All In All, A Good Start

A Cold Day
Buck Privates All
Believe It Or Not
Bill And Me
Me, Walt, "Baby Joe"
Jean, El Paso, Feb '56

The Korean war was in full swing when I received the dreaded Western Union telegram. "Greetings" it began, "Your friends and neighbors have selected you to represent them in the armed forces of the United States Of America". Actually, the wire came while I was deer hunting at our camp in Brockway Pennsylvania, and the news was phoned to me by my mum. At least I had my own gun, and I was anxious to thank my "friends and neighbors".

I was the fourth in my family to serve. Larry was Army, Chuck was Navy, and Bob was Army Air Force, all during WW2. As ordered, I reported to the Pittsburgh post office on January 3, 1953, for my physical exam. Fortunately for me not them, I was joined by many of my real friends and high school buddies including Dave Merkel. We were stripped to our undershorts and lined up around the second floor balcony, while the Post Office patrons below viewed this spectacle through the open bannister. A medical corpsman worked his way along the moving line, inserting a needle into each right arm. We were instructed only to hold the test tube below the needle to be filled with blood. Now these young men were obedient, if not exceedingly bright. There were probably close to a hundred of us on that balcony, and before the corpsman had made it through the first ten or so, their test tubes were overflowing. Many of us pinched off the flow, but a good many pints painted a red river around that circle.

A tented area was set up in one large room for the hearing test. We lined up outside the opening, and one at a time were called into the room to a single chair in the front. The "doctor" then whispered "sit down please", which I dutifully did. He then whispered "get up please", and again I complied. "Now get out" was the final phase of the hearing test. Talk about efficiency! The rest of the exam went routinely. "Bend over and spread your cheeks". "Turn your head and cough". Why, I didn't even know these guys! And as Groucho once said "where he groped me, I had to cough"! As far as I know, noone failed that day, and we all took the mandatory one-step-forward to accept our recruitment into this man's Army.

Two weeks later, we were on a slow train to the Ft. Meade Maryland Induction Center. Over the next three days we were issued our ill-fitting uniforms, devoided of most of our hair, (the "ducktails" and "pompadours" fell in great globs) and injected repeatedly into both arms. To ease the pain as the jabs were made, we stood facing a poster of a naked female. That didn't help much, but one incident almost made it all worthwhile. We were ordered to strip to our t-shirts and shorts, but one heavily muscled black chap took off his t-shirt, and began flexing for everyone's benefit. The corpsman readied the first needle, and the dude stuck out his arm and pumped up his tricep. The needle bent over with a crunch and he turned just a little pale. The medic shook his head and loaded up a new needle. Same results as before, and the chap got a little paler. On the third try, the corpsman punched his muscle and drove the needle home. When he regained conciousness, all the bravado had left this man and he became just one of the boys. As an interesting side note, one young fellow nearly completed his induction before the ever-alert Army doctors discovered that he had a paralized left arm. Now that really inspired confidence in military medicine.
After two days of KP duty, I was on the train again headed for Camp Breckinridge, KY and Dave was sent to Ft. Campbell, KY. This was the first time we were separated since grammar school. During Basic Training, we would visit each other on weekend passes.

Buck Private Pete

On Leave After Basic

The Korean peace treaty was signed several weeks before I finished Infantry basic, so some of us were freed up to take tests for other duty. I'm not sure how, but I made a good score on the electronics aptitude test and was redirected from Germany to Fort Bliss, Texas. Dave went to Germany. I did get a lot out of Basic though, including a leaner more muscled body, and complete loss of high tone hearing. No ear protection was provided to G.I.s at that time, and I did love to fire off loud ordnance.

Being accustomed to the beautiful green hills, rivers and lakes in Pennsylvania, El Paso Texas was at first very depressing. My Basic Training buddy Chuck Horne and I got off the plane into a blowtorch of about 110 degrees. A brief taxi ride to a local cantina took the edge off our disappointment. We later learned to love El Paso. A great many citizens of this town were either military or retired military who chose to make their homes there. Unlike some other hostile base towns, we were warmly welcomed. Many of us enjoyed forays out into the desert, to Carlsbad Caverns, and White Sands, New Mexico. We rode horses in Ruidoso, NM and played golf in Cloudcroft, NM at over 8500 feet. To my amazement, Cloudcroft looked like Pennsylvania, with green hills, oaks and pines, only surrounded by the White Sands desert.
And then there was Juarez, Mexico. Ah Juarez! Where every vendor was a junk dealer, and every taxi driver had "a very weeling seester who ees also a virgin, senor". It was no wonder we had to wait a month before getting our passes okayed for Juarez. In the meantime, everyone attended the mandatory "She Looks Clean, But Is She?" lectures.

Over the next year or so, I was taught Electronics, Analog Computers, Radar, and all aspects of the Nike Antiaircraft Missile Fire Control System. For my final two years in the Army, I was an instructor in these subjects at Fort Bliss. Mighty fine duty, and it led to a satisfying career with IBM. It's interesting that I was turned down for employment by Remington Rand's Univac division, before being hired by IBM. A very lucky break indeed. During that time, I was married in Pittsburgh to Jean Fromholzer, bought a 1946 Ford and drove 2000 miles back to El Paso. Carl was born the following March. In a tragic cooincidence, my lifelong friend Dave Merkel died of a brain tumor the day before Carl was born. Mark's middle name is David, in his memory. We left El Paso in June, 1956 with one year old Carl, and Jean 8 1/2 months pregnant with Mark. If you've ever driven a very long distance with a woman far along in pregnancy, you will understand why we made that 2000 mile trip in 50-mile increments. I dropped Jean off in Pittsburgh, and reported to IBM at Kingston, NY to start schooling on the Sage Air Defense computer system.

The next 31 years can be traced by births and moves with my company. Mark was born in Pittsburgh in 1956, Diane in Syracuse, New York in 1958, Eric in Montgomery, Alabama in 1961 and Dean in Montgomery in 1964.
Paula was born in Cape Canaveral, Florida in 1968, where I spent nearly eleven exciting years working on the Apollo program. IBM worked under NASA contract on all the unmanned and manned Saturn rockets, all of the moon launches, Apollo Soyuz and Skylab.

Launch Complex 20

Rattling Guardian
of the ladies restroom

An Incident Worth Mentioning
Shortly after arriving in Merritt Island from Montgomery, Alabama in 1965, we drove to Port Canaveral at night to watch our first rocket launch. It was a Navy Polaris missile. I parked in a parking lot and stopped the car in the pitch dark. Before I shut off the engine, Mark, who was nine years old at the time, jumped out of the car and ran toward the lights of the launch area and disappeared. I couldn't see one foot! Mark didn't shout or say anything, and I ran a few feet before I could hear splashing somewhere far below me. I was terrified that he had fallen into some kind of deep hole, so I jumped into the "hole" and into water. I remember putting him on my shoulders and feeling some pilings and cables around me. I shouted for help, and someone turned on a flashlight and pulled us both out of the water. We had actually dropped between a big barge and the dock. I don't recall that Mark seemed scared at all. I was scared enough for both of us anyway. We all learned a lesson that night, but it didn't slow him down much.

After IBM's role in Apollo and Skylab ended in 1975, I was off to a Manufacturing plant in San Jose, California for an enjoyable three and a half years. We returned to Florida in 1979, where I was involved with the development and manfacture of IBM's early Personal Computers at the Boca Raton facility. I retired from IBM in 1987, and we moved to peaceful Lake Placid, Florida to enjoy our leisure.
As of November, 2011, we have eight grandchildren and four great grandchildren.

Every place we lived brought new adventures and happy times, but as the saying goes in Florida, "Once you have sand in your shoes, you can never shake it all out."

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