Remembering my days in the U.S. Army

Published 9:33 pm Thursday, January 26, 2017

By Frank Roberts

I took basic training for the U.S. Army at Fort Dix, N.J., quite close to my New York home. I was put in with a bunch of guys from Kentucky. We got along just fine.

After basic, we were given a choice of duty stations. I wanted Germany, but just before our assignments I came down with pneumonia and was sent over to nearby Tilden General Hospital. It was my home for several weeks. Penicillin had just become a fact of life, and I had to have shots every three hours, night and day.

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When health returned, I was lone man out. First they sent me to Camp Stoneman, Calif., where I lolled about for a month or so doing a variety of chores. Next was Fort Lawton, Wash., where GIs were sent to ready for overseas assignments. Again, I lolled.

Both places were just fine. In California, I spent off-duty hours in San Frisco. Lawton was close to Seattle.

I was in the Signal Corps, and I spent about two months in Anchorage waiting for an assignment. Finally, something was found for this wandering 17-year-old. There was an opening in Nome.

I had a variety of jobs, more often than not going around town delivering telegrams like a Western Union boy. A lot of my work was done in civvie clothes.

I shared a neat ramshackle old house with a guy named Doug Scott, from Seattle.

The commanding officer was a sweet, mild-mannered guy named Lt. Morgan, and we all got along just fine. One extra job I had was — once a week — driving an old Army bus between the town and a small Air Force base several miles away.

I had spent my youth riding subways and never learned to drive, but no license was needed. I took gear-shifting lessons, and I was off and running — err, driving.

I had done some radio work when I was a kid, and, when the local Armed Forces Radio Station announcer was about to leave, I stepped in. That was my night job.

After a wonderful spell of about three years, I was given a choice. I could stay in Nome or go to Sig Corps headquarters in Seattle. Being a city boy, I made the stupid choice — off to the big city. After the first few weeks, I mentally kicked myself. I really, really missed Nome and my friends there.

Once again, I lived like a civilian, renting a room from a policeman, his wife, and their little son and daughter — nice people. A few months later, mom and pop divorced. I stayed with her and the kids.

I was going to take my discharge in Seattle, but wound up flying back home — with company. The Mrs. was from New Jersey and wanted her kids to go to grandma’s house there while she closed up shop in Seattle. So off we went — me and the kids, who were around six or seven.

My mother met me at LaGuardia Airport and looked aghast when I walked off with a young’un in each hand. I had to report back to Fort Dix and stayed there for a couple weeks, while the discharge paperwork was being completed.

I had K.P. duty once a week — otherwise, I lolled around, sometimes going into Bordentown, next door to the base.

Finally, it came time for me to hit the road — or in my case, the subway. I hitch-hiked into Manhattan, got on the train and went home to Sunnyside, Long Island.

The folks were working, so I went into the apartment, and when they got back I was greeted as if I had been away for just a week or two. Then, I resumed civvy life.

Nothin’ glamorous — no fuzzy-puppy stuff — just a wind-up to an inconspicuous Army career. Cpl. Roberts was, again, Mr. Roberts.

Life goes on!

During a 60-year career spanning newspapers, radio and television, Frank Roberts has been there and done that. Today, he’s doing it in retirement from North Carolina, but he continues to keep an eye set on Suffolk and an ear cocked on country music. Email him at