WS>>The Sergeant's Corner: " Thank You, Private Leonard T. Bicknell "
carl william spitzer iv
cwsiv_2nd at JUNO.COM
Fri Aug 31 19:24:46 MDT 2001
By: J. David Galland <JDavidGalland at yahoo.com>
It was a great deal different in 1968, as I pause and
reflect on my years in the military. My thoughts and heart-
felt memories always drift back to the beginning, the very
inception of my exposure to military life, which, after
thirty-three years, has gone on to largely define me.
I think that the times have changed, and will always
change, soldiers come and go, stay for years, retire, fall
in battle, or continue to serve. Those of us who volunteered
did so for a broad range of reasons, many so they would not
get drafted. Those who were drafted, almost to the man, were
not at all pleased with their fate, with the apparent excep-
tion of Private Leonard T. Bicknell, later to simply be
known to all whom met him at Fort Jackson, in the late Fall
of 1968, as "Bick".
In basic training, there always seems to be a soldier
who the Drill Sergeants and Cadre seem to enjoy picking on
the most. Usually, the ineptness, clumsiness, fear, and lack
of prior learned discipline qualify a soldier for such a
distinction, "Bick" was a young man with all those quali-
ties, and more, who would consistently invite, and seem to
attract, the relentless ire of our trainers. There was a
redeemer, a collector of the dowry in the form of a Noncom-
missioned Officer, around every corner, there to receive the
payment from Private Leonard T. Bicknell, many times over.
To this day, I have never seen a man ridden, like a noncom-
pliant nag of a horse, as I watched Private Bicknell bear
the burden of being born and eventually getting drafted into
They persisted and never let up in an attempt to de-
stroy "Bick" who had already been dealt a barely surmount-
able hand of cards by his creator, as I would soon learn.
Bick came from Indiana. When we were in-processing, he wrote
on his locator card that his "Home of Record" was "Indian".
In an attempt to assist Bicknell, which cost me about forty
squat thrusts for thinking I could talk, and another high
tally of pushups for talking, I asked Bicknell if he was an
Indian or lived on an Indian Reservation. His slow, deliber-
ate, and measured response revealed that he hailed from
Indiana, and I realized I just met someone who could not
spell his home state. I wondered if he belonged there, I
The young man had difficulty formulating words and
making them come out of his mouth. "Bick" had two eyes that
looked off in different directions, one brown and one blue,
not unlike the well-known actor, Marty Feldman. On the back
of his head, Private Bicknell had a scar that had to be five
inches long, or more. A few minutes later, I learned that it
was apparently next to impossible for Private Bicknell to
stay in step, while "trying" to march. Anyone who has been
in, or around, the military knows that this latter shortcom-
ing can be a major stumbling block to becoming a soldier,
but the army needed men for the Vietnam grinder, and there
we were, "Bick", Me, a few hundred other shaved heads.
I absorbed a great deal from my basic training experi-
ence, however, from a quite unlikely role model and fellow
soldier. Private Bicknell was not sent to the army to train
soldiers, but in an almost completely unrecognized fashion,
that is just what he did. In the weeks to come I would watch
as Private Bicknell was repeatedly "clanged" on the side of
his steel helmet by drill sergeants with pieces of trees,
whittled down a bit, every time he was out of step. I
stopped counting at just short of five hundred whacks on the
helmet. That was in the third week of basic training.
Because of "Bick" and his apparent shortcomings, I
learned what being in "Orbit" meant, or being a "Satellite".
"Bick" would be out "Orbiting" the entire company as we
double-timed out to training, day after day, in our steel
pots, load-bearing equipment with contents, packs, and M-14
rifles at Port Arms, which nearly killed me at the age of
eighteen. We were also inspired by Private Bicknell who
after "Orbiting" the company all the way to the rifle range,
was made to stand on a foot locker of empty M-14 Magazines
exclaiming, "I am a Dud, Over Here", all day long. The
Sergeants would not allow Bicknell to touch live ammunition,
but he got the qualification badge anyway, as a good ges-
And yet, he continued on, never faltered, Private
Bicknell just kept on running like the "Energizer Bunny with
the Drum" with his helmet chin-strap flopping on two sides
like rabbit ears and his unrolled "spaghetti" straps on his
butt pack swinging in the breeze. Private Bicknell looked
like a half drunken Sad Sack trying to run out of a burning
building and not convinced he was going to make it. One
could hear his eating utensils clanging around in his mess
kit, like steel dice being thrown on a sheet metal crap
I found myself in awe of the sustained resiliency of
this soldier. Private "Bick" was even taken up in front of
the Company, on numerous occasions, and placed on a Physical
Training Platform and made to play switch. This is of course
when your two thumbs are figuratively inserted in two dif-
ferent openings on your body, one being your mouth, like a
thumb-sucking baby, the other; someplace else! When the
Sergeant's yelled "Switch Bick"! Private Bicknell switched
positions of thumb placement, while the cadre threw apple
cores at him.
Suffice to say, it never ended, the thousands of push-
ups, the thousands of squat thrusts, the repeated runs up
and down Tank Hill at Fort Jackson, the numerous 0245 hrs
formations in the company street barefoot and in our under-
wear with footlockers on our heads. The endless negotiating
of the horizontal ladder and pull up bar, before being
allowed in the Company Mess Hall, failure meant, No meal!
"Bick" often went hungry.
Once I joined the company at a training site after an
early morning dental check. I observed Private Bicknell
standing over under the trees, on his own and away from the
other soldiers. He appeared to have been shot in the face
with birdshot from a scattergun. Not so I learned, they made
Bicknell demonstrate "dry shaving" in the Company Street and
he was a mess! It went on and on, as we waged our ways
through basic training, "Bick roll your sleeves up and Make
a Muscle", "Bick, Switch"! "Bick, Drop"! "Bick do.this,
Bick.do that, Bick, .take this punishment, Bick,. take that
So Private Bicknell and I, and many other good young
men marched across the stage at the old theater, at Fort
Jackson, South Carolina, to become soldiers, just before
Christmas 1968. Off we went, never to meet again, many of us
went to Vietnam, many did not come home.
"Bick", I know this is slow in coming, but I thank you
for your example, your courage, and your inspiration, which
have served me so well in my career in numerous adversities
and in combat. To this day, I am sure that "I can't, I
won't, and I am unable", are still, not in your vocabulary
as they are not in mine
"Thank you Bick".
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