How to Carry a Shovel Without Banging the Back of Your Knees

By Sgt. Joe McCarthy

The other morning I was opening the mail, hoping wildly for good news from the Morris Plan which is trying to get me released from the Army so that it will have somebody to chase again. Instead I burned my fingers on a red-hot news release from the Quartermaster Department, neatly stamped “No objection to publication on grounds of military security or policy” which began with the following sentence:

“Does your shovel handle knock the back of your knees when you carry it on the belt?”

Then the story goes on to point out, with illustrations, three ways of avoiding this menace. First, it suggests hooking the shovel to the belt so that the handle sticks straight out behind in a nice position to stab somebody in the stomach.

Secondly, it mentions slinging the shovel over your shoulder. (Figure 1.) “This method is an adaption of that used by our little yellow brothers,” adds the Quartermaster Department, with a coy giggle. “It has met with reluctant but high praise from our soldiers.”

quartermaster department

Here is one method of keeping your shovel from hitting the back of your knees – or the back of anything else, for that matter. The wind-driven generator on the front of the bicycle charges the batteries on the dough’s back which energizes the two magnets. They hold the shovel suspended in mid-air between them.

Just who these little yellow brothers are, the Quartermaster Department doesn’t say. I don’t know whether they are Japanese or Americans who are yellow from atabrine or what. Or maybe they are just little brothers who have no guts.

The Quartermaster Department also suggests carrying the shovel on suspenders. (Figure 2.) “Sew grommeted pack tabs, secure from salvage, to each of the suspenders,” it says, “The shovel carries best with carrier hook in the middle row of eyelets. The poncho or other clothing carried over the rear of the belt will cushion any bouncing action of the handle.

This, of course, is just impossible. In the first place, how are you going to get the grommeted pack tabs from salvage? Picture a typical infantryman, on the verge of a nervous breakdown because his shovel has been banging constantly against the back of his knees for the past four years, going up to a salvage dump and asking the corporal for a pair of grommeted pack tabs.

“A pair of what?” the corporal growls.

“A pair of grommeted pack tabs,” the infantryman repeats patiently.

“Damn if I can ever understand a single word you Yankees from Brooklyn ever says. We ain’t got no packages of grommets. What is it? Some kind of cereal?”

“Naw,” says the infantryman. “It’s something to sew on suspenders.”

“We ain’t got no suspenders in this Army,” says the corporal. “We keeps our pants up with belts. Now g’wan away and don’t bother me. I got lots work to do.”

And, as for that stuff about sticking a poncho or other clothing over the rear of the belt to cushion any bouncing action of the handle, why what other clothing are they talking about?  I haven’t got any other clothing except this pants and shirt I’m wearing. All the rest went to the cleaner at Fort Bragg in August 1941, and I haven’t gotten them back yet.

Of the three methods of keeping the shovel from knocking against the back of your knees suggested by the Quartermaster Department, I like the one about slinging it over your shoulder best.  That’s a method I have been using for a long time. I generally sling the shovel over my left shoulder. Once I turned around afterward and found a colonel handing it back to me. It had gone through the windshield of his command car.

quartermaster department

I have worked up a few other methods of keeping my shovel from banging against the back of my knees which I will be glad to pass on to the Quartermaster Department for no extra charge. Of course, it isn’t any of my business if the Quartermaster Department wants to have a little talk with the Adjutant General’s Department over a cup of coffee in the Pentagon restaurant about slipping a few extra points into my adjusted Service Rating Card.

For example, one way of avoiding the maddening slapping of the shovel handle against the back of your knees is to saw off the handle. This makes it impossible to dig holes with the shovel but I usually bring along a small dog to dig my holes for me.

If you can’t find a saw, it is a good idea to have somebody else carry the shovel.

Another way of avoiding the banging on the back of your knees is not to carry the shovel on your belt. Just stand and lean on it. I used this method very successfully when I worked before the war for the WPA.

Or wave the shovel over your head. This not only keeps it from hitting against the back of your knees, it also keeps flies and mosquitoes away.

I have a few other ideas but frankly my problem isn’t how to save wear and tear on the back of my knees. I wish the Quartermaster Department would put out something telling us how to protect the skin on the front of our knees during long crap games. And, while they’re on the subject, they might as well figure out some way of stopping that cheap skate of a staff sergeant, who owns the only flashlight we can use after hours, from taking ten-percent out of each pot.

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