So here I am, a raw inductee into what was called The New Army at the time. (I think they meant leaner, smarter and more efficient.) It is 1951. I am at Fort Devens, Mass., and I, along with about 5,000 other guys, are going through the first stages of Army life.
We’ve been through the testing and assignment process (click here to read my June 3 column), and now we are being issued our Army uniforms, which includes everything from socks to skivvies (underwear to you civilians). I wait in line for several hours — as usual — and finally get to the issue window.
I am handed a pile of stuff, including two pairs of “little Abners,” which is what we called the old-fashioned-looking high-top shoes they gave us. We were supposed to get combat boots that went up to your calf and looked like real boots, but the Army was short of those at the time.
Now it is a week later and I am at Fort Bragg, N.C., for basic training, which includes marching, digging foxholes, marching, standing in formation, marching, digging foxholes — you get the idea.
After a few weeks of this, a rumor goes around that a shipment of uniforms and equipment has been received and that we will be receiving whatever we had been shorted at Fort Devens. That afternoon the sergeant calls out a list of names and tells them to report to the supply sergeant. I am about the 13th man in the line at the supply barracks. Still, it is about two hours later before I get to the window. (A quick calculation will show that the supply sergeant can process about six men per hour. Obviously not a high-speed operation.)
As I stand at the window, it is several minutes before anyone appears. Finally when he does, the supply clerk says, “Name?” I reply. He disappears into the bowels of the large warehouse. Several more minutes and he reappears with some sort of paperwork. He says, “What do you want?” I think that is sort of strange since they told me to report there. I thought they would already know what I needed. I say, “Combat boots,” and he again disappears into the warehouse. (Obviously all the records are stored somewhere in the rear of the building nowhere near the window.) Ten minutes later he returns and says, “I don’t have you down for combat boots,” and before I can say another word, he is gone again.
When he returns five minutes later — I have now waited in line for two hours and been at the window for about 25 minutes — I am still standing there. I ask, “Why was I told to report here if you don’t have combat boots for me?” And he is gone again into the warehouse — apparently to again check his records. Another five minutes pass before he reappears and says, “The only thing I have you down here for is a necktie.” I say, “What? I just waited in line for over two and a half hours for a necktie?” He shrugs.
I say, “OK, give me the necktie.”
And he says, “We don’t have any.”