Summer Camp
.
Early in the summer of 1969, I was selected to be the
Assistant Camp Counselor for Summer Camp at Camp Hardy for
some army brats [dependent children].  In this case it was
boys who were between seven and fifteen years old.  At least
that’s the age bracket in which they were supposed to have
been.  One little squirt that I nicknamed “Pee Wee” had
trouble walking with a full canteen of water on his pistol
belt.  Later, I found out that an exception had been granted
for “Pee Wee” — he was only five years old.

A married master sergeant was originally assigned as the
Camp Counselor, but two days after we arrived at Camp Hardy,
he had family problems.  He returned to base and I was
promoted to Camp Counselor.  Lucky me, a bachelor with no
experience with kids, was left in charge of 80 boys at
Summer Camp for the next three weeks.  That was an
experience I will never forget.

Camp Hardy was the pre-mission training camp for the 1st
Group.  We all slept in squad tents that were erected on
concrete slabs.  We began each day at the crack of dawn with
reveille followed by breakfast and then we took a little
time to clean up our tents before we took physical training.
>From that point on the curriculum varied from day-to-day.
We put those kids through a “gentle” version of pre-mission
training, but, I really worked their little butts off.  I
tried my best to wear those kids out so they would go to
sleep at nights and not get into trouble.  You see, we had
no television and very few of the boys even had a radio.
There were also very few books available.  But, regardless
of how hard I worked them, you could hear them horse-playing
until taps, and sometimes afterwards.  Usually, I had to
make only one visit to one tent to calm them down after taps
because I was loud enough for all the tents to benefit from
it.  Hell, I was pooped and that saved me some time so I
could get some sleep to.  Riding herd all day on eighty
young boys can wear a person out.

We trained them in marksmanship using BB Rifles; we trained
them in the art of tracking humans; we trained them in using
little rubber boats; we ran them through a modified version
of the Camp Hardy infiltration course; we gave them swimming
lessons in the ocean; and most of the third week we spent
camping out.  The rest of the third week, we spent at the
Basic Airborne Course at Sukiran where they got to jump out
of the 34 foot training tower.  We also offered scuba-diving
lessons to any boy that could pass the swimming test, but no
one passed it.  Every kid tried their best to pass that
swimming test, even Pee Wee.  We had to pull some of them to
safety because they would have drowned before they would
have quit.  If they were members of the boy scouts, they
received credit toward merit badges for successfully
completing the swimming lessons, weapons classes and for
erecting a sleeping shelter and  cooking when they camped
out.

If they did good with the BB rifles, they got the same
training with a .22 caliber rifle.   They were taught “Quick
Fire” techniques.  That is where you lift your rifle and
fire without using the sights.  Those little snot-nosed
brats did pretty damn good.  They put everything they had
into it because they all dearly wanted to shoot the 22s.  On
the infiltration course blanks were fired over their heads
instead of bullets and firecrackers were set off here and
there instead of plastic explosives.

Survival training was included in the camping trip.  After
we arrived at our bivouac site, I assigned each squad a
section of the woods and told them to build their shelters.
On the very first day, we had assigned the oldest kids to be
squad leaders and the next oldest to be their assistants and
made them responsible for taking care of the younger members
of their squads, just like in the army.  They had hatchets,
knives and army field gear.  I told them, “I will grade each
shelter tomorrow morning.”  Also, I issued each squad their
rations for that evening and the next day.  They scurried
off into the woods like a bunch of newly hatched chicks and
pretty soon all you could hear was chopping and squeals of
laughter all through the woods.  Those little guys were
having a ball.  Most of the boys had built sleeping
platforms off the ground in the trees.  All during the
night, you could hear a tree begin to crack, then a snap and
crash as the platform came down amid cries of fear.  No
calls for help came so I knew nobody was hurt.  Shortly
after each platform crashed, you would see flashlights
through the trees and the chopping and laughter would begin
anew as the hapless camper and his team mates set about
re-building his platform.  Those kids were having the
adventure of their life.

None of their food was cooked for them.  It was all issued
raw.  Sometimes they got hot dogs, sometimes it was
hamburger meat and sometimes it was chicken.  They had to
prepare their meals themselves.

While they were camped out, I was required to taste and
approve one meal by each boy that wanted credit for a boy
scout badge —  that took guts.  Pee Wee was too young to be
in the scouts, but he wanted to do everything that the “big
boys” did so I just had to eat a meal with him also.  Pee
Wee served hamburgers that meal and as he picked my burger
off of his makeshift grill, he dropped it into the ashes.
That little guy never blinked an eye, I thought sure he
would break down and cry, but he didn’t.  He plucked my
burger from the ashes, wiped it off the best that he could,
and proudly presented that little piece of charcoal to me.
Boy, was he proud of that burger.  Oh well, I like my meat
well done anyway and besides, charcoal is a great remedy for
the shits.  Of course I didn’t have the shits yet, but you
never know when they might strike and I figured it wouldn’t
hurt to have a little extra protection already inside me,
just in case.  Also, I had to inspect and approve each
shelter before the Boy Scouts would award them credit for
that.  Thankfully, I was not required to sleep in them.

We returned the boys home each Saturday afternoon and picked
them up early each Monday.  The second time that I picked
them up, several of the mothers approached me and asked me
what I was doing with their boy.  I asked, “Why?  What’s
wrong?”  The most common reply was, “Nothing’s wrong, he’s
just changed.  He’s not the same boy that I sent to you.  He
’s independent now and wants to do everything for himself.”
Well, it seemed that the mothers didn’t have as many kids to
“mother” anymore and that bothered them.  Well, I took it as
a compliment, but I’m not sure that’s how it was intended.
However, I couldn’t help but wonder if I was going to get
another one of those damn “letters of apology” that I “must”
sign and send back through channels like happened after my
Taiwan trip.

There was a lot of hard things being said about American
kids at that time because of the drugs, hippies, flower
children and protesters.  There wasn’t a damn thing wrong
with any of those boys.  They were all crackerjacks.  All
they needed was just a little leadership, a lot of
challenge, and enough freedom to make mistakes.  Hopefully,
they also had enough wisdom to learn from their mistakes.

Believe me, I learned more from those kids than they learned
from me — a lot more.  For the first time in my life, I
regretted not living a normal life and having a family of my
own with my own kids, but that feeling wore off in about two
days.

Several times since then, I have wondered how those young
men turned out and how their experiences that summer camp
affected their lives.

Don "Val"  Valentine

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