Our final day of training started in the outdoor classroom. It was a cold morning, and the bleachers were covered with frost. “Gunny Ross” reviewed our progress and emphasized the importance of staying alert and not getting lax. “Always be security conscious and take action if you see something that doesn’t look right.” Each platoon was given a map and a separate mission . . . to patrol a designated route to the coordinates on a plateau and rendezvous there as a company by sundown. We would receive further orders at the position on the plateau.
The afternoon patrol was uneventful, and somehow each platoon found the checkpoint on the small rocky hill. We were ordered to set up a defensive perimeter with fire team “listening posts” (LP) near the base of the hill and “outposts” (OP) to be manned by an hourly watch. We ate our C-rations in the dark.
Around 2100 a campfire appeared in the distance (maybe a half mile away), and we were ordered to do a recon of the area. A squad from each platoon was sent in different directions to determine the source of the fire and report any details. There was no moon, and we had to maneuver slowly by starlight. Each squad returned with identical information (three individuals wearing conical rice hats by the fire).
At midnight each platoon was ordered to set up a squad-sized ambush. We again went in different directions to set up and were to return by 0200. None of the squads made contact, and we were ordered to pack everything up and stand-by to change position. At 0300 we left the plateau and walked single file heading toward Las Pulgas.
We came to a large clearing and were told, “Your training is finished.” Our company was to bivouac in this position until sunrise. We all had a poncho with a quilted liner and started settling in for a few winks.
Gaskins found me in the dark and said we should move to higher ground. He said, “This holler is going to freeze.” There was a small ridge only 50 yards away that would (according to him) be warmer. I told him, “You better be right,” and we moved with a few others to the elevated ridge and rolled up in our ponchos.
We woke at sunrise and looked down on the frozen field where the company was still sleeping in the shaded clearing (it was white with frost). Gaskins was right, and I thanked him for his perception of our situation. He was beaming from the compliment, and I knew he would be an asset to anyone willing to listen to him. He was no “Gomer” to me now; I had him pegged wrong.
Next Edition: 96-Hour Pass