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Henry L. Lefevre

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Homesick in Hell
By Henry L. Lefevre
Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Rated "G" by the Author.

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Fort Leonard could make any army draftee home sick.


Fort Leonard Wood was the pits. It vainly tried to turn me into the Rambo version of a combat engineer. Fat chance. I was a dedicated, theoretical nerd -- slide rule and all. I had no mechanical skills. I could juggle test tube as well as most would-be chemists, but I couldn't even change the spark plugs in my brother's Model A Ford.



That was the army during prewar 1941. Perhaps things have improved, now that the draft has been stopped. However, I wouldn't want to take any big bets on it.

Fort Leonard Wood provided basic training for combat engineers during 1941.  According to rumor, the combat engineers go ahead of the infantry. They build rickety, wobbly bridges to cross raging rivers while fighting off any advance enemy troops that get in their way. Glory be. I'm allergic to bullets.

On the other hand, my time at Fort Wood wasn't a complete loss to the army. They were able to teach me their manual-of-arms, how to bounce a dime off a properly made bed, and how to scrub the barracks floor on my hands and knees. Come to think of it, they also taught me how to evade sunburn, heat rash, and the average squad corporal.

As you might have guessed, Fort Wood was the first army confinement impressed on me by my ever-loving draft board. For any members of that draft board still alive, I'd like to inform them that Fort Wood it is located in the most forsaken part of Missouri. Even the skunks stay clear of that spot. I'm sure that not one of my draft board had ever checked it out on their maps.

When I first arrived at Fort Leonard Wood, it had a marvelous record. According to rumor, a greater number of officers committed suicide while there than committed that act at any other known American base -- including Alaska. I personally believe that the main reason for all of those self-imposed fatalities was that the officers were charged with training so many mechanically challenged, dumbos like me.

While fighting to survive that luxurious post, I had to live in a hot, olive drab uniform for twenty-four hours a day -- except for my few allotted hours of slumber. Summer uniforms and fatigues were being saved for those advanced troops who had proved themselves fit enough to survive basic training.

My fellow recruits and I landed on that forsaken piece of government real estate during one of the blistering hot spells endemic in that area during the month of July. In typical army mismanagement fashion, they had unceremoniously ushered us out of Fort McArthur, California, packed into a rickety, rattling troop train, and shipped off to that hell-spot of Missouri dressed in our itchy-scratchy winter OD uniforms.

The first thing I learned at Fort Leonard Wood was to stock up on ultra powerful deodorant. Neither the army nor the PX stocked any stench suppressant so we had to buy our own out of the eighteen dollar per month salary the army so generously provided. That was my number one necessity, purchased on the first day that I was given a six-hour pass.

The army should have furnished deodorant but they didn't. In fact, I never saw the military version of a deodorant container, dispenser, or spray bottle during my four and a half years in the army -- and that included frequent visits to our local supply depot and the Post Exchange. Modern military now refer that base oasis as the BX or Base Exchange. Different name. Same oasis.

According to rumor, the chemical corps monopolized the only deodorant stocked by the armed forces. The wise guys claimed that the more the troops lounged in their battleground trenches, the easier it was to keep the enemy at bay. They claimed that the aroma that emanated from the sweaty GIs resembled the scent of poisonous gas. The objective was to keep the enemy guessing.

The summers at Fort Leonard Wood resembled Panama during the dry season. The heat boiled my blood and the humidity ensured that I had enough sweat in my eyes that my attempts to qualify on the rifle range became an impossible challenge. Few of us made the grade during our first day on the rifle range. Those who qualified at all were automatically upgraded to sharpshooter. The brass ultimately made allowance for the abnormal environment that we had to endure. We swam in our sweat.

When the Quartermaster finally came through with cool khakis, many men insisted on wearing these light uniforms every day of the week. They left their hot ODs and fatigues packed away in their footlockers.

By late September, the heat slacked off. Never in my life have I been so happy to see the approach of winter. That gave me hope that even Hell might be blessed with seasonal changes.

Henry L. Lefevre

Author of "A Spoonful of Humor."
 

       Web Site: Goose Droppings

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Reviewed by Michael Guy 10/17/2007
Pretty well written: of course, deoderant should be a no issue item for any soldier in training headed for combat. Big MO summers sound bad but just imagine if you had been stationed in Georgia or Florida, you would have had the humidity and bugs too! And at least you had the Sunday socials!
best, Mike
Reviewed by Cynthia Borris 10/12/2007
Hank,

Seasons in Hell in Fort Wood, Missouri sound absolutely like a no on my travel agenda!

Cynthia

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