Reconversion of Men


By BRIGADIER GENERAL ARTHUR E. EASTERBROOK, Commanding the Santa Ana Army Air Base, Santa Ana, Cal.

Delivered before The Los Angeles Breakfast Club, and broadcast over station KFWB, Los Angeles, Cal., June 13, 1945

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. XI, pp. 610-612.

IN the discussion of military matters before a civilian audience it has become customary to preface the address with a comment about the limitations imposed by military secrecy.

This morning I should like to depart from the usual formula by prefacing my remarks with the statement the secret we hold at the Santa Ana Army Air Base is one which we are anxious to share with the public.

We are anxious to share our secret because the ultimate and total success of our mission depends upon the fullest understanding and cooperation of the communities that compose our country.

The Personnel Distribution Command, of which the Santa Ana base is a part, is distinct and unusual in the history of armies.

We are not a tactical force participating directly in combat. We are not a training station; we are not a supply center. Our chief concern is not guns or bombs or planes or even drawing up plans of strategy and tactics.

Our chief concern is men, as human beings and individuals. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that our mission concerns the man, viewed as a distinct personality with his own peculiarities, habits, needs and aspirations.

There is a lively and growing interest in the problem of the returning veteran and the part he will play in our national life. What sort of a fellow is he? How will he react in the community? Will he really be a problem or will he easily find his place in the civil community?

It is our belief that the return of the veteran is the concern not only of the soldier and the community, but also of the Army. Our mission at Santa Ana is to do our part in helping to readjust the soldier, so that these men who have so valiantly fought the forces of tyranny may return to civil life and play a constructive role in the preservation and extension of our democratic institutions. There are several ways of viewing our mission.

First, in the military scheme of things, it is the post to which men are assigned after they have returned from a tour of duty overseas and have enjoyed their furlough.

Second, in terms of our continuing war against Japan, it is the post where men are re-evaluated in terms of their future assignment.

Third, in terms of our American civilization, it is the place where men are given an opportunity to recapture those traits of character which so profoundly underlie our democracy.

It is the last of these that I should like to discuss briefly with you this morning, because it is our belief that you, your community, and thousands of communities like yours, can and must carry on the work which the Air Forces has initiated through its Personnel Distribution Command.

Ours is a nation whose citizens are fiercely proud of their individuality. John Doe is the kind of fellow who likes to pick his clothes, his food, his work. He likes to feel that the ultimate decision, in matters both important and unimportant, rests with him. He likes to think of himself as a name, and not just a digit.

In the army, the emphasis tends to fall on the organization rather than on the individual Although personal initiative is encouraged, in the final analysis the individual must be a cog in the big machine.

Upon entrance into the army, a man is given a serial number. From that time forward, that serial number plus his military occupational specialty number plus his squadron number and flight number and other numbers will most to curately describe the soldier's work and status.

This temporary replacement of the name by the number is necessary to obtain maximum military efficiency, to insure every man's being in the right place at the right time, without confusion, delay and personal friction. It is a fact that underlies the training of the man when he first enters thearmy and is taught to assume certain military traits. It is also a fact of which we are totally aware when preparing the individual to return to civilian status.

The keynote of our mission at Santa Ana is this: Each man is treated as an individual, not as a number. We try to extend this thought into every aspect of our work. We try to treat him as an individual and to give him the opportunity to make his own decisions, in terms of his own likes and dislikes.

A man is given a chance to pick the kind of work he likes. At our base we have shops in wood work, metals, radio. We have a little farm, with a touch of agriculture and a brood of chicks. We aim at a diversity of occupations—to meet the interests of the men and to give them a chance to make their own choice.

For those whose minds run along scholastic lines, we have a variety of courses: 138 of them to be exact. Our object here, again, is not merely to equip the individual with greater knowledge and skill for a post-war job, but also to allow the individual to make his own decision.

For men who like to participate in sports, we have a wide variety. Just about everything from the most vigorous to the most placid sort of game, from a swift gallop through the California hills to a slow game of chess at the Service Club. Again—may I underline the fact—we don't tell a man what to do; we let him tell us what he wants to do.

The same applies to the soldier's entertainment. Whether it be a show at the Service Club where the greatest stars of screen, stage and radio have so graciously come to entertain, or whether it be a trip to Hollywood or the Mission at San Juan Capistrano, it is the man himself who makes the decision as to where he wishes to go.

Wherever possible, we are anxious to have the individual plan his own time, to draw up his own schedule, to allot his energies and interests.

Even in such a mundane matter as food, we are anxious to have these men choose. Our tables in the mess hall offer both quantity and variety. In part this is so because we feel that these boys who had to live on K rations and C rations and sometimes no rations deserve some of the niceties of civilization which they have lacked. In part, too, however, we want these men to feel that they are once more in a position to make the choice.

When a man finally leaves our Post, it is our aim to assign him, wherever possible, to a job commensurate with his skills and in line with his interests.

Needless to say, we are limited in this function by the fact that our nation is still at war and that the man is still in the service. Our installation represents merely a breathing spell, a stopping-off place between assignments.

The reason we are anxious to acquaint the public with our purposes, however, is that our present mission, within the army, performed on an interim basis, may in the not too distant future become the responsibility of the community—on a continuing and lasting basis.

So far, I have been discussing one aspect of our mission: The process of redistribution. Our station has a double purpose, however, the second objective is pursued at the convalescent hospital, which is located at the Santa Ana Army Air Base.

We use the word "hospital" for want of a better word. The dictionary has not yet caught up with modern thought and practice, so we have to fall back upon this old-fashioned and totally inadequate word.

It isn't really a hospital because the men in it are not sick in any usual sense of the word. The patients are sound of limb and sane of mind.

Yet because they are given special attention at our base, I wish to speak of them as a separate group this morning.

Perhaps the easiest way to describe this body of men is to ask you for the moment to look back into a day in your own life. For purposes of illustration, may I suggest that you think back on some hard day at the office, one of those days when everything goes wrong: When your competitor ran off with a big deal, when your fountain pen leaked, when your switchboard operator fell asleep or always gave you the wrong number. You know the kind of day I mean so you can supply any missing details.

After such a day you come home—tired, irritable, grouchy, grumpy, explosive. A door slams and you jump. An unimportant argument develops, and you find yourself shouting. After a while, you begin to wonder why the world has chosen this day to persecute you.

That, gentlemen, is the result of one bad day at the office. The men who come to our station, after completing their missions over Europe or the Pacific, have not had one bad day at the office.

These men have had weeks and months of flak-infested skies. Both their bodies and spirits were submitted to inconceivable pressures.

What happens to any one of us after one bad day at the office has happened to many of these men after many bad days in combat.

They are tired, irritable, explosive. They have had too heavy an emotional diet. That diet may have been fear or anger or sorrow or a violation of our ethical attitudes or a repeated combination of one or more of these things.

It has been our experience that what these men need most is time, security, understanding, and professional guidance.

Time does much to heal these wounds of the spirit. At our base we try to lift the pressure to give these men the rest and leisure, the time in which to digest their emotional experiences.

Security is the second thing these men crave. After the terrors of battle, a man seeks solid ground for a re-establishment of his spiritual being. Many things contribute toward this re-weaving the torn strands of the human personality. Some find it in creative work; others in study; others in play. Some find it with the Chaplain; others in consultation with a skilled psychologist.

Understanding is a third ingredient Such understanding must be mutual, exercised by the man himself and by the persons around him. It is for that reason that the personnel at our base are tutored in the mission of the installation. Likewise, the men who come through the convalescent section are provided with a better comprehension of their problem, so that they may help themselves.

Finally, professional guidance plays its part. Each man is assigned his personal physician. This physician, skilled in the treatment of this ailment, maps a course of speediest recovery. Some men will need just a few words of advice; others may require several consultations; more stubborn cases may require protracted psychiatric assistance.

On whatever level the case may be, the soldier is once more treated as an individual-not a number. He is studied in terms of his personality, his background, his fears and his hopes, his worries and his aspirations.

Within the time and the limitations imposed upon our work by the requirements of war we are seeking to return to society that impressive selection of young men who composed our Air Forces.

In the days that lie ahead, the continuance of this great mission will become a responsibility of your community.

A thoughtful newspaperwoman, who recently visited our base, referred to our work as the "reconversion of men." It is a happy and apt phrase.

Both our economy and our spirit have been geared for war. In the days ahead we will have to give serious thought to re-establishing the mechanisms and the soul of peace.

As in war, so in the post-war years, that is a great mission, requiring the cooperation of civilian and soldier: A mission to guarantee the security, the growth, and the flowering oi the democracy we cherish.