1949 AND BEYOND.

(My story continues after I left home in 1949 to join the Army at 17 without my grandmother's permission and shipping out to Ft. Jackson, SC.)

Joining the army turned out to be one of the best choices I ever made. It was hard work, but the training and discipline I endured were priceless. 

But it wasn’t easy, being the youngest member of my Company during 14 weeks of basic training at Ft. Jackson, SC. I was a target for every dirty detail that came along. I got so tired of hearing my name called out to ‘volunteer’ for special duties. It seemed like almost daily I heard my name called: Dickens, laundry detail. Dickens, KP. Dickens, guard duty. Dickens, latrine duty. My platoon sergeant even assigned me to clean his room every morning while the others stood in formation for roll call and policing up the company area. I didn’t know whether I was being honored or taken advantage of because I was the ‘kid’ of the bunch.

Meanwhile, as basic training continued, mamma was busy at home tracking me down like an errant child. On several occasions my platoon sergeant advised me that the Company Commander wanted to see me in his office immediately. Naturally, that made me shiver in my combat boots. Typically the CO ordered me to write to my grandmother. He said mamma contacted the Red Cross because I wasn’t writing home and the Red Cross contacted the Base Commander who contacted him and he didn’t like that at all. So I wrote home (or else …).

After basic training was over, I looked forward to being assigned to the heavy tanks. That was what I enlisted for. But instead of being sent to the Armored Cavalry (which I expected) I was assigned to the Third Infantry Division’s heavy tank company at Ft. Benning, GA. Again, I was a kid who was a target for work details. My assignment was assistant driver and bow gunner. I went to the motor pool and cleaned tanks, did guard duty, did KP, and helped prepare the tanks for maneuvers on Vieques Island. 

 I longed for the day that I would get my tank driver training. That day never came. Instead of going to Vieques with the tanks, several of us new guys were sent to a rifle company for maneuvers. Again, my youth made me an uncomplaining target for work details. While the other troops enjoyed a leisurely voyage in the Caribbean, I (with some other kid soldiers) enjoyed 14 straight days of KP in the ship's galley. I began thinking that I should have enlisted as an army cook.

After maneuvers were over, we were transferred back to the tank company and the same old detail duties began again. I had enough of that. I was an assistant driver and bow gunner and I had never ridden one foot in a tank.

Copyright © 2006 - 2008 by Howard Douglas Dickens

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I've added a few pictures on pages 15 and 16.
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