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
     the Army.

          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
     would learn.

          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-
     ture.

          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
     table.

          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
     humiliation".

          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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