Posts Tagged 'artillery training'

Military History, Chapter Two, 1956

Barracks, Fort Chaffee, ArkanasasWhen you’ve found yourself standing in the light of revealed truth, every detail of that instant, every sight, sound, smell, what your were wearing, the weather, all of it, is yours forever. In the unlikeliest of settings, the cloud of life’s confusions can lift, if ever so slightly, but enough. And no matter the years, it will remain with you as if it had occurred this very morning.

Over a half-century ago, I stood as ordered, in the at-ease position, with two hundred of my fellow field artillery trainees, my hands atop each other at the base of my spine. I felt anything but at ease. Again, something had gone wrong or gone badly, and in the usual military way, we were, all of us, somehow guilty. The winter afternoon was raw and overcast. I was at an isolated army post in northwestern Arkansas. I was eighteen years old. 

On a low wall in front of us, flanked by his senior NCOs, stood our battery commander, an officer, unapproachable, to us almost a god. A tough guy, not as young as me, but young, a no-nonsense second lieutenant, roaring at us, telling us what “a sorry bunch of assholes” he believed us to be. It was damp and cold, and we had been outside all day doing the repetitive, mind-numbing gun drills known to us as the “cannoneer boogie.” During noon chow, which we ate from metal mess kits while standing beside the guns, it began raining and it rained just long enough to add an asterisk to our misery. I had begun to forget what it was like to be outdoors without the big mud-caked, metal-buckled rubber overshoes that covered my combat boots.

Lieutenant Olson had a slight speech impediment, but most of us knew instinctively that it was something to stay away from. Lieutenant Olson cultivated an image that he was nobody to fuck with. The few barracks room Elmer Fudd imitations drew more anxieties than laughs. I had decided to take Lieutenant Olson at his word. The rumors and stories about our fearsome, but less than esteemed, leader had begun churning from our first days on post as artillery gun-crew trainees. Continue reading ‘Military History, Chapter Two, 1956’