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Not recommend for the Good Conduct Medal - The Wetbacks

Story ID:10448
Written by:Charles Dishno (bio, contact, other stories)
Story type:Family Memories
Location:Fresno CA USA
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Not recommend for the Good Conduct Medal - The Wetbacks.
By Chuck Dishno

This is a continuation of two previous posts and the final in my commitment to the Army. #9992 & #9997.

My commitment to the Selective Service Act was that I fulfill a 6 year commitment. I got my draft notice in May 1956 and did my basic training at Fort Lewis, Washington. I was then transferred to Fort Monmouth, New Jersey for photography school then to my final duty assignment at Fort Lee, Virginia where I was assigned to the entertainment branck. I stayed at Fort Lee until I got an emergency transfer to Fort Ord, California because m Dad was dying. I only had two weeks left on my hitch and after it was up I headed back to Fresno to be with Pop in his last days.

The 6 year commitment included 2 years active duty, two years active reserve and two years of inactive reserve. I would not receive my official discharge until my 6 year commitment was up.

As soon as I got back to Fresno I went back to my old job and promptly forgot, I think, on purpose, to check in with the reserve. Fresno had an Army Reserve Center and I knew I should contact them but kept putting it off.

Almost a year went by before I got a call from the commander of the Reserve Center saying I had better be at the next meeting. He was a little upset that I had not checked in a year earlier. The Reserve met every two weeks and when I showed up, I fully expected to get my butt chewed out but nothing was said.

This Army Reserve Center was made up of several companies and since I had been in the entertainment branch at Fort Lee, they didn’t know where to put me. I was soon assigned to the Transportation Company. This struck me kind of funny and I told them that in the two years I had been in I had applied for a military driver’s license several times but was turned down because of having only one eye. I was told that this wouldn’t matter because all I would be doing is running 16mm training films since I did have a projectionist license.

This was in May and we were told that in July we would have to attend a two week summer camp at Camp Roberts near Paso Robles, California. Camp Roberts is a California National Guard post in central California.

Early on a Saturday morning in mid July, about 100 of us boarded a couple of busses and were off to Camp Roberts. When we got there about 1pm the temperature was hovering around 105 degrees and we were miserable. Upon arrival, we were taken to the mess hall and fed then off to our barracks. That afternoon we were assigned to our duty assignments. I was assigned to the heavy truck company where we were shown how to drive and park a large 5-ton truck with a 40 ft. trailer. Most of the guys knew how to drive those trucks but for me it was a new experience and the heat was stifling. I enjoyed the chance to drive one of these big rigs even if I didn’t have a license. I kept telling them that but was told it made no difference. The next several days involved working in the motor pool and learning about trucks and most wheeled vehicles that the Army used. One of the things we were required to do was back up a truck and 40ft trailer. A double line of barrels were set about 150ft long and we were supposed to back the rig between them without hitting any. I failed miserably and couldn’t even get a third of the way thru without knocking barrels out of line. It just wasn’t the same as backing up a 10ft trailer behind my Model A Ford.

About the middle of my first week, a sergeant called me over and told me to take one of the truck and trailer rigs across the camp and pick up a group of new recruits that had just arrived at the headquarters. I was then to deliver them back across camp to their barracks and processing area. Once again I reminded him of my lack of a license. He said not to worry about it as I was only going about a mile each way. Apparently he had not seen me back that beast up.

The 5-ton truck was attached to a 40ft long trailer with stake sides and headed the right direction. I climbed aboard and headed out the motor pool gate and was soon on the main street toward the headquarters. As I rolled to a stop I saw about 50 G.I.s dressed in fatigues carrying their duffel bags. Someone let the back tail gate down and they all climbed on, glad to be going somewhere as the temperature was approaching 110 degrees. I was given a bunch of papers and told to deliver my load across camp. Fortunately I didn’t have to back up there either. It was just a straight shot out and onto the main street again. I thought to myself that this isn’t too bad.

The speed limit was only 15 mph on base and I was doing fine. The first few blocks were straight thru and I had the signals in my favor. About the fifth block I was to make a right turn onto the next street. In my many years of driving, I had seen those signs on the back of trailers saying “CAUTION, THIS VEHICLE MAKES WIDE RIGHT TURNS”. I never gave it too much thought and when I came to the intersection, I was in the far right lane. I just made a normal right turn and the truck with its fifth-wheel made it just fine but the trailer cut across the sidewalk and broke off a fire hydrant at the base. I instinctively knew I was in trouble as I could see a geyser shooting up about 50ftt next to the trailer, so I stopped and got out. My load of recruits was whooping and hollering as this geyser of cold water came cascading down on them. It was a welcome relief from the 110 degree heat and even though they were soaked to the skin it didn’t seem to matter.

There was quite a bit of traffic that time of the day and I was the center of attraction. I had no idea what to do but wait for the MPs to come to my rescue and maybe haul me off to the jail. It wasn’t long before several MP’s arrived in two Jeeps. They immediately started clearing the traffic jam and called for the fire department to shut off the hydrant. One of them took me aside and asked what the heck I was doing by making that corner like I did. I said I had no idea. All I could tell him was that I was delivering a load of recruits across base and showed him the papers. He took the papers, then called the motor pool and tried to explain what had happened and to send another truck to take the wet recruits to their designation. He the put me in his Jeep and drove me back to the motor pool. As I got into the Jeep I turned and waved at my load of “wetbacks.”’ They all waved back and cheered, grateful that I had cooled them off.

The MP dropped me off at the motor pool and told the sergeant what had transpired. I figured I was going to get my butt chewed out but he didn’t say anything and just walked away. I’m sure the incident was entered into my 201 file though.

The next week we took a convoy to Pismo Beach for an overnight camp-out. As I drove the beast to the front gate a sergeant was standing there and pointing two fingers at his eyes. I thought they had finally figured it out and hollered out the window, “Yea, that’s me, I only have one eye.” He yelled back, “No, you dumb ___, turn on your headlights.”

That weekend we were bused back to Fresno and after a few more months in the reserve I was let go as I had fulfilled my 4 year commitment and had to wait 2 more years to fulfill the original 6 year commitment. Nothing was ever said about the year I played dumb and didn’t show up.

Two years later I got my final discharge in the mail and sure enough, stamped on it in big bold letters, THIS SOLDIER IS NOT RECOMMENDED FOR THE GOOD CONDUCT MEDAL. I really didn’t care.

This all happened over 55 years ago and since then I have had 3 fifth-wheel travel trailers and covered most of the US without incident.

Now that my life is winding down and I will soon be approaching those Pearle Gates, I hope Saint Peter won’t stop me and ask to see my license. I will just have to tell him that I have only one eye and was never given a license. Hopefully he will give me the green light and remind me to make wide right turns as they may damage my angel wings.