A while back I mentioned that GI happiness is soft boots, a full belly, and a comfortable bunk. I thought I had just barely enough stuff to make a full column, and was amazed to find out I had to leave out 90 percent of the things I had in mind.
Got so hung up on boots I never really had a chance to get to bunks. As soon as I started talking about boots I remembered how much time we had spent in the doggone things. As a result, the whole column ended up being about boots.
Bunks, however, occupy a lot of time and thought in the military mind — mainly how to find ways of spending more time in one, something all GIs think about a lot.
Why? It was the one place they wanted to keep us out of.
We got on this subject because of an old-time radio guy named Galen Drake, a homespun philosopher who came on five days a week and always had something sensible to say. One day he said, “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.”
For my whole 21 years, the military seemed hell-bent on keeping us in the “one” and out of the “other.” In fact, there were times when I wondered why they bothered to issue us bunks at all, since they were so grimly determined to keep us out of them.
I better not get started on that, though. That comes under the heading of “training,” and if I ever get started on that I’ll never get off it. Some other time perhaps.
Anyway, the military bunk ...
Simple enough. A metal frame with a piece of what amounts to wire fencing stretched across it by cheap coil springs that held it to the frame. Add a thin mattress (with no inner springs, of course), use four pieces of hollow pipe to stack a second bunk atop the first one, and you’ve got it.
Not bad if it’s reasonably new. I saw a new one once. In a military museum in Kansas. Never saw one anywhere else. Not in my 21 years did I ever see a new bunk inside a barracks. Never even saw one that looked almost new. From first to last, every one of them was used. Very used!
I first served at Otis AFB. Used. Then Keflavik, Iceland. Used. Sampson AFB, NY, Sheppard AFB, Texas, and McGuire AFB, New Jersey. Used, used and used. Japan, Germany, Italy and England. Used, used, used and used. Wake Island, Guam, Taiwan, Thailand, the Philippines and Okinawa. Used, used, used, used, used, used and you-better-believe-it, used!
I figure it this way: During World War II we had some 10 million men in uniform. They slept on GI bunks. The war ended. Some bunks went into storage, others into barracks. Now, as they wear out, at the rate of — maybe — 10 a year, they are replaced and used by the much smaller number of guys we have in uniform today.
About the time we set up Mars Station 21 ...
They’ve got to run out of the %$#@! things some day.
The big problem with GI bunks is the top one. Why, I don’t know, but the top bunk always has lousy springs. That means if you sleep in the top bunk, you might as well be sleeping in a hammock. And if you sleep in the bottom bunk, you better not forget where you are and sit up too fast. Unless you’re wearing a helmet.
The Navy, I discovered, has a “better” solution. No sagging old GI bunks on their troop ships. No worn-out springs. No thin, old mattresses. No butt hanging in your face.
They just take a rectangular pipe frame and stretch canvas over it.
Well, not quite. They stack up four of the dumb things, with just enough space between them to squeeze into. And maybe enough room to turn over if you are (a) thin, and (b) highly courageous.
The “courageous” part is because the canvas is stretched so tight. In one night alone on the good old M. B. Stewart, on which we shipped to Iceland, I heard four guys fall out of the those crazy Navy beds because they turned over too fast.
Of course, being a genius, I noted the lack of space between those Navy bunks and made a dash for a top one, where I could see there was more room.
What I didn’t take into account was the huge I-beam up there, located in exactly the right place so that if you sat up in your sleep you would bash your brains out on it, which I did at regular intervals, hence my writing style.
I’ll tell you what, those nights on the good old M. B. Stewart were something to see — or maybe I should say to hear. We were crossing the North Atlantic in September, not the calmest of deep sea voyages. My outfit had been assigned to an outside compartment where the sea was just the thickness of a sheet of steel bulkhead from you as you slept — if you slept.
Nights were something to hear! Beautiful rhythm. Perfect tones. First came the BOOM of the Atlantic against the thin side of the compartment. Then, in perfect harmony as the troops sat up, came: Bing! Bang! Bung! Bing-bang!
Bung-bung-bung! Followed by ...
Hm-m-m-m. Can’t say that. They’d bleep it out.
Tell you what. Just imagine 15 or 20 angry GIs ...
When we got to Iceland and saw regular GI bunks we thought we had died and gone to heaven. Crazy Navy bunks!
Forget bunks. Crazy Navy! When it comes to bunk activities anyway. One hot summer day I walked my post with my little carbine from 10 in the morning to sometime in the afternoon, thinking of nothing in particular, a talent I have. Next thing I knew I woke up in a nearby Naval hospital. Seems I had gotten a wee bit too much sun because the sergeant of the guard forgot me out there.
The heat prostration was nothing. Got over it in jig time.
But get this! When the Navy doctor came to see me, the medics told me to hop out of bed and stand at attention. I tried it and landed on my face, so they told me to LAY at attention.
Lay at attention? Are you kidding? Crazy! Just plain crazy!