He jumped higher than an NBA player going in for a slam dunk
—by Bill Haglund
We hear a lot these days about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, commonly simply called “PTSD.”
It’s a reality of war and, unfortunately, many of our servicemen return from battle in Iraq and/or Afghanistan with some form of post-war stress. I believe it’s far worse today, with soldiers wary of unconventional weapons of war. Not only must today’s soldiers serving overseas be wary of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), but there’s also the ever-present threat of suicide bombers.
There are far more soldiers today suffering from PTSD than during my time in the military a half century ago.
That’s not to say there weren’t veterans suffering post-war stress. We simply didn’t call it that way back then. During World War I it was called “combat fatigue,” and during World War II it was more commonly referred to as “gross stress reaction.” During the Vietnam era it was often called “post-Vietnam syndrome.” It was also called “battle fatigue.”
Those of us at Fort Leonard Wood, MO, in 1965 called it “shell shock.”
That brings me to Sergeant Amos, one of the training sergeants at Fort Leonard Wood who was in charge of a whole group of us who were in our second round of military training. We’d just finished basic training and were headed off to be trained in what would become our military occupation. It was called AIT, or advanced individual training.
Now, before any grizzled old vets out there jump to correct me, I’ll say that the term was really Advanced Infantry Training. However, those of us headed to other military occupations still went through AIT, although for us it was Advanced Individual Training. It was roughly an eight-week course and, once we completed the “school,” we would be deemed ready for military duty.
My unit included a diversified bunch of soldiers. I was assigned to the unit because I’d just made the post baseball team. My orders had originally called for me to transfer to Fort Benjamin Harrison in Indianapolis after by two weeks’ leave between basic training and AIT.
However, I’d been home less than a week when I got new orders mailed to me — Fort Benjamin Harrison would have to wait. I guess the brass that ran the baseball team could do what they wanted. My new orders called for me to return to Fort Leonard Wood to play baseball. Still, I had to live somewhere, had to go to school somewhere.
So, I was attached to this unit of misfits. Three of us were on the baseball team. During the day I’d attend Clerk Typist school. Others were taking medical classes, some were going to be military policemen, some would work in finance or in the judge advocate general’s division. I’m sure there were more.
But, we were all living in the same barracks, all of us attached to the same company.
Heading the company was Sergeant John Amos. He’d been in the service for some time and had served both during the Korean Conflict and had also put in some time in Vietnam.
And, he was suffering from shell shock. We were all young, most of us wanted to be somewhere else, and we didn’t understand what it mean to be shell shocked. So, to us, it was funny. I feel badly now that we had some laughs at Sergeant Amos’ expense.
But, we saw the humor as we gathered at the end of every day before being dismissed. On Friday, it was especially funny. I can still see it in my mind’s eye today.
“All right, at ease!” Sergeant Amos yelled at us. “You people want to dress up in these Jody clothes on these weekends, well by Gawd you’ll soldier for me five days. No more of this Friday crap. You want to go out on Friday, I’m going to make you work all week.”
That, we thought, was funny. It got better.
We were called to attention and you could see the fear of an impending cannon blast appear on Sergeant Amos’ face. It was obvious he dreaded what he knew was coming. It happened every day at 5 o’clock before we were dismissed
BOOM! It was loud. As soon as we heard it, all our eyes were on Sergeant Amos. He jumped higher than an NBA player going in for a slam dunk. In mid-air he yelled “About Face!”
As sure as I’m writing this, Sergeant John Amos was startled completely out of his wits every afternoon at 5 o’clock.
It was wrong, I know, but we all got a good laugh at his expense. We were young and a little insensitive. To us, it was funny.
I often wonder whatever happened to Sergeant Amos after we left to our permanent duty stations. Did he remain there long? Was he ever sent back into combat? Or, did he retire?
I hope it was the latter. I hope he returned to his home in Alabama and lived a long and fulfilling life.
And, I hope he didn’t have to hear a cannon blast at the end of every day.
Bill Haglund is a former staff writer for the Dallas County News and the Boone News-Republican. He can be reached at email@example.com