When Don Floyd was coaching in Charleston I tried my best to do everything he asked me to do whether it was running laps around the football field or crashing into players that outweighed me by 100 pounds. So it was not surprising that when he asked me to join the National Guard I said, “Yes, sir.”
In 1953 he recruited almost every boy in my class to play football on the newly formed Junior High team and then in 1956 he recruited most of us to join the Army National Guard. He was our commander and Paul Whittington was one of our officers. Charles Clem was the permanent duty person – he had a full time job managing the affairs of the Company. My classmates who signed up when I did were Jerry Barton, Mack Chastain, Johnny Donberger, Charles Jetton, Charles Mainard, George Morgan, Bruce McFerran, Ruble Tusing, Jim Tom Weir, and Bob White. (I apologize if there are errors in this list.) In fact, Coach Floyd convinced me to join the Guard slightly ahead of time.
When school began in August of 1956, I was 15 years old. On October 24 I turned 16, which was still not old enough to enlist. I knew how to solve that problem. I lied. I said I was 17, got written permission from my parents to join and suddenly I was a private in the Arkansas National Guard. At that time new recruits didn’t have to serve any active duty. We had only to attend a two week summer camp, usually at Ft. Chaffee, and periodic local meetings. High school went on for me as usual.
The outfit was an ambulance company. Our vehicles bore no resemblance to modern ambulances. They looked exactly like World War II jeeps, except that they were slightly larger. They were convertibles. There were no doors, no sides and no top except for fabric that could be attached when needed. (Needless to say there were no seat belts or air bags. In an accident they would have been a little safer than a motorcycle, but not by much.) The vehicles were intended to carry two patients on stretchers, but the stretchers protruded out the back as the ambulance was not long enough for a stretcher to fit inside.
One of the things we did was to practice driving around in convoys, a dozen or so ambulances driving down the road trying to maintain a proscribed distance between successive vehicles. We were awful at it. We had at least two problems. The engines were almost powerless; when you put the accelerator on the floor the vehicle would ease forward in no particular hurry. Also, the brakes were practically worthless. The vehicles were in storage almost the entire year. We got them on special occasions, such as for our two week summer camp. My understanding was that while in storage the brake pads turned, more or less, to stone. When I tried to stop my ambulance I put my foot on the brake pedal in the way I did with our family car. (I had been driving since I was 12.) Nothing much happened; it would begin slowing almost imperceptibly. I would then put both feet on the brake pedal and push so hard that my behind rose up off of the seat. That would cause the ambulance to slow at a moderate pace. Stopping in an emergency situation would have been impossible.
One of my earliest Guard memories is of an outing we took to a remote area somewhere near Cecil. We drove down a rutted lane to our encampment on a sparsely wooded piece of land – no facilities, no toilets, no tables, just trees. At lunch time our “chef” burned something in a giant pan approximately two feet square. The bottom of the pan was about an eighth of an inch deep in charred something or other.
I got my first experience of KP – kitchen police. Two of us – I think it was Jerry Barton and I – were assigned to clean that burned-on stuff off of that giant pan. Not far from our encampment there was a sandbar along a small creek bed. Captain Floyd told us to clean the pan using the sand from that sand bar: no soap – just sand and a little water. He left us to our work and we – dutiful privates that we were - set about the task. We did a first rate job of it. We got the gunk off of that pan and made it shine.
The highlight of the year in our Company was the once-a-year occurrence when the Inspector General (IG) came to assess our unit. It was the time when our boots were to be their shiniest, our fatigues were to be starched and ironed with perfect creases. We met in the old WPA built gymnasium - now the beautiful library. We stood at attention on the gym floor for a long time as the IG walked along our ranks looking carefully at each of us. Standing at attention meant that you stood with your stomach held in, your chest poked out, your hands held stiffly at your side and your eyes focused straight ahead. The IG moved along the line stopping at each of us to assess our appearance. He would occasionally ask a question of the soldier he was inspecting.
In preparation for the IG visit we went over and over certain facts that we ambulance drivers were supposed to know about patient care. One question to which we had learned the answer was this: When should you NOT give morphine to a patient? We had been repeatedly told the answer to the question. It was a list of four or five things. I now remember none of them. When the IG looked me over, to my great relief, he asked no questions. He moved next to my friend and classmate Felix (not his real name). After looking at Felix’s uniform he asked him a question. “When,” he said, “do you not give morphine to a patient?” Felix confidently stated the first three or four items on the list but then he got stuck. He knew there was one more correct answer. He struggled to recall what it was and as he struggled he began to sway from side to side, straining to remember. He was, to say the least, not remaining at attention. The IG, after waiting a suitable time, moved on to the next soldier, but then Felix thought he had the answer and he said, “Sir.” The IG looked surprised but returned to a position immediately in front of my friend. Felix said proudly, “When he is dead.” I struggled not to laugh.
Needless to say that was not on the list of approved answers.
The IG looked surprised but said nothing and moved on down the line.