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  The Saga of a Reluctant Candidate

Submitted by Robert Beckner, Class 42-11


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 Signal Unit.

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 orders.

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 attention.

"Are your hands cold, mister?" he barked.

"No, Sir!"

"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 report in."

After spending a few minutes interviewing me, he said, "You are the Section Leader of section__. Report to the Rec. hall at 3:00PM."

- - - - -

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 by.

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 mustache.

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 down.

- - - - -

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 my pass.

"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.

It didn't happen! Instead I kept getting delinquencies for mustache improperly trimmed.

- - - - -

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!

Instead 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 Second Lieutenant 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 immediately.

I reported to Lt. Paxton. "Where were you at reveille and PT?"

"I overslept, Sir."

"What time did you get in?"

"0200, Sir."

"What time did you sign-in?"

"2300, Sir"

"Who signed in for you?"

"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 asked.

"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 TAC Officer."


- - - - -

"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 uniform?"

"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 ground!"

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 Montana.]

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 somewhere else.

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 formal.

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.

Eventually, we 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 party.

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 POLELINE CONSTRUCTION SCHOOL.

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 hour.

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 $100.00."

- - - - -

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 inspections:

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 shave."

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 Beckner!"

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 Army?"

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?"

"Yes, Sir!"

"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. Style!"

He froze at attention, and said, "Sir!"

"Can you read, Mr. Style?"

"Yes, Sir!"

"Can you read backwards, Mr. Style?"

"Yes, Sir!"

"What does the sign on the door glass say, Mr. Style?"

"E-N-T-R-A-N-C-E, Entrance, Sir!"

"And 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?"

"Yes, Sir!"

"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 military manner.

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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