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Unsung American Heroes Series... Allan Greenberg or... A Farewell To YonkersBill Annett Salem-News.com
I dunno, but I been told North Korea's mighty cold... - Ancient G.I. refrain
(DAYTONA BEACH, FL) - The platoon sergeant announced that it would be a 40-mile route march. With full field pack, bedroll, steel pot and rifle. It wasn't combat, just yet, although the company – except for me – within six weeks would be in the midst of a bitter Korean winter. The march was to take place in the outer extremes of Fort Dix in darkest New Jersey, and the objective was a bivouac area beyond the final reach of Range Road. Nobody in the company was exempt from that forced march. No exceptions because of KP, no goof-offs assigned to any detail, no absentees because of sick call or even guard duty.
Except for Greenberg. Allan Greenberg managed to pull off the most adroit case of swinging the lead I've ever seen.
We, most of us, had been inducted at 90 Church Street in lower Manhattan, and Greenberg was the first guy I met, as we were being fingered and groped by the medics. Later that day, hunched over cigarettes in the back row of an olive drab bus on the Jersey Turnpike heading for Dix, he grinned and said: “Hey, buddy boy, you want to stick with me, already. I know a sergeant at C & A. My army career is all planned out.”
Greener than Greenberg, I didn't even know, nor would I dare to ask, what “C & A” meant. Classification and Assignment, I would learn soon enough, through Greenberg's tutelage. C & A was the Mecca, the determinant, the Aladdin's lamp of all new recruits in Basic.
In real life, Greenberg owned a buying office in the middle of New York's garment district on 10th Avenue. And now, a few days before the advent of the 40-mile route march, he arranged for the delivery of half a dozen high-fashion blouses to the Company Commander's wife at her house, hard by in Levittown, Pennsylvania. Logically enough, when the day of the 40-mile route march dawned Greenberg, according to a singular decree from the orderly room, had been hand-picked for his soldierly qualities to ride in the supply truck with the mess sgt.
But that's not the item.
We moved out in a column of ducks from the company area, breaking into single file as we swung into Range Road, two contiguous platoons on either side of the road. Like I said, every grunt carrying full field, bedroll and M-1. You looked at the heels of the guy in front of you and little else as you plodded. That's where the word “grunt” comes from.
After about ten miles, the guy behind me, O'Brien, struck up a conversation with his opposite number, Brandon, across the road: “Hey Brandon, you from Yonkers, right?”
“Yeah, so what?”
“Nothin'. I was just thinkin' how you had a piss-poor basketball team back in high school.”
“Whaddaya talkin'? We on'y won the State championship.”
“What year was that – 1940? You talkin' to somebody who knows better. I'm from White Plains. We used to whip your ass every year.”
“What, are you kiddin' me? You're full of it. And so is White Plains.”
It was hot, and the full field and rifle were getting burdensome. Still watching the boot heels in front of me, I considered the logic of what O'Brien was saying. Obviously, Brandon's claim, coming from across the road, sounded empty and at the same time hopelessly partisan. I said nothing, just grunted. At first.
Almost immediately, a black guy called Lincoln, walking just ahead of Brandon, looked across our way, at O'Brien, and said: “Hey, Whitey from White Plains, you don' know shit. I din't go to Yonkers, but I know for a fac' they whup yo' dumb ass two-three times a year.”
That was more than I could tolerate. “You got it right, Lincoln. You din't go to Yonkers so keep outta this. O'Brien knows what he's talking about. I've never been in White Plains, but I've heard about them. Best team in the state.”
A chorus of voices rose up on the other side of the road. And on ours. The argument became an open debate, a collegial thing. It rolled on, gathering momentum as we picked up the pace, forgetting the heat, the weight of the full field, the cries of our NCOs to knock off the chatter. Mile after mile went by as if they were nothing, seemingly as if we were in time suspended, effortlessly. The very name of Yonkers was beneath contempt, a subject for derision for the guys on our side of the road. More statistics were trotted out, reinforcing what I had known to be true: I even recalled a Daily News headline: “White Plains Slamdunks White Plains 97-33.” And that was just one homecoming game.
Our entire company went into the bivouac area standing tall, animated and defiant, still fired up. I could have readily taken on any six guys from Yonkers, but by that time we had broken out of the single files, had all melded together, reaching for butts, pitching our shelter halfs, staking out our squatting room and getting ready to chow down.
The Captain told us a little later, over our mess tins, that none of the other three companies in the battalion had made it to the bivouac area as we had, intact, without a single drop-out. He was proud of our record, our esprit. In fact Greenberg, when I saw him next day, said that the supply truck had been busy until midnight, picking up guys from the other three companies who had dropped out along the way, exhausted, dehydrated and blistered.
I felt sorry for Greenberg. He not only missed chow that night because he was working so hard on the truck, dishing out comfort, water and salt tablets to the casualties. More than that; he didn't get to experience the adrenalin rush, the team spirit and simply the total riot we'd had dissing those guys from Yonkers. One of the guys – an intellectual from NYU called Balaban – observed that it was this kind of anger that had enabled the Charge of the Light Brigade, and the suicidal following of bagpipes over the top on the Somme.
Two months later, sitting in my office in the CID at Division HQ, which I hadn't sought but which was somehow handed to me by some unknown sgt at C & A, I received a letter from Greenberg, c/o APO San Francisco, which in those days meant Fecom. Far East Command. Which is to say, Korea:
“What do you say, buddy boy? Here I am on what they call Hill 70. Guess what? I know a sergeant in headquarters company, and he's working on an angle to get me transferred back to battalion level.”
You had to hand it to Greenberg, I thought. Perhaps he had always had it figured out, had developed his own unique method of saying farewell to Yonkers.
______________________________________________________Bill Annett grew up a writing brat; his father, Ross Annett, at a time when Scott Fitzgerald and P.G. Wodehouse were regular contributors, wrote the longest series of short stories in the Saturday Evening Post's history, with the sole exception of the unsinkable Tugboat Annie.
At 18, Bill's first short story was included in the anthology “Canadian Short Stories.” Alarmed, his father enrolled Bill in law school in Manitoba to ensure his going straight. For a time, it worked, although Bill did an arabesque into an English major, followed, logically, by corporation finance, investment banking and business administration at NYU and the Wharton School. He added G.I. education in the Army's CID at Fort Dix, New Jersey during the Korean altercation.
He also contributed to The American Banker and Venture in New York, INC. in Boston, the International Mining Journal in London, Hong Kong Business, Financial Times and Financial Post in Toronto.
Bill has written six books, including a page-turner on mutual funds, a send-up on the securities industry, three corporate histories and a novel, the latter no doubt inspired by his current occupation in Daytona Beach as a law-abiding beach comber.
You can write to Bill Annett at this address: email@example.com
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