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Some of the strange people that I have worked with.
During my 16 years in the military I met a lot of characters. I thought I might put several of them together in one article. I hope that I’m not the only one who thinks that they were noteworthy.
The whole group that I worked with at SOMS Comm-Elect at MCAS Beaufort, South Carolina, was a little odd. I think we were only making about $100 a month at the time so opportunities for recreation were rare. On the weekends things could get very strange. One of the people that I worked with liked to perch on top of his wall locker in a generally bird-like pose, for long periods of time. When asked what he was doing he would say, “I’m an eagle.” If he had only done it once or twice if might have seemed like a joke, but he did it pretty regularly, to the point where people got used to it. That wasn’t as bad as the Corporal who liked to close himself into a wall locker, spray the walls with lighter fluid and then set it on fire. He was caught doing that twice that I know of.
Another of our Corporals had a 1962 Chevy Nova 4-door. (Few of us had cars at the time and his Nova barely qualified if at all.) The floorboards in front were rusted out which was convenient because the speedometer didn’t work and we all got to be pretty good at estimating our speed from watching the pavement rushing by through the holes in the floor. The down side was that the front seat would fall over backwards at inconvenient times. It also didn’t have first gear or reverse. I remember that we had a new years party at our shop once and he showed up already six or seven sheets to the wind, with two 1 gallon jugs of ‘Salty Dogs’, one made with gin and the other with tequila. That turned into quite a party. Then the Military Police showed up needing a radio repaired. (We were responsible for most of the mobile radios on the air station.) Just to show that I am not above a little inappropriate behavior myself, I was dressed, at the time, in a complete Navy work uniform.
One of the other Corporals had the worst temper I have ever seen, and was also very large. He gave some noticeable indications before he would ‘go off’ but he liked to throw things, which often came apart when they hit whatever he threw them at. After he ripped the gearshift lever completely out of the steering column of our work van he lost his driving privileges.
Our equipment was split up into two operational sites. One for the transmitters, I think there were over 150 of them, and another site on the other side of the runway where the receivers lived. (All of this equipment was discarded by the Air Force in the late ‘50s, but it was fine for the Marine Corps’ needs.) The whole time I was there, there was one Corporal assigned to the receiver site, and the rest of our sub-unit was assigned to the transmitter site because the transmitters needed more maintenance. The only time anyone ever saw the Corporal from the receiver site, who lived off post, was on Thursdays when we drove around there to pick up his trash. At this time we were exempt from all duties other than working on radios because we were working 24 on, 24 off, 8 on and 16 off. We didn’t always see him on Thursdays, either. We found out later that he was actually going to college full-time.
I would say that the most memorable person I met in the Army was a First Sergeant I had in Germany. He got to the unit shortly before I did. There are a lot of stories about him that I won’t tell. Once he went fishing at a local trout farm. He didn’t know when he got there that he was supposed to pay for the fish when he left. He had had a few beers and decided that he didn’t want to pay for the fish, so he cleverly concealed them in the hubcaps of his car and drove back to base. He had the car towed away shortly after that. One day I was walking by the front of the barracks and I saw the company commander come flying out of the First Sergeant’s window. He landed in a heap on the lawn. The First Sergeant stuck his head out of his window and yelled, “Your wife has called 6 times today, sir, to tell me that you haven’t been home in a week. Go home, sir. Now!” and then threw the CO’s cap out the window. We were getting ready for an annual inspection at the time and the CO was very concerned about how we would do. He liked to micro-manage. He had been sleeping on a cot in his office. He wasn’t the only one who ever got thrown out that window.
The first platoon sergeant I had after I got back into the Marines would formally inspect his children and their rooms every Friday. If they didn’t pass they didn’t get to play during the weekend. One of the Staff Sergeants had apparently read the book “The Hill” because whenever his son would do something he didn’t like he would have him move a large pile of dirt from one place to another in his back yard.
We shared a ‘sand hootch’ with some Force Recon Marines at 29 Palms once. The Force Recon Marines are the Corp’s equivalent of the Army’s Rangers, only more so. I understand that they are almost as well trained as the Navy’s SEALs, but their mission isn’t quite the same. These people were all a little twitchy. They would wake up in the middle of the night and do and say the oddest things. It was more scary than funny. They had a ‘new guy’ that was trying out for the unit and he really caught hell. They called him ‘Spoon’ and they would make jokes about his mother being a spatula and his father some other kind of kitchen implement. I had difficulty relating to them and they, in turn, didn’t take us seriously.
We weren’t supposed to have alcoholic beverages in our camp but one of our Corporals volunteered to make a beer run to the main post the day before the exercise was supposed to kick off. We made a hole in the sand, lined it with canvas and filled it with ice in anticipation of his return. When the truck returned from main post he shouldered his duffel bag, with 6 12-packs of beer in it, and jumped off the back of the truck. We were sure that he had killed himself, from the way that he hit the ground, but he was up and around shortly, and we had a few beers that night. I had sun poisoning at that time and was really miserable. About half way through the first day of the exercise one of the people from the unit that I had thought didn’t particularly care for me, pulled his jeep alongside mine and handed me a beer. I doubt that any friendship gesture has ever been more gratefully received.
There were quite a few characters at the TACC Center as well. We had some officers who liked to do things like advertise their friend’s houses and vehicles as being for sale in the local papers. That was always good for a few laughs. There was one Captain from the operations side of the unit that wasn’t very popular. He was assigned to take over the weight control program at one point and immediately decided to have a surprise weigh in. (I lived in fear of weighing in for the last three years that I was in because I had problems with my back and knees which kept me from getting enough exercise to keep my weight down.) We had one Woman Marine Staff Sergeant that also feared weighing in, because she was tall and slender, a very attractive woman, and had trouble meeting the minimum weight requirement for her height. Any time a surprise weigh in was announced we had to send someone to the exchange for bananas and milk and rolls of quarters to try to get her up to the minimum. We also had a Gunnery Sergeant who was quite a joker and he and the Captain did not get along. For this weigh in the Gunnery Sergeant, who was well within his limit, borrowed someone else’s uniform top which was big enough to allow him to hang two 50-pound weights under it. When he got on the scales the Captain’s eyes bugged out. The Captain immediately stopped the proceedings and went across the street to get the company commander, who, due to the type of unit, was a Lieutenant Colonel. This particular Lieutenant Colonel was one of the best people that I ever worked for. So the Captain dragged the Colonel across the street to see that the Gunnery Sergeant had finally stepped too far over the line. Naturally, the Gunnery Sergeant had discarded the weights and weighed in well within his limits. The Colonel was unhappy and the Captain sent the scales off to be re-calibrated.
We also had a Warrant Officer that I liked a lot, who was a body builder. (He also happened to be in Dhahran during the Gulf War when the SCUD missile hit the barracks there. He didn’t talk about that very much.) After my last trip to Norway with the unit we got off the busses in the unit parking lot and were dispersed. I happened to notice that one leather Adidas athletic bag had been left in the parking lot and decided to do the right thing and carry it inside. I nearly ripped my arm out of its socket when I tried to pick that bag up. It belonged to the Warrant Officer and had two fifty pound dumb bells in it. Staff Sergeant ‘Bananas and Milk’ had to help me carry it inside.
My thanks yet again to Rory.
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