Fort Irwin, CA 1967

Near the end of our Officer Candidate School (OCS) we were taken over to the Day Room and our TAC officer read us our assignments for our first unit starting in July.  We had class mates going all over the United States and Panama.  For some reason, a fairly large group of us were just kept on hold to the very last.  Then the announcement.  The following will go to where there is sunshine, sand and Death valley.  Hey Wait, Fort Ord isn't near Death Valley!   Fort Irwin, California will be the new home for about 20 members of your class.  You are not allowed to take wives, more than 300 Lbs of baggage and be prepared for deployment to Vietnam after the completion of training.  Talk about a downer.  Oh well, by then I had the Volvo and I would at least not be trapped on post the entire time.

After a couple of weeks vacation, I drove all the way to Barstow, California in two days.  About 10 PM I drove in from Needles to Barstow and saw what I thought was a beautiful sight from the lights of Barstow.  Perhaps it was that I was just tired as hell and needed a Motel with a good air conditioner.   I turned off the Interstate and found a small No-Tell, Motel that gave me a room for about half of what I had in my wallet.  It was over 100 degrees and the maids left the AC turned off in the room.  I went in, turned the AC on get cold fast and took a shower.  By the time I came out of the shower, it was just cool enough that sleeping naked on top of the sheets was the only option.  Somewhere about 4 AM it finally got cool enough that I could pull a damp sheet over myself and sleep until the sun brutally appeared for another round of broil the ass off Barstow.

In the light of day, Barstow was a dump that had some pretty street lights.  I was so disappointed that a 1200 mile trip would end up in the arm pit of California.  I asked the manager of the Motel how to get to Fort Irwin and he told me to go down to the street light (Yes there was one at the main intersection on Main Street) turn left and go out past the rail yard and follow the road north.   I struck out and followed the road past the first Del Taco and across the Rail Road bridge and then followed the road as it meandered across the desert.  My map said that the road ended at Fort Irwin, just short of Death Valley.   I found the only place where the road was dangerous.  Instead of going around the big ass rocks, someone had decided to put the road through the rocks in Dead Man's Curve. I'm sure that many a drunk soldier had failed to negotiate the curve on their way back out to the base.   A little further on, I started to see Unit Crests painted on the rocks near the highway.  Soon, I hit the gate of Fort Irwin.  I had gone about 24 miles and there sat a gate in the middle of a sand covered field with nothing near it for as far as I could see.  I pulled up to the gate, the MP saw my Fort Sill sticker and saluted me on through.  I just had to stop and ask where the hell was the main post?   he said it is another 12 miles on to the main post.  I asked why the hell was the gate way out here in the middle of no where.  he said that way they didn't have to pay isolation pay for soldiers stationed more than 25 miles from a town.  Hell, you could have been stationed in Barstow and had to draw isolation pay in my mind.

Imagine my surprise when I arrived at a post that was built for desert warfare training during WWII that had not changed a whole hell of a lot.  Old wooden buildings and the only grass was in front of main post headquarters where a sprinkler ran 24/7.  OK, I did find that the golf course had grass greens but the guards on duty there had .22 rifles to shoot the rabbits.  I went into the Adjutant's outer office in Main Post and signed-in.  As I waited to get my welcome packet, I noticed that I had my first nose bleed.   The clerk behind the desk handed me a tissue and said the dry air here will do that for a couple of weeks or so.  He recommended that I stop by the PX and buy a big jar of hand cream, a tube of chap stick and a bottle of petroleum jelly.   I think the humidity was about 7% inside where they had water, or swamp coolers to cool down the air. If you stood right in front of one, you could stand the heat.

I went over to the post Housing and was told that I was to be put up in a a house over in the post housing area.  Go down to the Officer's club and turn right.  The first house I came to was to be my first home at Fort Irwin.   I got there and there were about 10 cars parked there in the driveway and on the street.  I went in and found that most of the new arrivals in our house were my class mates and we were put up in a three bedroom house for the time being.  I later learned that it was the house that our Battalion Commander would be housed in when they picked one. The bedrooms were all taken, the living room was taken and the only room left was the dinning room.  Sure enough there was a bed and a cheap dresser there.  Oh well, it beat the hell out of a tent.  That afternoon, I went over to The Field Artillery Brigade Headquarters to find out about my new unit.  They had me again sign in and issued me a welcome packet.  I was assigned to the Task Force Headquarters for the possible riots in LA.  I was the third assistant Morale and Welfare officer and responsible for the sports equipment if we had to deploy forces to Las Angeles.   Further, I was restricted to the post for at least the next 6 weeks.  Oh great, right in the middle of no damn where and I can't even go into Barstow. 

To make matters worse, and I didn't think it could get much worse, the house right across the street had a pair of 15 year old twin girls living there that I never saw in much more than bikinis.  I don't think I saw any other girls on post other than them and they were Jail Bait.  Imagine a house full of 19 to 22 year old guys living across the street from two cute blond girls that knew they filled out their bikinis well.  No, I think they also wore t-Shirts, no bras and the shortest cut off shorts you could make out of a pair of blue jeans.

Oh,,I was told,, your unit will be over in Bldg by the Post Hospital when it forms.  I think some of the people are there if you want to go over.  I found one Major, two Captains a jeep and five or six Lieutenants in one little Quonset hut.  No one had any idea I was coming and did not care that I was there.  I was told to go back over to my lodging and stay there except to check in once a day about 9 AM.  I was told by my new room mates that in the welcome packet there was a Charge Card for the Officer's club and it was the cheapest place to eat on post for us.  I used that card for the next month and when I got paid, I owed about half of what I was paid to the O Club.  You had to pay that bill first thing or you would have your card taken away. 

I wish I could say things got better for us in the next month but I soon found that the only way to have anything to do was to volunteer to go out and be a safety officer for the 5th Bn, 22nd FA as they trained for deployment to Vietnam.  It was a 175mm Self propelled Artillery unit that was shooting up ammo that was repackaged when they De-commissioned the New Jersey battleship right after the Korean war.   They couldn't hit a barn from the inside with that lousy powder and close was within the grid square of the target. I would go over to their headquarters in the morning, fill up a water jug with ice and water and fill up a five gallon can with water and that might last me one day out in the desert running between the guns.  By 9 AM, the Fire Direction center would ask for a powder temperature and it would have the thermometer pegged at 113 degrees and god only knew how hot it really was in the shade.  There wasn't any damned shade!

Somewhere near the first of August, it was announced that there would be a meeting of the officer's club memebers in the evening.  As most of us were there drinking, we went over to the meeting.  the first order of business was the proposed new front for the club.  They had about $50,000 in the treasury and wanted to put a new rock front on the building.  Oh hell no, we wanted them to reduce the price of the drinks for happy hour for a month and see about that next month.  They did lower the priced for a couple hours each evening and at the next meeting announced that the club now had about $75,000 in cash on hand.  Oh hell, no, lower prices and more bar food during happy hour.  At the next meeting they had about $100,000 on hand and we had damn near free drinks and food for happy hour.  A couple of years later I went to Fort Irwin on a visit to My In-laws in Barstow and saw that they had finally put the rock front on the Officer's club.  It was a terrible color and I just laughed all the way off post.

I am going to stop here and will write about the 6th Bn, 84th FA starting tomorrow.



1 comment:

  1. Fort Irwin 1967

    I came upon your blog last night while looking for who knows what. I started with your Ft Irwin narrative and have copied the paragraph below. I was with the 5/22 Arty. (175sp). I arrived 4 June 1967 and can relate to the 40 mile trip out of Barstow across the desert wondering where I was going. Arrived at 2300 hours. Was told to grab a bunk, mattress and sheets. Woke up the next morning to sand..blowing sand. Over the next week or so most of the 565 members of the of the newly activated 5/22 Arty battalion arrived, primarily from Ft Sill, newly minted cannoneers. I started OCS at Ft Sill March 1967 but decided after a short time to exit the program. That did not sit well with command so I was transferred to a cannoneer training unit. I left with a 13A MOS assigned to Ft Irwin. The commanders of 5/22 pulled us out of the cannoneer pool and assigned us to HHB Operations FDC. Our section was comprised of number of former OCS candidates. We started training in short order. In your blog you mention the problems with the powder. Between the heat of the desert and issues with the survey data we failed our first proficiency test in September (I believe) 1967. We passed the next month and began preparations to ship out. We left Long Beach on the USNS Upsher on 5 December 1967 arriving in QuiNhon on 24 December 1967. Merry Christmas. I believe the 6/84th formed shortly after the 5/22nd and arrived a month or so after we did. We heard rumors that a number of the 6/84th troops were wounded or killed shortly after arriving. We set up a battalion forward CP at FSB7 A/K/A Polei Kleng in March 1968 to June 1968 controlling the artillery west of Kontum. The CP was turned over to 6/84 in June. You may recall some of our officers from Ft Irwin who were in Vietnam. Bn Commander Lt Col Vedder B Driscoll, Maj MacDonald, Bn XO, Maj William Roth, S3, Capt Jordan, S2, Capt Sellers then Capt James HHB Battery Commanders, Capt Gil Curl with HHB then A Battery Commander. Capt Walker HHB Commander at Ft Irwin did not make the cut.

    Regarding this paragraph: The whole post was aware of the twins. They were beautiful and wore little. Word was one of our Charlie battery gunners "dated" one which was frowned upon. Also we heard they were the daughters of the Post Commander. Not sure of the validity of the information.
    To make matters worse, and I didn't think it could get much worse, the house right across the street had a pair of 15 year old twin girls living there that I never saw in much more than bikinis. I don't think I saw any other girls on post other than them and they were Jail Bait. Imagine a house full of 19 to 22 year old guys living across the street from two cute blond girls that knew they filled out their bikinis well. No, I think they also wore t-Shirts, no bras and the shortest cut off shorts you could make out of a pair of blue jeans.
    Steve S Poughkeepsie NY