Reflecting on my time in the military


I look with envy, but, I stress, total admiration, at all the retired military people we have around here, retired colonels and lieutenant colonels all over the place.

I say to myself, “You stupid idiot,” (we’re on a first-name basis) why  didn’t you stay in the army and retire with a big fat pension?”

Well, there are several reasons. When asked about OCS, I quickly said no. That would have meant staying in the army longer, and my one great ambition was to get out. I wasn’t like Klinger in M.A.S.H., but I didn’t want to stay any longer than required.

I have many  friends  who are retired from the military. My first cousin/best friend started as a green enlistee and went up through the ranks, flying B-47s and B-52s and becoming the commandant of an air base before retiring. Amazing. When we were growing up, I was the one who knew all about airplanes. He couldn’t tell a P-39 from a P-40. Hopeless.

I was trying to plow the Spring Piece during a break between quarters. He came down to where I was loudly cussing the mules. He was working at a steel mill in Birmingham. He said he had decided to join the Air Force. I was tempted to go along with him., but I didn’t.

I would never have qualified for OCS or as a Ranger or SEAL. No. They do a lot of push-ups and pull-ups, and I was not good at all in those categories, and I was a very slow runner.

Also, I expect you’d need a good bit of math, to figure out ranges and targets and all that, and math was a very weak subject with me, well, along with chemistry and physics.

So, I guess it’s just as well that I didn’t try out for those things.

I did become an officer – well, a noncommissioned officer. I made corporal about two weeks before my tour of duty was up; and, dad-blame-it, I never even used my rank to go to the noncommissioned officers club. Heck.

The young  lieutenant who was in charge of our communications squad which was attached to a combat engineers battalion, wanted to put me in charge of something, I forget what.

After much begging and pleading, I got him to let me stay right where I was.

Three of us worked in the commo shack, up on top of the kaserne (big German army barracks during the war),  doing the dit-dit-dah-dah stuff. We worked a shift of six hours on, twelve hours off, seven days a week, around the clock.

It was easy duty. The main problem was trying to stay awake during the midnight to six shift. Read, read, read. Novels, magazines, crossword puzzles, another novel. Write letters. Pace the floor, do a little exercise …

But the beauty of it was that, because of our strange shifts, we didn’t have to fall out in the morning; and we might be asleep when the inspecting officer came ‘round. so he wouldn’t inspect too closely…which was a wonderful thing. We kind of prided ourselves on our sloppiness, not having to stay  quite as spic and span as the other grunts.

But if they’d ever looked in Morlock’s locker, Lordy, we’d have all been on KP for the duration.

There was one thing that vaguely interested me: an offer to get in the CIC, which I’m not sure about what all they did. They wore  civilian clothes, we were told. But, nah. “Don’t volunteer for anything.”

Ah, just think, if I had been able to do push-ups and pull-ups and run fast and had been good in math, I might now be a retired officer, getting that big fat pension.

Who knows?

Bob Sanders is a veteran local radio personality, columnist, author and raconteur of note.


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