After completing requirements for a master’s degree from Northwestern University in December 1964, I immediately was subject to the military draft. So, I enrolled in the U.S. Army Reserves in Fort Wayne on Jan. 6, 1965, and left for Fort Knox, KY about a week later. I was “In the Army now” as the song says!
Looking back on my so-called military career covering the next six years, I’ve found it worthwhile because it helped me grow up and become a man, so to speak. In fact, I think every young person, male or female, should undergo at least six months of military training. Individuals don’t have to become a proficient war machine, but they do need to learn how to take orders, get along with others totally different than themselves, respect firearms and figure out how to adjust to some difficulties.
Six months of basic training along with two weeks of active-duty summer camp over the next six years made me appreciate home and family. For me, a key element of survival was not to make fun of military life but to find the humor and irony in many situations. And since this month we are observing both Armed Forces Day on May 20 and Memorial Day on May 29, it seems like an opportune time to share a few of those humorous and unexpected incidents that occurred.
The observance of Armed Forces Day reminds me of time spent at Fort Dix, NJ. On paper, I was supposed to receive clerical or photography training at Fort Knox as promised in my MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) issued by my reserve unit. Instead, I was sent to Fort Dix for advanced infantry training.
Several weeks into the training just before Armed Force Day, I saw a notice on a bulletin board calling anyone who knew how to play a trumpet to report to a particular room for a meeting. I did that, of course, delighted to be able to use my talents for something other than shooting a weapon. I was told to report to the same room the next morning at 9:00 a.m. sharp!
When I assembled for the duty formation the next morning, I was not wearing any field gear. The master sergeant, of course, chewed me out and sent me back to the barracks to change despite my attempts to exclaim that I was to report for trumpet practice.
After marching a couple miles and assembling for field training in a set of bleachers, a jeep soon pulled up and a smallish colonel got out and began chewing out the first lieutenant. He in turn lit into the master sergeant who then inquired if I was sitting in the bleachers and if so, to report to him immediately.
“Were you supposed to be at band practice or something,” he asked impatiently? I said, “Yes, I tried to tell you that this morning but …” He interrupted me and said, “I got my *%# chewed out because of you. Just get out of here!”
So, for the next two weeks I reported to that rehearsal room where six of us practiced sounding certain bugle calls on herald trumpets. If you’re not familiar with the instrument, a herald or fanfare trumpet is a brass instrument similar to but longer than a trumpet, capable of playing specially composed fanfares. Its extra length can also accommodate a small ceremonial banner that can be mounted on it.
I was thrilled to be able to participate. We practiced every morning for about an hour and then I was free for the rest of the day to do about whatever I wanted, including visiting the PX (also known as the Post Exchange), a department-style store somewhat similar to a Wal-Mart but with lots of military discounts.
Unlike Veterans Day (previously observed as Armistice Day — the end of World War I), and unlike Memorial Day, which honors those who died wearing the cloth of our nation at war, Armed Forces Day is the proper day to honor all of the men and women currently serving, as well as those who have served and sacrificed to defend our freedom. On Armed Forces Day we trumpeters assembled in the center of a huge parade field and sounded the calls for all the troops of the entire post to come to attention, stand at parade rest, salute the flag, and so forth. It was a privilege I’ve never forgotten.
In subsequent articles we’ll focus on other curious and humorous incidents while serving in the military.