The 67th Signal Battalion was essentially a telephone company. We had the manpower, materiel, and the know-how to build, operate and maintain a telephone company large enough to supply standardized and reliable telephonic communications sufficient for a typical small American town. We had all the specialized motorized equipment, trucks, trailers, telephone poles, wire and switchboards necessary. But by 1970, for military purposes at least, the dial telephone was rendered obsolescent if not obsolete by the more modern forms of radio communications. We were thus reduced to the ancillary role of a vast motor pool providing logistical support to the 1st Infantry Division primarily, but also to various training battalions and R.O.T.C. Summer Camp. In Viet Nam I was a helicopter mechanic but in the 67th Signal Battalion at Ft. Riley I was mainly just a truck driver.
Although I’d driven several types of Army trucks by then, one day I was assigned an M715 1¼ ton (Kaiser Jeep M715 5/4 ton 4 x 4 or “5-quarter”). The M715 could best be described simply as a big-ass four-wheel-drive pick-up truck. I don’t recall either the date or the “mission”. On that sunny afternoon traffic was heavy as it usually was at Ft.Riley’s main intersection of Highway 18 (now Huebner Rd) and (1st) Division Road – a T-intersection with Highway 18 bisecting the whole base east and west and Division Road heading north to Custer Hill. I was heading west back to battalion at Camp Forsyth.
I was stopped fifth in line at the red light. When the traffic light turned green the vehicles ahead of me took off, but since the M715 was a rather heavy truck with a standard transmission I had to work the clutch through 1st, 2nd, and finally 3rd gear. Just as I shifted into 3rd I saw a blue flash in front of the truck. I struck a seemingly immovable object. I was thrown hard, up and onto the steering wheel, spraining my left thumb on the steering wheel. My head glanced off the driver’s side window, smacked the doorpost and just kissed the windshield. The truck stalled, so I just set the brake and got out. A blue car had tried to make a left turn in front of me but the timing was way off and I struck it with such force that the engine was knocked from its motor mounts and lay on the pavement beneath the wreckage. Although it was struck in the right-front quarter, the whole front end of the car was destroyed.
I ran over to the other vehicle – the passenger-side window was down. I stuck my head in the window and said to the woman sitting behind the wheel: “Are you alright?”
Just as I did so, out of the lower right corner of my right eye I detected some movement. Looking down I saw a baby lying on the floor just beneath the dashboard. Apparently the woman had just lain the baby on the passenger seat while driving and on impact the baby was either thrown or rolled off the seat. She picked up the tiny baby. It was still wriggling but never made a sound. The baby was so small its life span was probably measured in mere weeks.
My kneecaps started jumping and my legs grew wobbly and weak; the blood began draining from my brain. I went pale, cold and clammy and started to sweat. I began to get tunnel-vision and noticed a loud ringing in my ears. Nausea rose quickly in the pit of my gut and I felt sure I was about to puke; so I staggered to the side of the road and sat down on the nearest guardrail. I tucked my head between my knees and started taking slow, deep breaths just as I’d been trained.
By the time help had arrived I had pretty well recovered myself. The car obviously needed a wrecker. In this confrontation between an Army 5-quarter ton truck and a Ford Mustang it was no-contest. While there was some concern at first about the truck’s heavy-duty but only slightly bent [-channel bumper rubbing against the tire, the truck was entirely drivable and otherwise had hardly a scratch. I returned it to the Motor Pool and reported to the First Sergeant. He, of course, blessed me out yelling “What did you do to my truck!” – which I took good-naturedly as something he had to say – it was his job to say.
As I told him what happened, an old-timer walked in, stood by and listened. He stepped up and asked, “What kind of car did you say it was?” I said,”A blue ’71 Mustang.” He barked: “GOOD! You finally got her! She cuts me off three times a day!”
My Military Driver’s License was suspended pending the outcome of the accident investigation. A few days later my First Sergeant gave it back, saying the woman had taken full responsibility, claiming her foot had slipped from the brake to the gas – which would only be true if the car had been equipped with an automatic transmission. The Mustang was, after all, a sports car with quite a reputation for giddy-up.
Aircraft in those days had safety harnesses and seat belts in cars were optional. Child Safety Seats were practically unheard of. To this day I’m well convinced that it wasn’t the bump-on-the-head (that left hardly a noticeable lump on my head) that had sent me into the early stages of shock, but it was the horror, the very horrible idea that, for a moment, innocent though I was, I’d thought I’d just killed an infant.
I thank God He made babies out of rubber.