Horse's Hoofs, Old Soldiers
(November, 1969; Week Two in Basic Training)
Part Three, to; "Last Moment of Light"
In the barracks it was chilly. The Drill Sergeants smell worst. I knew my smell. Why be polite, it was long days in back of me and in front, long days running, and today I had to run around a field three times, two miles each lap, six miles complete, in some specified time, can't remember it exactly. I took a number of salt tablets as I ran; some of the men were eating chocolate, to keep their energy up. I quickly learned running was part of the Army, like white on rice.
Yes indeed, running is part of a soldiers life, I told myself, after two weeks (about to go into the third) of running everyday, sometimes with our M14 rifles held over our heads, sometimes carrying our duffle backs full of cloths, and now, today, around in circles. The voice beside me said, "China, China…" a Chinese man, small in stature, who wanted to be an American. In time we would become good friends, and go on to Advance Training in Alabama together, but at this particular moment, it was of course unknown. He had come over to San Francisco, from China, got drafted into the Army, given the choice to join, or return to China, but the offer of citizenship was too great to pass up, so he allowed himself to be drafted into the US Army. He was here on a visit of some kind, originally.
The two divine Drill Sergeants were standing on the side of the circle as I passed them, going on and into my third circle, anger on their faces; they only smiled when you obeyed them. Smiley was right in back of me, my friend from Alabama. It was a hot mid morning, an insane day to be exact, and I was still somewhat drowsy, my brain that is, had gotten drunk the night before, as usual, and was paying for it now (a second time). And here were all these bodies running, running the length of the field, and China, keeping up with all (all his 110-pounds); many of the men just dropped to the ground, passed out from heat exhaustion. But us three kept going. It was the whole company today, all four platoons, perhaps 160-men in total.
One man came along by my side, said: "I say where we are?" and dropped to the ground, just like that, as he dropped I said, "In hell…!"
I think the Drill Sergeant, the older one, was faint and felt almost dead from exhaustion, he had run around the circle once to show he could; I stopped a few times, my hat had fallen off my head for the 3rd time, "Get moving," he yelled, the old fart couldn't do it himself, but expected me, I gave him one of his same old grimaces back.
The third stop somehow allowed me to catch my wind and I started back up after a brief swallow of air into my stomach, Smiley, had stopped, was resting on the side now, couldn't go any further, I think cramps did him in; next, I got back into my running posture and finished the third circle. Perhaps there were about twenty of us, ready to go into a forth, but the Drill Sergeant, told us to stop, and like the others I rested, found the few select people I liked from our platoon, Smiley among them, and China. We all grunted a bit. Moreover, the young sergeant, came up to us and said, "Well," he then struck his chin, adding (I merely looked at him) "Get down Siluk and do fifty pushups," (for being cocky I suppose, and to show the rest of the group how out of shape I was. I said, "Fifty, is that all!" And I did the fifty in a few minutes, got back up, and he said again, "Get down and do fifty more!" And I did, and I got up and said, "I will make note of this…" implying, the necessary sum that he could make me do was at its point, and I was not afraid of him, consequently, if he wanted me to do more, I could legally defy him, this he did not want, no challenges.
I didn't make any friends this day of course, and felt a little under the horse's hoofs, several of the platoon faces, recruits, like me, felt I was a trouble maker (for them I suppose), and I was I suppose. And this got back to the Captain, whom would confront me in time on this very issue, in another two weeks to be exact. It was mid November, and we heard we'd be going home for Christmas, and have to return to basic training to finish it, thereafter. One of the soldiers would not have enough money to go home, and we all pitched in from the platoon and made that possible, but I'm getting ahead of myself.
The young Drill Sergeant led us to the front of the barracks, and had us do several exercises, he said it was because there was a soldier with a bad attitude in the platoon, and all would have to suffer from that. The older sergeant vaguely looking at me from afar, but I read his lips, "Siluk, you again!"
"Squat, crouch, and walk around the barracks," commanded the young sergeant. This was not only humiliating for the platoon, because we looked like ducks, but tiresome, thus, I got a few unfriendly faces, and whispers like: Siluk, stop causing trouble, straighten up…and so forth and so on. And I simply went, or said "Quack, quack…" to all this—loud!
"Who said that? "Asked the young drill sergeant, then he walked along side of me…"It's you again, I know it's you Siluk, another walk around the barracks," he announced, and then I whispered to the guys, "Ok, ok…I'll shut up (but I couldn't help it, I did it a second time, then I shut up)) for now))"
After it was all done (the duck walk), most everyone collapsed comfortable on their beds, while the drill sergeants adjusted their smirks.
Enormous pomposity was shown in the two drill sergeants, and displayed around me, or perhaps I was the only one that saw these expressions, gestures, everyone else too busy being nervous about what was next. It was going on to the third week of November, that the Captain had called me into his office, and I asked what for, and he said, "Just wanted to see who you were," and he kept an educated serious face about the matter, and dismissed me, yet I knew something was coming.
For the most part, I was in a new world, and having a hard time devouring the customs, the inexpressible nuance of the pretense they expected out of me, willingly—to appreciate their fine work in sculpturing a soldier out of a neighborhood bum. My uncouthness was not appreciated either.
That night, the night that followed the duck-walk, Smiley was to meet me at the EM Club, it was the end of the second week, and we were allowed now, to buy freely at the PX, and go to the Company Recruits club to drink, 3.2 Beer, that is, beer that taste like water. But I was already into the EM Club, and drank there. They, the Drill Sergeants had actually escorted us that first day to the PX, like tourists.
I gave Smiley a consultation on my EM club drinking, and told him to meet me there this evening, around eight or nine o clock; our bed time now was 10:30, lights off, or the last moment for lights, at 11:00. PM, weekends, lights off at 12:00 midnight, and now bed check, being 11:00 PM. Life was improving.
As I waited for Smiley, I thought about what the older Drill Sergeant had told the platoon, that next week there was going to be a show for us, the 82nd Airborne, whom was stationed there, would jump out of airplanes, parachuting down to where we would be sitting. I told myself, only birds and their droppings fall out of the sky, and thus, let it be at that. (But when the day came, the old sergeant asked me, sitting on a hill, "Go down there and join up, Siluk!" And I said, "I'm not a bird…!" And he kicked me, and I rolled down the hill, and waved to him, from that position. Another peeve he had with me.
There was a young female, a Froilan, German girl unmarried woman, who was the waitress at the EM club, a daughter I expect to one of the higher ranking sergeants on base (she spoke with a broken English accent but clear clean German, perhaps twenty-one, or younger; perhaps a second marriage I thought between an older sergeant and German. Anyhow, she was dangerously appetizing I thought, I never did chat with her, a long chat that is, other than, a hello and goodbye, I figured I was under observation at the club (and a few young bucks were always around her at the bar when she finished serving her drinks), and as long as I kept to my own, they left me lone, and should I try to get a date with her, they would expose me as recruit, I was sure of that, and I'd have to go to the main drinking hall, with the rest of my Company.
She was lean, perhaps five foot three inches tall, lovely in many ways, and friendly, and customers liked her. She wore tight dresses, benignant in a way, with breasts that bulged slightly out of her blouse, and had small hands, dark hair—penetrating eyes.
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