Saturday, November 24, 2012

My First Bivouac

First off, I am not sure of the spelling of my title word; Bivouac. I didn't know what it was back then in 1943 and I don't know now. O.K. Spelling used to be one of my strong points but maybe not now. I was being educated and subjected to all forms of exercise. It was in one of the great schools and one of the most beautiful sites in America and I was there courtesy of Uncle Sam. I was a Naval Cadet at Chapel Hill N.C. Part of the exercise program was to rise at 6:00 A.M., dash to the exercise field, grunt and groan for an hour and at 7:30, dash to the breakfast building hurry to an 8:00 class. My education included, Navigation, Stars and Constellations, Math and Recognition (planes and ships) and the Morse code. I still remember SOS. All of this is just an introduction to what I want to tell you about.

For some unknown reason I was told I had been chosen, along with 49 other Cadets to go on the above. And the time arrived and the 50 of us were boarded into busses and were driven about 30 miles from the school. We unloaded and each of us was given a compass and told we were to head 120 degrees East and there we would find our main camp where food and sleeping bags would be given us. We all started by pairing up with a buddy and then beginning our trek to the camp. You can imagine it is now about 5:30 and hunger pangs have already set in. Adding to our discomfort, it begins to rain; not a downpour but a steady light rain and it wasn't long before we were very wet. Most of this was from fording creeks and tall, wet grasses. Oh yes, the temperature had also plummeted to about 38 degrees. It took about 2 hours of this adventure and we arrived, staggered might be a better word, into camp. I can't speak for the other men, but I was wet and tired. Food was not that important. I got my sleeping bag, dropped my wet clothing on the ground and crawled into the bag. After shivering for at least an hour, I finally fell asleep and awoke to a grey dawn and found my clothes had all frozen during the night. Forcing my legs into my pants, ice chips falling to the ground, my clothing gradually began to thaw. Of course there was no hot water to either wash or shave but we did what we could to become somewhat presentable, finished eating and were now off on another hike although by this time the temperature was beginning to get into the 40s, and life was almost liveable. As we hiked we were showed roots that were edible, mushrooms that weren't, along with ways we might be able to sustain life if that ever were to be necessary, The days were quite nice but the next 3 nights were miserable. It was darned cold for the Carolinas and our leaders kept telling us that. Sure! I had paired up with a fellow who was about 6'2 and at night he and I would take turns throwing our legs over the other to try to stay warm. Yes, we were in separate sleeping bags. That's about the end of my story except after a day following our return (in the same busses) we, who had remained alive were told we could have a 30 day leave to go home for Christmas. See, the Navy has a heart after all and I spent those 30 days with Louise and then Louise and oh yes, my parents. It was a great reward for my misery. I think I'd do it again if the reward was the same.

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