PREJUDICE & ME & THE ARMY

“It’s going to take a long time, and it’s going to take white people admitting what we did was pretty damned bad.” – Greg Iles – 2017 National Writers Series interview

There wasn’t many blacks in my ‘class’ at basic training in Fort Collins, Colorado. The two officers in charge were white. The rest of the cadre were black. Nice guys. Even the group of Texans who enrolled together dropped their initial snide remarks about blacks and accepted them as their instructors.

It was my next Army stop, Signal School, Fort Gordon, Georgia where I was introduced to the world of prejudice.

There weren’t many blacks in my ‘class’ in Signal School either and all the instructors were white. We had quite a bit of freedom and could go off base on the weekends. Two of my new friends, Chicago 1 and Chicago 2 managed to buy a car and the three of us along with three others took off on a Friday night to spend a wild weekend in Augusta. Never made it.

On the famous Tobacco Road right before we almost got past the endless shacks and lean-to’s of the share-croppers, and were not too far from the famous and very exclusive Augusta Golf Course where the Masters is played yearly, we got t-boned. Too much moonshine and the driver speeding along a gravel road that intersected the highway didn’t stop. Good thing we were packed inside a well built DeSoto. None of us got hurt but the boys from Chicago told us all to complain about factitious aches and pains. They thought they struck it rich. Whiplash! Whiplash!

We had to report to the Augusta Court House on Monday to give our accounts of what happened. When we walked in far down the lobby was a wall with a fancy words about truth and justice. When we walked to the elevator I noticed a drinking fountain marked Whites, and one across the lobby marked Coloreds. Welcome to Jim Crow country you naive young Yankee.

The two Chicagos had a rude surprise also. Not from the separation of races, in fact one of them commented how he wished Chicago had the same thing, but from the laugh of the cop when they asked if they could get the name of the driver’s insurance company. Insurance! That ole redneck didn’t even have license plates… let alone insurance.

The term colored isn’t used anymore. It is a reminder of the South of Jim Crow. But in those days it was the term whites used a lot. We would never think of called a person a Black; even though we used the term Negro, which is Latin for black. The ‘n’ word derived from Negro was used a lot by whites and blacks.

There was big time prejudice in and around Fort Bragg, North Carolina, my next and last stop in the Army. Racial hatred was as much a way of life in that neck of the woods as displaying the Confederate Flag. Bragg was named after a Confederate War general and slave owner. Yankees ranked second on the South’s hate list. Even though a large percentage of paratroopers were good old boys, troopers were hated because it was paratroopers that Eisenhower used to force integration in the Little Rock schools.

Cities and towns were divided into the White section and the Colored section and getting caught in the wrong section was not something anyone wanted to do.

Ft. Bragg and the adjoining Pope Air Base, is the largest military base in the NATO countries. It is an open installation so anyone can drive on or off it without going through MP secured gates. In addition to the 82nd Airborne Division, it was the home of Green Berets, and numerous ‘Leg’ outfits. A leg is a slang word used by paratroopers to signify anyone not a paratrooper.

And if a trooper did anything that attracted the Law’s attention, he better hope it was 82nd MP’s, brothers-in-arms, that he had to deal with. Leg MP’s had a real burr in their saddle when it came to ‘bad- ass paratroopers’. And then their was the civilian police!!! Best bet for a white yankee like me was to talk with a southern accent, yes sir, no sir, sorry sir, and pray. For a black trooper, leg, or civilian, keep quite and pray and pray hard.

One payday night a few of us from HQ’s Company were about to walk in to a pizza place incop Fayetteville when we heard a shot from across the street. Someone was on the ground and a uniformed town cop was running into a phone booth, chased by an ever growing crowd. It didn’t take long for police, MP’s and an ambulance to cart away the victim and the shooter. It took a general from the post to calm down the protesters.

The first newspaper release was that a Fayetteville cop shot an armed and dangerous soldier and a mob tried to harm the cop. The solder’s gun wasn’t found because someone in the mob took if from the scene.

Another story came out stating that there was nothing to the rumor that the victim, a Latino sergeant, had angered the cop by moving in with the cop’s ex-wife. And that the witnesses who said there was the perp didn’t have a gun were just trouble makers trying to stir up another protest. And that was the official police report, accepted and case closed. Protests!

An order was issued by the Army that any more protests would result in Fayetteville being declared off limits to all military personnel. That settled tempers down.

The sergeant recovered in six weeks and was given a medical discharge. The cop was given a two week suspension, with pay, and was transferred up the hill to a big buck part of the city. Don’t know what happened with the ex-wife.

And then there was the black unemployed ex-con who robbed a small on-post bank. He was caught he next day when he tried to buy a new convertible…with cash. His first night in the county jail, he thought he died and went to heaven when he discovered the cell door wasn’t locked. He did die when he stepped outside and was shot dead by the two jailers. One of the jailers said that as he brought back the black to the cell, after making him dump his honey pot, the phone rang and in his haste to answer it, he must not have locked the cell door. Nuf said. Case closed.

If I had read the newspaper much in those years, I probably would have heard of many more those kind of happenings; but if the Army wanted GI’s to read newspapers they would have made them handy.

It was a little over ten years since President Truman had forced the integration of the US Military. Whites and Blacks were still in the process of working and living together. There was stories of racial problems on the main post in Bragg, but not in the 82nd.

In the 82nd, any prejudice remained under the surface. We were an esprit de corp outfit and we were brothers-in-arms.

It made no difference what color the man was who packed the chute you jumped with…Only that it was packed right. When you were hooked up waiting to jump, you checked everything that you could see. The man behind you checked the rest as you did to the man in front of you. Again colors no difference. Our lives depending on our brothers-in-arms in war and peace.

When I was transferred to Headquarters Company, I no longer lived in a barracks room. I lived in a two- man room. Headquarters Company had it’s privileges.. My first room mate was a Black, Lil Roy. We got along good. Friends. The only thing that bothered me was his bad sounding phonograph and his endless supply of Little Richard 45’s. On and on and on. For a joke I bought him a 45 of Pat Boone singing Tutti Fruitti. We played it once and then left it in the Day Room soanyone who wanted it could take it.

Roy and I would catch the bus into Fayetteville, sit together in the bus, and at the stop we would part ways. I went into the main downtown and he went down the hill to the black downtown. After he got discharged I realized not only did I miss him, I missed hearing Little Richard, which I cured by a trip to the record shop. Music knows no prejudice…but it does have boundaries.

Duke Ellington came to town. He was one of my favorites. He played the NCO club in Bragg. I wasn’t allowed because I was only a corporal. He played the Officers’ club in Bragg. Again, I wasn’t allowed, no brass on my shoulders. His next gig, and last around Fayetteville, was a black college. No whites allowed. Damn prejudice. Once again I found some relief in the record store in town. It sold a lot of music by Ellington and other black musicians, even if blacks weren’t allowed in the store.

When I went back into civilian life and worked various jobs, I was shocked to realize just how much prejudice there was against blacks and minorities existed in the North. Wake up to the real world, you naive young man from Mendota.

There were protest marches in the 60’s. But nothing compared to today’s world wide protests. There was Martin Luther King, activist, leader, and martyr, whose speeches are honored as keystones in the fight for Civil Rights. But nothing stirred the world like the three words, I can’t breath’.

That and the eight minutes, forty six seconds of watching a cold calculated murderer kneeling on George Floyd’s neck. George Floyd might not have been a saint, but he is a martyr. It is said that the blood of martyrs was the seed of Christianity. We can only pray that the blood of Earl and the other martyrs sacrificed on the altar of hate are the seeds that brings an end to hatred. Maybe this time.

What thrills me most in today’s protests is the young, young around the world, that have either never been taught to hate or have seen the wrong in such teachings.

I could write volumes on the prejudice I have encountered in my 80 plus years, and maybe I will write some of the tidbits in another post; but for now, I would like to just thank all the people who never taught me how to hate. I wish everybody could have non-teachers like I had.

Oh, and as far as White Privilege is concerned, I am all for it. I’ve been beat up by police on three occasions in my life; and without White Privilege, I might have ended up dead in any one of them.

I just wish White Privilege was granted to everyone regardless of their skin color.

And I would like to wrap this up with the lyrics of Oscar Hammerstein in South Pacific:

You’ve got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You’ve got to be taught
From year to year,
It’s got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

Stay Safe and Love Your Neighbor as Yourself.

ANOTHER SNOW/ANOTHER RIDE

Back in the day: Another snow. Another ride-on-my-thumb.

This happened about a year before the previous snow/hitchhiking story. I was heading back to Fort Bragg from Washington D.C., my favorite city to visit on a three day pass. There was so much to see and do, and for fifty cents you could get a bed in the YMCA. You could hitch it in six, seven hours.

This time it was special. The cherry blossoms were in full bloom.

I had spent most my full day walking around the Tidal Basin, taking in the sights and fragrances of the trees and monuments and the Basin itself. There weren’t as many monuments as there are now. There was Jefferson Memorial, which was worth the walk all in itself, and several smaller monuments. The F.D.R. and Martin Luther King memorials would come years later. And a half mile across the park the Washington Monument could easily be seen.

The Basin is a pure reflective mirror. No matter where I walked around it that day, I could see the cherry blossoms and the Washington Monument, shimmering in the waters.

I finished off the day by walking across the park and revisited the monuments on the National Mall. I never left D.C. without a visit to the Mall.

I always walked tall when I was in D.C., but that day I think I walked even taller. So proud to be wearing the uniform of the 82nd Airborne, the All American Division. So proud to be doing my part, albeit a very small part, in protecting the grandeur of this country.

By the time I got back to the cafeteria at the Y I was too tired to prolong the day. That and the fact there was talk about some snow might be coming in the next afternoon, a rarity in D.C..

I had ordered a big breakfast in a pancake house by the highway out of the city when the snow started falling. Back home we would call it a dusting. In D.C. they thought it was a blizzard. Some of the other customers wolfed down their food and hurried out the door. By the time my food arrived, the highway looked like it was an evening-going-home traffic jam. My waitress commented on how the city empties when it snows.

‘Yeah,’ I replied, trying to show wisdom beyond my age. ‘And cause a jam-up and silly accidents. If some of them would wait and follow when the first ones cleared out…’

‘They’re afraid they might get called back to their desks. Most are paid by the month and getting out early won’t be deducted from their paychecks,’ she said as she refilled my coffee cup. ‘It those of us who work by the hour that get their pay docked if we leave early.’ She gave a quick glance to the stern faced older woman sitting behind the cash register.

‘I dig it,’ I said with a smile. The highway was still bumper-to-bumper, too close to stop if they had to. A lot of slipping and sliding. I decided to take my own advice and stay put until things calmed down a bit.

On the next refill I told my waitress my decision. She agreed with me. I ordered a piece of apple pie. She agreed with that also, and suggested warming it up a little and putting a scoop of ice cream on top. I agreed with that.

A customer went out and left his newspaper. She brought it over to me. When I decided things had settled down a little out on the highway, I asked her for the check. She hadn’t bothered to charge me for the pie. I left a big tip. The woman that handled the register gave me my change, thanked me and ordered me to have a good day. Since she never once bothered to look me in the face, I didn’t think she cared what kind of day I would have. My waitress mouthed a silent thank you. I believed her.

I got a ride right away. ‘I’m not going too far, only to Arlington; but it will at least get you away from some of this traffic,’ the woman said as she opened the passenger door. With a voice like that…

As I got in and was surprised, pleasantly, to see she her looks matched her voice. By the time I had settled in the seat and shut the door, I did as any red-blooded, lonesome nineteen year old GI would do. I fell in love at first sight, even if she was a little older than me. She tried talking to me but I didn’t reply. I just looked at her and smiled.

‘I’ll turn this down a little,’ she said, reaching over to the volume dial on the radio. She thought I didn’t answer because of the music. It was classical music. I hadn’t even realized it had been on. She had the perfect 10-4 hand grip on the wheel and I could see her left hand. There was a wedding ring. Bummer.

‘Mozart,’ she said. ‘It helps ease the tension of this kind of driving. Do you like Mozart?’

‘Ho, ah,’ I said, hesitantly, ‘He…Yeah, I like him a lot.’ I hoped we could change the topic. The only classical music I knew about was the William Tell Overture that opens and closes every Lone Ranger program. ‘It looks like you know what you are doing driving in the slush,’ I blurted out.

‘I haven’t had to for a long time, but I come originally from upstate New York, a lot of driving in real snowstorm,’ she said. ‘I guess it’s like they say about riding a bike, once you do it, you never forget.’

I agreed. ‘You’re keeping a nice distance, pumping the brake…’

Just then, a dehorn that was passing us started to slide into our lane. She managed to handle the situation like a pro. She held back until he got his car under control. His near miss didn’t teach him any thing. He quickly jerked out of our lane and sped into the passing lane.

‘Too bad there isn’t some way to control the other drivers,’ she said.

Everything was going smoothly until she had to drive over a big clump of snow that had come loose from somebody’s wheel well. The steering wheel spun free of her grip momentarily and the car headed for the left ditch. I thought we had it, but she pulled out of it in time.

‘It’ll be better when you get on the cut-off to Arlington,’ I said.

She looked at me and smiled. ‘Oh, we passed that a while back.’

I looked over at her. ‘Why?’ You said you were going to Arlington. Look!’ I pointed to a car in the ditch. It was the joker that was in such a big hurry.

‘Well, he’s one I don’t have to worry about,’ she said.

‘You should be off this highway. Where are we going?’

‘We are just a ways from Fort Myers. There’s a shelter there and a car can pull off and pick up hitchhikers. Your chances of getting a quick ride are much better there,’ she explained.

‘And your chances of getting in an accident are also much better now,’ I argued. ‘A good deed is one thing, but is it worth it in this kind of weather?’

Well,’ she said softly, ‘My husband is stationed in South Korea right now. I would hope that if he was out in a snow storm needing a ride, someone would pick him up.’

I didn’t stick out my thumb until she turned around and headed back to Arlington. I waved and she answered with her car horn.

I thought to myself that there is a very lucky GI over in Frozen Chosen with an angel waiting for him to hurry home. Be it sunshine or bad weather.

The snow was letting up and I hoped that that it had no bad effect on the cherry blossoms. It sure had had a good effect on me. And now when I see where someone had made an angel in the snow or I smell the fragrance of cherry blossoms, I think back to that ride-on-my-thumb.

 

 

STAY SAFE AND OBEY THE RULES

SPRING WILL ARRIVE SOON

MY GUN CONTROL (III)

 

My Gun Control Conclusion

The dining car was almost empty so I had a table all to myself. I ordered the biggest steak on the menu. Uncle Sam was still picking up the tab. I refused wine and took coffee. I was on duty. I forgot my paperback, so I sat back and watched the scenery pass, and thought about Sergeant Calvin C. Crowe. He represented a type of paratrooper I hoped was the exception and not the rule.

When I first thought about joining the Airborne, back in basic, I was hoping it would be my ticket to go overseas to Germany, instead of ending up like so many peace time GI’s in Frozen Chosen, aka South Korea. I had heard rumors of the 11th being disbanded and Crowe’s remark pretty much convinced if I made it through jump school, I would be in Fort Bragg, North Carolina – for my duration.

The steak and two pieces of apple pie ala mode were good but they didn’t keep me from thinking about my future. Maybe I should have joined my two high school buddies and enlisted in the Navy, even if the hitch was for four years. See the world and not have to do a silly thing like jumping out of airplanes. 

I didn’t want to, but I had to go back to our cabin. I didn’t meet anybody on the way and the rumble of the train reminded me of the Hitchcock movie where the old lady vanishes on the train.

I stood in front of the door. I don’t know if it the funk I was in, or if I saw too many cowboy movies, or if I thought I could hear snoring; but whatever, I unsnapped my holster and pulled out the ‘45. I checked to make sure it was locked and loaded and slowly pushed down the door handle, using my left hand. Then I pushed the door open quickly. The gun pointed straight ahead.

Damn! I was staring right into the eyes of Billy the Kid. He was standing by the table. He was holding a ‘45 pistol. In my side vision I saw Sergeant Calvin C. Crowe asleep on the lower bunk. He was snoring.

I realized that my thumb was pressing on the safety, my finger pressing against the stiffness of the trigger. I also realized I was staring down a barrel of destruction. Not that I thought the lad had any idea of shooting me ; but his eyes told me he was scared and might shoot me in fright, and I wasn’t going to let that happen if I could help it.

Oh, Billy,’ I said to myself. ‘Oh, Billy, don’t press down on that safety lever. Please. Please don’t.’

What seemed like a long, long time was over in a few seconds. The kid hollered, ‘No! No!’ and he threw the weapon down. It hit the table with a loud crash and bounced to the floor.

Crowe broke out of his nap and sat upright. It took him a couple double-takes to realized what had happened and he quickly dove for his weapon, all the time shouting ‘F@#k! F@#k!

Crowe’s swearing and Billy’s crying brought me back to my senses and I stuck my weapon back in the holster and picking up my paperback off the chair seat, sat down and opened it pretending to read. My mind did not register on the print but gripping hard on the book hid the shaking of my hands. I just kept thinking over and over how close I came to pulling the trigger.

What a trio!

A teenager from the tough streets of Philly trying to explain between sobs that all he did was take the gun off the sergeant’s belly because the man was sleeping, and he was afraid it would fall on the floor. ‘I just was looking at it. I wasn’t going to do nothing with it. Just looking, honest.’

The man in charge, a rodeo rider from Calgary, mumbling the same apology over and over. ‘I didn’t sleep very good last night. I never thought I would fall asleep though. I don’t think I was out very long. Not very long.’

And me, fresh out of Basic and an Army school, a small-farm lad from Minnesota, only a few months out of my teenage years, trying to look calm by trying to read a book. I must have carried my act off because the other two believed it. If they only really knew that I might have been the most shook-up of the trio. ‘Why don’t both of you go down to the dining car and have some chow? Do you good.’

They both claimed they weren’t hungry; but it would be a long time before they could eat again, so I pulled the porter’s cord and ordered two cheeseburger baskets and a couple cokes. For a couple of guys who weren’t hungry, they sure wolfed down the food as soon as it came.

Crowe said that he needed a real drink as he finished off his coke. I reminded him he was on duty and he muttered about falling asleep on duty.

I worked my ass off for these stripes,’ he whined, ‘And now…Blink of an eye and I lose them. Hell, they might even slick-sleeve me. Kick my ass back to Canada. Who knows.

I don’t blame you, Ostertag. When you write the report you got to…’

Whoa there, Mister Sergeant. When I write the report? I’m not top- rank here. When you write the report…’

Yeah, you’re right. When I write the report.’

Well,’ I said, ‘The report should be be short and sweet. Mission accomplished. Boring trip. Nothing happened.’

‘What you mean…?

What I mean, sergeant,’ I said, ‘The report should reflect it was a boring trip, nothing happened. You go off on some tangent to say something happened, but nothing came of it, and the three of us will spend more days in Repo while the Army red tapes the whole thing only to find out nothing happened.

‘Just let the three of us get on with our lives. The kid wants to go home. You want to get to town and buy your new Hog. And I want to go to jump school.’ And if they really believed that, I should have won an award for acting.

Crowe reverted to his normal egotistical persona. He handcuffed himself to our desperado before we exited the train and pushed Billy into the back seat of the MP car that met us at the depot. I got in the front like before.

Piece of cake, Sarg. Piece of cake,’ he assured the driver, who hadn’t asked us how things went. ‘Sarg, did you have to go to a special school to get in the MP’s?’ The sergeant said he enlisted to be an MP and volunteered airborne at the school.

We were dropped off at MP HQ and Billy was whisked away to the stockade without being able to say goodbye. After we checked out and waited for the jeep to go back to Repo barracks Crowe asked the desk MP about putting in for a transfer to the MP’s. He said he thought he would make a good one. And he had the wings and rank already. ‘And,’ he added, ‘Experience.’

Yeah,’ the top NCO said,’You got it all, don’t you?’ He looked at me and asked if I wanted to transfer also.

I’ll pass,’ I said, quickly.

The next week I was busting tail in jump school. About midweek, Patricio, the mail clerk intercepted me when I came in the barracks to tell me some kid had  come to the barracks to say thanks and goodbye to me.

Must have made a hell of an impression on him,’ Pat said, smiling, ‘When I told him you were in jump school, he said he would lay odds you graduated first time cause you are some baaaaad ass.’

Billy the Kid also promised he’d look me up when he was old enough to enlist again. He left a piece of paper with his address in Philadelphia in case I get up there. He said he wanted to fix me up with his good looking sister.

I never heard from William P. Fuller again. And I sure wasn’t going to reup just to hang around to see him, if he ever did come back.

As far as Mr. All- Canada was concerned, I saw him once from across Slave Market Street in Fayetteville. I waved, and I knew he saw me; but he ducked in the nearest bar to avoid me. I didn’t bother to cross over and follow him in the bar; although I really would have liked to rub it in his face that I not only got my wings, I got them on the first try in the jump school. So much for his prediction that I would have a hard time to make it.

A few weeks prior to my getting my discharge, there was a Division rodeo competition. I went hoping to see if Crowe was as good a bronc rider as he bragged he was. I was disappointed when he wasn’t one of the competitors. I did see him though as I rode my motorcycle out of the parking lot. He and several other MP’s were waving their night sticks around conducting traffic. He did transfer to the MP’s. His ‘experience’ must have been the tipping point to get accepted.

When I got back home I got rid of all my guns, three long ones used for hunting, one hand gun used to try and hit the broad side of the barn. Never missed not having them. Hunting wasn’t the same anymore. My old hunting grounds were suburban lawns. Besides after my experience with Billy the Kid, shooting an unarmed Bambi or Thumper would not be much of a challenge. After all I had faced ‘the most dangerous game’.

For several years after I had the occasional dream of staring at the barrel of that gun, seeing the look in that kid’s eyes. I still think of how close three people came within a hair from having their lives changed – for the worse.

And I am eternally thankful that I managed to use my gun control to prevent it from happening.

And that’s a wrap

MY GUN CONTROL (II)

We checked into the hotel and ate in the coffee shop. I went back to the room but Crowe walked out of the hotel. He woke me up hours later with his loud swearing as he staggered around the room trying to undress and make it to bed. His snorting and snoring kept waking me during the rest of the night.

The hotel clerk had given us a pamphlet from the USO just down the street. It had things we could do that weekend. Crowe said he just wanted to sleep and asked if I had brought any aspirin with. I hadn’t, but even if I had I would have said no. I enjoyed the fact he was suffering from a hangover. I went to the USO alone, had a good free breakfast and then went on a bus tour of the City of Brotherly Love.

Later there was a dance at the club that evening and Sergeant Crowe went with me. There was a large group of military men, some in uniform, some in civies. Crowe was the only paratrooper. And the large number of girls surprised me.

We had some free cokes and snacks and watched the dancers. For the most part they were really good. Crowe made snide remarks about the legs must have spent a lot of time practicing. I pointed out that Philadelphia was the home of AMERICAN BANDSTAND and the girls probably all practiced trying to get on the show. Macho Man said he never heard of BANDSTAND. But he said it too quickly and I knew he was lying. I described it to him anyway, told him how high school kids watch it when they come home from school, and I know that the show on in a lot in Army day- rooms too.

Pretty popular,’ I said. ‘Kids really dig the emcee, Bill Cullen.’ I pulled that name out of my hat.

Dick Clark,’ snapped my companion, who had claimed to know nothing about the show.

Since none of the girls seemed to be awed by the paratrooper, and since neither of us had enough faith in our dancing ability, we wallflowered and then went back to the hotel.

The next day we went to the USO and got afternoon movie tickets to see PEYTON PLACE. I had read the book and Crowe said he had read some of the book, the parts his buddy had underlined. This movie must be something else, he told me, because it is not allowed to be shown in Canada. He was disappointed on all counts. ‘Didn’t show me nothing,’ he complained, ‘Should have just played it on the radio and saved the price of the tickets.’

I reminded him we got the tickets for free.

When we got outside in the sunlight a couple young girls ran over and pointed out that Crowe had the same patches on his uniform that one of the characters in the movie had. Crowe was elated and he began to tell the girls about the 82nd and about being a paratrooper and… The more he talked the more young girls joined the group. Not having an 82nd patch nor jump wings, I stood off to the side, silent.

After a bit the girls started to break off. I noticed Sgt Crowe was zeroing in on a couple and he motioned me to join him. I did and whispered one word in his ear, ‘jailbait’. That brought him to his senses and we went back to the hotel and ate. We fell asleep watching TV, but not before we left a wake-up call with the desk. We had a big day starting early in the morning.

There was a different officer at the jail desk, older, softer spoken, and heavier, then the one from Friday night; but Crowe wasn’t any different. In just a few minutes he managed to get the cop angry, demanding to have his gun back and the prisoner be brought to the desk at once.

That’ll do, Mister Sergeant,’ the desk sergeant said in a voice hardly above a whisper. ‘I know you were warned the other night about your attitude.’He looked at me and asked if there wasn’t something I could do to help ‘Mister Sergeant’ act like a real MP, even if he wasn’t one.

I shrugged my shoulders and said the sergeant was the boss.

Yeah, I understand,’ he said, ‘I did my hitch in the Marines. The sergeant is boss, and you are nothing. And that makes Mr. Sergeant the boss of nothing.’

Crowe didn’t say a word, but he gave me a nasty look, daring me to laugh; but I knew better. I was stuck with him for a few more days.

Look, guys,’ the old cop said, ‘This kid lied about his age to help out at home. His father is dead and his mother is working two jobs. He enlisted figuring there would be one less mouth to feed and he could send money home to boot. Never figuring just how much it cost a private in the Army to keep up. When he got booted from jump school, he lost face, and that extra money for jumping. He came home and got his old job back, delivering pizza to help get his mother over the winter. He said he was planning to go back in the spring. I believe him. He’s a good kid. The Army wasn’t bothering to look for him.. We picked him up for speeding. He was late delivering a damn pizza,

If anyone should be on the Army’s shit-list, it should be the recruiter that signed him up. Just a damn quota-filler,’ he said as he made out the transfer paperwork.

As we strapped on our holsters and 45’s, another guard brought Master William P. Fuller, aka Billy the Kid, to the desk. Crowe grabbed Billy’s elbow and the desk sergeant told him the prisoner would need to be handcuffed to leave the building. Crowe argued. Said there was no way ‘this punk’ could outrun him.

Not a foot race, Sergeant. It’s a prisoner transfer. Cuff the prisoner. Now!’

I figured I would be the one cuffed to the kid , but Crowe slapped a cuff on his own right wrist and went to put the other on Billy’s left wrist. The guard pointed out that the cuff should not go on Crowe’s gun hand. Crowe argued and said that he was left handed.

Damn it,’ the old cop said, ‘You should have asked for a left handed holster then. You never cuff a prisoner close to your gun. Didn’t they teach you anything in MP school?’ Both cops smiled.

We were told that a squad car would bring us to the train station. Crowe said we had chits for a cab.

You will go in a squad car, Mister. Sergeant’, and he added, ‘I am instructing the patrol officer to stay with until the three of you get on the train.’ He sighed. ‘I just got on duty a short time ago, and I am more than ready to go home already. Here’s your patrolman. Have a nice trip, gentlemen,’ he said, with a wave. ‘Oh, and Billy, you report back here when the Army is done with you. Remember, we promised we’d find you a better paying job than delivering pizza.’

I got in the front seat and Crowe and Billy in the back. We hadn’t even pulled away from the curb when Crowe threatened the kid with an old Army myth.

Look, punk,’ he snarled, ‘Don’t even think about getting away. You get away and me and the PFC lose our stripes and do stockade time until you are caught. But if I shoot you trying to escape, all it costs me is 64 cents for the bullet I shot you with. So what do you think I’m going do if you try to rabbit?’

The driver looked at me. ‘Is this guy for real?’

The train cabin was more than we expected. Large. Upper and lower bunks. A table in the center and three comfortable chairs. I placed one next to the door and plopped. Like the old cop said, it was still early in the day, but I ready to call it a day. I opened the paperback I had bought at the station and hoped it would keep me awake.

Crowe unlocked the cuffs and ordered Billy to ‘sit’, and then he went and fluffed a pillow up and sat on the lower bunk. He took off his jump boots and pulled his can of Kiwi out of his go-bag and worked on shining his precious boots. I began to read my book.

Billy was a talker. He was leery of Crowe so he tried to talk to me; but I disappointed him when I replied in only a few words, and went back to reading. He looked out the window; but eventually he decided to ask Crowe about being a paratroper, playing into the sergeant’s ego. This time the sergeant was delighted to answer any and all of the kid’s questions.

Young Mr. Fuller knew how to win a person over. He had a charming personality that was reflected in his smile and his eyes. I could see how the cops back at the jail took a liking to Billy the Kid. I didn’t let on but I was spending more time admiring the lad’s technique than I was in reading my book.

Crowe’s first lesson was how to polish jump boots correctly and how important it was for a trooper to have one special pair for dress up and another for every day. The second was jump school and the fact that Billy had flunked out his on his first attempt.

Most people flunk out their first try. Right now the school is rigged so only the very best make it the first time. And if they don’t make it the second time, that’s it. They got all the troopers they need, what with the 11th Airborne disbanded over in Europe, and the turnover of 82nd and the Hundred and First pretty slow. A lot do like I did and reup.

Now in the jump school I got my wings, there was over 300 started. Only 83 graduated and out of that 83 there was only 31 of us that were first timers.’

You made it through on your first time,’ Billy said excitedly.

Yup,’ Sergeant Crowe boasted. ‘So you see, Billy, when you get out of the Army this time, go home and get in shape. Two, three hundred pushups – everyday. A lot of chin-ups. That’s where us smaller guys got it over taller guys… like the PFC,’ he said pointing at me. ‘No offense, Ostertag, but you’ll have a rough time making it. At least the first time. You wise up and know do things differently the second time.’

No offense taken, sarg. Thanks for cluing me in.’ I knew his whole spiel on jump school was aimed more at me then Billy. Crowe wanted to get into my head and stroke his ego at the same time.

He pulled the ‘45 out of his holster and asked if either Billy or I had ever qualified with one. We both shook out heads. I pointed out that there was only a few hours devoted in Basic to the gun, just enough to realized how hard it was to qualify with one. Crowe told how he qualified in Advanced Infantry school. And then he began to give a lesson on the weapon, known in the Army as US Pistol, Caliber , 45, M1911A1 He began by showing all the unique safety features like the need for the shooter to hold the grip or it won’t fire, and if someone is pressing against the the muzzle it will also prevent the pistol from firing. And of course the main safety lever on the side.

Billy was all ears. I was bored. The sergeant had told us when we boarded the train that he and I would eat in shifts and Billy would have food sent to the cabin. I stood up when Crowe began to break down the weapon and announced that I was going to go eat. Unless he wanted to go first. He was taking delight in showing off his knowledge and waved me goodbye.

To Be Continued And  Concluded

D-DAY BRONZE STAR – 75th Anniversary

It has been 75 years since the D-Day Invasion. These men waded in the ocean, or jumped from the sky to confront the guns of a common enemy. They did it because they believed it was their duty to stop the evils of Fascism, Dictatorship, Hatred.

 

 

Some of my favorite memories of my time serving in the 82nd Signal Battalion revolved around the combat vets in the outfit. Some saw action in WWII. Some in Korea. Some in both. Each of them had a chest full of medals and great ‘jump’ stories. One of my favorite vets was Sergeant Estes.  He jumped into Normandy on D-Day, and was awarded a Bronze Star for single handedly capturing a platoon of German soldiers. But unlike most of the paratroopers who jumped in the darkness very early on that day, it was not the first combat jump for Estes. He jumped almost year before, in the first US combat airborne assault ever, again in the dark, the invasion of Sicily, where he got his first Purple Heart.

Just a bullet scratch in the shoulder, but I’ll take the medal.’

When I served with him, he was a Battalion cook, transferred to the mess hall a few years before.

Just biding my time. Cooking’s good. No getting up before the sun and running 5 miles. On 24 hours – off 48. Good life.

Tall, thin, face like cracked leather, with a drawl that needed a translator until you got use to it. His fatigues showed a faded outline of a higher rank of sergeant.

‘Never get too fancy sewing on your rank. Saves time when lose a stripe or two. Airborne’s got the youngest sergeants in the Army, and the oldest privates. I got me my Good Conduct ribbon during a time when I was too busy overseas to do any bad conducting.’

Quiet man usually. Hard to get to know. But once he decided to take a liking to you, he was a hoot to be around. He would really open up with some great stories, especially after a beer or two. Estes and I were next to each other in the parade to honor General ‘Jumping Jim’, ‘Slim Jim’, James Gavin, the 82nd’s favorite General, upon his retirement.

‘I’d follow that man into hell. Come to think of it, that’s exactly where I followed him,’ Estes said, swigging a beer to wash the hot dust out of his throat. ‘Following him got me my second Purple Heart. Hurt like hell!’

It was the first time I saw Estes in his Class A’s. Two Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star, and a Silver Star on his chest along with a slew of campaign ribbons. ‘You got yourself quite a bunch of salad on your chest, Sarg. You got a reason to be proud.’

Well,’ he answered in a slow drawl, ‘I walk tall with the war ribbons, and my two purple Washingtons- and my Silver Star; but I don’t take much credit for the Bronze Star. Cuz it was an accident.’

‘What? I heard you captured an entire platoon of Germans, all by yourself and got the Bronze Star for it!’

Yup. But I didn’t Sergeant York it. It was an accident.’

Estes like to tell stories in bits and pieces. Almost like a Saturday Matinee serial. Leave you hang, come back next week and get another piece of the story. Took several sessions and quite a few beers before he told me about the ‘accidental Bronze Star’ and what led up to it. Estes also told stories in the grand style of Appalachian oral history. Slow, deliberate, filled with great mountain expressions, vocal inflections, physical gestures, and perfectly timed dramatic pauses. All in the sweet drawl of the hills.

I can give you the gist of his story leading up to getting the Bronze Star by ‘accident’; but not in his exact words, and certainly not in his exact style. I wish it would have been like today, put him in front of a camera and put the result on You Tube for everyone to enjoy.

Born and reared in the Tennessee Cumberlands. Just a couple big hills from where Sergeant Alvin York had his home place. Hard rock farm. Could hardly keep my folks in vitals, let alone enough for us six kids. All the paying jobs around weren’t around cuz somebody had them already. The only way to make any money was to become a faith-healing, tent-preacher with a couple rattlesnakes.

            ‘One day me and Levi, from the next farm, decided to go on the bum. We hiked a ride to where the freight trains have to real slow up a steep grade. Ran out, opened a car door, but there were a lot of hobos in it, so we found us an empty one. It was heading south, and we surmised that would be a good way to go. At least we would talk their language.

            ‘Now hoboing ain’t the fun you think it would be. Just listen to the songs of Jimmie Rodgers. He tells it like it was. And listen to the words real close in BIG ROCK CANDY MOUNTAIN. Dangerous life. If you do find an odd job, it’s hard work, low pay, usually cold food from last night’s dinner. Most of the time, you beg to eat, and you sleep in the cold. By the time we made it to Augusta, we were talking about heading back home.

            ‘There was this fancy movie house, and it was showing SERGEANT YORK. We had to see it! Had a little bit of money we were saving for some food, but it was enough to get only one of us in legal. Levi got a ticket and got me snuck the side door. Watched it twice. When we walked out of that movie house, I was gung-ho, knew what I wanted. I was going to join up in the Army. And I knew where to go.

            ‘We had passed an Army recruiting place on the way from the tracks. I spent most of the night trying to convince Levi to join up with me; but he said as much as he liked the idea of three squares a day and a cot to sleep in, what with the talk of the US maybe getting in the war, there was no way he was do anything forward enough to get shot at. Said it was only a matter of time and we’d be in war against Hitler. Come morning I went one way to join up and Levi went the other to catch a freight.

            ‘I told the Army sergeant I wanted to join up with the 82nd, cuz that was Sgt. York’s outfit, and he came from my hills. And it shouldn’t be so hard cuz Camp Gordon where old Alvin got his start was right outside Augustus. He said it didn’t work like that.

            ‘If I wanted to join the 82nd I might have to jump out of airplanes cuz there was a rumor the 82nd was going to be the first airborne division in the US army. I surmised it couldn’t be any more dangerous than being on the bum. Then he told me I’d have to go to Fort Benning for boot camp, still in Georgia, but a ways away, and I could volunteer airborne in boot camp. I asked best way to hitch there, and he told me I could ride a bus for nothing after I signed up with him. I didn’t lie. I told him my actual birth date. He pondered a bit and wrote down I was born a year earlier than I said, and warned me to never let anyone in the Army know how young I really was. Then he even bought me a good meal before putting me on the bus with my papers in hand. I was going to do my duty just like Alvin York did in the last war.

            ‘As for Levi, I got a letter from my brother a few years after. He said Levi and a couple old boys tried to rob a bank. Got outside and walked into a squad of police. Levi, who said he wouldn’t do anything to get himself shot at, was the first of the boys to throw down his gun and throw up his arms. He got his 3 squares and a cot alright, but he had to bust rocks on a Carolina chain gang to earn them.

            ‘It worked out sweet for me. Got through basic, got through jump school ,and got into the new 82nd Airborne Division, 505. Had my wings before Pearl Harbor.  Wasn’t one of the original 48, but came close to it. Was one of jumpers in the first US airborne combat assault. Sicily – 9 June 43. We didn’t know what was going to happen, but we were all glad to leave the training in hot, hot, hot, North Africa in the rear view mirror. It was a night jump just like Normandy was. Combat jump, no reserve chutes, low altitude, not enough time for a reserve to help. You catch a streamer you just got to pray and try to shake it loose.

            ‘We figured on going onto the mainland and fight old fat Mussolini’s boys; but instead we went to England to train for the Big Dance.

            ‘It was cloudy at 1AM, June 6, of 44, but at least the storm had subsided. We jumped behind the lines but not exactly where they wanted us to land. My platoon landed in a hay field with hedgerows on three sides, and a stand of trees at the far end. Great jump, great DZ, no harm to any of us. But we did hear occasional shooting afar, but none in our direction.

            ‘You could make out a supply chute tangled in the far trees. The captain ordered me to run down there and drag it back to our regrouping. I set my rifle down and took off. I was cutting the shroud lines to free the chute when I heard a lot of mumbling. And then a German soldier came out of the trees, followed by a lot more, a whole platoon of German soldiers. My rifle was a far ways off, but one man, even with a 03 Springfield, couldn’t do much against those odds.

            ‘That was the bad news. The good news was all the Germans had their rifles raised over their heads. They were surrendering to me. One soldier who talked good English asked that they be taken prisoner. What with all the airborne soldiers all around the area, they saw no point in trying to fight. Besides, he said, most of them were tired and wouldn’t mind sitting out the rest of the war in a POW camp.

            ‘I had to ask one of them to give me his rifle and the rest to lay their’s  on the ground. Ordered some to pick up the supply boxes and marched them down to where my platoon were watching and laughing and shouting how I was a big hero just like old Sgt. York that I was always going on about.

            ‘And that’s how I got the Bronze Star for capturing a whole platoon of Germans, all by myself. Nothing to be so proud of. Like I told you, it was an accident. Don’t think they’re ever going to make a movie called SERGEANT ESTES.’

            He was right. They never made a movie called SERGEANT ESTES; but accident or no, I told him he should stand tall wearing that Bronze Star. It was earned honestly. And one hell of a story.

                  bronze star             

 

One man’s D-Day story. He said he was just doing his duty like Alvin York, a neighbor a few hills away, had done his duty. Most everybody involved in that turning point in WWII felt the same way, doing their duty. We honor these brave men, on this anniversary  for doing what they considered their duty. And pray that their sacrifices were not done in vain.

             

 

11th Day of the 11th Month 1918

440px-In_Flanders_Fields_(1921)_page_1

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

            First part of the poem written one hundred years ago by Dr. John McCrea after he presided over the death of a friend killed at the Second Battle of Ypes, site of the first use of gas in the war history calls The First World War.

The seeds of this conflict, one of the deadliest ever, went back centuries; but gained speed in a series of events and alliances begun in 1882, with the trigger, killing of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria occurring in June of 1914. When it finally ended it had caused the deaths of nine million combatants and seven million civilians and restructured boundaries in both Europe and the Middle East and dragged warfare into modern times.

It started for the most with  centuries-old methods of war, such as using the horse for both transportation and warfare; but quickly changed into a war of man-made machines powered by the combustible engine on the land, the sea, and a new battleground, the air. And this new method of warfare introduced yet another reason for nations waging war, Oil.

One thing that didn’t change was the reliance on the foot soldier, the doughboy, the mud slogging, trench fighter. And this war was indeed a war of trenches, miles of trenches. For the most part, these men in all wars are unsung; but sometimes one becomes a hero, a household name like the man from the hills of Tennessee, Alvin York of the 82 Division. Largely because of York’s heroics, his division, the 82nd was chosen to be the first airborne division in the US Army.

This war also brought to light the need to bring medicine and medical techniques into modern times. More deaths occurred because of tetanus and infection than from actual battle wounds. The studies of Pasteur and Lister became the Bible for the new medical structure and monies that would never have been allotted for the civilian populations were made available for new medicines to combat the main causes of death in this war.

The war spawned a variety of poems, songs, paintings etc.. It is the source of two of the strongest anti-war works of art, Remarque’s novel ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT, and Lewis Milestone’s faithful movie of the novel.

The Christmas Truces especially in 1914 have been used in movies and stage plays. The one I am most familiar with is ALL IS CALM:THE CHRISTMAS TRUCE OF 1914. We put it  on stage at the Minneapolis Pantages in 2008, and it has been done during every Christmas season since. On Christmas Eve 1914 the sounds of Christmas hymns are heard coming from both the German trenches and the British trenches. Soon the soldiers come out of the trenches and the combatants meet in No-Man’s Land where they exchange Christmas greetings, food and beverages, and join with each other in singing the songs of Christmas. These truces were wide spread that Christmas even on the Eastern Front between a group of German and Russian soldiers.

At first the war had a variety of names depending on what countries were fighting each other. As more countries entered into the battle these names were melded into The World War/ The Great War. After the Armistice The World War/The Great War was given a subtitle: The War To End All Wars.

The Armistice was signed at 5 AM, November 11, 1918. The cease fire took place six hours later, the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. The time had a good ring to it and was easy to remember. There was also a political/military motive behind the delay in the cease fire. The delay gave the Allies a chance to gain better ground in case the Cease Fire didn’t last. That last day of fighting resulted in over 2,500 additional deaths. For all practical purposes it was the end of the war, but peace wasn’t officially ratified until 1/10/1920.

The victors had no mercy for the losers and dictated harsh edicts that changed the world. Boundaries were changed. New countries were created with no respect for the differences in the peoples in these countries. Overlooked was the ethnic differences, the differences in language and especially religions. It was a hastily drawn up with the main purpose to cripple the countries that could pose problems to the Allies as respect to economic progress and to colonial expansion. These ‘written in the sand’ changes still, almost a century later, remain one of the biggest sources of wars, horrific and genocidal, both external and civil, in the world.

November 11th was called Armistice Day, a legal holiday, in most countries that were on the ‘winning’ side. Later the name was changed to Remembrance Day in many of those countries. In 1954 it became known as Veterans Day in the U.S.A.

 

VERDUN-OSSUAIRE_DE_DOUAUMONT5

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

 

It wasn’t long before the subtitle, The War To End All Wars became as ludicrous as the phrase uttered in almost all conflicts, ‘They’ll be home by Christmas’.

And events that started just twenty years later caused a name change. The Great War was dropped, and The World War had to be renamed The First World War because another war with the usual suspects, some like Japan and Italy changing sides, combined to fight The Second World War, which was not The War To End All Wars either in spite of the fact the war ended with destroying two large cities with the first use of atomic bombs. Such destruction, we were told, would end war forever. No country would ever start a war with the threat of the mushroom cloud hanging over their head. Another premise that proved false.

 

Early one morning Frank Glick was driving to work and saw this Bald Eagle sitting on a gravestone in the Fort Snelling National Veterans’ Cemetery. Luckily he managed to take this picture.

 

Eagle at Ft Snelling

 

The cemetery sits on a high bluff overlooking beautiful valley where the Minnesota River flows into the Mississippi River. At funerals in the cemetery, sometimes there is an Honor Guard firing off a salute, sometimes planes fly in formation; but almost always there is a Bald Eagle flying  above the ceremony. The sight never fails to bring lumps in the throats of teary eyes mourners.

The cemetery and the nearby Veterans’ Hospital are both running out of room. And this sad situation is occurring in all our Veterans cemetery and hospitals across our land.

Our lawmakers always seems to find the monies for overrides on government contracts to develop a new weapons system, and monies to pay for the exorbitant salaries and profits for the private contractors, like Chaney’s Haliburton, that have slithered into our defense budgets ever since Viet Nam.

And yet when it comes to helping our veterans, these patriotic lawmakers vote down request after request stating no money is available. Our veterans hospital are for the most part outdated and understaffed. These patriots lawmakers, many of whom took deferments, some legit, some bought by a rich daddy, to avoid service, fought the idea that Agent Orange used by us in Nam was responsible for  veterans’  medicals problems like cancer, and they continue to avoid the epidemic of mental problems of our veterans who fought in our questionable conflicts ever since WWII. And the list goes on and on.

The best way to thank our vets for ‘THEIR SERVICE’ is to demand that we honor our commitments to them for sacrificing so much so much ‘to protect our freedoms’ and our ‘need’ to be the policemen for the world.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow  


In our present day treatment of our veterans, we have broken faith, not only with those that died but also with those that lived.

Flanders Field

To all my fellow vets, Vaya Con Dios.

A JUMP STORY

A jumper

I think that every paratrooper has a story about a jump that he likes to tell about. Maybe because it was funny, or unusual, or an extremely close call. I have one that is all three with a threat of court martial to boot.

{Since this happened sixty years ago, I use the term ‘men’ without being sexist because combat trained outfits like the 82nd Airborne Division was not co-ed in those days. And the parachutes we used were almost the same as used in WWII.}

Signal Battalion, my outfit, had jumped in mass a few days before. Those of us that had to stay behind and tend to things jumped a few days later with one of infantry battalions. We were jumping out of C119s. Great planes to jump from. The door was way to the rear and below the tail. But they were also bad to ride in. They would barely clear the trees at the end of the runway and they seemed to find every air pocket. And since this was a tactical jump, we were in the air for a couple hours before the jump.

The plane I was in was almost all cherry- jumpers. These are troopers who completed jump school finished off with 3 jumps in one day, and 2 the next. These 5 jumps were all Hollywood, meaning they jumped with the minimum of equipment. And they jumped just 5 men at a pass, turned around and 5 more jumped. This jump that day was the first time they would jump with equipment and would exit one after the other as fast as they could shuffle.

Looking at the men in the stick opposite mine, I could tell who they were. They had a look of anticipation the vets didn’t. And some looked a little green in the gills from the ride. Directly across from me was a Second Lieutenant I found out later that had recently graduated from West Point and also from the last jump school. He was cracking his knuckles. I did what I usually did on long flights, closed my eyes and took a nap.

About ten minutes from the DZ, we were told that while it was calm upstairs, the wind was brisk at the ground. ‘And men,’ the Jump Master hollered, ‘ There’s a lot of planes, a lot of chutes. The sky will be damn crowded. Pay attention out there.’

Mass Jump

We had no problem clearing the plane. There’s nothing better than to count three seconds, and look up and see your chute has full blossomed. The view is great. The silence is unbelievable. However in a military jump, you don’t have much time to enjoy it. And you have to really watch out when there are so many chutes in the sky.

These chutes were designed to get you down as quick as safely possible. Maneuvering is darn near impossible. You pull with both hands on the one of the risers to get a slight sideways motion. Your biggest threat in the air on a peacetime jump was banging into another chute or worse, letting your chute go over another canopy.

If that happens, the lower chute maintains fullness because of the air pressure. The upper chute loses it’s air pressure and begins to collapse. You try to pull away and if you do land on the lower chute, you run like hell and jump off the lower chute. Once off, you shake your chute and it will generally open out again.

Almost as soon as I checked my chute I heard a lot of shouts and looked to my right where a cherry- jumper was on top of another chute. I joined the shouts for him to run off the bottom chute. He did, but as soon as he got off he pulled his reserve chute handle. He hadn’t bothered to look up and see his main chute had regained fullness. The reserve chute had no pressure to cause it to fill out and fell down limply between the man’s legs.

He looked at that useless piece of silk and fearing the worse, he uttered in a loud, calm, clear voice: ‘Set another place at your table, Sweet Jesus, cuz I’m coming home.’

I broke out laughing. So did a lot of others. The poor guy was the only one in our cluster that did not know he was going to land safely. But when I broke up, I also screwed up. Big time!

I felt the pull on my harness decreasing. Looking up I saw my chute shriveling up. Looking down, I saw I was on top of another chute. As soon as I could I ran off the other chute and shook my risers as hard as I could.

Too late! I wasn’t too far from landing when this all happened. I flew in free fall. I hit the ground hard. I mean HARD!!! I made an attempt to do the five point Parachute Landing Fall; but forget it. I did a three point landing. Feet. Ass. Back of the head. Made an attempt to get up to knock down my chute but…

Insult to injury! My chute filled out about the time I hit ground. Since there was no weight on it, and since the wind was gusting, it actually rose in the air. (This was told to me by a trooper who was on the ground nearby.) It jerked me up and managed to carry me about twenty feet before I hit the ground again, hard. And then it began to drag me across the DZ, (Drop Zone).

I was hurting and messed up royal. I was on my back with the right riser across my face and pulling me over my left shoulder along with my left riser. Luckily, it was across my face. Had it been lower it might have chocked me before I could grab it with both hands to pull it away from my windpipe. Or snapped my neck.

Several months before, 82nd Signal Battalion went to Fort Campbell, KY, where the 101st Airborne was going to hold a large war game, Operation Eagle Wing. My battalion was there to run communications for the umpires. The Operation was to begin with an afternoon jump by the entire 101st Division. Stands were set up for the visiting brass, politicians, and the press.

We were going to jump early in the morning and then set up our equipment; but our Battalion Commander called off our jump because of the strong winds. We all thought the Division jump would also be called off, but we did the setting up anyway. We would no more get a radio tower up than the wind would blow it over.

As the planes were close to the DZ we knew we would see the red smoke released to call the jump off. Then the green smoke went off and the chutes filled the air. I guess they didn’t want the guests sitting in the stands to be disappointed.

We and the ones that landed safely began to knock down chutes that were dragging men across the DZ. Even the Division Commander, General William Westmoreland, who would be the top honcho in Viet Nam in later years, knocked down chutes. Afterwards it was found out he had a hairline fracture in his leg.

There were six killed, death by chocking or by necks snapped,, and several hundred hospitalized.

And don’t you think I was thinking of day when I was fighting to keep the riser away from my neck.

Fort Bragg has many very large Dzs, and this was one of them. A lot of ground to drag me over. I saw several men running at an angle to catch up to my chute. And the closest man was coming in a straight line at me. I realized the dehorn wasn’t even trying to go for my chute.. He was going to jump on me!

No way would that help collapse my chute. His added weight would only make the drag harder for the chute and I would caught in a taffy pull. I knew I would never be able to keep the riser from my neck if he landed on me.

Adrenalin pumping overtime, I managed to raise my leg as he dove. He caught the bottom of my boot right in his face and he never landed on me. In spite of the blood spurting out of his nose I recognized him. He was the Second Louie that was sitting across from me in the plane.

I was dragged a ways yet before the other men managed to jump on my chute. I was surprised to find I didn’t have any broken bones. I was pretty shaky in the legs though. A jeep with an MP sergeant on DZ duty pulled up and asked if I was okay. I told him I was. Then he pulled out a pen and notebook and asked for my name, rank, and outfit.

‘That shave- tail Lieutenant that just got in the Medic wagon ordered me to get it,’ he explained. ‘Somehow I don’t think he wanted it so he could send you a Christmas Card.’

I just got inside my barracks when I was ordered to report to the Old Man, the Battalion Commander.

‘What happened out there, Don?, he asked me. I was his clerk and he always call me, Don. ‘There a young Lieutenant, Callason, in the infantry outfit, that says you kicked him in the face. Sounds like he wants your stripes and to give you stockade time. But I couldn’t really understand what he was saying. He was having his nose worked on.’

I gave the Old Man a Cliff’s Note version of what happened after I landed. I emphasized there was several witnesses to support me.

He smiled and dialed the number Callason had left him. I could only hear the Old Man’s side of the phone conversation.

‘So, Lieutenant, you say if I demote my clerk to Private…Yes, my Battalion clerk. you might not bring him up on formal charges for assaulting an officer…

‘Well, Lieutenant, a little advice. I felt the same way about the importance of rank when I graduated West Point; but I learned in the real Army it doesn’t always work that way, especially in the Airborne. When you stand up, hookup, getting ready to jump, you inspect the back- harness of the man on the stick in front of you, and the man behind you does the same thing for you. He cracks you on the ass to let you know you are good-to-go. Makes no different what his rank is, General or Private. You put your trust in him. Don’t get a reputation of being a jerk that pulls rank on Enlisted Men. In the Airborne we are all Brothers.

‘Now, as far as Corporal Ostertag breaking your nose, your stupidity could have broken his neck. You deserved to be kicked. Personally I’d like to kick you in the ass. Maybe I should have Don press charges against you.’

There was a long silence on the Old Man’s part. ‘Well, Lieutenant, I don’t think you have to make an apology to Don. I think he will be satisfied with you just forgetting your damn juvenile vindictiveness, and I promise you he will not bring you up on charges.’ He slammed down the phone.

‘I think that that young man learned a good lesson. If not, he better request transfer out of the Airborne’, the Old Man said, as he winked at me and told me go clean up and go to the mess hall and get something to eat before coming back to work.

I trust that that ‘young man’ learned a good lesson. I know I did. I learned when the Jump Master warns you to pay attention out there, listen to him.

And I also learned never to laugh at someone’s prayer. You might have to use it yourself some day.

And that’s a wrap

aa

 

SOUTHERN SNOW

snow driving

            In Minnesota: ‘Yeah, you bet, heard about the snow com’n. Changed the oil and tuned up the snow blower and snow mobile first week in October, just like always. You betcha!’

            Down South: ‘Snow! Snow! The sky is falling! The sky is falling!’

 

Last week the East Coast and some Southern states got hit with a blizzard. And the 24 hour news stations talked so much about the snow coming and falling and melting that there was little news about anything else.

They darn near missed the Palen endorsement of Trump. It happened the same day her son got arrested for using his girlfriend as a punching bag. Sweet momma Sarah explained that it wasn’t Track’s, (Track???), fault. It was Obama’s. Poor Track did a tour in Iran during the G. W. Bush’s administration, and although never got in any combat, came home with PTSD according to his mother. Later she said she was misunderstood, and then said pretty much the same thing again. A real Alaska Snow Job. At least she didn’t blame Obama for her daughter’s habit of getting pregnant sans marriage certificate.

And they darn missed another important Trump endorsement. One of John Wayne’s daughter, standing in front of a statue of her father in the John Wayne Museum in Somerset, Iowa, stated that if her father was alive, he would certainly endorse Trump.

(If her father was alive he would be 109 years old.) And the cool thing was Trump accepted the endorsement stating that he once met John Wayne in person and always admired Wayne’s legacy. The rest of Wayne’s family disavowed the endorsement. I was only too happy to be rid of the silliness leading up to the Iowa caucuses.

 I did run across a great bit just after the snow fell someplace. There was a reporter standing hip deep in snow talking about the big snowfall. As the camera pulled back, it revealed the dehorn was standing in front of a chain link fence that captured a lot of snow. As he struggled to get out of the drift, the snow gradually became less and less until he was standing snow that was no higher than his ankles.

Snow down south causes problems because people have no experience in what to do when it snows. It frightens them just as it would frighten me to look out and see an alligator in the back yard.

We got a little snow, a couple inches, in Fort Bragg, N.C., one time. It snowed three times when I was in the Army down there. This particular time I had a midmorning dental appointment. I hopped on my motorcycle and drove to the main post. There wasn’t much traffic and when I got on the less traveled streets, there wasn’t any tire tracks. Only one car in the dental lot, the plates were from Wisconsin.

The car belonged to a dentist on Reserve duty for two weeks. No receptionist, no dental techs, no other dentist, just me and angry Captain Angry from Wisconsin. He was mad at the Army, mad at the snow, mad at his hangover. He smiled when he told me the Novocain was locked up and he didn’t have a key.

‘But a little pain won’t bother a bad ass paratrooper, will it?’

Oh, was he wrong? And every time he spotted me clinching my fists, he cheerfully reminded me it was a court martial offense for an enlisted man to hit an officer. A little Southern snow and I was silly enough to drive in it. Should have just used it as an excuse not to keep the appointment. Every time I have the slightest inclination to root for the Green Bay Packers, I think back on Captain Angry’s license plate and that removes the inclination.

Another reason snow is so bad down South is they don’t have the necessary equipment to handle it. We can send out a fleet of public snow plows. Pickups rigged with plows to clear out parking lots and some driveways. Snow blowers waking up the neighbors early in the morning. Snow shovels used to clear steps and the like. People in the south don’t have much in the way of fighting the snow. Heck, down South a snow shovel in the garage is as rare as a liberal in the closet.

Another time a storm in Bragg brought about a good foot of snow, with no place to put it in the main drag in Fayetteville, so they just left it in a long pile in the center of the street. Naturally, some of the boys parked their cars on the mound, it was the weekend and the bars were full, and when it came time to go back to post, they  couldn’t get them off, sunk to the frame. The tow trucks were busy and the city told them to stay away from downtown, and then proceeded to ticket each car for illegal parking, each day it was left on the mound. When the tow trucks came down the hill to get the cars, they towed them to the impound lot. Some expensive parking!

And down South they just never learned how to have fun in the snow. Oh a few snowmen and a few snow angels, but not real fun like skiing and snow boarding, snow mobiling, clearing snow off a frozen lake to skate or ice fish etc..

Some members of 82nd Signal Battalion were going with one of the line companies to Alaska for Winter Training. They were issued white snowsuits and a pair of skis with poles. For several weeks they were getting prepared out in the field behind the barracks, wearing those hot suits and trying to glide along on the grass on their skis. As if gliding the skis on the grass actually prepared them for anything. But there’s the right way, the wrong way, and the Army way.

Then we got a nice snowfall. I told some of the guys, I’d show them how to have fun in the snow and maybe even teach them a little about skiing. That night I ‘requisitioned’ the Old Man’s jeep. I was the Old Man’s clerk. We got some ropes and went out to a Drop Zone where I pulled the men on skis behind the jeep. A good time was had by all. Especially since the two MP’s that caught us, believed us when we told them it was authorized training to prepare for the upcoming Cold Weather Exercise in Alaska.

The worst experience of being caught in a Southern Snowstorm came when I was hitchhiking back to Bragg after a few days in Washington D.C.. Talk about shutting down a major city! It was shortly after noon when the snow hit. Offices emptied and the roads filled with cars filled with bad drivers trying to get home. And none about to pick up a hitchhiker, even if it was a soldier in uniform dressed for the warmth of the South, not a snow storm of the North.

I was alternating my hands, one thumbing for a ride, the other covering my ear until my hands got so cold I had to put them under my arm pits inside my Ike jacket which was getting wet from the heavy flakes. Doing a little dance to keep circulation in my feet.

Finally a car braved the slipping and sliding traffic and pulled to the shoulder. The passenger door opened and I jumped in. I was busy saying thanks and putting my hands in front of the heater when I heard this angelic voice telling me that she was only going as far as Arlington; but at least it was far enough to get me out of the heavy city traffic and I would stand a better chance of getting another ride.

What a sight for sore eyes! Not only because she stopped for me, but also because she was beautiful. A few years older than me. Long black hair. Green eyes. A smile that would melt the snow and warm the heart.

I was trying to get the numbness out of my hands, my ears, and still trying to carry on a normal conversation with her without distracting her as she was driving. It was evident she wasn’t use to driving in that kind of weather. She kept a steady pace until there would be a car poking along ahead. Then she would veer out to pass, slip and slide, head for the ditch. Had to hand it to her, she didn’t panic, managed to get straightened back on the road. I must admit I tightened up a few times.

‘Whoa,’ I said, ‘You just missed the Arlington cutoff.’

Again with that smile. ‘I know,’ she said. ‘Fort Meade is down further. There is a shelter where the soldiers stand, and cars pull in the side road and give them rides. You’ll stand a better chance of getting a ride in a hurry down there.’

I protested. I pointed out the road was bad. The snow was getting heavier. She should just leave me off and get home as quick as possible.

‘No,’ she answered. ‘My husband is in the Army stationed in Korea. From what I hear, they have terrible winters there. Snow. Cold. And I just hope that if he is hitchhiking, and the weather is bad, someone will pick him up.’

Wow! I sure hoped that soldier appreciated the woman he married.

She was right about Fort Meade. I got ride right away. As I got in the car I could see her car heading back to the Arlington cutoff. I said a silent prayer that she would make it home okay. We got out of the Southern snow storm in about fifty miles. My new ride took me almost to Bragg. He talked and I mostly listened, and thought about a very kind lady whose husband was stationed in Korea.

snobama

            Right now it is snowing. They say it might be the biggest so far of the season. About 6” to a foot. Schools will close early. It will be a slow afternoon commute home, but by tomorrow’s morning rush hour the driving will be much better. Our army of snow plows will see to it. Yet there will still be a rash of accidents and cars in the ditch. Not every one up here knows how to drive in a snow storm, especially those driving big SUV’s. They know they can bust through all kinds of snow; but they forget that sometimes they can’t stop on the wet pavement.

Of course, I won’t be one of those fighting the elements. I will be safe and snug in the house. I am retired!

 

And that’s a wrap for today.       

11th Day of the 11th Month

440px-In_Flanders_Fields_(1921)_page_1

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

            First part of the poem written one hundred years ago by Dr. John McCrea after he presided over the death of a friend killed at the Second Battle of Ypes, site of the first use of gas in the war history calls The First World War.

The seeds of this conflict, one of the deadliest ever, went back centuries; but gained speed in a series of events and alliances begun in 1882, with the trigger, killing of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria occurring in June of 1914. When it finally ended it had caused the deaths of nine million combatants and seven million civilians and restructured boundaries in both Europe and the Middle East and dragged warfare into modern times.

It started for the most with  centuries-old methods of war, such as using the horse for both transportation and warfare; but quickly changed into a war of man-made machines powered by the combustible engine on the land, the sea, and a new battleground, the air. And this new method of warfare introduced yet another reason for nations waging war, Oil.

One thing that didn’t change was the reliance on the foot soldier, the doughboy, the mud slogging, trench fighter. And this war was indeed a war of trenches, miles of trenches. For the most part, these men in all wars are unsung; but sometimes one becomes a hero, a household name like the man from the hills of Tennesse, Alvin York of the 82 Division. Largely because of York’s heroics, his division, the 82nd was chosen to be the first airborne division in the US Army.

This war also brought to light the need to bring medicine and medical techniques into modern times. More deaths occurred because of tetanus and infection than from actual battle wounds. The studies of Pasteur and Lister became the Bible for the new medical structure and monies that would never have been allotted for the civilian populations were made available for new medicines to combat the main causes of death in this war.

The war spawned a variety of poems, songs, paintings etc.. It is the source of two of the strongest anti-war works of art, Remarque’s novel ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT, and Lewis Milestone’s faithful movie of the novel.

The Christmas Truces especially in 1914 have been used in movies and stage plays. The one I am most familiar with is ALL IS CALM:THE CHRISTMAS TRUCE OF 1914. We put it  on stage at the Minneapolis Pantages in 2008, and it has been done during every Christmas season since. On Christmas Eve 1914 the sounds of Christmas hymns are heard coming from both the German trenches and the British trenches. Soon the soldiers come out of the trenches and the combatants meet in No-Man’s Land where they exchange Christmas greetings, food and beverages, and join with each other in singing the songs of Christmas. These truces were wide spread that Christmas even on the Eastern Front between a group of German and Russian soldiers.

At first the war had a variety of names depending on what countries were fighting each other. As more countries entered into the battle these names were melded into The World War/ The Great War. After the Armistice The World War/The Great War was given a subtitle: The War To End All Wars.

The Armistice was signed at 5 AM, November 11, 1918. The cease fire took place six hours later, the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. The time had a good ring to it and was easy to remember. There was also a political/military motive behind the delay in the cease fire. The delay gave the Allies a chance to gain better ground in case the Cease Fire didn’t last. That last day of fighting resulted in over 2,500 additional deaths. For all practical purposes it was the end of the war, but peace wasn’t officially ratified until 1/10/1920.

The victors had no mercy for the losers and dictated harsh edicts that changed the world. Boundaries were changed. New countries were created with no respect for the differences in the peoples in these countries. Overlooked was the ethnic differences, the differences in language and especially religions. It was a hastily drawn up with the main purpose to cripple the countries that could pose problems to the Allies as respect to economic progress and to colonial expansion. These ‘written in the sand’ changes still, almost a century later, remain one of the biggest sources of wars, horrific and genocidal, both external and civil, in the world.

November 11th was called Armistice Day, a legal holiday, in most countries that were on the ‘winning’ side. Later the name was changed to Remembrance Day in many of those countries. In 1954 it became known as Veterans Day in the U.S.A.

VERDUN-OSSUAIRE_DE_DOUAUMONT5

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

 

It wasn’t long before the subtitle, The War To End All Wars became as ludicrous as the phrase uttered in almost all conflicts, ‘They’ll be home by Christmas’.

And events that started just twenty years later caused a name change. The Great War was dropped, and The World War had to be renamed The First World War because another war with the usual suspects, some like Japan and Italy changing sides, combined to fight The Second World War, which was not The War To End All Wars either in spite of the fact the war ended with destroying two large cities with the first use of atomic bombs. Such destruction, we were told, would end war forever. No country would ever start a war with the threat of the mushroom cloud hanging over their head. Another premise that proved false.

Early one morning Frank Glick was driving to work and saw this Bald Eagle sitting on a gravestone in the Fort Snelling National Veterans’ Cemetery. Luckily he managed to take this picture.

Eagle at Ft Snelling

The cemetery sits on a high bluff overlooking beautiful valley where the Minnesota River flows into the Mississippi River. At funerals in the cemetery, sometimes there is an Honor Guard firing off a salute, sometimes planes fly in formation; but almost always there is a Bald Eagle flying  above the ceremony. The sight never fails to bring lumps in the throats of teary eyes mourners.

The cemetery and the nearby Veterans’ Hospital are both running out of room. And this sad situation is occurring in all our Veterans cemetery and hospitals across our land.

Our lawmakers always seems to find the monies for overrides on government contracts to develop a new weapons system, and monies to pay for the exorbitant salaries and profits for the private contractors, like Chaney’s Haliburton, that have slithered into our defense budgets ever since Viet Nam.

And yet when it comes to helping our veterans, these patriotic lawmakers vote down request after request stating no money is available. Our veterans hospital are for the most part outdated and understaffed. These patriots lawmakers, many of whom took deferments to avoid service, fought the idea that Agent Orange used by us in Nam was responsible for  veterans’  medicals problems like cancer, and they continue to avoid the epidemic of mental problems of our veterans who fought in our questionable conflicts ever since WWII. And the list goes on and on.

The best way to thank our vets for ‘THEIR SERVICE’ is to demand that we honor our commitments to them for sacrificing so much so much ‘to protect our freedoms’ and our ‘need’ to be the policemen for the world.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow  


In our present day treatment of our veterans, we have broken faith, not only with those that died but also with those that lived.

Flanders Field

To all my fellow vets, Vaya Con Dios.

This is a reblog from 2016

D-DAY BRONZE STAR

82nd-Airborne-Wings-ProArtShirts

Some of my favorite memories of my time serving in the 82nd Signal Battalion was revolved around the combat vets in the outfit. Some saw action in WWII. Some in Korea. Some in both. Each of them had a chest full of medals and great ‘jump’ stories. One of my favorite vets was Sergeant Estes.  He jumped into Normandy on D-Day, and was awarded a Bronze Star for single handedly capturing a platoon of German soldiers. But unlike most of the paratroopers who jumped in the darkness very early on that day, it was not the first combat jump for Estes. He jumped almost year before, in the first US combat airborne assault ever, again in the dark, the invasion of Sicily, where he got his first Purple Heart.

Just a bullet scratch in the shoulder, but I’ll take the medal.’

When I served with him, he was a Battalion cook, transferred to the mess hall a few years before.

Just biding my time. Cooking’s good. No getting up before the sun and running 5 miles. On 24 hours – off 48. Good life.

Tall, thin, face like cracked leather, with a drawl that needed a translator until you got use to it. His fatigues showed a faded outline of a higher rank of sergeant.

‘Never get too fancy sewing on your rank. Saves time when lose a stripe or two. Airborne’s got the youngest sergeants in the Army, and the oldest privates. I got me my Good Conduct ribbon during a time when I was too busy overseas to do any bad conducting.’

Quiet man usually. Hard to get to know. But once he decided to take a liking to you, he was a hoot to be around. He would really open up with some great stories, especially after a beer or two. Estes and I were next to each other in the parade to honor General ‘Jumping Jim’, ‘Slim Jim’, James Gavin, the 82nd’s favorite General, upon his retirement.

‘I’d follow that man into hell. Come to think of it, that’s exactly where I followed him,’ Estes said, swigging a beer to wash the hot dust out of his throat. ‘Following him got me my second Purple Heart. Hurt like hell!’

It was the first time I saw Estes in his Class A’s. Two Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star, and a Silver Star on his chest along with a slew of campaign ribbons. ‘You got yourself quite a bunch of salad on your chest, Sarg. You got a reason to be proud.’

Well,’ he answered in a slow drawl, ‘I walk tall with the war ribbons, and my two purple Washingtons- and my Silver Star; but I don’t take much credit for the Bronze Star. Cuz it was an accident.’

‘What? I heard you captured an entire platoon of Germans, all by yourself and got the Bronze Star for it!’

Yup. But I didn’t Sergeant York it. It was an accident.’

Estes like to tell stories in bits and pieces. Almost like a Saturday Matinee serial. Leave you hang, come back next week and get another piece of the story. Took several sessions and quite a few beers before he told me about the ‘accidental Bronze Star’ and what led up to it. Estes also told stories in the grand style of Appalachian oral history. Slow, deliberate, filled with great mountain expressions, vocal inflections, physical gestures, and perfectly timed dramatic pauses. All in the sweet drawl of the hills.

I can give you the gist of his story leading up to getting the Bronze Star by ‘accident’; but not in his exact words, and certainly not in his exact style. I wish it would have been like today, put him in front of a camera and put the result on You Tube for everyone to enjoy.

Born and reared in the Tennessee Cumberlands. Just a couple big hills from where Sergeant Alvin York had his home place. Hard rock farm. Could hardly keep my folks in vitals, let alone enough for us six kids. All the paying jobs around weren’t around cuz somebody had them already. The only way to make any money was to become a faith-healing, tent-preacher with a couple rattlesnakes.

            ‘One day me and Levi, from the next farm, decided to go on the bum. We hiked a ride to where the freight trains have to real slow up a steep grade. Ran out, opened a car door, but there were a lot of hobos in it, so we found us an empty one. It was heading south, and we surmised that would be a good way to go. At least we would talk their language.

            ‘Now hoboing ain’t the fun you think it would be. Just listen to the songs of Jimmie Rodgers. He tells it like it was. And listen to the words real close in BIG ROCK CANDY MOUNTAIN. Dangerous life. If you do find an odd job, it’s hard work, low pay, usually cold food from last night’s dinner. Most of the time, you beg to eat, and you sleep in the cold. By the time we made it to Augusta, we were talking about heading back home.

            ‘There was this fancy movie house, and it was showing SERGEANT YORK. We had to see it! Had a little bit of money we were saving for some food, but it was enough to get only one of us in legal. Levi got a ticket and got me snuck the side door. Watched it twice. When we walked out of that movie house, I was gung-ho, knew what I wanted. I was going to join up in the Army. And I knew where to go.

            ‘We had passed an Army recruiting place on the way from the tracks. I spent most of the night trying to convince Levi to join up with me; but he said as much as he liked the idea of three squares a day and a cot to sleep in, what with the talk of the US maybe getting in the war, there was no way he was do anything forward enough to get shot at. Come morning I went one way to join up and Levi went the other to catch a freight.

            ‘I told the Army sergeant I wanted to join up with the 82nd, cuz that was Sgt. York’s outfit, and he came from my hills. And it shouldn’t be so hard cuz Camp Gordon where old Alvin got his start was right outside Augustus. He said it didn’t work like that.

            ‘If I wanted to join the 82nd I might have to jump out of airplanes cuz there was a rumor the 82nd was going to be the first airborne division in the US army. I surmised it couldn’t be any more dangerous than being on the bum. Then he told me I’d have to go to Fort Benning for boot camp, still in Georgia, but a ways away, and I could volunteer airborne in boot camp. I asked best way to hitch there, and he told me I could ride a bus for nothing after I signed up with him. I didn’t lie. I told him my actual birth date. He pondered a bit and wrote down I was born a year earlier than I said, and warned me to never let anyone in the Army know how young I really was. Then he even bought me a good meal before putting me on the bus with my papers in hand.

            ‘As for Levi, I got a letter from my brother a few years after. He said Levi and a couple old boys tried to rob a bank. Got outside and walked into a squad of police. Levi, who said he wouldn’t do anything to get himself shot at, was the first of the boys to throw down his gun and throw up his arms. He got his 3 squares and a cot alright, but he had to bust rocks on a Carolina chain gang to earn them.

            ‘It worked out sweet for me. Got through basic, got through jump school ,and got into the new 82nd Airborne Division, 505. Had my wings before Pearl Harbor.  Wasn’t one of the original 48, but came close to it. Was one of jumpers in the first US airborne combat assault. Sicily – 9 June 43. We didn’t know what was going to happen, but we were all glad to leave the training in hot, hot, hot, North Africa in the rear view mirror. It was a night jump just like Normandy was. Combat jump, no reserve chutes, low altitude, not enough time for a reserve to help. You catch a streamer you just got to pray and try to shake it loose.

            ‘We figured on going onto the mainland and fight old fat Mussolini’s boys; but instead we went to England to train for the Big Dance.

            ‘It was cloudy at 1AM, June 6, of 44, but at least the storm had subsided. We jumped behind the lines but not exactly where they wanted us to land. My platoon landed in a hayfield with hedgerows on three sides, and a stand of trees at the far end. Great jump, great DZ, no harm to any of us. But we did hear occasional shooting afar, but none in our direction.

            ‘You could make out a supply chute tangled in the far trees. The captain ordered me to run down there and drag it back to our regrouping. I set my rifle down and took off. I was cutting the shroud lines to free the chute when I heard a lot of mumbling. And then a German soldier came out of the trees, followed by a lot more, a whole platoon of German soldiers. My rifle was a far ways off, but one man, even with a 03 Springfield, couldn’t do much against those odds.

            ‘That was the bad news. The good news was all the Germans had their rifles raised over their heads. They were surrendering to me. One soldier who talked good English asked that they be taken prisoner. What with all the airborne soldiers all around the area, they saw no point in trying to fight. Besides, he said, most of them were tired and wouldn’t mind sitting out the rest of the war in a POW camp.

            ‘I had to ask one of them to give me his rifle and the rest to lay their’s  on the ground. Ordered some to pick up the supply boxes and marched them down to where my platoon were watching and laughing and shouting how I was a big hero just like old Sgt. York that I was always going on about.

            ‘And that’s how I got the Bronze Star for capturing a whole platoon of Germans, all by myself. Nothing to be so proud of. Like I told you, it was an accident. Don’t think they’re ever going to make a movie called SERGEANT ESTES.’

            He was right. They never made a movie called SERGEANT ESTES; but accident or no, I told him he should stand tall wearing that Bronze Star. It was earned honestly. And one hell of a story.

                               bronze star      

 

UP, UP IN THE AIR

th (1)    The second time I flew in an airplane, I jumped out. There were quite a few other flights after that, before I actually stayed in the plane until it had landed. Believe me, sometimes landings cause more butterflies in my stomach than I ever had jumping out of a plane.

 

The Old Hand:

Army Glasses

The story on the news about a smartphone dropping 13000 feet and still working, reminds me of a similar thing that happened to me in paratrooper jump school. After three weeks of hell, we had to jump at l800 feet, three times one day, two times the next day to qualify for our wings. When we hit the ground, we had to bundle up our chutes and run to the closest deuce and a half truck for the ride back.

I had civilian glasses but the Army issued me a pair of bare-boned glasses which I had to wear in jump school. In jumping with glasses in those days, you tied a piece of cord to the bows, just long enough to fit around the back of your head and secured the ties with tape. On one of the jumps, the wind ripped off my glasses as soon as I exited the plane. Other than losing my glasses, the jump went well.

I climbed in the back of the truck and as we drove away, a trooper-to-be, with a distinct hillbilly accent, loudly proclaimed that it was really his lucky day. He had found a pair of glasses on the drop zone. Never had a pair before and now he had one. I hated to bust his bubble but I suggested he put them on and see if he see anything with them. Naturally he couldn’t.  I told him that they were probably mine, the ones that flew off my face when I left the plane. I asked to try them on and see if I could see anything. I could. There was no question they were mine. And they were in perfect condition. The fall hadn’t hurt them at all. He allowed me to keep them seeing as how ‘they don’t work’ when he wears them.

There was about three hundred of us on that jump. There was probably a dozen trucks to pick us up. And I just happened to climb in a truck with the guy who thought he was so lucky because he found a pair of glasses. I always wore my civilian glasses for everything except when I jumped. I used those army issued glasses. They weren’t much to look at but they survived a fall of 1800 feet without breaking the lenses or the frame. They were as tough as Army steak.

Published  07/27/2011,SPPP, Bulletin Board

 

The Old Hand:

Up in the air, up in the air. 

Quite a few of us in the 82nd Signal Battalion and our equipment were being transported across the mountains from Fort Bragg, NC to Fort Campbell KY to set up communications for the umpires in a war exercise, Operation Eagle Wing.

While we were still on the ground, one of the men, Sgt. Ford, blew up his air mattress. And while the rest of us sat on hard benches, Ford laid on his air mattress and kept crowing how comfortable it felt. We were happy when he shut his mouth and dozed off.

Suddenly there was an explosion and we saw Ford flying to the ceiling of the plane. Bam! He hit the roof. Bam! He fell down and hit the floor. A lot of us, including the pilot, ran to him. Outside of several bruises and a great deal embarrassment he was okay.

When the pilot found out about the air mattress and how Ford blew it up on the ground, he further embarrassed Ford by explaining how air pressure changes the higher up you fly. The air Ford blew into the mattress on the ground had greater pressure than that in the plane once a certain altitude was reached, causing the mattress to explode.

It was a hands-on lesson in physics that none of us ever forgot, especially Ford.

PS: Ford also got written up and the Old Man saw to it that Ford got a little extra duty once we got back to Bragg.

Published SPPP Bulletin Board  7/22/ 13

 

The Old Hand:

Oops!

 

Cute story about the little guy declaring ‘that was awesome’ on the plane’s bumpy landing reminded me of a plane ride I took with a coworker.

It was his very first plane ride. To say it was a white-knuckle flight for the guy would be an understatement. I’ve seen less fear in paratroopers making their first jump. I tried to talk to him about how to go about the work that he was going to have to do in the next few days, but the blank stare in his eyes proved to me he really wasn’t listening. He didn’t have a rosary, but I realized he was using his fingers in lieu of beads.

About twenty minutes from landing, the plane hit an air pocket and quickly fell a little. He turned to me and between gasps, managed to ask if what happened was normal. I told him no. Then he began to cry, big tears, loud sobs. And I began to laugh – very loud. Between the two of us, we had the attention of the rest of the passengers and flight attendants. When one attendant came to ask if anything was wrong, between his crying and my laughing, neither of us could answer.

Afterwards I felt bad about laughing at him. I tried to apologize, but he wouldn’t accept it. We were never close friends; but after that incident, we aren’t even distant friends. That happened over thirty years ago and I don’t think he has ever forgotten or forgiven. I realize I never should have laughed at his fear; but darn it, I just couldn’t help myself.

Published 7/15/13, SPPP, Bulletin Board