• Last modified 7504 days ago (Dec. 31, 2003)
  • Return to Checkerboard

395th private compares induction to being born years ago

(Editor's Note: private Ralph M. Jones, a 395th Infantryman from Fort Wayne, Ind., wrote the following article a few days after he was inducted into the Army. We thought it so amusing that we are passing it on to you via the CHECKER BOARD.)

Ten days ago I left home, bag in hand, and plunged into the unknown. Today I am a newborn soldier blinking my eyes in a strange world. My birth was a wondrous experience filled with marvelous revelations and subtle truths. As near as I can tell, this is how it all happened.

Starting at the induction center I entered a sort of Never Never Land that hovers between nude reality, and sheer fantasy. Like all living creatures, inductees are born nude; like rabbits they are born in large numbers, one after the other. They enter life in long lines that slowly move through a maze of staring eyes, stethoscopes, questions, eye charts, more questions.

If I had a kid brother coming to the Army, I'd give him some advice about the physical exam. The witches tales and horror stories about blood tests and the 'shots," are all poppycock. To date no one has been reported killed in action in the induction center. Actually, I think the doctors giving the exams are the ones to be scared. Imagine watching an endless line of nude bodies passing by day in and month out, listening to a never-ending chorus of "ahhhhhs," and asking the same questions over so many times that their voices sound like a bunch of worn out phonograph records.

So much for the physical. Let's go on to the reception center, the only place in the Army where a non-come is "sired" and where privates don't know any better. Half civilian, half military, and all crazy as hell — that's the replacement center. No one stays long but always thinks that he should have left sooner.

It was at the reception center that I learned how to eat all over again. I found that Army food has no personality but a lot of soul. One meal over-laps another until all identity as to type of food is lost and dissolved into a dynamic hash. This I lovingly learned to call "chow" and decided it isn't half bad when one stops trying to figure out what it is. It is a purely civilian trait to insist on knowing what one eats.

Spoons in the Army seem to me to be very ingenious. They are large like a table spoon, and because of their size they force the corners of the mouth up into a beaming smile while eating, thus filling the entire mess hall with happy faces. Great morale builder.

I am sorry that I can't remember more about how I got my uniform. Of one thing I am sure, the Army's uncanny method of fitting clothes. At a glance they know all your sizes from hed to foot, and what's more they're usually right. There are, however, some glaring miscalculations as in the case of my drawers. They fit in every way except around the waist, which seemed to be equipped with a maternity gusset. I felt better when a near-sighted fitter said that they would shrink. I felt worse again when he told the man behind me that his would stretch — his were too small around the waist.

One important event in the first days of all soldiers is the reading of the Articles of War. There are about an hour of them read by a second lieutenant who must have auctioned tobacco in civilian life.

There is one disturbing thing about the Articles of War. They seem to give the impression that the soldier hasn't long to live. The number of offenses he can be shot for is astronomical. In fact, the enemy is going to have to be mighty quick o the trigger to get the first crack at a lot of guys.

That's about all I remember about how I got here, and even that doesn't sound possible now that I think of it. But it must be true because it happened to a lot of other fellows I talked to.