September 6, 1966
I had just been drafted into the United States Army for a two-year stint. Was I going to war because we had a doozy going in Southeast Asia. Vietnam, to-be-exact. Would I get duty in Europe or, maybe, Korea? Would I be stationed state side? I mean, there were jobs enough for everyone. The military establishment was growing by leaps and bounds and only a relatively small portion would be combat troops. Most would be support or logistics, right?
First things first. We had to successfully make it through basic training or it was all a moot point, correct? It was make it or go home with a less than glorious discharge.
No one wanted to go home with a medical discharge that would state you couldn’t keep up with the other guys for whatever reason. No one wanted to go home labeled a trouble maker and get a dishonorable discharge. That stays with you forever. And, certainly, no one wanted a Section 8. Psychologically unfit for duty. Man, who would want to get stuck with that one?
Yeah, well that was the extreme. Once you went through the battery of tests, both physical and mental, the military was pretty sure they got it right. If they, for some strange reason, missed something, it would show up eventually. Unfortunately, sometimes it showed up too late. You can diagnose the problem and still lose the patient.
The basic training company that Phil and I went to was D-1-1. That’s D- Company, 1st Battalion, 1st Training Brigade and we were the 1st platoon.
Since Phil and I were both ex-R.O.T.C. in high school, the D. I. or Drill Instructor gave me the temporary rank of Sergeant and Phil the temporary rank of Corporal. This afforded us the privilege of sleeping not in the squad bay with all of the rest o f the troops but in separate rooms.
There was one room for the guide-on bearer, Buzz Sheridan, the only National Guardsman in the whole company, who was also a temporary sergeant and me, the acting platoon sergeant. Then there was a separate room for the four squad leaders, Phil McWilliams, Richard DeLucca, Clarence Champion and, I’m sorry I forgot his first name but his last name is Cruz, who were all acting corporals. They were, and I hope still are, a great bunch of guys.
I’m sorry, also, that I was unable to keep track of the guys in my first ever military outfit. I had the guys each write their names on our platoon picture but, unfortunately, it got lost some years ago. Phil found his and sent me a copy which I now treasure. Unfortunately, his does not have the names on the back as did mine.
I remember some of the guys by name if only by their last. I remember all of them by their faces. All the young faces that stare back at me through time. My own included.
We had quite an eclectic group in our platoon. It covered the gambit from highly educated to high school to drop out, both out of school and, since it was the sixties, from society in general. All-in-all, they were the best platoon going.
When it came to awards, we, the 1st Platoon, got the ones that counted. Physical training #1, marksmanship #1, drill #1, basic combat skills #1, anything and everything …….. except house-keeping. Try as we might, house-keeping just wasn’t our thing. Taking the big picture into consideration, I think everything else we exceeded at was of far great importance. In the long run, that is.
Anyone who has won a battle with a broom and dust pan, raise your hand!
There are many guys who, like I said, I remember by their last names or by their faces alone but there is one guy who will always stay with me because he was quite a character.
He was a tall skinny black kid with glasses who was naturally funny and, in general, a joy to be around. He was not, how should I say, well-coordinated. The young man I refer to is Huey Walton and, Huey, if you read this or someone you know tells you about it, I mean this in the most endearing of terms. Believe me.
Huey went on a few of our first training outing and we, his squad leader, the drill instructor and me, noticed that Huey was having trouble negotiating some of the obstacles and wasn’t handling the calisthenics very well either. Marching was not his forte and a distant runner with pack, he was not.
The drill instructor suggested that perhaps Huey would be better off on K.P. (that’s Kitchen Police for those of you not initiated), permanently. He was going to bring our over-all score down and those 1st places are important to the D.I.’s as well as to us.
So, if there was nothing physical about the days activities, Huey would come along and watch a movie or take a class. But, should anything physical be required, Huey would be relegated to K.P. for the duration.
As the eight weeks of basic training continued, Huey saw very like of the actual training but was becoming quite good in the kitchen not just at washing dishes and clearing tables but at cooking as well. I guess the cooks took a liking to Huey, which, as I said earlier, was quite easy to do. Huey, on-the-other-hand, hated K.P. and everything that went with it. He could hardly wait for graduation day so he could go to his permanent duty station and away from that blasted kitchen.
Soon enough graduation day came. Parents, wives and friends came for the event. We all dressed in our dress greens and marched out to the parade grounds. Heads held high and really strutting our stuff, we were all so proud I’m surprised the brass buttons stayed on our tunics.
After the ceremony was over and all the good-byes were said, the Platoon Sergeant gathered us all together in the squad bay to give us our orders. Phil and I signed up for airborne and took special P.T. (physical training) every morning before the rest of the company even got up. Then, we would do the regular P.T. with the rest of the company. What was called “The Daily Dozen”. I was in great shape then.
Anyway, when I got my orders I expected to go infantry. Surprise, I was going to be a cop. Military Police School, Fort Gordon, Georgia. Phil was going to Fort Gordon as well but he was going to be a radio operator or Signal, as it was called.
The list went on and on. Some of the guys went to infantry, some to armor, artillery, transportation and then there was Huey Walton. Huey, who hated K.P. with all his heart and soul. Huey, who was looking forward to no more than just getting out of this company and on to somewhere else. He didn’t care where just anywhere but here. Huey was going nowhere. The powers that be had made him a cook and, to make things worse if that is even possible, he would be staying right there at D-1-1.
That was the last time I saw any of the guys in my training platoon, except for my close friend Phil. I have often wondered how they are doing today. If any of them became casualties of the war that lasted way too long. Even though I may not remember the names, they were and are very important to me.
I remember one incident in particular that happened the last week of basic training. I had a disagreement with our D.I. in training, Sgt. Keyes and he demoted me to guide-on bearer. He made Buzz a squad leader and put Clarence A. Champion, a now former squad leader, in charge of the platoon in my place.
Buzz handed me the guide-on and I took my place to the right of the first squad leader. Champion took my old spot in front of the platoon. When the command was given to bring the formation to attention, Champion did an about face to face the platoon, came to attention and waited to echo the command given by the first sergeant. The first sergeant called the company to attention and each platoon sergeant repeated the command for his own platoon. Platoons 2 through 4 snapped to attention like a well oiled machine. First platoon stood rigidly at at ease. The only people to come to attention was Champion and myself. The rest of the platoon didn’t budge.
Sergeant Keyes was so mad I thought he was going to rupture an artery. He stormed up to me saying, “What’s the meaning of this. Binkley, you’re in real trouble this time.” I told him I had nothing to do with it. It wasn’t my fault.
He turned to Champion and said “Get this platoon to attention NOW!”
Champion was flustered to say the least but he gave it another try. Still, the ranks didn’t move. They remained at ease as before. You could start to hear snickering coming from the other platoons who were trying to see what was going on. I even saw a couple of the other D.I.’s choking back a smile.
Sgt. Keyes was livid and yelling at the platoon to obey Champions order to come to attention. Still they didn’t move. Finally, Sgt. Keyes came back to me and said, “Binkley, you get this platoon to attention right now or else.”
“Yes Sgt. Keyes.” I replied and stepped out in front of MY platoon. I said something like, “Men, there has been a change in command and you must follow Sgt. Champions orders.” I followed that with, “1st Platoon, Attention!!” You could have heard a pin drop after that platoon came to attention. It was perfect.
I turned to Sgt. Keyes, saluted and said, “1st Platoon is at attention and awaiting further orders.” I didn’t wait for an answering salute because I didn’t think one was forth-coming. I just returned to my new station as guide-on bearer and came to attention myself. There was a short round of applause from the other platoons which was soon quieted by their D.I.’s.
After the formation was dismissed, one of the D.I.’s from the 2nd or 3rd platoon, a Sgt. Smith, came up to me and said, “I have never seen that before in basic training. Such loyalty is rare even in combat.” then he said, “I would be proud to have you in any unit I commanded.” and he shook my hand.
Yes, it was only the beginning. It was just the start of my two years in the service but it was a grand way to begin. There will be more.
Remember a soldier if you know one. They’re always thinking of you.
Have a great day!