War-time twists of fate beg the question: Why?

War-time twists of fate beg the question: Why? By Bob Karolevitz I'm going to get serious with you this week.

The reason is that, belatedly, I have just seen the movie Saving Private Ryan.

For three and a half years during World War II I, too, was in the U.S. Infantry, but I wasn't part of that bloody, body-shattering D-Day landing at Normandy. I never ever experienced what those heroic GIs went through.

Why?

When I enlisted, I took my basic training at Camp Wolters, TX. When it was over, most of the young men were sent to the Italian campaign as infantry replacements. For them, Anzio was no picnic.

Strangely, a few of us didn't get orders. We were called "holdovers," and we pulled guard and KP (kitchen police) until they figured out what to do with us. Ultimately I became a member of the training cadre as a corporal.

Why?

When our primary weapon � the 37-millimeter anti-tank gun-proved ineffective against German steel, we shifted to a 57-millimeter model. Unfortunately, the range at Camp Wolters just couldn't handle the larger gun; and when we practiced firing with tracer ammunition, the flaming rounds started fires in the Texas brush and we spent our time fighting burning Johnson grass instead of learning how to annihilate the Nazis.

To solve the problem, the Army moved all the anti-tank training to Camp Hood which had larger ranges. Almost everyone was shipped there and then overseas to Europe � except me.

Why?

I eventually became a sergeant at Wolters, giving a short infantry training course to cooks, bakers and clerks, most of whom had some shortcomings so they couldn't qualify as riflemen. It was unfulfilling duty for me; and when I complained about my work, our captain direct-ordered me to appear before an O.C.S. (officer candidate school) board.

Why?

I was accepted and sent to Fort Benning, GA, where they were turning out expendable infantry second lieutenants, However, they were quick to wash out anyone who couldn't pass the tests or who developed physical problems.

One day when we were digging foxholes, my back muscles tightened and I couldn't straighten up. It was a condition which normally would have finished my O.S.C. interlude and probably given me a one-way ticket to combat.

But, oddly enough, our training officer was an ex-halfback who had a similar weakness. Sympathetically, he whisked me off to the clinic where they applied heat and got me going again. Thanks to him, I was kept with my class until I got my bars.

Why?

Almost all of the new officers I had trained with were then sent to the Battle of the Bulge or some other area of war-time action. Me? I was ordered back to Texas � Camp Fannin this time � to train more infantry replacements.

Why?

I stayed at it until the war in Europe was over and our attention was turned to the Japanese in the Pacific. At last it was my turn.

I was on my way to become a company commander in the planned invasion of Japan � and then Harry Truman ordered the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Once again I got a reprieve.

Why?

Yes, I, too, am a member of what Tom Brokaw called "The Greatest Generation," but for some reason I was always spared the great test of combat.

Would I have been a good soldier? Would I have been up to the gut-wrenching task of Saving Private Ryan? I'll never know, and I can only ask:

Why?

© 2000 Robert F. Karolevitz

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