the years, he did so well that he received promotion after promotion. As Product Manager for central Michigan he bought a large white, wood frame, two-story house in Lawton. The house was subsequently furnished with quality furniture, rugs, draperies, etc., the kind of quality that my family never had in our home.

Finally, Uncle Jack was promoted by Allied Chemical Corporation to the position of Western District Sales Manager for the western half of the United States. When Jack was transferred to his new office in Omaha, NE his marriage with Aunt Julie dissolved.

A few months before I arrived for my summer visit, Aunt Julie and Uncle Jack’s marriage had broken up. Aunt Julie remained with cousins, Jack Jr. and Bob, in Lawton[3], while Uncle Jack moved to Omaha.

 Fun, with a capital F!
My time in Michigan with cousins and their friends was fun! Between the unrestricted use of grandmother’s car, having money from a summer job bailing hay, staying up all hours of the night, going to movies, stopping for hamburgers and fries, visiting, partying, camping out with my friends in the grape vineyards, I was in a teenagers heaven. This was the first time in my life I’d ever had the freedom to be my own person. I tended to be a little irresponsible at times, something that is often encountered in teenagers, something that is part of growing up, it was a time to learn boundaries, other’s expectations and eventually, responsibility.

One dismal damp and cloudy afternoon, when it was too wet to bale hay, cousins Jack, Bob, a couple of their friends and I were sitting in a fast food restaurant in Paw Paw making small talk, wiling away the afternoon, when the song , I Want To Hold Your Hand, by The Beatles played on the juke box. I’d heard of the Beatles, but until that point didn’t appreciate their music. To a group of young guys just “hanging out” having a soda pop and a plate of French fries, the fast and vibrant music lit up and put sparkle in what had other wise  been a somewhat boring and uneventful day.

Skinny dipping in Bankson Lake
One night after attending a movie in Kalamazoo, cousins Jack, Bob and I drove back to their house. Although it was about 10:00PM, we weren’t tired and still felt like doing something. Jack got the idea of raiding his Mom’s liquor cabinet, an excellent choice, so away he went. A few moments later he came back outside with a bottle of wine. We three made short work of the wine, meanwhile we decided to go swimming.
We drove out to Bankson Lake, which is just a few miles from Lawton, stripped naked and went skinny dipping in the moonlight. It was dark and there wasn’t anyone around at that late hour, so we had a good time.
That summer, we did all of our swimming at Bankson Lake, from a sandy beachfront lot owned by the Babson family, my cousins neighbors in Lawton. The Babson’s intended to build a beach house on the property, but at that time had only constructed a short pier with a raft anchored about 100 feet off shore. We had a riotous time swimming, diving from the raft and carrying on until well after midnight.

Exchanging love letters with Shanna
My vacation in Michigan wasn’t all swimming, and working on a farm. Much of the time was spent watching TV, chatting with my cousins and their friends, playing cards with Grandma, shopping, going to the movies, writing letters and other common daily affairs.
Regressing a bit:
After our family moved from Tempe Arizona to Pasadena, California, my old girl friend,Shanna  and I had maintained rather sporadic correspondence. While I was in Michigan, our communications increased. Toward the end of the summer, Shanna, with her Mom, Louise’s  permission, invited me to stop at their house for a few day visit, on my return trip to California.

To the Mackinaw Bridge, or Bust!
After cousin Jack and I earned a nice amount money loading hay bales, we decided to go on a “road trip”.  We borrowed Aunt Julie’s car, ostensibly to go camping at a State Park at near by Lake Michigan. Our real plan was to drive up state to northern Michigan and visit the Mackinaw Bridge.
At first we drove to the Lake Michigan park to see what it looked like and had a picnic lunch. Afterwards, we set out with the attitude, “Mackinaw or Bust”, and we busted!

Having driven to within ten miles of the bridge, something went wrong mechanically with the car forcing us to stop at a gas station. I don’t recall what the problem was, but we were told it  was serious. The mechanic told us the car might break down as we pulled out of the gas station, or with luck and slow driving, we might be able to drive several hundred miles before it failed altogether. We never did see the Mackinaw Bridge. Our trip back south was at speeds not exceeding fifteen miles per hour, all other traffic on the road passed us.

Our stomachs were tied in knots hoping the car wouldn’t break down as we nursed it along, back to the State Park where we were suppose to be camping.

The next morning we struck camp and returned to Lawton. Aunt Julie was upset that the car had troubles. The mechanical problem wasn’t our fault, but it certainly chose an inopportune time to manifest itself. I don’t think Jack ever told his Mom about our abortive trip and it sure wasn’t my business to say anything either.

High speed thrills
I’m embarrassed to write about this, infact thinking back about this period almost makes me pale. I suppose I’m lucky to have lived so long… One day I was driving a group of teen age friends from Lawton to Kalamazoo in Grandma’s Pontiac. We were all talking loud, telling jokes and playing “grab ass” as young males often do, as we wiled away the miles. For some reason, I decided to try and drive the car while sitting on top the front seat’s backrest. One fellow held the accelerator with his foot as I climbed into place. While sitting crouched, hunched over on the seat back and steering with my feet, he pumped the gas and we roared down the highway at 90 mph.

Another night, driving between Lawton and Paw Paw, I treated the same group of teens to a 120 mph ride on a gently rolling, secondary County Road posted for 60 mph Maximum speed. The only way I can look back on these episodes is to shake my head and think, “crazy”, then be thankful that the good Lord has given me another 50 years of life.

As summer came to an end, my cousins and friends were preparing to return to school. Our temporary summer farm jobs were gone and it was time for me to return to California.

Visiting Shanna in Tempe, Arizona
I traveled by Greyhound bus from Paw Paw, Michigan, to Tempe, Arizona, taking a several day layover to visit with Shanna and her family, before returning home. In the year since our family moved to Pasadena, Shanna’s family had moved from Robert’s Road to a small duplex located about two blocks from town.
When my  bus arrived in Tempe, I collected my luggage and carried it the few blocks to their house. It was disconcerting to find Shanna’s brother confined to his bedroom recovering from the Mumps, a disease I never had.
One evening, Shanna and I took the Rapid Transit bus to Phoenix to see the newly released movie, The
Time Machine
. The movie, released in 1960, starring Rod Taylor and Yvette Mimieux, was adapted from H.G. Wells book of the same title. The movie was fantastic for its time, something in it struck a chord in both of us. After the show, Shanna called her mother to let her know we planned to stay and see the movie a second time.

Almost fifty plus years have passed since we saw The Time Machine those first two times. Over the intervening years I’ve seen the movie in theaters, on television and video cassette, another nine to twelve times. The only movie I’ve seen as many times, is another time travel movie entitled, Somewhere In Time, which can be read about at the beginning of my handwritten Journal 1: The Gordian Knot, or in this blog in, Autobiography/Chapter 1983.

 An overnight trip to Las Vegas
That Friday, a couple of days after we went to the movie, Shanna’s Mom, Louise, suggested we go on a road trip. Louise and Shanna’s stepfather, Ray, were planning a drive to Las Vegas, some three hundred miles north-northwest of Phoenix.
When Ray came home from work that afternoon, we loaded some pillows, blankets, and sandwiches into the car and promptly left. Shanna’s younger brother, recovering from Mumps, stayed at home in the care of a baby-sitter.

Shanna and I sat in the back seat talking, holding hands, hugging and kissing until our mouths were sore. The hours passed and our minds grew leadened from lack of sleep and the monotonous rumble of the road. We tried to sleep, but the excitement of the impromptu trip and our being together again kept us from anything, but brief naps.
We arrived in Las Vegas shortly after midnight. [Internet image above: Las Vegas strip 1960.]

As is usual in Las Vegas, the “strip” casinos and businesses were brightly illuminated, people were continuously streaming in and out of the casinos, chatting on the sidewalk, catching cabs, crossing the busy streets.
Louise and Ray were fortunate to find a parking place on the “strip” and left us to nap while they went inside a casino to gamble. Shanna and I periodically dozed, and sat holding hands, looking at one another and making small talk. Her parents returned several hours later and found us sitting, snuggled up together and half awake, under a blanket in the back seat.
From the car we could see inside the nearby casinos. People were sitting in front of “one Armed Bandit” slot machines, repetitively dropping  their dimes, quarters and half dollars into the hungry slots, then cranking down the “Bandit’s” arm to spin the wheels of fortune.
All up and down the boulevard (called, “The Strip”) there was heavy auto traffic, taxi cabs were sitting here and there along the curbs or darting back and forth amongst lanes.

At daybreak we left the “Vegas Strip” and stopped for breakfast at a restaurant located on the edge of the desert, just out of the city. While we ate our large breakfasts of sausage and eggs, potatoes, toast, orange juice and coffee, Louise and Ray told us about their small winnings. They’d primed a “Bandit” almost to the point of winning a sizable jackpot, and how someone sitting near them hit a big jackpot… Since Las Vegas was first built as an entertainment and gambling center, it has been a glitzy place, where people do ‘win’ some of their gambled money back  and  “almost win” big.

After breakfast we drove to Boulder Dam, parked and walked across the dam. While standing along the guard rail at the top center of the dam I dropped a paper cup down the side. The cup slid down the concrete, becoming smaller and smaller and finally disappeared from view about one-third of the way down. Boulder Dam, also known as Roosevelt Dam is a huge structure, it’s amazing that such a massive
undertaking was accomplished during the depression years of the 1930s.

Several days after our trip to Las Vegas, it was time for me to leave Tempe and return home, the final leg of my summer vacation.

From our time together it showed that Shanna and I were still sweethearts, and time passed….

My last days at home
When my Greyhound bus arrived in Pasadena, I took a taxi to the family’s house on Howard Street. Although it seemed to me like I’d been gone for a long time, nothing had really changed at home. Dad was still going to Fuller Seminary and Mom was still sewing at the garment factory.
During the first few days at home, I visited with my neighborhood friends, Ted, Mike and Russell. Being as it was already past mid September, they were all back in school and moving along in their lives, so we could only get together in the late afternoon or on the weekend. During our brief visits, the hours seemed to melt away as we exchanged gossip and details of our summers activities. After being home for about two days and well before I had a chance to fall into a routine, Dad reminded me that it was time to keep my part of the bargain, and join the Army.

Volunteering” for the Army
The next morning, Dad drove me to the Army enlistment office in downtown Pasadena. There I took two brief tests that were to determine my basic aptitudes and capabilities. After reviewing the test results, the recruiting Sergeant advised that I could go into any specialty school the Army had. He went on saying that the Army needed men in the Infantry, Intelligence Corps and Airborne. After explaining briefly what each branch expected and offered, I chose to go Airborne.
The plan was for me to be at the Induction  Center for processing on 28 September. After processing I would be sent to Fort Ord, California for Basic Training and Advanced Infantry Training, if I passed the tests along the way I would be transferred to the Airborne school.

 A cheerless send off to the Army
The next week passed in a blur, then it was the morning of September 28, 1960, my day to leave home for good. There was no party, special family activity or favorite meal to send me off with memories of love from home. On the morning I was to leave, Mom and Dad simply drove me down to the Army Induction Center in Los Angeles and left me at the curb. That was the beginning of a period when this boy became a man.

There were thirty to forty other fellows and myself gathered at the Induction Center.
The first order of business was our registration and a couple of hour physical examination. When the exam and paperwork was finished, we were brought together and instructed to raise our right hands and swear our allegiance to the US Government and Constitution, we then became members of the US Army. After the administration of the oath we were immediately assigned a serial number identification; I became, “Pierce, Larry F.,  RA19,6nn, nnn.”

Late that afternoon we were taken to a nearby cafeteria for supper; after the meal we were loaded on a bus and driven to the Los Angeles train station for our trip to Fort  Ord.

The train trip to Fort Ord,  California
Upon boarding the train, each recruit was assigned a private sleeper cabin, which was a nice First Class touch. The conversation amongst us volunteers was upbeat, excited, nervous yet with an air of confidence. We were all going on an adventure and we knew it.

Shortly after leaving Los Angeles, an old Negro coach attendant came through the car, stopping at each cabin to ask if there was anything we needed. I didn’t know about the other recruits, but I felt like a drink and asked the old gentleman how much it would cost for a bottle of booze.. He replied that he wasn’t suppose to supply alcohol to anyone under the legal drinking age of twenty-one years, but for a dollar, he’d see what he could do. The old crook took my dollar and left. A while later he returned with several small, two ounce sealed bottles of bourbon. He gave me one and took the rest on down the corridor, probably to other fellows who’d placed orders. I laid back on my bed, propped up on one elbow, slowly sipping and savoring my drink, while looking at the contents of my shaving bag.

All that I had, or had claim to in the world were the clothes on my back and the small shaving bag which contained: a bar of soap, small towel, razor, tooth brush and a partially used tube of toothpaste.

Over the next hour or so, the sounds of people talking quieted. I sat against the wall in my cabin, looking out the window, listening to the sound of the train as it clicked its way along the rail, lost in thought about my unclear future.

Arriving at Fort Ord
Sometime after midnight, perhaps around 3:00AM, we recruits were awakened and told to ready our belongings as the train would soon be stopping at the Monterey train station. Shortly thereafter, we climbed down from the train and were ushered onto canvas-covered 2- 1/2 ton military trucks for the ride to Fort Ord Army Training Base.
[Postcard image at left, Fort Ord, ca 1942, 18 yrs before I was here for training: Located on  Hwy 1 about five miles north of Monterey, California, was once home to 25,000 soldiers and civilian workers. Founded as a cavalry post in 1917, it became a major training post during and after World War II.]

All that I could see of Fort Ord, in those early predawn hours were long, white or cream-colored wood frame buildings with military vehicles parked here and there. Our several truck convoy stopped in  the middle of the road, in front of a round roofed Quonset building. We climbed down from the trucks and were put into a rough formation. The first order of business was to teach us the basics of how to space ourselves in formation and how to stand at attention. Then forming a line, we filed through the Quonset where we were issued a mattress, mattress cover and pillow. With our arms loaded, we reboarded the trucks and were driven a short distance to a fairly new looking, two-story, concrete barracks.
Once again we were put in crude formation. Then, several sergeants came out of the building, their uniforms starched, their bearing and demeanor proud, sharp and professional. They stood in front of us with their hands on their hips, looking us over with authority and a certain disdain, while a roll call
was taken. We were immediately separated into to several groups.

Barracks assignment
Sergeant Sanchez, a neatly mustachioed Mexican- American, stepped up in front of my group and introduced himself as our Platoon Sergeant. He went on saying, “For the next six weeks of Basic Training, I’ll  be responsible for your training. I’ll be your Mother, Father and big brother…

A few moments later we were taken into our new home and assigned double-deck bunk beds. No sooner had we laid our mattresses down  when we were taken to the company supply room and issued sheets, blankets and a pillow case.

Our first lesson of the day included instructions in the military method of making our beds. We spent the rest of the morning at a quartermaster building having our measurements taken, being issued military clothing and equipment.
{Internet image, amongst the barracks at Fort Ord]

During that first week in the Army, we were given ‘scalp close’ haircuts, taught how to wear and fold our clothes, how to lay out our gear in our personal footlockers, how to polish shoes and boots. We learned how to “fall in” to a formation, follow basic drill marching commands, how to salute and respond when we were spoken to. It was a hectic, interesting time, and if one had the time to think about the events that were occurring, they would have been considered fun.

Basic Infantry, Combat training
As Basic Training continued, we began a daily, early morning program of calisthenics, in order to build up our strength and endurance. We attended lectures on military etiquette and law. We learned to disassemble and clean the M-1 rifle.

One morning we were given a battery of tests to determine our IQs and areas of specialization. My test scores were as follows:

Army Classification Battery– Mental Scores
Test    My Score
EL          109       Electronics
GM         122      General Maintenance
CL           104      Clerical
GT          119       General Technical
RC          114        Radio Code
IN           129       Infantry
AE          101       Armor, Artillery, Engineers

Later, I learned that the GT (General Test) score relates very closely to IQ, while the IN (infantry) score dealt with tactical thinking.

My class graduated from Basic Training in late November. Most of my Platoon went directly from Basic Training to A.I.T. (Advanced Infantry Training.)  Some fellows had enlisted for telecommunications, etc., so were sent elsewhere for their continued specialized training.

Advanced Infantry Training
The six weeks of Advance Infantry Training was more interesting than Basic, because we were given considerably more ‘hands on’ experience with a variety of weapons,  equipment and techniques.

Most mornings, we jogged in formation out to one of the firing ranges where we learned basic proficiency and care of the M1 rifle, BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle), M-30 air cooled machine gun.  We continued practice with our M-1 rifles, additionally learning the concepts of defending positions with ‘fields of fire’. We learned to throw hand grenades and dive for cover. We learned to trust our gas masks, how to properly pack our back packs, set up an Army pup tent. We learned to pack our web gear, field hike in full battle gear and use our equipment to the utmost. We were taught how to take compass readings, read topographical maps and avoid capture in a nighttime Escape and Evasion Course.

Escape and Evasion
The Escape and Evasion Course was fun, but like so many other occurrences in the military, it was a little scary and commanded your full attention and wit.
We’d been schooled in classroom exercises and seen military training films on how to escape from the eventuality of our positions being over run. We were told that if captured to only give our name, rank and serial number, and never provide information about our unit size or give away any tactical plans to the enemy.

The final part of this training was a live, night-time Escape and Evasion practicum. On the evening of the exercise, several hundred of us, probably our entire company of recruits, were trucked to the crest of a hill. The platoons were unloaded about 150 feet apart and our training cadre point out some lights about 3/4 mile away across a shallow valley. The lights were our rendezvous area. It was a moonlight night so one could see, but not very well. [Internet image: Soldiers on a night ‘escape and evasion’ training session.]

We were to suppose to sneak across the grassy, brush dotted valley, without being caught. There were unseen by us quite a large number of experienced soldiers waiting out there in the  dark. Our cadre admonished, “Some of you who will be caught might be’ lightly tortured by Escape and Evasion  training cadre in front of all the rest at the rendezvous point”. Hahaha, the extra scare was unnecessary, no one intended on being caught! After being given a few final directions, we were turned loose.

No sooner had we spread out and begun running on our own, when dark silhouettes began rising from the grass, one dropped from a tree, flashlights were popping on, with voices yelling, “Stop where you are! You’re caught!”  I crouched low while continuing to quickly move forward, stopping for a moment now and again to see where the nexus of activity was, then angling my movement away from it.

Before long, I was well away from the foray and creeping across the valley.

Now and again I saw a solitary form in the darkness moving a few dozen yards away moving in the same direction– other trainees making their way through the night. Once, when there was relatively close activity, I dropped flat in the eighteen inch to two foot tall grass and laid still for a few moments. When the sounds had moved on, I raised to my knees to look around, suddenly, there was a rustle beside me, my head snapped to the right. About six feet away, a large cat stood up in the
grass facing me, it swirled about and silently disappeared into the dark. I just stared in wide-eyed surprise, my mouth agape and breathing stopped as I tried to fathom what had just happened.

The cat seemed about two-thirds my size, it didn’t make a warning sound, I couldn’t see color just a large, dark animal that smoothly slipped away from a hiding spot almost within my reach. I suppose it was as scared as I was, with all the humans running around in its territory that night. A moment later, with the creature gone, it was time for me to get moving as well. I stood and began to run stealthfully toward the rendezvous point. With in a few minutes my scare had passed, I was not caught, but had made my ‘escape’ successfully.  It was a thrilling and scary night.

The B.A.R. insight
One gray morning, at the Browning Automatic Rifle range, we were set in bleachers. A handful of troops were called down and given a BAR,  heavy automatic rifle that was partially supported by a strap over your shoulder. We would be using a dead reckoning aim and shooting the weapon from our hip.

The young soldiers were stood about five paces apart and each told to walk up a trail keeping an eye to their side so no one got ahead or fell behind the others. As they walked, electrically controlled targets would pop up behind bushes, logs, and from inside foxholes. When a target popped up, the rifleman was to swung his BAR about toward the target and fire a burst of rounds at it. If the target was hit, it would automatically drop indicating a kill.

I watched as several groups walk up the firing line and observed that most were shooting into the soil in front of the targets. So I made a mental note that when it was my turn, I’d swing my BAR toward the target to where I thought was right, just like everyone else, then I’d raise the barrel a little to compensate for the observed under positioning the others were making.

A few minutes later I had the opportunity to shoot. The targets popped up and I turned on them, raised the barrel just a little and fired. Time after time the gun belched fire and time after time the targets fell, I’d knocked down every target and was congratulated by the firing instructor.
There was a lesson from my observation on the firing line that I’ve always remembered, general common sense is not always more correct than a studied contrarian sense. Its not so easy to explain, other than to say, some times and within reason, marching to your own drum beat brings better results than following the herd.

Initial Chemical warfare training
After having classroom exercises and films about chemical warfare,  the fitting and use of our gas masks, and drills putting the equipment on, we were taken to the Fort Ord’s Basic training ‘gas chamber’. The chamber was a wooden shed like building measuring maybe 20 feet wide and 30 feet long, with a door and several windows.

Learning to trust our gas masks was a little scary. We were told that we would put our gas masks and gloves on, outside, then file thought the tear gas-filled building, That once inside, the group would stand for a few moments, then we’d file back outside.
If we had our masks on properly, we would not be affected by the gas.
So, that’s what we did and our equipment worked fine. Of course, back outside after removing our masks, we could smell the acrid tear gas in the air from the buildings door, which was left open.

After the gas chamber was fairly aired out, we were taken back inside, but this time without our masks on. Once inside, our eyes started smarting from small amounts of gas still in the air. We were told that a tear gas canister was to be popped and that we had to put our masks on before the full strength of the gas hit us. We were told not to worry if we did get any gas in our eyes, as any burning sensation would only be temporary, with no lasting effect. Then the instructor looked around at us, pulled the pin on a canister and dropped it, Immediately gray fog began spewing out of the canister, rising and rapidly expanding like a cloud throughout the room. We trainees suddenly became animated, taking a last breath and grabbing for the mask stored in carriers on our hips. I’ll bet it didn’t take ten seconds for our group of about a dozen fellows to put their masks on, as soon as the seals and head straps were checked, we all began looking around to see how everyone else was faring.
[Internet image above right, typical basic chemical warfare training. Troops gaining confidence with their equipment in a tear gas training environment.]

Aside from the slight sting  we felt, from before the test, the gas masks did their work of protecting us. The room was completely filled with gray smoke, but the only place we felt a sting was on a band around our wrists that was neither covered by our long shirt sleeve or gloves.

It was a little scary to know that a lot of pain, and who knows what else, existed  in that fog of gas just outside our mask, only 1/8 inch away from our face, nose and eyes. When the cadre were satisfied that we were all aware how well the masks had protected us, we filed back out the door, happy to have ‘survived’ the somewhat dreaded ‘gas chamber’.

Toward the end of A.I.T., several from my company were required to pass a physical endurance test in order to qualify for the Airborne Jump School.
The test required us to do a certain number of timed exercises including; sit ups, push ups, pull ups and running a given distance. Out of the twelve or so of us taking the test, two failed qualification.

Until this time, life had been so full and busy with rushing here and there, learning new things, and seeing new sights, that I’d not given much thought to my enlistment for Airborne. The night immediately after I passed the pre Airborne endurance test, the real meaning of “Airborne” began to sink in. That night after “lights out,” I laid on my cot staring wide-eyed at the bottom of the bunk above me. In the quiet semi darkness of the room and within the private confines of my mind, I began to explore and conceptualize the act of stepping out the door of an airplane that was flying.

The visualization of jumping out of an airplane and falling through the air kept me awake. A cold terror crept through me. I forced myself to face that fear. The dangerous course on which I was charted lay before me in the unclear future. I decided to treat each day as I had in the past. The fear would have to be dealt with when the danger became real and imminent.

At the end of A.I.T.  we were promoted from pay grade (rank) E1 to E2. If memory serves me right, the E2 pay grade yielded about $79 per month, which wasn’t much even in 1960.

What’s on TV tonight?
My favorite programs in 1960
•  Tales of WellsFargo – a western
•  One Step Beyond – sci-fi fantasy
•  Alfred Hitchcock Presents
•  Route 66- adventure drama
•  Bonanza – a western
•  Have Gun, Will  Travel- a western
•  Maverick – a western
•  Lawman – a western
•  Twilight Zone – sci-fi fantasy

During the year, while in Michigan and into the beginning of 1961  while in the Army, I saw the following movies:
Butterfield 8 with Elizabeth Taylor, Laurence Harvey, Diana Merrill
Darby O’Gill and the Little People with Sean Connery, Albert Sharpe, Janet Munro
Flaming Star with Elvis Presley, John McIntire, Dolores Del Rio
G.I. Blues with Elvis Presley, Juliet Prowse, Robert Avers
Last Woman on Earth with Anthony Carbine, Betsy Jones-Moorland, Edward Win
Ocean’s Eleven with Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Law ford
Pillow Talk with Doris Day, Rock Hudson, Tony Randall, Thelma Ritter
Swiss Family Robinson with John Mills, Dorothy McGuire, James Macarthur
The Gazebo with Glenn Ford, Debby Reynolds, Carl Rainer, John McIver
The Magnificent Seven with Yule Brunner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson
The Time Machine with Rod Taylor, Yvette Milieu, Sebastian Cabot

[1]  See Journal 14, Trace of the Temporal Visitor, page 2744, “My “Memories of the Telephone System.”
[2] And now almost 50 years after the events of this story unfolded, as I sit reworking and expanding my notes about living with Grandma Elsie for the summer, I break down and sob. That’s one thing about an autobiography, looking for events and memories, you occasionally end touching base with your now deceased loved ones. The years mean nothing when you are together. Here I am, a 65-year-old man, choking back tears,  my  nose running, sobbing- I’m still a little boy, a teen, a young man, the love is eternal.
[3] During the late 1970s, while in the middle age of her life, Aunt Julie developed a brain tumor and died.

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Filed under Autobiography, __2. Childhood: 1942-1963