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OCS Memories of a Redleg Artilleryman

by COL (Ret) Richard H. McCormick, OCS 04-52 (Bliss)
AAA OCS 2004 Reunion
Fort Bliss, Texas

We came from all over the country by train and automobile. Some even came by air, although airline travel in 1952 was still in a developing stage. I remember the train ride to El Paso and Fort Bliss. With the clickety-clack of the wheels lulling me to sleep in an upper berth, the smell of freshly brewed coffee in the dining car with its starched white tablecloths and watching the flat landscape of Texas go by while eating breakfast.

Ours was an eclectic group drawn from every social and economic stratum. There were Ivy Leaguers and high school graduates. Little attention was paid to social status. We judged each other on the basis of character and ability and not on caste or privilege. This was the group that reported for duty at the barracks now designated as Dog Battery. Some in our group were old soldiers with six or more years of active duty. Others, like me, had been the Army for only a few months. I don’t think any of us had any idea of what lay in store for us.

On either the third or fourth night after our arrival, our platoon leader was awakened at midnight by our Tac Officer and told that the uniform of day was underwear, shower clogs and our “horse blanket” overcoats. We were marched into the showers and held there until our overcoats absorbed as much cold water as they could hold. After that we fell in outside the barracks in the cold January night. Welcome to OCS, guys!

One of the more diabolical tricks the Tac Officers had was to step on a candidate’s combination lock on his footlocker. If the poor unfortunate had not insured that the lock was securely fastened, the Tac Officer would scatter his belongings all over the tiny space that served as his quarters. He would then but the lock on the overhead sprinkler system pipe with the combination facing upwards. To retrieve the lock required sitting on another candidate’s shoulders holding a mirror in order to see the lock’s combination. One soon found out who one’s real friends were after one of these episodes.

Sleep deprivation quickly became our greatest challenge. Sleep was a precious commodity and we could not get enough of it. Falling asleep in class was almost unavoidable considering how sleep deprived we all were. Our instructors were kind enough to allow us to stand at the rear of the classroom if we were unable to stay awake at our seats. It didn’t help much. Most of the standees propped against the wall were sound asleep. One candidate had mastered the art of sleeping while standing up better than anyone I have ever seen. I remember one day our candidate platoon leader fell asleep at his desk. According to protocol, the platoon leader would call the class to attention and report to the instructor. At the end of the class, this routine was repeated and we would march off to our next place of instruction. About half way through the lecture, I looked over at our platoon leader seated directly to my left. He was sound asleep and his snoring was interfering with the presentation. I nudged him rather sharply and he leaped to his feet, calling the class to attention. I had to tell him to sit down; we still had a half-hour to go.

The location of our OCS compound was once, if my memory serves me, an army hospital. After World War II, the German rocket scientists the United States brought back from Penemunde were quartered there briefly before being sent on to White Sands, New Mexico and Redstone Arsenal in Alabama. The concertina wire on top of the perimeter fencing was still in place, and it lent a prison-like ambience to our surroundings.

At the time, the army had a huge stock of powdered eggs and dehydrated potatoes, and was under some pressure to get rid of it. The powers that be decided to serve the bulk of these two delicacies to the officer candidates on the assumption the no candidate would dare file a complaint with the Inspector General. Although there was a veneer of fresh eggs placed on top, the gelatinous mass beneath shimmered like some green-tinged foul concoction, and the potatoes had. the consistency and presumed taste of wallpaper paste.

I took supper every evening at the little PX annex in our area. My meal consisted of a couple of dry sandwiches and one of those non-carbonated imitation orange drinks from a counter dispenser. Weight loss, as one can imagine, was endemic. One candidate, who was not fat at 185 pounds, dropped to 150 pounds. His chest simply disappeared and his collar bones looked like they were almost touching each other.

One memory permanently etched into my mind was standing on one of the little screened-in porches of our hospital barracks and listening to the strains of Tattoo every evening just before Lights Out. This most beautiful of all bugle calls echoed through the clear desert air and reminded me that I had made it through yet another day.

In spite of all this, OCS was one of the most exciting and meaningful periods of my life. I learned a lot about “Triple A”, but even more about myself. I ended up with a long career in the Army, and I met some special people along the way. None of them was ever as special as my OCS classmates. The bonds that were forged with my classmates over fifty years ago are still strong. I am grateful to God that He has allowed me to live long enough fellowship with you again. Thank you and God bless you.

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