Fruit of the Platoon
About halfway through basic training in 1966 at Fort Hood, Texas, our Army platoon was close to earning some privileges, like going to the PX without being marched there in formation. First, though, came a white -glove inspection of our barracks.
The inspection was going fine, with only a few more bunks to go, when the company commander slapped his swagger stick against one GI’s laundry bag. Instead of the usual high-pitched smack, he heard a thud. Most of us knew right then we weren’t going to the PX by ourselves.
No food was allowed in the barracks, and as the trainee’s dirty laundry was dumped out, along with it came an orange which rolled down the middle of the floor. After a period of silence and closer inspection, the officers determined that the orange was dead. The probable cause: asphyxia, from being too close to the GI’s dirty socks.
Since it was an Army orange, it would require a funeral with full military honors. The trainee was instructed to start digging a 4-foot-square, 4-foot-deep hole to bury the deceased. He was allowed to stop at about 10:00p.m., but was to start again at 6 a.m. Two guards, each with two-hour shifts, were to guard the gravesite for the night.
By about 2 p.m. the next day, the hole was ready and the platoon was called to formation for the funeral. The honor guard carried brooms and bathroom plungers, and one of the trainees put on a poncho and gave the eulogy. Then we stood in formation while the orange was placed in the grave and covered.
As the ground was being leveled, our platoon sergeant asked the trainee if he had buried the orange face-up. Since the trainee wasn’t sure he had to dig it up to check. In case you didn’t know, the navel goes up.
It may have seemed extreme, but you wanted the person next to you to follow orders without question when you were headed to Vietnam. As I look back on what a job those trainees had trying to make soldiers out of us, I take my hat off to that platoon sergeant.