I joined the Florida National Guard soon after turning 17 years old. I can not even remember why I joined or who talked me into doing such a crazy thing. My best friend at the time joined with me. He would also follow me into the Navy 11 months later. We drilled on weekends at the Dade City Armory. I remember being issued uniforms along with some instructions on how the uniforms were to be cleaned and starched. Our trousers were to be worn bloused and hats stiffly starched in order to sit firmly on our heads. I remember buying spray starch and spending considerable time at the ironing board getting my hat just right.
I have scant memories of the armory and the drill weekends spent there. I do remember that our lunch was prepared and served at the armory and it tasted pretty good.
Occasionally, we would drill somewhere in the Tampa area. I do not remember the exact location. I do remember going there on one weekend to take a driving test in order to become a qualified jeep driver. I would later use this license to justify my driving back from Fort McClelland in a military convoy.
I remember the weekend we spent the night in the woods somewhere in the Bushnel area. We camped very close to the location where Colonel Dade and most of his command were massacred by the Seminole indians. Many of the oldtimers joked about the area being haunted by these unfortunate soldiers. We were required to go into the swamps/woods after dark and with compass and map, find our way back. I remember getting lost with several others. We wandered around for awhile until we noticed the camp fires and used them to guide us back to camp. Of course, we all agreed that we owed our safe return to our abilities to read a map and use a compass.
Sometime during the summer, we left for two weeks training at Fort McClelland in Anniston Alabama. Our mode of transportaion was by train. When we arrived at the Fort, I could not believe the heat and the Alabama dust. It was miserable and it stayed that way the whole two weeks we were there. We were to spend our nights in large tents spread over wooden frames. When I think back upon it today, the camp reminds me of the television series M.A.S.H.
What I remember most was the heat, sweating, salt stains on uniforms, and the need for a cool drink of water. Being a Pvt-1, I had to attend one week of recruit basic training. Our time was spent attending outdoor classes in an area located under the tall Alabama pine trees.
We were moved around the training area in a circular pattern from one site to another. We were not allowed to drink water unless our drill instructors told us we could. The only water we had available to drink was contained in our canteens, and if you ran out -- too bad!!! Of course the water in the canteens got warmer and warmer as the day progressed. We were also advised to take a salt tablet every day. Many of us ignored the advise including myself which later caused me some medical problems. The instructors had ice cold water in what looked like canvas bags supported by tripods. During the lectures, we spent our time staring longingly at those cool looking water bags. After all these years, I can still remember the heat and the constant thirst.
During the first week, this 17 year old was officially introduced to stag movies. Several of the more experienced guys set up a movie projector in one of the sleeping areas and charged several dollars to see the film. I don't remember much about the film's content but there was a large audience.
When the weekend finally rolled around everyone with the exception of the new guys (me) went on liberty in Anniston. I never did figure out why we were not allowed off the post. When the next week started, the recruits were allowed to join the rest of the company for the final week of training.
During the next week we went on bivouac. We were marched to our assigned area and began setting up camp. This was were I learned that I had to join my "shelter half" with my buddy's in order to have a complete tent. I have always wondered what would happen if you were the odd man. You would only have half a tent. I was ordered with several others to begin digging a very large ditch. I believe this was to serve as our garbage dump. While digging, I got very dizzy and passed out. I was taken to a field hospital and treated for heat exhaustion. When I finally returned my buddy had trenched a small moat around our tent in case of rain. Thank goodness he did because it did rain that night. The moat was not deep enough however, and we had a small stream running through our sleeping accommodations.
We had one mock battle while we were out in the woods. I was involved in only one aspect of this war game. A group of us were to walk in two single files up a dirt road. Between us were four soldiers who were carrying a large anti-tank weapon. It was our job to cover them from the enemy.. I was supposed to be carrying my M1 rifle at the ready. In other words in my hands, across my chest rather than as I had it, slung over my shoulder. Suddenly a flare went off and we were told to drop down and take cover. When I dropped to the ground, I was hit on the back of the head with my own rifle. Shortly after the flare incident, we were ambushed by enemy soldiers hidden behind some bushes that bordered the dirt road. We were all declared dead or killed in action (KIA). Thank God! "I was a terrible soldier!!!" It was obvious that I needed to go to sea.
Finally it was time to go home. I wanted to drive a jeep so I volunteered to join the truck convoy rather than take the train home. Unfortunately, the senior soldier I was driving with would not let me drive. However, I really did enjoy the trip from Alabama back to Florida. The only tough part was sleeping on the ground when we stopped for the night. It took us a day and a half to get back to Dade City. I spent another 7 months in the National Guard before joining the Navy in February 1957.
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