I caught the last of the movie Bagdad Cafe on cable the other night. It brought back a flood of memories. As you probably know I served my time in the Marines in the mid to late fifties. And you know by now I volunteered for everything and any thing to get me out of the shops. Well I believe it was during 1958 that I was sent to Twenty-nine Palms Desert Training Base in the Majave Desert of California. This was to be a month long encampment with the First Marine Regiment of the First Marine Division from Camp Pendelton Califorina. Also involved was a Armored Regiment of Heavy Tanks and Armored Tracked Personnel Carriers. It turned out to be quite a large exercise. The First Service Battalion, which was my unit sent a contingent of at least five-teen men plus a shop truck and a parts trailer. We convoyed out in a long line of heavy six-by trucks. Most of the guys were placed in trucks with canvas covers. I wound up in the back of a uncovered truck loaded with the foot lockers with our personal gear. I shared the truck bed with a sergeant from some other unit I did not know and his German Shepard.We made one stop for a comfort and lunch break at Banning, Calif. There was a canvas privacy screen surrounding what is called piss tubes, which are pipes in the ground and a large funnel on top. For lunch there were several catering trucks available. This convoy was not the whole contingent going to Twenty-nine Palms just one of many spaced apart.
Twenty-nine Palms is a whole lot of sand in the middle of nowhere, I do not know how many square miles it encompasses but it is large. We passed through the main gate and kept on going for what seemed like hours. I expect we were twenty miles in side of the base before we stopped. We set up camp adjacent to the First Marines who were already there. We detached the parts trailer and positioned the shop truck parallel to it about twenty feet to the side. and stretched a tarp between them and this was to be our home for close to the next three weeks.We slept on the sand under the tarp, and played cards underthe tarp, and fought and argued under the tarp to fight boredom. In the whole time there we had one .30 cal. Browning light Air Cooled Machine Gun come in for repare. A locking Cam had come loose and needed to be tightened
My adventure began on about our fourth day there. The Technical Sergeant didn’t paticulary care for me nor I him. he had not been with the unit very long, I believe he might have been with one of the Optical or Artillery segments, I do not even remember his name. Word came they needed someone for mess duty, he sent me. I started out doing scullery duty, scrubbing pots. The Cook happened to be a guy I knew from previous mess duty and his home town was eighteen miles from my own in Missouri. After a couple days he asked for another body from another unit and made me his assistant . I peeled patatoes and made salads and even learned how to help on the stoves and fried eggs for NCO’s and Officers for breakfast, regular troops got dried scrambled eggs. But the neat part was every other night the cook and his buddy the truck driver would make the fresh food and bread run, back to the main base. They would load the big bread box and me in the back of the truck and off we would go. Of course this included a cooler of bear on ice that was my job to hand through the window of the cab when they needed a fresh bottle. Lord those two guys kept me grandly drunk. My eighteen year old body could not keep up with them. We also made the laundry runs every week. There was a laundry detachment sent out there with us. They had these huge front load washers about ten feet in diameter and like rinse machines and driers. these were serviced by huge generators and a small fleet of water trucks. Also there were shower detachment along for us which we used about once a week. There is a lot of stuf that civillians never think of that keeps the service men going. As I said we went to the main base to the bakery to pickup fresh bread. This also allowed us to hit the Post Exchange and pick up things the other guys could not get, like candy bars and sodas, cigarettes and such. Which made me pretty popular. I also got a cot in a small tent in the kitchen area, so I really had it made. The Sergeant asked me after I had been on mess duty about eight days if I wanted to be relieved. I told him, no I would stick it out where I was, I wasn’t stupid. When it got hot during the day I would go sit in the refrigerator unit and eat ice cream sandwiches. I stayed on mess duty the whole time were there. My duties were over pretty early after the evening meal which was a large pot of soup and various breads and snack items and coffee and some beverage. the guys just came and served them selves over a ninety minute period. after this was over I could go back to my unit and grab ass, as it is termed, as long as it was not a bread run night.
Where we were camped we could see a light on a pole some great distance away every night and it became a topic of discussion as to what it was and how far it was. so a group of these bored Marines decided they would hike to it and see what it was. I truly was not interested in going on this hike but was persuaded to accompany some of the guys after the larger group had all ready left. After hiking about as far as I felt like going I started talking about the wild life of the desert and how it was to hot during the day for the snakes to hunt and as how they did their movement at night which reinforced a warning we had been given at the orientation before the exercise. After talking a while the two guys I was with began to have second thoughts about the hike and soon decided to return to camp. I might add here the other group never reached the light seems it just kept the same distance no matter how far they hiked..
As a service battalion we really had it easy. Those poor devils in infantry marched around that sand all day long or rode around in those hot steel tracked coffins, ( these were actually Armored Amphibious Tracked Vehicles, capable of making amphibious assualt landing onto the beach) and praticed jumping out and fighting mock battles. Those armored tracks and heavy tanks sure could stir up sand clouds. Then there was a platoon of Recon who ran five miles every morning before the sun came up.
Finally all good things come to a end and we prepared to go home. We were moved to a staging area on the back side of the base near some railroad tracks with a sideing and some loading platforms at a place called Bagdad Cafe. Yes it really existed, then it was a small cafe, store, two gas pumps and a three unit motel (real dumps). We were camped a mile off the highway, but the bread run still had to be run bi-nightly, and duty had to be answered. However a stop at the cafe for a greasy hamburgar and a fresh supply of ice and beer for the cooler was a necessity. To my wonder I discovered there was two Marine Corps MP’s billeted in one unit to facilitate the armor crossing the highway when loading time came around. And in the other two units was construction worker who was working as a welder on a pipe line being laid across the desert next to the highway, and his twenty, nineteen and seventeen year old daughters. Now the MP’s had claimed the twenty and nineteen year olds but the seventeen year old was very popular. I made the fifty-five mile one way trip for bread every other night and hiked across the desert with no fear of snakes on the off night. I ran into the sergeant one night there but it came to nothing because he had been AWOLto Tijuana himself9apparently one of the sergeants had managed to bring his car along). Finally we were loaded back onto our convoys and herded back to Pendelton. Not to many months later I was looking at Civilian life and just nine-teen years old. Soon to put the next 39 1/2 years in for ALCOA.
At the last camping place life became more hectic as all the units were combined into a larger mess tent. We kept our units segregated for meals but used the same large tent and got in each others ways with much aguring between diffrent cooks, and stealing each others supplies . This was the year that a certain cricket like insect hatches in great numbers, and as this section of the desert was a little more moist they were everywhere. When we had to strike the tents and roll them up the damn things were under the canvas by the thousands. We had to sweep them off and roll a few feet and sweep again. They were into everything foot lockers and any clothing left on the ground. Talking about roaches I drop the names of a few of my fellows that I remember being there. Privates, Vasquez, Takagawa (who claimed to be from San Fransisco and lived next dooe to Hank Ketchem author of Dennis the Menise) , pvt. Scott (the cocky Italian kid from Chicago nick named Bob Cat, because walking guard duty at the remote laundry unit, one night was frightened by a Bob Cat and loaded his rifle with a full clip and missed all eight shots. then called the corporal of the guard for more ammo). Corporals Scott (a hill billy, no relation to the Italian), P.G. Hunt and my friend Steve. There were a few more but I can not recall them at this time. Some where I have a picture of us all under that danged tarp. Also have a neat picture of all that armor lined up parade ground straight in two lines facing each other.
Tis enough rambling for one night, my bunk looks pretty good from here. Byb ramblingbob