Thursday, November 22, 2012

CHAIRBORNE RANGER AT WAR, Ft. Detrick, 1965-66

From TING AND I: A Memoir...

Ft. Detrick, 1965-66

Frederick, Maryland, was a pleasant small town, and Fort Detrick was not a bad place to spend the rest of our two years in the “little green world.” A nice feature was the town’s proximity to Hood College, a school for women, a mile away. Some Hoodies would date soldiers; others not. Since most of us at Ft. Detrick had finished college, we were more datable than the average guy in olive drab (or khaki, depending on the season). Several of us jointly rented cabins in the nearby Maryland woods, to which we would invite some of the Hood lovelies for “labo” punch parties, labo being the chemically pure 190-proof ethyl alcohol used in the labs that somehow made its way into our punch bowls.

I eventually fell nearly in love with one of the Hood coeds. Still not over being in love with Tina, and occasionally seeing an old flame in New York City, I was not as much in love with this very nice young woman as she was with me, though I think well of her to this day. For my last hundred days in the U.S. Army, she gave me a desk calendar with a quotation for each day. One I never forgot ran:

Much that I sought, I could not find.

Much that I found, I could not bind.

Much that I bound, I could not free.

Much that I freed, returned to me.

—Lee Wilson Dodd


If I were writing this as a novel, that would be yet more foreshadowing.

The Army was a good place to get stronger. I reached a muscular 185 pounds and could do 18 chin-ups and lots and lots of push-ups. Our intramural teams did well in football and basketball. One team we named the “Nads,” which puzzled many until they heard our team cheer, “Go Nads, go!” My vocabulary was not enhanced by my Army years. Altered, but not enhanced.

That added strength helped when best buddy John and I achieved the pinnacle of our Army careers, “FTA” written in olive-drab spray paint in eight-foot-high letters on the water tower that dominates the base, a task accomplished during one foggy evening. FTA ostensibly stood for “Frederick Turtle Association,” but the cognoscenti knew that “F the Army” was an alternate reading.

Proudly, I quoted to John the boast of the poet Shelley’s King Ozymandias, the pedestal of whose shattered statue read:

My name is Ozymandias, king of kings

Look upon my works, ye mighty, and despair.

Not wanting to get into trouble, John and I took the more prudent course and made our motto, “If nobody knows, nobody tells.“ We got away with it.

Ozymandias did not make out as well:

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,

The lone and level sands stretch far away.

After getting our security clearances (Top Secret, I believe) and perhaps enduring some inoculations, we joined the ranks of biological warfare researchers. Neither John nor I worked in the innermost, fenced area, where actual biological warfare agents were tested. No bubonic plague or tularemia for us! We worked with simulants, such as Bacillus globigii, which would make you only a little sick if you mishandled them.

Chairborne Rangers

My work was testing, and eventually improving, the Large Volume Air Sampler (known for short as the LVAS). It drew an enormous flow of air, directed it past electrodes to charge any particles present and to deposit them electrostatically on a wetted rotating disk, the special fluid flowing from which was then captured and directed to sensors that could be made specific for biological material (though not for particular disease organisms). We designed and tested a pre-filtering device for weeding out the excessively large particles that were of no respiratory threat. It was a type of impactor, not wholly dissimilar to the variable-slit impactor that became my dissertation topic eight years later. More foreshadowing.

The work was interesting enough. I linked up with the Penn State investigators associated with the LVAS device and went to work at Penn State’s Center for Air Environment Studies once I finished with my army service, 17 November 1966. Given a November 1966 air pollution incident on the East Coast, my choice seemed particularly wise.

If there is a career lesson in this, it is that planning helps you set your general direction, but circumstances present the paths from which you will choose.

No comments:

Post a Comment