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My short career in the military

Cleaning up piles of memorabilia I came across a long forgotten charcoal sketch of me in formal military dress, looking proud for all my 18 years — a souvenir from my days at the San Antonio’s Air Corps base.

War veterans have been lauded patriotically year in, year out. I was proudly among them in the mid 40s, but the service was hardly what I’d expected.

Still, I answered the call like any healthy fellow of my age, ready to follow other previous Houghton High youths who preceded me.

I’m often asked about my military career. Well, with a humble apologia, here it is, a bit hazy in details after a long time reminiscence:

First, sent 95 miles to Marquette with a small group of men for a thorough — and I do mean thorough — physical exam — passed, sent to Fort Sheridan, Wisconsin, for what was called Basic Training, into a full fledged soldier — sort of. (Details call for a much longer story.)

After two weeks, still uncomfortable in our new uniforms, those of us with a particular I.Q. went to Indianapolis, deposited in what appeared to have been a school dormitory, now headquarters for a two –week program in learning the intricacies of “high fi –nance” — divided into two groups: those who calculated monthly salaries for military cadre and those who calibrated final salaries for the men being discharged.

I learned the latter, and two weeks later, and while my papers mysteriously went elsewhere, arrived by train in San Antonio — and there, for another unknown reason, was forced to repeat Basic Training, as a rank private in the Air Corps.

Unfortunately, without my papers I was in military limbo — which meant eight hours daily doing KP (Kitchen Police) duty — sweating over a steaming tub, scraping unending stacks of crusted pots and pans — and did so until my papers arrived, when I was off to to Salt Lake City where I exchanged the pots and pans for a typewriter in an office of us and civilians on an eight –hour, five days week duty — weekends delightfully touring the Alamo, the city and into the great Texas expanse — mingling with Texans on their home grounds. It almost made up for the KP days.

But it didn’t last.

I hated to leave San Antonio with its historical past and curious residents, but it had to be; before I knew it, I was at another air base, this one near Salt Lake City.

There, replying to a general’s wife’s request to help in entertaining the base’s children, I modestly revealed I could perform stage magic, complete with light patter and a rabbit — well, not a real one, a glove rabbit with an Edgar Bergen routine, successful enough to take me after that from base to future bases as a volunteering adjunct to the traveling USO shows. Since typing was something of a rare talent at the time, I continued with it.

None of that office duty nor free days exploring the Great Salt Lake and Mormon city influences seemed an aid to winning the war, now winding down without me; I was sent from one air base to another — typing — each time only after my records were again recovered (They still vanished with each successive trip, reassigning me to KP or guard duty or ditch digging or whatever until the records returned.) It became an on — again off — again bumpy existence.

Finally, though the war was now officially over, I was given what appeared to be great new orders, to fly with a dozen other specially selected servicemen to the Philippines for an unspecified position — when, you guess it — my records flew across the Pacific and I wound up at an air base just North of San Francisco — performing guard duty (eight hours on, four off) until, finally, was assigned to apply my acquired knowledge in Fi–nance — unfortunately not in discharging men, but working on monthly salaries for the permanent cadre. Now, that was entirely unfamiliar to me, but, in true military fashion, was commanded to perform and did — fully realizing that each day resulted in an accumulation of errors. For a full month.

That’s when I found I had the choice of remaining as a private in an impossible situation or escaping with an honorable discharge.

After a hasty route through the separation process, I spent one final night on base, performed in a USO production as emcee and magician, and — before the financial horrors were discovered — fled with mixed memories and a duffel bag filled with various remains of my military life — to a train to Houghton, Michigan, as an honorably discharged civilian — ready to launch into — what?

But that’s another story…

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