COLLEGE-BOY LIEUTENANT: Confronting the funny but quirky Lifestyle of the Army in the ‘50s
The ‘50s have been idealized in nostalgia for the naiveté of the populace and the birth of rock and roll music. But there were other factors at work that greatly affected the lives of the ‘50s generation. Factors such as the Korean “police action,” a military that had not yet fully accepted the idea that a soldier could be acquitted at a court-martial, and a society that wasn’t quite ready for religious and racial harmony.
COLLEGE-BOY LIEUTENANT is a story of a young man, STEVE STILLMAN, who joins the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) so he can complete his college career without being drafted into the Army. As he graduates, marries, and enters the service as a second lieutenant, Steve encounters a myriad of situations. His education into “the Army way” and his growth from boyhood to manhood in the ‘50s military and its culture are major factors in this sometimes humorous, sometimes serious novel.
When Steve reports for duty at Fort Lee, Virginia, he leaves his new wife, LAURA, behind because she is expecting their first child in little over a month. This provides him with the opportunity to experience barracks living and to make friends with two other young lieutenants, each of a different religion. As the weeks go on, the young men experience attitude changes and are toughened by their training. They decide to attend religious services together weekly in a nearby town and the search for an acceptable religious facility is disturbing but results in an easy choice.
The training progresses through classroom work where Korean Army officers are included. Language differences lead to some hi-jinx but the striking philosophical differences become apparent. When the training finally ends, Steve and one of his two friends, SKEETER WALTERS, are assigned to remain at Fort Lee. They both take 15-day leaves to make family arrangements: Steve to move Laura and their new baby to Virginia and Skeeter to marry his childhood sweetheart and move her there, too.
When Steve and Laura arrive at their new apartment in Virginia, they busy themselves with the usual matters of getting accustomed to a new community. Meanwhile, Steve learns he has no real duties in the Army and he breaks a cardinal rule by asking for an assignment. Meantime, Laura’s mother comes for a visit and is appalled by their living quarters, persuading them to move.
There are two important developments as Steve and Laura begin to search for a new apartment. First, Steve is appointed Assistant Defense Counsel for Special Courts-Martial and the soon-to-be-discharged Defense Counsel gives him an education on the astounding military system of jurisprudence. In addition, he learns the unpleasant reason why Skeeter did not resume their friendship. When Skeeter tells Steve the apartment next to his is available, Steve and Laura decide to rent it, hoping that proximity will alleviate the problem.
Steve’s work after appointment to the court becomes one of the main elements of this story through the several court battles that take place. Some reveal the basic unfairness of the military system while others have a dramatic or humorous twist. His blossoming abilities result in an offer to be sent to law school but an evening at the officers’ club and a blatant example of the dictatorial nature of the system convinces him otherwise.
Meanwhile, a second job assignment - that of Post Ration Breakdown Officer - becomes another main story element. Responsible for the issue of all food at the army post, Steve learns how to wield the power of the military’s true currency, coffee. He uses it to acquire a field jacket, electric calculators, and powerful friends who save the day more than once.
Woven throughout the story are the day-to-day worries of Army life, the day-to-day problems of a young married couple with a baby living in a less than conventional environment, and the humorous incidents relevant to both. One particul