Shades of Grey: Military Stories, Part I

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It was 1955, and the truce that had halted the fighting in the Korean War was still in effect. Sixty-nine shiny, newly minted second lieutenants converged on Fort Knox, becoming AOB #6, the sixth Armored Officer Basic class of that calendar year. In four months we would graduate as "Tankers" and be assigned to various tank units at home and abroad. There were, of course, several unusual officers among the 69.

We stood formation two or three mornings a week. The Chief TAC officer wanted to make sure that our appearance was up to official Army standards. This Captain had "strongly recommended" the first day that we take our fatigues (baggy, dark green work uniforms) to a tailor and get them "form fitted" to improve our appearance. One morning about three weeks later we were standing inspection when he came to Lt. Hoover. Now Hoover was one of those people who just was not put together correctly. He was all knees and elbows with big feet, protruding shoulder blades, and one shoulder lower than the other. The Captain stopped in front of him, and this exchange ensued:

"Lt. Hoover, I thought, I thought I told you to get your fatigues form fitted."

"Yes sir. And I did." (It was obvious he had not.)

"Then why do you look the way you do?"

"It's just my form sir."

There were snickers from most of those close by. The Captain looked him over one more time before saying, "Then carry on Lieutenant." He never bugged Hoover again about his form.

Lt. Green had a real high voice. When firing the 90mm tank gun on the range, you were supposed to yell, "on the way," just before you pulled the trigger. Lt. Green could not seem to get the hang of it. When he was acting as gunner, the gun would fire followed by his shrill voice yelling, "There she goes."

Lt. Bryan's nickname was "Brew" because he drank a lot - most every night, in fact. His standard breakfast was two Alka-Seltzer tablets in a glass of water. At least half of our instruction was classroom lecture. Bryan usually slept through these. To keep us on our toes, instructors would ask a question ever so often and then call a name off the roster for the answer. The name always came after the question to ensure that everyone stayed alert. One day the instructor called "Lt. Bryan." Of course, Brew was sleeping, but he heard his name. As he pulled himself together to rise, he leaned to Lt. Bechtel, a football player from Ohio State, who was sitting next to him and whispered, "What's the answer?" Bechtel whispered back, "The aiming circle." We had studied this the week before, but it had nothing to do with the question at hand. Bryan got to his feet, snapped to attention, and answered, "It's the aiming circle, sir." Peals of laughter broke out. Bechtel was about to fall on the floor. Bryan looked around and tried to bluff it through. "What are you people laughing at? That's the right answer." And then looking back at the instructor, "Yes, sir, it is the aiming circle." The instructor simply said, "Sit down, Lt. Bryan." By this time Bryan figured out that he'd been the butt of a cruel joke. As he sat down, he said to a convulsed Bechtel in a voice loud enough for many to hear, "Bechtel, I'm gonna kill you."

After graduation I was sent to the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, a light armored recon unit. There were several light and medium tank companies in this regiment, but I was assigned to a howitzer company of 105mm self-propelled howitzers. After all my training as a tanker, I never served in a tank unit. Such were the ways of military assignments.

My company commander was 1st Lt. Gil Herrod from Kentucky, an old artilleryman who had come up through the ranks. He was the only artillery officer in the company. The Exec Officer and I were tankers. The other two officers had come from the Finance Corps and the Signal Corps. But somehow Herrod made it work.

The Exec Officer, 2nd Lt. Lou Williams, was not married. Our duty day ended at 4 p.m. Lou would go to his quarters and sleep until 8 or so. Then, he'd head to the Officers' Club and have dinner and drink until the wee hours. He usually had a throbbing head when he reported for duty at 7 a.m. the next day. Our Company First Sergeant, Sgt. Johnson, was an old career NCO with a voice that sounded like large rocks rolling around in a steel drum. When Lou would walk into the orderly room each morning, Sgt. Johnson would yell, "Good morning, Lieutenant!" Lou's response was always the same. He'd grab his head with both hands and yell back, "F--- you, Sergeant, F---- you!" Johnson would laugh loudly knowing he would not be called down for giving his superior a cheerful greeting. Actually, the two worked well together and had a great deal of respect for each other. The rest of us loved to start our days by witnessing this exchange.

More next time.

Lucas G. "Luke" Boyd's career spans 48 years in the field of education, retiring after serving as principal at Battle Ground Academy in Franklin for 19 years. He has published two books, eight short stories and an article in "Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture." He may be contacted at coondogspress@bellsouth.net.

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