In early 1953 our Company Commander announced to us that the army was shutting down Fort Lawton, and moving the entire operation to Fort Lewis, Washington, which is just south of Tacoma . Oddly, I don’t remember a thing about the move, but it was around that time that I was promoted from Private First Class (PFC) to the exalted rank of Corporal. The most significance that had for me was to bump up my pay a bit.
Again, I have no clear recollection of events in the couple of months I was at Lewis, with a few notable exceptions. I probably trained my successor, but I don’t remember that. I do remember that I completely lost my sense of direction while at Lewis. Even looking at the sun (when it was out) didn’t help much, and on a cloudy day I could hardly tell up from down.
I also remember, as my discharge date approached, being ribbed by others. “You are gonna re-up (reenlist) aren’t ya?” Yeah, sure -- in my next lifetime.
I was drafted into the army on March 2, 1951, for a two year tour of duty. That meant that I should have been discharged on March 1, 1953. Didn’t work that way. Again, my memory is fuzzy. I think I was transferred to a unit specifically for discharge purposes. It took several days for them to get rid of me. Everything one does or goes through in the service requires processing. So I went through various phases of the process. One I remember distinctly was when I went through a discharge physical. Yup, they examine you coming and going. Anyway, I remember stepping up on a scale, and this guy bring a bar down to measure my height. He brought it down so forcefully that I ducked. So, I went into the army at 5’9”, and two years later left at 5’6. So much for ducking.
The other incident I remember was this: One morning during the discharge process, we - about a dozen of us - were told they weren’t ready for us, so they were sending us out on some cleanup duty. To me this was the ultimate insult! Anyway, the guy in charge of us had us line up in single file, and with him in the lead, we were to march off with him. Well, apparently I wasn’t the only one insulted, for every time we rounded a building, the last person in line dropped off. And when I was last in line, I did the same. Occasionally I wonder how many soldiers were left when the cleanup leader arrived at the site. I’ll never know.
Finally, on March 5, 1953, they handed me my discharge papers and my final check (with an additional 4 days pay), and I headed immediately for Sea-Tac airport -- and home! I never looked back.
You might get a laugh from this “letter” if you have grandchildren who have been to camp—or if you remember the days when your own children went…
Dear Mom & Dad,
Our Scoutmaster told us to write to our parents in case you saw the flood on TV and are worried. We are okay. Only one of our tents and two sleeping bags got washed away. Luckily, none of us got drowned because we were all up on the mountain looking for Adam when it happened. Oh yes, please call Adam's mother and tell her he is okay. He can't write because of the cast.
I got to ride in one of the search and rescue jeeps. It was neat. We never would have found Adam in the dark if it hadn't been for the lightning. Scoutmaster Keith got mad at Adam for going on a hike alone without telling anyone. Adam said he did tell him, but it was during the fire so he probably didn't hear him. Did you know that if you put gas on a fire, the gas will blow up? The wet wood didn't burn, but one of the tents did and also some of our clothes. Matthew is going to look weird until his hair grows back.
We will be home on Saturday if Scoutmaster Keith gets the bus fixed. It wasn't his fault about the wreck. The brakes worked okay when we left. Scoutmaster Keith said that with a bus that old you have to expect something to break down; that's probably why he can't get insurance. We think it's a neat bus. He doesn't care if we get it dirty and if it's hot, sometimes he lets us ride on the fenders. It gets pretty hot with 45 people in a bus made for 24. He let us take turns riding in the trailer until the highway patrol man stopped and talked to us. Scoutmaster Keith is a neat guy. Don't worry; he is a good driver. In fact, he is teaching Jessie how to drive on the mountain roads where there isn't any cops. All we ever see up there are logging trucks.
This morning all of the guys were diving off the rocks and swimming out to the rapids. Scoutmaster Keith wouldn't let me because I can't swim, and Adam was afraid he would sink because of his cast (it's concrete because we didn't have any plaster), so he let us take the canoe out. It was great. You can still see some of the trees under the water from the flood. Scoutmaster Keith isn't crabby like some scoutmasters. He didn't even get mad about the life jackets. He has to spend a lot of time working on the bus so we are trying not to cause him any trouble.
Guess what? We have all passed our first aid merit badges. When Andrew dived into the lake and cut his arm, we got to see how a tourniquet works. Steven and I threw up, but Scoutmaster Keith said it probably was just food poisoning from the leftover chicken. He said they got sick that way with food they ate in prison. I'm so glad he got out and became our scoutmaster. He said he sure figured out how to get things done better while he was doing his time. By the way, what is a pedal-file?
I have to go now. We are going to town to mail our letters & buy some more beer and ammo. Don't worry about anything. We are fine.