On the road…again!
Afghanistan to Zambia
Chronicles of a Footloose Forester
By Dick Pellek
Those Untold Secrets
Every month Legacy Stories encourages members to submit entries and thus keep their creative juices flowing. Management inspired suggestions come in the form of posted story prompts in the banner section of the website, a clear attempt to stimulate the transition from raw ideas into member stories that will be widely enjoyed. The problem, it would seem, is more than getting readable, lively stories from the wide membership who already has an expressed strong interest in writing for public consumption. The choice of story prompts, however; stimulates either appeal or aversion. When it comes to telling our secrets, everyone without exception is subconsciously averse to the idea. It that were not true, they would not be kept as secrets for as long as they are.
In our desire to protect our innermost selves, especially our id and egos, we quickly decide to keep as secret some of the events in our lives that personally did not measure up to our expectations, or about which we are somewhat ashamed. There is probably not a person alive who can forget a few shameful and personal things in their lives; and such memories very often become secrets that we harbor for years. It is precisely because personal secrets are so often laden with guilt and shame that the topic of secrets draws such a lukewarm response as a story prompt, in my humble opinion.
Having now lectured the reading and writing membership of Legacy Stories, the Footloose Forester must also confess that he is just as eager as the next person to read something juicy about someone else’s dark past. Call it his quasi-prurient interest in the imperfections of others, to better rationalize his own blemishes. But his secrets of a sinful and guilty nature will remain as secret, if for no other reason than to protect the dignity of others; and to continue the psyche healing process that is part of a healthy striving for a positive self-image.
So, what is the point if now sharing a secret contradicts his own views about the overall unwillingness of people to open up—in print, about things they have purposely kept hidden for years? To the Footloose Forester, it is a challenge to respond openly to a call for candor that requires exposing and examining an issue or two that he was never before willing to confront in the virtual presence of others.
We can be honest with ourselves, but we should think twice before we divulge secrets that could needlessly harm others. On the other hand, our capacity for self-deceit seems to be limitless, based on the known cases where important truths have been exposed in the world press. Having said that, there is an old secret that the Footloose Forester would now like to share. It is a secret of someone else’s making, but after more than 50 years, it is unlikely that anyone now cares.
When he was a draftee in the US Army in the mid-1960s, the Footloose Forester was coddled as a Golden Boy in Charlie Company of our basic training battalion. As a new arrival in the ever changing basic training routine at Fort Ord, California, he was spotted early as a prospect to be groomed in the upcoming competition for Soldier of the Cycle. That honor eventually goes to the outstanding soldier among the 300 or so in each company of the batallion that completes basic training during each and every training cycle.
The Footloose Forester was a quiet but competent trainee who excelled at the military discipline and training regimen: the marching, the drills, the exercise sessions, the physical challenges, the squad tactics, and competence in marksmanship with our M-1 Garand rifle. We were also required to learn about military justice, rank and priviledges, and military protocol. At the end of the training cycle we were tested on what we had learned; and the Soldier of the Cycle was that individual whose cumulative score was the highest for all of the categories.
A soldier training with an M-1 Garand rifle in 1942
Every platoon sergeant from among our training cadre was expected to produce a candidate for Soldier of the Cycle, thus a friendly competition among them amounted to grooming likely Privates and then keeping score on their respective Golden Boys as they came up. The points accumulated in the candidacy game accrued daily as the weeks went by, with the ebb and flow of support buffered by such things as performance in the latest tests, attitude, and standards of personal hygiene. To help improve his chances as the chosen Golden Boy by our own Sergeant Miles, the Footloose Forester was chosen as Platoon Guide-On, giving him the temporary rank of acting Corporal.
He had the unenviable task of making up the duty roster for special details designated for those who screwed up. Whenever a special detail was called for, he was asked to name one or two of the most recent screw-up soldiers in our platoon. For example, scraping off frozen wads of spit from the company street was the most dreaded call, and the most dim-witted among us seemed to keep their place in line as the candidates for such dirty details. We grunts called that dirty detail unit -- the dud patrol. A dud, of course, is an explosive that fails to fire.
The Footloose Forester won the Soldier of the Cycle competition, based on his cumulative score. As he recalls, he came in third in physical fitness. The forgone winner in physical conditioning was going to be body-builder Hank Lomax; and Alpha male Reggie Rucker came in second. But a third place finish gave Footloose Forester a lot of points in the competition in which he had absolutely no interest. He was merely doing the things he had always done, in the manner that suited himself. Give it your best, and be satisfied that you made an honest effort--that was one of his personal mottos.
Now, down to the hanky-panky that carried the day, and the secret about which the Footloose Forester is not proud. A high ranking in marksmanship garnered a lot a points and a lot of respect in military circles. To earn our marksmanship ranking, we had daylight rifle practice firing at close and distant targets; night firing; and rifle drills to boost competence with our rifles in the prone position, the kneeling position; and the off-hand position. Our .30 caliber M-I Garand was our own personal weapon and we were expected to keep it clean, sight it in for our own eyes, and above all; to respect what it could do if we aimed it properly. Once it was properly sighted in, even diffident soldiers felt confident that they could hit their targets. The problem was, during the last days of competition on the rifle range, we all had to use someone else’s rifles.
None of us was happy about using some strange rifle in the competition line for scoring targets in the prone position; then moving on to the second firing position, to fire another clip of eight rounds in the kneeling position, but with a different rifle; and finally moving down the line to pick up a third rifle and fire a full clip in the standing, or off-hand position. When the scores for the required minimum 40 rounds were added up, the Footloose Forester had a score that was lower than he expected of himself, and one that might negatively impact his overall standing as potential Soldier of the Cycle. That is where and when somebody passed the word along about the Golden Boy of Charlie Company, and how it would look better if his score was higher. Although it was never divulged and never discussed afterward, his targets were probably re-scored on the spot and the results were sent forward. Footloose Forester could only stand there and wonder what was going on. To this day, however; the official military record shows that the Footloose Forester qualified in Fort Ord as an Expert (Marksman).