Arriving at Boston's Logan International Airport was intimidating for me. It was a large terminal even then. I met up with some of my Army Basic Training "Birth Herd " mates, and from there, my small group had to get from Logan to the old North Train Station for the trip to Fort Devens. I believe we took the subway from Logan (Island) to the train station. The weather was early fall in Missouri. In Massachusetts, it was winter!
We rode the train to Ayer and were picked up by an Army bus and taken to Company C. Almost dark by this time, from the bus window, I could see that the residences in town had all their Halloween images and pumpkins displayed, for the event a couple of days away. The "C" stood for Casual, as we were to find out! Company C was Headquartered in a three-story cinder-block building that was, by the way, still there as of late 1991. Its paint-scheme went from buff in 1966 to maroon sometime before 1991. The rest of Company C was in wooden barracks nearby, to the North.
The building was in the shape of a "U". The northeast leg was the "casual-company," the other leg was for some kind of permanent-party company. The middle of the "U" housed the various administration offices and the mess-hall. Just inside the mess-hall door, as you waited in line to be served, the line went by this massive tray rack which was very convenient to lean on. It was not sturdy! First thing off I can remember one the cooks yelling at the line of NUGS (new-guys): "Quack, quack, get off the tray rack!" The mess-hall as decorated in a New England fishing motif, and had a ship's-bow carving of a woman, or a mermaid, or whatever. In each corner hung fishing nets with glass-ball floats and fake Star fish, etc., in them.
At our very first formation early the next morning, we found out straight-up that our stay at Charlie Company could last a few days or even weeks, depending on when our class "start date" was scheduled for our various AIT (Advanced Individual Training). That really sucked, especially when I witnessed a roster being called off for "permanent KP!" Before dismissal, the formation NCOIC yelled out: "all the sick, lame, lazy, and crazy, fall-out to the right of the formation for Sick-Call!" I realized this was a potential scam to consider.
I lucked out and got in a group that was assigned paint-detail with some supply sergeant. Off we went to another part of the post in a topless 2 1/2-Ton truck called a "Deuce." I was surprised to see this relic had an automatic transmission! The supply NCO was pretty cool, but he had us paint a shed in the cold temperature. I knew that paint would never dry correctly. Oh well, the mentality of the Army!
A great place to hide was in the Main PX, just east across the parking lot from Charlie Company. I liked the snack bar - having older European-looking women that worked there. I couldn't help but notice they didn't shave their legs and the long hair was squashed underneath their nylon stockings! I also used to play the juke-box, listening to Mack The Knife by Bobby Darin. Sidelight: I remember that the wives couldn't enter the PX if their hair was up in hair-curlers. The guys had to have a belt, shirt tucked in, and no sandals. Seems like the guys all wore blue jeans, white socks, and penny-loafers! The PX was a great place in 1966, and how did I know then that in 1983, I'd see it again. The main difference was that the PX entrance was now located facing East, Vs. West as in the '50s and '60s. Oh, it was remodeled and enlarged as well!
I would go to the Post Library at night For entertainment and listen to recordings of If I Had a Hammer, Lemon Tree, and I Want To Be In America by Trini Lopez. Diana Ross and The Supremes hit was You Keep Me Hanging On. Bob Dylan and Donavon had some early hits on the radio as well. I also discovered a well-run USO in Ayer. The women who ran it did a great job and made us feel as much at home as possible! On some Saturday nights they bused girls in from some close-by nursing school for a dance. We called those dances "Pig Pushes," but that was pretty cruel! Us G.I.’s got-off in calling the girls "Turkey Herders” as well. But, they were all great girls and real sports, and wish I knew some now!
On one of the evenings, a bunch of us decided to go and see Dr. Zhivago, with Omar Sharif and Julie Christie. I think this movie had been out for a while, but the Army just caught up with it. The Fort Devens Main Theater was located in a nice, depression-era brick building, located on a corner of the Revere Hall complex and next to the PMO (Post Provost Marshall Office). The movie was great and cost 50-cents. Usually movies were only 35-cents, but the biggies were higher.
One night while walking back from Ayer, it was so cold out, some guy stopped and asked: "Do you want a ride? I said "Sure!" I remember the "reverb" sound on his radio. That was "IN" in the late 1960s. He was not a soldier and asked if I wanted to go to a party? I said "NO" and that "I want to be dropped off at the Main Gate!" He complied, but I think he was a homosexual or something! We were warned that a lot of them cruised around Ayer, of all places. Gee, I wonder why?
I went into Boston quite a number of times - seems always by myself. Nobody else wanted to spend any money. You could get on a bus or take the train in. I splurged and stayed at the Conrad Statler Hilton a few times. This was my "escape" from the reality of the Army. I used to envy the Navy Officers - in their nice blue and gold uniforms - "shootin the sh-t" in the foyer of the Hilton. Boston is full of history and I really loved walking the Freedom Trail many times. The Boston Commons was gorgeous during Christmas 1966, seemed no decoration was spared. The scene at night was truly breath-taking!
Our barracks sergeant was a "candy-striper" E-2 from the New York City area. As long as he walked around with a clip-board and looked official, he was the king! I believe he was a drop-out from one of the various AIT schools taught at the USASATC&S, then commanded by Colonel Lewis Millett. By the way, in January of 2001, at Field Station Korea, I met up again with retired Col. Millett - when he visited the Osan area. A nearby hilltop by Osan was the site of his hand-to-hand combat with the Chinese during the Korean War, where he won his Congressional Medal of Honor. He "led the assault up the fire swept hill" using "cold steel!" What a story and it truly was an honor to know him - to say the least!
I only stayed at Charlie Company around a month when I got word that my basic Morse-code class would start. We received a description paper, consisting of three parts - page one, and page two, and a third page. We found out our class was to be called "23-BMC." We also got a Student Guide that was ten-pages long. It was late November and those of us slated to become "ditty-boppers" moved from on top of "The HILL" to the bottom - to "Ditty City" - a group of, you guessed it, left-over WWII barracks! My barrack was just like the one I had left in basic, only this one had a coal-burning furnace that some guy on casual-status was detailed to keep stoked all night. It was building T-1628. The "T" stood for temporary.
In the mornings it was not unusual to wake up with coal soot in our noses and listening to Snoopy and the Red Baron by a group I can't remember now, and Young Girl by Gary Pucket and The Union Gap. Yeah, the radio would say: "The Boss Sound in Boz-town, WBZ." Back to soot. That soot was all over and posed a real a problem to clean - for the Commanders daily inspections! By the way, I was on the second floor again and my friend John was on the first. His bunk was mid-way down and on the left, by a window. I remember that he used to tell me my feet stunk! Well, My feet never did like confining Army boots - even to this day. He still hasn't gotten over it, as per a recent e-mail. As I remember, he was the only one to comment on this all these years!
In the early evenings we used to "hang" in the "day-room," upstairs from the orderly-room, located in a building just to the east of T-1628. That is where I first started to watch Captain Kirk and the Enterprise - at 1700-hours nightly. This series was later to be known as "Star Trek, The Original Series."
Our company area was around a third of a mile from another set of WWII buildings, called "Ditty-City". These were numerous barracks that where converted into classrooms, if that are what you called them. Monday through Friday, we marched as a company to and from our barracks to this school - on an asphalt roadway that dog-legged to the right. First we passed an old wooden consolidated mess-hall on the left, called "Con-4." Then we went on passed a little PX-Annex that served 3/2 beer and Pizza, then straight on into the "Ditty-City" complex. Oh, in the middle and to the right of this roadway and across from Con-4, was a fenced-off compound called "P-BRANCH," where the Army held the 98J (Radar-Jammers) AIT.
We had to march to class to the beat of a Base and Snare Drum, which two classmates volunteered to play. Each time the left foot hit the ground, the base drum went Boom, boom, boom-boom-boom and then the accompanying rata-tat-tat of the snare drum. Timmy L. played a mean snare! When the weather really got cold, we had to wear those ugly O.D.-green all-weather greatcoats and buckle-up rubber boots. We also had to wear the cold-weather flap-cap as well, called the "pile-cap," with our ASA unit crest pinned such as to hold the visor-part up. You know, the hat that looked like it had hound-dog ears!
Snow it did in this part of the country! Pulling snow-removal detail was not uncommon, getting up at 0330 to clear the sidewalks and passageways. Since we lived in the old wooden barracks, called by some "Splinter Village," we had to pull firewatch as well. When our name came up on the duty-roster (DA form 6), this detail was pulled in four-hour increments. I heard the barracks could burn-down within five-minutes! I never saw that happen thank GOD.
Like I said above, "Ditty City" was comprised of converted wooden barracks that served as classrooms. They were filled with four-rows of side-by-side positions, each comprising of "mills" and headsets - per floor. One row of them on the left wall, one row on the right wall, and two rows in the middle - facing each other. "Mills" were old manual typewriters that only printed in CAPS (capital letters.) Each had two-ply continuous paper that fed through a slot in the back of the gray aluminum table and up into the back of the typewriter. Some guys never typed before until they learned Morse-code!
About learning Morse-code. The course was divided up into eight-weeks. The first week you learned the 26-letter code and had to pass the first speed of 4.5 WGPM (Word Groups Per Minute). Then you had to pass another speed (6, 8, 10,12,15) in each of the remaining seven weeks - to reach 15 GPM, the magic speed to get diverted into the technical phases of the MOS's (Military Occupational Specialty) 05K, 05D, or 05H. These MOS names just received their new names, vs. their old ones of 059, 056, and 058 respectively. This happened in a year earlier in 1965.
05K was officially called"Non-Morse Teletype Intercept Operator," 05H was "Morse code Intercept Operator," (called "Hogs") and 05Ds were the "duffies," or "Emitter Locator - Direction Finding (DF) Operators." The last two were biggies for the " 'Nam." Once diverted into our MOSs, we could leave "Splinter Village" and go to Revere Hall (also known as the "Bird Cage," "School House," or whatever). The 05Ds went to a complex called "SITBRANCH," just south and about 3/4 mile from the "School-House" complex.
I loved the "Bird Cage" because it reminded me of a college campus. A nice diversion from the Army! I heard it really was a private girl's school in the 1910 era. If you did an "About Face" while viewing the "School-House" from the middle of the parade Ground, you could see the Officer's Club with the Field-Grade Officer "on-post" housing just off to the back-left.
To learn the code, the instructor stood at the front of the room and had you yell out each letter and its ditty-equivalent at the top of your lungs! You couldn't yell loud enough! This went on for three days, learning eight letters per day. By the end of the last two days, Thursday and Friday, you had to pass the first code speed of 4.5 GPM (Word Groups per Minute). If you didn't, you went to the "Pit," at nights and on Saturdays, a special barracks set up for "code-deficient" troopers!
While in the "Pit," you did "remedial code" starting nightly after the regular day of copying code with your class. You had a ten-minute break every hour. During that break you stood silently at the "Parade-Rest" position until told to sit down again and resume copying code. If you had to go to the latrine, no talking, return quickly, and return to "Parade-Rest." Expect harsh treatment from the instructor at all times. Believe me, a few nights of this and you pulled your head out real quick and made sure you were not "code deficient" again! To stay that way, some of us practiced by ourselves on weekends listening to Morse-tapes bought from the local Radio Shack in Ayer. The Army didn't have MOS libraries in those days, as what I saw later in 1983. The Fort Devens Main Library had the tape-players in a special room. (Note: The library in 1966-67 was located in a three-story brick building just to the south of the "Bird Cage" complex, which also over-looked a hill. At the bottom of this hill was the main roadway going off post towards Ayer. In 1983, the library had already moved to its own one-story building located further west, and was named Davis Library).
However, I had to go to the "Pit" twice. Once at the end of the first week, at 4.5 WGPM, as I said before. Then again getting past 12'rs (12 GPM) three weeks later. During this whole ordeal, we heard the standard rumors that occasionally a guy would go berserk and throw his "mill" out the window, or try to commit suicide. I never witnessed either!
Before the weather got real bad in early December, 1966, a bunch of us took off and went into Boston to see a movie. The theater was located in a place we later found out was called the "combat zone." What did that mean? Anyway, I got my airline tickets early for my Christmas trip home and wrote my folks a letter about it. It was two pages long.
So, we were in code school only one week when all were allowed to go home for a ten-day Christmas leave. It was great and the world seemed good again! The ASA was unreal to us. They had busses leased taking soldiers to various points in the Northeast, Midwest, etc. Of course you had to purchase your own ticket. I elected to fly home to the Chicago area. Why waste a couple of days, each way, on a bus? While home, I fell in-love with a high-school sweetheart, only to stop receiving letters from her a few weeks later after getting back. I saw her a few years later and she said I was the one that stopped writing. Yeah right! Letter-writing was sacred to me in those days - kept my morale going. She was a little liar anyway and seemingly went to college to get pregnant and have an illegal abortion in New York State somewhere - after her Army drill-instructor boy-friend dumped her. Whatever pushes your buttons!
A bunch of us went to the Fort Devens MARS station and placed phone calls back home. It was a pretty nice service back in the old technology days!
Back after Christmas leave, one of the tricks in passing code-speeds was - with the instructors permission - you could work on the speed just ahead of your current one. That helped by psychologically "slowing down" the code in your mind. A last option could be to tie a knot in your head-set cord!
By week eight, which was now late February, 1967, I finally passed 15 GPM. Last thing was to learn Q & Z signals which was pretty easy. Anyway, I lucked out and got diverted to 05K school for my tech-phase. I was hoping that I would. I heard it was the easier MOS of the other two, code-wise. Plus, almost always - no Vietnam and the extension-course that came prior to it. This extension-course was better known as "TTC," or "Tactical Training Course." Here, the Army had a fake Vietnamese village set up and the Special Forces troops (10th Group) that ran it didn't like prisoners! About the code-part. I was only kidding myself. I thought I was getting out of "shaggin-dits" for a living. Boy, was that short-lived - only to be re-experienced a few years later!
Once I got into the technical-phase of 05K, my life got a whole lot easier and enjoyable. We got to move from the wooden barracks and "F" Company, and back up "The HILL" to the same building that formerly housed Charlie Company. Only it was now called Company H. "Hotel" Company was night-school, marching to class just as the flag came down - and stayed until around 2330 hours or so. We were marched by a Special Forces E-6 who was pretty cool! Our classroom was in the old private girls school - The "School House," or the - Yeah right - "Bird Cage," or even some called it by its official name - Revere Hall. Didn't we discuss this earlier? Anyway, we learned all about the receivers, demods, teletypes, and the patch-cording that went with them. The instructors talked about a new "pos" that I would see later at Shemya. We were really "Spinnin and Grinnin!"
Revere Hall was a grand old building that was real long and about four stories high. The huge parade-ground in front of it was the site of many events, including, of course, parades. Revere Hall had many entrances - once inside the guarded compound. Our class entrance was on the far northeast corner, next to the post-stockade. Occasionally an inmate would yell down to us calling us "lifers" or "pukes." We yelled back up: "it was better than pulling 'bad time!'" This stockade-time didn't come off your enlistment ETS (Estimated Termination of Service) either. It only extended it!
If you ever walked from the company to the "School House," or back, and saw a vehicle on the street with a blue sticker on its bumper, you had better salute it, even though it may have had a woman driving it! This signified an officer's car. This really made us mad because the female driver was not in the Army (no WACs here), and the officer's wives really made an issue out of it! They made a spectacle in the PX as well! Unless you were a gate-guard, the Army got rid of this practice of saluting bumper-stickers six-years later - in the new "Volunteer Army."
ASA had a pre-OCS program going on in the middle and late 60s. These participants got "dogged" pretty well - above-and-beyond going to school! The kicker was that they were not even accepted into the official Army OCS program yet. You could identity them because they wore an MI-blue mascot around their necks which had the agency patch sewn on. Their fatigues were exceptionally "STRAC" (Strategic, Tactical, Ready Around the Clock) as well. That program was not for me. I had enough trouble keeping up with the code requirements!
By the way... if you care for some trivia: If you went to AIT at Fort Devens in the early 1980s, which was before TRADOC (Training and Doctrine Command) took over Army schools, Devens used to have its own interpretation of "STRAC" and had it in the form of a badge a student would wear, hanging from the left pocket of his/her BDU (Battle-dress Uniform). They defined "STRAC" (Skill, Tough, Ready Around the Clock). If you did well in school, you were awarded a gold star under the "S." If you got above a certain physical fitness test score, you got another gold star under the "T." If you did well in the Soldier Common Core Testing (CCT) and didn't get any negative counseling statements on anything, etc., you got a gold star under the "RAC." All three gold stars would win you an AAM (Army Achievement Medal) upon graduation. This medal wasn't around in the 60s. It came into being in 1982, along with the ASR (Army Service Ribbon), which meant you attended an AIT. This was the start of the Army giving medals away, making an E-2 look like a war-hero already. Possibly boasting as many as three-ribbons by the time he/she got out of tech-school (including the NDSM - National Defense Service Ribbon)!
Anyway, back to my original story. In early February, 1967, some of my classmates and me made PFC. We be da man! Wow, I didn't know what to do with that extra money per month. Hope I didn't spend it all in one place!
A few of my classmates and I went on a hike to Concord one Saturday in March, for some exercise I guess. Yeah, no cars involved at all! The weather that day was unseasonably warm, and we saw The "Old Manse," Sleepy Hollow Cemetery where Henry David Thoreau, Louisa May Alcott, Nathanial Hawthorne, and Ralph Waldo Emerson are buried. On the way back a bus picked us up on the interstate (State Route 2) and dropped us off near Fort Devens. Boy, were we tired. But I got a lot of pictures that I still have somewhere.
Again, a couple of weeks later, some of us hitch-hiked to Pepperell to see an air show. A mock WWII dogfight was staged with some converted AT-6s. It turned out to be a long day but pretty awesome just the same!
By mid-May 1967, our class got our "PCS" (Permanent Change of Station) assignment orders. Our class leader had to go to Post HQ to get everyone's copies. Seemed like the Army went right down the alphabet. The first third of the class got Germany, the second third got Shemya, and the last third got other places in Germany. Graduation came on 31 May and my class was put immediately back on a casual-status. The duty-roster got me for a couple more days of KP. Go figure! Great reward!
On one occasion, I remember taking a break outside the mess-hall side door. The music on the stereo system played "Up, Up, and Away, in My Beautiful Balloon," and "Stone Soul Picnic " by the popular group at the time, Fifth Dimension. I basked my face in the bright, warm sun. There was a wonderful, light, spring breeze blowing as well. More songs played. Spanky And Our Gang's "Lazy Day" and "Sunday will Never Be The Same." I loved to hear the hit by the Australian group - The Seekers - with the powerful voice of Judith Durham singing "Georgy Girl." I can't remember if the Movie - "Georgy Girl" - was made from the idea of this song or if they just sang it as the title song. Sidelight: I saw Judith Durham recently on a PBS Special with her group. She had just celebrated her 60th birthday and boy does she look nice, and sings fantastically!
For once in my young life I had a feeling of accomplishment. A couple more days and off we went on leave - before going to the Aleutian Islands. Well, some of us anyway!
My last look at Fort Devens, November, 1991 when I became a WO1.