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Login Monday, September 25, 2017

Looking Back - WWII (Bob Metcalf)

154, 9/1/2010

Looking Back 

by Col (R) Robert L. METCALF, Jr.

As I look back, it is hard to believe the United States won World War II.  In 1940, I was already a 2nd Lt in the Army Reserve.  I took a job with Republic Steel in Cleveland, Ohio in an executive development program.  I ate lunch with two other young men in the same program - one from Notre Dame, one from Indiana University.  Their typical conversation regarded what a travesty was ahead of them - they were going to have to go into the Army for one year of training - the Ohio National Guard had already been called to active duty for one year.  None of them gave any thought to conditions in Europe - Hitler was over running all his neighbors, and Britain was fighting for her very life (they had already beat a hasty retreat (Dunkirk) from Europe).  I guess the big Atlantic Ocean was to protect us from the trouble in Europe - good thing some of our leaders recognized the situation and established the military draft and started to send military equipment to England - certainly the man on the street was blissfully ignorant.

I attended a two week training camp at Fort Knox, KY in the summer of 1940 as a Field Artilleryman.  We trained with an old 75mm gun - opaque  French sight (couldn't see thru it - had to look above, below, right or left of it) - metal bound wooden wheels - and a single trail (not a split howitzer style trail). Due to cost, they were unable to fire 74mm rounds, but had a 37mm tube strapped on the 75 tube in front of the shield.  One day during camp, a battery from the Regular Army 68th Field Artillery came to demonstrate their equipment (split trail, rubber pneumatic tires, American panoramic sight, the list goes on).  We could look and ask questions, but could not touch.  Half of the officers in Bob's camp were older guys who couldn't properly call our battery to attention let alone performing their duties of conducting fire!  ONE YEAR LATER (7 Dec 1941) we were in it for real, and somehow came out a winner!

I was transferred from Artillery to the Finance Department in January 1941 and called to active duty in July 1941 to be an Agent Finance Officer at Erie Proving Ground and to support the National Rifle Matches at Camp Perry.  In a very short time Erie enlarged, Camp Perry became a Reception Center and I was designated to open a disbursing office. There wasn't time for me to attend the Finance School – instead I was sent to Aberdeen Proving Ground for two weeks to learn how to operate from Lt Col John B. HESS (later Chief of Finance).  While at Aberdeen, I visited the nearby Finance School at Holibird QM Depot to pick up school texts on how to do my job.  The Commandant Col. A.O. WALSH, called me into his office to see what was up.  With all the confidence of a Second Lt I told him I was obtaining texts to teach my staff how to do their job.  He informed me it took a lifetime to learn and I should get a good non-com and stay out of his way while he ran the office – I often wondered what he thought when they moved the officers section of the school to Duke University and the enlisted section to Wake Forest to make FDSs.  In very short order there were no enlisted Finance men around.  To assist, the Chief's office sent me a 50 year old travel clerk from the Chicago office to be my chief clerk. .   During my time as a DO I received only one exception from the GAO.  The pay receipts (like checks) got separated from the payroll of over one million dollars.   I didn't worry and my name never appeared on the stoppage circular.

The number one thing I am most proud of in my Army career was the task I was given in 1954 as the Director of Accounting Training at the Finance School.  I was charged with putting on a course of college level accounting. Many Finance Department (Finance Corps came later) officers had their education interrupted by WW II and knew practically nothing about accounting methods.  They were now Majors and Lt Colonels.  Coming out of Wharton with a Masters Degree and a CPA certificate, I was to put on a 17 week course equivalent to that of a college graduate majoring in accounting.  I was permitted to select my faculty – several were buck privates with CPA certificates.  We put on a saturation program, 8 hours of class plus evening study halls with instructors standing by to assist.  Before the first student arrived we had lesson plans and training aids prepared for every hour of class time.  We gave the incoming students the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants aptitude test – as you might expect the students did well on the verbal part (they were bullshit proficient) and did poorly on the  mathematical portion (they lost their ability with pen and paper).  At the conclusion of the course we gave them the AICPA Level Two Achievement test (they EXCEEDED THE NATIONAL AVERAGE).  This is remarkable considering only the better students take the test in college whereas we gave it on a mandatory basis.  Lt Col John CURRIER (later a General) maxed the test.  To get some measure of our course, we invited several college Deans and training men from national CPA firms to review our efforts.  They came in shaking their heads no, but they left in amazement at our achievement.  What were our differences (1) there was no classroom time devoted to what Woody HAYES's team did on Saturday. (2) a complete display, via Vu-graph transparencies, of all problem solutions was shown on the screen at the front of the class (I look back at my days at Wharton with Dr Rufus WIXON (Editor of the Accountants Handbook) scratching a few entries on the chalkboard)…(3) we were working with students fully committed to learning, and (4) most important of all was our intensity and our complete preparation   As a side light, I received an Army Commendation Ribbon from the Chief of Finance for being one of the offices planned to be used for paying for unused leave at end of WW II, which due to inexperience I did a poor job.  But I got no recognition for the accounting training course.

I suspect most people consider the armed forces to be laggards when it comes to business methods.  Bob attended his first Ohio CPAs meeting in Sept 1965 as an employee of Ernst and Ernst.  The topic for discussion was, can a CPA use statistical sampling in conducting an audit.  Traditionally auditors approached a room full of documents and pulled a sample willy-nilly with no idea whether his sample represented the total universe.  The night he went to the meeting, Bob had in his briefcase an Army pamphlet that told him how, where, why, etc to employ statistical sampling - including a phone number to call for the needed table of random numbers.  Ten years later, no self respecting auditor considered NOT using this method. 

Another quick point - when Medicare was enacted in 1966 hospitals had to demonstrate their patient day bed costs to secure reimbursement.  Not the first hospital in central Ohio had an inkling as to their per patient day bed costs - Bob had it available in military hospitals in 1949.