|I Was Never Cut Out to be a Hero|
Editor's note: This is another in an occasional series of the
90-year-old author's recollections of his wartime experiences and assorted
I was never cut out to be a hero, but at one time I tried. When I went to San Antonio right after Pearl Harbor, I planned to be an airplane pilot in either a fighter or a bomber squadron.
Fortunately for me and for my country, the military had other plans. At twenty-nine years of age, with no flying experience and my farming background, they decided I would be an aircraft mechanic. I probably should have told them all the experience I had mechanically was what I could do with a pair of pliers and baling wire, but I guess I must have thought what they didn't know wouldn't hurt them or me. Besides at the time I joined, the whole base was inundated with volunteers, and if you were breathing you were leaving.
Maybe I should have told them I had tuberculosis when I was 12, and a broken leg when I was 20, and an broken arm when I was 5, but I was afraid they would send me home. Not to worry.
I saw one lad from the Hill Country who must have been wearing size 16 shoes, and he walked "heel to heel." I never saw such big feet. He had to go through a door sideways. I think in civilian life he must have been a grape crusher. I have often wondered what the military did with him. The slogan at that time was "a job for every man, and a man for every job."
My memory of what happened next was a blur--being fitted for GI clothes and shoes--nothing fit except the shoes. For the first time in my adult or juvenile life, I was able to wear shoes that actually fit my feet. I had gone barefoot so long that I had never been able to find shoes wide enough, but at least the Army did. I wonder if they were able to fit the feet of the boy from the Hill Country.
I was to learn to expect whistles blowing at all hours, day and night. The next whistle was a troop train to Wichita Falls. I remember a dice game with the dice being rolled the length of the boxcar and one player making 17 straight passes with the dice. He drew his winnings after each roll. Had he let his winnings lay, he could have been extremely wealthy, only nobody was betting over a nickel or a dime. I still think his dice were loaded.
We unloaded in Wichita Falls in the dead of night and stood on the south of the tracks with our duffel bags and gear by our side. A stentorian vice rang out, "Company, Attention! Shoulder Arms! Forward MARCH! Hut, two, three, four! Hut, two, three, four!" We had hastily grabbed our supplies and guns, and were headed out, we knew not where or why. Then came another authoritative voice, "Company, HALT! At ease!"
I don't know where we would have landed had not some officer become aware of what was taking place and arrested the soldier who had laced his Kite smoking tobacco with marijuana. I do not know what they did with him or who he was, but we never saw him again.
We were directed to army barracks at Sheppard Field where we spent a restful night until whistles started blowing at five o'clock the next morning.
Whistles blowing at all hours, day and night, hurry up and wait, and shots wherever bare skin was exposed. I don't think they ever changed needles until they got too dull to penetrate, and it was a good thing no disease was prevalent at the time, or we would have all had it.
Printed in The DeLeon Free Press newspaper, February 5, 2004