Army Life

Johnny Crawford served in the US Army from December 1965 to December 1967. After Basic Training in Fort Bliss, Texas, he was assigned to the Army Pictorial Center in New York, working on the production of training films. His family recently found letters and press clippings from those years, in his vast collection of memorabilia.

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Johnny in army uniform
Basic training in the army

The letters have been transcribed for ease of reading.

Dec 21, 1965 ⁠— Ft. Bliss, Texas

Well, I just had my first supper from Uncle Sam’s famous kitchen. I guess it was the first steak I’ve ever eaten, ‘cause I know I’ve never had anything like it before! However I just stuck to the tenderest portions: the bone. I guess Uncle Sam figures that the only way he can keep our minds off Viet Nam is by having us worry whether or not we’ll live thru the next meal. What a way to have to support Bob Hope!    ⁠— Johnny

Weds, Dec. 22, 1965

Only my second day out in the wild west (Fort Bliss, Tex) with the U.S. Army⁠—yet by 8:30 this morning I’d already been scalped! ‘Course Uncle Sam is responsible these days. Originally this chore was performed by the Indians for free. But Uncle Sam loused up that deal for good when he sent them all to reservations. However, it is a comfort to know that the tools of the trade and the technique of the barbers have improved considerably since then. The only part of the haircut that seems not to have changed is the enthusiasm of the attacker. Uncle Sam may still be an uncle to you⁠—but I’m convinced he’s adopted me!     RA19875051

Thurs, Dec 23, 1965

Uncle Daddy Sam gave me my first xmas present today ⁠— $250 worth of uniform. At first I wondered how he could put that much money into one soldier’s clothes ⁠— but after only a few hundred yards of hauling your new duffle bag you’d gladly give that much just to have it disappear. We also received our dog tags today. These are hung from the neck to show who your master is in case you get lost or separated from him. However these are highly imaginative for it’s surprising how much Uncle Sam Daddy Sam master seems to value our presence!             Pvt. Johnny

Dec 24, Fri. 1965

Every day Uncle Sam has got a new surprise up his sleeve for us trainees. Today he shot us. The purpose being to improve our health. Now I realize how odd that may sound even for Uncle Sam who’s always been known to do humorous things. But the truth is he worries about us quite a bit. Today he stood us before the firing squad and then we were shot in both arms until numb (If you’ve ever stuck pigs in the slaughter house ⁠— there’s a job in the Army for you!) with serums that are supposedly for the purpose of killing germs. If they kill us, too, it’s just a coincidence. Right now we’re not sure they won’t, but if you hear from me tomorrow ⁠— you can be pretty sure I survived.                                    Pvt. John

Wed, 16 Feb 1966

I received my orders today from Uncle Sam and they are as follows: I am to report at 1700 hours (5pm) on Mar. 5th (after a 14 day leave) to the ARMY PICTORIAL CENTER, Long Island City, New York for training as an apprentice in the position of Television Production Specialist. I could perform a variety of duties involved in production of live and recorded television presentations for training, information, medical and morale purposes. I will be arriving in Los Angeles aboard the American Airlines flight #2521 Saturday, February 19th at approximately 3:15pm along with a number of other B.C.T. graduates from my company here at Bliss. By the way Marcellino Lopez (Angels’ rookie pitcher last season) is in my platoon and we’re real good friends. He’s from Guadalajara, Mexico & is 19.                                G.I. John

N.Y. Sunday April 24, 1966

Dear Mom, Dad, & Cory ⁠—

    Here are some presents for you I came across while cleaning out my wall locker for inspection. Incidentally, you don’t know very much about my living quarters here, do ya Mom. Well, I’m sure you’ve heard how crowded New York is, but in the Army⁠—well, now I know how horses in a stable must feel. But even they have more room. Our barracks (remove “s” from last word) is a three story building on very much the same order as those we lived in at Ft. Bliss. I live the “west wing” * [*Side note: I had my choice of which wing I wanted to live in and decided to stay as close to home as possible.] of the second floor in a large room we call a “bay.” In this room there are 13 “cubes” (stalls, the size of a cube). We live two in a cube. We each have two wall lockers (one for service clothes & one for civies) and a foot locker. Each cube has a desk and chair between the two bunks. Most cubes have three windows, but ours only has two (a blessing⁠—we clean windows once a week). All the guys here are great and everyone gets along pretty well ⁠—except me and my cube partner! His name is Oliver and we’re fine friends⁠—but not at 5:30 in the morning. This is the moment of the whistle (the type of whistle with which a cop directs traffic is used to wake us up each morning, save Sat & Sun) after which Oliver soon arrives (he lives in an apartment a few blocks away and seldom sleeps in the cube⁠—isn’t that swell⁠—I get all of that room to myself!) Naturally, he’s all dressed, shaved and washed (two of which I still have to do) and his bunk is all made. Therefore⁠—he’s already to start cleaning up (we have to sweep and buff the floor each morn) and it drives him insane to sit and wait while I’m washing up and getting dressed like the others⁠—⁠he expects me to wake up at the same time he has to in order to get from his apt. to the barrack in time for rev….revelle?…revilie!…(I know Dad’s reading readin’ this Mom, otherwise I’d just spell it any old way)…revely?…revillie!…..?…..oh the heck with it, I hate the word so much anyway. Let’s just say it’s the opposite of taps and we’re all supposed to fall out for a formation to check if we’re all present (5:45am) Well, I keep tellin’ him that if he envies me for all the extra sleep I get each morning, he should live it up once in a while and sleep on his luxurious bunk. He’s not speaking to me after I make that remark (for which all the “hangovers” are grateful to me) so I try to bury the ax by tellin’ him that it’s nice and thoughtful of him to wait for me each morning, but I don’t really mind too awfully much if he just goes ahead & cleans up without me. “But how can I, your bunk’s not even made” he says. “I’ve been sleeping in it” I tell him, “Would you rather I slept in your bunk at night, then when I woke up in the morning mine’d be all all made and you could make up your own while pretending that you’d just slept in all night and didn’t have to get up early to come from your apartment. And then I’d pretend that I had and I was envious of you for sleeping in your bunk all night.” Olie is silent again and I’m tryin’ to figure out another way to bury the bayonet so I tell him that I think he gets out of bed on the wrong side at his apartment and should therefore give it up and start sleepin’ in the cube. So he says rather sarcasticly (and I can’t stand it when he gets sarcastic) “and you’ll watch me every morning to make sure I get out of my bunk on the right side, huh?” and I says, “I won’t have to, bein’ that you’re up against a wall.” 

     So much for the improvement of a “G.I. relationship.” I’ll try to send you a picture of our living quarters soon.

     I saw my first Broadway show since I’ve been here a couple of nights ago. It was “Skyscraper” with Julie Harris and I’ve enclosed the program. I found it very hard not to enjoy⁠—especially since the tickets were obtained free at the USO and me and my G.I. rodeo pal, Olsen, were seated in our uniforms among beautiful furs, diamonds, and rouge along the THIRD row! I decided later that the theater management must be prejudiced toward soldiers⁠—I saw some sailors in FIRST row (and to think that that’s the gratitude the Army gets for being America’s first armed force⁠—I guess some people are just never satisfied!). Friday night I got a free ticket to the Radio City Music Hall where I saw one of the many super-human epics that are on the market nowadays (program enclosed). This is, without a doubt, one of my most favorite places in N.Y. It’s almost always packed no matter what’s playing, and the day the movie is as good as the stage show⁠—I’ll come every night (if I’m still a soldier in N.Y.). Too bad you can’t both join the Army and get stationed in N.Y.⁠—we’d see free shows and movies every night!

     Well, it’s time to get back to the book⁠—I’m goin’ to see the publisher (I hope) tomorrow and Tuesday I’m goin’ to Washington on a 3-day pass. 
                                                                                                                 Love,
                                                                                                                Fat John

1967 Amry Letter
Undated but written around March 1967, Johnny’s 21st birthday

Dear Folks,

I’m trying desperately to get completely organized by my twenty-first birthday. Then I can start practicing all my bad habits again from a fresh start. I’ve begun spring cleaning in my stuffed lockers and car trunk. I’m actually organizing, throwing things away, answering letters. I wrote Bessie Little, I’m taking in Broadway (two nites ago I saw the preview performance of a new musical with Clive Revil and Dolores Gray called “Sherry” that should be a success, but all Broadway Show orchestrations are becoming too brassy–no more R. & H. [Rodgers & Hammerstein] operetta sounds!) and I’m using up old stationery (note above address).

Dad, I’m sure you’ll appreciate all the presents enclosed. But so that you really have something to look forward to, and to supply you with proof of my conviction to responsibilities and activeness prior to the beginning of my adulthood, I’m sending you some 55 surprises next week unequaled by those enclosed with this important document. No, “Little Boy Lost” is not one of them…YET!

In closing, I’m sure that whatever it is you’re sending me for the most important Sabbath of the century will be much appreciated. If not you’ll hear from me again, and the reason I made this letter appear so messy was so that you’d do your best to avoid a second!

With confidence in you I remain

Yours as a matter of fact,

MR. sp/o Johnny 19875051 CRAWFORD