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Memorial Day Memories

Trigger warning – colorful language used 

As I recline on my living room sofa watching Charlie Sheen’s ‘Platoon’, not for the first time, I recall my time in the service.

It was 1982, and I was 19. I graduated high school at Northeast in Columbia that spring and signed up for Airborne Artillery on Decker Boulevard shortly afterward. I remember waiting to go in.

That summer, a friend whose parents owned a peach orchard in McBee, South Carolina talked me into selling peaches for some extra bucks. I stood in the middle of the road on the median at the intersection of Decker Boulevard and Brookfield Rd in Northeast Columbia in cutoff blue jean shorts, shirtless, juggling peaches and selling them one or two at a time. I made some money and got a few phone numbers, and then my simple days of freedom and random dating ended. There’s a lot more to it than that, but to keep it simple and honest, I’ll keep it short.

I headed to Charleston with Mom and Dad to send me off. Flying alone for the first time in my life, I said goodbye to my folks in Charleston and boarded the plane. Four hours later, I landed my happy a** in Oklahoma, bound for artillery school at Fort Sill. As I exited the civilian plane, I realized how many soldiers, well, soon-to-be soldiers, were on the plane with me. 

I barely remember the names or faces of the guys I was with, but I remember being corralled into a bus, then being shuffled into a nice, clean, newer building with bedrooms – a lot like a new dorm, and assigned a bunk and a locker. We got dinner, watched a movie, and went to bed around 9 PM. At around 6 AM we got up, had some breakfast and coffee, got haircuts and salad-suits (camo fatigues), and sat around until about 10 AM, smoking and joking. I remember thinking, ‘This ain’t so bad.’

No sooner had that thought passed, we were told to get our duffle bags full of new gear, were herded to a parking lot, and instructed to load another bus.

This is where reality left my mind, and for several months, some kind of army-centric dream world started. Packed on the bus with my new, green, short-haired friends, we drove across the base. The bus stopped in front of some rambling old barracks – clean but ancient. The driver opened the bus door and an older, grizzled, short, round, black man dressed in an OD green uniform and a brown, round hat climbed up the bus stairs and filled the front of the bus with his rotund personage.

Now, for those of you who have been on that bus, and been in this situation, you know what’s about to happen. For those who are hearing this for the first time, it will be hard to present this with the impact we felt. We had had a relaxing day or two getting here, had been welcomed by the Army with open, loving arms, and so far, thought we had all made a great choice in joining the United States Army. We had our duffle bags full of our new army gear, we were sporting these great new haircuts, and had arrived at our new home with no cares or worries for the next three months. Pretty sweet deal!

The man who had filled the front of the bus started to speak. 

“Good morning, gentlemen. My name is Drill Sergeant Broadwater. On behalf of the United States Army, the one-station unit training facility of Fort Sill, Oklahoma, the other drill sergeants from Bravo Company, and myself, I’d like to welcome you to your new home for the next three months.”

There was a short silence while he looked around the bus, up and down the rows of new, green recruits, and then started walking forward.

The next words out of his mouth were yelled at the very loudest of the grown man’s ability.

“NOW GET THE F*** OFF MY BUS! GET THE F*** OFF MY BUS AND GET YOUR A** IN THAT PARKING LOT. GET OFF MY BUS, GET YOUR BAGS, GET YOUR GEAR, GET YOUR PAPERS. I WANT TO HEAR A******S AND ELBOWS POPPING! GET OFF MY BUS! RIGHT NOW! GO, GO, GO!”

Drill Sergeant Broadwater had instantly transformed from a kindly well-dressed gentleman into some sort of terrifying Incredible Hulk character. He was one of the scariest things I had ever seen for sure, and by the looks of my new friends, them too. There were a******s and elbows popping all right, and I’m pretty sure he was throwing full duffel bags around – somebody was. A few full duffles went out the window, and I’m pretty sure a few of my new green friends did too. You see, this thick, round man was standing in the only path between all of us and the door. Perhaps a few made it out of the emergency exit, but I remember climbing over the seats, two at a time, to avoid this scary son of a gun.

The day progressed with the standard harassment you would expect from basic training. We’ve all seen the movies, and they generally get it right. Well, that was my first full day in the Army. We got our bunks, organized our stuff in footlockers, practiced our hygiene, and went to bed tired. 

The next morning, the proverbial metal trash can roared down the middle of our barracks, metal lid and all, startling us out of our glorious slumber at about 4:30 AM.

Drill Sergeant Broadwater was back at it again, yelling at the top of his grown-man lungs and terrifying us once again. The room livened up with new soldiers hopping out of bed and standing at the foot of their bunks.

Now, you see, I came from a relaxed frame of mind, more of a hippy person than a military man. Long hair, a relaxed lifestyle, and a little bit of partying before I joined up. I was just a chill kinda guy. Being tired the night before, I just stripped down and got in my bunk with no concern for the next morning.

Well, everybody else hopped out of bed and stood at the foot of their bunk. Me? I was sitting on the side of my bed, my lap covered by my sheet. Naked. It didn’t occur to me that this would be an issue.

Apparently, down the hall, Broadwater noticed that I was not standing at the end of my bunk where I was supposed to be, and stomped his short, rotund brickbody down to my bunk. He stepped around the foot of my bunk and saw me sitting on the side of the bed, sheet covering my lap, and started yelling. He screamed something like “Get your a** up and stand at the end of your bunk RIGHT NOW!”

Well, he was scary enough without my lack of clothing, so I did what he said and stood up, dropping the sheet. When he saw that I was completely undressed, he startled back with a rapid jerk, his eyes bulging and his jowls jiggling like jello. “You’re naked!”, “You’re naked!” he screamed, still jiggling, probably more than twice. I also remember he asked me why I was naked. He didn’t just ask it, he yelled it as a statement, and it was rhetorical for sure. There was a whole lot of embarrassing stuff and yelling on his part that went on, but needless to say, I earned a nickname from that morning, and that nickname lasted all through basic training. 

Nude Bomber. I was the Nude Bomber for three months of basic training. I don’t think he even knew my last name that was tagged on my shirt. When I talk to a couple of guys from basic training, they still call me that name. That was more than 40 years ago. Funny the things we remember.

During that three or four months of Oklahoma hell, Broadwater would need something done somewhere, and whatever we were doing or wherever we were, he would yell “WHERE MY NUDE BOMBER AT?” I would have to run wherever he was and do whatever needed doing.

Decoding the Difference between Military Branches - FJ

So, that was part of my Army experience. The first 48 hours anyway. There are a lot more stories, and any veteran has ‘em. If you’re hanging out with a Vet this Memorial Day Weekend, maybe your dad or mom, brother or sister, friend or relative, ask them. Some of us had a great experience in the service. 

If you’re at a restaurant and you see an old service member with a hat or military insignia you may want to thank him or her for their service. They get thanked a lot, so if you have time, maybe you can ask them about their experience, buy them a meal, or just let them know that their sacrifice has not gone unnoticed. You might get lucky and find old Broadwater. If you do, tell him the Nude Bomber says “Hi". 


Philip Whitehead

I came to Carolina for an Art Studio degree and I like to fill my time making art and playing music I like for people at WUSC and beyond!


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