A tall, gaunt farmer boy with a very dirty face and huge gnarled hands stood open-mouthed before the brilliant poster displayed before the small-town recruiting office. In his rather dull mind he pictured himself as he would look, straight and dignified, in the khaki uniform, perhaps even with the three stripes of the sergeant on his arm.
"Fifteen dollars a month," he thought to himself, "and board and clothes and lodgings and doctor's bills. Why, that's more than I'm gettin' now on the farm! I'd see the world; I might even get to learn a regular trade." He scratched his chin thoughtfully. "Well, I ain't gettin' nowhere now, that's sure," he concluded, and slowly climbed the stairs.
This boy had not come to his decision in a moment. His untrained but thoroughly honest mind worked slowly. He had been pondering the opportunities of army life for many weeks. The idea had come to him by chance, he thought.
Over a month ago he had been plowing the lower forty of Old Man Huggins's farm. The road to the mountains lay along one side of the field, and as the boy turned and started to plow his furrow toward the road he noticed that a motor cycle had stopped just beyond the fence. "Broke down," the boy commented to himself, as he saw the tan-clad rider dismounting. Over the mule's huge back he watched as he drew nearer. "Why, the rider was in uniform; he must be a soldier!" Sure enough, when the fence was reached the boy saw that the stranger was dressed in the regulation khaki of Uncle Sam, with the U.S. in block letters at the vent of the collar and two stripes on the left sleeve.
"Broke down?" the boy queried, dropping his plow-handles.
The corporal grunted and continued to potter with the machine.
"You in the army?" the boy continued, leaning on the fence.
"You bet!" assented the soldier. Then, looking up and taking in the big, raw-boned physique of the youngster, "Ever think of joinin'?" "Can't say's I did." "Got any friends in the army?" "Nope." "Fine life." The motor cycle was attracting little of the recruiting officer's attention now, for he was a recruiting officer, and engaged in one of the most practical phases of his work.
"Them soldiers have a pretty easy life, don't they?" Evidently the boy was becoming interested.
The recruiting officer laid down his tools, pulled out a pipe, and sat down comfortably under a small sycamore tree at the roadside.
"Not so very easy," he replied, "but interesting and exciting." He paused for a minute to scrutinize the prospective recruit more closely. To his experienced eye the boy appeared desirable. Slouchy, dirty, and lazy-looking, perhaps; but there were nevertheless good muscles and a strong body under those ragged overalls. The corporal launched into his story.
For twenty minutes the boy listened open-mouthed to the stories of post life, where baseball, football, and boxing divided the time with drilling; of mess-halls where a fellow could eat all he wanted to, free; of good-fellowship and fraternal pride in the organization; of the pleasant evenings in the amusement rooms in quarters. And then of the life of the big world, of which the boy had only dreamed; of the Western plains, of Texas, the snowy ridges of the great Rockies, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, the Philippines, Hawaii, the strange glamour of the tropics, the great wildernesses of the frozen North.
"It seems 'most like as I'd like to join," was the timid venture.
"What's your name?" "Steve Bishop." "All right, Steve, come in and see me the next time you're in town," said the corporal, rising. "We'll talk it over." And, mounting his motor cycle, he was gone down the road in a whirl of red dust. Nor did the farmer boy think to wonder at the sudden recovery of the apparently stalled machine.
"Missionary work," explains the corporal. "We never beg 'em to join; but we do sort of give 'em the idea. Like joinin' the Masons, you know," he winked, giving me the grip.
So it happened that Steve Bishop mounted the stairs that day, resolved to join the army if they would take him.
In the small, bare, but immaculately clean room at the head of the stairs he found his friend the corporal banging away at a typewriter.
"How are you, Steve? Glad to see you," was the welcome. "Sit down a minute, and we'll talk." The soldier finished his page, lit his pipe again, and leisurely swung round in his chair.
"Think you'll like to soldier with us?" he said.
Unconsciously the boy appreciated the compliment; it was flattering to be considered on a basis of equality with this clean-cut, rugged man of the wide world.
"I reckon so," he replied, almost timidly.
"Well, how old are you, Steve?" "Twenty-one." The corporal nodded approval. That was all right, then; no tedious formality of securing signed permission from parent or guardian was necessary.
Then began a string of personal questions as to previous employment, education, details of physical condition, moral record (for the army will have no ex-jailbirds), etc., and finally the question, "Why do you want to join?" "They don't know why I ask that," says the corporal, "but I have a mighty good reason. From the way a boy answers I can decide which branch of the service he ought to be connected with. If he wants to be a soldier just for travel and adventure, I advise the infantry or the cavalry; but if he seriously wants to learn and study, I recommend him to the coast artillery or the engineers." Then comes the physical examination, a vigorous but not exacting course of sprouts designed to find out if the applicant is capable of violent exertion and to discover any minor weaknesses; an examination of eyes, ears, teeth, and nose; and, finally, a cursory scrutiny for functional disorders.
"I'll take you, Steve," the corporal finally says. "In about a week we'll send you to the barracks." "But what am I goin' to do till then? I ain't got a cent." "Don't worry about that. You'll eat and sleep at Mrs. Barrows's,"— naming a good, clean boarding-house in the town, the owner of which has a yearly contract with the Government to take care of just such embryo recruits; "in the daytime you can hang around town, and the police won't bother you if you behave yourself. If they call you for loafin' tell them you're waitin' to get into the army." In a week the district recruiting officer, a young lieutenant, drops in on his regular circuit. The men who have been accepted by the noncommissioned officer are put through their paces again, and so expert is the corporal in judging good material that none of Steve's group of eight are rejected.
"All right," says the corporal when the lieutenant has gone; "here's your tickets to the training station at Columbus, Ohio, and twentyeight cents apiece for coffee on the way. In these boxes you'll find four big, healthy lunches for each one of you. That'll keep you until you get to Columbus." One of the new recruits is given charge of the form ticket issued by the railway expressly for the Government; is told that when mealtime comes he can get off the train with the others and for fifty cents buy a big pail of hot coffee for the bunch at the station lunch-room.
Then the corporal takes them all down to the train, tells them briefly but plainly what is expected in the way of conduct from a soldier, and winds up with the admonition: "And, boys, remember this first of all; the first duty of a soldier is this: do what you're told to do, do it without question, and do it quick. Good-bye." In twenty-four hours Steve and his companions are at the training station, have taken the oath of allegiance, and are safely and well on their way to full membership in the family of Uncle Sam.
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