By A.H. Watson
In 1958 the Army forced me to ride, foot astride, two separate, massive conundrums in the center ring of the military circus. Not only was the military trying to hide its decency when challenged by rules; it further tried to hide a small blip on the rump of the elephant with the goofiest story ever allowed to be hung out and dried in an Army barracks.
It would be helpful to understand the military attitude in the spring of 1945: The draft was still on, men were being called to serve on a daily basis - occasioned by the upcoming need to fight on the Japanese mainland. Yet, at the force requirement level in Washington, there was a "understanding" that additional troops could possibly be unnecessary.
On the 12th of May 1945, the attached weapons platoon of "D" Company, 2nd Battalion, 4th Regiment, of the 3rd Army went missing.Every man jack of them ? Every stinking weapon ? Every truck and Jeep (1- each) and all supplies that were T, O&E for a weapons unit.
All items had been drawn from Quartermasters: shirts, sheets, shoes and even Material, Shitting, #345374-W- 48R. This is, of course, better known around the house - as toilet paper.
It should be sufficient to tell you, no officer from the 3rd Army Commander to the lowest Second Lt., would get real about having a whole god damn platoon deducted from his pay. It should be equally easy to see that they all had to die together?.and in some place where they could not be checked - item by item.
A week of frantic searching of every Shipping News Notice at the major west coast harbors, found a tramp steamer that had foundered in the Bering Sea with all hands lost. Once found, It was simplicity itself, to get transportation orders cut, stand? and wave good by - to the best fighting unit at Ft. Benning - a unit on its way to Sitka to protect us from the Jap horde. Hell, who knew the Japs had been chased out of the Aleutian Islands two years before?
For those of you never blessed with military experience, you might question the difficulty with cutting travel orders for 44 mythical men in green. But others will know that every Sergeant in every service has thousands of debts owed or sufficient trash on others to outfit and move an entire army to his back yard for labor day with no one the wiser.
Every month there was an inspection of the Company Cadre and its equipment somewhere on base. The night before there would be lines of enlisted men delivering mattresses, sheets, pillows, rifles, pool balls and even light bulbs. All items missing from the T O&E chart of the Company to be inspected (that being the list of equipment issued to the Company and expected to be in place when inspected).
Debts would be called and items delivered from all over the base. The Army made little allowance for wear and tear by young men at arms under some degree of protest - so the platoon Commander and First Sergeant were financially responsible for missing items.
One Second Looey I knew intimately was billed for a M1 rifle and a Patton tank - all in the same month. When he asked if he could pay cash for the rifle and put that big thingy on lay-away, he was restricted to base until he found the damn tank!
As you have seen, everything in the Army is absolutely secret. Therefore - everything is known; such was the "Lost Platoon."
They had not reached the coast, (by the separate private car the railroad man had added to the train, at the behest of the Sergeant dating his daughter ) before the beer halls were full of rumor and conjecture.
I don't know with which group the belief became fixed that the Platoon was still at Ft. Benning, that it had been sent to an outlying area of the base and somehow forgotten. Yet, these fine young soldiers, too honorable to abandon their duty, had stayed in place until the local Kudzu, considered the most potent in the South, had rapidly covered the entire unit. And there they stayed, even today, performing their sacred duty, ever watchful, ever loyal to their duty.
I do know, however, just when the search for the "Lost Platoon" became a ritual with each new class of recruits.
On maneuvers one day, one of my troops found a rusting M1 rifle leaning against a tree. I had no reason to keep the useless thing but, for some reason, I put it my quarters.
The next group of recruits contained a couple of real hard asses( every group is a compilation of the 'country' at large). These two were several cuts lower than usual.
In the company beer hall that first night the Company Sergeant told the story of the 'Lost Platoon." I had suggested that he tell these two recruits about the secret discovery of some of the equipment of the "Lost Platoon" but the lieutenant kept it in his room even though the Army was offering both cash and extra leaves for any information on the platoon but that it must remain a secret.
That night when I returned to my room the hair on the locker was missing and the rifle out of place. I hoped they checked the reg. number on the piece as it also appeared on the list of the "Lost Platoon's" records posted on the wall in the armory!
The next day the two little Yankee, loud mouth, know-it-alls, managed to trick the First Sergeant into slipping up and telling them where the rifle had been found. Seems it was a thirty acre field slap covered with Kudzu. Trees, bushes, deep red gullies, all covered with what seems to be a green molten substance. Imagine a outdoor nursery with three feet of snow except the snow grows up and over the trees some 40' tall, turning them into giant snowmen.
By the 8th week of training those two fellows looked like the walking dead - not a peep out of them. They were too damn tired from spending every free hour in the Kudzu patch looking for a ticket to freedom.
While those boys spent their weekends wiggling under the kudzu looking for the "Lost Platoon;" the others spent them in town. At first when they would meet a snake they would run like Snoopy (on top of the kudzu on their toes) screaming like they had been goosed at the bus station. By the fifth week it was the snakes that were running.
Actually I began to feel sorry for the pain I had caused them. When their spirits were low and they were about to quit I was going to tell them it was a joke. But damn! Every time they ran out of gas - up would turn another relic from the "Lost Platoon" and off they would go again baying at the moon.
First was the clothing: shirts, pants hats all rotting and fragile. You can do wonders with Clorox and battery acid to age textiles. Then there was the rusted helmet and old Jeep wheel. The more that was found, the long passes supposedly given, or stacks of $50.00 dollar bills in a bunk mates hand and the more disjointed they became.
Isn't is strange, but true, how many times real good is achieved even when it was unintended ?
Here are two young men that no doubt wanted to, and would have, flunked out of class. Instead they became accomplished at sneaking around and crawling on their bellies. Of course, their tempers were a little short but as they fell asleep, the moment they stopped moving, not a soul complained about their few hours awake, or the little time they spent in the barracks.
One fine morning they were found nekkid in the breakfast line. We were forced to arrange new accomodations. Once out of therapy, if they lose their slight tic, stop drooling or pulling each others fingers before farting at the officers club - they would make great additions to the Ranger Corps. Hell, they could pinch a rattlesnake's head off with one hand, while digging with a trench tool with the other. That is usually the hardest thing to learn in Ranger School.
They are also quiet, but they do speak... at times.
Well sure they do - that time when Garth was hit by the car; then there was that chain saw incident.
I distinctly remember them saying a few words.
©2008 A.H. Watson, all rights reserved.