|Ft. Polk Photo From The Internet|
Here are some pictures of what Fort Polk's Tigerland looked like as young soldiers were trained for war. Hollywood made a movie in 2000 that was called Tigerland about Fort Polk's role in the Vietnam-era. The reviewer, who trained there, captured the place pretty well, including the fact that Leesville -- the town outside the gates -- was isolated and hardly a hotbed of anti-war sentiment.
At Fort Polk, the Army cancelled its Armed Forces Day celebration in 1970, and there were several posts that apparently did the same. Some peaceful protests and demonstrations took place at other military installations.
An old drill sergeant remembers how some people went AWOL rather than complete basic, and describes the "trainees" difficulty slipping out of Leesville by Greyhound.
A Wikimapia of Fort Polk today is HERE.
Now, there's a good bit of debate under way on the Internet about whether vets were or weren't spit at during the Vietnam years, a lot of it stirred up by the post immediately beneath this one. These stories have been challenged as urban myths.
An article in the online magazine Slate from a few years back is HERE, and it directly and sincerely raises questions about the amount of expectoration aimed at troops. On the other hand, there are comments from Vietnam era vets who rebut the assertion there was no spitting.
My take: Only the spittees and spittors know the answer. But the debate will last for years -- like the contretemps over who was at fault in Kent on May 4, 1970, troops or students, students or troops. The side you take depends on what you want to believe.
[UPDATE: 10/30/10 12:30 pm -- When I went through Army Basic Training at Fort Polk in 1970 my unit was A-2-1. Every time we sat down or did something as a group, the entire company would chant, "Rat shit, cat shit, bucket full of bat shit. Chicken pluckin', mother f---kin, A-2-1" A bonding rite I reckon. The wet bulb -- whatever the hell that is -- was always on because the summertime climate was hot, humid and oppressive. The wet bulb meant we could roll up our the shirtsleeves of our olive drab fatigues and unblouse the pantlegs atop our black leather combat boots. It was a way to loosen up the uniform in the heat. A-2-1 was assigned barracks at South Fort -- two story wooden buildings with open bays crammed with metal bunkbed racks -- and we were told the barracks were built to house troops trained for duty in World War II. Three wars later, they were still being used. My platoon's drill sergeant was named Smith; I no longer remember his first name. He was from Tennessee, somewhere around Memphis. The company's head drill sergeant was Sgt. Simmons, or at least that I what I recall today. Memories have faded from 40 years ago. At a formation after the company finished basic, Sgt. Simmons told us he had been hard on us because he wanted us to come home if, and when, we were shipped off to war. It was quite moving to hear him speak. Until that moment, we all thought he was gruff and unreasonable. Suddenly, we knew immediately that he was a good soldier and honorable man with our interests, our lives, at heart. Looking back, I now see that he had the toughest job on Earth -- preparing young men for war, hoping they would survive, wondering if he gave them the tools and skills to make it back. Basic was not easy in those days. To get into the chow hall, we had to go back and forth across a set of handbars. And walking was not allowed in the company area -- soldiers ran. On marches, if somebody fell out, the troops would have to carry him and his equipment. The barracks had to be spotless when the platoon left for training missions. At Fort Polk, I learned how to use a floor buffer. We didn't love Fort Polk -- the GIs in my company called it Fort Puke Lousyanna. I wonder if that phrase is still around?
Somebody sent me an e-mail last week from a film company that wants to make a documentary about Fort Polk in the Vietnam era. Unfortunately, it came into my spam account and
[UPDATE 2: 8:44 am, 11/05/2010 -- The production company that has been hired to make the documentary about Fort Polk is called Cloverland, and you can see their website by clicking here. They are looking for Vietnam-era veterans who went through basic at Tigerland. I spoke with Cloverland owner John Cork, who told me that vets in Louisiana or Southern California would be best because his film crews are in those areas. Interested? You can learn more at JCork@madeincloverland.com. Here's a portion of the e-mail I received from Los Angeles producer Lisa van Eyssen with details about the project:
"The company I work for, Cloverland, has been contracted by 20th Century Fox to produce a short documentary called, The Real Tigerland, which will be included on a Blu-ray release of the 2000 film, Tigerland, starring Colin Farrell. Our goal with this documentary is to tell the story of the real life Vietnam veterans who spent their time at Tigerland, and include their remarkable training and the spectrum of emotions they experienced during this period. We hope to sit down with several veterans who can share their personal history and the real experience of Tigerland."]