Special Report

True Story of the Old Army

On Veterans Day, a tribute to Pvt. Rondi.

By 11.11.13

Private “Rondi” Rondinoni had been in B Company for a little more than one hitch (three years). He had reached the rank of Private First Class (PFC), but was busted back to buck private for repeated fractures of discipline. It didn’t matter to Rondi. He just enjoyed being a soldier. It drove his platoon sergeant crazy, but his captain -- the company commander--intervened to keep Rondi from being booted out on a Section 8 (mental illness). Back in the late 1930s, before Pearl Harbor and the draft, a U.S. Army company often consisted of less than seventy men; eager EM’s (enlisted men) were not readily available at $21 per month, even during the Great Depression. Rondi could read and write English and loved his apparently always forgiving captain.

Company B was part of an under-strength motorized rifle regiment that had been recharacterized as “Transportation and Maintenance” in order to conform to the Army’s  reduced TO&E (table of organization & equipment). Stationed at Fort McClellan, Alabama, the unit was rarely visited by ranking officers. When a Brigadier General arrived to inspect the camp, he needed a staff car in which to travel. As usual Rondinoni was on KP (kitchen police), so was available to drive the one-star around to the various units. The mess sergeant was happy to be rid of Rondi, even for a short while. Rondi changed into his Class “A” uniform and became chauffeur for a day.

Fort McClellan even then was a big facility and the general had no idea where his grinning driver was taking him; neither did Rondi, but eventually they got where they were supposed to be. The general would visit with the various units and then move on. At one point the general instructed Rondi to wait as he visited HQ staff for an hour or so. This was a big mistake on the general’s part. Pvt. Rondinoni had the vehicle to himself and he had no intention of waiting in the hot ’Bama sun.

Rondi had noticed that wherever he had driven the general the troops would snap to attention as they drove by and salute the passing vehicle designated by its red plaque with yellow star attached to the front bumper. Pvt. Rondi took off in the staff car to see what would happen when the general was not in the vehicle. Rondi was delighted he could collect the same salutes himself — that is, until the general sent the MPs out to find his staff car. Rondi was swiftly returned to KP, grinning as usual. But the story remained as regimental lore about the day “General” Rondinoni took salutes at Fort McClellan.

Of course KP wasn’t the only punishment that could have been thrown at the private from Brooklyn, but the matter was buried by his captain. Rondi was now the hero of Company B. Company-level punishment was judged by all concerned to be all that was necessary. Rondi enjoyed the accolades from his buddies, but knew it was his captain who had been saved from the stockade. He decided he had to repay him somehow. The opportunity arrived the next time the captain inspected the enlisted mess where Rondi was on his usual assignment of mopping the floor.

“So what are you up to today?” inquired the captain of his permanent private.

“Keeping the world clean, sir. By the way, captain, is it true you have to buy your own uniforms, sir?” Logical response was not one of Rondinoni’s strong points.

“Yes,” said the captain. “Why?” he asked.

“Jes wanted t’know,” replied the private. “Seems unfair, sir.”

That was the entire exchange, and the captain put it down to just another “Rondinoni-ism.”

Several days later the captain returned to his tent to find neatly piled items of regulation G.I. clothing on his cot: socks, underwear, shirts, pants, etc.

“What the Hell!” Could be heard all the way down officers’ row.

The captain ordered the Top Sergeant to call out the entire company on parade. He made a brief grim-faced speech:

“Some well-meaning but extremely stupid soldier has put me in a very dangerous position that would cause a great deal of legal trouble. There are G.I. items on my cot that will be considered stolen if discovered by any authorities. Now, I will be gone from my tent for the next few hours. When I come back I want to see all this damn stuff gone. Top, dismiss the company!”

As promised the captain returned to his tent some hours later to find all the offending items gone. There was nothing more mentioned, but everyone knew who must have done the deed. A week or so afterward the captain had the need to get something from his heavily locked foot locker where he kept his personal items, including his dress blue uniform. Carefully laid out in the second layer of what had been the securely locked trunk were the items formerly found on the cot. They indeed were “all gone from sight” as the captain had ordered. Rondi had not only broken into the well-locked foot locker, but relocked it afterward leaving not a trace of entry.

Rondi would have done anything for his captain, but he did what came naturally for a street kid from Brooklyn in the late 1930s. He spent WW2 befuddling the Japanese Imperial Army in the South Pacific and made it back to PFC — twice. The captain eventually was transferred to a command bound for the ETO (European theater) and retired as a colonel after being wounded in the region of Vere, France. With decorations from the American and French armies he spent several years in and out of Army hospitals. He never forgot Rondi. The colonel now rests peacefully in Arlington with the thousands of other comrades. No one knows what happened to Rondi, but it’s certain he made it back to PFC at least a few more times and in spirit is still in the U.S. Army today. 

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About the Author
George H. Wittman writes a weekly column on international affairs for The American Spectator online. He was the founding chairman of the National Institute for Public Policy.