In the midst of killer training exercises in hot and muggy Louisiana swamps — terrain and temperatures mimicking South Vietnam –veteran Harold Lee Wade remembered the sweet smell and taste of Golden Bell Georgia peaches, brought from home.
Continuing Memoirs of Vietnam veteran, the late Harold Lee Wade, of Habersham County, Georgia.
Georgia Golden Bells”
After completing basic training, I was assigned to Fort Polk, Louisiana, for advanced training. I figured I was in trouble when we entered the front gate. I read a sign out of the bus window that said, “Welcome to Fort Polk—the birthplace of men in the infantry going to Vietnam”.
The big event of July, 1969, was about a man named Armstrong taking a little
walk. But, I didn’t care much because I was too preoccupied. If that sign on the
road meant this training was going to be “tuff””— then it was right. It’s not
much fun running through the Louisiana swamps in the summertime.
One Saturday afternoon, I was walking down a street beside our barrack, when
I heard a car horn blow. Someone was standing by the car waving to me.
As I got closer, I recognized J. D. and Lillie Mae Norton. Their son, Reggie,
had been drafted into the Army the same day with me, both of us from Habersham County, Georgia.
J.D. walked to the back of the car and said, “Your Granny and Pa T.J. sent
these to you.” It was a half-bushel basket of Georgia Bell peaches from Pa T.J.’s own trees. After thanking the Norton’s for their kindness, I walked back to the barracks with my fruit.
My mind began to wander. What in the world was I going to do? I couldn’t eat all
the peaches before they ruined, and the rules said “No food allowed in the
barracks.” My commanding officer was going to pitch a fit.
I set the basket down near the front entrance, and took out a few peaches to
eat for myself. I went inside and announced, “There are peaches outside if
anyone wants some.” Later that day I noticed that the basket was empty.
Pa T.J’s gift of generosity to his grandson at first seemed to be a burden. But,
to these young men, his thoughtfulness was a blessing. After the next day or two, men, including the commanding officer, came by and thanked me for the peaches.
Very few had ever eaten a juicy, ripe golden Georgia Bell. Most of them said they
were the best peaches they had ever eaten! ——
Excerpt from “Charlie Company Vietnam 1966-1972”
Fort Polk training center in the Vietnam Era
In 1962, Fort Polk began converting to an infantry training center. A small portion of Fort Polk is filled with dense, jungle-like vegetation, and this helped commanders prepare their units for battle in Southeast Asia. This training area became known as Tigerland. For the next 12 years, more soldiers were shipped to Vietnam from Fort Polk than from any other American training base. On Jan. 23, 1973, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s negotiated settlement to the hostilities took effect. In October 1974, Fort Polk became the new home of the 5th Infantry Division (Mechanized), and basic training and AIT started being phased out. Fort Polk changed from a Continental Army Command (CONARC) post in July 1975 and became a Forces Command (FORSCOM) member. In the spring of 1976, the Infantry Training Center at Fort Polk closed its doors and ceased operations. The final chapter of the Vietnam War ended for Fort Polk.
For further reading, here is the link to Charlie Company
There is a movie that came out in 2000 called “Tigerland” (which I haven’t seen), starring Colin Farrell. It’s loosely based on the Ft. Polk training facility in 1973 when the Vietnam War was winding down and many men were clutching at straws to try to get discharged and go home.. It may be pure Hollywood or part truth, I don’t know. Just letting you know it’s out there.