I was at a point (19 years old) when I didn’t know what to do with my life. The draft was on and most young men were facing the strong possibility of being drafted in their twenties. The Korean War GI Bill was still in effect, but the word was that this would end in a month or two, as the truce that ended the hostilities had held for several years.
I decided to volunteer the draft, by which process I would go to the local draft board and ask to have my name placed “at the top of the list.” This way, as a draftee, I would only have to serve two years, rather than three or four. If I was inducted before the GI Bill was discontinued, I would receive those benefits, particularly education assistance. I signed up in time for the December, 1954 call-up. Unfortunately, many young men in college, or planning to go to college had the same idea. So the December quota was reached before they got to my name. But I did get in the January 1955 call-up. The GI Bill was discontinued at the end of January, but I received a college degree through the help of the GI Bill..
I prepared for the Army by lifting heavy objects, running, and doing various things to build muscle and endurance. I was glad that I did, for basic training took more strength and endurance than I had imagined it would. I was sent from my home in Allentown, Pa., to Fort Gordon, Ga. This was my first experience in “the deep South.” Many of the Southern guys would rib us Yankees, but it was all in good fun.
Most of our drill instructors had seen combat in Korea, and warned us that we would find out what it was like. We believed them, for we all expected that the truce would not last. They drove us hard, but we knew that they wanted us to survive should we face combat.
The test of our readiness was the PT test, which involved all sorts of physical exercises, such as push-ups, chin-ups, climbing, and a run around the track. We were given this near the beginning and near the end of basic training to measure our progress and to compare our class to that of previous classes. All the individual results were recorded by NCOs with clipboards.
After the final PT test, we felt relieved that this was over with, until the word came down that we had earned the lowest score ever recorded in the history of the camp. This was not surprising, as a large percentage of us were college students. The camp commander was determined that he would not have this on his record. So he ordered us to take the test again and achieve a higher score.
This time, instead of an NCO with a clipboard there was an officer at each station. There is something about having a captain or a major telling you, "You can do it, one more chin-up,” that makes you ready to pull your arms out, if needed, to satisfy the desire of one so high in rank.
It must have worked, for we didn’t have to take the test again. When I was finished with basic training, I felt stronger and more physically fit than I ever had before or since. And I noticed that my fellows looked that way, too.