I left off last week at the point where I had just finished telling of my first experiences with GI boots and shoes. Let’s finish that up so we can talk about GI beds.
We got into this discussion because of an old-timey radio personality named Galen Drake, a sort of homespun philosopher who came on five days a week and always had something sensible to say. One thing he said that I’ll never forget was, “Folks, there are two things you should choose with great care, your shoes and your bed, because you’re always in one or the other.”
When they called up my Air National Guard outfit, the good old 103rd Aircraft and Warning Squadron, I learned how right he was. In my two years, 10 months, and 18 days of active duty, I ran into an amazingly wide variety of footwear, not to mention beds.
First came Army brogans with the fuzzy side out, and the smooth part in, which made for a lot less wear and tear on your feet during long hikes, but became a mite of a problem when our WWII retread NCOs decided we had to polish them to a high shine. Couldn’t be done. Was like trying to polish a haystack.
Then of course we had low quarters, which we did polish to a high shine.
The only thing wrong with that was it had to be done every %$#@! day because they always found some way to make us wear them. I got so sick of it I went to clothing sales, bought another pair of low quarters, shined them, put them under my bunk for inspections, and wore the originals, which I stowed in my laundry bag each night before I went to bed. Saved me an hour a day.
When the outfit got to Iceland, they issued us so much new footwear I could hardly believe it. I already had two pairs of brogans (both fuzzy) and two pairs of low quarters. They added four pairs of winter footwear — jump boots, galoshes, white bunny boots, and mukluks. When you looked under our bunks, which were double-stacked, there was a long row of shoes and boots on either side. Our quonset hut looked like some kind of ersatz shoe store.
The good thing about Iceland, which was also the bad thing, was this:
Iceland is a volcanic island covered with vast flows of fractured lava broken down by incredibly miserable weather into rough black gravel. It has no trees and virtually no grass. You could polish your shoes up there until you turned blue in the face, but one hour spent out in the lousy weather, walking through snow on rough, gritty, unpaved roads, or even rougher, grittier landscape, and that shine was history.
Our first five or six weeks up among all that grit wore the soles smooth and turned the leather uppers of low quarters into something that resembled suede and could no longer be polished beyond a low glow. Even our WWII retreads gave up on trying to keep us in spit-shined shoes after that.
No, we didn’t thank them. In the first place it might have disturbed their nap time, and in the second place it might have started the whole shoe-shining bit over again.
You may have noticed that I refer to the weather in Iceland as “miserable.”
That’s because if I used the correct terms they’d be bleeped out.
Iceland, we were told not too long after we arrived, sits in a permanent low pressure area. Why that is I don’t know, but what the result is I do.
You know that circular spinning feature they show on the weather report whenever a low is coming? Well the air in a low pressure area is spinning counter-clockwise and slowly spiraling upward. As it spirals higher and higher it drops any moisture it contains. That’s why low pressure areas bring rain.
That’s fine, as long as the low drifts in and keeps moving, but what if it sits there right over your head all the time?
I’ll tell you “what if!” You walk outside. Let’s say it’s an unusual day and the sun is out. You look off to the west and here come some clouds. They circle in and drop a little rain on you. Then they circle around, a little higher this time, and drop more rain, sometimes a lot more. Then they come back and ... You guessed it. Sleet. Then big snowflakes. Then small snowflakes. Then gritty hard stuff. Then more. And more ... Forever.
I saw a vacation ad for Iceland a few months ago.
Vacation from what? Happiness? Dried out sinuses?
So they issued us wet weather footwear. First, heavy duty galoshes made for rain and mud. Then white felt combat boots made for cold and snow. We called them bunny boots and were glad to get them because they kept our feet warm and dry and we could wear them when we went to town dressed in our Class-A blues.
Didn’t have to be polished either.
And then those crazy mukluks. Picture a pair of rubber shoes with knee-length waterproof canvas tops and you have an idea what they’re like. If you’ve ever seen Laplanders running around with their sleds and reindeer, and noticed their soft knee-length boots made of reindeer skin, you’ve seen the originals.
Mukluks were great for snow. They had waterproof shoe parts with soles that gripped ice and snow. And flexible, water-repellent canvas upper parts that let your ankles flex. With them came half-inch thick washable felt insoles that padded feet and insulated them from the ground. And finally came a quarter-inch thick white felt liner that was like a huge knee-length sock.
Tell you what. You put on a pair of thin nylon socks which let moisture pass through them, add a pair of wool socks, slip your feet into thick felt liners, put a pair of soft insoles in your mukluks, step into them and bind them loosely around your legs, and there is no way your feet can get cold. I don’t care how cold it is. And believe me, Iceland was cold.
It was also, the men in my outfit firmly believed, the place where the enema tube will go in if the Earth ever needs one.
Uh-oh! Didn’t get to GI bunks. Oh well, some other time.