Fort Polk

Dear Hildie:

Don’t sweat it about Beelzebub–I mean, your son Murphy. Most of what he’s done so far are misdemeanors.

Well, 52 years ago today I was in New Orleans undergoing an army physical. I’ll never forget how the medic looked at the gap between my big toe and second toe and said he’d never seen anything like that before. I told him all Arabs who wore sandals had it but I’d been born with it. If it was a problem, I said, I’d join the Arab army. That kind of fellĀ flat. Then when they asked about scars I said I had a bullet scar on my right thigh. That really excited them, and one said, “I’ve never had anybody with one of those.” Imagine! New Orleans, 1963. Today it would be rare in New Orleans to find anybody without one or two. Probably a badge of honor. When they swore us in, they handed everybody a little New Testament that some Bible society had donated and said, “Hold up your right hand,” so that, in effect, you were swearing on the Bible. But the Christian Bible. Though raised a Catholic, I always rather resented that (as well as the Character Guidance lectures they made us attend, where, in one, I remember, they “proved” the existence of God through the argument from design, which no decent philosopher has accepted for a 100 years or so). I know we need an army, but they have to be so goddamned stupid?

And, of course, Fort Polk was–and is–a lovely place, nothing but pine hills and poor soil. Hell, they only put military bases in locations that can be blown to bits and torn up and where the surrounding populace is so poor that to them even Hell would be an economic improvement.

Our company commander in training was a 2nd lieutenant education major–man, who wouldn’t want to follow an education major into combat? He told us not to buy ice cream from the vendors who came around because it would rot our guts.

As protected as I’d been throughout my life, that was my first experience with illiterate people. Half the company was Mississippi National Guard, some of whom couldn’t read and write. I guess the theory was that they could either become cannon fodder or members of the legislature. They were mainly a good bunch–When they found I was born in Jackson, Mississippi, I immediately became a home boy to them, though I’m sure a somewhat peculiar specimen.

Well, enough of memory lane for now. Take care.