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Fifty Years of My Life (1939 - 1990)
A Memoir by Jeff R. Noordermeer

Service in the segregated U.S. Army

When we arrived at the Louisville airport a military bus was waiting for us and took us to the reception station at Fort Knox, Kentucky. A Sergeant-Major received us and welcomed us into the army and told us some of the army rules of the base we had to live by. Our names were called in what company we belonged to. I was in Company A Third Regiment Infantry. I was the only non-American in that company. We spent several days in the reception station, where we were getting our medical shots and our uniforms. I first received the General Eisenhower jacket uniform, which was my favorite, but then a few weeks later all the army uniforms were changed to a completely new style. The new uniforms were green in color, and not as comfortable looking as the Eisenhower jacket type.

Jeff Nordermeer in the Army 
Jeff Nordermeer in the Army

Many young men from all over the country were drafted, and all of them came through the reception station as I did. Some of those young men had really long hair like they were never were able to go to a barber shop. Some of the men in my company told me they were hillbillies. Then I saw men coming in dressed in real cowboy suits. I was told they were real cowboys and came from states like Texas and Oklahoma. Even the way they talked it was very hard for me to understand them. I noticed they talked different than the people I was used to in Syracuse. I was just getting used to the English way of talking around Syracuse, and here in Kentucky it was so different again. On certain places on the base I saw the signs, "for whites only". I found out in certain areas the army was segregated. In Holland I didn't even know what segregation was. In Holland we were not born with it, so it was not in our system. I was friendly to everybody at the base, black or white. In our company A we had a few black men, but I noticed the hillbillies and cowboys from Texas and Oklahoma wanted nothing to do with the Negroes. This whole segregation system was so hard for me to understand, but there were so many new things about this country which I had to get used to, and find out why it was that way.

Our basic training was very tough. For six weeks we had to be prepared to get called any time of the day with a full pack of gear on your shoulder to march in the fields for miles. The barracks had to be spit-shined. That included your bunk area with the uniforms and especially your shoes and boots. All of this didn't bother me a bit as I was used to toughness and cleanliness. After all, I brought this along from Holland. The most problems I had, were in the drill exercise. All of our drill sergeants were Negroes who were ex-combat soldiers from the Korean war. All of them came from southern states, and talked with a heavy accent which was very hard for me to understand. Whenever they talked or tried to explain something there was always a communications problem. One day we had a rifle drill and the sergeant asked me if I understood everything he explained. I told him some of it. Then he started to holler at me with all kinds of names, like "dumb meathead" and "dumb meatball". When he started to holler at me, that made me real nervous and I told him in my broken English that I hadn't asked for to be put in the army, and that they took me and I threw the rifle at him. Suddenly I got fed up with everything. But I had made a big mistake. I was punished by doing one week of kitchen duty. I had to report in the kitchen at 3 a.m., scrub pots and pans, and clean the floors until 6 p.m. And those pots in the kitchen were not little.

As I finished my kitchen duties one day and I was walking back to the barracks, an officer on duty in the weapon room called. I just kept on walking like I hadn't seen or heard anything. I had just finished my kitchen duties and I had a long day and wanted to get back in to the barracks. But before I could reach the barracks the officer had caught up with me, and I was in trouble again for not obeying an officer. So I was punished with another week of kitchen duty. One thing I didn't mind about the kitchen duties, you could always eat as much as you wanted. After those two weeks of kitchen duties I lost my interest for the army. After six weeks of basic training we received our first weekend leave off the base. During my basic training I made friends with boys in our company who came from West Virginia and Pennsylvania. They called me Dutch because

I was the only non-American in company A. That weekend all of us were paid $73 a month and we planned to go into the town of Louisville. The boys I went along with told me that I didn't have to pay for the drinks so long as I drank together with them. So, the six of us, we went into town to have our drinks. I had the feeling that they were planning to get me drunk. What they didn't know was that I was used to drinking beer, and had never been a party spoiler. As the night went on I heard one of the boys saying, "you are never going to get that Dutchman drunk". That night I made my drinking buddies in the army, but I was never asked to go out for free drinks again.

CONTINUED: My first Thanksgiving in the Army
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© Copyright  - Antonio Zamora

- Foreword
- Old Rotterdam
- World War II
- After the War
- Coming to America
- Washington, D.C.
- Southeast Asia
- Philosophy of Life

- Book Index