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JEAN SHEPHERD’S ARMY induction to discharge

August 9, 2013, official publication day--SHEP’S ARMY

To begin my quest for putting together a book of Shepherd’s army tales, I first listed the army stories I could remember. Although I’ve heard virtually all the available broadcasts, I didn’t trust my faulty memory. I got out my small loose-leaf binders containing my printed-out flicklives.com posts documenting Max Schmid’s “Mass Backwards” weekly shows of Shepherd’s broadcasts, and went through the hundreds of descriptions, writing down the army story titles, original broadcast dates, and dates re-broadcast, knowing full well that, as the shows usually comprised multiple subjects, I’d miss some army tales because they had been a relatively minor item that week and hadn’t been noted down.

mass b pageLoose leaf printout of flicklives.com

Mass Backwards replay

for “Code School Story”

Then I went through the many hundreds of itunes.com titles (based on Jeff Beauchamp’s enormous collection of Shepherd shows he had accumulated onto CDs and distributed free). I listed all the army shows that seemed to be possibilities for the book (knowing that the person who originally titled the show might not have listed the army tale). I did the same for Max’s audio catalog of Shep shows.

I looked at them with the idea of finding some content-groupings, just in order to have some better picture of the massive list, and I discovered that indeed, simply for organizational purposes, there were a number logical groupings.

1) There were stories about Shep’s induction and first days in the army. They made up the first group.

2) A show that mentioned a train trip from those earliest days at Fort Sheridan, the Illinois recruitment center, to Camp Crowder, Missouri, where the inductees were to remain for a while—the subject of this first sad story in Part 2 is “Shermy the Wormy.” (By the way, when I listened to this one, I decided that it was too much of a downer and rejected it. Later I realized that it was too good to toss and I reinstated it as one of Shepherd’s best.) Other stories, full of humor and delightful commentary about Signal Corps training at Camp Crowder and its nearby town of Neosho, Missouri, fell into this early group.

Crowder pillow fringe

A sweet little Camp Crowder souvenir cushion.

3) Quite a few army stories described the semi-tropical environs where Shepherd spent a considerable time in a radar unit. Where was that center? I encountered a show in which Shep mentioned that GIs would go to a nearby city, West Palm Beach, Florida. I immediately employed google.com and discovered the now defunct radar training facility of Camp Murphy, just a short bus ride from West Palm Beach. Unquestionably the correct facility.

camp murphy marker

Where Camp Murphy (and Shep) used to be.

4) A number of Shepherd’s army stories did not involve any particular location or period, yet they were good stories, covering common GI experiences, so I knew there had to be a special section devoted to them. Among others, these include train rides, life in casual companies, payday, and an unforgettable story of Shep and another yardbird on KP plucking four-hundred dead chickens.

5) Finally, there was a group concerning his final days in the  army and his discharge. Naturally, at that point I was listening to a lot of all those army shows and making some decisions.

With these groupings, a light bulb went on over my head…

lightbulb

A light bulb just like this!

 and I realized that there was my organization and that Shepherd over the years, whether consciously or not , had scattered the makings of a “coming-of-age-in-the-army” epic.  I had the basis for my book. I then had to work out the details and describe the parts and explain why they constitute a sort of “Jean Shepherd Army Novel.” (Remember, it’s“sort of,” not necessarily “exactly.”)

Meanwhile, doing more thinking and research, I organized and wrote the book’s introduction. Also, just wondering one day about whether there was a significance to Shepherd always referring to his unit as “Company K,” I googled and encountered Company K, William March’s semi-autobiographical novel of World War I Marines, published in 1933.  Yes!  I’d bet that Shepherd’s company name was a tribute to the brutal and powerful March book. Of course I had to buy a copy, as close to a first edition as I could afford. Having read it and having read several astute essays on March and his book (his best-known work, also made into play and film, is The Bad Seed), the volume now nestles among my collection of Shep books and related material.

company k title

Title page of Company K by William March,

my first edition copy, third printing.

Transcribing the army stories demanded yellow lined pads and my blue and red Bic pens.  As I listened, paused the machine (tape or CD or itunes player) and reset the counter to capture any words I’d missed, I also began to make some decisions regarding what to keep and what kind of verbiage simply needed redoing or at least adjusting for print. For example, changing tense several times within a sentence works for Shepherd’s free- flowing voice, extemporizing on the wing—one doesn’t even notice— but can be disruptive on the printed page. It should be understood that my transcriptions are very faithful to Shep, with little changed and nothing added. One can basically read along from the book while listening to an audio of Shep telling his tale.

Further discussion to come

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