“Army Specialized Training Program”:
In the spring of 1943 a new Army program went into full operation
around the country called the “Army Specialized Training
Program” (ASTP). It was set–up to identify, train
and educate academically–talented enlisted men. After
basic training the Army would provide those accepted into the
program with a four–year college education in either the
sciences, mathematics, medicine, engineering, or linguistics,
followed by additional Army training and a commission. They
would then be assigned where needed until the war ended.
after finishing the filming of Best Foot Forward in March, Tommy
heard about the Army program and felt that if he could pass
the tests and get accepted into the program he would be able
to finally receive the college education he had always wanted.
Tommy easily passed the Army’s tests and was classified
A–12, the military’s designation for high–school
students who by pre–induction tests had established their
eligibility for the ASTP.
– Two tests were used by the Army to identify people
for the ASTP program, the “Army General Classification
Test” (AGCT) that tested general learning ability, and
the “General Classification Test” (GCT) that measured
verbal aptitude. At first a minimum score of 110 was required
for acceptance into the program (equivalent to an IQ score
of 108), but the minimum score was eventually raised to 115
(equivalent to an IQ score of 112). (The conversion of AGCT
scores to equivalent IQ scores can be found in the book Essentials
of Psychology by Donald M. Johnson.)
Entering the Army as Private Bob Navard in September 1943, Tommy
left the glamour of Show Business and began his required basic
training at Fort Benning, Georgia. Very few people knew that
Bob Navard was really Tommy Dix, the star of the new M–G–M
musical Best Foot Forward, and Tommy went out of his
way to keep the other people in his regiment from finding out.
He wanted to be just one of the guys, and he worked hard to
become the best soldier he could be.
a routine exercise on a steep, narrow path, Tommy fell over
a cliff and sustained a number of serious internal injuries.
Not wanting to appear weak, he didn’t tell anyone about
the injuries until they were just too painful to endure. Although
the doctors at Ft. Benning quickly identified and took care
of Tommy’s injuries, he developed a persistent case of
diarrhea and began losing weight. Nothing he did or ate seemed
to help, but Tommy continued on and never complained.
person who did discover Tommy’s real identity was Vernon
Noah, a chaplain on the Army Post who was also a voice–teacher
and director of the Highlands United Methodist Church choir
in Birmingham, Alabama. He asked Tommy if he would consider
performing at the church if the chaplain could get him a weekend
pass. Like anyone else going through basic training, Tommy would
do almost anything for a weekend pass and he quickly agreed.
– By road, Fort Benning, Georgia, is 150 miles from
News that Tommy was going to appear at the church in Birmingham,
Alabama, somehow got out, and hours before he arrived the church
began filling up with teenagers who had seen the movie Best
Foot Forward. The movie had recently been released in Birmingham,
and so many of Tommy’s new fans filled the church that
many members of the congregation couldn’t get in.
member of the church who did get in was W.W. “Foots”
Clements, a politically influential executive of the Dr. Pepper
soft drink company. After Tommy finished singing and signing
autographs, Mr. Clements introduced himself and told Tommy he
was also the chairman of the Jefferson County War Bond Drive.
He pointed out that Tommy could be quite valuable to the war
effort if he used his talents and popularity to raise money
selling war bonds.
this time, due to the impending invasion of Normandy and the
need for additional manpower in Europe, the Army’s ASTP
program had been disbanded and Tommy was waiting with the rest
of his regiment to be deployed overseas. Taking advantage of
a furlough his regiment had just been given, Tommy made some
personal appearances on behalf of the War Bond Drive with amazing
results. Mr. Clements was now convinced that Tommy Dix was the
celebrity he needed to promote the sale of war bonds in his
area of Alabama, and he convinced Tommy that Alabama was where
he was needed.
Tommy agreed, it didn’t take long for Mr. Clements to
pull some strings and get Tommy transferred from his regiment
to Fort McClellan in Anniston, Alabama. Using Ft. McClellan
as his base, Tommy traveled around central Alabama drawing large
audiences and selling a great many war bonds.
– Over the course of the war 85 million Americans purchased
bonds totaling approximately $185.7 billion.
Falls in Love:
One of the venues where Tommy held rallies to sell bonds was
the Alabama Theatre in Birmingham. During one rally a young
girl was sent up to the stage by her father to purchase a $1,000
war bond. She was a striking, blonde, blue–eyed, teenager
who was attending the Brooke Hill School, a college preparatory
school for girls. Tommy saw her and immediately knew she was
someone he had to meet.
young girl was Margaret Ann “Maggie” Grayson, the
daughter of a wealthy Birmingham lumberyard owner. Introduced
to each other by Stanley Mallotte, the organist at the rally,
Tommy and Maggie started dating and they quickly fell in love.
After he left the Army and reentered Show Business, Tommy repeatedly
returned to Birmingham to visit Maggie until she graduated from
school in 1946 and they were able to marry.
All during the time Tommy was raising money selling war bonds,
the incessant diarrhea that had plagued him since basic training
continued. Finally, after his weight had dropped from 130 to
96 pounds, he was hospitalized. While being questioned about
his past medical history Tommy admitted to the doctor that he
had been diagnosed with Celiac disease when he was a child but
never mentioned it to the Army recruiter. The doctor said that
the injuries Tommy had incurred during basic training had apparently
caused his Celiac disease to flare up, and once again he was
unable to properly digest fats and wheat protein (gluten). Since
he would need to adhere to a strict diet that the Army could
not provide, the doctor said that Tommy would have to be discharged
as soon as they could get him back to his normal weight.
the spring of 1944 Tommy was sent to the Batty General Hospital
near Rome, Georgia, to recuperate. By summer, less than a year
after joining the Army, he had regained his normal weight, been
given a medical discharge, and was once again a civilian.