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Sunday, June 24, 2012

My dad’s army

I don’t know how it began, but around the supper table at 729 Moraine, three children piped up, "Dad, dad, tell us a story about Sarge".  When I had been a teenager for some time, and long after stories about Sarge weren’t requested, I realized my Dad was Sarge.  Curiously, I never asked him.

Sarge was an NCO in this man’s Army.  Dad joined the Army in September, 1924, days after turning 17 on August 28.  At that point he was bouncing between the Akron Children’s Home and Charity Latch School.  I can find no information on Charity Latch School, but it sounds like an ominous destination for a tall, smart and probably willful young man.  Dad was more than six feet, and certainly that tall as a teenager.  Like many young men, the Army was his alternative to having no future.

The 1930 Census had my dad in Ft. Benning, Georgia, the locus of his stories.  He loved the south and the heat; he hated the lingering effects of malaria.  Sadly,  I don't remember a lot from the stories we demanded almost every night.

Before the good stories, though, here are a couple of snippets.   They stole watermelons from farmer’s fields, punched their fist through to get the seedless core and left the trail of destruction behind them in the field.  I wonder how they saw so well in the dark.  Narrow escapes from buckshot were recounted.  Mom didn't like the watermelon stories.

In those days there was a soft drink bottler, or two, in every town. Cliquot Club and White Rock ginger ale.  Nichol Cola.  Barq’s root beer.  Nehi.  Orange Crush.  You could buy stock in any of them, pennies a share.  Coca Cola stock was the same crap shoot in 1924 as any other bottled drink company.  Apparently dad took a flyer on the stock market with his pay; his reminiscence was only the guys who bought Coca Cola got rich.

Dad was a communications officer.  A  telegraph and radio man.  His equipment was big, and went on maneuvers packed on mules.  He had a large brown discoloration on his shin that mom told me much later came from a mule kick.

Then there was the new recruit sent to find a left handed spanner.

But the story we hollered for over and over was the pie stretcher.

A new recruit was assigned to KP duty there in Company A.  When he worked his way through peeling all the potatoes Cook scratched his head for a bit for the next job and then realized he didn’t have enough pies for all the men for dinner.  “Son, I want you to go over to Company B and ask Cook to borrow the pie stretcher.”

Over at Company B, of course, the pie stretcher had just been lent to Company C, so the new fellow was sent over there to retrieve it.

The story of the adventures of this new recruit looking for the elusive pie stretcher always went on until mom said it was time to clear the table.

 early 1900s photo Pack mule of U.S. Army Signal Corps, used for carrying storage batteries for the field wireless telegraph  


  1. Super tales...all armies the same, I reckon.
    My father had his tales too and this post brought themback to me. Thank you.

  2. The tales and reminiscences stay with us long after the telling and if you're anything like me, each remembrance seems to enhance the picture in your mind!

  3. Got to love a military man!
    Jane x

  4. Wonderful post. Thank you for sharing.

  5. The pie stretcher sorta reminds me of a snipe hunt!

  6. Poor recruit would have been running around in circles all day looking for the pie stretcher. This reminds me of the apprentice who was asked by his boss to go to the hardware store and buy a can of striped paint :-).

  7. I agree with Ms Sparrow. I also thought of the snipe hunt. Searching for snipe in the woods last forever.

  8. It sounds like supper was fun round that table!

  9. Oh, Joanne, I want to hear more of your dad's stories!!!
    What fun!

  10. Such fun. Joe's father was a radio man in the army too.