Memory Lane: Sgt. Bilko

If you were born after, say, 1990, it might strike you as very strange that once upon a time in America, every male, with only a few exceptions, had to serve in the army whether he wanted to or not. But it’s true. When I was a boy, every male over 18 had to register for the draft and pretty much everybody got sucked up. (Well, God told us through Samuel what a king would do to us, didn’t he? Too bad we didn’t listen.)

And so The Phil Silvers Show, also known as simply Sgt. Bilko, struck a universal chord back then that it doesn’t strike anymore… because we have no draft, thank God.

Sgt. Bilko (Silvers) was a smooth con man working in the motor pool and being a thorn in the side to his commanding officer, Col. Hall. Paul Ford was just great as the hapless colonel, perpetually bamboozled by the slippery sergeant.

This was an awfully funny show, although a military draft is not funny at all. God did warn us about increasing the size and power of the state (I Samuel Chapter 8)–but no, the people had to have a king like everybody else! The show ran from 1955 through 1959 and was very popular. Gee, I can hardly believe I was only 10 years old when Sgt. Bilko went off the air.

Seems like only yesterday…

8 comments on “Memory Lane: Sgt. Bilko

  1. When I was in the Air Force, we loved any kind of show or movie that made fun of life in the armed forces — and when I say “we,” I mean even women, who weren’t subject to the draft. But note that I also said “life in the armed forces,” not the Nation’s armed forces themselves.

  2. I drew a very low draft lottery, so I was immune. Chances are, I would have been 4F, because of an injury which reduced the integrity of my abdominal muscles, but my lottery number made it a moot point. Interestingly, one of my closest friends also drew a very low lottery number, only one higher than mine, so he never faced the draft. Neither of us would have made good soldiers, so it’s almost certainly for the best.

    In the case of the friend, his father had been in the Army, and was very military minded, actually treating his children like they were in boot camp, with compulsory calisthenics and making certain that they never felt that they measured up. He managed to alienate all of his children and made their path in life much more difficult than it had to have been.

    I don’t know that I’ve ever actually seen the original Phil Silvers Show, but the movie Sargent Bilko, with Steve Martin, was pretty good

  3. My dad loved Sergeant Blko – I can still hear him laughing to it in my mind. 18 year old men still have to sign up for the Selective Service – women are still exempt, for now. Those who join the National Guard are subject to being sent to foreign wars – over a quarter of a million were sent to the Iraq War. Most people think they are like a State militia but it is the federal government that pays their salary.

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