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Walking up Misery Hill

January 13, 2012
James Whipple , Shepherdstown Chronicle

Well, the holidays are over and we head into the winter weather for the next couple of months. As I have gotten older, I think of this time as passing behind the moon which is pitch black. The days won't be pitch black but a lot of them will indeed be a dark gray. Some days there will be sleet or snow in addition to the darkness. All of us will soon are praying for the summer months to return.

When I was younger I use to do a lot of things in the winter. I skied and skated. I had a wonderful sled: the top of a trash can that I used to slide down many snow covered hills. In our neighborhood we chose teams and had snowball wars.

The winter I remember the most was during Basic Training. In January 1960, I reported for duty at Fort Knox Ky. Due to personal matters at home and sickness, I did not start my basic tanning until February.

Basic training was a change of life for me. The days started at 5 a.m. The days were full of things like calisthenics and films on such things as how to duck during a bombing raid.

The one that held most interest to us was the one on how to avoid getting venereal diseases such as syphilis. There were also classes on self defense and how to take guns and knives away from the enemy.

A lot of time was spent marching, walking and running. We started with a fast walk for a mile. This was done without the field packs or rifles most of the time. Since I was a very young kid I did a lot of walking. It was a long walk to school and I nearly walked everywhere I went. So walking and running for long periods of time came easy for me. Even when we were in full gear, I was one of the few that lasted through the whole march.

Fork Knox was and still is home for the Third Armor Division. Parts of Fort Knox were woods and large hills. It would be nothing to see tanks passing us going up and down these hills.

The two big hills were called Misery and Heartbreak. I can't remember, but I think Misery was the larger of the two and was a two-mile hike. The hills were fine as long as there was no snow or ice on them.

I can remember that the company commander, who was a second lieutenant who had just graduated West Point the summer before, would show us how agile he was by walk up Misery Hill backwards.

One day we had been to the range which was just at the bottom of Misery Hill. It had been snowing off and on and we had to lie in the snow to take target practice. For lunch the truck from camp brought us hot soup and black coffee. I have not tasted any soup or coffee since without remembering that cold February day.

As it got darker we formed up and started to walk up the hill. The road was very slick and it seemed with each two steps we took, we would slide back one. Misery Hill was very steep with a lot of curves. We stayed to the right knowing that jeeps and tanks flew down that hill. We marched along and came to a curve. Someone shouted "Look out! Get off the road." We got off the road quickly and it was good that we did.

Around the curve came a jeep blowing its horn and behind it was a tank that had lost its traction and was skidding sideways down the hill. The tank came within an eyelash of hitting us. The driver tried to straighten the tank which caused it to shimmy back and forth. Finally, after it passed us, the tank spun to the left then to the right and finally straightened out and stopped. We saw the hatch open and a body shot out of it like a bullet and stood by the side of the road vomiting and shaking.

He was not the only one shaking. All of us had almost met our maker. Later that evening we sat around on our bunks and talked about that tank and how close we had come to being killed by that runaway tank.

When I look back at it today I can't help but wonder how many of those guys went to Vietnam and how many made it back. Those days at Fort Knox changed many of us from young teenagers to men.

 
 

 

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