I Was Trained to Be A US Army Photographer

My first day at the US Army Photographic Laboratory Technician School in Ft. Monmouth New Jersey. Our first class assignment was for us brand new, and very happy, students to pair off and take a photo of each other. That's a 4 x 5 Graflex Speed Graphics large format camera, and at my feet is the rest of the issued gear plus the tripod was mine to use for the next FIFTEEN -- FRIGGIN-AYE-ALRIGHT -- WEEKS. Every soldier has their complaints, but mine 'ur all about basic training and then after I graduated Photo Lab Tech School and was sent to Okinawa, because I loved every minute of photography school. The instructors were outstanding, the schedule was serious but easy enough for me to handle, the barracks were totally livable in, and my barracks mates and buddies from other barracks were some kinda' Rock 'n Rolling great guys to be around. Our barracks theme song was "Let It Bleed" by the Rollings Stones. And I'm an old, original Rolling Stones fan from the early 1960s. For me, Ft. Monmouth was all good.

When I was in army basic training, we recruits weren’t allowed to have any radios or record players in our barracks at all; but I did smuggle in one of those little 9-volt transistor radios about half way through my basic training. After basic training, when I was attending U.S. Army Photo Lab Tech School, I had one of only two little radios that were available to be listened to by us photography students who resided on the second floor, twenty-man squad bay of the barracks which I lived in. The one record player we had was a small, white, plastic, General Electric music machine with a turntable and tiny, weak amplifier manufactured into an about 18 x 18 x 7 inch carrying case along with one, cheap, 2 x 3 inch oval speaker built into it. That minimal machine was owned by a Jerry Lewis type character named Bill Dickout (swear to it, that was the guy’s name, and he was a Sad Sack type clown with a high degree of natural intelligence and great taste in music).

Bill and several of our barracks mates bought record albums for us to listen to while we worked to complete our photo course homework, polished our boots and brass, did our barracks cleaning chores, swapped wild stories and true facts about our lives back home, matched wits in all kinds of manly but not too overly aggressive ways (no fist fights broke out), and trepidatiously waited to see if we were gonna’ be sent to Vietnam. I didn’t bring any of my records to that barracks for us to listen to, because I always took real good care of my records, and them guys didn’t care so much as me about not getting scratches and greasy finger smears on theirs, so they weren’t getting their paws on mine. Fortunately for me, we all had a lot of the same albums in our personal record collections, so the ones we listened to in the barracks were my kind of music. Our squad bay ‘theme song’ was Let It Bleed by The Rolling Stones; we’d sing along to it with loud abandon ‘cause it sure enough helped relieve some of them possibly Vietnam bound blues.

We heard some great music for the first time up on the second floor of that barracks: including James Taylor’s first album, and side one of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s first album—Two Virgins. That is the album with John and Yoko posing frontally nude on the front and a rear nude shot of their raggedy asses on the back. Side two of that album is mostly Yoko (Oh, no!) wailing and screaming high pitched vocalizations of her infamous, artistic personality. Ya’ gotta’ take the good with the bad though, and one time we all had to hear side two of Two Virgins completely through. Bill Dickout wanted to listen to the whole album at least once, and when some one of us ripped the record off the turntable after we had heard about sixty-six seconds of that awful, assaulting noise on side two, Bill went into a rage, grabbed a hold of his record player, raised it up over his head and threatened to smash it to bits if we didn’t let him play side two all the way through just one time; unfortunately, we were such low paid soldiers that none of us could afford the twenty-five bucks to buy another record player like Bill’s; nor could we afford to go to the enlisted man’s club and have a few beers for a while, because it was too far past payday at that time; and, it was too cold outside to go sit out there and study our homework or just hangout together for awhile; so we had to bitch and bear it—twenty some freakin’ minutes of Yoko’s vocal, artistic assault on our senses, or Bill was definitely going to smash that record player to bits, which was treasured by all. That’s how much our music meant to us average GIs in 1970.

That's Specialist Fourth Class Crews there - yours truly - at the left side of this shot heading into position to photograph an approaching parade of 30th Artillery Brigade missilemen and all the other guys - every cook, clerk, and driver, etc. - who were my comrades-in-arms. The soldiers you see in the photo are the 30th Arty Bgde officers and their families. It was part of an all day change of command ceremony for our brigade commander. And I worked hard at photographing it all day then spent the the evening, till after 11 PM, developing film and custom, hand printing 90 4 x 5 photos of the event that were given out to all of the officers there.

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