©2014 John M. Khoury
Infantry Basic Training
I was assigned to the 75th Infantry Division in Camp Breckinridge, Kentucky, which is near the little town of Morganfield. So many soldiers poured into town on weekends that it was almost impossible to find any place where there were no soldiers. It was like being in camp with a few civilians here and there. I never saw a more dismal town for a weekend pass than this one and I had been in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, Bardstown, Kentucky and Poteau, Oklahoma where the local people drove their cars back and forth on the four-block main drag, angle parked, then sat in their cars to watch people pass along on the sidewalk. At nine o'clock it was time to go home. Morganfield was a social disaster after Cincinnati.
I was there only about two weeks when I was ordered to get ready to move out with a group assigned to the 100th Infantry Division. On the day the group was to take the train, everyone was awakened at 0400 (4 a.m.) except the four of us in my barracks, who were forgotten. Two days later, when we four were to leave, the one soldier who had the orders awoke and left by himself. Finally, after several more days of loafing, an exasperated O.D. (Officer of the Day) woke us at 0400 and with the first sergeant escorted us to the train station.
The train went to Atlanta, Georgia, where we had a four-hour layover to transfer to another train for Fayetteville, North Carolina, and Fort Bragg. When I read our orders, I found it said that we had to report "immediately upon arrival" to the Commanding General, 100th Infantry Division. Since no particular date or time was mentioned, I thought this would be a wonderful opportunity to visit with the warm and friendly people of Atlanta for a few days. Despite the pleas of two of us, the other soldier, who was in charge, absolutely refused. So we obediently boarded the designated train. We arrived at Fayetteville and were transported to the division, where the officer in charge who greeted us did not even ask why we were one week late. I was then assigned to L Company, 399th Infantry Regiment. No doubt, if I had arrived earlier or later, I would have been in some other unit.
With some exceptions, everyone in L Company was reassigned from some other part of the Army. They came from ASTP, the Army Air Corps, anti-aircraft units, and others. Since we were new to the infantry, it was time to go through basic training. Again, I went through the same exercises as before, at the Fort Knox Armored Replacement Training Center, except I did not drive any vehicles. It was obstacle courses, marching, manual of arms, guard duty, map reading, patrols, weapons, bayonets, gas masks, grenades, house-to-house fighting, maneuvers, and more hiking, including the 25-mile hike with full field equipment. I was not very enthusiastic about this third basic training.
When it was time to fire the M1 Garand rifle for score, after having visited the rifle range six times before, I expected the usual results. The test consisted of firing from three positions: sitting, kneeling and prone, at a target from 100 to 300 yards away. I fired at the target, which was then pulled down by the soldier in the trench below. He put a marker where my shot had hit and sent the target back up. Each shot was entered on my scorecard by the soldier next to me. We would later reverse positions. If I fired and missed, the target would be pulled down, examined for a bullet hole, and sent back up without a marker and a red flag -- "Maggie's Drawers" -- would be waved in front of the target. When I finished, my generous scorekeeper handed me my scorecard. He had given me a total of 182, which is a top score for expert! I was surprised but when he smiled, I think that he had used a ".30 caliber pencil." I had the last laugh when I kept his score and made him an Aexpert,@ too. It was our joke on the Army.
About a week later, on the company bulletin board there was a notice that read: "The following men will report to the officer in charge of sniper school for intensive sniper training." There I was on the list with the other Aexpert@ rifleman. As usual, the Army had the last laugh.
Sniper training consisted of using a l903 Springfield rifle with a Weaver telescopic sight and firing at various pop-up and moving targets. The sight itself had cross hairs that had to be adjusted so that you were zeroed-in accurately on your target. This meant that you had to be careful with the rifle, because the cross hairs could be knocked out of alignment and your aim would be off. Of course, the rifle I received when I went overseas was not the one I had used in training and I did not know if the sight was zeroed-in. That did not matter, because the Army Table of Organization of a 12 man infantry squad was: 10 M1 (Garand) rifles, one automatic rifle (BAR) and one 1903 sniper rifle. I was the assigned sniper of the squad and considered one of the best "shots" in the company.
While at Fort Bragg I was very disappointed that, although I had been an Air Cadet, I had never flown in an Army Air Corps plane. I had been on an airfield and serviced them, but here I was an airman in the infantry who had never been up in the air. On a weekend pass in Fayetteville I stopped at a luncheonette and learned that the owner had a Syrian name. I explained that my parents were also Syrian. He was very warm, friendly, and happy to meet a soldier of the same background and would not allow me to pay for my lunch. Furthermore, he insisted that I accompany him to his home to visit his family. He had two daughters that he wanted me to meet. That almost scared me away. It was Sunday, and he wanted me to enjoy a home-cooked Middle Eastern dinner with his family. Although I thought it best to decline the invitation, he insisted so much that I found myself at his home with all the family gathered around and talking like old friends. The food was delicious, a treat at any time and especially after months of Army chow.
His son, a lieutenant, was also there. He had come home from a nearby airfield where he was a flight instructor. When I told him that I had been in the Air Corps, he was very interested and asked if I had been in a plane. I answered, "Yes." That did not mean that I had flown in a plane. He said that he had come home in an AT6, which is the advanced fighter training plane I serviced in Mission, Texas. "Let's go out to the field and show the family how we fly the plane," he suggested. The family liked the idea.
We went to the airfield and there he gave me a parachute, which I had never before put on. I climbed onto the wing and got into the front cockpit as I had done many times before. He got into the rear cockpit and started the engine. When the engine was warmed up, we rolled down the runway and the tail lifted as he gave it more throttle. In a short time, we were off into the wild blue yonder and looking down at the family below. It was beautiful.
Over the roar of the engine, he asked me, "Are you ready to do a few acrobatics for the folks below?" I yelled, "Okay." Then he put the plane into a series of rolls, followed by banking turns, and ending with a rollover and dive toward the field. One minute I was looking up at the sky and then it was on my right and the earth was on my left side. Later, the sky and the earth were rotating in front of me. When he pulled out of the dive, I felt myself being powerfully pushed down into my seat. By this time, I was not feeling too well. The delicious meal I had had shortly before was now in my throat, but I was determined not to get sick and vomit. That took all my willpower. Fortunately, we landed soon after that, and I staggered out of the plane barely keeping the food inside. When he saw my blood-drained face, he asked, "Are you okay?" As a tough kid from Brooklyn, I, of course, said, "Sure! That was great!"
Actually, I said to myself, "Thank God I didn't puke in the cockpit!"
And that brings me back to the ship. Y
(If you would like to order an autographed copy of "Love Company," please contact the author, John M. Khoury)