Monday, April 8, 2013

08 APR 13

War Story ...
Thanksgiving 1966

         USASATC&S Fort Devens, MA
Was in casual status, awaiting class assignment.
Company C, the Holding Company ... everybody was a casual.
Thanksgiving approached.
We were given five-day passes for the holiday.
We were free at the end of the duty day, Tuesday.
(That would be 1600 ... 4 PM in civilian speak.)
Return was to be NLT 12 Midnight, on the Sunday following.
(We had "Cinderella Passes" back then.)

                            Main Gate, Fort Devens, MA (from Town of Ayer)

My permanent casual detail was Guard Duty.
It was a day on/day off schedule.
It was touted as an honor to serve in that platoon.
I bit ... took the bait when I arrived.
(My only excuse is that I was fresh out of Basic Training.)

The duty day was early to rise, morning chow,
afterwards, prepare for Guard Mount inspection ...
lunch, then dress.
Report for Guard Mount.
Receive your guard-post assignment.
Report to the guard's barracks.
Enter the rotation ...
usually two hours on guard, four hours off ...
until reveille was sounded.

Off-duty day was dedicated to personal needs and getting prepared
for Guard Mount. Hours spent spit-polishing boots, studying the
Soldier's Manual, going over the eleven General Orders until you
knew them backwards.

The actual guard duty wasn't bad ... during October.
But come November, it grew real cold at night in Massachusetts.
(We guarded such places as the commissary, the finance building,
the PX building, the ammo dump. We were issued M-1 Carbines
with three rounds of ball ammo. Do believe that those guarding the
ammo dump were issued 12 ga. pumps and three shells. There was,
also, a "Roving Patrol" who drove around the entire post all night,
keeping watch. This was the most sought after post ... usually
assigned to whoever made Supernumerary at Guard Mount on the day.)

The Thanksgiving break was a welcome one.
(One important detail ... it was also the week-end when the Army/Navy
Game was to be played in Philadelphia.)
I had some cash. Caught a ride to Boston's Logan Airport.
Eastern Airlines ran a shuttle flight that flew Montreal, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, Atlanta (or maybe Miami??) ... then back again.
Cost for a ticket was $30 ... no reservations ... no frills.
The aircraft was a Boeing 727, used like a bus that flew.
Back then military personnel, in uniform, could fly stand-by for half
the price of a regular fare. My trip to Philadelphia cost me $15.
Had a great Thanksgiving. Saw family and friends ... ate myself sick
... told "war stories," from Basic, to everyone ... drank some beer.

Along came Sunday. Was driven to the airport late in the afternoon.
Walked up to the Eastern counter and asked about a shuttle flight
to Boston. EVERYTHING was booked solid. All the people who'd
come to Philly to see the Army/Navy game were leaving town too.
Every plane left fully loaded. What to do? My girlfriend volunteered
to drive me back ... but we had to hurry ... Cinderella passes, remember?
Went back to her house, packed quickly, departed. We drove but not
quickly enough ... arrived in the town of Ayer at around 0200.
Already late. Found a motel for her on the main drag, then reported in.
Signed the CQ log and found my bunk.

Later that day, the expected summons came.
The 1SG wanted to see me.
I explained what had happened.
He explained his position on discipline.
He told me that my planning had been effed up ...
to use this as a lesson.
He was going to punish me by removing me from the Guard Platoon and assigning me to permanent KP duty.
Groan ...
I was to move immediately.

The KP barracks were a half block up from the Guard's barracks.
Two buildings instead of just the one.
I was assigned to Company A's mess hall.
Duty day for first shift began at 0400.
Second shift came on at 1200.
That shift ran until work was done.
The shifts rotated.

When I reported to the mess sergeant, he asked what school I was
waiting for. When I told him 98C, he said that since it would be
a long wait for a security clearance before my school could begin, he
was going to take pity and assign me to an easy duty ...
Dining Room Orderly.
My job would be to sweep, mop, buff the dining room floor,
fill all the salt/pepper/sugar dispensers.
Keep the milk dispenser going.
Clean the serving line after the meal ...
to include shining all the copper piping contained therein.
Make sure that the silverware holder was always full.
Etc ...
It was a full, but not oppressive, routine.

I'd lucked out but didn't realize it.
Until ... this one December afternoon.
Outside it was snowing, windy and cold.
Inside I was sitting, looking through the
window and drinking hot coffee as I filled
the salt and pepper shakers.
It dawned on me that my former
platoon mates were lining up in the snow
for Guard Mount and would be spending
the night out in the weather, while I would be
sleeping in my warm bunk.

I, silently,  offered my thanks to the First Sergeant
and toasted him with my coffee.

"ASA!  All The Way!"



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