Saturday, September 20, 2014

Junior Joined The Army

Junior (that would be me) was what people called me for the better part of 18 years.  That's because I was Leroy McMillin, Jr.

But when I joined the Army, I was called everything but Junior.  On a good day, I was called by my last name: McMillin, and in 1962, I got pegged with the name Zereaux as I was directing the unloading of our ASA vehicles off a C-130 at Ft. Campbell, Kentucky during an untimely hard rain.

Our Lieutenant yelled 'Come On Zero" for me to jump in the truck.  I did as instructed and landed on his lap. The name stuck.

It started out being 'Zero,' but being from Louisiana, a buddy, Gary Gallatin from Dallas, suggested I call myself 'Ze-roe.'  So I revised the spelling to accommodate my desire to be, let's just say, different.

I even designed my 'mark' for it:

But most of the time I just used this to indicate that I had read something or had been there, sometimes accompanied by 'was here.'

I still use it when reading books to mark that I've read it.

Anyway, here's an accounting of my three years in the Army.

How I became a Soldier

My name is Leroy McMillin.  I'm from a small town in northeast Louisiana.  I was born in May of 1941, so that makes me a 'pre-war baby'  and old enough to remember some of it.

It wasn't long before I was hearing the talk about war and how our troops were dying.  I didn't know what it all meant, of course, but there was both an element of fear and excitement in the telling of it by the people who came into my Dad's cafe in Harrisonburg.  It's a historic village on the Ouachita River, having been settled in 1714 or thereabouts.  Our population was about 500, counting those off at war.
As I grew older I would sit and listen to the talk or stand on the front sidewalk in the evenings watching the local militia march up and down the street with their shotguns and sticks.  I loved how they yelled commands and turned when told to do so, or change the position of their guns as they marched.  It was magical.  I liked marching a lot.

Then they would come into my Dad's cafe and drink coffee.  Even though coffee and sugar were rationed and hard to come by, my Dad always had some to share.  A nickel a cup.  I can still smell it as the water was poured into the top of the big silver coffee pot, creating a big plume of steam.

But the best part of my day was to sit and listen to the men folk talk about the war as some of them sipped the hot coffee from their saucers.  I so wanted to be a soldier.

A decade and a half later I was standing naked among a long line of boys and being checked inside and outside, front and back and top to bottom.  Those doctors saw parts of me even my Mama never saw.
Next thing I know my buddy and I were on an airplane flying from Shreveport to Dallas.  I'd never flown in a big airplane before.  A DC-3 the pilot said. Then with the precision I expected of the military, we were met at the airport by an Army driver who zipped through traffic like I had never seen before on highways ten and twelve lanes wide.  My eyes were popping at the sights.

It wasn't long before we arrived at the Army Processing Center.  We were introduced to an important looking person in uniform who told us we had scored very high on some tests that we had taken in Shreveport and he wanted to talk to us about our future in the Army. 

He explained that the Army allowed some enlistee's to pick and choose what they would like to do. We wouldn't be sent to the Infantry or Armored or other  combat units unless we requested it.  Instead, we were qualified for the Army Security Agency and we could select from two programs the ASA had a strong interest in at the time: Computers and Morse Code.

I asked, "What's a computer?"

He said, "Well, I don't rightly know, but I do know the Army is interested in it."

I said, "I was a Boy Scout and I know about Morse Code, so I'll take that."

About a hundred signatures later we were lined up with some others and sworn into the Army.  And within minutes we were on a bus headed north into the cold night for Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. 

We arrived about 3:00 am, or as I soon learned differently: 0300.  There was snow on the ground and we were in summer type civilian clothes.  My teeth were chattering, as were everyone else's, along with toes and knees. 

We were in the Army now.

The next eight weeks were, let's say, different.  All of us were 'maggots' to some guy who wore a lot of stripes.  He reminded us of it every day up to and including the day we graduated basic training.

But one day I was told to report to a building where I found out that I was to be interviewed.  Some guys in suits asked me a lot of questions and warned me that if they found out I was not telling the truth I would be in a lot of trouble.  They gave me a lie detector test.  A few days later I got a letter from my parents saying the FBI had been to Harrisonburg asking about me.  They asked if I was in some kind of trouble? 

Then all of a sudden I was home again for a few days, but I had to be in Massachusetts by a certain date in April.  After a very long train ride I reported to ASA at Ft. Devens.

Much of the first day or two I was being explained the importance of keeping our mission secret.  I likened it to be an updated version of the "Loose Lips Sink Ships" posters I had seen in the Post Office during WWII.  Later I learned that it was much more than that.

I was assigned to Company B, USASA Training Regiment, and just like that I was a Spivey's Tiger.  Lt. John Spivey was our Company Commander.  I liked him the moment he zipped in front of the barracks one day in a bright sports car, leaned over and kissed a beautiful woman, then smartly walked into the barracks office as she drove away.

As a Spivey's Tiger, we marched three abreast over and back to the ASA Quadrangle.  We always tried to be the last group in, and we always broke rank with a very loud "EeeeeYaaaTTTTT." 

We were special and we knew it.

I immediately began training in Morse Code.  I have to say, I wasn't expecting what would come of it but it turned out to be the ideal assignment for me.  Except for three guys, our entire class was assigned to the 317th ASA Battalion in Fort Bragg, North Carolina.  We would be a support group to the 82nd Airborne Division.  What an honor and privilege that was.

We trained a lot, including tactical training for front-line support when needed.  We set up field operations, often close and sometimes very far from where the 82nd was training.  Because we were considered tactical, we had the option to go to Jump School to get our Jump Wings.  Some of my buddies did and I wish I had also, many times.  But I wasn't in nearly as good a shape as I thought I was and probably would have been kicked out of the program.
Suddenly, we were instructed to pack up our entire company and return to Ft. Devens for two months of Cold Weather Training and to help train some National Guard troops.  That was a really fun adventure.  Then we returned to Ft. Bragg and set everything up as before.

Then Operation Swift Strike happened.  We were assigned to support the 18th Airborne Corps in some of the most realistic simulated war exercises in years.  It covered two states.  That was interesting to say the least, and lots of fun.

In the Fall of 1962 I was in a small advanced group who flew up to Ft. Campbell, Kentucky with some equipment to demonstrate our mission support capabilities to the 101st Airborne Division.  Apparently, we impressed them quite well.  We returned to Ft. Bragg and were instructed to load up again and move our entire company, lock, stock and barrel, to Ft. Campbell.  At the same time, the 317th ASA Battalion was de-activated and we suddenly became the 313th ASA Battalion.

Like most combat ready troops, we were in place and ready to go to war in October 1962.  The Cuban Missile Crisis put us all to the test.  Fortunately, the only thing that came of it was a readiness check.  We scored high.

Then on February 28, 1963, my three years were up.  I decided not to re-enlist and accepted my discharge thinking the military wasn't for me.  I drove home wondering if I had made the right decision.

Ironically, I joined the Naval Security Group two years later because I was bored to tears in Harrisonburg, Louisiana.    That's another story in itself...

Here's the 'Movie' if you care to see some photos:  

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