A Soldier's Play takes place in Fort Neal, a fictional army base in Louisiana, during WWII
A Soldier's Play takes place in Fort Neal, a fictional army base in Louisiana, during WWII. During the war, the US Army grew from a force of 174,000 to 8 million, and bases were constructed around the country to train these new recruits before deployment. Each base was a small, self-contained city, with a hospital, laundry, mess halls, barracks, offices, recreation centers, telephone and telegraph offices, and more. Fort Neal, like all US military bases during the war, was segregated. Bases were often located near small towns and, and soldiers would visit local bars, restaurants, and social clubs during their free time.
In the military, a soldier’s rank determines where they fall in the chain of command. Orders flow from the highest-ranked leader in a situation down to the lowest-ranked soldier. Soldiers wear insignia, a badge or distinguishing mark, on their uniforms to indicate their rank. During WWII, when A Soldier’s Play takes place, there were three classes of military rank: enlisted, warrant, and commissioned. This remains true today.
ENLISTED SOLDIERS are the army’s labor force and carry out military operations. They may volunteer or be drafted, and they begin their military careers with basic training. Enlisted soldiers rise through the enlisted ranks to become non-commissioned officers, or NCOs. NCOs are responsible for commanding groups of enlisted soldiers.
WARRANT OFFICERS are the technical experts of the military. They are enlisted soldiers who attend Warrant Officer Training School and specialize in anything from engineering to bandleading. The rank of warrant officer is below that of commissioned officers and above that of enlisted soldiers and NCOs.
COMMISSIONED OFFICERS are the leaders and strategists of the military. They receive a commission to lead. Today, as in WWII, they are recruited from university graduates, military academies, and enlisted personnel. Additionally, some professionals—like lawyers—can receive a direct commission on the basis of their skills.
A commissioned officer always outranks a non-commissioned officer. The Selective Training and Service Act of 1940 contained a provision stating that, in selection and training of military personnel, “there shall be no discrimination against any person on account of race or color.” Despite this, the Army was segregated, reflecting the racist attitudes and systems of the broader American culture. Black commissioned officers, like Captain Davenport, outranked all white NCOs but had little authority in practice.
Military branches have their own justice systems separate from civilian courts. Military justice systems handle criminal offenses committed by soldiers as well as offenses specific to military life. An accused soldier receives a court-martial rather than a trial. Their fate may be decided by a single officer, a military judge, or a panel of officers or enlisted persons, depending on the severity of the crime. Sentences can range from reduction in rank or pay to the death penalty. During WWII, military defendants had few rights during court-martial. As a result, in 1951 the Uniform Code of Military Justice was created to codify military justice practices.