Wait a Damned Minute!

Before I launch into a tirade about what was the most unfortunate unit I was ever in, I have a couple of more Fort Irwin stories to tell.    The main post at Fort Irwin had a fairly good PX, Commissary and Officer's Club.  The rest of the post was old wooden barracks that housed National Guard units as they trained there in the early summers.   By the next period of scheduled training, I would be in Vietnam so I never saw any of them train.

One of the duties we all drew was Officer of the Guard.  We would go over to the Guard House, inspect the troops, make a visit on them right after dark and once in the early morning and be there if they needed us.  They never did but it was an assigned duty that we all drew once or twice.  It did amaze me that there was live ammo issued for the guards at the golf course.  Their weapons were .22 rifles with scopes and about once each hour they would flip on the lights and assassinate any bunnies that were there eating the only grass north of the Andreas Fault and north to Canada.

On my second assignment of Guard Duty, I was doing the inspection of the soldiers and I was going down the line and inspecting each soldier as well as I remembered how to.  I turned to face a soldier about half way down the line and I had to look down to see his face.  There standing in front of me was the shortest and thinnest soldier I had ever seen in a uniform.  Even in what was the smallest uniform ever on an adult soldier was a private that made Sad Sack look like a member of the Honor Guard.   He was at attention and he placed the M-14 butt on the ground and pushed the charging handle down with his foot.  He brought it back up into the port arms position and as he looked me in the eyes, he said, "I've been sick."   To keep from laughing, I just moved to the next soldier.  When the Sergeant of the Guard and I got back into the guard house, we both busted out laughing. It was my hope that  that poor soul would remain in the United States and never deploy against any enemy bigger than a girl scout troop.  The average 12 year old girl could whoop his butt.

Fort Irwin was sand surrounded by more sand.  There were a few mountains here and there but if you weren't careful, you could get lost quick and often.  I had some innate sense of direction and realized that all roads led somewhere and once I had a map, I drove that Volvo of mine all over the place. I loved the sand tank trails and it just kept going and going. I saw the towers at Gold Stone that tracked the Apollo missions and even strayed past them over into China Lake Weapons Training Range.  When I saw my first large rocket stuck in the ground, I decided that I had strayed too far and turned around.  I drove out north of the main post and finally found where the pavement ended and the trails began their meandering towards Death Valley.  Later on, Some of us drove out the back gate and into the back side of Baker, California.  I never did find the way back in so we had to drive the extra 40 miles back to the front gate.

I found a way to cut off about 10 miles by cutting over to the Barstow dump from Yermo but you could  tear the hell out of the bottom of your car if you drove too fast and the one of the few rain storms washed the sand out of the river bottom.  I hit the rocks about 45 MPH one day and the Volvo would only run about 100 yards and stop.  I looked underneath and saw that I had mashed a fuel line flat and found that if I would just stop the car, turn on the key and let the fuel pump slowly fill the carbs, it would go another 100 yards.  I drove the last two miles to main post 100 yards at a time.

 I took it to the Self Repair facility and found an old retired sergeant there  that loved old cars about as much as I did.  He found a piece of rubber fuel line and showed me how to replace the flattened piece for a couple of dollars.  I mentioned that the Starter was dragging some and he showed me how to yard it out and then we rebuilt it there on the bench.  In each end of the starter there is a bushing that keeps the starter spinning true and even.  The bushing were worn out and he just showed me how to replace them with some stock bushings he had on hand.  He told me that the brushes were getting pretty worn out and then we took a stock set of Chevy brushes and ground them down to fit.  I think he even recommended that I go to the 2nd hand store and pick up a pair of Michelin tires he saw there on sale for a cheap price.  After mounting and balancing those tires, I had about the best car on post, at least in my mind.  The only thing he couldn't fix was the fact the windshield was just getting blasted by sand every time I was out on one of my adventures.   My dad replaced that windshield and then soon wrecked that car.  I was glad that Dad survived, but the Volvo didn't. At Fort Sill, OK they had me put in seat belts in the front and I'm sure that saved his life.  The accident that killed the Volvo was so violent that Dad broke his nose with his knee and still walked away from the crash.

 After a couple of weeks in the temporary house, a unit deployed to Vietnam and we were moved over to the old BOQ.  I had a room that shared a bathroom with the post Provost Marshal.  I met him a couple of times but because you could lock the door while you were inside the bathroom seldom saw him.  The room was furnished with the basic bed, dresser, a couple of chairs and  an area rug.  One day as I was walking out to my car I saw a bit of green growing near the sidewalk.  I saw that it was a sticker plant and I picked up three or four stickers and planted them in a glass on my dresser.  I think I needed a bit of green and was so cheap that I wouldn't spring for a real plant.  That sticker plant grew and flourished there by the window in my BOQ and it wasn't until it started to drop stickers that the maid threw it away.  I think it had died when I went to Panama.

One night I was in the pool room of the Bachelor's Officer's Quarters (BOQ), watching TV and drinking Scotch.  I picked up a bag of chips at the Commissary earlier that day and was well into eating the whole damn thing when I felt flushed.  I asked one of the guys if it was hot in here or just me.  They rushed me over to the hospital and the nurse on duty said I looked like a strawberry.  I had no known allergies and they gave me a shot and put me in isolation.  The next morning, I woke up well and healthy.  It seems that either the Scotch or the Granny Goose potato chips fried in Cottonseed Oil caused an allergic reaction.  Must have been those damned chips.

Most of the units assigned to Fort Irwin in 1967 were units training for deployment to Vietnam.  That meant that most nights you could go into the club and not swing a dead cat without hitting a dozen young Artillerymen.  Somehow we got a copy of the field Artillery song on the jute box.  Whenever the urge hit us, we would play that song and everyone would stand and sing along. Now it is the Army song so I'm sure that everyone stands now. Anyone that wouldn't stand was thrown out the back door.  The post commander a Full Bull Colonel was an Armor Officer and quite often we would have to carry him and his chair to the back door.  He would stand up and exit until the song was over. We just couldn't throw a Colonel out the door of his own club.  I think they finally got him a chair with rollers so we could just roll him over to the door. 

I am pretty sure that because of the isolation of Fort Irwin and the fact that most of us were on orders for Vietnam. there was a level of decorum (or lack thereof)  that was accepted that would not have been OK at most posts.  I am pretty sure that had the BOQ's been right across the street from the O Club, the MP's could have made a killing every night.  If someone forgot and drive his car to the club, he would just leave it in the parking lot until the next morning and then drive over to his unit.  

One of the nice things about fort Irwin was the fact that most activities shut down right after duty hours on Friday and didn't start until Monday morning.  That left us 48 hours to drive to LA or Vegas.   It was a mass migration on and off that post.  It wasn't until our unit got formed that most of us in the 6th Bn 84th Artillery were let off restriction to Fort Irwin.  Now the fun begins in earnest.


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