WW II Memoirs -- Chapter 1
Drafted Without Any Recourse
During the summer of 1941 our entry into World War II loomed as a threat, but our country wasn't involved in the shooting. That, however, didn't keep the draft board from yanking me right out of college. In spite of my good grades in school, they refused to allow me to complete my quest for a degree in chemistry. My education seemed more important to me. It meant little to the draft board. They needed warm bodies and I qualified. They also managed to pick my number out of a hat -- or whatever method they used to pick victims.
I goofed. I signed up with the wrong draft board. I called East Los Angeles my home but I was going to school at the University of California in Berkeley. I figured that the choice of Los Angeles gave me the highest probability of getting deferred since that area had few of us self-proclaimed geniuses. I thought that Berkeley, the site of the University of California, had many equally talented souls. I made a bad gamble.
The Berkeley draft board must have been loaded with college professors who valued advanced education. Once I had been drafted, I heard that the Berkeley Draft Board not only favored students wanting deferments, but it even encouraged them to go on to graduate school and avoid the draft as long as they could.
On the other hand, the East Los Angeles Draft Board had a different slant on education. According to unfounded rumors, not one of their members ever finished the third grade in school. As a consequence, they figured that college kids didn't need more than three years of book learning.
Besides, there were thousands upon thousands of aircraft workers in the Los Angeles area. The draft board assumed that our country needed airplanes much more than they needed students like me. They deemed it time for me to give up my books and enter that advanced educational program called "the school of hard knocks."
Believe it or not, they might have done me a favor. If I had avoided the draft for another four years, I could have become one of the poor souls cast into the breach during the Battle of the Bulge. Many students were thrown into that fracas with little or no training.
The first lesson that the school of hard knocks tried to teach me was "no matter how tempting the bait, never volunteer for nothing, nowhere and no-how. Being a brash college kid, however, I chose to ignore that wee bit of wisdom. Eventually, that turned out to be a wise move.
My father agreed with his friends on the draft board. When my grace period ended, he proudly drove me to the fog-shrouded grounds of Fort Mac Arthur, an old army base near the San Pedro harbor. It was an unappealing stopover, close to a center of petroleum stench, bilge water discharge, and periodic visitations from the rats of the wharves. I wasn't impressed.
At Fort Mac Arthur I started to observe the weather around me. Being situated on the coast, dense fog obscured the sun until around ten and rolled back in around sundown.
In that environment, our olive drab uniforms came in handy -- most of the time. By the way, the rapid influx of draftees resulted in the Quartermaster Corps being unable to stock an adequate supply of khakis. To compensate, they did issue fatigues. Based on this observation, we assumed that we'd spend most of our time on work details and would have little need for fresh, starched khaki uniforms.
Fort Mac Arthur proved out to be a perfect spot for army training -- especially for those who chose to be cooks. I considered asking to be trained as a chef but I never landed on the KP roster so I missed the opportunity for making a niche for myself in that specialty.
Besides, I wasn't cut out to work in the kitchen. I had malocclusion. That shortcoming kept me out since I couldn't be trusted to field-test their hardtack.
What was army food like? I loved it. However, they provided so much variety that I often slopped too much chow on my stainless-steel tray. That turned out as a hazardous venture since the army lived by the rule, "serve yourself as much as you want but never leave anything edible on your tray."
I tried to comply. That, however, created another big problem. I wasn't accustomed to variety. My parents fed me a diet of meat and potatoes. My dad grew up on a farm in Pennsylvania and always insisted on food that "stuck to his ribs." Ground round steak and mashed potatoes fit his requirements quite well.
Although my mother held down a full time job at the Hall of Records in Los Angeles, she also did most of the cooking. Her menu invariably included meat and potatoes. That usually meant hamburger. When mom became tired of ground meat, she fed us hard-to-chew round steak. That's where my malocclusion kicked in. It took me so long to chew up those tough cuts of meat that I often missed out on dessert. I still prefer hamburger paddies over rubbery round steak.
Yes, we did have dessert at home. It usually arrived in the form of canned fruit, which was easy to prepare and not difficult to chew.
Why didn't I get my teeth fixed? Simple. I grew up during the depression -- a period when money was hard to come by. When it was time for college I was given the choice between going to the local city college and getting my teeth fixed. College turned out to be a good choice. I still have most of my teeth and I also possess two college degrees.