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In early 1950, before I turned 17 in August, my friend Dorman Max Hill suggested we join the National Guard unit in Weatherford, Texas. Dorman Max was always coming up with ways to have some fun, mostly a bit harebrained. We went to see Capt. Chas. Shoemaker, the Company Commander, Co.B.,49th Recon Bn, 49th Armored Division, Texas National Guard who told us we had to be seventeen with a letter from our parents. Outside his office, Dorman looked at me and said, "Happy Birthday." I said the same to him and we went back in Capt. Shoemaker's office where we filled out the paper work and obtained copies of the releases we needed from our parents. I signed his and he did the same for me. We took our physicals, put on uniforms and were buck privates in the Guard. Me as a tank driver and Dorman a truck driver.
I had the best job driving the M-24 Chaffee light tank. Twin Cadillac engines, Hydramatic transmission, 75mm gun and about thirty-five miles an hour. It wasn't that much fun after we arrived at summer camp the first time. Motor stables after a day in the dust of Ft. Hood took a long time and we were usually the last to eat and shower after a day in the field. It wasn't all hard work. Weekend drills at Eagle Mountain National Guard base included schools and other tanks to drive along with weapons qualifications.
The Korean War prompted a lot of men to join the Guard and as new men came in, I was promoted until I reached the rank of Buck Sgt., E-5, still a tank driver. In February 1952, the opportunity came along to attend Leader's Course at Fort Knox, KY. Four of us headed for Fort Knox thinking we would be gone for eight weeks of classroom. What a neat surprise! When we arrived we found a typo had enrolled us in Leadership School, a sixteen week prep school for OCS. The cadre were the meanest, sharpest graduates who made it their life's work to see just how miserable they could make it for four National Guardsmen from Texas who had never really completed basic training. We were better men for it and two of us even made Superior. I was one of them.
Back home, we practiced what we had learned at Ft. Knox which didn't endear us to our fellow Guardsmen. We set up a basic training course for summer camp to be held in Louisiana at Fort Polk and the outfit received high marks for that two week period. A sad ending on the way home. Dorman Max lost control of the Six-by he was driving and was killed in the wreck. I moved to Lamesa and attended drills with the Guard unit there until I returned to Weatherford in 1953. In April that year, I left for San Francisco and made drills with a unit at the Presidio which was interesting. They were an Infantry outfit, I had been in Armor all my career but we made it fine.
Me and Shortie
Bedding was issued, the Corporal called my name and told me since I was prior service, I was to show the recruits how to make a bed. Then I had to show them how to police an area, clean a latrine and several other chores that kept me busy until dark.
Next morning we had GI hair cuts, received clothing, duffel bags and found out our assignments. Shortie and I drew Able 12, SFC Anthony, Field First. After he had us in some sort of ranks, he asked if anyone knew the Guidon Manual and I raised my hand. Good old Leadership School. A former Pershing Rifle had taught me that manual and had drilled me until I could do it in my sleep. I went through it for SFC Anthony who gave me a nice compliment by saying I needed a little work on it but he thought he could help me. So I was the Guidon Bearer. Method for this seeming madness. The Army in it's infinite wisdom, puts the tall men in front of a group of men, short ones in the rear. As Guidon, I would be in the front and not running every time the formation moved.
Basic training was interrupted near the end of my fifth week. I was going through the infiltration course where they fire live ammo over your head and explode charges while you are crawling under barbed wire. The idea was to reach a trench, fix bayonet and charge a dummy located on top of the trench. My trick knee failed me when I tried to come out of the trench. It locked at about 45 degrees and I was unable to manipulate the bone chip under the patella to unlock it. The battery commander just happened to notice my predicament, had me lifted out and sent me back to barracks with orders to make sick call the next morning. By next morning, I could hobble enough to get to the dispensary where the medic made an appointment for one that afternoon. It was late by now, I had to catch a bus to William Beaumont Army Hospital and missed noon chow. I checked in with the NCO at the desk who sent me to X-ray and told me to wait on the wet films. It was now about two in the afternoon and I took a seat in the waiting room. The afternoon wore on and I had not been seen by a doctor. Pretty soon, I was the only person left and I thought surely, someone will see me. I was hot, burning up and didn't know why. My knee hurt like the dickens and I was getting pretty frustrated when a doctor, Capt. Ralph Pike appeared, looked at me and demanded to know what I was doing in the hall. I told him I was waiting to see a doctor and he waved me in to a room. Seated on a gurney, the first thing he did was pop a thermometer in my mouth while he looked at the X-rays. When he looked he asked, "Do you know you have a 104 fever?" Then he told me I had pneumonia and that would have to addressed before anything could be done about the knee.
You can say what you want about Army Hospitals but the people at William Beaumont treated me like a paying customer. Capt. Pike called for an orderly and wheel chair from the Orthopedic Ward. I was wheeled in, given a set of pajamas and told to get in bed. An Angel in a nurses uniform appeared soon after to look over my chart and give me the first of many shots and pills to cure the pneumonia. Before she left she asked if I needed anything and I told her "food!" I was starving. She left and in less than an hour, a mess hall person came in with a tray of hot food. I knew I was in good hands.
Next morning after breakfast, Capt. Pike presented my case during rounds and it was decided to put me in traction to pull the knee back in place. This meant bed rest and being waited on hand and foot for over a week.
At the end of three weeks and a couple of days, (I had been ambulatory for over a week.) I was told to report to the clinic, that I was to be "boarded." When I went in to the room, I saw six doctors including Capt. Pike. He told me to have a seat and then wanted to know why I had lied about my knee. He said it had been determined that the problem existed prior to enlistment and that I had not answered the question truthfully on the form I had filled out, the place where it mentioned "trick knee." After a little chewing out, he asked if I wanted to remain in the Army and I told him yes. He agreed that I should, that if I was discharged, chances are I would be drafted and placed in a "cripples outfit" so I might as well stay in and he would put the knee down as service incurred and send me back to basic with a light duty slip.
Back to basic for three weeks, a two weeks leave and return to Ft.Bliss for eight more weeks of Advanced Basic at Radar School, the start of my electronics education. Graduation and assignment to the 148th FA Battalion. The unit had just been reactivated and didn't have any radar sets so I plugged in anywhere I could.
Neat thing happened the morning four of us reported to "C" Battery. It was about ten in the morning, the First Sgt. had just briefed us, issued Class A passes and Meal Passes, assigned beds, issued weapons, all the settling stuff and then told us the Battery Commander wanted to meet us. I have to back up here. A friend of mine attended Texas A&M. During holidays, he brought a fellow student home with him, a Mexican named Maurillo Olervides. At parties, I got to know Maurillo pretty good and could practice my Tex-Mex with him. When I walked in the office to meet the Battery Commander, there he sat only now he was 1st Lt. Olervides. We were both pretty shocked to see each other but spent a long time getting reacquainted. Just before I left his office he asked if there was anything he could do for me and I told him, I would like my promotion to Pfc, that I had been in grade long enough. By Monday afternoon I was Pfc. Billy F. Worden.
If I had just attended to business and not started hanging out in the gun park, I would have been just fine but I was working on a 105 howitzer and dropped the 95 pound breech block on my right knee. Of course it locked up and back to take my licks from Capt. Pike.
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