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A few more oddities of life..
One of my wifeís favorite stories is from the first time I was in Comm-Elect Schools Battalion, before it moved from MCRD San Diego to MCB 29 Palms. We had a wonderful company gunnery sergeant, a position comparable to a field first sergeant in the Army. He had been in for nearly 30 years and had fought in the Pacific during WWII and in Korea. I think he had even served a tour in Vietnam. He had so many ribbons that he had to wear the four across instead of the normal three. At the other end of the spectrum was Private Tommy Graves who came from a rural background and may not have ever worn shoes before joining the Corps. Tommy could make a uniform look wrinkled just by putting it on. Everybody liked Tommy but he just seemed out of place in the Marine Corps. One day Tommy was walking across the center of the company parade ground, a no-no in itself, with his hands in his pockets, an even bigger no-no. The company gunnery sergeant yelled at him, ďPrivate Graves, are your hands cold?Ē To which Tommy replied, ďNo, Gunny, theyíre in my pockets.Ē The company gunnery sergeant about-faced and marched off.
In my class at Air Radio Repair course there were 13 marines. Seven Privates First Class (E-2) and six Lance Corporals (E-3). The PFCs formed a union and one of them was a very vociferous advocate of PFCs rights. One night he irritated some of the Lance Corporals who stuffed him in a trash can so that he could not get out without help and then carried the trash can out into the middle of the big parade field where they set it down centered in a search light beam. I forgot to mention he was in his underwear. About 45 minutes later the Military Police brought him, and the trash can, back to our Quonset hut and told me that if anything like that ever happened again, I, as the class NCO, would be held responsible. Partly because we felt guilty, we started giving in to some of the PFCs frivolous demands. They demanded things like red lights at both ends of the Quonset hut so they could play cards late at night, and permission to throw golf balls out onto the parade field. I didnít think the golf balls were a very good idea since someone could twist an ankle, but we let them do it a few times.
We had an arsonist in the unit, too. We were billeted along the edge of the big parade ground at San Diego and there were dumpsters parked on the parade ground, at intervals, near our Quonset huts. One Friday night, one of the dumpsters caught on fire. It had to be replaced but no real damage was done. The next Friday another one caught on fire. It was still possible that it was a coincidence, but getting less likely. The next Friday, two dumpsters caught on fire. That was enough. Saturday morning the military police showed up with dogs and we were confined to our barracks for a Ďshake-downí inspection. Somewhere along the line I ended up as a scribe for one of the inspection parties because I was there when the guilty party was apprehended. He certainly didnít look like a threat to anyone, but he had more than 10 Zippo lighters and a case of cans of lighter fluid in his wall locker, which was illegal anyway, but he didnít smoke. That looked pretty suspicious. After a couple of questions he admitted that he had been setting fires but didnít give any reason. We never saw him again, and the fires stopped.
That reminds me of another incident that occurred at Fort Hood, Texas, when I was in the Cavalry. During the Vietnam era, and ever since, for that matter, the military has had some problems with the use of drugs. I really donít want to go into that although I saw a lot of it. Anyway, my unit had periodic inspections by the Military Police with drug sniffing dogs. One particular morning we were all standing in formation watching the dogs go into the barracks when we saw an unpopular turret mechanic come out and head down the stairs right past the dog which immediately alerted on one of his pants pockets. Busted in front of the whole squadron. What was he thinking?
I ran into the cruelest man that I think I have ever met while going through infantry training the first time I was in the Corps, before electronics school. He was a Corporal instructor assigned to my company. The first time he made an impression on me was when we were at a class on how to search for mines using bayonets. There were only a few lanes so we spent most of our time sitting in the bleachers watching. The bayonets were not current issue because they were very long. They may have been left over from WWI. This Corporal didnít want us getting comfortable so he started throwing bayonets, randomly, at us. That made everyone pretty uncomfortable.
The thing that he did that I might have killed him for, if he had done it to me, went as follows: He knew that one of the traineeís mothers had flown to San Diego to watch him graduate from Boot Camp. One Saturday he told the trainee to pack all of his gear, put on his dress greens and report to the company office. The trainee asked why, and the Corporal told him that the plane his mother had been flying home on had crashed and that he was being sent home on emergency leave. None of us knew what to say. We were young enough that most of us hadnít been through anything like this so we just stood around and looked sad while he packed. When he got to the company office the Corporal laughed at him and told him that it had been a joke.
I met one of my favorite characters while in Minuteman training just after I went into the Army. Iíll call him Al. We got to Fort Leonard Wood at about 0200 and had a lovely breakfast of cold sausage and partially cooked potatoes. (Not a promising start) We were issued uniforms that night and got maybe an hourís sleep before our first formation. As I was getting ready to go out the door I noticed someone still in the bathroom area trying to shave his head. This was Al and he was having problems because he had a large scar on the back of his head. He said he had decided to shave his head because his hairline was in full retreat anyway.
We moved into different barracks buildings that day. The rooms held eight people, four on each side of a low partition. Al was right across the aisle from me. The heat had not been turned on and it was mid winter with quite a bit of snow on the ground. As we were going to bed, Al pulled a pair of ladies under pants out of his bag and put them on his head. He explained that his shaved head was cold and that they belonged to one of his girl friends. Oh well.
The next morning one of the troop handlers slammed the door to the room open and yelled at us to get up. Al through a boot at him and no one ever woke us up again. I have to admit that I had great difficulty believing some of the colorful stories that Al told, but later on the most unlikely one at least appeared to be quite true. When we were all telling our sad stories about how our lives had failed miserably enough to make us decide to rejoin the military, Al told us that he was from Detroit, and that he was a pimp. He said he had rejoined because of some kind of dispute with some other pimps. He certainly didnít fit the image of pimps that I had. He was short, stocky, white and not particularly handsome. We didnít really care whether it was true or not because he was competent, dependable, and very entertaining. So, on graduation day, a stretch limo with Michigan plates on it, and several very attractive women inside, picked Al up and whisked him away. He gained a lot of credibility very quickly but I never saw him again.
My favorite Al story was from when he was assigned to an airborne unit in Germany. He said that a very large black man from his unit had done something really bad and was under house arrest. Al was assigned to be one of his guards and was armed with a loaded .45 pistol. His instructions were to shoot to kill if the prisoner tried to escape. Al said he didnít think there was much chance that the man would even try because his wrists were handcuffed behind his back and the room was on the third floor of the barracks. Al was wrong. One night the man jumped through the closed window, did a modified parachute-landing fall and was up and away in seconds. Al was so shocked that he fumbled with his holster for several seconds before he could get his pistol out. He said that he only had time to get off one shot before the man went around a corner and out of sight. Alís commanding officer was not amused. He told Al that he would be required to go to the pistol range every day, seven days a week, and qualify with his pistol. Al said that this went on for several days before the man was finally apprehended at a German hospital with a large and nasty gunshot wound in his left buttock.
Al was a paratrooper and he finally got around to telling us a few jump stories. He said that the scariest jump he had ever been on happened at night. He was the second man out the door, behind his platoon commander. Somehow he ended falling into his platoon commanderís parachute canopy. (I think he explained to me how this happened, but I donít remember now. It certainly wasnít intentional.) With Al on top of the canopy, it collapsed partially and the platoon commander started falling faster. Al couldnít see over the edge of the canopy to see how close they were to the ground, but he knew that he needed to get his canopy open as soon as possible. (He said that with air movement cut off by the canopy he was on, his had immediately collapsed. He and the platoon commander were not working well together and I think Al moved to a different platoon after this.) Al would try to crawl up the canopy to the central opening (these were the old round style parachutes) so he could hold his canopy over the hole and get it inflated. But every time he would make any significant progress the platoon commander would sideslip and Al would slide back towards the edge. He said he finally got up to the hole and was able to get his canopy partially open just as the platoon commander hit the ground and collapsed his parachute. So Al fell about thirty feet and landed in a bush. They both walked away from the landing, but they never got along after that.
Another story he told was about a very Tommy Graves like paratrooper who was assigned to carry a machine gun during a drop. Heavy equipment is supposed to be attached to a tether so that it can be released just before landing which keeps the jumper from having all that extra weight on them when they hit the ground. Al said they had a very good First Sergeant at the time, who would also be jumping that night and felt sorry for the other paratrooper, so the First Sergeant volunteered to jump with the machine gun. What the other paratrooper didnít tell him was that the release on the tether didnít work. Maybe he didnít know. Anyway, the First Sergeant wound up with a broken leg and was never required or volunteered to carry anything on a drop, other than personal equipment, after that.
One of my favorite people during my last term of service was not of the highest moral fiber, but he was good at his job, dependable, and never got in trouble. His weakness was that he liked women a little too much. Especially, it appears, women in uniform. He seems to have been quite successful in his conquests. People may think that attractive women in the military are rare and especially in the Marine Corps. Statistically, there may be fewer attractive women in the military than on the outside, but that doesnít mean there arenít any at all. (There was a woman marine instructor at comm-elect schools at MCB 29 Palms that was extremely attractive. I saw her at the weight room several times and she was also very nicely built. She had been married to a Marine once, and it worked out badly, so she had tightened up her social life to the point where she became known as the Ice Princess. Her favorite joke involved one to the two earthquakes that occurred while I was out there. She said she had called her mother to tell her that she was all right and that it was the first time that her bed had shaken in a long time.)
Anyway, my young Marineís amorous behavior first came to my attention during a field exercise. Apparently he had fallen temporarily in love with an NCO from the supply section and they had consummated the act in a boat, on a small lake in the exercise area. I was a little surprised. In all the time that I have spent in the field I very rarely heard of anything like this. Later on, we went to Norway and my Marine escorted the vans that were sent over on ship. Iím not sure how long the voyage was, but the only women along were shipís crew and so were their husbands. So my Marine had been Ďwithoutí for a while.
It turned out that he had a long-standing relationship with one of the WMs from the admin section and one day he asked if he could be assigned to the midnight shift. When I asked him why, he blithely told me that it was because she got off shift at 0200 and he wanted to have our radio van to himself for a while. (I usually took the midnight shift, and the day shift, and frequently the evening shift too. I tried not to micro-manage but I felt responsible and was the only technician, as opposed to repairman, in the radio section at the time.) I told him it was all right with me, especially since I knew that he would go home by ship, too, but hadnít told him yet. The next morning my Marine had a sneaky smile on his face and the van smelled overpoweringly of strawberries. I mean it reeked. Some time during the day I was in that van working on some equipment, and I think there was someone with me, when we received an unexpected visit from my favorite WM Staff Sergeant from the TDCC section. She opened the door wide enough to stick her head in and got a face full of hot strawberry fumes. She got a very strange look on her face and asked to speak to me outside. I donít remember what the conversation was about, but I do remember that I felt very embarrassed.
I donít suppose that armadillos can really be classed as people, but I have had two encounters with them that were noteworthy. The first one was during the time that I was attending Primary NCO Course in the Army. We had been moving fast all day and had been ambushed regularly. One of the instructors had lost a boot heel and wasnít moving very quickly, but we didnít have time for him to put on his spare boots. We were going diagonally down the shoulder of a hill on a game trail. I was in the middle of the squad carrying an M60 machine gun. Suddenly the signal to stop and kneel was passed back. There was an armadillo that must have weighed at least a kilogram standing on itís hind legs in the middle of the trail, hissing and making vaguely menacing motions with its front paws. We went around.
The second incident wasnít so funny. I was a grader mounted on a tank during night fire. This happened to be a Ďbladeí tank with the extra tons of weight and extra protection that the blade provides. We were moving along the tank trail between engagements, and moving pretty fast because it was nearly dawn. Suddenly, the driver jumped on the brakes and I went sliding forward across the top of the turret. Then I heard a crash from the rear of the tank. I had no idea what had gone wrong. I couldnít see anything in front of us that looked like a problem, but I did notice that I couldnít see the control jeep that was supposed to following us. It turned out that the jeep driver had been half asleep when the tank stopped and had run into the back of it. Our jeeps didnít have seat belts or safety glass windshields. The driver was lucky enough to be held in place by the steering wheel, but the young officer in the passengerís seat was thrown through the windshield and lost an eye.
Why did the tank stop so abruptly? The driver had seen a small armadillo, on hind legs, making menacing motions with its front paws. (I wonder if it could have been the same one.) This answers the question about how a 58 ton tank with 18 inches of ground clearance and a bull dozer blade mounted on the front will fare when involved in an armadillo attack. Scary, isnít it? Maybe we should trade in all our heavy stuff for small, specially trained armadillos.
My thanks yet again to Rory.
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