MARCH 4, 1955
NEW YORK—Many of my readers, I'm sure, must have read the letter to the President written by a 17-year-old girl of Bayside, N.Y. Her fiance had been inducted into the service and sent to Fort Dix. One month later he died of meningitis without ever going to the hospital.
The shocking facts so far revealed warrant an investigation by the Army, which I understand is now going on. But, according to the newspapers, this investigation is not open to the press and is therefore not likely to furnish much information to the public.
I think, however, that Fort Dix is of real interest to the public. Many boys from this area go there for basic training and I was surprised to have a man say to me the other day, "Oh, Fort Dix is one of the worst places for basic training."
I have been told that some of the barracks have been condemned as unsanitary for a long time. They are unheated and when the boys who have been living in them were there through the cold weather, practically everyone had a cold and some continued with these colds for weeks. If they went to the infirmary they might be given a shot of penicillin, but if all the thermometers were busy they might get by without having their temperatures taken. If they could possibly stay on their feet and finish basic training, any boy would do so.
If a boy is unfortunate enough to have to go into the hospital, when he returns for training he starts at the very beginning and what he did before does not count in time.
There are always boys who enter the service who are determined to evade doing their jobs or taking their training seriously. Those are the boys who do the same thing in civilian life. However, I think there are a goodly number of boys who would really want to feel that their training period was constructive, that they had learned a good deal and had actually contributed to the safety of their country during this period.
From what I hear, however, the more intelligent you are the less easy it is to keep your interest in some of the work and some of the requirements that are made upon you. This is not only true of Fort Dix. This is true of army training in general because I have had older men tell me the same thing about other camps in the country.
No one believes in discipline more fully than I do, but it must be sensible discipline, for our boys are not trained to obedience only, or they would never become good citizens in a democracy. They must learn to think for themselves.
Therefore, army training must make sense. Conditions under which these boys live may be hard but they should be sanitary, and no real illness should be ignored. Tragedies such as this girl and this boy's parents have lived through should never happen in our country.