The sense of being in a movie at Fort Davis was based in part on the large quadrangle of perfectly maintained lawn, on which some soldiers usually drilled, to the sound of their noncoms’ commands. On three sides of the quad were the barracks, large, yellow, three floored buildings, with reddish, Mediterranean style, ceramic roofing. The fourth side held the Post Exchange, or PX, a store selling nearly everything a soldier could want, from cigarettes (at 8 cents a pack!) to watches, civilian clothing and cameras, at lower prices than anywhere else. Between the buildings were walks, manicured plantings and palm trees. There were two walkways which crisscrossed the perfectly trimmed grass from corner to corner of the quad. Near the PX was the flagpole, and on one corner of the quad stood the 75mm Howitzer, a field gun, a sort of military antique of a type which had seen much service during World War I. Each morning, a pre-recorded “Reveille” would blast over the quad, the Howitzer would be fired, thousands of parakeets would come shrieking out the trees, and the flag in front of the PX would be raised, while we stood at attention and saluted. In the evening we went through the same routine, but “Taps” was played and the flag was lowered. In between the two events we did what infantry men always do in the peacetime army; we trained.
Most of the training took place in the jungle, where the weather was always the same, too hot, too humid, and in the afternoon, every afternoon, it rained. I’d hear the rain coming, a long, low rumble over the tree canopy as it approached, and then it poured for a little while, just enough to make the air more humid afterwards.
The foliage in the jungle was so dense it allowed little sunlight, and the ground was a continuous mud slide. Whenever I slipped, and I slipped quite often, because we were always either going up a hill or coming down one, and I had no jungle boots, I’d reach for one of the narrow tree-trunks that seemed to have been placed there just for support, when I discovered (with considerable pain), that the tree trunk was covered with long, sharp thorns. If I decided to rest for a moment against a tree trunk that didn’t have thorns, I quickly found that there were small, nasty, biting ants all over it. If I just sat down, thousands of ants of the leaf cutting variety were also on the ground, making their way in an orderly column to their nest, each carrying a little bit of leaf like a parasol. There were vines everywhere. I found it difficult to take a step without getting tangled in vines and other vegetation, because I was carrying a Browning Automatic Rifle (B.A.R) with its long barrel and its attached bipod. Along the way you realized that the Tarzan movies, which were supposed to take place in the jungle, were shot in wide open spaces. This was the real jungle. What made all of this even worse, was that no normal, cleatted jungle boots could be found for me, because size 13’s were hard to come by. Jungle boots came with canvas tops and little drain holes near the soles, through which water could pass after we had walked in streams. Trekking in the jungle without jungle boots, with regular boots, was like a beginner skating on an oily, slippery surface. This was really not the way I liked to walk or to spend time.