While DH was in Basic I checked his e-mail for him. So many of our friends wrote with their well-wishes to both him and to me and I really appreciated that!
I was also very busy working for a demanding suburban NY high school. I had agreed to take the AP Art History course which had been floundering. Enrollment was low and so were the scores. The school had switched the course from teacher to teacher within the art department. Although many of the previous instructors were skilled teachers and knowledgeable in their fields, they just didn’t see enough of the school’s students and have enough experience with academic instruction to breathe some life into the course. Lack of administrative support probably played a role, as well.
I had only an amateur’s interest in the subject but really enjoyed preparing for the class. I also took another art history course and the local community college and that added to my busy schedule.
Back to school night was very gratifying… I wished I could have rushed home and shared the success with DH. Of course, I wrote him a letter but it was not quite the same. Knowing that our grandmothers had dealt with much longer and more silent periods of separation in WWII made me more determined to remain strong. Still, this was one of the most difficult things about DH’s absence. In just two short years, our discussions of highlights and disappointments had quickly turned into each day’s highlight.
Meanwhile, DH sent me a letter everyday from Basic at Ft. Benning and called most Sundays for about 10 minutes. Although he missed his friends and family, he seemed very happy with his decision.
After being inoculated against various diseases at reception battalion, DH was eventually shipped “down range” for basic training. The first stage of the training was called “total control.” This meant that they canÃ?’t even walk across the middle of the barracks or sit on their beds during the day.
Every morning at 3:30, they rose to clean the barracks and then go for PT, which DH described as a “maelstrom” of 220 recruits jumping around. Immediately after wolfing down every meal, they also went for more PT. In addition to scheduled PT, the drill sergeants would frequently give the order “beat your face” (do push-ups) for corrective PT.
Throughout training, they took PT tests to make sure they qualify to graduate and, in some cases, to go on to Officer Candidate School. DH was in excellent shape before he left and was racking up ridiculously high numbers. However, being required to shout while doing push-ups greatly reduces your numbers. Despite the hurdles, DH still acquitted himself very well and improved every day.
One of the biggest stressed during basic training was the sleep deprivation. What little time they are given to restwass often interrupted with “fire guard” duty in the middle of the night/early morning.
Between the close quarters and lack of sleep, common viruses spread quickly. Like a toddler entering elementary school, DH suffered through pinkeye and various coughs and colds. One barracks mate fell ill with chest pains and began to go into convulsions, bleeding out of an ear. DH, ever the Eagle Scout, treated him for shock. As they carried him off, the battalion thought the sufferer was out of training for good but it turns out he only had a bad ear infection.
The only real privation for DH was the lack of reading material. Mail was his only permitted reading material besides his training manual and the Bible. I assume (hope) that the Torah, the Koran, and other holy texts are available, if requested!
So, even though he had to do 25 push-ups per letter received, DH requested that everyone send letters. After one trainee received 19 letters in one day, the men worked out some sort of stock exchange of push-ups.
Once again, however, DH warned us not to put anything else in the envelope. One man’s girlfriend sent him a pink thong and the guy had to wear it on his head during mail call!
DH’s battalion was quite the diverse crew. Eighteen year-olds who participated in high school junior ROTC, or “just want to blow things up,” worked side by side with college and post-college graduates, men in their 30s who haven’t had much luck in their lives, and one poor guy whose wife convinced him to join the army and then immediately left him. This apparently made for interesting conversation on topics like evolution.