01 September 2008
Back "Home" to Ft. Knox
Why do I have this desire? Is it universal?
Ft. Knox is special to me. Conscripted in 1966, I went through ARMY Basic Training there. I returned in 1967 and completed Officer Candidate's School.
After Viet Nam and a three year stint teaching Vietnamese to fly Hueys, I returned to Ft. Knox in '72 for the Armor Officer's Advanced Course. It's a big, lovely old Post, and the fact that I spent some of the most important/turbulent moments of my life there endears it to me.
Other than stopping at Godman Army Airfield once to refuel, I've not been to Ft. Knox since 1973. I've wanted to go back for a long time... to see how it's changed, and to see what remains of my past.
We were meeting friends there. We stopped off at the Patton Museum and walked around the exhibits until our friends arrived, then left to drive by the Bullion Depository you see above and check in at the visitor's quarters.
When I was last at Ft. Knox it was an open post. There were guards at the main gate, but they would flag you through as you approached. That's all changed. Everyone entering now stops and shows ID, and is asked what business they have on Post.
This visit we were housed in Yeoman Hall, a red brick structure with white columns at the entrance, built in 1937 and since modernized. It was beautiful, outside and in.
We ate South of Ft. Knox at Elizabethtown, then returned and searched for the area where I attended Basic Training. Those old WWII Oak barracks are long gone. The whole area is grown over with scrub trees, and the only indication the barracks were ever there is the "company streets" that poke out of the scrub and intersect with the main road. Those all-wood barracks were fire hazards. While I was in Basic we were required to have one soldier on "fire guard" all night. At lights out, one soldier would walk the barracks for an hour, then wake another to walk for an hour. This would continue from 10 P.M. until Reveille at 5 A.M. for the entire two months we were in Basic Training. I'm sure the ARMY was glad to be rid of the liability when they tore them down. I have heard rumors that when the contract to tear them down was let, a company did the job for free... they were solid oak and the lumber was worth enough to make doing it free worthwhile.
But the memories flow...
There is where the bank of 20 pay phones used to stand... and there is where the mess hall used to be. All gone, leaving a sad spot at my core. I wish I had taken pictures.
We returned to Yeoman Hall and adjourned to the patio for adult beverages and conversation. It's a beautiful summer evening.
BOOM, BOOM in the distance and I'm surprised... Saturday night and someone is on the tank firing range? Maybe a Reserve unit? It's an oddly comforting sound to me, and I'm glad my guests get to hear it.
We wake the next morning and share the continental breakfast. After checking out, it's off to pursue another of my memories... Otter Creek Park.
The weekend I graduated OCS and became a 2nd Lieutenant, we stayed in the Park in a cabin on a bluff high above the Ohio river. I remembered the view there as breathtaking, and on arrival we were not disappointed. Rental cabins are located on a bluff several hundred feet above a bend in the Ohio, overlooking farmland on the Indiana side of the river. From this point you are so high the view is most like you are flying. We all decide we must return later to rent a cabin.
I'm still missing one of my "ticket punches" for this trip...
I wanted to see where I lived during OCS. I've forgotten exactly where it was on Post. I had hoped that while driving around I might get a feeling of being close and homing into the location but so far, no luck. I ask some folks about things I remember... a swimming pool on one side, a baseball diamond on another.
"No, I think they filled that swimming pool with dirt some years ago" is one answer. In that case, they've torn that building down too. That seems odd, because like Yeoman Hall, it was a solid, brick structure.
It's time to go home. We drive to the Post gas station to fill up, then say our good-byes. But on the way to refuel I notice some U-shaped buildings exactly like my OCS barracks and point them out to Sara Jean. Our guests drive off in one direction, we go in another.
Later, on the road home while SJ is dozing, I grab the Ft. Knox map and start reviewing it. I notice the U-shaped buildings on the way to the gas station are depicted on the map exactly as they would look from above... U-shaped. I search the map for more of those and find one with an adjacent swimming pool. There is a baseball diamond on the other side! I wake Sara Jean with my exclamation... "AHA!!"
At this point we're almost an hour down the road, so going there will have to wait for our next visit. But there will be a "next visit"!
So back to my initial question...
Why do I have this desire to reach out and touch these places again? Most of us seem to have it... that's the reason for reunions, old school banquets, and things like tours to old battlegrounds.
Now I'm excited about going back to Ft. Knox to walk the area where I went to OCS.
What causes this need?