It Smells Like My
Scout Master's Garage
(April 5, 2010)
If you know me or have read some of my columns on emergency preparedness you
know I am always out looking for more emergency gear. Living in a town with a
large Army Post you can find military gear at the local thrift stores. I find OD
green wool blankets, pup tents, field type clothes and canteens. I am forever
looking for canteens.|
If hard times come you will not always be able to find clean drinking water, so
you need to be able to carry your water with you. The green plastic, one quart
canteen is hard to beat. In fact it is so successful that there are numerous
civilian knock-off versions of it out there. When I went to Infantry school you
could not carry enough water. The heat of South Georgia could put you down in a
Van E. Harl
I carried canteens in what we called Israeli style; four one quart canteens.
When the re-supply truck showed up I was the first one to get to the five gallon
water jugs to re-fill my canteens. Many of my fellow Infantry classmates
succumbed to the heat and even had to be airlifted out of the training area--not
I was in a thrift shop the other day and there was a WWII cartridge belt with
the old style metal canteen and cup. I bought these items for three dollars and
headed for the door. As I was driving home flashes of my days in the Boy Scouts
started passing through my mind and it was the smell of the old canvas Army gear
causing this effect. My car smelled like my Scout Master Reggie Barber's garage
did back in 1967.
I was the assistant quartermaster for my old Troop 66 in Virginia Beach,
Virginia. After each camping trip we had to go over to Mr. Barber's house and
take care of the gear that had been used. There was a loft in the top of his
garage and it was full of the troop's camping gear and a lot of it was WW II
military canvas items that had been donated to the troop.
Now-a-days all the camping equipment is made of plastic and manmade fibers. They
do not have the same smells of old canvas that has been treated with water
repellent chemicals like the G.I. issue items my Uncles used in Germany in 1944.
My job was to make sure the canvas was clean and dry before it was stored away.
This was humid Virginia and a damp tent left for a couple of months would rot
beyond the point of use very quickly. There was no money to just go out and buy
new items if I failed to take care of the troop's gear.
With the smell of the new found WWII treasure in my truck I had to call my old
Scout Master. Mr. Barber is in his eighties and lives in Florida. He was a Navy
aircrew member on PBM-5 seaplanes patrolling off the east coast, during the war,
looking for German U-Boats. He flew sub patrols out of Brazil during the war
prior to that country entering WWII on the Allied side. Both the US and Germany
could enter Brazil. He would come back from a sub-chasing mission to find the
very German sub crew he was hunting, sitting in the same Brazilian bar his
aircrew was drinking in. After the war he worked for the Navy as a civilian.
But it was the smell of canvas that got me to pick up the phone and call. I saw
Mr. Barber in the summer of 2009 for the first time since I was in the eighth
grade. He was in Denver visiting family and we had lunch. Talking with someone I
had not seen in forty-one years was delightful. Of course his children that I
had known were all grandparents now.
Smells can bring back some of the oldest memories in the shortest of time. With
a lifetime of military and police work, some smells are best not remembered, but
old canvas smells are a fond memory. One old canteen reconnected me with my past
and that was a good thing. I will keep looking for canteens and calling my Scout
Master. Both the canteen and the man have helped me get ready for life and the
hard times it can throw at you.
Thank you Mr. Barber, you made us learn our field craft skills so we would
remember. They have paid of well for me in life and yes I will always Be
Van E. Harl
Major Van E. Harl, USAF Ret., was a career police officer in the U.S. Air
Force. He was the Deputy Chief of police at two Air Force Bases and the
Commander of Law Enforcement Operations at another. Major Harl is a graduate of
the U.S. Army Infantry School, the Air Force Squadron Officer School and the Air
Command and Staff College. After retiring from the Air Force he was a state
police officer in Nevada.
Comment on this article