I arrived at Signal Corps OCS on August
29, I942. I didn't want to be there. I was the ranking enlisted
man in the Cadre at Hill Field, Utah, charged
with organizing and developing the US Army Air Corps' first
During that time I headed up the crew that built the first
hanger and warehouses at Wendover Bombing Range, Wendover, Utah.
I did a good enough job that the Commanding Officer decided I
should be an officer, and tried to get me to sign an application
for Signal Corps OCS. I didn't want to be demoted to
Second Lieutenant, so I wouldn't sign. After several
attempts, he solved the problem his own way, he put me on
When I got to OCS I heard some good news:
I found out that if you washed out of OCS, you would be sent
back to your unit in the same grade you had when you left. So I
determined I would wash out. I was standing in line outside of
the TAC office with a number of other new reportees, waiting to
report to the TAC Officer we had been assigned to, when I saw a
tall, sharp, good-looking, Second Lieutenant (who later became
my chief TAC officer when I became a TAC) striding up the walk,
with his gaze fastened on me. I thought he was looking at the
pith helmet I was wearing that was part of the summer uniform at
Hill Field. When he stopped in front of me, I snapped to
"Are your hands cold, mister?" he barked.
"Then why are your hands in your pocket?"
"I was reaching for my cigarettes in my right pocket, and my
lighter in my left pocket, Sir?'
"You now have two delinquencies. One for debris in you pockets,
and one for your hands in your pockets!"
I saluted; he did a sharp left face, and entered the TAC office.
I turned to the non-com standing next to me and asked, "What the
hell's a delinquency?"
In due time, my name was
called, and I reported to Jerry Paxton. He looked at me and
said, "You've started out great. Two delinquencies before you
After spending a few minutes interviewing me, he said, "You
are the Section Leader of section__. Report to the
Rec. hall at ."
- - - - -
At the 1500 briefing, all the
new Section Leaders were given the ground rules for OCS; our
responsibilities, schedules, etc.
We were told that three times a day - after breakfast, after
lunch, and after dinner - we would report to our TAC officer to
receive a report of the conduct and condition of our Section,
and receive any new orders to pass on. We were also told there
would be no passes except on weekends, and only ten percent for
the Section could go on pass at any one time. We were then
dismissed to assemble our Sections and pass on the scoop.
I assembled my Section, and passed on the word, and gave them my
opinion of the system.
Then I said, "Every weekend, four of us can go on pass. Three
times a day I have to go to the TAC office and get chewed out
for any of your goof-ups. So, every weekend I go on pass, and
three of you go on pass. Any objections?"
There were none.
- - - - -
Every morning at 0600 we fell out for 30 minutes of
calisthenics, after which Iron Lung McClung would start us out
on a mile double time march. He would lead for a little while,
and then he would fall out to the side and watch the troops go
At that time of year it was DARK
at 0600 in the morning. Yet out of the dark would come Iron
Lung's voice, "Mr. Beckner, the third man in the second squad is
out of line. Straighten up." I don't think a Section Leader ever
made the run without that dreaded voice calling to him.
One morning, as I was running
backwards to check on my Sections formation, I fell over the
island in the center of the intersection (we always ran over
it), and I went down. I had visions of the whole parade running
over me. I had barely hit the ground when my arms were grabbed,
and I was lifted on my feet by the leaders of the second and
third squad, and carried until I could get my feet moving
backwards in step with the formation.
- - - - -
One of the things I found out at
one of my first briefings was that mustaches were discouraged. I
knew Army regulations of the time allowed mustaches
and beards if they were properly trimmed. So I reasoned, they
couldn't court martial me for growing a mustache. And they
couldn't court martial me for disobeying orders, since it was
not posed in the form of an order - but maybe they would find
some other reason for washing me out if I insisted on wearing a
In those days my hair
and beard were very black, and my beard grew very fast. The
first morning I fell out for inspection, I had a mustache well
defined. I received a delinquency for mustache improperly
trimmed. All delinquencies had to be hand carried to your TAC
officer in his office, even if he was the one who gave it to
you. When I gave the delinquency to my TAC officer, Jerry Paxton
(who wore a full lip mustache), he looked at me and said,
"What's the matter with your mustache?"
I said, "In my opinion, nothing
except that it's not long enough, yet."
He said, "I have to put this in your file. You'll get more of
them if you keep the mustache. Ten Delinquencies and you're
gone. You now have three."
I saluted, said "Yes, Sir", about faced, two steps forward,
right flanked, and when I was in position, where they couldn't
see my face, said to myself "Hot Damn, won't be long now."
Clark Gable was going to a different OCS at the same time I was
in Signal Corps OCS. The girls in the PX wanted to know how come
Clark Gable had to shave off his mustache and I was allowed to
grow one. "He just doesn't have what I have," I said.
Everybody remembers the OCS haircut. When I got into the chair,
the barber looked at my black curly hair and said "Isn't this a
shame", and then he scalped me. After that, every Wednesday when
I stepped up to the chair, I stopped and said to the barber,
"You touch the top of my head, and I'll break your arm." So, I
had a curly top, and white side walls. During inside inspections
when I had to have my hat off, I'd wet my hair and slick it
- - - - -
The first weekend rolled around,
and I went on pass. Monday morning I reported to my TAC that I
had lost my pass.
Lt. Paxton leaned
back in his chair, looked up at me and said," Who you trying to
kid? Old soldiers don't lose their pass."
"Sir, are you calling
me a liar?"
"No, but I'm giving
you a delinquency for being careless, and I want you to report
to Captain McClung and tell him what happened."
So I did a left face, walked to
Captain McClung's desk, reported, and repeated that I had lost
"You go write a reply
by endorsement explaining what happened and what you are going
to do to correct it," he said.
"What is a 'reply by
endorsement?' ", I asked.
"You pretend I wrote you a
letter, and you answer it. You find out what form an endorsement
takes, and do it properly."
So I did it.
From then on I had a pass to
show the guards when I left the post during the week. I never
signed out, as required, hoping someone would want me for some
reason, find out I was gone, and have me dismissed.
happen! Instead I kept getting delinquencies for mustache
- - - - -
One Morning during my second week, Iron
Lung told me to meet him in the Quadrangle after supper. All day
I wondered what was going to happen. When I got there, he had
another TAC officer with him, not Jerry Paxton. He told me he
was going to train me to be Cadet Battalion Commander, followed
by Regimental Battalion Commander.
If you remember the
old Quadrangles at Fort Monmouth, barracks down both sides,
recreation hall across one end, and the chapel across the street
at the other end, you can picture what happened next. Iron Lung
told the Lieutenant to go behind the chapel and write down
whatever he heard me say. Then he had me face the rec. hall. He
had a list of commands written on a pad. He'd give me a command
to shout to the rec. hall loud enough for the Lieutenant to hear
it behind the Chapel.
Three times a week he put me through those exercises, and I did
get to where the Lieutenant could hear every command.
All the while I was thinking to myself, "Why am I doing this?
I'll be washed out in another week." It didn't happen!
I kept getting delinquencies for mustache improperly trimmed; I
had to write another "reply by endorsement" for "forgetting to
sign out on pass" one weekend, but I didn't get washed out.
I was long past ten
delinquencies, and I did get to be the Cadet Commanders Iron
Lung groomed me for.
By the last weekend before graduation, I was desperate. It
looked like I was going to become a
whether I wanted to or not. So - I signed out on weekend pass,
determined to do something about it.
Regulations required all candidates to be back on post by 2300
hrs. I got back at 0200, signed the book as returning at 2300
hrs, and went to bed. I slept through reveille and PT, but got
up for breakfast.
As I walked out of the Mess Hall I
was met by the "runner of the
day," and told that the TAC Officer wanted to see me
I reported to Lt. Paxton. "Where
were you at reveille and PT?"
"I overslept, Sir."
"What time did you
"What time did you
"Who signed in for
"No one, Sir."
"How did you sign-in at 2300 if
you didn't get in until 0200?"
"Sir, it's just as
easy to write 2300 as it is to write 0200."
"You mean you deliberately
falsified an official record? Why?"
"I knew I was supposed to be in
at 2300. I just took a chance no one checked the sign-out book,
and I would get away with it."
"Report to Captain McClung and
tell him what you did."
Of course, Captain McClung
already knew what I had done. His desk was at right angles to,
and nearly touching. Lieutenant Paxton's desk.
When I left faced to
his desk, he said in a voice that could have been heard in Newark "I don't even want to talk to you. You
reply by endorsement and have it on my desk by 1300 hrs."
I heard nothing more about the
matter. The next day, I received orders to report to the
assignment board. I reported and was asked, among other things,
how I would like to be a TAC Officer. I said, "I don't want any
part of it."
"Why not?" they
"Because I'm a damn good lineman
and wire chief, and that's what I want to do," I told them.
The next day I was told to
report to another assignment board. This one asked me how I'd
like to be an instructor, and I gave the same answer.
Everyday, I kept expecting to be
called out of class, and giving my dismissal. It didn't happen.
Even in the Theater during the
graduation ceremonies, I expected to be called out. Instead I
was called up to the stage and given my commission, and orders
assigning me to OCS Staff and Faculty. I didn't know whether I
was going to be a TAC Officer or an instructor.
Jerry Paxton met me outside,
shook hands, and said "Let's go get a drink."
"Jerry," I asked, "how the hell
did I get a commission? I must have had more than 30
delinquencies, and three 'replies by endorsement'."
"They all went in the waste
basket," He said. "We knew what you were trying to do, and we
had decided in your first two days that you were going to be a
And so ends the SAGA OF THE RELUCTANT OCS CANDIDATE.
- - - - -
"I solemnly swear before Peter and Jack,
If I'm not telling the truth, I'll take it all back."
If you can locate Jerry Paxton, and show him all I have written,
I'll bet he verifies it.
After I graduated, I was pretty proud of being an officer. One
time when I was a private before the war started, I had said to
some of my buddies that I wanted to get higher in the Army than
my dad was. When they asked and I said he had been a MSgt, they
asked "How the hell are you going to get higher than a MSgt?" I
had forgotten that when I was trying to get out of OCS
There was a reason for
not writing a "quit letter", but I don't remember what it was.
- - - - -
When we were getting ready to graduate, we were told that we
would receive a $125.00 clothing allowance as part of our final
enlisted pay, and that certain outfitters in Red Bank and Long Branch would deliver
our uniforms on credit until we had been paid.I did well. I spent $150.00 on a cashmere overcoat, had
all my shirts, blouses, and pants tailored, and added a high
priced trench coat to the wardrobe. I was determined that I
would look as sharp as I possibly could, if I was going to be
chastising candidates about their appearance.
I didn't have enough money to go
home for my ten day graduation leave, so I spent it with my aunt
and uncle in New York. My uncle was a
Lt. Col. in the Transportation Corps, stationed on
Staten Island. I came back to the post early. I
wanted to see the regimental parade, to see how the candidate
that replaced me as Regimental Commander did. It was raining
when I left New York, so I wore my trench coat. My Uncle
had given me a grand, curved-stem, meerschaum pipe, so I was
smoking that. When I got to the post, it was not raining, but I
kept the trench coat on. At the parade ground, the cadet
Regimental Commander and his staff were already in position and
waiting for the troops. I strolled out onto the parade ground,
to speak to him, and then returned to the side lines.
Standing there were Iron Lung
McClung, and Jerry Paxton. I saluted and gave a cheerful
greeting. In a voice that only McClung could project, He said,
"Lieutenant, what are you doing on the parade ground, out of
uniform, and smoking a pipe?"
"Sir, what's wrong with my
"It's not raining, and you are
wearing rain gear. You are in uniform, and you are smoking in
public, and what is worse, you were smoking on the parade
Then for what seemed like 2 hours, but might have only been 5
minutes, he educated me and most of Ft. Monmouth on the proper
protocol for wearing the uniform, parade ground etiquette, and
the proper way to walk when on the parade ground.
By the way, Jerry Paxton told me
later, long after the parade ground incident, that he and Iron
Lung actually flipped a coin to see which one would climb my
frame as I came off of the parade ground.
- - - - -
The hardest part of that first month was feeling like
a recruit, which I felt like most of the time when I wasn't in
front of my men. Even so, I was determined that I would be better
than any of them, in anything I expected them to do.
Remember the obstacle courses - beginners, intermediate, and
advanced? I challenged the other company TAC Officers in my
Battalion to run the advanced obstacle course with me every
lunch period. Only one took me up on it. I wish I could remember
his name. Everyday we would run the advanced course, then grab a
quick shower and bite to eat (sometimes nothing to eat), and be
ready for the first formation after lunch. Then, when I led the
men through the course, I could zip through it, then walk back
along the side and chastise the candidates for being so slow.
By the way - there was a movie
actor who was a TAC Officer in the same battalion as me. His
desk was on the opposite side of the room, and at the other end.
His name I don't remember (aren't you surprised?), but he played
in Westerns, and always got killed early in the story, or
shortly after showing up. He was the guy Gary Cooper waited for
all morning in "High Noon," and then killed him as soon as he
stepped off the train. [Editor's note: The actors real name was
Ulva Pippy, his stage name was Ian McDonald, and he played Frank
Smith in "High Noon." Both he and Candidate Beckner came from
At the inspection of my first
graduating class, to make sure they had all the required
articles of uniform so they could graduate, one of the
candidates told me the outfitter he went to had not delivered
his OD shirts, and would not be able to get them to him in time
for graduation. At this point in life I don't remember the
reason, but I do remember my solution: I told him to go buy them
When he said he didn't have the
money, I told him I would loan him the money, but he had to pay
me back as soon as he got his final pay.
He sure did. He walked into the TAC Office, reported to me
properly, and then said in a smart, military manner, "Sir, I
have come to pay you for the loan."
All sound ceased in the office.
The battalion TAC Officer was leaning
in the door of his office, observing what us lowly company TAC
Officers were doing, and heard every word.
As soon as the candidate left,
the BTO said "LIEUTENANT, GET IN HERE!"
When I report in his office, he
asked what that was all about. I told him what had happened.
I then found out that I was
guilty of fraternizing with an enlisted man, and having a cash
transaction with an enlisted man, either of which was cause for
losing my commission, and at the least, cause to be dismissed
from TAC Officer's duties.
Then he told me to report to the
Post Commanding General.
First, of course, I had to tell
the Post Adjutant why I was there to see the General. After I
finished, he chewed me out. Then I went into the Generals
office and told him. I was called in, and the General asked if
what he had been told was true. When I said, Yes Sir", he said,
"That'll cost you $25.00, Lieutenant, and be glad you aren't
losing your bars."
$25.00! That was a fifth of my base pay! I couldn't fault the candidate
for coming in to pay me. I had forgotten to tell him not to.
As for the General, OLMSTEAD was his name, and he
and I were to have other encounters.
Every month he had two
receptions - one for those Officers whose name fell from A - M,
and the second for the rest of the alphabet.
There was no acceptable excuse for not attending,
except duty or being hospitalized. And, of course, they were
The first one I had to attend came right after paying the $25.00
fine. My wife did not have an evening gown, or any of the other
stuff necessary to go with it.
We also hadn't found an
apartment yet, and were living in a one room "boarding house" -
pretty steep rent for a
Second Lieutenant who
had used up most of his final enlisted pay, all of his uniform
allowance, and hadn't received his first pay as an officer. Even
so, we had to find evening clothes.
found a black evening gown with a full net overskirt for $25.00.
It looked great on my wife, but there was no money left to buy
accessories. We only had $40.00 left for living expenses, for
the rest of the month, and I knew we'd have to buy drinks at the
The wife had a small brown purse, and a matching pair of brown
high heel shoes. I paid a dime for a small bottle of silver
paint, and painted the shoes and purse silver. They looked
pretty good in the light, and in the kind of light they had at
the officers club, they looked great.
At the reception, I had my
second encounter with the General (not counting the reception
line). I danced the first dance with my wife and we returned to
the table. When the music started again, before I could get her
to the dance floor, the General came and asked her to dance.
Then he kept her dancing all evening. She was afraid she would
cause trouble for me if she refused.
During the evening, the General
somehow stepped on the skirt of her evening gown, and it ripped
almost to the waist. Fortunately, it was full enough, that the
rip didn't show.
I did a slow burn, standing at the bar, downing "Old Fashions."
And I never did get to like the General!
- - - - -
I've been racking my brain
trying to remember what the second incident was that caused the
General to fine me. I remember the fine - $50.00. He said it was
because it was my second appearance before him. You'd think I'd
remember what I did, but I don't.
I do remember why he fined me the third time.
It was for conduct unbecoming an officer, but it was after I
left OCS, and it happened while I was in charge of the
My offense was this: One day I was short of enlisted instructors
for the pole climbing class, and had a group of men that were
scheduled to take their first class in how to climb poles. So -
I put on a pair spurs, gave the lecture, and was up on a pole
demonstrating the proper way to stand on a pole so one wouldn't
"cut-out" and fall to the ground.
Wouldn't you know, the good General was on one of his rare tours
of the school, and caught me up the pole. He chastised me in
front of the men, and told me to report to his office in one
When I reported he said,
"Lieutenant, I'm getting tired of seeing you here. You have a
habit of conduct unbecoming an officer. This will cost you
- - - - -
I'm sure you have a collection
of repartee between candidates and TAC Officers. Maybe you'll
find these that I remember to be worth putting somewhere - like
the waste basket. These were from first Saturday
Me - "Mister, why didn't you shave this morning?"
Candidate -"Sir, that's not
whiskers, that's peach fuzz!"
Me - "Then you should have put some cream on your
face and had a cat lick it off. One delinquency for improper
Candidate's fingernails were all
long and filed to a point. Me - "Mister, do you squat to pee?"
Candidate - "Sir?"
Me - "Do you squat to pee?"
Candidate "I don't understand, Sir."
Me - "You wear your fingernails
like a girl. I want to know if you pee like a girl."
Candidate - "Sir, my wife
trimmed my nails for me."
Me - "OK, you can give her your
delinquency for improperly trimmed fingernails."
Footlocker messy by OCS
standards: "Mister, where's your locker stick?"
Candidate - "Sir?"
Me - "Where's the stick you use to stir the contents of your
locker until what you want comes to the top?"
- - - - -
On the day that Class No. 15
(according to the Web Page OCS Member Search) were supposed to
report in, we TAC Officers were waiting in the TAC office, after
lunch, for the appointed time, while the new candidates were
lining up outside. Of course, we were all standing back from the
windows and looking out at them.
Lo and behold, standing in the line that was to
report to me, about four men back, was my old buddy from my
recruit days, Kenneth S. Style. I thought to myself, Boy is he
in for a jolt."
When it was Kenny's turn, I watched him come in,
closed the door, make a sharp about face, march to the center of
the aisle, make a perfect right flank, take two steps, make
another perfect right flank, stop in front of my desk, and start
a sharp salute.
About half way up, the salute stopped, his eyes popped wide, his
hand flew out to shake hands, and he said, "Why, Bob
Of course, the Battalion TAC was
standing in the door to his office, watching the proceedings in
the main room. All the other Company TACs were interviewing new
candidates, and there was a new candidate in front of every
Company Tac Officer.
The place was full of people, all
watching me for my reaction.
I ignored Kenny's outstretched hand, leaned back in
my chair, and said, "Mr. Style, how long have you been in the
His face looked like I had slapped him, and then you
could see him thinking, "Why you chicken.......S.O.B." He
snapped to attention and said with heavy emphasis, "Two
and a half years, Sir!"
And in two and a half years, Mr. Style, didn't you
learn the proper way to report to an officer?"
"Then, suppose you go outside, stand at attention and
cogitate on the proper way to report to an officer. After all
the rest of the men have reported, then you try it again."
"Very well, Sir!"
He did a sharp about face, two
paces forward, left flank two paces, and then another left flank
two paces. Just as his hand touched the door knob, I said, "Mr.
He froze at attention, and said, "Sir!"
"Can you read, Mr. Style?"
"Can you read backwards, Mr. Style?"
"What does the sign on the door glass say, Mr.
what does that mean, Mr. Style?"
"You can't go out, Sir!"
"That means there must be another door, somewhere,
doesn't it, Mr. Style?"
"Then suppose you find it, Mr. Style."
He did a sharp left face,
saluted, and said,
"Very Well, Sir!" Did another left face, marched to the
middle of the aisle, did a right flank, marched with heavy
emphasis down the middle of the room between the six TAC Officer
desks, did a right flank to the exit door, and marched to the
side walk at the end of the line. You could see him standing
there, so mad he was trembling.
After everybody else had reported in, and gone, Kenny
reported in. He had cooled down, and reported in an exemplary
At home that night, I wrote a note to Kenny giving
him my home address, and telling him to come see us on his first
pass. Nearly a week went by before I was able to pass the note
to him unobserved
He did come to see us, and he told me he knew before he reported
back in that day, that I had no other choice. He made sure that
I had no reason to give him a delinquency during the whole three
months. I know he didn't get any TAC Officer delinquencies, and
I think only a couple from academic instructors.
/s/ Robert Beckner Class 42-11
Editor's note: According to the Army Signal Corps OCS
Association's records, former OCS Candidate Beckner passed away
in September 2008. We honor his memory and will continue to
post his recollections here for all to enjoy.
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