Boot Camp Treasures

While my Dad was a drill sergeant at Fort Knox, he would sometimes surpirse me and my brother with presents I call “boot camp treasures” from the previous cycle of recruits that passed through the post.

While the pay was meager for recruits, they did receive three hots and a cot, as they say, and until they got weekend passes to go off post, most were confined to post and spent their pay at the P.X., movie theater, Snack Bar and the bookstore.

When the recruits shipped out after graduation from boot camp, they often left personal items behind. I have no idea if it was simply the euphoria of having made it through training, or they simply didn’t have room in their duffle bag for everything they had in their footlocker. My father had no means to return “abandoned” property, so my dad and his sergeant would go through everything and split the loot.

Since recruits had a small footlocker and not much room to spare, they usually didn’t have a lot of personal items that were large and bulky, but some smaller items found their way there.


Folding pocket knives were common in the 60s and 70s, but these were confiscated by my dad during basic training, as the first few days of basic training could bring out thoughts of suicide by some and disputes in the barracks could go beyond fistfights—it probably saved my dad a lot of paperwork. So, over the course of four years my brother and I added to our sourvenir knife collection.

We were hoping we might get a switchblade, but dad knew one of us would probably stab the other and that meant a trip to the ER.

My First Cassette Recorder

One day dad brought home a cassette recorder. The 1960s brought us the 8-Track tape, which was quite popular as an alternative to 33 rpm stereo records, but like the record player, you could only play pre-recorded music, and it took buying a component system or getting a car with an 8 track player to play them.

The Sony cassette recorder my dad brought home was about the width and length of a shoe box, but only about 2 inches tall. He had some blank tapes and we had some fun recording my sister saying something unflattering, and now we could not only tell on her, we had a recording to back it up. She was not amused and became somewhat quiet for a couple of weeks.

About this time, we were of course avid fans of Mission Impossible on T.V. and our imagination was fueled each week by the show’s introduction showing impossibly small reel to reel tape players that would self destruct after the tape was played. While our Sony cassette player was giant compared to what we saw on T.V., it was still very portable and you didn’t have to deal with separate tape reels.

We had some fun leaving it around the house recording conversations and we finally captured my dad’s door busting snoring on tape on Sunday afternoon while he took his ritual weekly nap. Like my sister, he was not amused either.

In 1970, while the cassette players had come on the market, there was not yet any stereo tapes with music available, and the cassette tape format was mono format and considered primitive. The reel to reel tape machines, with 1/4 inch wide tape were considered state of the art audiofile equipment, and the casette was thought to be a new toy as the tape was only about 1/8 of an inch wide and produced some audible tape hiss in quiet recordings.

Little did anyone know that in the 1980s high end stereo cassette players would pose a real threat to the vinyl record market.

I bought a microphone at the PX for five or six dollars and we set up the microphone in front of our console stereo and experimented with making our own recordings of our favorite record albums. Unfortunately, the microphone only worked best when placed about 10 inches in front of the speaker, meaning we only got about half of the sound and the music was bit flat, since our console stereo system was a wood cabinet and the speakers were built in. Stereo meant the sound was split into each speaker.

The cassette speaker was also a bit small and didn’t have much of a dynamic range, but you get what you pay for, and in this case we had something to play around with that didn’t cost us any precious allowance dollars.
But the cassette player was portable, though it did go through batteries at a rapid rate. Fortunately for us, dad would supply us “Army Issue” batteries in the familiar OD green casings. The player also had an earphone jack and it was possible to listen with the tiny earphone I used with my tiny Panasonic transistor radio.

Pioneer Headphones

On another occasion, sometime after I got my own stereo system for my room (a low end Emerson after I worked a couple of weeks at the Patton Museum one summer), my dad brought home some stereo headphones. They were Pioneer headphones, which completely enclosed your ears and had separate volume and treble controls on the headset.
I had become a big fan of Alice Cooper, Pink Floyd, Emerson Lake and Palmer and other groups and the headphones let me play the music as loud as I wanted without disturbing anyone.

Though the headphones were a bit heavy, the sound was far better than what came out of my tiny, cheapl stereo speakers and I could crank the volume up as loud as wanted to, and tune out the world around me. Listening to Pink Floyd’s Meddle and other albums was a true delight and my only complaint was that I could have used a longer cord or one that was not coiled and always pulling.

I used these headphones for many years after I left home . . . I believe they went to Goodwill sometimes in the early 1990s.

Recently I looked on and guess what I found? I am tempted to buy a set just to hold them again and travel down memory lane.

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