Fort Dix, 1953

Even the clouds seemed lined up in military formation

above the sandy loam and clumps of gleaming poison ivy.

Reveille before dawn was a thwacking club

clanking on iron bars of rows of bunk beds;

standing at attention while asleep waiting for

inspection, - latrine bowls and sinks must glow

as white as an alabaster moon.

Barking like a hungry junk-yard mongrel, Sgt.’s

orders filled the air, “Shine up your brass till I can

see my smiling face and spit-shine your shoes

till they look god- damned brand new.

Don’t call your gun a gun, it’s a weapon or a piece,

drop down and give me 50 if there’s one speck in the shaft,

and never pull the trigger, just squeeze rounds off like your

squeezing your girl friend’s titty.

Hurry up and wait the order of the day, you are no

no longer the person you once knew just another

shaved head trained to follow orders.

“Fall in, fall out, line up, keep marching forward: move it up and

sound off! Every night before retreat, Sgt. Johnson beats his meat.”

The butcher from Canarsie and Southern mountain boys

have fist fights before breakfast over stolen soap and Penthouse

magazines; no entry to the mess hall before we do our

push-ups, pull-ups and chin-ups, as if shit-on-a-shingle

was ever worth waiting for..

Don’t panic and stand up when crawling zig-zag on

your belly under live ammo and remember

your name, rank and serial number before you get to

wear your mask in the tear gas house of horror.

Once you pull the grenade pin heave it

far and wide yelling “fire in the hole” or you’ll

splatter into more pieces than Dunderbeck’s

sausage machine could ever do.

When I learned to thrust and parry the cold blue steel

of bayonet I wondered if I would kill or be killed in

the mayhem of combat terror.

A military man I would never want to be,

but if one day evil came my way the training that

I had might trigger that attacking killer in me

to suddenly erupt protecting kith and kin.

Milt Ehrlich