In the fall of 1947 I decided I had had enough of the Army. I can’t count the number of times I had the same thought over the years, but now I was going to do something about it. I have forgotten the specific reason I was really going to quit this time, but what ever it was, it was very important to me. Of that I’m sure.
Most of the people I went to high school with got out of service right after WWII and had good jobs working in factories like GE and The Bessemer and other big companies, so maybe that was it, but I strongly suspect I was just really pissed about something. The Army often generates that emotion in its employees.
My mother always pushed education and I thought she might be right. Before the war I wanted to join the CCC but she fought me tooth and nail, insisting I finish high school. So anyway, I devised this clever plan. I would get out of the Army when my hitch was up, get a good paying job for a while and then use the GI Bill and spend four years living the collage life with the co-eds, the parties, the beer, and all the other wonderful things that were in woefully short supply in the Army. After collage I would live a life of ease as a respected pipe smoking collage graduate. The world would be my oyster. No more chicken shit inspections, hours of close order drill and parades, for me. Best of all, no more 3rd Armored Division, and super best, no more friggen tanks! No sir, never again.
So in January of 1948 I pinned on the Ruptured Duck, left Ft. Knox and returned to my home town in Pennsylvania. My mother had remarried and her new husband was not all that thrilled to see me at his door. Not to worry. I had saved up a little over 200 bucks to see me through any dark days I might encounter. I checked in at the local collage with a transcript of my high school record. I’ll admit it was not too great. The admissions guy was certainly not impressed. Okay, in my senior year I spent a lot of my time dating the co-eds, partying and taking advantage of the things that high school social life offers, rather than studying. The admissions guy said they would let me know and wrote down my address on a piece of scratch paper. Not a good sign. Also I discovered 1948 was not a good time to find one of those high paying positions.
I finally got a job in a steel mill in a city near the Ohio border. I worked as a laborer at minimum wage which was 40 cents an hour. I was on a shift that rotated every two weeks. That’s 2 week’s days, 2 week’s evenings and the night shift 2 weeks. That schedule is hell on ones social life. Since I had no car and there was no public transportation in town, I had to find quarters near the mill. The place I finally selected, because it was the only place I could afford, was a hotel where the clerks barely spoke English. On moving in I discovered none of the other permanent residents spoke any English at all. It was a Polish Hotel. After a few miserable months of this I sat down and took stock of my situation, did some math, and found my $3.20 a day less Social Security was barely paying for the hotel and meals. I thought about the people I worked with, mostly middle aged Polish folk and could see my self doing this for the rest of my life. Six months of civilian life and the only gains I had made was the ability to say a few things in Polish. It was depressing. So the next day I went down to see my local Army Recruiting Sergeant.
He was glad to see me and assured me I could get back the rank I was discharged with as well as an opportunity to attend a school. Amazingly enough, the stuff the Recruiting Sgt. promised turned out to be true.
I quit the steel mill the following day and was off to Ft. Meade, to process and then on to Data Processing School in Camp Lee, VA. I was a Buck Sergeant once again making a cool $100 a month, with no Socical Security tax to pay, plus a bunk, 3 wonderful GI meals each and every day, and thousands of fun loving, jolly companions. Who could ask for anything more?
The school was 8 weeks of intensive training and when we finished we were told to apply for 3 choices of assignment. We were all destined to go to either an Army Headquarters or an overseas command HQ. Being a big Jack London fan, my first choice was Alaska, 2Nd was Japan and my last choice was, “Anywhere but 3rd Army HQ., Ft McPherson, GA.” So the Army in its infinite wisdom sent me to McPherson and my buddy who had ask for McPherson, to Alaska. The Army has a droll sense of humor.
I actually enjoyed my assignment at McPherson. It’s right in the city of Atlanta. I spent my first 6 month in my new outfit, on the second shift pushing punched cards through a sorter. Later I was assigned to a semi clerical job learning about Army Authorized Strength and Master Organization files on the day shift. It was the first time I encountered an openly gay person in the service which was a novelty to me. Later I was informed that most of the key punch section was also gay. As long as no one had sex in the barrack, or out on the quadrangle, no one gave a shit. Everything was going well for me. I learned to play chess and became hooked on the game. I took some music lessons in town to improve my fiddle playing and a night course in Georgia law. The GI bill paid my tuition. In the barrack we discussed all the world’s problems, solving most of them with ease. Anyone who has spent time in a peacetime barrack knows exactly what I’m talking about. I don’t remember seeing a single black soldier on post. Atlanta town was still very segregated with the back of the bus and separate rest rooms and drinking fountains laws and all the rest of the apatite crap. You may ask, did you do or say anything about the racial inequality and injustice you saw? Nope, I was a coward and just accepted the status quo. The Truman integration program was just starting to kick in, in the services but had not gotten very far yet. Things were almost perfect for me till the damn Korean War broke out in June 1950 and I was off to serve in the Far East command of General Douglas McArthur, or as he was known as in my outfit, “Back Track Mac”.