This Memorial Day we’ll again recall members of our Armed Forces who died in our wars. I’ll also remember some Korean War veterans whose fate I don’t know, but often wonder about. They and I were in the same basic training company in 1951 at Fort Dix, N.J.
I don’t know if they survived Korea or not. Their chances didn’t look good when I last saw them. That was the day after we finished 14 weeks of confused and disorganized infantry basic training. We stood in our company area being told where we’d go next.
The company clerk called our names and announced our orders. I was to go for further training. But many of my fellow trainees got orders to the Far East Command. That probably meant Korea and combat. They got seven days' leave on route to the war zone.
But we hadn’t received proper training. For example, our days on the range firing our M-1 rifles were mixed up and muddled. Some of us fired less often than others.
And our scores weren’t recorded. I know that because, on that last day when our new assignments were announced, we were first herded through the company day room. A sergeant sitting at a pool table asked each of us, “What was your score on the KD (known distance) range?”
We had no idea. We just gave random numbers like 200. He wrote them down. During the Korean War, the M-1 rifle was the infantryman’s basic weapon, and we were shortchanged in our M-1 training.
I also remember a night when our company officers blatantly skipped some scheduled training.
We were trucked to a remote area for night-combat training. But we just sat around in the dark. After awhile they ordered us to bury the cases of the blank ammunition we would have used.
When I arrived at Fort Dix they didn’t have my sizes in overcoats and combat boots. Our company supply sergeant was supposed to get them for me later, but never did. So I wore my civilian leather jacket with a fur collar until the weather warmed up. I also finally went to the PX and bought myself two pair of boots.
A year later I was sent to Camp Roberts to help train new recruits and draftees. What I found was exactly opposite of my Fort Dix experience. At Roberts the training was done according to the book or even better than the book.
Camp Roberts had a major general and a brigadier general. They and their operations officer set high standards for the camp’s trainers and frequently checked on us. I’m convinced that trainees sent to Korea from Camp Roberts were less likely to get themselves killed or to endanger their comrades.