The Sergeant
Author: Shiloh


2030 hours at the Army Training Post Reception Station, and it was dark out. The floodlights made the blacktop street as bright as daylight, though. The Drill Sergeants were waiting for the buses to arrive, standing around the area which was the staging ground for the new recruits. The Sergeants waited along the sides of the road, along the back edges of the rows of yellow boot prints, gathered in small groups, but standing well away from all the brass that was present this evening... everything from senior NCOs and Lieutenants, right on up to full Colonels, and the Post Commander, a two-star Major General, were all waiting together for the buses.

Two hundred and forty painted yellow boot prints were laid out in rows, on the blacktop edge of the street, with another two hundred and forty in the parking lot opposite where the buses would pull in to offload the new recruits, who really had no idea what was in store for them.

Normally one of the Sergeants of the Reception Station Cadre would board each bus, yelling and screaming, and the recruits would be startled, and would sometimes fall in the aisle of the bus, in their haste to get off that bus like The Sergeant was yelling at them to do, because they had somehow angered this new part of their lives,- The Sergeant.

No one had prepared them for The Sergeant - the recruiters didn't tell them, the draft board didn't tell them, their fathers, who had served before, didn't tell them, and those hallowed teachers of youth, the movies, didn't tell them about The Sergeant.

All they knew at the moment was that they had to get off that bus, and had to find a pair of yellow boot prints, and stand on them at whatever "attention" was supposed to be, and try not to tremble, try not to be afraid, try not to think.

From the moment the buses pulled in to the Reception Station, rolled down the company street, and stopped next to the yellow boot prints, and opened the doors, and The Sergeant stepped up and in, the recruits knew they didn't want to be there, and they knew they didn't know what in hell they were doing there, and they knew they shouldn't have volunteered, or they knew they should have crossed the border into Canada, because they immediately knew they didn't like The Sergeant...

# ## ### #### ##### #### ### ## #

It was mid-1967, and the Reception Station Drill Sergeants were waiting for the four buses that were scheduled to roll in that night. There were others waiting, as well; both civilian and military camera crews, a few reporters, every rank was well represented, and even the Post Field Band was tuning up...

The area beyond the parking lot was packed with those who were not of sufficient rank to allow them closer, but it seemed that every Private, PFC, Corporal, and most any rank of Sergeant was there, as well as several dozen civilians who worked on post... all waiting for the buses to roll in.

All the brass and everyone else were looking forward to these buses, because, even though he had said he would not report for duty, no one really believed he would actually disobey the orders of the Government - he had been drafted and he would be on one of the buses, and everyone was there to see Cassius Clay get off his bus and go stand on a pair of yellow boot prints. This was going to be almost as good as when Elvis was drafted! Cassius Clay was a hero, and he was going to be treated well by the Army this night.

It was already set up - every single recruit that arrived on the buses with Cassius Clay, all four buses, about one hundred and eighty men altogether, were going to be processed quickly, and were not going to endure the standard training or harassment associated with Army Basic Training. In fact, they were scheduled to train together as a single company unit, and only those who had enlisted for a specific duty assignment would be separated from the group during Advanced Individual Training. Otherwise, the entire group was going to have a nice training period, compared to normal; instead of 8 weeks of Basic Training, they would have six, and instead of 8 to 10 weeks of Advanced Training, they would have six weeks, and then they were all going to be offered cream-puff assignments!

Instead of worrying about going to Vietnam, as a majority of new recruits were slated for, as Vietnam was really starting to heat up big time, the boys on the buses were going to be assigned to work mainly in the USA, at various posts around the country, in Army service clubs and recreation centers, in air conditioned offices, and they were not going to hear a shot fired in combat.

Cassius Clay himself was going to be giving boxing exhibitions, work with the Army Boxing Team against other service teams like the USAF and the USMC and the USN, and he would go on goodwill tours, assist in training Army team boxers, assist in supervision of anything related to boxing and exercise in army rec centers, and best of all, he was not going to go anywhere near a combat situation, as he had been worried about. All four buses of recruits were going to have it made! The orders had already been typed up from the passenger manifests and the orders were signed and waiting for each man.

# ## ### #### ##### #### ### ## #

The buses finally pulled in, the band started playing, and the Drill Sergeants spread out, ready to do their jobs. The Post Commander, a Major General, wanting to personally greet the famous fighter, went from bus door to bus door, asking each driver if Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. was on that particular bus. Four buses, four questions, four negative replies from the drivers. Not one of the Drill Sergeants or the Officers or the camera crews, or anyone else there, for that matter, wanted to be within eye contact range of the General, as he turned back from that last bus.

As the General passed the Reception Station Cadre Commander, he was overheard to say, "They can all go to hell, for all I care!" The Cadre CO had a quick meeting with the Drill Sergeants... and then life at the Reception Station returned to normal.

The Sergeants entered the buses, and the recruits came off the buses and stood on the yellow boot prints, and were started on their way to becoming soldiers.

The Reception Station Cadre, and the Commanding General of the post, had a bit of power during the 1960s, and they used, or abused, that power that week; they had been humiliated, they were enraged at what Cassius Clay had done (or not done), and they felt that retribution had to be made, somehow... that is the only way I can explain what happened to those hapless individuals who were on those four buses...

Within a week, they had all been tested, processed, and sent on their way to Basic Combat Training, and then, except for those who had signed up for a specific duty assignment, went on to Advanced Individual Training as Infantry Riflemen, Military Occupational Specialty 11B10, Basic Infantryman.

They were found, after their testing and processing, to be only of value to the Army as, and qualified to become, Infantrymen, and back then, their eventual duty assignment was going to be on the other side of the Pacific Ocean in a place called the Republic of South Vietnam.

They were so classified and put into the pipeline leading to hell, in accordance with the wishes of the post commander and also, to a great extent, in accordance with the wishes of a majority of those who were involved in receiving those four buses of new recruits. Not one of those recruits went to Special Services duties. Those orders were shredded and new ones made up overnight the same night they had gotten off the buses.

True story.
I know that this is the way it was,
because I was one of those Drill Sergeants.


Comments on this poem/writing:

Luke Mudge ( -- Friday, May 1 2009, 11:57 pm


That is something I did not know about you, good read, and well I cant say i blame Ali, because personally i wouldnt of ever joined you know my stand on it
shiloh ( -- Saturday, May 2 2009, 12:14 am

i agree with you, and with clay... now

back then i was just as angry as anyone else out on that blacktop, but the decision to change the orders was not made by enlisted personnel - only officers could, and did, make that decision.

i feel very bad about what happened, and this writing is, for me, a sort of catharsis in that i am finally able to talk about something that has left a very bad memory in my mind for years -and it still is a bad memory.

looking back, i no longer feel anything but understanding for those who didn't want to be part of the military then, and even today, i see the same thing and i understand it so much better than before.

Mark T ( -- Saturday, May 2 2009, 11:46 am

Well written

This is a part of history that changed a lot of young mens lives. Your writing just keeps on getting better. Reading this, I felt like I was on that bus with them ready to run off and find myself a pair of yellow boot-prints.
shiloh ( -- Saturday, May 2 2009, 02:37 pm

thank you...

looking back, i see how it was for me - i went full circle, from a recruit myself, at that very same reception station in '64, to a sergeant working there years later... i remembered how i felt when i was a recruit, scared, totally out of my element, not knowing what was going on, then as a sergeant and being in charge of the recruits... it was a bit like going through the looking glass, if you will...

appreciate your comments... peace...
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