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The Other Casualty of War - Chapter Six


Paul Bylin

My first day in Basic training we all stood in formation, our duffel bags were on the ground beside us and the company commander spoke to us from a podium. He sounded like a pretty nice guy. While he spoke, a Drill Sergeant walked through the ranks to check us out. This guy was a massive example of the human species! I guess you could call him the perfect soldier. He was a black guy who seemed to stand 6’ 5”! He had muscles bulging everywhere! When he stood in front of me, I felt very small, but I looked him straight in the eye. I guess that really pissed him off.

He screamed, “Why are you looking at me, soldier? Do you like me or something?”

When I said “No,” he started yelling something about how he didn’t like me either and that he’d be watching me real close for the next eight weeks. Then it was push-ups again! I made the fatal error of asking him how many he wanted me to do. I thought his head was going to come off! He told me to keep doing them until he got tired! I knew right there and then I wasn’t going to like the U.S. Army!  I began thinking, “is this what I signed up for?” Obviously, I stuck with it. It wasn’t until the end of Basic Training that I would realize just why they were doing what they were.

Basic Training was pretty tough, both physically and mentally. There was so much to learn and do. Marching, forced marches, running every morning before chow, first aid, push-ups more pushups, sit-ups, and chin-ups. Not to mention the constant yelling and screaming from the D.I.’s. There were inspections constantly, we also learned about weapons, how to strip them down within a certain period of time, how to fire them and qualify with them.

Whenever we went to the Mess Hall for chow, we’d have to do a few things before we could even get in the line to go inside. We would have to do 20 pull ups then stand in front of a full length mirror at attention and salute while shouting, “Sir, Private Bylin reporting as ordered, Sir!” Then we would have to stand in line at Parade Rest and wait our turn to go inside and eat. After we finished eating chow, we would all have to wait until the last guy was outside. Then we would have to do some more exercises.

One particular exercise the Platoon Sergeant had us do was called the low crawl. (This was crawling with your chest flat on the ground and using just your feet and arms.) The point of this is to stay as flat on the ground as possible. When the Platoon Sgt. asked for a volunteer to show what he was talking about, no one stepped forward. Man, he was getting pissed. I don’t know what made me do it, but I stepped forward after a minute or so. I did understand what he wanted, so I did the first one and everyone followed.

In Basic Training, we did not have any privileges. We weren’t allowed to have any soda, candy, or beer. Nothing we would enjoy was allowed. However, right outside the barracks, they had soda and candy machines. At night, after lights out, we used to take turns crawling out to the machines and bring back sodas and candy. The soda came in cups, and one could only carry two at a time. So this meant many trips to the machines. When we finished, we’d tear the cups and candy wrappers up very fine and try to quietly flush them down the toilet. We had to be quiet because our Drill Sergeant slept in the same barracks as we did.

A couple of times we got caught and would wind up with latrine duty. No one liked latrine duty. It was always trouble. Clean all the urinals and toilets. Scrub the floors, and if you left any dirty water stains around the toilet bowl, you'd be in deep trouble. If the Drill Sergeant saw it - and he would see it, believe me! - he would make you clean it with your own toothbrush!

When graduation day came near, we had a weekend off. Naturally, we went into town, rented a hotel room and headed for the bar. This was in Columbia, South Carolina. I don’t remember the name of the hotel, but the bar was called “The Pirates Cove.” There must have been five or six of us in there trying to drink all the beer they had. We all swore we would return there ten years to the day for a reunion. I don’t think any of us remembered that promise until we sobered up, if ever.

Nevertheless, I do have fond memories of the guys and the time we had together. After basic training, most went to other bases for further training. I stayed there at Fort Jackson for my A.I.T. (Advanced Individual Training). I was to be trained for a clerk, as promised. After two weeks, I flunked out. I had to appear before a board of NCOs (Non-Commissioned Officers). Here they allowed me to choose from three different training programs that were available to me. First one was Infantry, second was Artillery, and third (believe it or not) was Engineer Spare Parts. That sounded real good to me.

Two days or so later, I was in another training company. I was made an assistant Platoon Sgt.  They gave me temporary stripes to snap on my sleeve and told me my duties would be to make up K.P. Rosters, Guard Duty Rosters, and to march the platoon to and from school. I thought this was pretty cool, especially since I didn’t have to pull any duty after work. Especially K.P. (Kitchen Police)! I was told this was done because of a shortage of NCOs (Non-Commissioned Officers).

I guess some of the Sergeants liked the way I would march the guys. There were a few instances they had me march some others for special duty, or to go some place for additional training. I enjoyed the marching. Probably because we did it to a beating drum, coupled with the fact that they let me call cadence.

After three weeks in this school came my first test. If I failed this one, I’d be transferred again. Luckily I passed, just barely, but I did pass. At the end of this training were the finals. Fail, and it was transfer to another training company, and I would have to take whatever job assignment they gave me.

One of the guys had the answers to the test. Where he got them was beyond me, but I couldn't chance failing again. I paid him the $40.00 he wanted for them. Well, I think those answers were nothing but a scam. I say this because I passed, but just by the skin of my nose.

After graduation, while still in formation in front of the barracks, the platoon sergeant asked me how the men’s morale was. He had asked this many times throughout our training. Whereas this would be our last formation before we shipped out, we had an answer for him. I turned to the platoon and yelled “Platoon, sound off!” When I turned around to face the Platoon Sergeant, the entire platoon sang, “Sergeant…Sergeant…how’d you like to bite my a**?”

Man, I thought my arms were going to break from all the push-ups we all had to do, but it was worth it. I think I even saw a glimmer of a smile from the Platoon Sergeant.

We had the weekend off after graduation. On Monday we all received our orders to where we were going to be sent. Some had orders to stay at Fort Jackson and some had orders to go to Germany. It seemed as if all Squad Leaders and Assistant Platoon Sgt.’s received orders for Vietnam. Those being sent to Vietnam had to stay for further training. RVN (Republic of Vietnam) and Survival training, which was kind of like war games, I guess you could say.

Chapter 7

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