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Veterans of The Greatest Generation 

By T/Sgt. James Lee Hutchinson


T/Sgt. James Lee Hutchinson
T/Sgt. James Lee Hutchinson

Uncle Sam’s Scholarship or Why I have Three IU degrees!

     

Most of my friends in the class of 1943 enlisted as soon as they graduated, but I needed another semester, only six credits to get that diploma so I did not enlist, but Uncle Sam “Wanted Me” and I didn’t have to wait long to join them. I turned eighteen on the twelfth of June and got my draft letter the next day. My friends and neighbors had selected me to serve our country for room and board and fifty dollars a month. It was not a surprise they had lowered the draft to age eighteen and were taking all healthy teenage boys. We were too young to vote or buy a beer, but not too young to fight –so teenagers went to WW II. August 4, 1943, I raised my right arm and repeated the soldier’s oath:

     

My world changed completely after I boarded the Greyhound Bus to Fort Benjamin Harrison August 25, 1943. The olive drab Army uniform (jacket size 33) was my very first suit, as it was for millions of other teenagers in the Greatest Generation. I didn’t get to graduate from Bedford High in 1944 because my rich Uncle took me out of school and sent me to special training with a salary of $50 a month and the promise for rapid advancement. He kept his word, sent me to three different schools, took train rides around the country, and in a little over a year he paid for my ocean cruise to England. I became an Eighth Army Air Corps Tech Sergeant making $250 a month flying over Germany in a $250,000 plane to deliver packages! May 8, 1945, Germany surrendered and Mom went to my Bedford High Graduation, I was still in England at the time. They gave her my coveted diploma. The best part happened when we won the war. I came home rich Uncle Sam paid for my college education and set me on a career in public education. I would have never been able to attend college without the GI Bill. It was the law that launched the Greatest Generation!

     

Looking back to the day I received my draft notice the day after my eighteenth birthday. My emotional state is best expressed in a song from “Paint Your Wagon” by Lerner and Lowe.


“Where am I goin' --- I don't know --- Where am I headin'?---  I ain't certain -- All I know --  Is I am on my way!”

     

Fort Benjamin Harrison --- August 24, 1943 --- Ft. Ben was the Army’s Indiana induction station to prepare men for the service. Our Army ‘Permanent Record’ began there when we traded our name for a serial number! I received two aluminum ‘dog tags’ on a chain, clothing and all required shots and vaccinations. The two dog tags had my name, serial number, blood type and religion. They said we must wear them twenty-four hours a day in case we were killed or captured – they would take one and leave the other on the body for identification. Of course that was cheerful news right off the bat.

     

The Army uniform, the very first suit in my life, had a jacket, two suntan shirts, pants, tie and a web belt with a brass buckle and two pair of high-top shoes. I would spend hours polishing the buckle and shoes before weekly inspections. Olive drab was color of the day for the rest of my clothing right down to the socks, underwear and leggings, and a soft cap. There no lounging pajamas. We got two sets of work clothes (fatigues) field jacket and duffle – bag. They said we could send our ‘civies’ home, but I threw mine in a trash can. I figured I had made a good trade, but now I was just a kid with a serial number on my dog tags.  I’ll never forget the day God smiled on me and changed the direction of my short military career. One day, I began reading the Company Bulletin Board and there it was, the key to escape into the Army Air Corps! I only had to pass a test and volunteer to fly. I joined the Air Cadet Program and I became a Volunteer Flight Trainee , The Air Corps  needed volunteers to replace heavy losses and I decided I would  fly– rather than march into combat!

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