The Tropic Lightning patch represents the 25th Infantry Division and I wore that patch proudly from June of 1963 to May of 1966, when honorably discharged from the Army.
I had re-enlisted in the regular Army in May of 1963, after having served six months of active duty with the Army Reserve. Left Alexandria, Louisiana on a bus in October of 1962, headed for Leesville, Louisiana and eventually the final destination of Fort Polk, Louisiana.
One of the other recruits on the bus made a big mistake right off, after arriving at Fort Polk. He found out that yelling nutbrain at a sergeant, from a second story window was not acceptable behavior. That sergeant let him know in no uncertain terms, that that kind of behavior would not be tolerated from a soldier in the United States Army.
We went from the brutal October heat of Fort Polk, to freezing temperatures, while on bivouac in December during basic training. Without giving the gruesome details of basic training, will move ahead to finishing basic and going home for Christmas.
After Christmas I boarded a Missouri Pacific train in Alexandria, Louisiana for Indianapolis, Indiana and the ultimate destination of Fort Benjamin Harrison, where the Adjustant General’s School was located.
When the train rolled into St. Louis, it was snowing and snow covered the ground. It was amazing to see snow for a 18 year-old kid who seldom saw snow in Louisiana. Later on the train arrived in Indianapolis and I took a taxi to the base. The ground was covered with several inches of snow, when I arrived.
Learned that winter how brutal Indiana winters could be and even had a case of frostbite, while walking to a movie on base one night. School went well and graduated in April of 1963.
After returning home and attending a few Army Reserve meetings, decided I would rather serve a full three-year enlistment, rather than go to Army Reserve meetings for several years.
So in May of 1963 I re-enlisted for three years. I requested to be stationed in Germany or Hawaii and received orders for Hawaii. Boarded a plane for San Francisco and was helicoptered to the Oakland Army Terminal, where I would stay about eight days.
Finally we boarded a MATS plane for Hawaii and if I remember correctly it took nine hours to make the flight to Hawaii. We headed to Schofield Barracks, after leaving the plane and wish I could remember my first impression after arriving there, but that was 49 years ago and can’t recall now.
One of the things I do remember about Schofield Barracks were the quads, in which the soldiers were housed. The doors were left open at night, so each cot had a mosquito net to prevent mosquitoes, from ruining a night of sleep. James Jones was stationed at Schofield Barracks and when his book From Here To Eternity became a movie, scenes were filmed at Quad C of Schofield Barracks.
Conroy Bowl an outdoor area holds many memories for me 49 years later, after seeing the Beach Boys in my first concert there. Saw the Christmas show with Hollywood entertainers, such as Julie Newmar and Stefanie Powers. It was a bittersweet experience though, hearing them sing Christmas songs while knowing I would be in Hawaii that Christmas.
I can remember they held a Battle of the Bands at Conroy Bowl and band after band played Louie, Louie by the Kingsmen. I was sick of that song by the end of the night.
Another highlight was Sue Thompson, known for Sad Movies Always Make Me Cry and Big Daddy’s Alabamy Bound shaking my hand, while singing the classic ballad You Belong To Me. A reminder of how long ago this was hit me, when I saw that she will be 86 on July 19.
It would be 16 months after arriving, before I would make my first trip home to Louisiana in October of 1964.
One of my favorite concerts at Conroy Bowl was when the Beach Boys entertained there, at the height of their popularity in the 60’s. Johnny Cash also appeared there, but seemed to be slurring his words, while singing and may have been still under the influence of drugs at this time in his life.
Several years before my arrival in Hawaii, Elvis Presley appeared in concert there in his last concert appearance for many years, before being drafted. It was over ten years before he would appear in concert again, after completing the filming of over 30 movies.
This website owned by Scotty Moore, who was with Elvis in the early days, shows many photos of Elvis at the Conroy Bowl. The website also tells how General John Schofield, who was a Union General in the Civil War foresaw the need, for the use of the Hawaiian Islands as a base to protect American interests. That was in 1872 which was 69 years before Pearl Harbor was attacked.
I heard a lot of Hawaiian music during my time in Hawaii and these are some of the songs I remember best:
Beyond the Reef, one of my favorite Hawaiian songs being played on a lap steel guitar.
Hawaiian girls dancing to My Little Grass Shack
Mele Kalikamaka is Hawaii’s way to say Merry Christmas to you.
Hawaii is usually thought of as a tropical paradise, but I found out different, when sent to the Big Island (Hilo) on temporary duty. I was assigned to a post office at the Pohakuloa Training Area that was at a high elevation. We could see snow capped mountains from the post office.
All good things come to an end and my paid vacation to the tropical paradise of Hawaii came to a screeching halt when we received word, that our postal unit was being sent to Vietnam.
I didn’t know the above photo even existed until today and was shocked to see it was a photo, of the 25th Infantry Division troops boarding the USNS General Walker, the same day that we boarded it.
Once the ship was on the way to Vietnam, I couldn’t help but wonder how many aboard that ship would never make it back home alive. We had too much time to think on the long ride to Vietnam, about what fate held for us once we left the ship in Vietnam.
We left one tropical paradise behind to go to another tropical paradise, that was a country 7,000 miles from Hawaii, in a country which offered only danger from a ruthless enemy, as we disembarked from the ship. I can remember how it took awhile to get used to being on land again, after two weeks of drifting across the ocean.
I can remember the stifling heat of Vietnam and how I drank several Coca-Colas to keep from being dehydrated, almost immediately after leaving the ship.
Memories of Hawaii
Hawaii was a distant memory, but 49 years later I think of the Hawaiian sunsets, the Hawaiian music and the musicians using their steel guitars to play songs like Beyond the Reef and My Little Grass Shack.
I can remember going to the service club and being entertained by various entertainers including the cowboy star of many westerns Jimmy Wakely.
I can remember like yesterday the beautiful sunsets on Waikiki Beach….the Service Club personnel taking on tourist excursions around the island seeing various attractions, that we may not have seen otherwise….the pecan twirls out of the vending machine at the service club….seeing the concerts at Conroy Bowl….the palm trees on the grounds of Schofield Barracks….working at the USARHAW post office and seeing the pro basketball player Terry Dischinger of Purdue and Detroit Pistons fame, who was working in the chemical department….working with the Hawaiians at the post office and how they freaked out when the temperature dipped to 59 degrees one day and showed up for work wearing jackets….remembering the day that JFK was assassinated, that I was substitute company mail clerk that day and listening to the news flash on the radio. I was the first to tell the company commander the news….also remember just missing seeing Lee Harvey Oswald shot by Jack Ruby on the television in the day room.
I also remember watching Shindig on my portable television seeing the musical greats of that era….spending Thanksgiving with Sgt. William Brannon and his family and wondering all these years, what happened to him after he left the Army….telling short-timers who had only a few days left, that I was going to be out soon myself….in 1,096 days….seeing the buildings at one of the airbases still showing damage from being hit during Pearl Harbor….meeting General Frederick Weyand, commanding general of the 25th Infantry Division, who was not happy with the direction of the war in Vietnam when he made this statement:
General Weyand, then commander of III Corps in Vietnam, was the unidentified high-ranking officer, who told Apple and Fromson (reporting the same story for CBS) that “I’ve destroyed a single division three times . . . I’ve chased main-force units all over the country and the impact was zilch.
I had often thought the war was not being fought conventionally. In past wars our military had swept across countries, instead of seeming to be going around in circles in Vietnam. However, that is just my opinion and others with more knowledge may be able to address that situation with more clarity.
Sorry from straying from the Hawaiian theme, but the encounter with General Weyand reminded me of the Vietnam situation.
I may never return to Hawaii again, because of the extremely high cost of being a tourist there, but it may be better that way, so I can remember it the way it was as those two years and eight months there were one of the happiest times of my life. I almost felt guilty being paid there, since it was such easy duty.
Hawaii….Thanks for the memories.