Earning those stripes!

Drafted in 1968, I took the oath in Cincinnati, flew to Atlanta, was bused to Fort Jackson, S.C. for a week, and then on to Fort Gordon, Ga., for basic training.
At chow we had to sound off with our service number. Mine was U.S. 5 -----. I had dentures made for me when I was 14. They fit so well that I took them out to eat and put them back after each meal.
One day in the front of the mess hall, I sounded off, and was told “I can’t hear you!” I repeated my service number loudly.
My dentures hit the drill sergeant’s pants pocket level; one could not have thrown them any harder. They bounced off his thigh and came back and hit me. I immediately picked them up and promptly put them back in my shirt pocket.
In an uncharacteristically calm voice, he said “We will get you a dentist appointment and get you a good set of dentures made.”
Prior to the event at the mess hall, I had volunteered in the First Sergeant’s office to do Kitchen Patrol (KP) duty each Saturday and Sunday so as not to miss instructions during the week. My dental appointments were made each Thursday morning for five weeks with a lieutenant colonel. All I missed in training was physical exercise. After five weeks I had dentures that I could cut a thread with each tooth – wonderful, just wonderful!
Fort Gordon was still using coal to heat the barracks as well as the showers and indoor swimming pool. I was the fireman for one Company, and after six weeks, I was summoned to the First Sergeant’s office. “I have taken the liberty to go through your locker and have your promotion stripes sewn on all your uniforms,” he said. Then he stood beside me and hand-stitched stripes onto my fatigue shirt sleeves. I was promoted to Private E-2, and no more trips around Fort Gordon stoking fires!
We were in our dress greens ready for photos, and I was again summoned to the First Sergeant’s office. “How have you been able to keep the showers hot? That boiler has had a repair tag on it for the last 10 weeks!” I told him I took the ashes out through the top as the bottom grate (the shaker) had melted long before I came along. He wanted to know if I could disable it. I told him it would take me under three minutes. So, I got a coal bucket full of coal dust and poured it on the hot coals. AS I went around the building to join our formation I heard “FOOOOMMM!” not a boom or bang, just “FOOOMMM!” and the sound of cast iron hitting concrete.
“Well, Conrad, there go your stripes!” was a shout from someone in our Company. Then soot, or rather huge, black snowflakes, fell on all of us. The photos were retouched, because all our pictures were perfect.
When we returned that afternoon, there was a new boiler in our shower building. I kept my stripes!

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