This was the Army

This is another draft segment from the forthcoming memoir: Fire Bone! When complete, the book will cover some of Bob’s adventures in Europe, Latin America, Asia, Africa, and Oceania. Two other snippets appear just below this one. (Comments are welcome and will be acknowledged.)

Click to enlarge.

Second Lieutenant Bone Officer of the Day, 1956.

Returning to Fort Knox after that brief halcyon experience attached to the Navy, I discovered that life could indeed be worse than my previous assignment there. This time I was assigned to an Armor training unit — I, an Infantry lieutenant supervising troops dealing with what seemed to me to be dirty and greasy tanks from dawn to dusk.

My new company commander was a First Lieutenant, while I was still just a Second Louie – just one rank below him. In my mind, he seemed a tyrant – so bad, I thought, that I suspected he would trip up eventually – and when he did I would know what to do.

Among my many extra duties, I was appointed Red Cross officer. When it came time to solicit donations from the troops, this CO told me that since his own regimental commander wanted 100% participation, our company would certainly comply.

“I want you to make it clear to the men, Bone, that if they don’t have enough money to contribute to the Red Cross, they don’t have enough money to go on pass!”

I protested that that kind of coercion was illegal and that while I would serve as the company’s Red Cross officer, I would not pass on that specific command. This refusal just brought on still more extra duties for me and a repetition that his order to me must indeed be carried out.

So drawing on my expertise at writing military-style letters at Fort Benning, I reported my CO to the IG – the Inspector General’s office. At the same time I also suggested that there must be an assignment for me at Fort Knox that would take advantage of my journalism experience and training.

One possibility, I thought, might be the Fort Knox Public Information Office. I had met a few PIOs there briefly, including Lieutenant Gay Talese. Talese had been a copy boy for the New York Times, and it was thought already that he might be headed for eventual greatness. (Indeed, in later years he would become a Times reporter and subsequently a successful author of several books.)

I don’t know exactly what happened after my IG report, except that someone involved in the inspector process later quoted my company commander as saying: “I don’t care what you do with him. Just get the sonofabitch out of my company!”

First thing you know, with perhaps eight months remaining on my active duty requirement, I suddenly received orders to report for duty at the Training Literature and Reproduction Department of the Armor School. There at TL&R, I became the assistant editor working on military lesson plans and instruction manuals.

My new boss was a major who occupied the desk next to mine. The man was a genuine expert in the use of the English language – a grammarian who could take the most screwed-up lesson plan, often written by high ranking officers, and make it complete and clear to anyone. For the next six months I received some expert on-the-job training in a field that I thought that I already knew a lot about.

Not that I agreed with the major on everything. He was definitely from an older Army – one who still believed, for example, that a commissioned officer should never carry a package. He also disapproved that even a lowly lieutenant like me would socialize with the enlisted ranks — privates, corporals, and sergeants. He did acknowledge, however, that these practices were beginning to break down now in the mid-1950s.

In due course, I was promoted to First Lieutenant, and even received some kind of commendation. My duty hours at the office were now from 8:30 to 4:30, Monday through Friday, and I wore Class A uniform every day. (No boots and fatigues except for a rare occasions when I had to renew my proficiency on the rifle range.) On top of all that, a non-com or a civilian secretary often brought coffee and doughnuts to my desk in the morning.

With all that new free time, and despite my major’s avuncular disapproval, I joined the Fort Knox Little Theater Group, and began helping build sets, learn speaking parts, and generally socializing with other amateur theater buffs, and developing some friends who were civilians and enlisted men.

And there I met Maggy – the daughter of one of the highest ranking officers on the post. It was soon apparent that besides our common love of amateur theater, we also shared a strong interest in sex.

Maggy might have been the same age or a year or so older than I. But in this field of expertise, she was imbued with the wisdom of the ages. I supposed it was partly a heritage of living for 20 years or so in many parts of the modern and ancient world – an “army brat,” as they say. In any case, there was much for me to learn, and Maggy would teach me a lot.

“You’re really very conventional, aren’t you?” she smiled sweetly. This was a quote I remember vividly. “Come on. Let’s try some other stuff!”

I liked her a lot, even with her clothes on. We frequently enjoyed drinking Gibsons and dining on filet mignon at the Fort Knox Officer’s Club. And, of course the theater work gave us a common intellectual outlet.

Not that I didn’t make mistakes. Once I complimented her on her appearance when she herself thought she was unattractive and dressed very informally. Wow, did she get mad. I never made that mistake again – with her or any other woman.

My worst tactical error, however, took place about three weeks into the relationship. I confessed to her that although I had run the bases with college women, she had been my first home run. Sure enough, that led soon to the dreaded it’s-not-you-it’s-me speech.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I know that shouldn’t make any difference. But I have to tell myself that the guy should…well…you know.”

Have been around the block a few more times, I guess she meant.

So I had indeed made the ultimate fatal faux pas. Less than a week later Maggy chose a different companion from the Fort Knox Players. Frankly, I thought that he seemed more like a virgin than I did. But in any case, he was a nice guy, and I was a bit exhausted. He later confessed to me privately that Maggie had “saved” him from suffering through a miserable Army career.

I was ultimately satisfied with my own crash course in the military Kama Sutra despite its sudden cessation. I filed it away mentally in pretty much the same logical terms that I was using while editing all those lesson plans and field manuals at the TL&R Department.

I didn’t like the Army very much, but as a learning experience, it was invaluable. Some of it, anyway.


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