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HEYDAYS: Nicknames can be beloved or scorned

Whenever anyone of authority, or a fellow enlisted man, wanted to attract my attention, they never called "Hey, you," or "Hey, soldier." Always: "Hey, Slim."...

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Whenever anyone of authority, or a fellow enlisted man, wanted to attract my attention, they never called "Hey, you," or "Hey, soldier." Always: "Hey, Slim."

Like when I stepped off on my right foot on the first day of training. As everybody knows by now, a marching Army steps off on its left foot. Or possibly that has been changed, half a century later. I'll have to check that out.

My guess, though, is that such little routines still prevail. Recruits are quickly taught there's a right way to do things and the Army way.

Army issued name

Actually, a waspish corporal behind a counter piled high with khaki knick-knacks was the first person to use Slim on me. We were in this supply room in a St. Louis military encampment named Jefferson Barracks.

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When I didn't respond to the corporal, he snarled, "Hey, you! High Pockets! You deaf? How'd they let you in this man's Army?"

"Sorry, sir," I said, trying to endear myself to this lovable superior of mine. "That's not my name."

The corporal exploded with a mirthless guffaw. "Oh-ho, what we got here, a wisenheimer?"

Actually, I'd surprised myself by not keeping my lips zipped. But at that second I was truly an unhappy camper. My left arm ached tediously from shots, and all I wanted was to be a little boy again, sitting out on the front steps, waiting for my dad to come home from work.

Anyhow, this opening scene in the Army ended with the supply corporal throwing a set of new GI underwear in my face. "Ooops," he said.

And so, Slim it was for me for the next three years except with my close friends, of course the kid who stood 2 or 3 inches taller than the average fellow.

Other nicknames

Lately, just for the fun of it, I've been trying to remember the very first nickname ever stuck on me. "Rubinoff," I think it was.

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Rubinoff and his Magic Violin were radio mainstays on The Eddie Cantor Show in the 1930s, and during that time I, a grammar schooler, studied the violin.

How about you? Ever get pinned with a nickname along the way? Maybe one or two you're still trying to forget?

One of my best boyhood buddies was Butch, although there were two other Butches in the neighborhood, the police officer living next door, and the man down at the corner grocery in his omnipresent bloody apron.

Oh, yes; but there was only one Spit. And one Donuts, Pidge, Piano Legs, Fuzz, Ocky-Bock, Boop, Ace, Shrimp, Popeye, and the one and only Wart Head, who became our street's most successful businessman.

The Army, naturally, had its share of memorable monikers. You can find them in the history books, Ike, Stonewall, Blood and Guts.

Names you won't find in the books are the GI Joes who surrendered their lives, or three or four years of their lives, to gang up and win the war, including the Sad Sacks, and all the Shortys and Slims.

Retired Sentinel staffer Ed Hayes, 82, welcomes your views and suggestions. Write to him in care of the Orlando Sentinel, MP-72, P.O. Box 2833, Orlando, FL 32802-2833.

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