Norman Parminter and Mitchell Lipensky certainly fell within the punk category. They didn’t want to be activated, but if it did happen, “What the fuck can we do about it?” Norman had said. “And really,” Mitchell had replied, “it is the South Pacific, after all! And what could be so terrible? It might even be fun; no more school for a while, and soldiers in uniform always have girls to fuck around with. And when it’s over, say in, oh, about six months on the outside, and we do come home and go back to school, well fuck the football team! You’n’me, pal, we’ll be real heroes.
And once again, a vigorous, emphatic…
June 27, 1950
Camp McCoy, Wisconsin
“…take no silverware!” A burly, sweating soldier wearing a white chef’s hat and a grimy T-shirt with hand-painted corporal stripes on both sleeves yelled as each group of men came within hearing distance. “Ya ain’t gonna be getting’ nothin’ you’ll need silverware for, just sandwiches an’ milk! Don’t take no fuckin’ silverware!”
Looking beyond the long rows of stainless steel steam tables, Mitchell saw a half-dozen men sweating over the scouring of huge pots and pans and the mopping of the linoleum-covered floor. Must be regulars, he stupidly thought.
“Okay, fall in!”
Hardly finished with their peanut butter and jelly or bologna sandwiches, the men of Charlie Company were reassembled, marched back to their barracks, and shown the proper way to stow their gear in the wooden trunks at the end of each bunk, and the Army way to make that bunk.
The bunks were horizontal springs on a steel frame with a three-inch thick mattress. On the top of each mattress was a thin pillow, a wrinkled, folded sheet, a pillowcase and a musty smelling, Army-issue olive green blanket.
“Here, you can bounce a quarter off it, see?”
Showing them how, Martinez had made a bunk and, when dropped, the quarter bounced twice.
“This is how them bunks is to be made, an’ to be sure, we’ll be havin’ inspections every mornin’ before chow at…” hesitating, smiling, he said, “0530”
“Five-fuckin’-thirty! Sarge, we gotta be up an’ have these here fuckin’ beds made by five-fuckin’-thirty?” PFC Jason Linville moaned.
“Yeah, Linville, an’ not only that, but you gotta be shaved’n’dressed in the uniform of the day, an’ this here barracks an’ grounds all gotta be policed, too!”
“Jesus!” a high-pitched voice squeaked. “When the fuck’s reveille?”
Not having to look to see who’d spoken, “Caraboolad, you fuckin’ A-rab! What the fuck you worryin’ about? I hear all you fuckin’ A-rabs pack their tents and skedaddle before daylight…” A few men laughed. “…before the cops get there to see what you pricks swiped the night before.”
“I ain’t no fuckin’ A-rab, Sarge! I told you a thousand times I’m Armenian!”
“Don’t mean a flyin’ fuck to me; to me you’re all A-rabs… 0445!”
There was silence for a moment, then the men realized what he’d said, and another voice moaned, “4:45! We gotta get up at a quarter-to-fuckin’ five?”
“Yeah, you gotta! An’ see how nice the U.S. Army is to give you fuckers all that time to do all that stuff before chow… Oh, by the way…” as though it were an afterthought, “when you assemble it’ll be with your pieces, ’cause I’m gonna inspect them, too. An’ you better be on time ’cause chow’s at 0530.”
The rest of that afternoon, till chow call at 1730 hours, 5:30, was spent in camp orientation.
Supper was comprised of tough, semi-dry roast beef, peas, mashed potatoes with thick, brown gravy, fresh salad with a selection of dressings consisting of French dressing, bread and butter, milk or coffee, and vanilla ice cream sandwiches… all of which Mitchell Lipensky ate with great zeal.
After supper, until lights out at 2100 hours, squads were assigned and their duties outlined.
The newly formed five-man mortar squad that Mitchell and Norman had “volunteered” for was given the designation of Charlie-Zebra-Two. Norman was assigned as squad leader with Mitchell as second in command.
The weapons had been sent ahead via military truck and now, as the serial numbers were called, each man stepped forward to receive the Garand M1 rifle assigned to him at the time of his first training session in the armory in Chicago. Side arms were also issued to those men receiving special assignments.
“Li-pimp-sky, Parminter, front an’ center!”
Handing it to him, “Here,” looking at Mitchell, “An’ you remember,” Martinez said, “this ain’t a fuckin’ toy.”
Felling a thrill as Martinez handed him a burnished, brown leather holster wrapped within a web belt containing a U.S. Army issue Colt .45, automatic pistol. “Yeah, Sarge. Thanks.”
Going to his cot, pulling the flap open, he removed the pistol. Even though there was no clip in the handle, pointing it downward nonetheless, he pulled the slide to be sure there wasn’t a round in the chamber, then let it slide forward with a sharp, metallic sklickk. Hefting the gun in his hand, enjoying the weight and feel, “Hey, Sarge,” he asked. “When we gonna get the mortar?”
“Them weapons’ll be issued you guys in the field, an’ you’ll get your indoctrination on ’em then, too… Now listen up!” addressing the entire barracks. “You fuckers got about an hour till lights out, so I suggest you field-strip them M1s an’ make sure they’ll pass inspection tomorrow mornin’.”
Going to his partitioned quarters at the far end of the barracks, “Oh, yeah,” turning about, smiling evilly, “almost forgot.” Martinez said, “You guys that ain’t done it yet, better check tomorrow’s duty roster before lights out.” Stepping inside, closing the door behind him, he immediately heard the rush of feet as fifty men rushed to the bulletin board and, within seconds, as each man found his name, the groans from those assigned work details: KP, guard and field-latrine duties for tomorrow, for their first full day at Camp McCoy.
“Sarge,” knocking on the door, “it’s Lipensky’n’Parminter.”
“Yeah, what’d’ya want?” He knew what they wanted.
“Sarge, what do we do?”
“’Bout tomorrow’s work detail.”
“Go to bed!”
“Go to bed?”
“Yeah! That’s what I fuckin’ said. Get in the fuckin’ sack!”
Wearing only U.S. Army-issue skivvies, Mitchell lay with the blanket covering to his waist. His hands crossed beneath his head, waiting, he stared at the ceiling…
Waiting… Waiting… It started.
The sad, melodic sound of the bugle wafted throughout the camp. Hanging on air, it seemed to echo as a second bugle, at the far end of the sprawling compound, began a scant second after the first.
He remembered, and this sad, sweet, all but forgotten memory of his childhood returned. Closing his eyes, thinking, When I open my eyes I’ll be nine years old, and at Baylor.
Day is done.
Gone the sun.
From the lake, from the hills, from the sky.
Mitchell opened his eyes. But he was not nine years old, nor was he at Baylor Military School.
He looked to the right and looked to the left.
In the vague, muted moonlight he saw the two rows of cots and heard the breathing and rustling of fifty men…
He closed his eyes again….