Life’s Lessons Learned #36: In the Army Now – Fort Polk

From January through the second week in June of 1967 I served, in limbo, as a recruit to Company A of the 103rd Medical Battalion of the 28th Infantry Division of the Pennsylvania National Guard. My orders to report for basic training were delayed until mid-June. I attended monthly meetings in civilian clothes until then. I signed up in order to satisfy my military obligation. At that time there were three ways that you could do so: (1) Enlist for three years in any branch of the military, (2) be drafted for two years into the Army, or (3) enlist for six years with a reserve/guard unit. The military requirement was for six years total. If you took either option one or two, you then were required to remain subject to recall for the remaining years. The Pennsylvania National Guard requirement entailed six months of active duty (basic training and advanced training), one weekend per month in drills, and two weeks every summer in training and drills. Thus, in total, you were committed to six years in the Guard.

It was hot on the day that I left from Lancaster airport to fly to Fort Polk, Louisiana, for basic. We flew to Pittsburgh, and from there to Little Rock, and finally from Little Rock to Fort Polk. The final leg of this trip was with Trans Texas Airlines (TTA), known not so affectionately as “Tree Top Airlines”. This was because the final leg of the trip was in a DC-3 aircraft. The plane was tiny with two wing wheels and a tail wheel. There was a single oscillating fan in the front of the plane, and no sound system for the lone stewardess who shouted to be heard above the roar of the engines.

Trans Texas Airlines

Trans Texas Airlines

When we landed at Fort Polk it was after midnight, however, it was still over 100 degrees in temperature. We did not sleep that night. After a short briefing we were inducted/sworn into the U.S. Army. Shortly after that the sun came up, we were given physicals, issued clothing, given shots, and given haircuts (i.e., made into bald young men). I still have my shot card from that night, and it does indicate that I was given a shot for the bubonic plague. The first full day we learned to stand at attention, and at parade rest, and we were expected to do so in silence for what seemed like forever. We eventually were introduced to Sgt. (“Do not call me, Sir. I work for a living) Brown, and moved to a barracks.

For most of my basic training, the daytime temperature was at or above 100 degrees, and torrential downpours punctuated the afternoons. The streets were made up of large (1-3 inch) gravel, and doing pushups on them was no fun. It was said that basic training would make you lose or gain 25 pounds – whichever you needed. We ran everywhere we went, and that was while wearing rather heavy leather boots and wool stockings. In addition to our drill instructor (Sgt. Brown) there was also a sadistic Corporal who led the daily calisthenics.

There were daily inspections of us and our footlockers and beds. They actually did require that a quarter dropped on your properly made bed bounce an inch. We were expected to polish the inside lids of our shoe polish can. The floors of the barracks were this horrible red color that we would buff and then not be able to walk on for fear that we would scratch it. Everything in your footlocker was to be properly folded and displayed. Sgt. Brown once made a Private drop for pushups because an ant was walking across his open and displayed footlocker tray. They got him for “keeping an unauthorized pet”.

There was a strange and cruel world of discipline in basic training at Fort Polk. A Private who avoided showers (and smelled a bit ripe) was given a “lobster shower” – forcefully scrubbed with a stiff brush and cleansing powder. A Private who was a slacker was given a “blanket party” – where, in the middle of the night, two people held a blanket over his head, while several others beat him. We had to run a mile every day. There was a substantially overweight Private who was always slow and last. The DI had him start half a lap ahead of the others, and told the group to run him down. He fell, and we were then told to drag him the rest of the way. At the end of the mile he was dead. It was reported as heat stroke, and from then on, when the heat and humidity reached a certain point we were allowed to untuck our shirts.

10 minute break – Fort Polk 1967

10 minute break – Fort Polk 1967

Week six we had the firing range. You had to qualify as at least a “marksman” to continue on in basic training. If you did not qualify (It was called a bolo), you were recycled back in basic to start over. This was a problem for me. I had horrible eyesight, and probably would not have passed the regular army physical. When I got there they took away my glasses, and gave me Army issued glasses (for example no bifocal). They were not strong enough, and I could not clearly see the targets. In the morning we fired at stationary targets. In the afternoon it was moving/popup targets. By lunch it was obvious to me that I was going to be recycled. As I took my place at the firing station the scorekeeper asked me how it was going. I told him about the glasses, and that I was pretty sure I was about to get recycled. He told me to just keep firing; I was hitting them just fine. I qualified as a marksman.

While at Fort Polk I learned the origin of a term that I would later use as I taught using the case analysis methodology. I taught my students, when first coming to grips with an assignment to solve a case, to prepare a list of alternative solutions to the case. They would then establish criteria for evaluation of these alternatives. Finally, they would offer a recommended course of action from among these alternatives (solution). There is, however, a temptation to put forth nonviable alternatives in order to then merely knock them down. These are called “straw men”. At Fort Polk I was trained in the effective use of a bayonet. This was done using life size mannequins made of straw. I was trained in the “Spirit of the Bayonet” using “straw men”. I was also trained that the “Spirit of the Bayonet” which was to KILL WITHOUT MERCY!

I was happy to get through basic, and board the bus to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas. Basic training was all about violence. AIT (advanced individual training) at Fort Sam would be about becoming a medical corpsman.

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Life’s Lessons Learned #35: The Four Questions – #4 Nothing

For this blog, I am examining my life’s lessons learned questions.

For me, this was the most difficult of the four questions. I just have difficulty trying to visualize a complete vacuum. I sense that the definition of space requires that something must be there to occupy it. This was further complicated for me by science and its statement that the vacuum of outer-space – that space beyond Earth’s atmosphere – is mostly devoid of atoms. I get it that there is empty space between atoms, and within atoms for that matter. But, then my mind asks, “What’s there?” The answer – NOTHING!!!


How can there be a “location” that is totally empty? I just could not wrap my mind around that. That is a theoretical physics question and I only got a C in Physics. I did do better in math. Miss Edris Rahn, my math teacher at Arroyo High School, taught us Geometry by beginning with undefined terms, which we then used to develop definitions, postulates, laws, and theorems. For example, a “point” is undefined in geometry, and we use two points to then define a line. The concept of “nothing” might be accepted as one of those undefined terms.

Or, consider another possibility… Say you have an event or eventuality, call it “X”. And, that you also have a separate and distinct second event or eventuality, call it “Y”. Let’s also say that X is so defined as to only be possible, or exist, if Y does not. Finally, say that Y is so defined as to only be possible, or exist, if X does not. X and Y, therefore, are two mutually exclusive events or eventualities.

I believe that physicists have something like this when they speak of matter and anti-matter. From what I gather, if you bring these two things into the same space they will both cease to exist. When I think of “nothing” that is what I visualize – two mutually exclusive existing events or eventualities coexisting in the same space. I am not suggesting that all empty space is the result of the coexistence of matter and anti-matter.

No, it is just a process whereby I can visualize the concept of “nothing”, and, it works for me.

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Life’s Lessons Learned #34: The Four Questions – #3 God

For the next few (2) blogs I am examining my life’s lessons learned questions.

So, anyway, this blog might hurt a bit, but then… I don’t try to convince anybody as to the correctness of my opinions, and… I do not appreciate those who feel the need to “save” my “soul” either.

Fourteen years was a sufficient time to allow the one true church, Roman Catholic, to make their case, and finally, I said NO. I even tried to see if I could lapse back into the faith when I was twenty-one. I decided that I did not have it within my belief system to accept the premises of a supreme being with a vision towards the micro-management of all mankind’s behavior. I also found it kind of interesting that Christians felt that God made humans in His image. What I did believe, however, is that if there were no such thing as a God, we would have needed to create one. It was just too unsettling, with too many unanswered questions. Most cultures have a supreme being or beings that they worship, honor, and perhaps fear. Some of these are human-like in appearance, some are animalistic, some are nature based, and some are demonist. One common characteristic is the idea that God can be reached through something akin to prayer, and that prayers might be answered. Most people also expect God to reward “good” behavior, and punish “bad” behavior. There is a commonly held belief that God cares, and that God has an interest in the actions of His human worshipers. God is often thought to work in mysterious ways. Most, by far, (but not all) images of God are also male – perhaps reflecting societal norms of the distribution of power.

Muggles and Wizards notwithstanding, there has been an ongoing struggle between science and religion within the underpinning culture of my upbringing. Nonbelievers of the dominant, resident, religious culture often have encountered difficulties. I choose to address this issue in two parts. First up is what I do not believe. Second, I will turn to what I believe. I’ll begin with the statement that I do believe in God; just not the God that most of those around me (and perhaps most of those who might read this) believe, exists. To me…

• God does not look like, or share anything in common with, humans.
• God does not care about humans.
• God does not reward or punish human behavior.
• God did not create man.
• God did not give man dominion over anything
• God did not create rules of proper behavior
• God does not favor any one group of people over another

I find it too self-centered that humans see themselves as Godlike, or of great importance to their vision of God.

To me, God exists in the otherwise unfathomable complexity of the universe. Our known world consists of things so small, and yet so balanced, that they work together to make functioning wholes. These wholes include, but are not limited to, atomic structure, elements, chemicals, cells, organisms, flora, fauna, animals, etc. In the other direction of scale are planets, solar systems, galaxies, and things so large that few humans can comprehend just how big and vast they are. The human perception of scale is truly limited. Our sensory abilities are severely limited. Our senses (sight, sound, smell for example) fall well below those of most of our pets.

Another area where we especially fall short is our sense of time. Our life (see my 2/14/15 blog) is incredibly short when considered in light of the time frame of the Universe – a mere blink of an eye. The vastness of the Universe in size, and its lengthy existence in time, moves me to accept the almost statistical certainty that humans are not the only sentient creatures therein. Maybe others are not in our metaphorical block, city, or continent, but they are there. I can only hope that if they are sufficiently advanced to get here, that they don’t like the taste of humans.

God, to me, is the order that maintains this Universe. God is the structure and the beauty of the Universe. Without this, it would not have come into existence. And it is infinite in its existence – with no beginning or end (see the blog on infinity posted on 2/7/15). I can marvel at this concept. I can accept its existence without proof, but with faith. I can comfortably answer the question with “Yes, I believe in God”. But I do so with a wink. To most who ask me that question, my answer will have a far different meaning to me than to them. I can live with that.

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Life’s Lessons Learned #33: The Four Questions – #2 Death

For the next few (3) blogs I am examining my life’s lessons learned questions. Today we deal with my great question #2. What happens when you die? (Disclaimer: The following is based on memory and perception, and clearly is subject to error)

As a child I attended Saint Joseph’s Catholic Grammar School in Lancaster, PA, and Most Holy Redeemer Grammar School in San Francisco, CA. That said, it is easy to guess that my earliest understanding of death was rooted in three destinations: Heaven, Hell, or Purgatory. Heaven and Hell were final destinations. Purgatory was a way station on the way to Heaven. Your ticket was punched based upon your behavior during your lifetime on Earth. It was during that lifetime that you were baptized – thus taking care of the “original sin” that we all carried from Adam and Eve. One group breaking away from the Roman Catholic Church was the Universalists who rejected this need to be baptized in order to enter Heaven. Ok, take a moment to consider the havoc visited upon so called “savages” in attempts at conversion to Christianity. Christianity has also dealt with human’s moral frailty through the concept of “sin”. Catholics address sin (two types: mortal and venial – look them up) with the holy sacrament of confession, where an ordained priest can hear your sins and forgive them – if you make a “good” act of contrition, and complete your penance. Without taxing my memory too much, I’ll just mention one other Roman Catholic concept, “indulgences”, for those who didn’t learn about them in their Catechism. You could shorten your stay in Purgatory, on your way to Heaven, by earning through your behavior, or actually purchasing some time off. To an impressionable youth all of this was really frightening!

Throughout the World various religions have pretty much always used threats about punishment, or promises of rewards, after death to structure behavior of their believers. How many virgins does an Islamic martyr earn after death? With those who believe in reincarnation, the life as we know now, after death therefore moves on to another form of life based on the merits and demerits it accumulated in its current life. The path to becoming a supreme soul is to practice non-violence and be truthful.

If you have a true belief in a particular religious doctrine, that doctrine will determine your personal answer to the question, “What happens when you die?”

However, the question became real, and undefined, to me as I grew away from my early Roman Catholic beliefs. Without the church doctrine, or a handy new replacement doctrine, the question was now both important and unsettling to me. It is a question that is also closely tied to the other three in this series of blogs. I have come to accept that every person, thing, and event is interlocked through time. I think this is best stated in the study of chaos theory and the butterfly effect where one flap of a butterfly’s wings would be enough to alter the course of the weather forever. The idea that one butterfly could eventually have a far-reaching ripple effect on subsequent historic events first appears in “A Sound of Thunder”, a 1952 short story by Ray Bradbury about time travel. For the mathematical underpinnings of the theory you might look up the work of Edward N. Lorenz.

To me it translates well to the consideration of death. The World, indeed the Universe, is forever changed, even if only in the most infinitesimal way, by the mere fact of our existence. We never really die. We go on throughout time in the changes that we wrought.

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Life’s Lessons Learned #32: The Four Questions – #1 Infinity

For the next few (4) blogs I am addressing four questions. When I was a senior at Arroyo High School in San Lorenzo, California, and I was planning the rest of my life, I sought the answers to four questions. At the time, I had accepted a full scholarship to Franklin & Marshall College (F&M). F&M was a small (1,600 student), all male college in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Most of my friends were planning to attend large and better-known colleges and universities on the left hand side of the country. Only a few of us were making the trek east. The plan was to become a mathematician. After all, I did extremely well on the math part of the then two-part (now three) SAT. I saw myself eventually perpetuating the breed, becoming a math professor, and teaching other future math professors…

At that time, I had a curious mind. I was struggling with deep questions of religion, life, and, oh yes, mathematics. Over each of the next four blogs I will be discussing the four main questions I pondered during that spring of 1963 and beyond, and share what I found. These four questions dealt with concepts that I found very difficult to both understand and, more important to me, to visualize. It was not easy, and it took many years to find my answers. The four were:

1. Infinity – How can something go on forever
2. Death – Probably more important, what follows, if anything
3. God – Sort of the universal question isn’t it
4. Nothing – I could not visualize space that was vacuous

Stay tuned; it may be an interesting trip.

Infinity: ∞

First up was the idea of a universe without end. Here, on earth, we are limited in our ability to see objects beyond a certain distance. This is complicated by the so-called “big bang theory” that theorizes that it all (all matter in the universe) began in one place with one hell of a BANG. This bang then sent all matter in existence speeding out from that single point to form the known, massive, universe. This expansion is still going on. (NOTE: I know… One hell of an oversimplification…)

This does not, however, address the question of visualization of the infinite space into which this expansion is taking place. What is there before the universe expands into it?

I suggest a rather simple answer, and the symbol for infinity shown above is what got me thinking. It reminded me of a parlor trick that demonstrates the impossible, a piece of paper with only one side and only one boundary component. For this we turn to something many of you have seen before, the Möbius strip. The German mathematicians August Ferdinand Möbius and Johann Benedict Listing independently discovered the Möbius strip in 1958. I suggest, at this point, an Internet search for all sorts of boring additional information about Möbius strips. The above and the following description are referenced fromöbius_strip.
Screen Shot 2015-02-04 at 3.33.37 PM

A photograph of a green paper Möbius strip: David Benbennick took this photograph on March 14, 2005. For scale, the strip of paper is 11 inches long, the long edge of a U.S. standard piece of “letter size” paper. The background is a piece of white paper. The strip is held together by a piece of clear duct tape, behind the top-right curve. If an ant were to crawl along the length of this strip, it would return to its starting point having traversed the entire length of the strip (on both sides of the original paper) without ever crossing an edge.

Now for step two in my thought process. If you look at the Möbius strip above, although the supposed ant never crossed an edge, you can clearly see what looks like two edges to the strip? So, what if you were able to connect these two opposing edges, at one point on the strip to make a tube? You can do this at any local portion of the strip, but it cannot be done for the entire strip. If you were able to do so, what you would have, is a tube where everything is both inside and outside the tube at the same time. I was a junior in college when I figured this out. I had switched from a mathematics major to business administration, and had not taken the course in topology that would have probably taught this to me, but it came to me while studying for my Scientific German class.

Back in the 1960s, a good liberal arts education included fluency in a foreign language. I had chosen German, reflecting the state of the science of mathematics in literature. Scientific German was my final class in German, and I was reading Die Geschichte der Natur by Carl-Friedrich von Weizacker. While reading “The History of Nature” I first became aware of the expanding-contracting theory of the universe. This theory suggests that, if there is sufficient mass, the expansion will slow and eventually contract into a massive black hole where another big bang takes place and it all starts over again.

That impossible tube created from the Möbius strip actually exists in Mathematics. The summer between my junior and senior year I was working in Connecticut and doing some reading about science when I came across something called a Klein Bottle (or Euler Bottle). This bottle is a non-orientable surface with no inside and no outside. So unlike a sphere, where you cannot pass from the outside to the inside without passing through the surface, in a Klein bottle you can do just that. If you were very small, an ant say, you could start at any point, and keep crawling until you reached the other side of the surface, without passing through any surfaces, and without needing to cross any edges. The German mathematician Felix Klein first described it in 1882, and it is related to the Möbius strip. Essentially he combined two Möbius surfaces, a left and a right, to form a single surfaced 3 dimensional object. Although in fact a Klein Bottle is really a four dimensional object, that is immersed in three dimensions. (Reference:
Screen Shot 2015-02-04 at 3.34.07 PM

Almost there… Now visualize the universe as a Klein Bottle like space that is expanding until it meets itself while collapsing. You thus have a fully contained finite, yet infinite, space. I do not have the math chops to do the science, but I am at least comfortable with the resultant visualizable concept!

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Life’s Lessons Learned #31: Hi-ho, Hi-ho Its Off to Work I Go

As much as I bought into the whole liberal arts concept of education, I also understood the need to house, clothe, and feed myself after graduation. Thus as the senior year in college was upon me, and the fear of post-graduate work in Viet Nam faded, I figured that I needed to somehow become gainfully employed for the time after I graduated and did my six months on active duty with the U.S. Army.

A job hunt is nothing more than a person with a perceived need, seeking affirmation of their personal worth, in the eyes of another. The fear of rejection, especially from an employer you truly wish to accept you is real. I think here of the similar searches: college admission, prom date for the guy without a girlfriend, or making the team at a tryout.

During the mid-1960s the job market was pretty good for college graduates. I had taken those aptitude tests during my junior year and decided to find a good management trainee position with a bank. In 1966-1967 the Placement Office of a college was in the clear business of bringing together soon-to-graduate students with eager future employers. By the time I retired, my university was no longer helping students meet employers, but rather in the business of teaching their students how to do a job search. This was nothing short of a quantum shift. The recent thinking is that students will be employed by many different employers during their work life, and will need job search skills. The employment history data seems to bear this out.

In a typical 1967 college job search, you first needed to prepare a resume, and it had to be targeted toward your potential employer (the basic marketing concept). Then, you checked the list of employers visiting the campus who were interviewing Business majors. I was looking for banks, and there were several. You then had to then pick a time on their signup list. The banks would spend 15 to 30 minutes with each student who wanted to meet with them. I signed up for three banks: Girard Bank, Central Penn Bank, and Industrial Valley Bank. The interviews went well and all three invited me to visit with them, at their headquarters, for a second interview. In addition, through a different process, I interviewed with a local bank, Lancaster County Farmers National Bank.

Girard Bank and Central Penn Bank were headquartered in Philadelphia, while Industrial Valley Bank was in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania. I completed the second interviews with Girard and Lancaster County Farmers. Both banks made job offers at the end of their second interview. I then notified Central Penn and Industrial Valley that I had two offers in hand, and that I would not be completing second interviews with them. So there are really two stories to tell in this “first real job” search.

Lancaster County Farmers National Bank: During my senior year I took a marketing course with Dr. Richard Norman. He was a very good lecturer, and had a sort of Zen approach to marketing. He was enamored with Buckminster Fuller and his writings. Many years later, I too would begin to pay attention to Bucky and his way of thinking. As part of our class assignments each student had to pick a company, interview marketers from that company, and then write a 10-page paper about what they learned. Since I was thinking of becoming a banker, I chose the largest of the banks in Lancaster for my paper project. I first met with Mr. Schell, the Vice-president of marketing at LCFNB. We began with the first question that Dr. Norman would ask, “What business are you in?” I was then given several brochures listing the services provided by the bank. I met with other bank officers as well, and each explained what their particular function was. It was sort of a personalized “Intro to Banking 101” course. So, I began my paper with that question and started to describe what the bank offered its customers. Since it was a marketing paper, and my course had stressed the important role of the customer and fulfilling their needs, I began to examine the bank offerings from the customer’s perspective. I remember finishing the paper with a statement something like this: Lancaster County Farmers National Bank is in any business that they want to be in, are legally permitted to be in, have the unique ability to well serve, and for which there are customers that can be satisfied while earning a profit for the bank’s shareholders. I’m sure I have a copy of that paper somewhere. I got an A. The bank had also asked for a copy of my final paper, and they then contacted me and asked if I would like to work for then in their newly established management trainee program (I would be the second trainee at the bank).

Girard Bank: Girard was an old, established, Philadelphia bank. Upon arrival I entered a domed building within which there was a huge marbled, and cavernous, main floor banking area. It was a very impressive bank building to say the least. At the rear of the building were elevators to the attached skyscraper. After a brief chat with a human resources person, I was taken to an upper floor where the bank had an executive dining room. There I met, and had lunch with the Executive Vice-president of branch administration. There were several other bank officers at the table, but who they were remains a blur. I do remember that, at the end of the lunch a waiter came to the table with a beautiful wood box of cigars that were offered to the people seated at the table. I do not smoke, and was inclined to decline the offer, when the fellow next to me elbowed me, and encouraged me to take one. I did. When we entered the elevator to return to the human resources department everybody turned to the Executive VP and gave him the cigars. That was not the kind of thing that I will ever forget. From there I was taken on a walking tour to several nearby branch offices. The interview process was ongoing, and spread over most of the day. When we returned to the main office I was taken back to human resources where the human resources person informed me that they were going to hire me. I said that I already had another offer that I was considering as well. He said that that was fine, but that they, Girard Bank were the best, and that I would take their offer to join their branch management trainee program. I did not own a suit in 1967, and I had worn a wool sport coat and slacks to my interview. Before I left he told me that I would need to buy a wardrobe of proper banker suits.

I had a decision to make. I sort of saw it as a question of whether I wanted to be a big fish in a small pond or a small fish in a big pond. LCFNB offered a two-year training program and a starting salary of $5,200/year. Adjusting for inflation, that is equivalent to $37,400 in 2016 dollars. Girard offered $6,500/year ($46,700 in 2016 dollars). After considering both offers, I chose to follow a decision rule that I have followed ever since. I decided that I should go where I felt comfortable with the people rather than just the money. To the dismay of the Girard Bank human resources officer, I did not go with the “best” bank, but rather I took the opportunity to work with the people that I liked, and felt were the most like myself.

A week after graduation I left for the Army basic training, and did not return to start my job until January of 1968. I was six months into the training program when LCFNB hired their third management trainee, a fellow Franklin and Marshall College graduate, Harry Gundrum. Harry was hired at $6,500/year. I met with my assigned mentor, one of the Executive VPs, Charley Van Dusen. I remember saying that I recognized that, as trainees, we were not yet really earning our keep, and that I felt that we were probably worth only the $5,200I was being paid. However, I was sure that they would not be able to lower Harry’s salary, so they should probably adjust mine. I got my first ever raise from $5,200 to $6,500.

$100.00 = $718.92
$5,200.00 = $37,383.84
$6,500.00 = $46,729.80

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