I have three things in common with George Carlin- love for creamed spinach, Horn and Hardarts cafeterias in New York City and our view of the military. In his final autobiographic tome, Last Words, he says, “Weird how the military touches so many aspects of your life.It’s like the Church in that way. You hate it, but it forms you. It’s a parent. Mother Church and Father Military.”

The two years that I spent in the U.S. Army did more to widen my perspectives about life than any other two years of my life. I was a cloistered young rapscallion with almost no understanding of the world beyond my neighborhood, my friends, my high school and my college. I was not interested in happenings beyond my ken. That is not to say that I did not read the newspaper, listen to the news or was unaware of happenings around the world. I was just satisfied to drink my gallon of mile and box of cookies each day and not think too carefully about other things.

My first hint that life had changed, almost dramatically, was the night that I got to Fort Dix. I was not told where to go or who to report to ( a word that has a different meaning in the military). I saw someone with white gloves, a shiney helmet and a crisp uniform and asked him where I should go. His answers were crisp and to the point. “ What the hell is wrong with you recruit, don’t you know anything. Get your ass over to that building over there and report to Sergeant Daly and hop to it.

I had never considered that there was much wrong with me, other than my polio skinny left leg. I walked over to the building to which I was directed and was faced with about 100 other recruits, just as confused as I was. Their faces told me that I wasn’t the only one confused about what was happening. In a moment a brusque voice intoned, “ Shut up and line up in since lines facing me. I want all the U.S.’s ( drafted) in this line, all of the R.A.’s (volunteers) in this line, any N.G.’s( national guard) in this line, E.R.’s ( enlisted reserves ) in this line. That took up all of the recruits except one, me. I was an F.R. ( federal reserve). I had pushed up my draft number, had never been in the National Guard or Enlisted Reserves. I was therefore an oddity. And is there is anything that you do not want to be in the U.S. Army is an oddity.

I stood there looking around like Stanley Laurel as Sergeant Daly approached. He asked, “ What the hell are you soldier?” The appellation soldier fell gently on my ears because I was still wearing civilian clothes. I am an F.R. sir. “ Stop calling me sir, I work for a living.” “Yes Sergeant Daly,” I squeaked. Sergeant Daly redid his facial expression to one of sheer holiness, bent down to come even with my face and said, “ Get the hell over there with the E.R.’s”
I quickly went over to the line and tried to fold myself into that singular group of humanity.

We were ushered to barracks where we would stay for a week until we were sent to basic training presumably on the Fort Dix post. That very first night they woke us up at 3:00 in the a.m. and told us to line up in single file facing them outside the barracks. Didn’t anyone see that it was raining outside and that we would get soaked? That was only one lesson from that night. The next lesson came from Sergeant Daly’s next question. How many of you monkeys have an engineering background. When you think of that question, it can be interpreted in so many different ways- majored in engineering, were engineers, worked on trains, was a technician and so on. Fifty of the recruits raised their hands. They were culled from the line to dig ditches for latrines.
I on the other hand wound up losing all sense of heat and cold in my hands from doing k.p. for the next twelve hours in a mess hall that served 5,000 soldiers on tin trays. The heat from the dishwashers was unfathomable, the tin trays were beyond hot and the scrubbing of excess food from the trays were disgusting. I was also put in charge of a potato peeling machine which did the hob of skinning potatoes by abrasion. It was a glorious night and a fine introduction to the next two years



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