By Chester Campbell
I was assigned to sentry duty as part of the training and knew I'd be challenged on the general orders. One I remember was "To walk my post in a military manner, keeping always on the alert, and observing everything that takes place within sight or hearing." Sometime after dark, I was issued an unloaded M1 rifle and hauled out to a small commercial building on a street with little traffic. During my tour of duty, I was to march around the building, which could have been vacant for all I knew, and challenge anyone who came near it.
A street light not too far away provided the only illumination, which was partially blocked by palm trees. The Sergeant of the Guard came around once, and I had to challenge him and recite some general orders. Other than that it was a lonely vigil with no one around, which was okay, since I wasn't supposed to talk to anyone "except in line of duty." But as I was walking (I wouldn't call it marching) around after a couple of hours, a loud thud sounded just behind me.
I spun around with my useless rifle at the ready. There had been rumors of German subs in the area, possibly infiltrating spies. But the only thing I saw was a big fat coconut that had fallen from a tree. I was lucky it hadn't conked me in the head. When I was relieved by the next guard on the post, I warned him to look out for flying missiles.
I received no Purple Heart in the war, since I wasn't wounded in action. Heck, the only action I saw was in Miami, Georgia, South Carolina and Texas. I should have gotten the Purple Shaft, however. I was supposed to be in Aviation Cadet training, though most of the time I was shifted about various bases doing odd jobs. Part of the program involved assignment to a College Training Detachment. I spent my time at Winthrop College (a girls school back then) at Rock Hill, SC. One of our assignments was to take ten hours of flight instruction in a Piper Cub. However, I only managed seven hours.
What happened was we young kids just out of high school did the usual silly things while waiting our turn in the Piper Cub. I was showing my agility at turning cartwheels when my toe slammed into a rock. It hurt like hell and my foot began to swell. They took me to a nearby air base where it was wrapped and I picked up a crutch. I hobbled around for a couple of weeks and missed the rest of the flying hours. That was as close to being a pilot as I ever got.
It wasn't all for naught, though. While on my last assignment at Randolph Field in San Antonio, I roomed with a fellow cadet who had spent a year at Yale before entering the service. He told me if he had it to do over, he would've studied journalism. Somehow that resonated with me. When I was discharged, I enrolled at the University of Tennessee with the idea of studying journalism. It wasn't offered at the time, but they started a reporting class in my sophomore year and expanded it into a full curriculum the following year. That led to a writing career that hasn't stopped yet.
Things always seem to work out for the better in the end. But it could have been a bit more exciting.