CAMP ROBERTS – CALIFORNIA
At Camp Roberts I was assigned to the 85th Infantry Training Battalion. My cousin went to an artillery battalion. I figure that his mathematics was better than mine, but then there was another factor in my M.O… I was a musician. In the 85th Infantry Training Battalion our platoon was to be a bugler platoon. The Battalion commander asked for the next group to be musicians so he could develop a bugle corp. We all trained the same but we were given a bent-up bugle to hang over our bayonet on our packs. We were to learn 27 bugle calls. We were lucky because we had free time away from some drills and marches to sit under the oak trees and bleat out the calls until we learned them by heart. Some calls were difficult to remember so there were words you were given to help you remember the calls. For example, the Sick Call–it goes–“Look at his eyes, look at his asshole” It’s kinda like tuning a ukulele—“MY DOG HAS FLEAS”. Another call for mail was “I got a letter, I got a letter. You got a goddamned postal card”. No doubt you’ve heard,” I can’t get ’em up; I can’t get ’em up this morning”. Of course, the most haunting call of all is “TAPS”. At vet’s funerals it’ll break me up every time. That’s a lonely call!
We buglers had to stand guard at the guardhouse in those days and blow the calls into a huge megaphone. In one direction and then the other on the largest USA parade ground it was said–Camp Roberts. Our training was all infantry. The bayonet drills and calisthenics so vigorous that the muscles in my legs were cramping. I used to say that I could crack walnuts on my leg muscles. I can’t see how much more vigorous our training could be. We marched mile after mile, did the “duck walk” endlessly and went through many gas attacks in the night to teach us how to put on the mask in the shortest time. I think they used tear gas on those drills. Real mustard was used in at least one drill. On one of those hikes I developed a nosebleed. I couldn’t stop it. On the critique I told the Sergeant .He allowed me to lie down and rest. All of a sudden someone hollered “GAS!!” and they had forgotten about me. But I heard it and I had my mask on just as fast as anyone, blood or not. Then I heard someone say, “Hey what about Mohar?” I was patted on the back. After that the Sergeant apologized ever so slightly to me.
Our drill sergeant also was a musician. His name is Don Herda. He was with the 7th Infantry Regiment of the 3rd Division but was siphoned-off to Camp Roberts as part of the training cadre. He was a tough, sturdy guy and overcame his Mel Tillis syndrome which came out now and then–I remember him at the top of his lungs yelling, “Let’s get o-o-o-o-on the b b b all”, I hope he will forgive me if he ever reads this. I found him after the war because I had a fondness for the guy who showed me the way to being a good soldier. We had all the training of the infantry including bayonets, grenades and dirty, hand-to-hand combat. We were introduced to explosives. We went to the rifle range often and I made “Expert” on the rifle when I did the practice. For effect, I dropped off a bulls-eye or two. I hated that.
One really memorable and fun thing in my training life was that all of us in the platoon were musicians and supposed of higher intelligence. Sgt. Herda organized a “BIG BAND”. They procured a big Bass fiddle for me to play. We had it all. We could play stuff like Glen Miller. Sgt. Herda was the drummer. He and I teamed up on a number called “The Big sound from WINETKA”. He’d drum on my bass strings as I fingered the strings. Then we’d solo followed by booming sounds. The band would cut in and play its parts. I strummed that bass so much I had blisters on all my right fingers till I developed calluses. That was the fun part of the Army–on weekends. When Monday rolled around it was more drills and instructions. One of the training cadre was a Cpl. Beardsley–Billy B. Beardsley–he was Hollywood material and was “hell bent” to be in movies. He had been an extra in a few movies. He had a voice like Bob Nolan, the guy who sings in the Sons of the Pioneers. I could harmonize with him easily. Another trainee was Harry Dotson from ST. Louis, who was very good on the guitar. He could also sing a third part. We tried to emulate the “Sons of the Pioneers”. We sang around camp in the off-hours and weekends.
Once we were invited to an officer’s party where I met an actor, Van Heflin. Bill took us to his wife’s folk’s home in Glendale, California, where we met his wife and family. I had a couple of snapshots taken in his cowboy hat and chaps and a lariat. The folks back home thought that I was certainly lying about the hard time I was having when they saw the snapshot.
On a day in mid-training, an all-soldier rodeo was organized. Gene Autry, who was a Sergeant in the Army Air Force at a Texas base, was flown there with his horse, Champion. Fuzzy Knight was also there.