Oh yeah! Good boots, good food, and a good bunk. Any GI who has all three is in danger of smiling so hard he may split his face. Or worse, smiling so hard some %$#@! lieutenant gets it into his head that the troops need more training.
Training for what? To be tired, dirty, sore of foot, and unhappy with their lot in life. Isn’t that what training is for?
A couple of weeks ago I mentioned Galen Drake, someone I listened to on the radio way-back-when. Drake was a soft-spoken homespun philosopher who came on right after the evening meal when most people were ready to sit back and digest a nice bit of roast pork, mashed potatoes and gravy, green peas, and a slab of homemade apple pie. His voice was made for the moment.
I can’t remember most of what he said, but it always made good sense. One night he came on while I was lying on my back and contemplating the fact that in just a few days the good old 103rd Aircraft Control and Warning Squadron, Air National Guard of the United States — ANGUS for short — was leaving for active duty.
“Folks,” Drake said, “there are two things you should choose with great care, your shoes and your bed, because you’re always in one or them or the other.”
I didn’t know it at the time, but he might as well have been speaking directly to me — and to the 300 other guys in my outfit. In just a couple of weeks we were to learn how important good boots and good bunks are to a GI.
Napoleon claimed that an army marches on its stomach. Wrong! What did he know? He rode a horse. If he had been slogging through the mud and snow with the troops he’d have changed his mind in a rush, though there is something to be said about the largely unsatisfied needs of the GI stomach. But that’s another story.
In no time at all I found myself on Otis AFB, Massachusetts, working for WWII retread NCOs. You know the first thing they did?
You’re not going to believe this!
We enlisted during the transition period between the “brown shoe” days when Air Force people wore Army uniforms with Air Force brass, and the modern era of black shoes and blue uniforms. Most of us still needed blue uniforms when we got to Otis, so the first thing they did was send us to Clothing Sales to get suited up.
Here’s where the oddball thinking of our Air National Guard leaders came into play. For some reason we never discovered, but which no doubt involved a special deal for the NCOs and officers, we found ourselves stuck with brown Army brogans — with the fuzzy side out! Now there’s nothing wrong with fuzzy brown shoes, except when you have NCOs who tell you that they have to (a) be black, and (b) be smooth, and (c) take a high shine.
Ever tried polishing the fuzzy side of a piece of leather? Can’t be done.
But they sure made us try! Getting those old brown brogans black was easy.
But shine them? You’d have better luck trying to polish a skunk.
Some guys tried burning the fuzz off with lighter fluid. All that did was scorch the leather, which didn’t do much for fuzz, but set the guys up for a nasty surprise. When we got to Iceland a year later the boots cracked and fell off their feet.
Some guys tried smoothing the fuzz with a rock and black shoe polish. A couple of big chickens went to Clothing Sales and bought Air Force brogans. We were getting 50 bucks a month, so I’ll leave it to you to guess how much money I spent on clothing I was supposed to be issued free. I just put on some shoe polish, buffed it with a brush, and quit. Sure, I took a lot of flack from our WWII retread NCOs, but so did everyone else. And after a while our retreads quit yelling at us. Too much stress for the elderly.
Anyway, my brogans may not have looked like much, but shine or no shine they turned out to be treasures. They solved a very nasty problem that cropped up, one that really had me worried.
The next summer I came up with the worse case of athlete’s foot I have ever seen. The stuff was so bad it actually ate flat round holes in the skin of my toes and threatened to eat off all the skin. Man, did that stuff burn! It ate off all the dead skin! I went to the dispensary and saw a doctor. He shook his head, told me it was some stuff that had come over from New Guinea during the war, and gave me some powder he said wasn’t going to work.
I was literally going crazy with the stuff until one day they took us for a 10-mile hike. We no sooner started than the sky split open. Heads down, carbines under ponchos, we slogged through driving rain and ankle-deep puddles. And when I got back to the barracks and took a look at my feet, I thought I was a dead man!
All the places where the athlete’s foot had eaten the skin off my toes were dyed dark brown — almost black. I went into the shower room and scrubbed my feet for an hour, but they stayed black. Then, dead tired, I fell asleep on my bunk and had a happy dream where some Air Force doctor who looked a lot like our first sergeant came at my feet with a scalpel.
“Don’t worry,” he said. “I’ll have your toes off in a jiffy.”
Whew! Talk about waking up in a sweat!
But lo and behold! The next morning when I got up I noticed that the itching was gone. And it stayed gone. I don’t know if it was the stuff they used to tan the leather, or the brown dye, or something else, but whatever it was I was cured — permanently.
And it wasn’t just a fluke either. Two other guys in the barracks came down with the same crud, I told them what had cured me, so they went out, sloshed around in some puddles for a while, got their feet dyed, and were cured just like I had been.
I did not pass this amazing discovery on to the doctors down in the dispensary. I could just see what the result would be. “Oh? Really? Hm-m-m-m. Here airman, let me take off one or two of those toes to send in for analysis.”
No way! Let them discover their own cures.
Now as to some of the more specialized GI boots we had ... Next week ...