In April of 1942, on the way to a lecture on American history I stopped by the journalism building to read the Associated Press bulletins. Some 78,000 troops (66,000 Filipinos and 12,000 Americans) on Bataan had surrendered. There had never been an American surrender of such size. I was so filled with shame and tears that I volunteered to serve in the Army that very day. I would have to go anyway, and I thought it better to volunteer than be drafted.
There had been a few months between the attack on Pearl Harbor and my decision. It had be prompted by a few words from a professor who taught aesthetics, and introduced me to Santayana’s sonnets. Professor Taylor could have been a tennis pro, as well as a scholar. He taught me a two handed backhand in exchange for my chalking the tennis courts. He called a meeting of some fifty or us who were wavering between academia and the military.
“Gentlemen,” he said, “I have some advice for you. Shit or get off the pot.”
Harold Taylor made me a soldier. My patriotism was mixed with my fading Marxism. I had never been among the working class until I was a lowly, lonely enlistee in the Army. The proletariat is crude: a fact not always recognized by the Marxists.
I was disturbed the first day at Camp Grant. My blood pressure measured so high the medics refused to accept me as a soldier. I was asked to come back the next day before a uniform could be issued.
In the barracks my proletarian inductees suggested I work for a discharge by drinking stimulants such as ketchup or booze. I was advised to masturbate but stop before orgasm. Anything to keep the blood pressure up and escape service. Unfortunately, the next morning my vitals were satisfactory. I was issued uniforms and shipped to Fort Eustis, Virginia for twelve weeks for basic training in anti-aircraft skills. Sometime later I had to endure a second basic training for the infantry. Camp Claiborne, near the swamps of Louisiana.
I wrote a sonnet in the five-beat meter George Santayana used:
FOR MY OUTFIT
This is a thin, discordant counterpoint
To oratory and the martial strain,
A marching file is weaving out of joint
And greasy clouds are spilling steady rain
On rifles pointed down, on standards cased,
On hopes of home that lie in muted throats
As tenuous ideals become erased
By swamps and fascists wearing khaki coats.
We are the tutored mob, the infantry
Redeemers of some words we vaguely know,
Who soon shall find the sharp philosophy;
That moment when a whistle’s final blow
Shall signal the deploy and we disperse
Alone and tangent to the universe.
Major General Edward P. King, US Army in World War II, The Fall of the Philippines, by Louis Morton, ibiblio.org/hyperwar/USA/USA-P-PI/USA-P-PI-26.html