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November 10, 2012

Funny military memories

Staff Report
The Daily Star

---- — Sunday is Veterans Day, a day we honor those who have served our country. We most often thank them for all they have done to protect our freedoms, but we also appreciate some of the funny stories that came out of that service to the nation. We asked our readers to share their stories, and the following tales are what they told:

I was drafted by President Roosevelt on Oct. 28, 1942, by invitation — actually it was a threat. Jail time if you didn’t respond. We went to the induction center at Utica for a physical. If you were warm, you qualified. 

After a short trip to Camp Upton in Long Island, we stayed overnight and then after a long and dusty trip by train we ended up in Camp Swift, Texas. We called it the “land that God forgot.” 

A few of us were put on guard duty that night and told to challenge all people on or near our posts. During the night, my buddy from Texas heard a noise and said, “Who goes there?” It happened to be the officer in charge of the guard. And he replied, “What are you going to do now?” and my buddy said, “I don’t know but don’t you move until I think of something.”

Richard W. Signor of Walton

I was in the 633 Military Police Co. at I Corps near Vijongbu, Korea. One day, we got a replacement who told us that he worked in a circus before he was drafted. Sometime later he said his job was giving demonstrations of eating razor blades. One day he gave a small group of us a demonstration. Our company commander heard about it and had him transferred. The captain said he didn’t want him to die in his company — it would make too much paperwork.

John Cowan of Hobart

I would like to tell you about a story that my brother Bill West told me. Bill graduated from Schenevus Central School and joined the U.S. Marines after school. He was sent to Parris Island. Arriving at night by bus, the new men were lined up in a long line. An officer walked down the line checking every man. After passing my brother, he backed up and looked straight into my brother’s eyes. He said to Bill, “What’s your name?” My brother told him it was Bill West. “Bill West, did I see you smiling?” My brother said, “yes.” “And Bill West, what’s so funny?” “You are wearing a funny hat!” “Oh, you think my hat is funny. Bill West, if I ever see you smiling again, I will pull every pearly white out of your mouth.” My brother told me, “I really believe he would have done it!”

Herb West of Jefferson

 It was a Saturday morning barracks inspection in Fort Monmouth, N.J., in the winter of 1943. The weather outside was frigid. Someone had mopped the steps leading to the entrance. I was a squad leader on the second floor. As the C.O. and first sergeant came up the steps, they slipped and fell through the door. From my vantage point at the head of the stairs I shouted ATTENTION! As I stepped back, my belt engaged a fire extinguisher hanging thereupon. It fell to the floor. Someone hasted to pick it up and in doing so activated the chemicals contained there in. He then started down the stairs to meet and greet the hapless inspectors. I am almost certain there was the sound of restrained laughter from my squad. Oddly enough, I do not recall that our barracks failed inspection or that we were restricted to quarters for the remainder of the weekend. Clearly the episode could have been a natural for Laurel and Hardy, the Three Stooges, or the Marx Brothers.

Another story took place in Saint Quentin on the Somme River in northeastern France. Our outfit was quartered in what had been a school building consisting of two floors of room of different sizes. 

The year was 1944 and all was quiet on the Western Front, some months prior to the German breakthrough in Belgium in December of that year. A company bulletin board featured a bold-faced directive from the C.O. which read: BLACK OUT REGULATIONS WILL BE STRICTLY ENFORCED! (Exceptions: Rooms Occupied by First Three Graders.) At that time, the highest ranking enlisted personnel were first sergeants, master sergeants and technical sergeants. Someone of lower rank had added a typewritten post script which read : “AND GOD SAID, LET THERE BE LIGHT IN THE FIRST THREE GRADER’S ROOMS.” My response at the time: Why didn’t I think of that?

D.R. Vosbergh, 91,

of Oneonta

@Body Copy Ragged:As a member of the 101st Airborne Division Band in the late 1950s we played many parades both on and off base at Fort Campbell, Ky. Gen. Maxwell Taylor, the chief of staff of the military, along with Division Commander William Westmoreland were serving as the reviewing officers of a full division review. At this type ceremony, the band stood in front of the reviewing stand and played marches continuously as the troops paraded by the reviewing stand and would last about 45 minutes to an hour. 

After about 30 minutes, the cymbal player, who in marches only had to “clang” the cymbals in the beat of the march, fell to the ground. I was directly behind him so broke ranks to help him. Thinking he had fainted, I asked him if he was OK. His comment: “I’m fine, Sergeant, I just fell asleep!” The C.O. came back and asked what happened. I told the C.O. he was just overheated and would be fine, and the band played on.

The division was a strategic division in the later 1950s and involved in constant field training exercises. On one exercise, five troopers were killed and about 140 injured in a parachute drop. I was a member of the Military Honor Guard United and at the ceremony played taps. Westmoreland came over to me after the ceremony and said “Sergeant, I’ve heard taps played all over the world. The way you played it today was marvelous and moved me deeply.” I was pleased. 

About three weeks later we were having an indoor training session. At these sessions instead of someone shouting “ATTENTION” to start the activity, a bugler would play a simple four-note bugle call. Westmorland and his aide were standing about five feet from me and the aid said. “OK, Sergeant, let’s get this show on the road. “ I proceeded to play the bugle call and MISSED two of the four notes. Westmorland looked over at me, smiled and said, “Sergeant, you sure as hell play taps better than that call,” and started down the aisle to the stage area. I was surprised he remembered me, and happy he had a sense of humor.

Richard Picolla

of Oneonta

@Body Copy Ragged:It was about 8 a.m., the sun was already coming up in the sky, and the crew of the USS Grasp, a salvage ship, was in Manila Bay in the Philippines getting ready for the job that had to be done this day. It was early 1946 and by now the war was over, but not our job. 

I was part of the crew of about 30 men, consisting of both officers and enlisted men. I was the radio operator aboard this ship. Manila Bay was full of sunken ships of all kinds and it was up to the U.S. Navy to clear these ships from the bay. Our job that day was to tow a wreck (that’s what they call the ships that are sunk in the bay) out to sea and to sink it again. Before long we were under way to the wreck that we had to tow out to sea. The Navy salvage crew had been working on this wreck for some time, and it was ready to be moved. They have to patch up the holes and pump out the water from the wreck so it can come up out of the water high enough to clear the bottom of the bay so it can be towed safely out to sea. 

The wreck that we had to tow that day was in about the middle of the bay. Once we got under way it did not take us long to get there. It was one of the biggest wrecks that we had had to tow so far. Myself and four other sailors were put on board the wreck. I was there because I was the radioman and was in charge of operations the portable radio that we used to keep in touch with the mothership. The rest of the men were there to secure the tow line to the wreck and to make sure that everything was in order for the towing. 

We were soon under way and things were going as planned. The mothership was slowly towing the wreck with us aboard. We were on our way out of the bay between Corregidor and Bataan out to the China Sea. All was going well for our four- to five-hour trip. 

About one hour into the trip, the wreck seemed to be creaking and groaning and seemed to be listing a little on the starboard side. It didn’t seem to bother us too much because that happens many times under these conditions. Later, about four hours into the trip, things really started to happen. The wreck was really creaking and leaning more to the starboard then we cared to have happening, so I got on my radio and called the mothership and told them what was happening and that we thought it would be best if they took us off the wreck. They told us not to worry about it because we were getting close to our destination and they would get us off the wreck before it sunk. That was good news because if they waited much longer we could just step off the wreck because we could almost touch the water by now. 

Oh, by the way, we threw the tow line over the side and they finally took us off the wreck in our small boat and before we got the mothership the wreck started to sink. Before we go on board the mother ship the wreck was probably on the bottom of the China Sea. 

Tony Mongillo

of Oneonta