Miracle at Kansas University

My grandpa was a Baptist preacher. He did a lot of good work in his day. He also participated in a lot of rituals. They were mostly church rituals, which he used only in church. One special ritual was the dunking pool. He didn’t use it very often, but when he did, it was a spectacle. A line of persons, each in a dunking robe, would enter the pool one at a time. Grandpa waded into the water first. Then he dunked each person in line down under the surface, then back up again, dripping wet. After the last person was dunked, the congregation’s attention was diverted while grandpa retired to a back room to change into some dry clothes. After a ritual has been perfected, enough rubs off in one application that you never need to do it again.

The Navy had its own collection of rituals, which they instituted just as religiously. One of their favorite rituals they called drill, as in marching. Unlike grandpa, the Navy just never seemed to get it right the first time, finding it necessary to repeat the ritual over and over. Had grandpa dunked the same people over and over, they would all have become Methodists, or Presbyterians, or Seventh Day Adventists.

As for the Navy, there were several kinds of drills, all of which needed to be repeated many times. There were close-order drills, and rifle drills, and marching drills, and parade drills. Unlike my grandpa, who spoke in plain English, the drill leader always managed, indeed preferred, to garble his words so those he was drilling would have to guess what he said. In stead of “One, two, three, four”, the drill leader shouted “Houmph, houmph, hareemph, hoourh”. An entire cult grew up around how each drill leader could shout his commands, yet maintain his own personal style of shouting. The cadence, timing, and voice inflections were also of great importance. If one could sing his shouting, so much the better. Unlike my grandpa, drill leaders never shouted their commands in plain English. I preferred my grandpa’s style of ritual. There was something final about a simple dunking. You knew when it was over.

There was never anything final about drill in the Navy. For some obscure reason, the belief was that drill was essential for one hour every week through four years of college. Laid end to end, that was a total of 120 hours of drill, not counting travel time, the equivalent of fifteen quarter hours of coursework, or one twelfth of a complete bachelor’s degree. Drill was the only event which required wearing the uniform. We learned to keep our uniforms clean and pressed for inspection. There is nothing quite as disgusting as a serviceman in a dirty uniform. The first year of drill really served a useful function by identifying the slobs early-on. It also established an awareness of our presence on campus. Beyond that, little else of value was ever accomplished.

As usual, the Navy did not share this sentiment. For three years in college, I dressed in full uniform, pressed, clean, and appropriately fit. I showed up every Thursday at noon for one hour of drill, every week, 28 weeks in a row, every year for three years. My grandpa believed that one dunking for one person was enough for a lifetime. Like my grandpa, I believed that one good dunking in drill should be enough. Then by the Grace of God, an absolute miracle occurred on the University of Kansas campus, and I was its sole benefactor. It happened this way:

All my regular classes were scheduled on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. As fate would have it, Navy drill was the only class I had on Thursday. For me, this was acutely painful, as I had to dress in full uniform and drive to and from Lawrence, a 50-mile commute, for one hour of wasted time. During the first drill assembly in the fall of 1953, I was shocked that my name was not called from the muster list. Initially I was peeved at being overlooked. Possibly the person taking muster had simply skipped over my name on the list. An astigmatism might have impaired his vision, or maybe the noon sun was reflecting off his roster. I continued through drill to the end of class.

On the way home I reflected upon this event, and considered what responsibility I might have under this circumstance. I could advise the office secretary that my name was missing from the drill roster. She would look at the list, see that my name was missing, and assure me that the next time roll was called up yonder, my name would be there. As I was considering the Navy’s habitual ritual, what made sense was to do nothing rash. I avoided the office like a plague, fearing that I might be recognized.

I did nothing rash, and pondered the possibilities throughout the week. I dressed for the second week of drill the following Thursday. I had no idea what to expect, but was quite certain that my name would be called the second time around, a simple oversight. When roll-call was taken, my name was missing again. It made little sense to continue going to drill when they didn’t even know I was there. I was not inclined to go to the unit secretary to correct the oversight, the thoroughly honorable thing to do. Concerning drill, I was sadly lacking in honor. To the contrary, I was elated.

While it was somewhat risky to quit going to drill, I knew of no rule requiring me to volunteer that I had been overlooked on the drill roster. At the same time, I had real trouble going to drill for the rest of the semester. Each semester required dressing 14 times, driving 700 miles to and from Lawrence, and wasting about three hours each day in the process, when my name was not even on the drill list.

I was rapidly losing all interest in drill. If an announcement was of vital interest, I commuted to Lawrence every day with another Navy student. If an item of importance arose, he would tell me what was happening. Drill for the rest of the semester was history. I did not attend any more drills, and thoroughly enjoyed the added day of freedom each Thursday.

When the second semester rolled around, I was itching and anxious to see if it would be a repeat of the first. As necessary, I attended the first drill to confirm that my name had not been inserted covertly into the muster list. This time it was embarrassing going to drill at all, as all the other students had been assigned to permanent drill platoons, like A, B, and C. I did not have such an assignment, and had to hide in the ranks until the assembly was over, fearing that I might be recognized as belonging somewhere else.

I was all ears as they called the roll. They used the identical roster the second semester. My name wasn’t called, and it appeared to be quite safe never to return to drill again. My hiding was eminently successful. When drill was over, I slithered off the field to be sure I was not recognized. Did I ever return? No! I never returned.

In my good book, three days of drill my senior year was more than adequate, a number amazingly similar to my grandpa’s rule of one good dunking per person. It took the Navy three years to get it just right for me. Unlike the Navy, grandpa did it just right the first time.

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