Yes Sir

by Lee S. Wilbur

“WILBUR, WILL YOU STOP DOING THE “MASHED POTATOES” AND LEARN TO MARCH. WHEN I SAY LEFT I MEAN LEFT FOOT FORWARD” (Staff Sergeant Roy Beardsley: Fort Dix, New Jersey United States Army, Basic Training Center, February 1963)

“Here you go, son, this is your bus ticket to New York City, this is money for the cross town subway, and food, and this is your ticket for Ft. Dix. Remember, you are now a private in the US Army and you are under orders.” 19 years old and a new direction. All I had to do was find my way across New York City and get to FT. Dix by midnight that night. Me Nervous. Darn right. For nine weeks, just about every decision about me would be made for me by someone else, And there were no “whys” no “what ifs” like I’d always managed. It was the Army's way, the only way.

A few days ago I came across a small pocket notebook with army insignia on the cover. I’d completely forgotten about it. My notebook from Basic Training. First entry, “31 Feb.63”, was brief as all were.” Took most of the day to sign in. 6:55 left Bangor for Boston-then N.Y. Arrived Ft. Dix 12:00 PM. Pre-processed and in sack 3 AM. up 5 AM.”

Time to find a new direction. After doing an extra year of post-grad high school, then a “couldn’t get any closer to complete failing grades semester” at U. of Me. where I quick learned Forestry was not the outdoor dream scenario I’d concocted and finding a late night telephone pole with Dad the Doctor's old Jeep station wagon, I realized I was on the wrong subway. And, in the “60’s” with the “draft” in full swing (Vietnam just heating up) there were four choices. Head for Canada, get married and have kids immediately — neither an option, be drafted, or enlist and try to pick a meaningful job. I chose the latter and was soon promised by an enlistment sergeant my position would probably be in an embassy wearing civilian clothes as part of the Army Security Agency. First Important Lesson of the new trail. “Always get a promise in writing and never believe anything an enlistment officer tells you.”

Out of the sack at 4:30AM, wash-up, make your cot so tight the Sgt. could bounce a quarter on it. Fall in for inspection by 5AM. Running and exercise till 6. Clean the Barracks till 7. Fallout for inspection then breakfast. Had 30 minutes, but that included standing in the chow line so were lucky to have 5 minutes to bolt it down. From then on it was non-stop training classes, more field training and exercises, pushups, always pushups for any infractions, “Get down and give me twenty, troop”. Always scared I’d screw-up. Lines, always standing in lines. Lineup for chow, lineup to go somewhere, lineup for the PX, stand in line for laundry, always lines. “What’s your serial number, troop?” I can spit it out instantly today (RA114.....). Boring guard duty, KP from 3:30AM till 9 at night. Always rumors floating around, 20 -mile hikes, never happened, wacko infirmary shots in private areas, also smoke. About midway through I pulled a bit of luck and drew an assignment as troop truck driver. My training as an “Ultimate Weapon” was shortchanged overnight. No more KP, bivouacs, long marches, fewer parade ground “left right lefts”. Nine weeks and a “diploma”. Done. Made it. Worst was over. Can still recall the pride. The feeling of accomplishment as we boarded the bus for a week of leave before the “finishing schools”. I was now part of something larger than my own self. A huge team. I had not only completed Basic Training, but I had learned discipline, an important factor in anyone’s life. Had learned as well, if everything's looking down, “hang in, brighter day is coming.”

With schooling to be a teletype and radio intercept operator monitoring the Russian Army completed, I was shipped out. Small town boy goes to Europe, and a converted ex- Luftwaffe base in Bavaria, Germany nicknamed “the country club”. Had it’s own golf course built by some previous base commander in the antenna field. Fantastic duty. Still the army, Russian monolith not much more than a day's drive away, but that was somewhere up the road. Here in Bavaria, just 40 km (25 miles) to Munich was the home of some of the best beer breweries in the world, home of “bierfests”, pretty girls, gorgeous mountains with terrific skiing, a few days driving and you were in any country in Europe you’d ever dreamed of, work schedules allowing for plenty of free time. Pay was $50/mo. With $5/mo. extra for overseas duty. Appreciated but never understood the extra pay, beer was only 15 cents a pint. And, if you owned a vehicle, cigarettes, peanut butter, detergent, Listerine, a whole list of items could be smuggled across the borders, especially Austria which was a short drive away, and sold for several times purchase price. What Cold War? This was a slice of paradise.

Two years, 9 months, 15 days and mustered out in New York. Married, walking tall, done my duty, learned respect for myself, my army buddies, and most especially for my country. (still choke up at the National Anthem). Traveling around Europe we could take great pride in what our fathers and mothers had accomplished just a few years previous. We were proud to be AN AMERICAN. Next year I was back in college on the GI Bill. The new trail worked. Happy to say it was one of the best experiences of my entire life. And, I would still recommend it to anyone. For those who appreciate this great country it’s a giveback.

I pulled this out of my hat the other night for a “romantic evening” because we had seen the Sun that afternoon after what seemed like weeks of rain. I’m calling it “Poor Man’s Schnitzel Steak And Brandy Sauce” It was quite successful.

• R E C I P E •


2 half inch Top Sirloin steaks pounded thin and cut into manageable pieces, about 1/2 lb.

Can of evaporated milk (or equivalent cream)

2 handfulls of mushrooms sliced

Half sweet onion sliced thin

Butter and reg. Olive oil

Brandy, 2-3 ozs. Or a small “airtravel” sampler

Place the meat between two pieces of wax paper and pound thin. The meat will just about double in size. I take a large butcher knife, holding the blade sideways and pound with the handle. Use only a bit of oil and saute the mushrooms until they are somewhat crispy, then set aside. Saute the onions with low heat to carmelize. Set aside and add a bit more oil and butter and fry the steak until just done. Remove, immediately put in the brandy, let it try down till the pan still has a bit left, pour in a good half can or more of the Eva milk and reduce by two/thirds scraping the pan with a small spatchelder occasionally. Then replace the mushrooms, onions and steaks, stir into and cover with the sauce. Don't forget the candles!!

Fair winds and Good roads.