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I Was In The Army Then…

Veterans Day (originally known as Armistice Day) is a federal holiday in the United States observed annually on November 11, for honoring military veterans of the United States Armed Forces (who were discharged under conditions other than dishonorable). It coincides with other holidays including Armistice Day and Remembrance Day which are commemorated in other countries that mark the anniversary of the end of World War I.

Veterans Day is distinct from Memorial Day, a U.S. public holiday in May. Veterans Day commemorates the service of all U.S. veterans, while Memorial Day honors those who have died while in military service. Another military holiday that also occurs in May, Armed Forces Day, honors those currently serving in the U.S. military.

Additionally, Women Veterans Day observed on June 12 in the U.S. is recognized by a growing number of states that specifically honor women who have served in the U.S. military. The date chosen marks the anniversary of the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act. Although not recognized nationally, it is recognized by several states, either through legislation or proclamation, and organizations.

I enrolled in the U.S. Army Reserves in Fort Wayne on January 6, 1965, and left for Fort Knox, Kentucky about a week later. I was “In the Army now” as the song says! And since we’re observing Veteran’s Day on November 11, I thought it was an opportune time to again share a few of those humorous and unexpected incidents that occurred especially when I was assigned to military KP duty.

KP means “kitchen police” or “kitchen patrol” and requires enlisted personnel to become familiar with washing dishes, some food preparation excluding cooking — like peeling potatoes — and bussing tables. Armed with mop and bucket, soldiers on KP duty become adept at cleaning thoroughly and quickly. Army KP holds as undesirable a place in the military mindset as latrine duty (which is the cleaning and maintaining of the communal toilets and showers).

One of the “best” jobs on KP duty was called “outside man.” This “lucky” soldier got out of kitchen duty and accompanied a food truck to the field, so to speak, to help distribute meals to the troops undergoing training at a rifle range, for example. KP duty began at 5:00 a.m. but you had to get there early to sign up for the better jobs, especially “outside man!” I arrived at the kitchen area at 3:30 a.m., wrote my name opposite “outside man” on the duty list and fell asleep against a wall to await the kitchen opening, confident I had reserved the “best” KP job for myself. But when a cook arrived to open the door, the first question he asked was who the “outside man” was. I proudly raised my hand and was told I wasn’t needed because they had a permanent “outside man” assigned for the week to a soldier who was serving detention in the brig. “Bummer!” I was assigned the worst and only job remaining: Pots and pans man!

KP duty is a long day, from 5:00 a.m. to later that evening after supper clean-up. You get to eat every meal after the troops are fed, but it’s at the urging of the cooks to do it quickly and get back to work! As I was wiping down an upright freezer unit, I opened the door and spotted a box of 12 unopened ice cream bars. I told my fellow KPers what I had seen and asked if they wanted me to grab it so we could share it. They all encouraged me to get it, but to be careful and not to get caught.

After I had the package and opened it, they all chickened out. I didn’t dare put the open package back in the freezer and I pleaded with the others to take one or two ice cream bars. They again refused, so I crawled under a sink and began stuffing the cold treats into my mouth. I think I managed to eat three or four before the cold got to me and I flushed the remaining confectionery treats down a floor drain.

You’ve probably heard of the U.S. Army’s Night Infiltration Course where soldiers crawl through sandy and muddy terrain while live gunfire from machine guns manned by instructors flies overhead. Passing the course is a prerequisite for graduation. Well, guess who was assigned KP duty that day! I could have sold it to another recruit for hundreds of dollars. Don’t ask how I avoided that dreaded course and still managed to graduate basic training. That was one KP assignment that was even better than “outside man!”

In subsequent articles we’ll focus on other curious and humorous incidents while serving in the military.

For now, let’s get out of the kitchen and leave you with a humorous comeback from the Army brass itself. After a briefing by the lieutenant in charge of our company at the end of a day of training, he asked if anyone had any questions. A young recruit raised his hand and said, “Sir, I lost my raincoat, what should I do?” The lieutenant’s retort was, “What color was it?”

(Know that in the Army everything – and I do mean everything — is olive drab green, a dark yellow-green color used in military camouflage and on everything else).

Vince LaBarbera
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Vince LaBarbera

Vince is a Fort Wayne native. He earned a master of science degree in journalism and advertising from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. LaBarbera is retired but continues to enjoy freelance writing and serving the Radio Reading Service of the Allen County Public Library. > Read Full Biography > More Articles Written By This Writer