I entered the army on the feast of OurLady of Mt. Carmel (I was spitelfully happy when the Vatican later abolished this fictional feast).
In basic training, I would have been tempted to suicide if not Catholic.
I encountered a sergeant who was a complete sociopath. When we practiced digging up landmines (with booby-traps underneath) I never succeeded without the booby-trap clicking. Then he made me run around, rifle overhead, shouting, “I’m dead—I’m dead!”
One good thing: after a long campout,we had to put our tent and stuff together quickly. He confiscated my bayonet (not quite quick enough); that meant that for the rest of Basic, I watched while the others did bayonet training.
RIFLE PRACTICE: The worse you did, the better score you got (they figured you wanted to be disqualified for Korea). I’d see the bullet plow up the ground, then see ‘bullseye’ marked.
I was already bald. When we lay down to fire, the metal helmet fell right down over my eyes—so I skewed it to one side. The awful sergeant screamed at me; I stood up, tried to explain—but he screamed again; so I lay down and fired blind—with more bullseyes.
I got the 2d highest medal. When I came home for leave, my father—a great shot himself—said,“I never thought they’d teach you to shoot! We’ll have to go hunting.” My parents couldn’t believe the corruption of the process. My mother said, “You must learn to accept honors gracefully!”
We were punished for sick-call. I got a terrible cellulitis in one swollen leg. I was told to load up all my gear (including bed), haul it all to supply room, then take a bus to hospital.
Horrified, they slapped me in bed for a month, dosed with antibiotics. The head nurse was a terrifying redhead. One farmboy, back from Korea, had his genitals shot off. (Army makes men, indeed! Landmines were designed to wound in that way.)
After dark, he’d weep; she held his hand.
After 3 weeks, I was allowed to walk around.
In the hall, I met a guy in bathrobe, with a guard on either side.
I recognized my sergeant.
He was restrained from lunging at me.
“That’s the som-a-bitch! That’s him! I told him to straighten his helmet.
He stood up and pointed his rifle right at me!”
Devout as I then was, my toes curled with pleasure to think I had pushed him over the edge into total madness.