After the full day of poking, prodding and testing, they put us on a bus and delivered us to the Broad Street train station where only then did they give us our official orders and destination. We were bound for Trenton, NJ, which meant our training post would be Fort Dix. We had about three hours to wait for the train and we finally boarded about nine that night. All of us were exhausted but there was no sleeping to be had. Some cards and other games were played as well as idle chit chat filling the air through the night until we rolled into Trenton around six a.m. A drill sergeant in his Smoky Bear hat entered the car, told us politely to exit quickly and once we stepped on the platform the politeness was over.
The bus ride to Fort Dix was memorable by the choice words used in our face when the now full training squad of five drill sergeants worked the bus. If you looked at them, they screamed at you and if you didn't look at them, they claimed you weren't paying attention so there was no way to win. It didn't take me long to realize the best thing I could do was just shut up and respond when called, otherwise try to blend in with the bus seat.
They herded us off the bus and we walked into an area called the reception station. It's where new trainees waited until the unit assignment was ready, for the barracks were full at all times during the Vietnam War and things were chaotic. We were stuck in our civilian clothes until the assignment was made, yet they screamed, drilled us and made us march to nowhere endlessly in the hot late September sun. When the sun went down and we realized the assignment still wasn't ready, we slept on cots with no bedding in our now raunchy clothes. They did, however, give us about five minutes to eat a meal of slop called stew and then, first thing the next morning we were awakened to a similar meal, this time made of powdered eggs.
Next, it was off to the barber where they destroyed our dignity and our last semblance of civilian life and then, only then, were we finally sent to the quartermaster for uniform and accessory issue. One size fits all was basically the idea, but finally they realized that some size adjustments had to be made. And then, after finally getting a shower and donning our new olive green attire, it was off to more testing. Last stop in the afternoon was the post office, where we were given a box and told to put all of our civilian clothes in it, seal it and address where to send it. I think it would have been more appropriate to burn the clothes but, no, that wasn't in their procedural guide. I couldn't imagine what my family thought when they opened that box.
Now six in the evening, they marched us down a road with no indication of where we were going. We went through woods and then turned around a bend and there in front of us were rows and rows of World War II vintage Army barracks. A young Army Captain walked out with two sergeants to tell us this was our new home for eight weeks. They gave us twenty minutes to unpack our gear in our assigned bunk area and reassemble for chow call. At least this meal was the first one I could recognize and as hungry as we were we would have eaten leather. Afterward, we were told we were restricted to barracks until told otherwise and to make our bunks Army style, but no instructions were given.
In the morning, our made bunks were inspected, we all failed and then training started. We ran everywhere, never had time to think and did what we were told if we knew what was good for us. But somehow over the next eight weeks we built a camaraderie of teamwork which turned a rag tag bunch of civilians into young soldiers ready to learn more and serve. Whoever the psychologists are who set these plans up knew what they were doing.
I'll probably write more at a later time about other times during my eight years of active service, but I will say this right now. The Army taught rules, it taught consequences of not following those rules and it developed discipline and I know it was good for all of us. Somehow I think today our society needs some kind of mechanism like this for all young people. When you try to live your life with a "if it feels good, do it" point of view, sooner or later you will falter big time. And this much I know: none of us ever needed a safe room for we figured out what you needed to do to survive and we all accomplished it.