October 30 – Merryville to Oberlin (58 miles)
I made it to DeRidder, Louisiana, at 11:00 a.m. Crossing the Louisiana state border brought me back to 1984. After receiving my Army commission as a 2nd lieutenant upon college graduation, I moved to Louisiana (after a short stint at Fort Rucker, Alabama, and Fort Bliss, Texas). I began my first active-duty assignment at Fort Polk outside Leesville, Louisiana. I used to drive my car through DeRidder on my way to Lake Charles for weekend parties. Some memories had faded. Others were clear, like the day I signed in to my unit at the 5th Division Headquarters building at Fort Polk, Louisiana. As I crossed the street from the parking lot headed toward the HQ entrance, I passed in front of the commanding general’s vehicle, with the general inside. I was about to learn an important lesson.
As I waited to in-process (military jargon for starting a new job), a captain walked up and asked me to follow him. I remember him saying, “You’re about to meet the commanding general of the 5th Division, Major General Leuer.” I did not know what was going on. I knocked on the door. The general invited me into his office. I stood at attention and saluted (that much I knew). He asked several questions, including how long I had been on the post. After hearing I’d arrived earlier that same day, he told me why I was in his office. The protocol is to salute the general’s vehicle when it is occupied and the American flag is attached to the front of it. I had not done that. He counseled me about setting a good example; I would soon lead a platoon of thirty-nine soldiers. He wished me well and dismissed me. I never made that mistake again.
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