Board Six Tales CommunityOpEd.com
If You’re So Smart
About eight years ago I wrote an autobiography as a gift to my family and their descendents. I
wanted to provide a level of knowledge that went far beyond what I knew about my parents
who are gone and unavailable for questions.
As Board Six Tales was being written, it became clear that a significant intersection existed
with the autobiography. The existence of the autobiographical antecedent explains the more
introspective nature of this chapter as well as delving into some relevant pre-Board Six
One other thing prompted the tenor of this chapter. Colonel Williams asked me why I chose to
leave Board Six. My answer to his question is woven into the story.
It became clear that, prior to attending the University of Utah, numerous people and incidents
identified me as a very bright, very independent underachiever. None of this really sunk in until
my junior year in Mechanical Engineering. My success at that point told me that no one could
say I was not the best in that class; however, it was not MIT or Georgia Tech where I would not
have been given room to succeed.
It took me two years after entering the University of Utah to recover from all the mental and
academic roadblocks I erected earlier. Career planning had been left in the hands of a rank
While the eventual academic success made me more self assured and more confident in
directing my life, I did not chase grades, do a great deal of career planning or have notions of
doing great things. In later years I ran across career obsessed yuppies and wondered about
my naiveté. What was I missing? Or, was I missing anything? Those questions remain
unanswered to this day.
Why isn’t he rich?
That question popped up the other day when an acquaintance remarked about a person we
met the day before, “If he‟s so smart why isn‟t he rich?” I might have taken that too personally.
I certainly was not rich – not even any close calls (but there were those penny uranium stocks).
Of course the philosopher in me might have said I was rich in so many non-monetary ways.
Also, there is a difference between being intelligent and smart.
Of course there is the other side of the coin: “If you‟re so rich why aren‟t you smart.” I have
known some of those.
Now that age hides various pieces of knowledge for painful seconds (even days, weeks and
months at a time), I have be content with past glories. As Rumsfeld said, “We don‟t even know
what we don‟t know.” Such an insightful man.
All this is cold comfort when friends talk about overseas trips. Jealous? A little. But we (Rosie
and I) chose a different life style. As you grow older, you have to be a little philosophical to
maintain your self respect.
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I had written much of this chapter for my autobiography so it had a different audience. At the
same time, much of the story involved Board Six - the few fun times stood out like stars in a
dark sky of painful memories - continually recalled during reunions. Like one soldier said about
D-Day, “I would not take ten million bucks to do that over again and nor would I take ten million
bucks to not have had that experience.” You lived through hell and savor the memories. On
leaving the Army it felt like a return to the land of the living. So this chapter is, more than any
other, talking to my children, grandchildren and others on down the line. As a result, it retains
the introspective approach of my autobiography.
Throughout life, events had the most control. My friend‟s comment spurred me to explore the
smart-but-not-rich theme. At reunions, many Board Sixers provide tales similar to the one I am
going to lay on you. I learn something new at every reunion.
Swept Along by the Tides of History
We were all knowledgeable about the depression. I even put Colonel Williams back at that
time and see him as a teenager during the crash of 1929. I have no knowledge of how that
affected his choice of a military career. The Army probably was not accepting many
enlistments at that time. However, he did not enlist, he was West Point. He graduated in 1940,
so that means he entered West Point in 1936 – not the depth of the Depression but, by no
means was it over. Moreover, there was probably a lot of competition for those West Point
My three brothers and I became Mechanical Engineers more by accident than design. Our
parents were German immigrants – both arriving separately as Mormon converts in Salt Lake
City, Utah in the early twenties. Having suffered a horrendous depression in Germany, they
met and married May 1, 1929, just in time for the Depression. They had normal German
educations – graduating from the eighth grade (equivalent to U.S. high school graduation).
Both parents worked full time and were almost always employed (I doubt that my father was
unemployed for more than a year during his life). When my father arrived, he attended a
business school in bookkeeping. Although speaking little English, he graduated first in his
Where Does Smart Get You?
Born in 1932, those early years were dominated by the depression and WW II. Survival was
foremost on everyone‟s mind - career planning was a luxury few could afford. And we lived on
the wrong side of the wrong side of town – good role models nowhere in sight. However,
depression babies were not only disadvantaged, but in short supply (eventually to my benefit).
After the fourth baby, my father‟s boss asked him if he knew where babies came from.
Prior to high school graduation, a number of incidents should have aroused my attention
relative to future success. The first incident occurred in the eighth grade. My history teacher
called me to the front of the room. In the past she had been rather free with her yardstick –
corporal punishment being acceptable in those days. Being somewhat of a trouble maker
(noisy, disruptive, lack of attention, teasing girls, etc.), I thought she was going to embarrass
me in front of the class for some infraction that I was not yet aware of.
I stood next to her in front of the class and she announced that I had made the highest score in
the entire eighth grade (about 70 students from the worst side of town) in the national history
exam (Iowa tests, I believe). I was more embarrassed than proud - particularly since I had no
idea how to use that accomplishment – I was only a „C‟ student in her class. She made no
mention of scholarships, medals of achievement or monetary prizes. She did not indicate that
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this would be duly recorded in my academic folder for future advisors to note and provide
career advice that would propel me to great achievements.
The second incident occurred in the ninth grade when, following graduation ceremonies, I was
standing with my mother and my home room instructor who was complaining to her about my
unfulfilled potential. He said that I had one of the top three IQs in the ninth grade (apparently
there actually was something in my personnel file). Again, no payoff - what could I do with
that? I think he was talking to me as well as my mother. Apparently, neither of us were
impressed enough to discuss the issue.
Both parents were intelligent, but life had not shown them how to put that to an advantage. In
general, the Mormon community was not achievement oriented – career ladders were unheard
of. There was a subtle caste system (parental and neighborhood status being the main
determinants) – do good work, do not change jobs too often and don‟t make waves.
Ostentatious is still a very pejorative adjective among Mormon yentas. Do not flaunt wealth.
Jewelry and fur coats used with great discretion – particularly beyond big city suburban sprawl.
The third incident occurred in the tenth grade when I signed up for Algebra because they
wouldn‟t give me another study class (I already had two) where you could read magazines
(Colliers, Life and the Saturday Evening Post) and any book you wanted – no tests. So, I just
attended Algebra – took no tests, did no homework – lead a horse …. At the end of the class,
the instructor said he had to give me a „B‟ because I had scored so high on the national exam.
However, my academic achievements at a grade point level did not put me above the bottom
20% of the graduating class. Be all you can be? No guidelines of who you could be.
When I graduated high school there were no jobs for teenagers. Being smart did not help. In
desperation, my brother and I tried to enlist in the Army (May, 1950) – they would not take us.
However, the Korean War started a month later and I went to Deseret Chemical Depot (DCD)
to work as a laborer making more than either my mother or father. We reconditioned
incendiary bombs leftover from WW II and prepared them for shipment to Korea.
As an aside, my wife always thought I was mispronouncing desert. However, the term, deseret
comes from the Book of Mormon and means "land of the honeybee." In 1849 the Mormons
gave their provisional state the name "Deseret," which eventually became the Utah Territory –
substantially downsized from the original Morman designated State of Deseret.
After a year at DCD, even though I had worked my way up to being a chemical munitions
inspector, my co-inspectors gave visible assurance that I had a dead end job. So, I applied for
admission to the University of Utah where years earlier my uncle invited my brothers and I to
engineering week – very impressive things, especially the electrical displays. We held
fluorescent bulbs which glowed without electrical connection – amazing.
Luckily my older brother talked me into taking entrance exams six months earlier. Besides
boredom, there was also the threat of being drafted – no small consideration with the Korean
War going full force.
And here, being a depression baby paid off (having good test scores also helped), space was
available. I chose Electrical Engineering (EE) only because my uncle graduated as an EE - I
knew nothing of other options. My academic history indicated that I would not last more than a
quarter in that major. When the trigonometry teacher said that sine curves were used
extensively in Electrical Engineering, I became a Mechanical Engineer. All three brothers
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So, I‟ll fast forward to graduation (1955) and going to work for North American Aviation doing
jet engine performance calculations on the air intake duct of the F-107 fighter (seven
prototypes built). I had no idea how boring engineering work actually was. I was doing
calculations with a 10-key Friden calculator. I could have done that out of high school. In fact, I
had a high school student as an assistant (a summer intern). We both did the same thing – 10
hour days, six day weeks. I did not have time to cash checks.
There was a guy a couple of desks away that was working on a system where this would be
done by computer. I was clearly working on stone-age technology. They said that in a couple
of months there would be a Friden calculator that could do square roots – wow!
Good to Hear From You
In September I told my draft board I wanted to take advantage of the Congress‟ recently
passed six-month program for people with critical skills, a so-called Scientific and Professional
category (a little knowledge can be dangerous). However, Eisenhower had not yet signed the
bill so the draft board (I fought four years while in school) decided to take me immediately
before I wangled another deferment - report October 25th.
Can’t Fake Dumb
At the Fort Douglas swearing in ceremonies, they gave me the meal and train tickets for 16
draftees being sent to Fort Carson, Colorado – I was in charge. This was interesting, because,
at the time, I thought my first-in-line-alphabetic-standing gave me the honor. Later, my brother
said they gave the tickets to the person scoring the highest on their qualification exams (the
one Muhammad Ali had failed). Well, I tried to fail those exams without making it obvious.
Apparently, I really botched that job.
After basic I was sent to train in a Nike Missile battalion in Fort Bliss, Texas (outside El Paso).
This group had some of the brighter draftees as well as some of the not so bright because the
bright ones (there were PhDs in the unit) would be manning radar screens and the not so
bright providing security, manual labor and maintenance. Based on having the highest AGCT
(Army General Classification Test) score in the battalion, I was selected to be the Supply
Specialist (ordered and replaced various spare parts). This was a very good job – no KP or
However, before hearing about that assignment I had written my Senator to tell him my skills
were not being properly exploited. It took a month or so, but he agreed and I got a transfer to
Board Six. Meanwhile, at Fort Bliss, the desk sergeant interviewed me to assign a new MOS
(Military Occupational Specialty). After telling him that I had done performance calculations on
the air intake duct of the F-107, he classified me as a mathematical statistician - a fortunate
twist of fate.
A small mistake with significant ramifications (mostly good).
Hello Board Six
On to CONARC (Continental Army Command) Board Six – an engineering mecca.
On my first major assignment, they found out I did not pay much attention to details. There
were packets of photographs – one packet per report. Each packet needed to be hole-punched
for assembling into a report. I did not check to see that the photographs were correctly
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arranged – they were not. All were face up, but some should have been turned 180 degrees
before I gang-punched them. Lt. Wrightman never forgave me.
They also found out I could type because I had signed up for a creative writing
correspondence class and was typing an assignment in the office. They also found out I could
not type very well because I was a self-taught typist. And, they wanted carbon copies. I did try
One of the last jobs I remember was water coloring report covers – those red covers with three
black stripes running parallel across the diagonal, upper left to lower right. Apparently, Colonel
Byrd was in charge of report covers and he decided they needed a little color. The ink in the
black stripes was oil based so I could just run the brush between two lines and the watercolor
(blue and white, I think) would not bleed into the black lines. It was so simple, even an
engineer could do it. And you ask why I wanted to leave Fort Rucker. I wonder who got that job
after I left.
Being bored became a recurring theme.
Don’t be a Smart Ass
My grandfather used to complain because I was always trying to figure out easier ways to do
things (like gang-punching photographs). Not a good Mormon attitude. He thought hard work
was its own reward. Because we lived in Salt Lake City and worked on the farm in the
summer, he called me and my bothers, “City slickers.”
I recalled this in later years, when I became aware of a side story that never occurred to me at
the time. On furlough before coming to Board Six, my brother showed me a very interesting
magazine called Wisdom. So I signed up for a subscription. I thought nothing of it at the time –
beautiful cover, little advertising, interesting topics. However, in retrospect, its title was very
pretentious. I do not understand why I was not the butt of continuous ridicule in the barracks.
This magazine did not come in a brown paper cover and I made no effort to hide it – had no
reason to. They made fun of others with much less provocation - but, not a peep out of them.
I think my AGCT score provided some cover. When I arrived at Board Six, they were bragging
about Connolly, a mechanic in the other barracks that had the highest AGCT score in Board
Six at the time (a mechanic with a higher score than all those college graduates in our
barracks). They mentioned a number around 140 and I told them that I might have a higher
one. I did not know the exact number but I knew it was above 140. Someone bet me $10 that I
could not beat Connolly. Clearly, I would win whether or not I lost the bet.
They had Crossette check out the personnel files and I won $10. I read Wisdom with impunity.
I often wonder what happened to Connolly. Apparently, this was not yet the “Be all you can be”
Army. The Army should have been able to take advantage of a mechanic with a top 5% IQ.
Actually, they did take advantage of him, but not in a good sense. But that was the Army way.
Life is not Fair
At North American I roomed with Gary Beebe who joined the Air Force shortly after I left for the
Army. In the summer of 1956 I met him on a Panama City beach. He told me he had just been
discharged because the Air Force was downsizing. He served less than a year and I still had
over a year to go.
Anyway, in February 1957, the IG (Inspector General), on a routine evaluation audit,
interviewed most everyone. Not an extensive interview, but I mentioned my mathematical
statistician MOS for which Board Six had no slots.
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Organizations are strange in the sense that the trees always seem more important than the
forest. So, no-slot-for-my-classification triggered a response from on high and within a month I
was stationed at the Fort Benning, Georgia CONARC Infantry Board – Board 4, I think. Colonel
Tharp was in charge of our little group (small arms): two majors, a Lt. Colonel and a desk
sergeant. We even had a library in the building where secret documents were kept. In the
morning I checked out the requested items for the officers and returned them at the end of the
day. It was quite interesting reading: small caliber high velocity rifles, shotguns shooting darts,
claymore mines, etc. They had no problem with my reading in the office.
I had a very eclectic reading list – Catcher in the Rye was one. Not on Utah school‟s reading
lists - had not heard of it before. Someone recommended it and lent me a copy. I also read the
five or six volumes of Churchill‟s history of WW II.
My predecessor was an actuary and had trained the officers well in the sense that they
respected the position. He also had the desk sergeant well trained. When the Board Six volley
ball team (Fort Rucker champions) came to Fort Benning for divisional playoffs with teams
from other forts, I went to the game. I did not ask Sergeant Roberts if I could go. When I got
back, he asked me where I had been. I told him and he said next time I should tell him where I
was going. I said I would.
The Infantry Board was much better duty. My transfer prompted a rumor around Board Six that
someone had been transferred to the Infantry because of poor performance.
That Lucky MOS
Later, when I attended UCLA (got a 45 day early discharge), they tried to get me back into the
reserves for my six year obligation. After four months I again appealed: I was not being trained
in my MOS. They agreed. Everyone was happy. I never put on the uniform again. Life turns on
I ended up in Atlanta mainly because Jerry Rachner and I, along with three others visited there
on a three-day pass from Board Six (mostly likely one of Schultz‟s planned tours). Saw “Damn
Yankees” in Chastain Park, ate at Lester Maddox‟s Pickrick Restaurant (great chicken and
apple pie) and had my first Krystal Burger. Loved the street cars clanging down Peachtree
Street. At the time, I thought this would be a nice place to live. And it has been.
When Rachner gave me (July, 2007) twenty handwritten pages of his experiences in the Army,
he reflected similar basic training experiences: Squad leader, expert marksman and people
dying during basic.
As a squad leader they gave me a black felt arm band with sewn on corporal stripes. Pseudo
corporals were exempt from KP and any crap details. One time the KP sergeant pulled me into
KP duty. When our drill sergeant heard about it he went ballistic - he got me out of there
immediately and chewed out the KP guy. I loved it.
On bivouac my squad was assigned to attack the “enemy.” We were supposed to sneak up on
them – ha, ha. You don‟t sneak up on anybody at night in unfamiliar territory that is filled with
brush and dried sticks – it is December. Of course they ambush us and fire blanks - loud
noises, flashing gun shots, pandemonium - my squad scatters.
I had prearranged to assemble on a certain signal. I got them together and headed back to
camp. People yelling for us to “surrender” but I would have none of that. I knew how to get
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back, having paid attention on the way there. I took them back to camp with continual
grumbling in the ranks.
At camp the lieutenant called me in to ask why I had not surrendered. I told him I was just
following orders. He did not like it, but he accepted it.
However, I can imagine his problem: A squad of ten people lost at night around Pikes Peak in
the middle of December (one guy froze to death in his tent while we were there). I knew we
were not lost, but the lieutenant did not. If some headline grabbing bad thing happened, his
career was over. I know the lieutenant also learned a lesson.
At Board Six, Akel and Rachner were offered second lieutenant bars because they had
master‟s degrees. Akel took the offer but Rachner did not - he would have to serve more time.
Akel had enlisted for three years. Akel did not even serve two years, let alone his original three
year bargain. Akel got out before Rachner. Like I said, no justice.
A four-year degree of any kind should have warranted corporal stripes – show some respect
and you might get some back. However, with slave labor (the draft) you don‟t have to give
anything away. You can order draftees to do anything you want. However, they may take your
order literally and get a squad lost on a cold December night on Pikes Peak with career
destroying headlines. They may gang-punch photographs without checking because they were
told to punch the holes – nothing said about checking them out. Just do what you are told.
I remember my first day at Fort Carson and we were policing the area (picking up trash) and I
said to myself, “You are going to be in here for two years. It is totally immaterial how good you
police the area; you are just passing time. Move slowly, shuffle along, make believe you‟re
picking something up and empty your empty hand into the trash can. Fake it, you can make it”
Some respect might have changed attitudes. Real corporal stripes might have changed
Was respect too much to ask?
Besides, corporal stripes would supply a lot of people you could order around. Rank has its
You don‟t have to be smart to think of the simple solutions comprising most of your life. Maybe
my grandfather was right – hard work has its own rewards. And it does if you enjoy it. That is