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NATIONAL GUARD CO. “L”

My thumb was throbbing like a baby robin's butt and starting to swell. A condition in the infantry known as “ M-1 thumb”. I had caught it in the mechanism of my rifle attempting to load a dummy clip and allow the bolt to slam forward. I still had to take the rifle apart and reassemble it with the injury hampering how fast I could accomplish the task.

I had joined the National Guard because my brother and several friends were already a part of CO “L” in my hometown of Miller, South Dakota. It was an infantry company and the training consisted of a lot of marching and getting intimately acquainted with the M-1 rifle. As I nursed my thumb and tried to feel military in my ill fitting uniform, I thought ,“I wish Mom had torn up that permission slip. I’m a high school kid, not a soldier!”. Time healed my dignity and thumb. I began to look forward to the comradery of the weekly meetings and weekend campouts at Camp Dakota, and I was highly offended if someone called us glorified boy scouts.

I was put in supply division and was in training as a cook when it was time for our two-week yearly training camp. Company “L” was assigned to Camp Ripley in Minnesota, and I looked forward to the trip. Sleeping on the hard ground under two shelter halves had made me think about my mom and that permission slip again, but we had survived. Now the cooks went ahead of the convoy to get the mess hall ready to serve meals. When we arrived we found we had eight-man tents, on wooden frames, complete with army cots. It looked like a hotel compared to Mother Earth's mattress.

Within a week we were in a military routine and thinking we were pretty good cooks. Then my shift had to prepare a rice dish. No one took into consideration how rice swells when cooked. Suddenly our stainless steel pots were over flowing. I shouted to no one in particular, “What in the hell are we going to do with all this rice?” An older, wiser voice answered back, “Bury it!” and that’s what we did. We had holes dug all around the mess hall filled with rice, and we still had enough to feed the troops.

We used immersion heaters in thirty-gallon trashcans to heat the water for cleaning the mess trays. To light these heaters we used a rag soaked with fuel on the end of a wire. We turned on the fuel and lowered the lit rag into the heater until the fuel caught fire. My brother told about how one of the cooks, who stuttered when excited, went to light the heaters one day and found that the rag on a wire was missing, so he turned on the fuel and threw matches in the heater until a huge explosion echoed through the mess hall, clearing grass in a thirty foot circle. The cook, missing his eyebrows and hair, and his face covered with soot,  stumbled through the mess hall and announced, “SH--SH--SHE   BL--BL--BLEW!

I had a pass to go to town and Little Falls, Minnesota was the closest to the camp.  I thought my friends and I looked sharp in our “Ike” jackets and neatly pressed pants. The evening in town was dull until we met three girls in a café,  and in an hour one of the girls and I were almost discussing marriage. It was getting late, and she asked me to walk her home. We arrived at her house, went through the garage entrance, and we were in a lip-locked embrace on the back step when a car drove into the garage and a man leaped out and yelled, “You National Guard son of a bitch!” He had my exit blocked, so I ran in the back door and through the house. I passed an old lady in the living room and bolted for the front door and headed in the general direction of downtown. I know I broke the four-minute mile long before it was official.

A Camp Ripley bus was just pulling out, but the driver spotted me and let me on board. I could have kissed him. When we arrived at the gate a regular Army Sgt. poked his head in the bus and asked, “Any of you men been with a female tonight?” Losing my presence of mind, like a fool I proudly raised my hand. The Sgt said, “Come with me“ and he handed me what he called a “Pro Kit”. He said, “It’s for the prevention of V.D. Go in the latrine and use it.” When I read the directions about where they wanted you to squeeze the tubes of medicine I thought, “I didn’t do anything“, so I threw the kit in the trash and caught the next bus into camp. The rumor in camp the next day was that there was a “Wild Man” looking for a “National Guard son of a bitch” in the town of Little Falls, Minnesota. I hung around camp the rest of the time we were there.

Nothing could have prepared me for my Navy career, but my tour of duty in the National Guard certainly laid the groundwork.

©2001 Maurice D. Karst
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