Very early in the predawn darkness of Monday 27 October 1958, exactly 4 months after high school graduation, I departed my parents' home on eastern Long Island, New York and boarded a westbound Long Island Rail Road commuter train for the two hour trip to Penn Station located in midtown Manhattan. Upon arriving at Penn Station I next boarded a 7th Avenue IRT subway train for the 20 minute trip to the South Ferry Subway Station located at Battery Park and the Staten Island Ferry Terminal on the southern tip of Manhattan. From the South Ferry Station it was a very short 1&1/2 block walk north on Whitehall Street to the US Army's Northeast Region Induction Center located at 39 Whitehall Street in lower Manhattan.
Soon after arriving at the Induction Center, I joined a rather large number of enlistees and draftees from across the Northeast states. I recall the remainder of the time that day as being a series of long lines and too many needles. At the end of the day a group of us in a rather unmilitary-looking formation was escorted by Army personnel to the Governors Island Ferry Terminal, located immediately adjacent to the Staten Island Ferry Terminal, where we boarded a ferry for the short 10-minute ride from the Battery over to Governors Island, located in New York Harbor between Manhattan and Brooklyn, and at the time the Fort Jay US Army Post and First Army Headquarters, for an evening meal and overnight stay in Liggett Hall, the Post's main barracks and headquarters building.
Bright and early the following morning, 28 October, our group was escorted back to 39 Whitehall Street. Shortly after 9 AM (or now 0900 Hours in Military Time) along with several hundred others I was sworn in to the US Army by an Army Major. I was now officially Recruit E-1 Ryan. We were then placed on waiting Army buses for the not quite two hour trip down the New Jersey Turnpike to Fort Dix, located in south central New Jersey. The buses arrived at Fort Dix shortly before noon. I spent that first week in Fort Dix Reception Station Company 2. The first order of business on Day 1 was being given a G.I. haircut and being issued my uniforms and clothing. As for the G.I. haircut, I made out a lot better than many. I came to them with a "flat top", so the barber just trimmed a little more of that off the top.
Interestingly at the time, the Army was in the midst of switching over from being the "Brown Boot Army" to becoming the "Black Boot Army", with the old Class A Olive Drab (O.D.) World War II and post war era "Ike Jackets" being replaced with the new Army Green Class A uniforms. So, on Day 1, depending on an individual's foot size, some of us (e.g., those of us with larger size feet) were issued new black combat boots and low quarters while others were issued brown footgear along with a bottle of black boot stain.
Mid-afternoon on Saturday 1 November, along with 200 or so other recruits, I was transported by bus to Company E, 2nd(?) Battalion, 4th Training Regiment, to officially start Basic Training. There was the requisite amount of ritual screaming and yelling at us by Company E Officers and Noncommissioned Officers (NCOs) as they hustled us off the buses. Grabbing, carrying, even dragging our duffel bags from the buses as quickly and as best we could, we were then harassed and pushed into rag-tag formations. Truthfully, I was initially scared out of my wits by all of this hoopla and commotion, but in time I learned to take it in stride.
The Commanding Officer (CO) of Company E was 2nd Lieutenant Ludlow, a graduate of Infantry Officer Candidate School (OCS) at Fort Benning, Georgia. He was promoted to 1st Lieutenant in December. My Platoon Sergeant was Sgt. E-5 Lee, who turned out to be a fairly easy-going guy. Sgt. Lee had been a combat infantryman in the Korean War.
Quite a few, if not all, of the platoon sergeants had been combat infantrymen in Korea. They wore their infantry division patches and infantry powder blue braid on their right shoulder and the 1st Army patch on their left shoulder. I quickly learned about the pride each took in also wearing his Combat Infantryman Badge.
The week of 3 November, my first full week in Company E - Echo Company - was an indoctrination period. The first full week of the actual eight week Basic Training cycle started the following Monday, 10 November.
What can I say about Basic Training? We all went through it - the good, the bad, the indifferent. Actually, for that time period Army Basic Training wasn't so tough, especially when compared against Marine Corps Boot Camp. The M1 Garand rifle was still the infantryman's weapon of the time, and I lived with that weapon for 8+ weeks. At the rifle range I qualified for a Sharpshooter badge, which was pretty good for a kid from a metropolitan area who had never fired a weapon before.
We had quite a mix of basic trainees from across the Northeast, from 17 to 18 year old wet behind the ears Regular Army 3-year enlistees (RA's), to 2-year draftees (US) in their early to mid twenties, to Army Reservists and National Guardsmen starting their obligatory 6 months active duty. In my platoon we had a Sergeant E-5 from the Vermont National Guard who had never previously gone through Basic Training. He was constantly being asked by Fort Dix Training Cadre NCOs if the sergeant's stripes he wore were really his.
Our Echo Company NCOs used to take pleasure in telling us how they had treated some fairly famous people who had previously gone through Basic Training under them. One story that comes to mind is how they always tried to harass singer and entertainer Steve Lawrence, of Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme fame, by always loudly calling him out in formation by his real name, Sidney Leibowitz. Another is their description and characterization of New York Football Giants Offensive Lineman Roosevelt Brown as the "Gentle Giant" who nobody messed with.
I thought I heard at the time that both men were Army Reservists, and that Roosevelt Brown served his 6 month active duty requirement during the football off-season. However, my former Redstone colleague and friend, John Jardine, has informed me that Steve Lawrence was not in the Army Reserves, but was indeed a Draftee who served 2 years from 1958 to 1960. After Basic Training at Fort Dix, Steve was stationed at Fort Monroe, Virginia, outside Washington, D.C., and was a singer with the Army band. John says they had a weekly show on American Forces Network (AFN) radio, and that he was listening to the show on which Steve was promoted to SP4 E-4.
We were crowded into old two-story World War II wooden barracks. Each floor held two rows of "bunk bed" double metal cots, along with wall lockers and foot lockers. The latrines and showers were located at one end of the buildings on each floor. The barracks were heated, and hot water supplied, by coal-burning stoves that were serviced and maintained by civilians. Because of their wood construction and outmoded heating system, the barracks were literally construed as fire hazards, and thus we all had to take turns overnight with one hour shifts on fire watch duty.
Each time we stepped outside the barracks, we formed up in ranks to be marched and double-timed everywhere. Marching was always to the Count-Cadence-Count chant of: E-C-H-O, E-C-H-O, ECHO! It was that, next followed by the longer Delayed Cadence Count version: E-hut-3-4, C-hut-3-4, H-hut-3-4, O-hut-3-4, E-hut, C-hut, H-hut, O-hut, E-C-H-O, E-C-H-O, ECHO!
By the end of Week 3 we were granted weekend passes. I also received a pass to go to New York City on Thanksgiving Day, where I enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner with a friend's family in Brooklyn. At the end of Week 6 on Friday night December 19 we were sent home on leave for the Christmas and New Years holiday period, which was made up for by extending Basic Training to mid-January 1959. This was primarily due to the Fort Dix policy of allowing the drill sergeants to spend the Christmas to New Year Holiday time with their families. However, I recall Sgt. Lee complaining about the drill sergeants having to walk guard duty while the recruits were away. Over the entire span at Fort Dix I pulled my share of KP, but for some reason I never pulled guard duty. I returned from leave to Fort Dix and Company E on Sunday evening January 4, 1959. Now in the Army two months, I came off leave as Private E-2 Ryan, having been automatically advanced one pay grade on 28 December 1958.
Our seventh week, the first full week of January 1959, was supposed to be for bivouac training. There had been a rather huge snowstorm over the weekend. We went out to the field Monday morning and set up our pup tents in deep snow and on frozen ground, but we never slept in them. All that week nightime temperatures in south central New Jersey plummeted into the low single digits and to below zero. So, the decision was made to bring us back to the barracks each night.
But it was back out to the field each morning at the crack of dawn. We marched around in the snow and in temperatures that barely rose into the teens, from one training exercise to the next in our insulated Mickey Mouse boots, and as many layers of clothing you could squeeze on underneath your field jacket and outer parka to try and keep warm.
Of the entire 8 week training cycle, the only thing that truly bothered me, or more precisely, what I was fearful of, was learning to throw a grenade. The live fire infiltration course, crawling under barbed wire with bullets and tracers whizzing overhead, and the gas mask drill inside the tear gas-filled hut were really "no sweat". The grenade training was another story. On the first day of grenade training I messed up with the practice grenade by pulling the pin, releasing the handle and then, realizing I had messed up, trying to squeeze the grenade handle again. Naturally, my grenade went off before the command to throw was given, and all hell broke loose. Everybody else started tossing their grenades, whistles were blowing, and NCO's were screaming to halt the action. Luckily, for me and all involved it was only a practice grenade, where a small charge blows out a wax seal at the bottom end of the grenade. The next day fortunately I faired much better with the real grenade.
Week eight training was almost anticlimactic. For one, the weather moderated, and for two, we ran out of time. The worst of training was now behind us. We did not even have to go through the dreaded obstacle course, or in Army euphemistic parlance, the "Confidence Course". Basic Training all came to a conclusion on Friday 16 January 1959 with a Regimental Parade.
On Saturday morning, 17 January 1959, I was issued my travel orders for Advanced Training. Surprise of surprises to me, the destination on the orders did not read Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, but rather Fort Sill, Oklahoma. I was placed in charge of a group of five of us going to Fort Sill, and given the packet of travel orders for the five of us, plus meal chits for the day. At mid morning I said goodbye to Fort Dix, New Jersey for what I thought at the time would be my final time. Our Fort Sill-bound group then took a commercial bus to downtown Philadelphia, followed by a taxi ride to the Philadelphia airport.