When I first laid eyes on First Lieutenant Robert S. Kirkwood, I was observing from a secure position in the supply building and thought he was just another John – or maybe a temporarily displaced Santa.
This I concluded from the rounded face and well-padded figure. Since I was 19 with a small backlog of experience, I later found that in more ways than one I was wrong – but I was right in the Santa estimate.
I don’t believe he ever actually knew most of the company, the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR), although they all got to know him soon enough. Men that had been in the company since its activation were always at a loss for words when he’d approach them with, “Young man, just what are you doing to aid the war effort?” This famous slogan was often repeated, though not within range of his very sensitive hearing.
His methods of inciting anger, although rather primitive, were very effective. Many times after a particularly tough inspection, or a rough three day problem, he’d stand the company to attention, then spur them on to greater heights with, “Men, you’ve all had a very rough time (or inspection), and you’ve made a splendid showing (or hike or maneuver). And you’ve behaved and performed magnificently in the field! Keep up the good work, and who knows, someday you may look as good as the U.S. Marines.”
This final statement was always particularly galling while we were stationed at Fort Bragg, as the Marine training camp was near at hand, and there were usually a few battles to be found going on in the Town Pump at Fayetteville with members from both branches participating.
The 505th PIR was training at Bragg at the time, and the one order from regiment that remained always the same was calisthenics. For a long period of time it seemed as though exercise was more important than eating.
To Bobby -a nickname the men used for short, but never when he’d be likely to hear – the period set aside for bodybuilding was a thing to release his creative spirit on. Bobby improved on the push-up and the duck walk, and added the bear walk, the wheelbarrow, and another one where a log is positioned in air by six or eight men.
These tests of endurance were brutal if one had been on the town or drinking too much PX beer the night before.
To make it worse, every time the company exercised near the First Battalion, Kirkwood’s home Battalion, the cry could be heard, “Hey look fellas, them boys are having the ‘Kirkwood Hour’.”
This cry never failed to draw a responsive “Idiot!” from Robert, and with feeling too.
by William J. Gray
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