Christmas in the Army, Pole Line Construction
Wednesday - December 24, 1975
Shep uses John Gambling's holly covered microphone with teakwood base and ivory knobs tonight, and shakes his keys - "sounds like one of those guys in front of Macy's with the Santa Claus suit"
NY Jets singing Jingle Bells with Shepherd's Jew's Harp accompaniment
Shep is thankful tonight that he is not in the army. Being a "yardbird" is a "soul searing" experience, and a particular Christmas Eve in the army is recalled. He had been stationed in the Ozarks, hundreds of miles from any major city. A week before Christmas a notice had been posted - "One-third of all personnel of every operating company will be confined to base on
Christmas holiday." On December 23rd, the list of those leaving for home was read, and Shep, and Gasser, among others, were not on it. That afternoon, the entire company trudges to the "pole line construction practice yard." This is 5000 flat acres of mud with a "great bristling forest of stripped telephone poles" of sizes ranging from "little fifteen footers all the way up to sixty footers. They kind of marched to the horizon like a denuded forest that had been hit by some terrible blight." Company K was going to practice putting up equipment on telephone poles. They wore "belts with clips, wire cutters, flashlight, continuity tester, medical case, and sidearm" all on the outside of their raincoats. "Climbers" were spurs worn at your instep, and if somehow they didn't hold while you were climbing down, an extremely dangerous situation resulted. It was best to hit the belt safety catch at this point and push away so that you were not held close to the pole to be impaled by gigantic splinters, which could be fatal!
Shep climbs a sixty foot pole with Edwards, and Gasser on poles on either side. When Shep starts singing Jingle Bells, the others chime in, but they are interrupted by the southern red-headed corporal GI shouting "At ease up there!"
The mood at chow is dismal. Fried liver and cabbage salad are served with pickled beets, and purple Kool Aid. Next morning Kowalski gives the order "Since it's Christmas, let's knock off everything through Christmas day!" No one was in the mess hall so they could cook up anything they wanted! Shep's huge meal of seven fried eggs, a slab of bacon, and all the coffee he could eat was interrupted by Gasser's observation. "You seen that bulletin board, Shep? Guess who's picking up guard duty?" At eight that night, Shep dresses in his raincoat, gas mask, leggings, M1, and cartridge belt and takes his guard post at the end of the rifle range. Every half hour the officer of the guard would drive by in a Jeep with the "rain slanting in the headlights." At the end of the watch, the officer calls out "Take it easy soldier, and by the way, Merry Christmas!" But tonight Shep surmises that somewhere even that officer is saying to himself "It's Christmas. Thank God I ain't in the army!"
"A Great Show" Best to listen to in windy snow or rain! LT