Furthermore, my induction had been against my better will and judgment! Up to that point in my young life I had never been away from home – except on occasional visits to grandparents or other close relatives. Going to Culver was going to be a real test, since it was to last all summer long – eight full weeks! Without a doubt, I was facing my first real case of homesickness.
Leading up to this new phase of my life’s challenges, I determined I would make the best of it even though I had not really been asked if it was something I wanted to do. According to my parents, going to Culver would be an “exciting summer filled with wonderful times swimming, boating, crafting, tent living, and sitting around camp fires.” They forgot to mention that Culver was first and foremost a military academy, and that drilling, marching, and saluting, along with inspections and parades, were part of the daily life there.
The first two-weeks of my stay were as close to being miserable as a kid of eleven can get. I might have made it through easier, however, if my family hadn’t decided to come visit me after two weeks in that purgatory. My tears flowed like a never-ending stream. My thought process was that they would take pity on their poor lost son and return me to the home I missed so much. No such luck. Resolve was there on both sides of the ledger, but they had the stronger hand: I was to stick it out – no matter what!
I determined at that point, “If that’s the way you want it, I might not even come back after the six weeks remaining in my sentence.” I might even decide to join the Black Horse Troop at Culver’s Winter School and stay through my high school years. So there! However, these thoughts did not stay with me long. If this were to be my fate, I would try to make the best of it.
I passed my swimming test and learned to paddle 360 yards in water over my head. My craft skills weren’t that great, but I did manage to craft a cow’s horn ash tray, a braided lariat for keys, and an unidentifiable object that, to this day, I have yet to remember its original value or purpose. Then, there was the fight of my life!
As my luck would have it, I was one of the smallest boys in my division. And, for no other apparent reason, I was selected to do battle with another young pugilist of my size who had not been held in high esteem. Seems he kept screwing up and they wanted something done about it. In our Woodcraft section, “Thursday Night Fights” were a highlight, with the whole camp attending the event – some four hundred, wildly cheering, rabid fans out for blood – his or mine!
As it turned out, the gloves were of the sixteen-ounce variety and didn’t hurt that much anyway, but I sure tried to make every blow count. I won in three grueling rounds, and though most of the fans cheered, I recall hearing a couple of “boos” because I didn’t knock out my opponent. On the way back to my tent, my Training Instructor carried me through the street to resounding cheers. Later, my opponent and I became good friends.
I should also make special mention that Culver stressed the military side of my summer daily. The officers and training personnel were all fresh from World War II assignments – many with combat experience. They knew how to carry out military drills and deal with young bucks like me who would rather play at war than become real soldiers. Again, our daily lives moved forth with decorum and promptness. Our tent inspections came down to coins flipped on beds to see if they bounced back. I would later determine that the lessons hard learned at Culver had more military value than my Air Force assignment some eleven years later! Those Training Instructors really knew how to get the most out of a group of wild young, mavericks, and we were actually thrilled when we accomplished our goals.
Much sooner than we ever imagined, the summer came to an end. In our division we had a song that we sang together:
“Only three more days of starvation, Then we go to the station. Back to civilization,
And, an ice box invasion.”
It was hard to imagine that just a few weeks from setting foot on the grounds of Culver, I was now much more grown-up – standing straighter, demonstrating proper manners and improved in the majority of skills including, identifying insects, birds, and fauna, not to mention Indian dancing. I had significant medals to prove all of it! And, when my folks asked if I would like to return to the shores of Maxinkuckee the following summer, my answer was a resounding, “Yes, but only visit me after four weeks!”