1953-1955

Military service-The Korean War started on June 25, 1950 and with it the draft for military service started. As a college student, I got a student deferment. During my senior year, however, the realization that I might have to go into the military after graduation grew. My draft number (these were drawn at random by year of birth) was somewhere in the middle so I did not know for sure when I would be called. Thus arose the prospect that I would be in limbo after graduation. Because of that and influenced by Eddy Theisen’s decision to volunteer for the draft by going into the Marine Officer’s Training program, I started to explore my options. The option I liked best was to try to get into the Navy’s Officer Training program. Like the Marines it would be a three-year commitment. My plan was to ask Sandy to marry me after basic training and go with me on Navy duty. I contacted my uncle Mac McCarthy, who was chief of staff for then US Senator from MN Ed Thye. He arranged for Senator Thye to write a letter of recommendation to the Navy and that was supposed to ‘grease the skids’ if any was needed. All I needed to do was pass the physical in Minneapolis on a date in late May 1953. As luck (or fate) would have it, I had to study till very late the night before for an early morning final exam at St. John’s. By the time I got to the physical in Minneapolis my eyes were extremely tired and I just barely failed the eye exam. You had to have 20/20 vision uncorrected. I was devastated. Poor planning on my part, but I might not have made it even without the late night studying. The Marines across the room said “come on over, you’re eyes are good enough for us”. Without thinking about it very much I turned down the Marine’s offer. Much later on I regretted not giving that option more thought.

Summer after graduation-As soon after graduation as possible, I volunteered for the Army draft because that was only a two-year commitment. I soon got an induction date of around August 15. Until then I worked in the bank in Watkins. It was during that summer that I started to collect coins because my uncle Gerry was a big coin collector and taught me whatever he knew about the hobby. I picked up the job at the bank fairly easy and was a part time teller and “jack of all trades, master of none” the rest of the time. Delrose Hennen, later marrying Verlin Mies, and Deanna Manuel, later marrying Bill Loch, Jr., worked in the bank also. They were both great and Dad came to depend on Delrose especially. Each day we had to balance the books before we could go home. The bank closed at 3 pm sharp and if we were real lucky we could be finished by 3:30 or 4. Sometimes we had problems and had to stay until 5 or later. Balancing the books was a matter of totaling all the savings and checking accounts (each customer had an account) and any other such sub ledgers, along with all the checks and currency collected or paid out that day and making sure the totals all balanced. If we got within $10 or so that was close enough. On many days after work Gerry and I would go across the street to K&K Liquors and drink a few beers with the rest of the gang that usually showed up.

Because of my eyesight problem with the Navy recruiters, I had my eyes examined that summer and got my first glasses. Interestingly, however, by the end of my basic training (see below) my eyesight had improved so much that I no longer needed glasses.

Fort Riley, Kansas-I showed up at the Minneapolis recruiting center on the appointed morning in mid August 1953, and after a physical exam, we were put on a bus for Fort Riley, Kansas. Got there in early evening and were immediately processed through the supply center and given army clothing and a few supplies. We were then assigned to a barrack to get settled and told that in the morning we would be assigned to a boot camp for 16 weeks of basic training. In the morning we took some aptitude tests that were allegedly used to help determine what branch of the army we were going into and where we would train. Except for one guy, who had a finance degree from somewhere and got sent to finance school in Ft. Benjamin Harrison in Indianapolis, IN most of the rest of us in my group were sent to Military Police School in Camp Gordon (now Ft. Gordon) Georgia, just outside of Augusta. This was the farthest away from home that I had ever been up to that point.

Camp Gordon, Georgia-In a day or two, we were bused to the airport and loaded on a DC 3. Capacity was about 30 or 40. This was my first large plane ride and I must admit to being a bit nervous. We landed in Georgia after about 3 or 4 hours. We may have stopped once enroute for refueling.

The ground in Georgia was bright red and that surprised me. We were bused directly to Camp Gordon and one of the training companies, which had about two hundred trainees. There were four platoons of about 20 trainees each. There was one platoon to each of four barracks, 20 on each of two floors. One bathroom with open showers, one big room on each floor with twenty cots-ten on each side. The sergeant in charge of each platoon slept in a separate room on first floor. The separate room on the second floor housed the sergeants in charge of supplies, the mess hall and other non-commissioned personnel. There were two other buildings in our company-a mess hall and a supply building. The first Lt or Capt in charge of our company slept in front of the supply building, which also housed the company offices.

We were each issued a 45 cal pistol and an M-1 rifle (no ammo), along with field kits and other equipment for overnight bivouacs-rain tarp, canteen, sleeping bag, shovel, etc. We were told that all of this equipment had to be kept in perfect working order and clean at all times and that there could and would be inspections at any time of day or night to enforce this.

The daily routine was revelry at about 5 am, breakfast at 6 am, assembly at 7 am for exercising, etc. and then off-in double time or faster-to classes or some training site. We generally came back to our company for lunch at noon and then off again at 1 pm to classes or training sites. We usually got back to our companies at about 5 pm and had a few minutes of free time till dinner at 6 pm and then usually free time till taps at 9 pm. This ‘free’ time was often taken up by cleaning and polishing the barracks floor, polishing our boots and generally making sure everything was ready for inspection at any time. They were there to harass us a lot. Sometimes we would be awakened in the middle of the night and made to get into formation for some trumped up reason and then had to do push ups and/or run around the field for 20 or 30 minutes with almost nothing on. They kept us busy and constantly drilled into us that we were nothing and that their sole job was to prepare us for killing the enemy. We learned how to take our weapons apart and reassemble them blindfolded, hand to hand combat with and without bayonets, firing 30 and 50 cal machine guns, throwing hand grenades (live ones too), firing grease guns, reading aerial maps, police tactics, crowd control, crime investigations and many more other military things. Most of this was very interesting. Some days we would draw KP or kitchen police. That meant getting up earlier than normal and helping prepare meals, peeling potatoes, etc., serving in the food line, cleaning up, doing dishes, scrubbing floors, etc. until well after dinner. It was exhausting. I think I only got it once or twice. Usually guys who screwed up by being late, not passing one of the many inspections, etc. were picked first

We went on bivouacs twice. These were trips into the wooded area maybe 10 or 15 miles away that we had to march, including running or double time, to with full backpacks, which included K rations and full canteens (that was all the water we had). We would set up a battle line and secure our area with a variety of foxholes we had to dig and then sometimes move in just a few minutes after we got them dug. There was always an elusive (and maybe imaginary) enemy out there testing us. We had to pull guard duty in two-hour shifts out on the perimeter and remember passwords that someone (instructors) would test us on. It got very lonely and scary out in the woods in a foxhole during the middle of the night and wondering whether a snake (yes there were copperheads, etc) might decide to crawl into our foxholes. I did not realize until later that when it got cold the snakes mostly disappeared. There was never a quiet moment during these bivouacs and when we finally got back to the company we were exhausted-that was the plan.

We had mail call once a day after 5 pm. Not many guys got much mail because there was so little time to write anyone. During the first few weeks we were restricted to our company area. After that we could go a few other places, rec centers, etc. After about week 12 we could ask for a 12 or 24-hour pass to go into Augusta on one of the base shuttles for a movie or dinner, etc. I did this several times and tried and did find a nice restaurant where I could get a martini and good steak. Usually one or two guys joined me.

Life in the barracks was really some kind of new experience. There were all kinds of guys from all over the country. About half had either graduated from college or completed two or more years. A number of these guys were really crude. Some of the things they would talk about and do I cannot even repeat here. It made me wonder whether these were the kind of guys I would be associated with after the service.

Toward the end of basic training I heard about a distant relative being stationed at Camp Gordon. He was a major in either battalion or regiment headquarters. He was married, had a couple of children and lived off base. I looked him up. He was a very nice man and invited me over to their house for thanksgiving dinner. He even offered to arrange for me to get assigned to his unit after basic training. I politely (I hope) declined because I did not want to spend all my time in Augusta, Georgia. He understood.

Leadership school-Toward the end of basic training, a number of us were offered the chance to take another 8 weeks of leadership training. We would essentially become instructors and at the end of this we would be promoted to PFC-private first class. It meant that we had to stay there over Christmas and that was the major negative. I, and about six others, accepted the offer. We got to move into private rooms in another company and were essentially treated just like regular enlisted guys-no more harassment and all the passes we wanted. We had some advanced classes, but spent most of our time training other new recruits. I have always wondered whether it was worth it, but will never know. Anyway the time passed rather fast.

Rita and Dick Kinsella wedding-On December 30, 1953, my lovely youngest sister, Rita, got married to Richard A. Kinsella. Unfortunately I was still away at leadership school and therefore did not attend the wedding. Not only that, but I don’t know hardly anything about it. Don’t even know if Sandy was there. She might have been because the day before her brother Alvin and Lee Dillinger got married in St. Joseph, MN and I know she was at that wedding.

Fort Bliss, El Paso, Texas-At the end of leadership school I got my promotion to PFC, a ten day leave and orders to report to Ft. Bliss, El Paso, Texas on a given date and travel vouchers to get there from Minneapolis, Don’t know why, but I guess we were on our own to get home. I got a ride with one of the guys to Nashville, TN. There were four of us. From Nashville, I flew to Midway in Chicago. Then I took a train to Minneapolis and a bus to Watkins. I must have slept someplace during all of that, but don’t remember where. Mom, Dad and Sandy took me to Minneapolis to catch a train to El Paso. I remember saying goodbye on the train platform, not the union station, but the other one on Washington Ave. One would have thought I was going off to war because of the sort of teary farewell. Of course I did not know where I was going from El Paso.

The fighting in Korea had ended on July 27, 1953, but we were still technically in a war period for some time. After the long train ride, I think I changed trains in Kansas City, I arrived in El Paso. There was a sand storm at the time and it was not pretty. Got to Ft. Bliss and there was nothing to do. Got orders in a few days that said I was being assigned to a Military Police unit at 3rd Army HQs in Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio, Texas. This was considered a good assignment. We were then off by bus for the long, maybe 600 or so miles, ride across Texas. As I looked at the country side I thought what a vast wasteland, never giving a thought to the fact that many people were still living there and somehow making a living there.

Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio, Texas- Ft. Sam was located right in the heart of north San Antonio among on major traffic thoroughfares, etc. We were housed in renovated cavalry barracks. They were all brick and actual quite nice. The mess hall was very nice and we could come and go for meals at anytime within the appointed hours. For breakfast we could order whatever we wanted. We had very light duty there. It consisted of traffic control at the major intersections in Fort Sam itself. Even though there were traffic lights, during rush hour we stood on a raised box in the middle of the intersection and with white gloves and all our dress uniforms spit and polished used hand signals, just like we were taught, to expedite traffic flow and occasionally give directions. We probably were not on duty more than 10 hours a week. We had a fair amount of time off to explore San Antonio. It was a lovely city, especially along the river in the downtown area and in the spring of the year. Within a month we were told that we would be moving to North Fort Hood, about 100 miles north and in the middle of nothing for maneuvers.

Fort Hood, Texas-Fort Hood had a bad reputation as being sort of a hellhole. The main part of the fort was about 20 miles west of Temple, Texas and 50 some miles SW of Waco, Texas. North Ft. Hood was in the upper north end of the vast area known as Ft. Hood. It was perfectly suited for maneuvers. I think we arrived in the middle of the exercise, but we were never told the full scope of what was going on. We just followed orders and did our thing. I don’t remember ever pulling any kind of duty in North Ft. Hood. We were only there about 4 weeks, if that. Our barracks were non air-conditioned tents set up on concrete slabs. The only things notable were warnings about scorpions being in our boots when we woke in the morning and sure enough they were often there. We spent many afternoons at the swimming pool, which was quite nice and large. When we finally moved down to the main fort we were housed in non air-conditioned wooden barracks very similar to those we had in basic training. It was early summer and very hot. I soon got to know the sergeant in charge (sort of) of regiment personnel. I think we met at church. We had absolutely nothing to do. Not even light duty assignments. We went into nearby Killeen, Texas, where they had a fabulous swimming pool, and some beer joints. Texans love their beer. We also went into Temple a couple of times for dinner. One time, it must have been in late April I got to go into Waco where they had a very nice department store. I bought what I thought was a very nice brown dress for Sandy’s birthday. I found out later that it did not fit her well and brown is not her color. I got an A for effort though. Waco had been hit by a tornado only a year or so earlier. You could see all the damage to the downtown area.

We did manage to take a few weekend side trips. One was to Houston, about 100 miles east, where we stayed at the then fabulous Shamrock Hotel. It was touted as the finest resort hotel in the US. There were four of us and we stayed in one large bedroom with two large beds. The hotel was beautiful. It had a very large swimming pool with a high dive tower of at least 30 ft. We spent most of our time at the pool. One night we went out to eat at an Italian restaurant not too far away. I had my first pizza ever there. It was just a plain cheese pizza, but I thought it was great and when I got back to Chicago after getting married, we got one from the Jewel and it wasn’t that good. One other weekend we drove down to Corpus Christi and toured Padre Island, which was just a big sand bar at the time.

As luck would have it, my sergeant buddy in personnel told me that they had just received a request to send four military police to New Orleans, LA for reassignment to the Armed Services Police Detachment (ASPD) right I the downtown area. He asked me if I was interested and whether I knew three others of like mind. He said that the request was for southerners, no more than 6 ft. tall, white something else. He said not to worry about that and that he would take care of it. Well I found three guys real quick who were interested. I had to do this on the QT because if anyone else found out about it they might blow the whistle on us. One guy was “Red’ Thuma from Harrisburg, PA, another was Charles “Chuck” Bassham from Mt. Pleasant, TN and the third was a guy was Bill (?) from Alabama. We were to get to know each other real well during the next 12 months or so. I heard all about their love lives, etc. Red had a car and that was a big reason for picking him. We showed up at regiment Hqs on the appointed Saturday morning and the Colonel in charge looked us over, gave a little speech about how we would be representing the 3rd Army on this important assignment and asked the sergeant whether we met all the requirements, etc. and got the OK from my buddy.

New Orleans, Louisiana-I think we left first thing the next morning. It was about 500 miles to NOLA and with no expressways it took most of the day to get there. We reported into Camp Johnson on the shores of Lake Pontchartain. There we got more details about our assignment. Logistical support would come from the 3rd Army Port of New Orleans Hqs. This was located in a large fortress like building on the Mississippi river. Anyway, we were to find living quarters off base for which we received a monthly housing and food allowance. Can’t remember how much it was, but it was adequate. We were to report to Master Sergeant James at ASPD offices at 501 N. Rampart Street. This was the location for the 1st District New Orleans Police Department. It had lockups and everything else one would expect at a police station. We were located right across the street from the French Quarter and only 5 blocks from Canal Street and the downtown area. We found an apartment at 2529½ North Dumaine Street. This was located about 10 blocks from the police station so one could walk it fairly easy. The apartment was on the ground floor of a house whose living quarters were above the apartment. We had two bedrooms, one bathroom, a kitchen, living room and a back storage room behind the kitchen. Ceilings were low so I had to duck going thru the doorways. This being New Orleans, we had lots of water bugs and other critters in our apartment. When we would turn on the kitchen lights in the morning these bugs would run for cover in every direction. We always had to shake out our shoes or boots in the morning. All food had to be kept in the refrigerator except canned goods, etc. We went grocery shopping for everyone at one time out at a huge wholesale type store on the outskirts towards the airport. Once in a while I would simply go up to the neighborhood beer joint at the corner (they were all over) and for $.50 got a big beer and a beer-serving tray heaped full of boiled shrimp. This was actually almost like a meal and I loved it. One had to pull off the head, peel the shell back and, depending on how one felt about it, remove the black nerve that ran down the back of the shrimp.

For the first few months I pulled regular patrol duty. Sometimes it was foot patrol in the French quarter and sometimes it was a motorized patrol. These shifts, especially the foot patrol, were generally at night. I forgot to mention that this was an Armed Service unit and therefore we had shore patrol from the Navy, air police from the Air Force and even one or two guys (no gals) from the Marines and Coast Guard. Our main job on foot patrol was to go into all sorts of clubs and bars looking for out of unifo rm or drunk military personnel. Some of these places were gay bars and when we came in with our shinny boots, neat dress uniforms, etc. the ‘guys’ in the bars would just swoon. On motorized patrol we stopped in all the places officially listed as “off limits”. These places were well posted at all the military installations in the area. Most of them were gay bars, house of prostitution or places where there had been some kind of trouble in the past. We always carried loaded 45s and had to be prepared for anything. Other than bringing in a few drunks or out of uniform guys I didn’t have to make any arrests. If a military person just had a minor violation we would warn him and let him go. We also had a list of AWOL personnel with last known addresses that we had to check out. On motorized patrol we had to go across the river, there were no bridges then, on a ferry to Gretna, Harvey, Marrero, Algiers, etc. these river towns were quite different from New Orleans and could get quite a bit rougher. While on motorized patrol I was introduced to my first po-boy sandwich. It consisted of two whole soft shell crabs, with mayo, chopped lettuce, tomatoes, etc. between two great pieces of French bread. It was delicious and we had them often. The 6th Navy fleet was headquartered in Algiers across the river and we usually stopped in there while on patrol.

After awhile Master Sergeant James found out that I could type so he assigned me to desk duty. Because of this I leaned on him to promote me to Corporal, which he did. That was considered pretty good for only being in the service for one year. Sergeant was out the question. I would then do all the typing up of morning reports detailing any arrests we had made the day before, etc. We had to type three or four copies so it was important to not make mistakes. There was a Lt or Capt assigned to our unit too, but I still cannot figure out what he did. He was not there that much. I had a fair amount of free time and a vehicle at my disposal so I would drive out to the Port of New Orleans and got to know the Sergeant in charge of personnel out there. He reminded me that if I wanted to go overseas, which I did, that I had to have at least 9 months left on my tour before they would send me. I therefore put in for the transfer, but on the QT Sergeant James must have gone over my Sergeant’s head to the Colonel in charge and got it killed. He denied it, but my source said that is the only thing that could have gone wrong. This all happened in the early fall of 1952 so it helped to get me thinking about what I was going to do when I got out.

I got to know my roommates pretty good during this time. Red had a handgun and I did not like that too well. Once in awhile when he had been drinking, off duty of course, he would come home all upset and take his handgun with him. He was a very likeable red haired hot head. He never got into trouble, but he came close. He and Charley were a little wild. Oh yes, I also got introduced to oysters on the half shell. New Orleans bars and some restaurants were open 24/7 so no matter what time we got off duty there was someplace to go. Our landlords were an older couple (to us at that time anyway-probably in their 50s or 60s). They had a ‘camp’ out on the lake that they invited us to once in a while. This was basically a cottage built on stilts in about 5-10 feet of water and about 100-200 feet off shore. There was a narrow walkway to get out there and they had all the pleasures of home. Another thing we did in the fall of 1952, before I got upset with Sgt James, was to go to his house on Sundays, watch pro football, drink some beer and let his beautiful wife feed us. They had a couple of kids, but I don’t remember much about them.

Rethinking life’s goals-Sometime in the fall of 1952 I decided that I wanted to ask Sandy to marry me and go on to graduate school. I had been writing Sandy every day and missed her a lot. I shared my plans with Mom and Dad and they not only did not object at all, they were very happy with my decisions. I knew that I would have to pay my own way and we were still going to be getting the GI bill benefits to help pay tuition. I applied to Harvard, Wharton, Northwestern and Minnesota. I also took the GMAT exam at Tulane University that fall. My grade in the GMAT was not bad, but not in the top 5 percentile, which I would have needed to get into Harvard. I never completed the second part of the Harvard application. I got accepted by Minnesota and Northwestern and was rejected by Wharton. No surprise there. My plan was to get my MBA and CPA and then go back to Minneapolis and hang up my shingle. I got my second leave in December 1954 for 14 days I think. Took the train back to Chicago and then the train to Minneapolis and on to Watkins. Mom and Dad came with me to Minneapolis to a jeweler they knew and with all the money I somehow had managed to save, maybe $500 or so, bought an engagement ring to give to Sandy. I had a date with Sandy on New Year’s Eve and took her to dinner at the Granite City Bowl and Restaurant. We had some sort of disagreement early that evening, but ironed it out over dinner. Then we went to Watkins to celebrate NYE with out gang at K&K liquors. Well before that, while parked next to Lundemo’s drug store, just across the street from K&K, I asked Sandy to marry me and gave her the ring. She said yes immediately and we then went to my home to tell my parents. I think we then drove to Cold Spring to tell her parents and then back to K&K to tell all our friends. At that point the earliest we could get married was early September because my two-year tour would not be over until mid August. By then I had also accepted Northwestern and knew that school there would start in mid September.

When I got back to New Orleans, by train of course, I was somewhat of a changed guy. I started to go to mass every morning because it was not too far from the police station. It was a very quaint old French church. I also spent one weekend on a men’s retreat at a retreat house deep in the bayou country about 100 miles west of New Orleans. My sergeant from the port, whom I met at church, came with me. I also saved all the money I could and that was not very much.

Fort Smith, Arkansas and freedom-In about March we learned that they were going to let guys like me out early. 21 months was the magic number and for me that meant the middle or end of May. I applied for and got my order to report to Ft. Smith, Arkansas for discharge. I took a very slow train to Ft. Smith and was amazed to run into Phil Arendt, my boyhood friend, and his wife Jo. I don’t remember if he was getting out too or was just stationed there. We only got together one night because I was busy getting discharged. I took the train from there to Minneapolis, via Kansas City, and then home

 

One thought on “1953-1955

  1. Dear Roland,

    What a surprise to find your memoir on line. Have enjoyed reading and
    remembering old times. I was the one with the ’53 Chevy not Red.

    So nice to learn of your success and to see pictures of your lovely family.
    Doris and I still have all your Christmas cards with the little ones pictures.

    Charles Bassham

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