Our “Westernaires”

Our “Westernaires”



Sang the backup for Gene Autry who sang from his horse in the middle of the rodeo grounds. I was pleased when I heard Gene’s voice crack on a note! Ha! It happens to the best of them!  I had a snapshot taken of me with Fuzzy Knight, Autry’s bearded and toothless companion. All of me that is in the snapshot is my elbow!! After the rodeo Gene Autry performed in his weekly Sunday radio show called “Melody Ranch”. I watched the show from the wings of the stage hoping they’d call on me for any goll-danged reason. I was stage-struck too, but I realized I was much too homely for Hollywood. Well, maybe I could play a gangster or a crook!
On some other occasions, I would be called upon to provide the bass backup to a USO show. One memorable show was when a Hollywood star who was dressed fit to uh hmm uhhh kill, sang “Dancing Cheek to Cheek” as she flashed her large eyelashes in a suggestive mode. I always doubted how much ‘help’ those scantily-clad girls provided to love-hungry GIs. I think it made it worse, but on the other hand, it helped us to want to get the damned war over with. Let’s GO!

One fun thing in Camp Roberts was the tarantulas — FUN!? Those big, ugly spiders that lived in holes in the ground? We’d pour water from our canteen in the holes and when they’d emerge, we’d step on them–squish!! Fun? Mean.
Once I was given the task of repairing bent bugles.  I liked that duty. It was “up my alley.”

Sgt. Herda drilled us and drilled us and finally developed us into a drill team.  We performed in front of the “Army Brass” at parades which were held as part of our training and maybe to boost morale.
In all this time I was writing tales of woe to my Dad and Mother.  I asked them to try to get me out of the army.  Get me out! Get me out! I wanted to get home to the girl I left behind and to a life other than army life. I had my fill of dictatorship. My Dad went to a lawyer named E.K. Brown in Ellensburg, Washington and initiated action to get me out on whatever reason they could.  I was as homesick as I could be. It over shadowed my patriotism. I should have remembered the many times I threatened to ‘run away’ from home when I was disciplined by my Dad or Mother. They used the ‘heavy hand’–which I don’t hold against them to this day. I wanted to GO HOME!  To Mommy and the other girl I left behind.

The papers asking for my discharge to “Save Private Mohar” came just as the platoon had finished training. The entire bugle platoon shipped out to the Pacific.  Some of them ended up in the Army Band in Australia, where my band dreams might have finally been fulfilled.  I was held back, alone in the barracks for days until the draft board at home decided if the hardship discharge was necessary.  Since I left the farm and was in another job when I volunteered for the draft, it was determined the hardship discharge wasn’t beneficial to the war effort, I guess.  So I was tossed back into the conflict for whatever fate handed to me.

The word finally came from the Ellensburg Draft Board where they decided if I would be eligible for a hardship discharge.  It must have been a resounding “NO” evidently.  I was told to pack up and join another bunch of GIs shipping out for somewhere. I was hoping that my fate would be to be sent to Europe.  I had fond hopes of somehow going to visit my father’s hometown of Lokve, Croatia.  It was a far-fetched hope but still something to hope for.
Our troop train left on some day in the middle of summer.  No one knew our destination but we began to get ‘the drift’ as the train passed towns we recognized.  The road and town signs were a dead giveaway that we were heading south–from Camp Roberts!  South?  Where really were we going?  Maybe to San Diego?  Is that the port of embarkation?  No one knew.

Soon though we noticed that the train was in the desert and the heat was unbearable in the railroad cars.  Most of us stripped down. The sweat poured off of us and there was no shower facility whatsoever.  Humanity stinks in confinement. There was just the one toilet in a car.  I think the train rails went along the Mexican border for a while and up in to Arizona. I remember looking out at the sandy landscape.   There was nothing for miles and miles.  Brush and rabbits and snakes, I presume.  I remember we were allowed off the train in Phoenix. There was really a different human atmosphere there. Most girls that greeted the trains were Mexican and/or Indian girls. It was an unusual sight for me, the Mexican girls with such dark, shinning hair.  I thought they were beautiful, but I didn’t let my thoughts about ‘girls’ let me forget the girl who promised to be true–the girl I left behind–I shouldn’t even mention her!
The train finally crossed the great expanse and we unloaded near Gainesville, on the northern border of Texas.  The “asshole of the world” we all called it! Someone said that it was the only place in the world where you could stand in mud up to your ass and get sand blown in your face!!  Everywhere I moved was to a worse place. This was worse than the barracks in Camp Roberts.  Now it was tarpaper shacks with plain board walls, wood floors and ugly rickety bunks one on top of the other as if on a troop ship!  And don’t forget the CHIGGERS!

In those days the infantry still relied on bugle calls in the field. I was an extra bugler. The bugler in this company was named Batterson. He had a Brooklyn accent. He thought he was a much better bugler than I was, but that was okay even if he was. I was in no competition.  Batterson thought I was trying to ‘edge’ him out, but that surely wasn’t so. The top sergeant was a neatly dressed, strict sergeant who hated my mustache. For some reason I was allowed to have one. He said to me one day with his Texas accent, “Mohair! (I hated that ‘hair’ bit)” “Whyna hell you cultivate that hair under yer nose when it can grow wild ’round yer asshole?”!!  That’s what he said! I just had to stand there and take it. He had the rank and if he had directly ordered me to shave it off, I would have. I kept it!