Novel – DRAFTED – Chapter 14

Novel – DRAFTED – Chapter 14

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

Our instructor today reminded me of Don Knotts, the nervous deputy on the Andy Griffin Show. “This is a grenade,” said Sgt. Don in a shaky voice. “With an effective killing radius of five-to-ten feet. To activate, you hold this handle down against the base of the grenade with your right hand and pull the ring attached to this pin with your left hand. Once the pin is pulled, the grenade is live, but will not explode until you release the handle, which will pop off and trigger the device. There are an additional twenty seconds before the grenade explodes.”

“You will be going into the grenade pits in groups of three–two trainees and one instructor. You are to lob the grenade over the wall in front of you as far as you can–then duck and cover your head. To throw the grenade, cock your arm like this, next to your ear, and then throw as you would a football. Steel helmets are to remain on at all times. Any questions?”

Horowitz raised his hand. “What happens if you’re left handed?”

Sgt. Don said, “Good question. Hold the grenade with your normal throwing hand in the center of your chest, like this, and then with the opposite hand, reach over and pull the pin.”

Horowitz raised his hand again. “Is the grenade heavy?”

“The grenade only weighs about nine ounces. Any other questions? No? Let’s begin.”

Sgt. Don then divided us into two-man teams. Just my luck, I got partnered with Harry. We entered the first throwing pit, consisting of a timber-lined, U-shaped bunker built into a hill of dirt. Harry stood on the left, and I stood on the right, facing the target. Sarge stood behind us supervising. I gave a short prayer that the instructions had sunk into Harry’s brain.

“Jones, you’re first.” Sarge handed me a grenade. I held the weapon close to my chest, pulled the pin, looked through the small observation window at the target and with my left hand gave the grenade a heave over the five-foot wall. The three of us crouched down, covered our heads, and a few seconds later there was a loud explosion.

“Horowitz, your turn.” We watched in horror as Harry pulled the pin and threw it over the wall, leaving the grenade still in his right hand.

“Private, listen to me,” said Sarge. “Whatever you do don’t release the handle. Do you understand?”

Horowitz whined. “I knew I’d fail. I can’t throw with my right hand.”

“Transfer the grenade to your left hand, but don’t let up the pressure on the handle or the grenade will arm itself.”

Harry carefully transferred the grenade to his left hand, but his sweaty hands slipped off the handle. The three of us followed the handle as it fell in slow motion to the ground.

“THROW THE GRENADE NOW,” yelled Sarge.

Harry panicked, jerked around, and tossed the grenade toward the target. His wobbly pitch almost cleared the top of the wall, but instead bounced backward and landed smack in the middle of the training grenades box sitting at Sarge’s feet.

“RUN,” yelled Sarge, pushing Harry and me out the back of the bunker.

You didn’t need to tell me twice. Pretty sure I broke the world dash record that day while dragging Harry. Sarge kept pace step-for-step. Instructor Don ran next to Sarge, waving his hands in the air, and screaming like a girl, “I don’t want to die.”

Sarge yelled to the men in the other grenade pits to lie on the ground against the wooden walls for protection. The rest of the platoon scattered, trying to run as far away as possible before Harry’s grenade exploded.

We flung ourselves to the ground and covered our heads when we heard the first blast. Immediately after, a second, louder detonation turned pit number one, where we had stood moments before, into a mini-mushroom cloud of dirt, which rained down on us for several seconds. Thank God these practice grenades didn’t contain shrapnel like the real ones, just small explosive charges.

“Jesus Christ, Horowitz,” Sarge erupted. “I’ve been through two wars and never met a soldier as incompetent as you. For the safety of the platoon, you should be shot.” I felt sorry for Harry, but silently agreed, and began checking to see if any vital body parts were missing while trying to make my ears to stop ringing.

Horowitz sat up, his glasses dangling from one ear, wearing the dazed look of a deer caught in the headlights. “What happened?”

“I’ll tell you what happen numb nuts,” said Sarge, in his charming style. “You almost maimed more people in twenty seconds than the Viet Cong does in a week.”

“Sorry, Sarge. I threw the grenade as hard as I could. I told you I’m left handed.”

Wolinski growled, “Get the hell out of my sight before I shoot you.”

Harry walked away with his head hung down to his chest.

Thank God, no one got hurt; even the guys in pit two had their hearing return after an hour. We never did see Instructor Don again. For all I know, he is still running with his hands over his ears. Thus ended the lesson.

****

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Novel – DRAFTED – Chapter 13

Novel – DRAFTED – Chapter 13

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

Today was our first visit to Proficiency Park to test our level of physical fitness by attempting a series of timed tests with a required minimum score necessary to pass and graduate.

The sun was out, raising the temperature a bit, so we left our heavy winter coats behind, wearing only our fatigue shirt, pants, and boots with our long-sleeved one-piece woolen underwear underneath.

According to the entrance sign, Proficiency Park is where the true test is written in steel and blood. How odd…at Ohio State, we used pen and paper.

We unloaded from the transport trucks and gathered in an open meadow next to the park. Sam took his turn to lead us in our daily exercises. He stood on a small, four-by-four, raised platform in front of the platoon shouting instructions and demonstrating proper technique.

I’m not sure what Horowitz thought he was doing, but it didn’t look anything like jumping jacks. He couldn’t get his hands and legs together in the right place at the right time. When God passed out coordination, Harry must have been in some other line. It didn’t help that Sarge kept riding his ass, standing so close that on one of the up cycles, Horowitz accidentally slapped him. At first, I thought Wolinski would kill the little guy, but Sarge backed off and continued yelling at any other trainee who wasn’t doing it right.

After we finished warming up with our stretches, push-ups, and sit-ups, Sarge took us first to the run, dodge, and jump. The course consisted of two hurdles buried in the ground, followed by a four-foot wide ditch, then two more hurdles. The test allowed 21 seconds to run in and out of the first two hurdles, leap the ditch, run in and out of the next two hurdles, turn around and come back in the same manner. Not easy, especially if you happened to be short-legged or heavy-set, like Harry.

Harry tried but never could quite clear that ditch. Even with Sarge shouting at him every step of the way, Horowitz would launch off the edge and come down somewhere in the middle. Most of the time, he would stumble and fall flat on his face.

Next came the monkey bars, like the ones on the playground, except mounted more than seven feet in the air so even the tallest man could hang without his feet touching the ground. Each soldier had thirty seconds to complete as many bars as possible, easy enough to achieve the top score–if you managed to hang onto the cold bars, and if you possessed enough wing span to skip every other rung.

“Climb up the steps and put your right hand on the first bar,” ordered Sarge.

Steve, Harry, Sam and I climbed up into position, side-by-side, and waited for the signal to start.

“Sergeant Wolinski,” whined Horowitz.

“What is it now?”

“I can’t reach the bar.”

“Tex, give Horowitz a boost.” Tex with the help of another soldier lifted Harry up until he got a good grip on the bar.

Sarge yelled, “Ready, set, go,” and we took off swinging ape-style from bar to bar. The three of us reached the end simultaneously, but nearly lost it, when we flipped around and saw Horowitz hanging like a ripe apple still on the first bar, feet dangling and wailing, “Help!”

Next came the low crawl event held in a parallel series of four twenty-yard sandboxes. “First row down on your bellies,” instructed Sarge. “Stay close to the ground, and crawl, alligator-style, to the far end as fast as you can. Do not rise to your knees.” Not too hard to score well, but we dug sand out of our shorts for the next three days.

My favorite was the beast-of-burden test, racing 25 yards, carrying another man piggyback. Of course, Sarge assigned me the biggest, heaviest person in our platoon, but I still scored a time better than the minimum.

The final event in Proficiency Park was the mile run. To get a perfect score on this test required running four laps under six minutes on a quarter-mile track, in clunky army boots. The majority of the guys could run the mile in seven to nine minutes, while some took twelve minutes or more, and then afterward puked their guts out. Horowitz took so long his first try; Sarge gave up on him, loaded us back on the trucks, and we all went to lunch.

We had survived our first visit to Proficiency Park…and if you believed the entrance sign, in six more weeks, because of this wonderful training; there would be turned loose on the world another sixty ultimate fighting machines, ready to defend the constitution and the Playboy Playmate of the Month.

****

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Novel – DRAFTED – Chapter 12

Novel – DRAFTED – Chapter 12

CHAPTER TWELVE

Sergeant Wolinski says the Army places significant importance on protecting its bases, which must be why he keeps assigning me to guard duty. After all, who other than me has the skills necessary to thwart an Albanian sneak attack on Fort Dix, New Jersey?

I knew wearing a heavy green winter coat, gloves and a flaps-down wool Army hat made me look like a geek, but I planned to stay warm on guard duty tonight, no matter what the fashion cost. We were issued our M-1s with a five-shell clip, loaded into a truck, and after a ten-minute ride came to a halt near the ammo dump. “Your post, Eli,” called out the driver.

The duty officer walked to the back of the truck. “All right Eli, do you remember your standing orders?”

“I had the cheeseburger, side of fries, and a cherry coke.”

“I’m not crazy about being here either, but there is the right way, the wrong way and the…”

“Yeah, yeah, the Army way. I must stand my post until relieved, or blown up, or a hangnail causes me extreme pain.”

“You’d better not screw this up.”

“What are they going to do, draft me? Whoops, too late. I’m not supposed to be here.”

“Everybody on the base has heard your hard luck story.”

“I’m going to keep on bitching until they let me out. I’m not going to die in Vietnam.”

“Nobody wants to die in Vietnam. But you’ve got your duty to God and country.”

“I’m as patriotic as the next guy, but what does Vietnam have to do with God or the United States. I hear they’re all Buddhist over there. That lying draft board cheated me out of two years of my life and I want ’em back.”

“Tell it to the chaplain. Now stand your post. I’ll be back at zero three hundred with your relief.”

“Thanks for the sympathy.”

“You’re welcome. Remember the password?”

“Snow White.”

I reluctantly took my place inside the compound. The duty officer gave me a farewell salute, locked the gate behind me, and then headed off to post the rest of the guards.

Looking around the ammo dump, I was surrounded by a ten-foot high barbwire fence strung between thick wooden posts and topped off with concertina wire coiled like a Slinky along the top. Concertina wire is a nasty barrier with thin razor blade edges that will slice you into little pieces if you try to cross it.

I loaded my weapon and assumed my post next to a solid twenty by thirty metal bunker buried under several feet of dirt. A path surrounded the mound, worn bare over the years by the guard walking his post. A pipe sticking out of the dirt served as a ventilation shaft for a free-standing stove inside the bunker. I had an involuntary shiver and thought about how nice it would be to be inside and start a fire.

I had no idea why the compound needed guarding in the first place because the bunker appeared impossible to breach. The hundreds of ammo boxes stacked inside were secured behind a heavy metal door welded to four-inch thick metal bars and fastened with genuine Yale locks to deeply buried cement posts.

No way anyone could gain entrance without a key or a tank. If somebody showed up with a key–they were authorized. If they showed up with a tank–I sure as hell wouldn’t stand in their way.

The full moon provided some natural light, augmented by two overhead lights–one in the back near the bunker door and one in the front near the compound entrance. A box mounted on the front light pole contained a ring-down phone that connected the ammo dump to the guard duty shack.

I had arrived at twenty-one hundred, so according to my watch, I had five hours left of freezing my ass off. The temperature continued to drop, and based on the number of my nearly frostbitten fingers and toes, the temperature had to be near zero. I paced back and forth, hugging myself and clapping my hands together to keep the circulation going.

Another two hours passed and I hadn’t seen a soul. The Army had built the Fort Dix ammo dump in the most desolate part of the base, so there wasn’t even the occasional passing car to break up the monotony. I could picture the duty officer coming back and finding my corpse, stiff as a board, rifle frozen to my fingers.

A little after midnight, I finally saw something move–a car’s headlights, headed my way, weaving back and forth like a drunken sailor. Suddenly the lights went out, but I could still hear the engine running. Thanks to the moonlight, I could make out the faint shape of a Jeep creeping toward my position.

I got down off the hill and crouched in the shadows between the overhead lights and the bunker. The jeep stopped about two hundred yards from the gate and two figures climbed out. One caught his foot on the jeep’s door frame and cried out, after falling hard to the ground. I thought about calling the duty officer on the phone but was afraid if I stepped out from the shadows I would lose the element of surprise.

I could see the breath of the approaching men. The shortest of the pair kept panting and tripping on the uneven ground. They reached the outer wire and instead of cutting it, the taller man looked around, and then unlocked the gate with a key. The shorter man spoke. “Carlos, what are you doing with a key to the ammo dump and where the hell is the guard?” I swore that Shorty, as I decided to call him, sounded drunk.

“Quiet, sir,” said Carlos. “The guard might be asleep and we don’t want to wake him.”

“Why would you think that?”

“Uh, sir, because the new trainees never stay awake past midnight at this remote post.”

That answer seemed to satisfy Shorty. I knew what the Army expected of me and what my standing orders required… surrender the password…or else.

The two men stepped into the front lamp post circle of light, dressed in camouflage, each carrying a .45 caliber pistol, and wearing black face. Shaking from nervousness, but mainly the cold, I saw Shorty stumble, run into an empty trash barrel and curse again. Carlos raised his finger to his lip, “Will you please try to be quiet?”

I thought, who could sleep with all that noise? I stepped out of the bunker shadows and pointed my loaded M-1 at the intruders. “Halt, who goes there?” I must have surprised them because Shorty clutched his chest like he had a sudden heart attack.

“Jesus Christ, Private, you scared the shit out of me. What do you mean sneaking up on us like that?”

“I’m not the one breaking into the ammo dump, Shorty. Here’s the drill, I say, halt who goes there, and you tell me the password.”

“Do you have any idea who I am?” Shorty asks.

“I don’t care who you are, Mr. booze-breath. If you don’t tell me the password, I’m going to shoot you.”

“Don’t be stupid. I am the training division commander, Colonel Clark…and I don’t need the password.”

“Hit the dirt or prepare to meet your maker.” I put a round in the chamber.

“Holy shit,” said Carlos, assuming the prone position at my feet. The Colonel stared at me, with hate burning in his eyes.

“I will not lay in the dirt for some stupid, lowly trainee.”

I shot the ground six inches from Clark’s right foot and then pointed it at his nose. “These are live rounds, Shorty.” Clark hit the ground pretty fast for an old guy, cursing all the way. “I will have your balls for breakfast,” snarled the Colonel.

“You have a rather exotic palate,” I said. Keeping my rifle trained on the pair, I backed up and grabbed the phone. “Wait until the duty officer hears I caught two drunks breaking into the ammo dump. They’ll make me a hero; maybe my picture and story in the New York Times.”

Carlos shook his head as if to say to Shorty, better not let that happen. Clark fumed but realized Carlos might be right, so he calmed down. “One second, son.”

“Yes?”

“Let’s not be hasty. I realize you’re just doing your duty. I got upset because you startled us.”

“Keep talking,” I said.

“Put down the phone and allow me to show you some I.D.”

“Colonel Clark, if that’s really your name, what the hell are you doing at the ammo dump after midnight and why don’t you know the password?”

“I don’t know the goddamn password,” Clark said through clenched teeth.

The duty officer’s voice came on the phone. “Eli, what’s wrong? Why are you calling the guard shack?”

I covered the mouthpiece with my glove while cradling the phone under my chin and keeping the rifle pointed in the Colonel’s direction. “What’s in it for me? I’m not supposed to be here. Can you have me discharged out of the Army?”

Flames shot out of Clark’s eyes. “Are you crazy?” He once again regained control. This guy was an emotional roller coaster. Then he added in a calm voice, “If you’ll hang up the phone, we can certainly discuss it.”

“Eli,” said the duty officer. “Is everything all right?”

“Give me a second.”

Covering the phone again, I said to my captives, “Let’s see that I.D.” They opened their wallets. “Toss them over.” I let the phone dangle while I verified the information.

I stuck the I.D. cards into my pocket, retrieved the phone and told the duty officer, “Sorry sir, I thought I should test the line to make sure it works…in case, I spotted any trouble.” I winked at the two prone men.

“Excellent initiative, Jones,” said the duty officer. “I’ll note that in the log.”

I hung up. “You can stand up now.”

Handing them back their I.D.s, I kept my finger on the trigger. “Let’s talk.”

“You don’t really expect to be discharged out of the Army, do you?” Clark asked.

“Why not?” I explained my unique situation to the Colonel.

“I can look into it. How about a more immediate reward for your silence…like some time off from basic…maybe a little R&R?”

“Getting discharged is the most important thing, but sure, what’s wrong with having a little fun, although Sergeant Wolinski isn’t going to like it.”

“He works for me. What did you have in mind?”

“How about a weekend pass to New York City for me, Sarah, Tex, Steve, and Sam…plus a car, so we can travel in style.”

“Is Sarah your girl back home?” The Colonel asked, smiling.

“Nope, she is this very fine nurse I met here, built like a brick shithouse. I’m hoping to get lucky if you know what I mean.”

“Sarah is a nurse on this base?” For some reason, the Colonel started turning red again.

“Yeah, why?”

“If you think I will let you take my daughter away for the weekend, you’re crazy!”

“Sarah is your daughter, huh? I can’t believe you two are related. Is it a deal or not? I can always call the duty officer back.” I reached for the phone.

“All right,” Clark conceded sputtering. He used every ounce of willpower to avoid taking a swing at me. “What’s your name, Private?”

“Eli Jones, sir. May I call you dad?”

“No, you may not. Remember, if I ever find out that you leaked a single word about this, I will ship you out to Vietnam so fast it will make your head spin. Do you understand?”

“Got it, sir. Let’s make the pass for next weekend, so I have time to ask Sarah and you can find me a car.”

“A car! You expect me to find you a car!” Clark struggled to compose himself. “All right, fine, how about a brand new Cadillac–right, Carlos?”

“Oh no, sir, not my Cadillac,” Carlos asked, already knowing the answer.

The Colonel turned back to me. “Is that all?”

“Yep…you’re free to go now. You don’t even have to tell me why you were here. I’m sure it was for a good reason.”

“Thanks–as if I needed your approval.” The Colonel stormed toward the gate with Carlos on his heels, like a faithful puppy dog.

“Pleasure doing business with you,” I shouted at the rapidly retreating figures.

“Shut up, Jones,” the colonel’s voice floated back, but he never turned around.

****

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Novel – Drafted – Chapter 11

Novel – Drafted – Chapter 11

CHAPTER ELEVEN

Colonel Clark stood over an eight-by-ten quarter-inch thick plywood board held up by three wooden sawhorses. The layout in front of him had been decorated with a jungle, tall grass, small hills, a river, and a village with tiny bamboo huts. But instead of scale model trains, the battlefield diorama featured tiny toy tanks; machine gun pillbox emplacements, concertina wire, and blackened craters where pretend aircraft had dropped pretend bombs from the sky.

There were two distinct uniformed armies on the board–Americans and North Vietnamese regulars. The Colonel was busy poking over enemy soldiers with a long stick and muttering, “Bang. I got you, so fall over, because you’re dead. Ha, I got another one.” He ducked, and then quickly popped up, blowing a raspberry at a line of soldiers. “You missed me, you evil little Commies.” Clark then grabbed a toy tank and ran over several soldiers, while chanting, “Squish, squish, squish.”

His aide-de-camp, Carlos, stood nearby, wondering why this lunatic hadn’t been locked up somewhere by now. The Colonel, in his early fifties, stood about five-foot-five, with dyed black hair, sported a noticeable bald spot, bit of paunch, and a retro handlebar mustache from the era of flappers and bathtub gin. It amazed Carlos that he had survived working for this man for nearly two years without the two of them killing each other.

The Colonel looked up after another decisive victory. “Why, Carlos? Why can’t I earn one crummy star after twenty years of dedicated service? It’s because I’m locked away in this lousy boot camp, isn’t it? An Infantry Colonel is supposed to lead men in battle–not deal with new recruits tripping over their own dicks.” He sighed. “I need to be where the real action is–Vietnam. What can I do to escape this hell hole?”

Carlos shuddered at the thought of this maniac being in charge of a battalion in Vietnam. He wouldn’t last more than a week before his own men shot him. “I don’t know, sir. Do you have any ideas?”

“Damn right I do. I found out that somebody is stealing ammunition from the base ammo dump and then selling it to gangs in New York City. Did you hear anything about that?”

“No, sir, but I understand you can make a lot of serious money that way.”

“That reminds me, Carlos, aren’t you from New York…and how in the devil did you afford that new Cadillac on what the government pays you?”

“I’m very thrifty, sir.”

“Oh well, never mind. I have a brilliant plan to catch the thieves, which will make me a hero and guarantee my promotion. Meet me here at twenty-four hundred hours in camouflage uniform and black face. We’re going undercover.”

Carlos forced a smile. “I can’t wait.”

#

Sarge had us up bright and early, issued weapons at the armory, loaded on a truck, and headed out to the firing range faster than you could say, dead soldier. Today we got to fire the M-16–the weapon of choice for U.S. soldiers in Vietnam. I had hunted rabbits before with a twenty-gauge shotgun, but the M-16 was a frickin’ machine gun. Visions of “Baby Face” Nelson blasting his way out of a robbed bank rippled through my head.

I smiled enviously at one of my platoon mates who had fallen asleep curled up inside the truck’s spare tire (mounted inside the canvas cover on the back wall of the cab). I had a hard time grabbing a catnap, unlike most of the others, who seemed to nod off at every opportunity.

Arriving at the range, we lined up to receive our instructions. Today, instead of a traditional fixed bull’s eye target, each rifleman would face human-shaped cardboard targets that would pop up on a random basis, either obscured by vegetation or out in the open, anywhere within a twenty-foot wide individual shooting lane. The targets, spaced out from 50 to 300 yards, were of an enemy soldier standing or kneeling and pointing a rifle at you.

Before starting with the targets, the instructor had us set the assault rifle to a single shot with the switch on the right side of the mid-stock area then squeezed off a few rounds to get a feel for the M-16. The weapon fired like a dream with very little kick. The instructor had us then switch to fully automatic. I pulled the M-16 tight to my shoulder, held my breath, and squeezed the trigger. My barrel started to rise as a steady stream of bullets kicked up dust in a straight line a hundred yards out. What a rush!

Test drive over, we dropped into a prone position. “Lock and load,” commanded the instructor. I dropped out the empty cartridge and shoved home the second clip I’d been given. “Firers, watch your lanes.”

I peered down the sightline. A soldier’s torso sprang up about 75 yards away on the right in some tall grass. I squeezed the trigger and smiled with satisfaction as the target dropped. Not everybody got lucky, so after twenty seconds the missed targets went back down on their own. The instructor told us the most important thing was to take out the target, so we should fire as many times as necessary. Armed and ready, we waited for the next command. “Firers, watch your lanes.”

This time, a full-length soldier popped up about fifty yards away, half-hidden behind a tree on the left. One quick burst and down he went. Tex hollered from the next lane over, “Way to go Eli. Show no mercy.” I nodded as he took out his target.

I impatiently waited for the next cue, because I knew what was coming next. “Firers, watch your lanes.” Up popped a new target, but this time, instead of a North Vietnamese soldier, each target had Sergeant Wolinski’s face pasted on it. A thunderous explosion of bullets shredded Wolinski’s picture in all twenty firing lanes. When the dust cleared, not a single target remained standing.

Sarge raced over to my position and bellowed, “Goddamn it, Jones.”

I looked up at him. “But Sarge, we just set a firing-range record. You said you’d do anything to improve the platoon’s shooting.” Wolinski clenched his fists, and from the color of his face, his blood pressure must have hit 200 over 80. None of the platoon members dared laugh, but I’ll bet the guys were all grinning on the inside.

We finished the training and vastly improved our overall scores. But instead of getting praised, Sarge forced us to run back to the barracks. Once again, I was picked to jog around the formation. Wolinski rode beside us in the truck all the way home, offering a steady stream of curses, mostly directed at me.

#

When Carlos arrived, Colonel Clark sat behind his desk, a glass of whiskey in his hand, staring out the window. The only light in the room came from a small lamp on the desk. Carlos could tell the Colonel had been there for a while from the half-empty fifth of Jack Daniels sitting next to the lamp.

“Ah, there you are, Carlos,” Clark remarked with more than a hint of slurring in his normal speech pattern. “Why do you have black all over your face? Are you appearing in a minstrel?”

“No, sir, I’m here to help you on a mission, remember?”

“Of course, I always have a firm grip on what’s happening. I’m the division commander.” Clark leaned too far back in his swivel desk chair, which shot out from under him, causing the good Colonel to crash hard to the floor. He quickly pulled himself back up to a standing position. Using the desk for support, he tried to look composed. “So, tell me again, why are we here so late?”

“You told me that we planned to go undercover tonight and discover who is stealing from the ammo dump.”

“That’s right, you fool. Why do you think I sent for you? Let’s going get.”

Carlos raised one eyebrow. “Are you sure you want to do this tonight? Maybe we should wait until you’re feeling better.”

“Nonsense, I haven’t felt this relaxed since I got a “happy ending” massage at a bath house in Kyoto…and I’ve waited too many years already. Come on, Carlos, you wimp. Let’s go catch a thief.” With that pronouncement, Clark marched straight into the closet and closed the door behind him.

Carlos muttered under his breath, “They don’t pay me enough.” He sighed and then knocked on the closet door.

A muffled voice came from inside the closet. “Yes, what is it?”

“You are in the closet, sir.”

“I know. Any moron can see that I am in the closet. I thought it might be cold and I wanted my coat.”

“Your coat is out here, sir, lying on the couch.”

“Fine, excellent, let’s go then,” said the muffled voice.

Nothing happened. There were a few moments of silence, and then Clark stage-whispered, “Carlos?”

“I’m still here, sir.”

“I seem to be stuck. Would you mind helping me?”

“Not at all, sir.” Carlos opened the door and there stood Clark entangled amongst the hangers, outerwear, and uniforms; his face buried in a wool overcoat. The Colonel quickly leaped backward–sucking in as much air as possible.

“Thank you, Carlos. You may have saved my life.”

“No problem. Shall we go?”

The colonel nodded. Avoiding direct eye contact with Carlos, he turned and stormed out of the office, with his aide-de-camp a few steps behind.

****

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Book Series – Drafted – Chapter Ten

Book Series – Drafted – Chapter Ten

Tex strolled into Company ‘C’ headquarters. “Hey, Professor, how’s it hanging?”

“Straight as an arrow, a little to the left, thanks for asking.”

“Whoa, too much information. Did you obtain what I asked about?” Tex slipped him a $100 bill.

The Professor nodded. “You bet. I dug up all kinds of dirt on Eli’s draft board. He’s not the first questionable draftee by any means. Look at this article in Life Magazine.”

Tex flipped through the marked pages and the rest of the information. “This is great. I want you to put all this stuff into an envelope and mail it to my daddy. In a couple of days, I’ll call him and make something happen.

“Eli is lucky to have a friend like you.”

“I’m just making this world a better place for my buddies.”

 #

Sarah started her day the same as she always did since becoming an Army nurse. Up at the crack of dawn, a quick shower, then after donning her crisp, white nurse’s uniform, she drove her assigned jeep to the base hospital, arriving at oh-seven-hundred hours.

Just inside the entrance, she grimaced at the hand-colored picture of the stern-faced base commander, General Herbert Wolf, with his pencil-thin mustache, hanging next to a photograph of the commander-in-chief, President Lyndon Baines Johnson. Sarah hurried along the black and white square floor tiles, past the functional plain gray walls, until she reached the elevator, which she took to the sixth-floor nurse’s station.

She signed in, picked up her chart and began her morning rounds, starting with sickbay. Military procedure called for all soldiers, even if dying, to rise up when revelry sounded at oh-six-hundred hours, make their hospital bed, and then sit in the hard wooden chair beside it until the doctor or nurse showed up. It didn’t make any sense, but it didn’t have to…this was the Army.

Sarah picked up a tray with a bottle of aspirin and several small paper cups filled with pink Cool-Aid and entered the “upper respiratory infection” ward. She got her usual amount of whistles and woo woos. “Okay, boys, you all behave now.” She turned away so they couldn’t see her smile, secretly pleased that her package still delivered.

The soldiers each wore a blue hospital pajama bottom and a white T-shirt with his last name stenciled in black letters on the front. Sarah handed each one, in turn, an aspirin and a cup of pink panther piss–the affectionate name given by the patients to the administered Cool-aid drink.

“What’s the chance of getting some penicillin or anti-biotic, darling?” One soldier asked.

“Slim to none,” said Sarah, “but you boys will be just fine.” She drew out the word “fine” at the end, which gave away her birth state of Georgia, although she hadn’t lived there for more than ten years now. It didn’t make much sense to Sarah to keep forty men locked up in one big room with no ventilation, coughing on each other like crazy, and spreading germs, but she accepted it as hospital policy, along with not distributing any penicillin.

The doctor arrived at the upper respiratory infection ward right after Sarah finished handing out the cool-aid and aspirin. He started his examinations with the first soldier on the right side of the room. The man held up his T-shirt, while the physician listened to his breathing with a stethoscope. If the Doc heard a raspy sound, “One more day of bed rest.” If the lungs sounded clear, “back to duty.”

The fifth soldier being examined leaned close and whispered, “Doc, please let me out of here or give me some penicillin. I am going to die in this crappy room unless I can escape from all these sick people and sleep.” He slipped a twenty-dollar bill into the doctor’s pocket.

The doctor smiled and announced, “Nurse, release this soldier with a three-day pass.” The other patients moaned in envy as the happy man ran out the door shouting, “I’m free! I’m free!

Doc finished up and hurried out the door, nurturing the hope of another round of golf before night fell or the fall weather turned nasty. Sarah gathered up all the empty cups in a plastic bag and tossed them down a trash chute outside the ward entrance, and walked back to the nurse’s station to write up the morning report. She thought Free car, free housing, surrounded by single men, and they still pay me every month. Nope, not a bad life at all.

Mary, one of the other nurses on duty, asked Sarah. “So, how did the inoculations go with the new soldiers the other day?”

“Well, the usual number of macho guys fainted and we played Florence Nightingale. One rather cute, funny young man did catch my eye and…”

Mary interrupted. “Be careful now, you know the rules about dating trainees, and your father would go ballistic.”

“I’m over twenty-one, so it’s none of his business…and I’ve done nothing with Eli…yet.”

“You are so bad! Is that his name, Eli?”

“Yep, first one I ever met. Wonder what he’s doing now.”

#

Eli, along with the rest of Bravo Company, shuffled out of the barracks and into the cold morning for reveille. “Watch where you walking,” growled Sam, as Horowitz stepped on his foot for the third time.

“Where in the hell’s the flag,” muttered Steve, squinting toward the center of the field as he raised his hand in the salute.

Wolinski, as usual, had his face in mine. “Did you shave this morning, Private Jones? And take off those damn sunglasses!”

“You still need to send me to the eye doctor.”

“You always come up with an excuse. Ask the Professor.”

Wolinski walked up to Horowitz. “You are a slob. Your uniform is a mess and your shirt isn’t tucked in properly. What did you do, rub dirt on those boots? I want to see my face reflected in those toes.”

“Yes, Drill Sergeant.” Harry meekly replied.

Wolinski looked disgusted. “And grow yourself a pair of balls.”

This particular morning, the needle got stuck again, and the same reveille passage kept playing over and over. We eventually got tired of waiting, gave up, and wandered off to breakfast.

#

Wolinski pretty much stayed in a foul mood 24 hours a day. After his latest tirade, he had Bravo platoon assigned to kitchen police for five straight days with no sign of a reprieve. I hated KP. It consisted of the worse jobs in the mess hall, like peeling hundreds of potatoes until your fingers bled or facing a sink overflowing with endless greasy pots and pans that never came clean.

“I’ll bet Sarge is upset because our platoon has the worst marks in the whole battalion on the firing range,” said Sam.

I agreed. “I’m putting together a plan about how we can improve our shooting and convince Sarge to give us a break.”

“What is it?”

“You’ll find out real soon…”

#

We were sitting around the barracks killing a half-hour before our next training class. Steve snored away on his bunk while the platoon radio played a song called “Cherry Cherry” by a new singer-songwriter named Neil Diamond. Sam sat on his footlocker reading a letter from home while I plotted how to sneak past Sarge to see Sarah again.

Suddenly the door slammed open and in stormed Wolinski. The Professor followed three-feet behind with a yellow number-two pencil in one hand and a clipboard in the other. Private Horowitz, the first soldier in the first bunk on the north end of the building, announced “Platoon, attention.”

“Louder, you idiot,” commanded Wolinski.

“Attention?” Horowitz tried again.

“What did you say, Horowitz?” Tex asked, and then spotting Sarge, he yelled, “PLATOON, ATTENTION!” Steve sat straight up in his top bunk, fell hard to the floor, and then hobbled up next to me–still in his stocking feet.

“Prepare for inspection,” announced the Professor. “Open up your lockers and then wait at the foot of your bunk.” His job was to follow Sarge around the room and mark down each discovered infraction on his clipboard.

Sarge began with Horowitz. He sat aside the upper tray in his footlocker and then started tearing things out of the bottom and throwing them in a random pattern around the room. “Unauthorized,” noted Sarge, heaving a pair of blue bunny slippers into the air, which luckily Tex saw coming and ducked in time.

Sarge moved next to Horowitz’s wall locker, where he spied a full-length poster hung inside the door. “No pin-ups allowed,” Sarge said, ripping it down. But before tossing it, he took a closer look at the blow-up photo of an elderly woman with a round face, short hair, and dark business suit. “Who the hell is this, your mother?”

“It’s Golda Meir, Sarge,” said Harry.

“Who?”

“She’ll soon be the new premier of Israel and my hero. You know, Golda’s of Russian descent.”

Sarge crumpled up the poster and threw it to the floor. “No political or commie posters either. Write that down.” The Professor scribbled on his paper, Golda Meir, and then drew a line through it.

“Clean up this mess,” Sarge commanded Horowitz.

“Yes, Drill Sergeant,” Horowitz replied.

Turning to Tex, Sarge said, “This area isn’t too bad, Private Riley.”

“Thank you, Sarge. I hired a soldier to come in and tidy up twice a week.”

Sarge frowned. “Well, your area might be in order, but you are in terrible shape. Stand up straight. Suck in that gut.” Sarge slapped Tex in the stomach with the back of his hand–reacting when he hit something hard. “What the hell have you got under there?”

Sarge pulled Tex’s shirt out and discovered a brown money belt, stuffed full of $100 bills. “My God, there must be $5,000 here. What’s with all the cash?”

“I don’t normally carry that much, but I just got a care package from home.”

“Most soldiers receive brownies. I don’t like you, Riley. You’re some goddamn Army reserve puke who bought his way out of serving. Just because you’re rich doesn’t make you a better man. Professor, mark him down for guard duty.”

The Professor started writing on his chart, but when the Sarge turned away to leave, Tex slipped the clerk one of those Franklin bills. The Professor smiled, slipped it discretely into his pocket, and began vigorously erasing Tex’s name.

Sarge arrived at my bunk. “Eli, other than your footlocker display, this area is a disgrace. Your bed looks slept in.”

“Oh no, Sergeant, I stood beside it all night.”

“Try again.” Sarge grabbed the edge of the mattress and shoved my blankets, sheets, and pillow onto the floor. He tried to pick up my toothbrush from its proper spot, but it didn’t move. Sarge gave it another yank and the whole display came out in his hand. “Tell me you didn’t glue your toothbrush to the towel.”

“Okay, I didn’t glue my toiletries to the towel. That would be as stupid as laying it out in a display.”

Sarge sneered. “Professor, mark down this smart ass for guard duty for the next three nights.”

The Professor shrugged…what can I do?

By the time Sarge tore up every display on the first and second floor, the barracks looked like a small tornado had hit it. “You have one hour to clean up this mess and dispose of any unauthorized items. Following the cleanup, I want you in full combat gear and ready for a ten-mile run. You are all lazy sons-of-bitches and I have been too soft on you pond scum. That is going to change.” He turned and stormed out.

Sam said, “Damn if this is easy, what’s his version of hard?”

Tex said, “That man’s got a burr under his saddle for sure. Come on, guys, let’s get to work.”

*********************************************************************************

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Book Series — DRAFTED — Chapter 9

Book Series — DRAFTED — Chapter 9

CHAPTER NINE

The next day we got up at our normal oh-six-hundred hours, packed up everything we owned in our duffel bag (the Army had found a place for me to store my guitar, golf clubs, and tennis racquet until after basic training). We waited in formation while an officer read the new platoon assignments. They assigned Steve, Tex and me to Sergeant Wolinski, along with several new guys.

Soon as they called out the last soldier assign to our platoon, Wolinski went to work.

“You are the sorriest bunch of recruits to ever stand before me. They had to drag the bottom of the barrel to come with this bunch of misfits. How in the hell am I supposed to whip you pussies into shape? I’m no goddamn miracle worker. If you maintain any hope of graduating, then for the next seven weeks, remember, I am your god, mother, and priest all rolled into one. You don’t walk, talk, think or take a shit unless I tell you to. IS THAT CLEAR?”

“YES, DRILL SERGEANT!”

“Wonder where he wants us to take our shit?” I whispered to Tex, who only smiled, but in his row, a five-foot-three, rotund, Jewish-looking soldier, wearing an ill-fitting uniform and black round horn-rimmed glasses, broke out laughing.

Wolinski roared over and stood in front of the still chuckling, overweight recruit, “I told you attention. Lock those knees and stand up straight.”

“I am at attention, sir, my uniform is at ease.”

“Sir,” Sarge exploded. “Do I look like a fuckin wimpy officer to you? Now sound off like you’ve got a pair.”

“Yes, drill sergeant,” said the draftee in the same meek voice.

“What’s your name, dick-wad?

“Horowitz, sir. Private Harry Horowitz.”

“Well, Horowitz, it is going to give me great pleasure to grind your pansy, chubby-cheeked little body into the ground. Now drop down and give me fifty.”

“I don’t carry that much cash on me. Would you take a check?”

Wolinski went nose-to-nose with Horowitz. “No, you stupid shit…do fifty push-ups and count ’em out.”

“Fifty pushups, sir,” Horowitz said, his voice shaking, “I can’t do five.”

Sarge exploded. “NO THINKING! I told you maggots not to think. I give an order, you obey without question. I say jump, you say how high. IS THAT CLEAR? …AND QUIT CALLING ME, SIR. I WORK FOR A LIVING!”

“YES, DRILL SERGEANT!” We all shouted.

“Now, Horowitz, are you going to start doing pushups, or do I have to beat you to death with this rod.”

Harry took a deep breath and bellowed as loud as he could, “YES, DRILL SERGEANT!”

Horowitz dropped to the ground and strained to push his body off the ground, but his big stomach and short arms made it impossible. He started his quivering mound of flesh rocking back and forth, resembling a turtle on its back, struggling to right itself. It was the funniest damn thing I’d ever seen. Every time he pitched forward, Horowitz let out a whoosh and shouted, “One,” followed by “Drill Sergeant.” Even Wolinski had to turn away.

We eventually lost the front two rows to gales of laughter, which got worst when Harry looked up, his glasses perched precariously on the end of his nose. Sarge seized the opportunity to harass the rest of us. “You jokers think he is so damn funny, drop down and join him.”

“YES, DRILL SERGEANT!” We shouted in unison.

When we started knocking them out, I couldn’t resist asking the guy next to me, “Hey buddy, is that a pushup or did you lose your girl?”

With the whole platoon soon laughing so hard that tears ran down our faces, Sarge went ballistic. “Jones, you are a goddamn smartass. Pick up your duffel bag and put it over your head and hold it there until I tell you to drop it. The rest of you worthless piles of dung…ON YOUR FEET! Forget riding on a bus to your new quarters, we’re going to run. Sling those bags. RIGHT FACE! No, Horowitz, the other way. Jones, start running clockwise around the formation with your bag held high above your head–and don’t you dare drop it. DOUBLE-TIME, MARCH” The platoon moaned but moved out on command.

Sweat rolled down my forehead, and stung my eyes, as I jogged around the formation. I reached exhaustion after the first mile, but wouldn’t quit. Whenever Wolinski looked my way, I managed to give him a smile–no satisfaction from me, you bastard.

Some of the platoon members weren’t going to make it. Their heavy duffel bag kept swinging into their bodies and knocking them down. Wolinski finally called the platoon to a halt. Most fell to the ground, gasping for air. I dropped my bag, bent forward, and took long deep breaths, trying not to heave. My arms shook. No way I could have lasted much longer.

“You pukes had better take this training seriously. What you learn here just might save your sorry ass in Vietnam. Now form up ranks. Eli, back in line.”

We did as requested–without laughter this time–and arrived without further incident at our new barracks. A thin, pasty-white gentleman entered soon after, wearing Harry Potter-type glasses and carrying an official-looking clipboard. He announced, “Bravo platoon, I’m the Professor, company clerk, and the person to see if you want anything. When I call out your name, come forward and pick up a set of name tags for your lockers–Pat Riley?”

“Here, y’all,” said Tex in his southwestern drawl.

“Steve Butler?”

“Here.”

“Harry Horowitz?”

“I’m Horowitz,” the pushup champ said, sticking his head out from behind his bunk.

“Stand up when the Professor calls your name.” I joked.

“I am standing up.” Harry protested.

“And you must be Eli.” The Professor handed me my tags.

“Why did you guys laugh at me?” Harry asked as he joined the gang gathered at the foot of Steve’s bunk.

“Sorry, Harry,” said Tex. “Your pushups were too much to watch.”

“I guess I did appear pretty silly.”

“So, what’s your story, Harry?” asked the Professor. “Did your mother want you to join the Army to become a man too?”

“Heavens, no, I’m in the New York National Guard. After basic, I’m headed home to work in my father’s jewelry store.”

I smacked myself in the head. “Why didn’t I get in the National Guard?”

“Because somebody better connected took all the open spots,” said one of the new guys, a handsome Afro-American, standing nearly six-foot-two, very muscular, and weighing about two-ten.

“Greetings, fellow draftee,” I said. “Who might you be?”

“Samuel Goodwyn, if it’s any of your goddamn business.”

“Take it easy, my friend. Tex and Harry here may have beaten the system, but Steve and I are in the same stinking, sinking boat as you.”

“If we were in a boat together, you’d probably make me row.”

“Not in a thousand years,” I said.

“Me neither,” frowned Steve, “Who rained on your parade?”

“An unproportionate number of black men are dying in Vietnam…and right before I start my junior year at the University of Alabama, they draft my sorry ass into the Army. Can’t say I’m real happy about it.”

“Wait a minute,” I said, “are you the two-time, all-American, pro-scouted, a thousand yards a season, Sam Goodwyn?”

“You know me?”

“Are you kidding? Everybody in America knows you.”

“Yeah, well, the Army doesn’t give a rat’s ass about football,” said Sam. Nobody disagreed.

Our discussion broke up when Sarge ordered us outside to draw our weapons so we could practice close order drill. Off we went at a trot. “Listen up pond scum. When I sing out a line, you repeat it each time your left foot hits the ground. Ready? I don’t know, but I’ve been told.”

“I don’t know, but I’ve been told.” The platoon responded.

“Eskimo pussy’s mighty cold.”

“Eskimo pussy’s mighty cold.”

“Sound off.”

“Sound off.”

“Bring it on down–now you say…”

We nailed it on the first try, “One, two, three, four…one-two…three-four!”

Holy cow, Bravo Platoon, Charlie Company, running and singing at the same time. Next, we’d try simultaneously rubbing our stomachs and patting our heads. Our talent knew no bounds.

We sang another verse. “G.I beans and G.I gravy, gee I wished I’d join the Navy.” This time, a few guys harmonized. Sarge said we were “sounding good.”

We arrived six blocks later at the armory, a brick building with bars on all the windows. Inside we formed a line against the wall across from a metal mesh cage. They kept the rifles stored in double-deck gun racks behind a locked metal door. The sergeant had each trainee go into the cage one at a time and return with a bolt-action rifle with a wooden stock and a simple v-notch sight.

Once we all had a weapon, Wolinski stood in front of the platoon and demonstrated our new toy. “This is the M-1 carbine. It is an accurate weapon when used properly and will kill you dead anywhere within 100 to 250 yards. In combat, this baby is your favorite mistress–you will sleep with it, eat with it, and keep it by your side at all times.”

“Hey, Sarge,” said Steve. “This isn’t the gun they show on TV.”

“No oatmeal for brains, it isn’t. That weapon is an M-16–a fine killing machine that rarely jams. But first you need to learn how to break the M-1 down, reassemble it, and qualify with the weapon on the firing range, then you’ll train on the M-16. But in the meantime, understand this, the M-1 is a rifle, not a gun.”

“What’s the difference, Sarge?” Tex asked.

“I’m going to teach you a poem, so you’ll never forget. This is my rifle.” Sarge held it aloft. “This is my gun.” He grabbed his crotch. “This is for shooting.” He pumped the rifle up and down twice. “This is for fun.” Sarge squeezed his crotch twice. “All right you guys try it.”

Sarge was right. I would never forget the difference between a gun and a rifle, or he might force us to do the stupid poem and hand motions a second time.

Wolinski continued the training. “Okay, men, let’s learn some basic rifle commands. When I say dress right, extend your right arm, and turn your head right–everybody except the last man in line, who keeps his head forward. At the same time, all, except the first man, start shuffling right until your fingertips touch your buddy’s shoulder. When I say “ready front,” drop your arm and face forward. Got it?”

From the confused looks on the faces around me, I could see disaster coming, but Sarge pressed on. “Platoon, attention. Dress right, dress!”

You could only describe what followed as a first-class clusterfuck. Rifles dropped, soldiers crashed into each other, and when some guys stuck out their left hand instead of their right, they poked the eyes of guys that turned the correct way. Horowitz managed to launch his rifle in a nice arc that terminated with a thud into the back of Tex’s helmet, thereby knocking the tall recruit to the ground.

“STOP!” Wolinski screamed. The veins on his neck popped out like a weightlifter hoisting 600 pounds. We all froze in our ridiculous individual poses. Sarge pushed his way through to Harry and shook him like a terrier shakes a rat until Horowitz began to cry. “You are the dumbest fuck I have ever met.”

“Take it easy Sarge,” I said. “He made a mistake.”

Without warning, he turned and smacked me across the face with the back of his hand. “Shut up, Jones.”

The slap stung and made my jaw ache. I fought a powerful urge to hit him back–instead, settling for the most hateful stare I could muster.

When Tex recovered, the platoon managed to move an arms-length apart, execute a right should arm, a left face, becoming ready to move out. For the next several hours, we practiced left face, right face, about face, to the rear march, right and left shoulder arms and parade rest until Wolinski looked satisfied.

By the time we finished our evening chores of buffing the floors and cleaning the latrines, we were ready to hit the sack. Somebody had a transistor radio tuned to WABC in New York City and the singsong voice of deejay, Cousin Brucie. He introduced “Sunshine Superman” by Donovan and the rocking bass line soon had everybody in the barracks humming along.

Lying in our bunks, I said to Steve, “Sarge has always been mean, but today we witnessed his cruel side.”

“Harry is still upset, and I can’t believe he backhanded you.”

“The man is crazy.”

“Isn’t what he did illegal or something?” Steve asked.

“I don’t know, but he’d better not try it again–even if he does catch me sneaking out of the barracks.”

Steve shook his head. “Oh, no…what are you planning now?”

“I want to see Sarah again.”

“Is she the nurse you met when we got our shots?”

“Yeah, I’m going to ask her to play doctor.”

“You’ll never sneak past Wolinski.”

I grinned at Steve. “Wanna bet?”

***************************************************************************

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Drafted (2017)- Chapter Eight

Drafted (2017)- Chapter Eight

The bright overhead lights, combined with Wolinski yelling in my ear, rudely woke me. “Get your lazy ass out of bed. This isn’t summer camp. Every swinging dick shit, shower, shave, and be outside in uniform in ten minutes.”

Ten minutes? I can’t get one eye open in ten minutes. “What the hell time is it?”

“Oh-six-hundred hours, college puke–practically mid-morning,” Sarge said. “Now get going!”

I rolled out of bed, narrowly missing getting my head crushed by Steve leaping from the top bunk at the same time. As the other recruits raced toward the bathroom with toilet kit and towel in hand, I started groping in my footlocker for my prescription lenses.

“What are you looking for?” Steve asked.

“Help me find my sunglasses.”

“Sunglasses? Are you crazy? It’s pitch black outside.”

“I can’t put my contacts in yet. My eyes are still bloodshot from yesterday.”

By the time I found my glasses and reached the head, the ten available sinks were already filled with recruits shaving, or spitting out toothpaste. The open shower area featured another dozen bare-ass boys scrubbing under streaming nozzles. The rest of the gang were taking a leak at the six-foot long open trough or making poo in the white porcelain stalls. Steve and I waited for an opening.

We didn’t make it in ten minutes. “Nice of you to join us,” yelled Wolinski. Then he spotted my sunglasses. “What are you…some kind of goddamn celebrity?”

“Yeah, I’m Greta Garbo. These are prescription.” I yawned and pulled out the eye doctor’s note. “Here’s an officer’s excuse.”

“You just look for ways to piss me off, don’t you? I’m going to make your life so miserable…”

“Shucks, Sarge, you don’t have to treat me special. I am already blessed by the mere warmth of your presence.”

“Shut up, Jones.”

The sun still hadn’t come up yet. I could barely make out all the soldiers standing around a parade ground where Sarge had called our platoon to a halt. A distant shadow in the center of the open area shouted “Battalion!”

A second, closer figure, hollered, “Company!”

Wolinski followed with “Platoon!”

Then the first shadow man yelled again, “Atten-hut.”

With that command, 180 soldiers snapped to attention. This required a leap of faith on our part because we had to assume that “Atten-hut” and “Attention” were the same word. We repeated the process, but this time, the commander said, “Hand Salute,” as they hoisted the American flag.

Each soldier raised his right hand to his baseball cap brim. After twenty seconds of silence, we heard a needle skip, at earsplitting volume, work its way across a record; and then repetitively thump, thump, thump when it reached the inside ring. “Damn it,” cursed our unseen disc jockey through the four bullhorn speakers mounted on poles surrounding the parade ground. He tried again. The needle hit the groove and a bugle blared out the strains of reveille amidst the pops and crackles of a well-worn recording.

At the conclusion of the music, shadow man yelled “Two.” Two what I wondered, but dropped my salute with the others. Wolinski told us “At Ease” and showed us how to stand with our feet shoulder width apart and our hands behind our backs–one hand holding the opposite wrist.

This is at ease? I reminisced. No, at ease is leaning back in my lifeguard chair with the warm sun on my body, checking out the babes, and watching a colorful butterfly flap his wings while perched on my big toe. Sarge’s voice brought me back to reality.

“Tomorrow you will receive your final platoon assignments, and begin basic infantry training. Some of you will stay with me. Others will be assigned to different barracks. You jokers have any questions?”

“I’m going to miss you, Sarge,” I said.

“Oh no, Jones…I made sure you were assigned to my platoon.”

Lucky me, I thought, as Wolinski escorted us once again to chow.

When everyone finished eating, Sarge marched us to a building that resembled a high school gymnasium. “At ease,” grumbled Wolinski, “Smoke ’em if you got ’em…and don’t forget to field strip your butts.”

“Oh, I like the sound of that,” said one soldier.

“Who is that guy?” Steve asked.

“Not sure, but I suggest not dropping the soap in the shower when he’s around.”

We entered the gym and joined a lengthy green military conga line that terminated at a gauntlet of medical corpsmen, three on a side, each holding a pneumatic needle gun with a small glass vial of medicine sitting on top. The corpsmen looked really bored doing 200 guys without a break, one right after another. I prayed they were changing the needle often, or it would be very dull by our turn.

Thirty minutes later, we were told to take off our fatigue shirt and roll up our T-shirt sleeves on both sides–like the hoods used to do in high school. I watched one man jerk when he felt the gun, causing the needle to punch a series of holes across his arm and leave a trail of blood in its wake. Ugh!

I have been never too keen on getting shots. Once as a kid, during a free polio vaccination, a nurse hit a muscle and broke the needle off in my arm. It happened at the Clark County health clinic in 110-degree heat with no air conditioning. I’m standing there in pain while the staff frantically looked for something to pull it out. A janitor finally produced a pair of pliers and removed the three-inch sliver of metal, followed by a spurt of blood. I made it to the top of the stairs before fainting dead away.

Apparently, I wasn’t the only one appearing woozy today. A dozen cots had been set up on the far side of the gym and a lovely group of Army nurses attended several prone soldiers.

A loud, tall, skinny drink of water just ahead of me in line temporarily distracted my attention from the nurses. “This ain’t nothing to worry ’bout. Why my grandfather fought at the Alamo. Now there was a good fight. I’ve had wildcats scratch me worst then this while inspecting our oil wells. No little bitty shot can scare any Texan worth his salt. Bring it on. Hook ’em horns.” He extended his arms and fingers in a University of Texas pose.

One glance at old Tex’s round baby face and I could tell he was scared shitless, but to his credit, he never dropped his bravado. “Everything is going to be just fine. Trust me, boys.” Tex turned to the first medic and held a single bill aloft. “One hundred dollars for whoever does the best job.”

“Yes sir,” the corpsmen responded in unison and proceeded to ease him through the line, using regular needles instead of the guns. Of course, they switched right back after Tex went through. One guy almost shot me twice in the side of the head. You can’t blame them. A hundred bucks is nearly a whole month’s salary for a lot of soldiers.

Tex said, “See, not so bad.” Then his eyes rolled back and he fainted dead away. Fortunately, we caught him, before he dashed out his brains on the gym floor.

A nurse came over, knelt down, and felt Tex’s pulse. “Please pick him up and put him on that empty cot over there.”

“Where’s my hundred?” One of the corpsmen cried out.

“You’ll have to wait until he’s conscious,” I yelled back.

The nurse laughed. I asked her, “So, what’s your name?”

“Lieutenant Clark,” she said, “and thanks for helping.”

Lieutenant Clark was blond, about five-foot-five, with very shapely legs and dressed in a white nurse’s uniform and cap. She had small features, but full lips and a slightly upturned nose. I could easily be in love and couldn’t help staring as she applied a cold compress to Tex’s forehead.

“Why don’t you take a picture, it’ll last longer,” she smiled.

“I would if I had a camera, and then keep it next to my heart always,” I replied.

“Aren’t you the smooth talker? It couldn’t have been that long since you’ve been with a woman.”

“No, it hasn’t, but all others pale in comparison. Do you think I could visit you sometime and maybe share an ice cream cone, or a shower?”

She laughed again. “Maybe…after your hair grows back, cue ball.” She patted me where my hair used to be. Embarrassed, I started to respond but got interrupted when Tex opened his eyes and sat up.

“What happened?” Tex asked. “Everything went black.”

“You bit the dust, but this pretty little filly brought you back to life,” I said.

“How are you, soldier?” Sara asked.

“I’m just fine, ma’am,” Tex replied. “Let me give you a hundred for taking such exquisite care of me.”

“Not necessary…besides, these two gentlemen are the ones who kept you from cracking your skull open.”

Tex reached into his pocket and pulled out the biggest roll of hundred-dollar bills I had ever seen. “Well then, here’s a hundred for each of you too.”

“Why not,” said Steve, taking the bill offered. I did the same.

“There’s plenty more where that came from.” He extended his hand to me. “Howdy, I’m Pat Riley from Midlands, Texas, and the richest, orneriest, best lookin’, son-of-a-gun west of the Mississippi. You two guys are my new best friends.”

“Thanks, Tex,” I said. “Hope you don’t faint the first time Charlie takes a shot at you. He might miss and hit me.”

“Hell, I’m not going to Vietnam, boy. Senator Lucas got me in the Texas National Guard. I do my eight weeks here, one meeting a month, two weeks at camp each summer, and in five years, I’m a free man.”

“Son-of-a-bitch, why didn’t I think of that?” I related to Tex and Sarah my draft board story of woe.

“Look, partner,” proposed Tex, “If you keep me out of trouble for the rest of basic training, I’ll see what Senator Lucas can do for you.”

“Why would a Texas Senator help me?” I asked.

“If my daddy said so, Senator Lucas would run naked through the streets of Dallas crying, Save the Alamo.”

“Pat, I believe you’re right. We are going to be best friends.”

I said goodbye to Sara, with a promise to see her later, and then we went outside to wait for the others to finish. I suggested Tex use some of his cash to make sure he got assigned to Sergeant Wolinski so I could keep an eye on him. Tex said he’d make the arrangements with the Professor.

“Who’s that?” Steve asked.

Tex explained, “He’s our company clerk. He got the nickname because he holds a Ph.D. in English.”

“What the heck is he doing in the Army?” I asked.

Tex said, “That’s the good part of the story. The Professor had always been a mama’s boy–you know, thirty years old, a virgin, and still living at home. One day, his mom kicks him out and tells him, time to become a man. So, instead of moving into an apartment and getting laid, he has a brain fart and joins the Army. After he failed basic training three times straight, the Army assigned him permanently to Fort Dix as a clerk.”

“Unbelievable,” said Steve.

Wolinski had begun gathering his flock, so we bid Tex adios, and rejoined our platoon. After chow, we got fitted for our class “A” dress uniforms and issued our combat web harness complete with canteen, ammo pouch, compass, and rain poncho. Sarge next marched us to the Post Exchange (PX) to pick up a few personal supplies.

Later after lights out, Steve said, “You know, Eli, so far the Army isn’t so bad. We’re paid a salary, given three square meals a day, free housing, clothing and laundry service, and all we have to do is sit around or stand in line.”

“Yeah, just like prison. And someday soon, somebody, somewhere, will order you to kill another human being, before they kill you.”

Steve sighed, “Oh yeah, I forgot about that part.”

2nd-edition-2016