This is primarily a travel blog in which I write about traveling in our motorhome. Our travels have

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I began this blog as a vehicle for reporting on a 47-day trip made by my wife and me in our motorhome down to the Yucatan Peninsula and back. I continued writing about our post-Yucatan travels and gradually began including non-travel related topics. I often rant about things that piss me off, such as gun violence, fracking, healthcare, education, and anything else that pushes my button. I have a photography gallery on my Smugmug site (

Friday, June 10, 2016

Uncle Sam Ain't Released Me Yet...Memoirs of a REMF, Chapter 13, Drilling and Marching

Uncle Sam
Ain’t Released Me Yet

Memoirs of a REMF

Copyright© 2016 by Robert B. Martin, IV
All Rights Reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without express written permission from the copyright owner, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review or scholarly journal. I have attempted to recreate events, locales, and conversations from my memories of them.

Chapter 13
Drilling and Marching
“Without discipline the Army would just be a bunch of guys wearing the same color clothing.”.........Major Frank Burns, M*A*S*H*
As I have mentioned previously, there was a tremendous amount of marching, running, and drilling in BCT and it was usually done in full combat gear, which added at least fifty pounds or more to your weight. This gear included our field packs, full canteen (the DI would check it to make sure it was full), mess kit, overshoes, gas mask, steel helmet, and rifle. The M-14 rifle itself weighed twelve pounds. I wrote to Carol Ann, “they run us with all that on until we almost pass out.” I also said, “So far I have managed to keep up but have almost died.” 
“Close-Order Drill,” “Rifle Drill”, “Manual of Arms,” or” Dismounted Drill” is defined as “synchronized marching, maneuvering, and formal handling of arms in which the participants perform at close intervals.” A distance of forty inches was maintained between each soldier and the length of each step was supposed to be thirty inches. If you failed to maintain the proper interval the guy behind you would step on your heel.
The DI shouted commands during close-order drill. These voice commands directed the soldier in the direction of march, movement of the rifle, making turns, etc. A tremendous amount of time was spent practicing these drills. It must have been similar to performing in a chorus line, as everyone had to be in sync with one another. This required hours of practice, yet there were still some trainees who could not master the art of marching. These trainees would usually be recycled and sent to the “Goon Platoon” until they learned to march.
 Marching with shouldered rifles could be dangerous. It was advisable to be on the lookout for rifles swinging towards your head whenever the DI shouted a command to execute a turn. It was easy to get hit in the head with a rifle barrel if someone turned the wrong way. If a trainee did that too often he risked being sent to the “Goon Platoon.”
I realize that I am being repetitive when I say that is was very cold at Fort Leonard Wood. Having never been outside of the Southeastern United States, I had never experienced such cold, and certainly not for such long periods of time. Many days would find us outside all day with the temperature in the ‘teens with blowing snow or sleet. One of my letters home said, “Everything is frozen.” In another I told Carol Ann, “This is really miserable weather. We haven’t had any good weather to amount to anything since I got here. Seems like it snows at least once a week and rains every other day between snows.” I also wrote, “the wind is blowing so hard the snow hits you right in the face and you can hardly see.”
I vividly remember one afternoon that we were practicing the manual of arms (rifle drill). As in marching, executing the manual of arms required all trainees to move as one. When, for example, the rifle butt was tapped on the ground, there was to be one collective tap, not a multitude of uncoordinated, out-of-synch taps. It was well below freezing and yet gloves could not be worn while performing rifle drill because they might become caught in the rifle’s mechanism. Rifle drill also required a high degree of manual dexterity, which was impossible when wearing gloves. However, in sub-freezing temperatures, manual dexterity is greatly reduced. Cold temperatures cause your body to shunt blood away from the “non-vital” parts of your body (such as your hands). The decreased blood flow causes the muscles of the hand to become stiff. The lower the temperature, the more noticeable the effect. I had learned this biological response to cold when studying anatomy and physiology in pharmacy school. I’m sure that the DI’s were also well aware of how the body reacted to cold and used this against us. They knew that numb, stiff fingers made it very difficult, if not downright impossible, to execute the rifle drill sharply and properly. We were “all thumbs” when attempting the drill and the DI said we “were sloppy and not together” and would be punished. The dreaded order to assume the “front leaning rest position” in preparation for Army Drill #1, exercise #6 was shouted by the DI. With our hands immersed in freezing slush we pumped out pushups until the DI was satisfied. We then repeated the drill. To no one’s surprise, we were still unable to execute the rifle drill satisfactorily and once again found ourselves in the front leaning rest position with hands immersed in the icy slush.
After this second round of pushups we were again ordered to repeat the rifle drill. By this time, we could no longer feel our numb, swollen, stiff hands and fingers. I couldn’t feel the rifle in my hands. My hands may as well have been anesthetized. There was no way that anyone could possibly complete the drill to the satisfaction of the DI. The cycle repeated until the DI decided that we had done enough pushups. I can’t remember the total number of pushups.
The rifle drill in the ice was only one example of how much of our training was spent with various parts of our bodies and extremities exposed to that freezing, wet, and miserable slush. This was one of the reasons Ft. Leonard Wood was called “Little Korea.”
According to my letters home, 0ne-third of my basic training company contracted walking pneumonia requiring treatment with antibiotics. Hospitalization was required in a few instances, which resulted in the dreaded “recycling” by being transferred to a company that was several weeks behind in the training process. This allowed the trainee to makeup the missed training. Some trainees were sick enough to need medical attention but refused to go on sick call for fear of recycling. I came very close to being one of them.
Eventually there were so many trainees from our company going on sick call each morning that a new rule was made. Before a trainee was allowed to report for sick call, he was required to pack all of his equipment, clothing, boots, personal items - EVERYTHING - into his duffel and laundry bags and carry them to the company supply room for “safe keeping.” Upon return from sick call the trainee would retrieve his gear from the supply room and return it to his personal area. Fortunately for me, this new rule was made after my medical problems, which I will discuss later.
I told Carol Ann in a letter, “I wore briefs, long johns, fatigue pants and shirt, wool over-shirt, wool field trousers, wool socks, wool muffler, boots, rubber overshoes, gloves (even if only cotton work gloves), insulated field jacket, and Pyle cap.” The Pyle cap was one of those “Korean war” types of cap. It had wool on the inside and covered the head, ears, and neck. I also had a long wool overcoat to wear in colder weather. However, I never got to wear it and I don’t know how much lower the temperature would have had to drop before we would have been allowed to wear it.
Some of the other training companies were issued passes to go into town on weekends. In the entire eight weeks of BCT, our company never received a weekend pass. Because I had arrived at Fort Leonard Wood by air, I never saw the outside of the fort until I left on a bus after graduation. I believe we had it a bit tougher than other training companies in our battalion and our DI’s seemed harder than those in the other companies. Eventually, however, we were able to run circles around most of the other training companies.
We sang as we marched and ran. Even though it required more breath, it seemed to make the pain more bearable. Staying in step required a certain amount of rhythm, and singing helped. Trainees without rhythm risked being transferred to the dreaded “Goon Platoon.”
I don’t remember all of the verses or words to the songs but here are a few examples.
(To the Tune of “Sound Off!”)
If I die in a combat zone,
Box me up and send me home.
Pin my medals on my chest,
Tell my mom I did my best.
Sound Off!
My favorite marching song was sung to the tune of the Coasters’, “Poison Ivy.” These are the words I remember.
Viet Nam, Viet Nam,
Late at night while you’re sleeping,
Charlie Cong comes a’ creeping,
The Saigon girls are pretty,
Their hair is long and black,
And if you don’t watch it,
They’ll knife you in the back,
In Viet Nam
Viet Nam, Viet Nam,
A hand grenade will kill ya’,
A bayonet sticks thru’ ya’
You're in another ambush, you hear your buddy say
Oh God, let me live another day
Vietnam, Vietnam—
Another good one for which I remember most of the words.
Around her head she wore a yellow ribbon.
She wore it in the springtime and in the month of May.
And if you asked her why the hell she wore it,
She’d say she wore it for her soldier who was far, far away.
Far Away,
Far Away,
She wore it for her soldier who was far, far away.
Around the block she pushed the baby carriage,
She pushed it in the springtime in the early month of May.
And if you asked her why the hell she pushed it,
She pushed it for her soldier who was far, far away.
Behind the door her daddy kept a shotgun.
He kept it in the springtime, in the early month of May.
And if you asked him why the hell he kept it,
He kept it for that soldier who was far, far, away.
In the church the preacher kept a license.
He kept it in the springtime, in the early month of May.
And if you asked him why the hell he kept it,
He kept it for that soldier who was far, far, away.
Around his grave she laid the pretty flowers.
She laid them in the springtime, in the early month of May.
And if you asked her why the heck she laid them,
She’d say she laid them for her soldier who was far, far away.
A good one for running was…….
Two old maids were lying in bed,
one rolled over to the other and said,
I wanna be an Airborne Ranger,
I wanna live a life of danger.
I wanna go to Vietnam,
just to kill ol’ Charlie Cong.
Up the hill.
Over the hill,
Some of the more popular ones were the “Jody” songs, or “Jodies.” Jody was the guy back home who was living a life of luxury, eating his mom’s home cooking, and dating your girl. He never served in the military and was a real asshole whom you enjoyed hating. Here is a typical “Jody” sung to the tune of “Sound Off.” I wish I could remember more.
I used to date a beauty queen,
Now I date my M-14.
Ain’t no use in looking down,
Ain’t no discharge on the ground.
Ain’t no use in going back,
Jody’s got your Cadillac.
Ain’t no use in going home,
Jody’s got your girl and gone.
Ain’t no use in feeling blue,
Jody’s got your sister to.
Here’s another Jody cadence to the tune of “Sound Off!”
You had a good wife when you left / You’re right!
Jody was there when you left / You’re right!
Sound off! / One, two
Sound off! / Three, four
And another Jody:
Every time you stamp yo' feet
Jody gets a piece of meat.
Am I right?
         You’re right!
Ain't no use to mourn an' grieve
Jody's gone, I do believe
Am I right?
         You’re right!
When marching in a long column, the column would tend to bunch up in the front and get strung out towards the rear. You would find yourself almost at a standstill and then the next instant you were running to catch up. It was called the “rubber band effect.” While you were running and stopping the guys in the front were marching along at a consistent pace, completely oblivious to what was happening in the rear. Then they wondered why you were so tired when the march ended.

To be continued in Chapter 14, Advanced Killing and Other Useful Skills….

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