Shades of Grey: Military Stories, Part II

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If you missed my last column, it consisted of several accounts of unusual events that happened when I served in the Army back in the mid-1950s. Here are a few more.

One of our last exercises in our Armored Officer class at Fort Knox was the Tankers Night Ride. A team of three officers in a jeep with a driver had to locate, under blackout conditions, 18 stations which were scattered at remote locations around the Post and solve some type of military problem at each. It began at 9 p.m. (2100 hrs) and was a timed competition - the best time with the most correct solutions would be the winner, resulting in a prestigious notation on your military resume.

One team got together beforehand and formed a plan for an efficient use of the time with the aim of winning the competition. We met on the fateful night in a large lecture room. Each team was handed a packet containing a map and the coordinates of the stations. At precisely 2100 hrs the signal was given, and the race began. The first order of business was to plot the location on the map, the first one being where to go to pick up your jeep. As soon as the leader of the "more efficient time use" team saw the plot for the jeep location, he said, "That's the big motor pool over on K Street. Let's go." They bolted from the room, jumped in his car and raced to the other side of the Post to the K Street motor pool. Instead of staying in the classroom and plotting all their points first like the rest of us, their plan was to get moving and plot the locations as they went. When they got to the K Street motor pool, they found it locked up tight with armed sentries patrolling the fence. They got under a street light, replotted the jeep location and found that it was just behind the classroom building where they'd started. After racing back across Post, they found one lone jeep and a driver who was wondering where they'd been. All other teams were on the road.

Their plan to "plot on the move" did not work too well either with no light and no flat, stable surface for the map. They finished last. However, the rest of us learned a valuable lesson or two from their fiasco.

The battalion commander in my first permanent duty assignment was a Lt. Colonel who wanted to make sure all his officers knew what was going on. To this end, he had an "Officers' Call" (meeting) each month at which time reports were given on every conceivable aspet of the battalion - mess hall rankings, vehicle readiness, men in the stockade, etc. And, of course, there was always the monthly VD Report given by the Chaplain. This was cases of Venereal Disease. The term STD was unheard of then. The Chaplain gave the report because after a soldier had reported to sick call and was diagnosed with VD, he was sent to the Chaplain for counseling so he had all the data. It was the Colonel's goal to have no VD cases in his command. What he was really doing was driving them off Post to private doctors - except for Sgt. Jackson. Jackson was a gunnery Sgt. In our Company who frequented Louisville's brothels, always followed the proscribed procedures and appeared on the VD Report each month. This would gall the Colonel to no end, and he would berate Lt. Harrod, our Company Commander, for failing to get Jackson to "keep his pants on." This monthly confrontation became a running joke among the other officers and was looked forward to with much anticipation - except for Lt. Harrod. But there came the month that the Chaplain reported two cases of VD, bringing from them the Colonel, "Well, Harrod, I see that Jackson's habits are spreading to the other men. Who was with him this month?"

Harrod and the Chaplain looked at each other for a long moment before Harrod replied, "Well, you see, sir, this was a 31-day month."

The Colonel came back, "What the hell difference does that make?"

Harrod responded, "Jackson had a case on the 1st and another on the 31st. Both are his."

The Colonel exploded. He cussed some, banged on the table and threw his cap across the mess hall. When he got finished, Harrod said, "Sir, Jackson's a good soldier and a good gunnery Sgt. I don't think I'm going to change his personal life."

Apparently, the Colonel adopted the same philosophy and quit carrying on so much about the VD Reports. However, it did make Officers' Call much less interesting for the rest of us.

One day, I hurt my back and went on sick call at our Battalion clinic. At this time, many of these clinics were staffed by former military doctors who had retired and been hired back as civilians. The one in this clinic was old enough to have been in the Spanish-American War. He was doddery, had a shuffling walk and squinted at things like the cartoon character, Mr. Magoo. When he came in, he peered at me from several angles. This exchange occurred:

"Well, you are kinda tall. I'll have to get a ruler." He left the room and came back. "I can't find a ruler. I don't know what we could use."

"Why do you need a ruler?" I asked.

"To see how tall you are."

"I know how tall I am. Why do you need to know that?"

"I need to find out if you're too tall to be in the Army?"

"Doctor, I am in the Army. I am a Lieutenant. I am in uniform."

He squinted at me more closely. "Well, so you are. Then what are you doing here?"

"I've hurt my back."

"Well get some APCs (aspirin) from the nurse on the way out, don't pick up anything heavy and if it doesn't get better, come back."

I never went back. My injury eventually fixed itself.

From some of the current news stories one has to wonder if this doctor is not working in a VA hospital somewhere.

Lucas G. "Luke" Boyd's career spans 48 years in the field of education, retiring after serving as principal of 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

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Luke Boyd, Shades of Grey
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