Monday, October 27, 2008

A 1945 Army guide on behavior for GIs returning from overseas service

During one of my periodic efforts to clean up old personal files, I recently found a copy of the Army Adjutant-General's Office Order 4110.99, dated Jan. 5, 1945. The order provides guidance on how to behave for GIs returning to the States after overseas service during World War II. [Full disclosure: The order is fictitious and may sound dated. But it's good for a laugh, especially for those of us still around who served overseas during that war.]

To: All units.

1. In compliance with current policies for rotation of armed forces overseas, it is directed that, in order to maintain this high standard of character of the American soldier, and to prevent any dishonor to reflect on the uniform, all individuals eligible for return to the U.S. under current directives will undergo an indoctrination course of demilitarization prior to approval of their application for return.

2. The following points will be emphasized in the subject indoctrination course:

A. In America there are a remarkable number of beautiful girls. These young ladies have not been liberated, and many are gainfully employed as stenographers, sales girls, and beauty operators or welders. Contrary to current practices, they should not be approached with "How much?" A proper greeting is: "Isn't it a lovely day?" or "Have you ever been to Chicago?" Then say: "How much?"

B. A guest in a private home is usually awakened in the morning by a light tapping on his door and in an invitation to join the host at breakfast. It is proper to say, "I'll be there shortly." Don't say, "Blow it out your ______."

C. A typical American breakfast consists of such strange food as cantaloupe, fresh eggs, milk, ham, etc. These are highly palatable and though strange in appearance, are extremely tasty. Butter, made from cream, is often served. If you wish some butter, you turn to the person nearest it, and say quietly, "Please pass the butter." You DO NOT say, "Throw me the goddamn grease."

D. Very natural urges are apt to occur when in a crowd. If it is found necessary to defecate, one does not grab a shovel in one hand and paper in the other and run for the garden. At least 90% of American homes have one room called the "bathroom"--i.e., a room that in most cases contains a bathtub, wash basin, medicine cabinet, and a toilet. It is the latter that you will use in this case. Instructors should make sure that all personnel understand the operation of a toilet, particularly the lever or button arrangement that serves to prepare the device for re-use.

E. In the event the helmet is retained by the individual, he will refrain from using it as a chair, wash bowl, foot bath or bath tub. All these devices are furnished in the average American home. It is not considered good practice to squat Indian fashion in a corner in the event all chairs are occupied. The host will usually provide suitable seats.

F. Belching or passing wind in company is strictly frowned upon. If you should forget about it, however, and belch in the presence of others, the proper remark is, "excuse me." DO NOT say, "it must be that lousy chow we've been getting."

G. American dinners in most cases consist of several items, each served in a separate dish. The common practice of mixing curious items such as corn beef and pudding, or lima beans and peaches to make it more palatable, will be refrained from. In time,the "separate dishes" will become enjoyable.

H. Americans have a strange taste for stimulants. The drinks in common use on the continent, such as under-ripe wine, alcohol and grapefruit juice, or gasoline bitters and water (commonly known by the French term "cognac") are not ordinarily acceptable in civilian circles. These drinks should be served only to those who are definitely not within the inner circle of friends. A suitable use for such drinks is for serving to one's landlord in order to break an undesirable lease.

I. The returning soldier is apt to often find his opinions differ from those of his civilian associates. One should call upon his reserve of etiquette and correct his acquaintance with such remarks as "I believe you have made a mistake," or "I'm afraid you are in error on that." DO NOT say, "Brother, you're really f----d up." This is considered impolite.

J. Upon leaving a friend's home after a visit, one may find his hat misplaced. Frequently it has been placed in a closet. One should turn to one's host and say, "I don't seem to have my hat. Could you help me find it?" DO NOT say, "Don't anyone leave this room. Some S.O.B. has stolen my hat."

K. In traveling in the U.S., particularly in a strange city, it is often necessary to spend the night. Hotels are provided for this purpose, and almost anyone can give directions to the nearest hotel. Here, for a small sum, one can register and be shown to a room where he can sleep for the night. The present practice of entering the nearest home, throwing the occupants into the yard and taking over the premises will cease.

L. Whiskey, a common American drink, may be offered to the soldier on social occasions. It is considered a reflection on the uniform to snatch the bottle from the hostess and drain the bottle, cork and all. All individuals are cautioned to exercise extreme control in these circumstances.

M. In motion picture theaters, seats are provided. Helmets are not required. It is not considered good form to whistle every time a female over eight or under ninety crosses the screen. If vision is impaired by the person in the seat in front, there are plenty of other seats which can be occupied. DO NOT hit him across the back of the head and say, "Move your head, jerk, I can't see a damn thing."

N. It is not proper to go around hitting everyone of draft age in civilian clothes. He might have been released from the service for medical reasons. Ask for his credentials, and if he can't show any, then go ahead and slug him.

O. Upon retiring, one will often find a pair of pajamas laid out on the bed. (Pajamas, it should be explained, are two-piece garments which are donned after all clothing has been removed.) The soldier, confronted by these garments, should assume an air of familiarity and act as though he is used to them. A casual remark such as, "My, what a delicate shade of blue," will usually suffice. Under NO circumstances say, "How in the hell do you expect me to sleep in a get-up like that?"

P. Air raids and enemy patrols aren't encountered in America. Therefore, it is not necessary to wear the helmet in church or at social gatherings, or to hold the weapon ready, loaded and locked, when talking to civilians in the streets.

3. All individuals returning to the U.S. will make every effort to conform to the customs and habits of the regions visited and to make themselves as inconspicuous as possible. Any actions which reflect upon the honor of the uniform will be promptly dealt with.

For the commanding general:

[Signature illegible]

Monday, October 20, 2008

Colin Powell: All is forgiven

I used to be an ardent admirer of Colin Powell, and always followed his career closely. One reason for my unusual interest in Powell may have been that we shared some common elements in our personal backgrounds. We were both born in Harlem, both had foreign-born parents, and both were raised in the South Bronx. And then, of course, we both also served in the Army. But that's an even bigger stretch.

I lost my respect for Powell, however, when he failed to quit as Secretary of State in the Bush Administration after objecting to the invasion of Iraq. He recently said he spent 2-1/2 hours trying to persuade President George W. Bush not to invade. It was particularly disappointing that he allowed himself to be disgraced when he appeared before the United Nations to defend the invasion.

All is forgiven now that Powell has endorsed Barack Obama to be President. He declared his support for Obama in the eloquent style that I had always associated with Powell. His critique of the Bush Administration was so penetrating and his assault on John McCain's Presidential campaign tactics so devastating that it erased whatever hard feeling I had harbored about the former Secretary of State.

I am amused by Pat Buchanan's denunciation of Powell's Obama endorsement. Buchanan made a big deal of the fact that Powell's career was largely promoted during Republican Administrations, starting as an Army major on the White House staff when Richard Nixon was in office. Powell was subsequently named National Security Adviser and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H.W.Bush and then was appointed Secretary of State by George W. Bush.

Buchanan complained that Powell was therefore disloyal to the Republican Party because he has failed to show his appreciation to the party for his meteoric career success.

By endorsing Obama, Powell has actually shown a greater loyalty to his country for he recognizes that Obama is a better choice for the Presidency than John McCain.

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

MEMOIR: Waiting to go to war

I graduated from high school in January 1942, one month after the Pearl Harbor attack. I was 17 years old.

Military conscription had been enacted nearly two years earlier, probably because of Washington's expectation that the U.S. would inevitably be drawn into the war in Europe. As I recall, the draft age was then 21.

As the nation now formally entered the war, I assumed that the draft age would eventually be reduced. I considered enlisting in the armed forces, as a couple of my friends had done. At age 17, however, this would have required my parents' approval. But this wasn't a realistic option for me. I was an only child with an anxiety-prone mother who would not have approved.

I decided to enter college and study to become a journalist, my longtime ambition, until I was inevitably drafted. My father was unemployed during my last high school semester, and I decided to attend college at night while working full-time. I had intended to apply to City College of New York, a tuition-free municipal institution.

But I learned that CCNY offered only a handful of journalism courses, and none were available in night school. Actually, my academic record in high school was average, and thus my acceptance by this highly selective college was uncertain.

I therefore applied to New York University, a private school which had a formal journalism program that offered evening courses. Strangely, the journalism department was located in the university's School of Commerce.

If I had known that my much of my subsequent career would be in business journalism, I would have taken advantage of the school's excellent finance and accounting courses. But my initial goal was to become a sports reporter or foreign correspondent, and the business courses held no interest for me.

Fortunately, when I entered NYU's night school, I already had a full-time job. During the summer before my senior high school semester, I had gone to work as a delivery boy for Goldsmith Bros., then the nation's largest office supplies retailer, located near Wall Street in downtown Manhattan. My pay was $12 weekly, a princely sum for a kid my age. Goldsmith's went out of business in the early 1950s after an ill-fated attempt to expand into an uptown department store.

After I returned to school when the summer ended, I was promoted to shipping clerk. As a senior, I had been assigned to the school's morning session.Classes ended at 1 p.m., which enabled me to have a quick lunch at home before taking the long subway ride downtown. My work hours were from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. six days a week.

When I graduated from high school and started my night-time college studies, I was promoted to salesman. I was assigned to the loose-leaf binder department. My wage was now $16 a week, plus commission on sales of both the loose-leaf binders and other office products.

The demands of the job and my school work left little time for a social life. At school, however, I became the associate editor of the evening section of the college's weekly newspaper. The vacancy occurred when the previous editor--and many other students--left for induction into the armed forces.

After about three months selling office supplies, it became obvious that the job was doing nothing to polish my credentials as an aspiring journalist. I decided that I needed a job where I would at least be in the company of professional writers.

I found a job that did bring me closer to such a working environment. I became an office boy in the New York City publicity department of RKO-Radio Pictures, the Hollywood movie company. The office was in a tall building attached to the Radio City Music Hall.

The sixth floor of the building led to the upper reaches of Radio City. One of the perks of the job was the freedom to watch the rehearsals of the famed Rockette precision dancers during my lunch time. But the highlight of my RKO career was to deliver a bottle of whiskey to movie star Lucille Ball's hotel suite. My humble contact with movie stars and press agents, however, was clearly no more professionally satisfying than selling office supplies.

In October 1942, I finally obtained a job that at least exposed me intimately to the work of professional writers. I was hired by the U.S. Office of War Information as an "under-clerk"--Federal civil service jargon for an office boy. The annual salary was $1,260, the lowest civil service pay level.

The OWI was the government's propaganda agency during World War II. It was headquartered in Washington, D.C., but I was employed in its Overseas Operations Branch, which was based at West 57th Street and Broadway in Manhattan.

From there, radio broadcasts were beamed to European countries, reporting the American version of how the war was faring. The branch also produced propaganda material, often personally distributed in German-occupied territory by staffers who mysteriously vanished from the office for months at a time to perform their hazardous underground missions.

Our office was staffed by dozens of seasoned writers, many of them celebrities like the branch's director, Robert Sherwood, the famed Broadway playwright and Presidential speech writer. I became his personal office boy, pulling dispatches for him from the wire service news tickers and performing other personal tasks. It was an exhilarating atmosphere for an aspiring young journalist.

I even had my own desk and typewriter, where in spare moments I would handle college home work assignments. It was a far better setting to do school home work than the wide window sill in my parents' bedroom, my normal site for such assignments.

I turned 18 in November 1942. That month the draft age was officially reduced to 18, requiring me to register at my neighborhood draft board in the Bronx. A few weeks later, I was instructed to report to an Army recruitment center in Manhattan for a physical exam.

The examination was conducted on an assembly-line basis, as the recruits moved from one medical specialist to another. When I reached a medical officer who was presumably a psychiatrist, I was astonished when he asked me: "Would you sleep with your mother?" When I quickly said no, that evidently demonstrated that I was mentally sound as well as being in physical good health.

I was classified 1-A, which meant that I would soon be inducted. In January 1943, I completed my first college semester. The question now was whether to register for the spring semester, not knowing when the Army would order me for induction.

I did register for the new semester, again hoping to squeeze in as many college credits as possible before my Army induction. As the months passed, I watched my friends leaving home for the Army while I had heard nothing. I accused my mother of tearing up my induction notice. She never allowed me to forget my accusation.

I was finally ordered to report for induction on April 14, 1943. My records show that the OWI offered me a "furlough for military service" and stated that I "be paid through 5-1/4 hours, March 29, 1943." My last day of work was actually March 20. In typical bureaucratic language, my official separation document notes that I "am to be on LWOP through COB."

I can translate "leave without pay." But I never found out what "COB" is.

I was given a farewell party on my last day at work. My boss Robert Sherwood, who was rarely seen without a pipe his mouth, gave me one as a going-away gift. I had never smoked either cigarettes or a pipe before.

Now I was ready to go to war.

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Friday, October 10, 2008

Thoughts about the election

My wife and I have just voted for Barack Obama, and for the first time since 1996 we think we have voted for a winner in a Presidential election. We voted on an absentee ballot in New Jersey, our legal residence, because we plan to be in Florida on Election Day.

Just a few months ago, I was not very optimistic that Obama would be the victor. I feared that John McCain would win because he was much better known and experienced. I was worried that Obama was handicapped by both his limited record of political achievement and his race.

But Obama has clearly demonstrated that he possesses the credentials to be President. He has campaigned with dignity and has shown himself to be a man of superior intelligence and integrity. He appears to be far more suitable than McCain to cope with the current economic crisis and with the national security and foreign policy issues facing the nation. He is far more impressive as a force for the political change that both candidates claim is needed.

McCain is still ideologically linked to the disastrous policies of George W. Bush. Moreover, McCain has displayed extraordinarily poor judgment. The most obvious example was his selection of Alaska's Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate.

McCain has failed to explain how he would meaningfully bring change to government. For instance,he talks about economic reforms, but sticks obsessively to the idea that the free market, unfettered by government intervention, will solve basic economic problems. In his many years in Congress, he has been a consistent champion of deregulation of business and the financial markets, a philosophy that helped produce our current economic plight.

McCain has behaved so erratically that I am concerned that his temperament makes him ill-equipped to handle the very serious and complex problems that the next President must handle. In particular, I worry that his macho-aggressive approach to foreign affairs could revive the cold war with Russia.

In contrast to Obama's well-mannered style, McCain and Palin have conducted a disgraceful election campaign, employing gutter tactics with slanderous personal attacks on their opponent. This is the kind of campaigning that twice brought Bush to the White House.

Obama still faces a serious obstacle. As they see Obama gaining in the polls, the McCain-Palin team seems to be turning even more aggressively to hate-filled personal attacks on Obama. Example: Palin's absurd argument about Obama "palling around with terrorists."

The big question is whether white voters' fears about the financial crisis will overcome any unwarranted concern that some of them may still have about Obama's race and patriotism.

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