Just as there are all kinds of people in the civilian sector, there are also many and varied types in the military field. However, I personally feel that in the days of the draft the military forces contained a broader and more diverse representation of the civilian population than today’s all volunteer force. One reason for this is that today the requirements for enlistment are considerably higher. Also, back in the old days, many white-collar, high society type people were drafted or forced to enlist who otherwise would have never been in the service. For a goodly number of them, that was a good thing, because some of those guys were used to a life of ease and plenty, little or no discipline at home and had never done a good day’s hard work.
I saw it many times in the early days of my military career. A spoiled rotten kid who was used to having his way was broken down and rebuilt into a completely different individual. It is amazing what a little enforced discipline can do. And on the other end of the social ladder, many a potential hoodlum and with two strikes against him was transformed by the military into a decent, honest citizen after being drafted.
There are categories of soldiers in the U.S. Army. The largest group is composed of enlisted personnel whose rank runs from private, E-1 to command sergeant major, E-9. The smallest group is the warrant officers, W-1 through W-5. Then there are the commissioned officers, from second lieutenant through five star general. Enlisted personnel are required to salute officers. They must salute warrant officers only once a day, but they must salute commissioned officers every time they meet them.
I always found it interesting to serve with a colonel who was recently promoted to general. They always went one of two ways, never staying the same. Generals wield awesome power and have incredible influence. Generals supposedly can walk on water and talk with God in person. Possessing such a vast amount of authority makes it easy to let it go to your head. Some generals become aloof, detached, even arrogant. Others become humble, even kind of meek in a nice way, and truly appreciate the many soldiers under their command who made it possible for him to attain his position.
A good friend of mine was a captain who served in Vietnam. He was a farm-raised boy form South Carolina who didn’t mind hard and dirty work. Trouble was, officers are not supposed to do hard and dirty work, but are supposed to supervise enlisted personnel doing hard and dirty work. Once, in Vietnam, he was helping the men with his unit unload a truck. A general was passing by and sharply reprimanded him for working among enlisted men. As soon as the general drove away, the captain got right back among the men working.
I once served with a colonel who liked to work alongside us enlisted personnel. One hot summer day at Fort Bragg, I was part of an advance detachment of 30 men clearing an area and setting up tents for the main body scheduled to arrive in three days.
The colonel was dragging half rotten long leaf pine logs out of the sand and piling them up to be burned later. Suddenly, he collapsed and almost stopped breathing. We put him in a jeep and sped to Womack Army Hospital. A couple of hours later, an Army doctor who was also a colonel came into the waiting room and said to me, “Sergeant, your commander has overdosed on drugs. His symptoms are shortness of breath, difficulty talking and incoherent.”
I went off on that doctor. I said that he was dead wrong and that he should get another doctor to examine him. After warning me to calm down, he left and came back later, saying that my commander had evidently been bitten by something poisonous. They discovered some type of venom caused identical symptoms as a drug overdose.
I went back to the area where we had been working and checked that pile of half-rotten logs that the Colonel was piling up to burn. I rolled over and there were several black widow spiders under it.
The saddest events that I ever attended and participated in were military funerals of fallen soldiers or deceased veterans. And through the years there were many. A military funeral is heart-wrenchingly sad, with the flag draped coffin, 21-gun firing, folding of the flag and presentation to the next of kin, and the playing of “Taps” by a bugler. The saddest of all is when there are two buglers, one out of sight and at a distance, playing one note behind the first bugler. It is an echo effect.
About three weeks ago, I walked into a restaurant in Montana. On the back wall was a display of military items, evidently from a man’s Army service. The items were very old, probably from World War I. In the middle of that display was a really old and tattered paper in a wooden frame. I looked closer and saw that it was an account of how “Taps” originated.
I asked the waitress if I could copy the lines from that old paper, and she readily said yes. For those who might have ever wonders how “Taps” originated, here it is:
Reportedly, it began in 1862 during the Was Between the States when Union Army Captain Robert Ellicombe was with his men near Harris’ Landing in Virginia. The Confederate Army was on the other side of the narrow strip of land.
During the night, Captain Ellicombe heard the moans of a soldier who lay severely wounded on the field. Not knowing if it was a Union or Confederate soldier, the captain decided to risk his life and bring the stricken man back for medical attention.
Crawling on his stomach through the gunfire, the captain reached the stricken soldier and began pulling him toward his encampment. When the captain finally reached his own lines, he discovered it was actually a Confederate soldier, but he soldier was dead.
The captain lit a lantern and suddenly caught his breath and went numb with shock. In the dim light he saw the face of the soldier. It was his own son.
The boy had been studying music in the South when the war broke out. Without telling his father, the boy enlisted in the Confederate Army.
The following morning, heartbroken, the father asked permission of his supervisors to give his son a full military burial, despite his enemy status.
His request was only partially granted. The captain had asked if he could have a group of Army band members play a funeral dirge for his son at the funeral. The request was turned down since the soldier was a Confederate, but out of respect for the father, they did say they could give him one musician.
The captain chose a bugler. He asked the bugler to play a series of musical notes he had found on a piece of paper in the pocket of the dead youth’s uniform. The wish was granted.
Here are the words to that haunting melody:
Day is done.
Gone the sun,
From the lakes, from the hills,
from the sky,
All is well.
God is nigh.
Dims the sight,
And a star, gems the night,
From afar, drawing nigh,
falls the night.
Thanks and praise,
For our days,
‘Neath the sun,’neath the
stars,’neath the sky.
As we go,
This we know,
God is nigh.