We up here in the north are watching with no small amount of glee the helplessness of southern states as they get a couple inches of snow, a bit of freezing rain, and “below freezing” temperatures.
I particularly like that expression: “Below freezing.” “Below freezing,” which, compared to “below zero,” really sounds pretty attractive to us right now, as we congratulate ourselves on having come out the other end of “below 20 below” temperatures without much fanfare. Or newsworthiness.
Heck. We didn’t even consider this spell of cool weather hardly worth even thinking about. Yes, it’s not much fun, but no, what with fuel injected cars that will start if they’ll turn over no matter how cold it gets, this isn’t much of a deal at all.
One reason I’m enjoying that mess down south, particularly down in south Texas is that 53 years ago, almost to the exact day, I and a couple of hundred other draftees got off an airplane, were loaded onto some perversion of turkey-hauling trucks, carried to Ft. Bliss at El Paso, almost to the Mexican border, and dumped off in front of a barracks.
I remember thinking: Well, at least I’m not butt-deep in northern Iowa snow. I also remember that first morning, falling out into coarse ranks of men to the sound of early morning reveille, (pronounced re-vel-lee), which was broadcast around the base by giant speakers. I gathered that it was some kind of up-tempo little riff that was supposed to get you all excited about the day, or something.
Not that it was tropically warm, no. The temperature was somewhere in the high forties, early in the morning, those first few days.
And there you have it: The “first” few days. We had about a week of running around, getting blasted by pneumatic guns with vaccines in both arms at once, almost on the run through the line, getting our clothing, getting out s… in order, as the army put it.
About a week. Then it snowed a couple of inches. And—gasp—then it went “below freezing.” Half those boys just getting induced into the whims and wherefors of the army were southern. They seemed to think we shouldn’t be training in weather this desperate, and were quite affronted that things just went on as before.
But it didn’t for some of them. I remember falling out into formation one of those chilly early mornings, and some young, care-free kid from some southern state didn’t have his gloves on. Some observant drill sergeant caught him without them, at which point the obvious solution to this deviation from proper uniform happened: “Everyone take your gloves off!” This shouted by a drill sergeant.
A bunch of guys blanket-partied this gloveless wonder that night. Of course, most of you reading this don’t know what a blanket party is. When one dummy causes problems for the rest of the dummies, everyone attacks the offending party in the dark of the night, when he is in bed. His blanket is thrown over his head, and a bit of pounding occurs.
Needless to say, this usually corrects any behavior which causes the rest of us upset.
Then it snowed. We fell out to early morning reveille, marched off to the chow hall, where we fell out into line on a sidewalk, next to some pretty white snowbanks. The “pretty white” lasted about two days, and suddenly, all of us came down with what the army called an “upper respiratory infection.”
Next thing you know, we’re all hacking up some awful bodily excretions, and spitting them into the snow. I’ll tell you, it didn’t take but one line of hundreds of guys at mealtime to turn that pretty white snow into a horrible kaleidoscope of stuff that the human body no longer wants inside itself.
The next morning, the drill sergeants stood watch over the lines, and refused to allow us to spit.
Fifty-three years ago, almost to this minute as I’m writing this, I first began to wonder what pervert happened to think that some army base should be called Ft. “Bliss.” Less than three weeks later, after the snow, the sand was so hot that it was giving us blisters on our forearms, as we low-crawled our way through the rest of the eight weeks of basic training.
It was like yesterday.