HELLO FROM EAU CLAIRE, WISCONSIN:

HELLO FROM EAU CLAIRE, WISCONSIN - city of big bottoms and small minds.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

1961 FEDERALLY FUNDED CAMPING AND HUNTING TRIP


Yesterday I started reading Patrick McManus' book "A Fine and Pleasant Misery" in which he puts forth observations on camping in the wild. This morning as I trudged through the darkness and searing cold of Wisconsin January, the time of year when the sound of boots on snow sounds like the tearing of styrofoam, my mind suddenly wandered back to 1961 and my own ultimate "camping trip", the call up of the Wisconsin National Guard to active duty at Fort Lewis, Washington.

Nikita Kruschev had ordered the building of a substantial concrete wall dividing East and West Berlin putting an exclamation point on the Potsdam Agreement. For reasons I have yet to fathom some 40 odd years later, then President John F. Kennedy used this as an excuse to activate the "citizen soldiers" of Wisconsin, the 32nd Red Arrow Division.

Shortly after we arrived at Fort Lewis, we were shuffled through supply and issued jungle boots. This, coupled with my observing 4th Division regular army troops loading onto C 130 transport planes at nearby McChord Air Base with steel pots, full packs and slung M-14's, led me to believe that our destination was not Germany but something a bit further east that starts with a Viet and ends with a Nam.

Having a much keener sense of humor at age 19, upon receiving my jungle boots I turned to the soldier behind me (well, he wasn't really a soldier - he ran a TV repair shop in Menomonie) and I said: "Gee. There must be some mighty big weeds growing up along that Berlin wall!"

That was the beginning of 10 months of rigorous training as "anti-guerilla guerillas". No shit. That's the title the regular army gave us!

It wasn't long before we were trucked out to the Olympic National Rain Forest for two weeks of "camping" and "hunting". Our mission was to capture United States Army Green Berets who had just returned from that place that starts with Viet and ends with Nam where they had been sent as advisors to the South Vietnamese Army.

Needless to say, these guys knew their way around a jungle - or even a rain forest, and for two weeks they would move stealthily into our bivouac under the cover of darkness and open fire with semi automatic weapons. Fortunately for the farm boys of Wisconsin (and TV repair man), they were only firing blank ammunition.

The first couple nights I would leap from the warmth of my sleeping bag, stumbling over bodies of my fellow guardsmen, fumbling in the dark for my own blank-loaded weapon, all the while listening to the sounds of rapid fire and the blood curdling screams of the Green Berets.

As quickly as they appeared they would then disappear into the night. The next day our officers, red-faced with embarrassment, would assign quadrants to the troops and we would go out and feebly try to find the "enemy". Never saw any of them. However we always got the feeling that eyes were following our every move. It was creepy.

After three or four nights of this, I grew tired of playing "killed in action" and when the shooting started I would just hunker down deeper in the bag.

Also after three or four days of eating C and K rations out of olive drab cans, the Badger boys hungered for real meat and somehow live 30.06 rounds of ammunition suddenly appeared and my cohorts did the kind of hunting at which they had a high measure of skill and the evening meals became gourmet feasts of elk stew.

And let's not forget fresh salmon. That's where I helped contribute. I had been assigned as assistant radio man to (you guessed it, Mr. TV Repair) and by day when we were supposed to be out hunting for Green Berets, another assistant (Ted Schroeder - a really crazy kid!) and I would pack the PRC-10 radio onto our backs and slip out of camp right after morning roll call. We would find one of the many beautiful mountain spring-fed creeks running through the rain forest, scout out the deepest hole, slip on polaroid sun glasses and pinpoint the biggest of the salmon lying in that hole. We would then find a pine sapling of about eight foot length, strip it of any branches, then attach two commo wires - one to the negative post, one to the positive post, then wrap the wires around the sapling until we had the two wires protruding out of the far end, about 10 inches apart.

Then Mr. -er- Private Schroeder would slowly and carefully lower the device down into the fish's lair until the wires were on either side of the salmon's unsuspecting head. Then came the whispered command: "CRANK!" and I would crank the PRC-10's handles at a rapid rate. Within seconds the stiffened salmon would rise to the surface, ready to be pan fried!

One of my most vivid memories of our "camping trip" to the Olympic Rain Forest was waking up to a six inch snowfall! That is truly an experience not to be forgotten. Soldiers always had "roomies" because we slept in "pup tents", very small canvas tents that are made up of two shelter halves. Every soldier carried a shelter half in his pack and you buddied up with someone who had the same MOS (that's military for "job"). so Private Ted and I were roomies who kept our tent warm with cans of sterno and gas expelled from eating C rations.

That morning, I awoke first. I think it was the chattering of teeth that woke me. It felt much colder than usual and there was an eerie glow outside the canvas. Then I unbuttoned the tent flap and even though it was before sun up, I found myself squinting into the vast winter wonderland before me.

When you sleep in that small an area, all you take off before you climbing into the sack are your combat boots. Ordinarily, when you arise in the morning, you go outside to slip your boots on, but in six inches of snow?? First inclination is to try to put them on inside the tent. But after bloodying your partner's lower lip with an errant elbow, it's outside (with bare feet), boog-a-loo'ing from one frozen foot to the other in a vain attempt to get your GI socks on without getting them soaking wet.

No, we may not have been the best combat soldiers. Hell, after ten months the regular army decided that we were not even fit to be cannon fodder and sent us home.

No, we did not impress the regular army brass with our field of battle savvy. We did, however, gain their respect as "moonlight requisitioners". An infantry unit carries with it, in addition to troop carrying deuce and a halfs, jeeps that pull a two wheeled trailer known as an "ammunition trailer".

Somehow, word had gotten back to one of our state congressional politicians (his name escapes me) that the 32nd Division was being treated as second class soldiers, given old abandoned rickety barracks and poorly maintained weaponry. This politician saw an opportunity to endear himself with the Wisconsin voter. Consequently, when we went out into the field on bivouc, the ammunition trailers were filled with another form of really welcomed ammunition: Leinenkugel's Beer.

After enough of that ammunition, putting on your socks in snow is the least of your worries.

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What is Celibacy?

Celibacy can be a choice in life, or a condition imposed by
Circumstances.

While attending a Marriage Weekend, Walter and his wife,
Ann, listened to
The instructor declare, 'It is essential that husbands
And wives know the
Things that are important to each other.."

He then addressed the men,
'Can you name and describe your wife's favorite
Flower?'

Walter leaned over, touched Ann's arm gently, and
Whispered,

'Gold Medal-All-Purpose, isn't it?'

And thus began Walter's life of celibacy..........

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1 comment:

Matthew said...

My Father, Staff Sergeant Donald C. Boyd, also served with the 32nd "Red Arrow" Division, 128th Infantry Regiment, Cannon Company. He fought on Leyte, Luzon, the Druiniumor River, and the Villa Verde Trail where he drove an M7 Priest, carried an M1 Garand, and was awarded the Bronze Star for heroism. He is currently recovering nicely at home in Swanton, Ohio from recent triple bypass surgery. A short interview and recent images of my remarkable Dad may be viewed at this link. http://carol_fus.tripod.com/army_hero_donald_boyd.html