Manuscripts/Mixed Material Interview with Donald McConville
McCONVILLE: So I had Germany first and Austria second or something, and then I had to put down a third choice. The Pacific didn't sound very appealing, because that included Korea which was, even though the war was over, fairly tough duty at that time. So I put the Caribbean as third and, lo and behold, I was assigned to Puerto Rico. At that time, they still had an infantry regiment in Puerto Rico. It was part of the 23rd Infantry Division. It was a division that was formed in the Second World War, known then as the Americal Division, and its patch was the Southern Cross, I think, the stars. It had one regiment in Puerto Rico, one in Georgia, and one in Panama. Because I had put the Caribbean down, unfortunately they needed seven people for Puerto Rico and I was one of the seven. All of us had put the Caribbean somewhere on our lists at the time. As I said, we got down to Puerto Rico in this infantry regiment, the 65th Infantry Regiment. They informed us when we got there that they had plenty of medics and not enough riflemen, so I ended up being a rifleman in a rifle company. For the next nine months then, I was in this infantry company as a rifleman, and I did other things. I became a BAR man and then they needed a radio man - an assistant radio man, I guess it was. They had sent me off to some local radio school for a couple weeks, so I became the assistant company runner and radio man - all of this in about nine months. Then the Army was retrenching, cutting back. As part of the cutback, they deactivated the 23rd Infantry Division. They were going to keep just a single regiment. The regiment that was stationed at Panama was going to be retained as a regimental combat team. This outfit in Puerto Rico was really bizarre in that it had been an entirely Puerto Rican unit during the Korean War and prior to the Korean War, I guess, and some of the Puerto Ricans - in fact, a great many who were drafted in particular (they were subject to the draft in Puerto Rica; they also had many who had volunteered) took their basic training actually in Puerto Rico. That had closed down earlier on. Many of this outfit and some of these people would take their basic training there, then they would be put into that infantry regiment there, and would never leave Puerto Rico in their two years of Army service. The unit hadn't performed very well in the Korean War. It had been entirely Puerto Rican but with American officers. Then it had been broken up and they served in different units in the Korean War where many of them individually had distinguished themselves. It was just a weakness with some of these minority groups. In units by themselves, they sometimes didn't perform as well as they did when they were in integrated units, and part of it was just that the expectations were entirely different. So as part of the follow-up to that, the Army had decided to try to integrate this unit, this 65th Infantry Regiment of Puerto Rico, and we were the integrees or whatever one would call it. But they gave us absolutely no preparation for this. There was no orientation, nothing, absolutely nothing. The bulk of the mainland Americans who were in this outfit came from the big East Coast cities like Philadelphia and New York. It was sort of odd that we'd come from the Midwest, but most of them were from the big East Coast cities where they had fairly significant populations of Puerto Ricans. These were non-Puerto Rican Americans but who had some bad attitudes in some cases towards Puerto Ricans. To plump all of them into this sort of situation and without the slightest bit of orientation, not even a class to tell you what Puerto Rico was or anything, it was not done well at all. Our chow, for example, our food, was supposed to be half American and half Puerto Rican, except that all the cooks were Puerto Rican. One meal was supposed to be American food and the next meal typical Puerto Rican food, but it was all prepared by Puerto Rican cooks, who made most of it pretty Puerto Rican. I still remember going to the chow hall, particularly when you were out in the field and you didn't have a choice - if you were back in the camp, you could always go off to the PX (Post Exchange) and find something or other - going to get your meal, and it would be rice and beans and pigs' feet. Now, that might be exotic to some, but for a 19-year-old kid coming from a small town, it was not what I was really looking for. So there was a good deal of tension between ourselves and the Puerto Ricans. In our outfits, probably at least three-quarters of the enlisted men, the privates and corporals, were Puerto Rican. Many of these young kids hadn't ever been off the island of Puerto Rico. They spoke very rudimentary English at best. They'd been given a little bit of English training, but many of them didn't speak much English. Then about a quarter of us were from mainland America. The NCOs (non-commanding officers) were almost all Puerto Rican, and virtually all the officers were mainland American. We had an exception. Our particular lieutenant, platoon leader - he was also executive officer of the company - was Lieutenant Gwatea, a Puerto Rican officer, and he was probably the best officer I served under in my two years in the Army. The thing I remember most about the experience was that, even though we got along with each other, there was a good deal of tension that could have been at least ameliorated a little bit if they had made some effort to try to orient us a bit about what Puerto Rico was and some of the customs of Puerto Rico. But they broke up that regiment, and at the time they broke it up the rule was that if you had more than a year to go, you were transferred to a regiment in Panama. If you had less than a year to go, you were sent back to the United States. I had 11 months to go, so I was sent back to the United States and was reassigned to Fort Riley, Kansas, in the 1st Infantry Division, which had just come back from Germany at that time in some sort of rotation that had been there ever since the Second World War. There I went back to the medics and was in a medical battalion but was in the 1st Infantry Division, which is now the Army's best. The outfit that had been in Puerto Rica had been one of the Army's worst. If we had ever had to have been in a battle, it would have been a total disaster, whereas the 1st Infantry Division at that time was one of the Army's best divisions.