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.

RIDING MY THUMB IN THE SNOW

Back in the day when a man in uniform could thumb a ride anywhere:

That heavy snow we just had on Easter Sunday reminded me of another spring holiday snow storm. That one was on Holy Saturday many years ago.

I was heading home from Ft. Bragg to spend a week with my folks. One of guy in the outfit had posted he was going to Chicago. Another trooper and myself answered the post.

I had the backseat all to myself. The two Chicago boys took turns driving and keeping each other awake. I was sleeping good when they started raising their voices above the music on the radio. It took me a bit to realize they were arguing over who came from the toughest neighborhood in the city. The stories grew larger and larger; by the time they left me off at the highway that bypassed Chicago, you would think they both were remnants of Al Capone’s mob.

Next ride got me though Madison, WI.. That’s when the snow started. It was the wet, slushy snow that often makes April the ‘cruelest month’. Luckily a car stopped before I got too wet. The driver was about 30, nice smile, friendly voice. Seeing I was shivering, he turned the heater on high in spite of the fact he was wearing a black turtle-neck sweater. He asked where I was heading and when I told him, he apologized because he was only going a little past Tomah.

Usually the price you pay for hitching a ride is you have to listen to the driver talking, telling you things he would not tell to many other people; but you were a stranger and his story would go no further. Kind of like a confession. But not this driver. He got more out of me than I was use to telling anyone.

I started to doze off so I suggested that he could turn the heat down. He did so with pleasure, beads of sweat were on his forehead. But it didn’t help me much. The slip-slapping of the wiper blades sang me back to sleep.

I woke in a hurry when he started swearing. The blades were losing the battle with the snow but not enough that I see we were in trouble. The car was heading for one ditch and then he swung it back towards the other. It was facing the opposite direction when he finally got it under control enough to pull onto the shoulder. He made the Sign of the Cross and took some very deep breathes.

I cut loose. I called him names that would make a paratrooper blush. And I finished by yelling, ‘You dumb @#@%$#@, I know I told you I was in a hurry, hoping to go to Easter Mass with my folks; but I ain’t that much of a hurry to get killed trying to do it.’

Apology time for both of us.

‘I got thinking about tomorrow,’ he said, ‘And didn’t realize I was going too fast for the conditions. Thank God, there wasn’t any other cars around.’

‘Yeah, thank God! Well,’ I said in a softer voice, ‘It happens. I shouldn’t have had no call to swear at you like that.’ The last thing I wanted was to have him give me the boot in that snowstorm.

He laughed as he pulled a pulled a Uey and back on track. ‘Don’t sweat it, Don. I’m the padre at Camp McCoy up ahead. Heard a lot worse, believe me.’

‘Oh, no!’ I said, ‘You’re a priest! Jeez…Boy, now I really got to get home in time to go to Confession.’

Well,’ he said, ‘I can take some pressure off you.’ He reached under the front seat and pulled out a stole. ‘Always keep one handy in case of an emergency.’ He placed it around his neck. He must have read my mind. ‘Don’t worry’, he said, ‘A car is as good as a confessional.’

I hesitated at first and then begun, ‘Bless me, Father…’ After the first few words, the rest came easy.’

I hoped he wasn’t the kind of priest that closed his eyes when he was hearing a confession.

So, riding in a car, in the middle of a snow storm, going to Confession. A first and only time for me.

The padre left me off at the entrance to Camp McCoy. Nice bench, a sheltered roof. First car stopped. A top of the line Chevy convertible. The driver was a little older than me. Big man, but soft features. I had to do a double take when I saw his backseat. There were boxes of LP records, a stereo phonograph, TV set, a few books and lots of magazines on the floor, Down Beat’s, Playboy’s, probably a Penthouse or two hiding in the stack . He took a nice homburg hat off the seat, flipped it in the back and invited me in.

After trading names and where-you’re-goings, the driver took over the conversation. His name was Paul and he was going back home, which was only a few miles from my home. He had spent the last three years working in Milwaukee. He said the pay wasn’t bad but he hated every minute of working in that office and living in that city; especially after he got a “Dear Paul’ letter from his girlfriend, who had vowed she would wait for him to get established and then they would get married. He didn’t have a job waiting for him, but he was sure he’d find one in the Twin Cities. In the meantime he could live with his folks…And maybe look up some girls he went to school with.

Fancy car, nice clothes, and I imagined he had quite a few romantic albums in his collection would help him find a new girlfriend, fast. Until then, there was always his collection of Playboys, if he managed to hide them from his mother.

His blues story was boring; but I did like the part about him driving me right to my parents’ home, so I made like a bartender expecting a nice tip does and pretended to listen intently. The snow was getting heavier. Instead of driving out of it, it seemed to be we were driving into the heart of it.

I was sure happy when we came over the hill and could see the river and the Hudson Bridge that crossed into Minnesota in the distance. Home was the next stop. Again, I was wrong. As soon as we got got into the river valley, Paul pulled off into the main street of downtown Hudson.

‘I have to buy a new tie for tomorrow,’ he explained, as he got into the jam of cars doing last minute shopping. ‘All mine need dry cleaning.’

Yeah, good luck finding a place to park, I thought to myself.

No problem for Paul. He just double parked in front of a very busy department store. ‘Drive around,’ he said, as he reached for his hat, ‘Meet you back here in a half hour.’ He opened the door and got out. I slide into the driver’s seat and pulled out before one of those irate horn-blowers behind me decided to get really mad.

I turned around the block and headed back to the truck stop we had passed on the highway. Switched on the radio and settled back and enjoyed driving this fine automobile. Sure beat the Jeep I drove back at Bragg. My first inclination when I parked in the big lot, was to go inside and get a cup of coffee; but I had second thoughts about leaving the car unoccupied with a back seat full of expensive goods.

And then it dawned on me. Now, to say I was tempted would be pushing, but I sure was doing some day dreaming.

That damn Paul! That damn stupid Paul! Handing over his fancy car loaded with thousands of dollars of things that anyone could fence. I thought how this kind of money compared to Army pay. I watched the cars heading east and thought how close I could get to Chicago by the time he got tired of waiting and decided to call the cops on me. I thought about those two would-be gangsters I could look up… But like I said, it was a day dream, a would-be author’s kicking around ideas for a story. I wasn’t stupid and I sure wasn’t a thief.

I timed it as close as a half hour as I could. I had no more stopped in front of the store when Paul came running out and jumped in the passenger seat. The chorus of horns started up again. I pulled away as soon as Paul closed the car door and headed back to the highway.

‘Not much of a selection,’ he said, ‘But I got one I liked anyway.’ He pulled out a tie out of one bag and showed me.

I stopped the car just before pulling out on the highway. I turned to him and cut loose with the same kind of language I had used on the priest.

I told him he was a @##@$$#@# fool to turn his life savings to a perfect stranger. How did he know I wouldn’t just up and steal the car and everything in it. How did he know…

He gave me a smile and a doughnut he pulled from a second bag. ‘It’s Easter Time, Don. Nobody steals at Easter.’

The doughnut was good. His logic was…

I drove to my folk’s home and Paul and I wished each other a Happy Easter. It was still snowing as I ran into the house. Went right in because that was back in the day we left our door unlocked and nobody ever stole anything… especially at Easter Time.

I would like to wish everybody Happy Holidays in this time of Holy Days for all. Belated or predated. In sunshine or snow.

GLUCKICHER OSTERTAG

(Happy Easter Day)

May we all celebrate the Holy Days of April in the way we use to. Please stay safe. Obey the rules. Remember the lives you may save maybe the lives of those you love the most.

SATURDAY’S BATH

The Old Hand

Back in the day when things we now accept as run-of-the-mill were considered a luxury..like a bath..

I had undergone a long period with a medicinal wrapping on my leg. A bath was impossible, and a partial shower was laborious, and unsatisfying. When the wrapping was removed for good, I took the longest and most luxurious bath in years. And I thought back when every common-place bath was a once a week chore and, when Saturday was Bath Night.

Growing up, we didn’t have a hot water heater. Six nights a week, cleanliness was obtained with a tea-kettle of hot water in the sink, or, weather permitting, a soaking down outside with the garden hose. But Saturday night was bath night, with a soup pot of water heated on the stove and carried very carefully to the tub. Cold water, from either tap, tempered the bath water, which was shared by all four of us kids.

My younger sister was first. She was always warned not to dawdle, (which she always did), and let the water turn too cold, or next time, she would be last in the tub, (which never happened). When she finally finished, a tea-kettle of hot water was added and it was my turn. Then next up were the two young brothers, together. They got a tea-kettle of hot water added, but temperature didn’t mean anything to them. They would have preferred a wash-up with the garden hose, weather permitting. But they still managed to make the tub a playground and a big mess for mom.

By the time I got to high school, we had a water heater, albeit with a small capacity. Now we could take baths when we wanted to. Of course, if hot water had been used before for a bath, or washing clothes, or even washing dishes, you had to wait a while for the heater to produce hot water again. The younger brothers still preferred the garden hose, weather permitting.

I didn’t get my first leave from the Army for four months. I surprised the family in the afternoon of Christmas Eve. Naturally, as soon as I walked in the door, Mom wanted to make me something to eat. I begged off, saying what I wanted first was a good soak in a hot bath, since I had not had a bath all the while I was in the Army.

She lost it. “Haven’t taken bath since you went in the Army! I didn’t raise my kids to be pigs! I can’t believe that is the kind of thing the Army…”

I finally calmed her down and explained that there were no bath tubs in army barracks, just showers. And I took one, often two showers, every day.

“Showers,” she said, giving me the mom’s look. “Humph! Like washing off with the garden hose, weather permitting.” She shook her head. “Well, that be the case, you better take a good long soak. Church will be crowded at Midnight Mass, and I want my children to be seen, not smelt. “

Sometimes, a bath/shower is a lot more than just good hygiene.

 Pub 4/14/11, St. Paul Pioneer Press – Bulletin Board

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

THE ART OF RAYMOND (II)

…Auguste Rodin’s The Thinker!

There was a collective silence in the room broken when the sound of a very young voice stated, ‘That guy ain’t even got underpants on.’ The ice broke. The grandkids hooted and laughed. The adults tried to muffle their laughs.

Dad shook his head and told Raymond, ‘Take that damn thing off the table. Put it someplace where we can eat without having to look at it.’

Some of us began to clear the wrappings. Some began to take the plates from the pile and hand them out to be set in place. The little ones, declaring how hungry they were, moved to their chairs at the card table.

Mom hadn’t moved or uttered a sound since she had finally unwrapped her gift, and then she said, ‘Raymond’. Slow, dragging out the name softly at first and building into a shout, followed by sounds of angry crying. Everything stopped. The grandkids stopped laughing. The adults stopped getting the table. Raymond set the statue back on the table.

‘Six months! Six months,’ she said when she manged to speak. ‘Oh, I know you’ll love it, Mom. Six months he left me guess what it was. Six months waiting for that, that… I don’t even know what to call that damn thing

‘The guy in the store said it’s called The Thinker, Mom. It’s great art. A Frenchman made the original,’ Raymond told her.

‘Great art?’ she repeated. ‘Great art?

Now Mom was a small town farm girl who never went further than fifty miles from where she was born until she crossed the river into Wisconsin to watch me play in a high school football game. She had her own idea of what great art was. It was something that you would find in a church, or in a parochial school, or reproduced on a funeral home calendar. The only time she went in a museum was a high school field trip to the Natural Museum, a spooky building by the state capital, that had a real mummy in it. She never forgot the mummy. She never went into a museum again. Great art, humph.

‘A man without a stitch of clothing on…And he’s sitting on the pot.’

That observation got the grandkids laughing again. And some of the adults also.

Mom continued and everyone fell back into silence. ‘Two years,’ she sobbed, ‘Two years Raymond was gone. And, oh, how I missed him. Two years every night, on my knees praying he would be safe. Praying he wouldn’t get attacked by a polar bear or that the Commies wouldn’t bomb that radar place. Two years.’

‘Attacked by a polar bear,’ said the same young voice that mentioned the absence of underpants. ‘That’s scary.’

‘Two years and boy was I happy when he made it home from the service in one piece. And I was so happy even when he bought me a Christmas present way back in June. I figured it might be one of his tricks but I didn’t care. Then I thought maybe it wasn’t a trick. But I never thought it would be something like this. A naked guy…’

‘Sitting on the pot,’ the little voice helped his grandmother finish. ‘I’m hungry, Mommy. When can we eat?’

‘Oh, and another thing’, she said pointing her finger at her youngest, ‘You told me you bought it in a store on Seven Corners. There ain’t a store there. There’s only antique shops. Used things. Old used things. Couldn’t even buy me something new. Bought me something used.’

Raymond took the used statue into the living room and brought back another present, which he set down in front of Mom and asked her to open this present. He promised it was not a trick and it wasn’t used..

She unwrapped it down to the box it came in. It was a home-made ice cream maker. She didn’t cry but she pushed it away.

‘Now why would I ever want to turn a crank for a couple hours just to get a couple ice cube trays of flaky ice cream, when I can go to Huber’s store and buy any kind of ice cream I want. And probably cost less too. Home- made ice cream maker,’ she flicked her wrist to signal Raymond to take it away.’

Today the easiest way to give a present to a hard to please person is to give a them a gift card. Let them get their own gift. Not so in the 60’s. The idea of a piece of plastic with strange markings on it could be a substitute for cash or check was as far fetched as thinking there would ever be a contraption you could sit on the kitchen table and order anything from around the world. And the darn thing wouldn’t be connected to anything, not even a wall socket.

And Raymond had done the 60’s version of cash card. You give the hard- to- please a gift you know they won’t want, or even bother to open the box. You place the reciept in a sealed envelope with the name of the gift and the store where it was bought on top of the box. The recipient just takes it back to the store and redeems it for something they want. Oh, you could give cash or write a check but the money would just get mixed up with monies used for everyday expenses, not something special. Mom knew what Raymond had done. The sealed envelope was in plain sight on the top of the box. She just wanted another shot at him.

‘Mom,’ Raymond said, ‘Tomorrow I’ll bring you to Monkey Wards to exchange it for something cool. Okay?’

He did. She did and bought a blue flannel robe home. It cost more than what she returned and Raymond made up the difference. The robe became the mainstay of her everyday wardrobe.

The Thinker sat by the tree and we all believed that come the 6th of January, Epiphany, when the Christmas decorations were taken down, the statue would be thrown out with the tree. But not so. It sat there afterwards, a few feet away from the rocking chair where Mom fell asleep each night watching TV. Come summer when Mom wanted a cool breeze while she ironed clothes in the living room, she used the statue as a door stop for the front door.

And then one day it disappeared. Since the movie, The Christmas Story, was years from being made, Mom could not be accused of staging a variation of the accident used to get rid of the unwanted leg-lap.

‘I set up the ironing board and I must have not locked the legs because as soon as I put the iron on it, it took a nose dive and the iron flew off and smashed The Thinker’s head. Couldn’t glue it. Just small chunks and dust. Had Raymond throw it in the trash barrel when he came home.’

‘Did he feel bad about his gift being broken.’

‘Heck no,’ she said, ‘He couldn’t care less about it. The statue wasn’t the real gift. The trick he played was the gift he wanted to give me. Proof he’s still the same old Raymond we remembered. ’

And to paraphrase a show biz declaration:

And that’s an un-wrap, folks

 

THE ART OF RAYMOND (I)

           

 

The Art of Raymond (I)

The gag-present in Elmer’s Goat was probably thought over for a year and came to being in about an hour. The gag-present in The Art of Raymond was a glance in a store window, a spur-of- the-moment purchase and then it steeped for six months, finally boiling over at Christmas. The recipient of the first enjoyed the joke. The recipient of the second, well…

No one would fault Mom for suspecting that Raymond was playing one of his tricks on her when he came in the house on a Thursday afternoon, carrying a large something-or- other wrapped in shiny paper, with a big ribbon encircling it from top to bottom.

‘Mom, guess what? I was going to Seven Corners Hardware to buy some tools and when I walked past a shop I saw this in the window, and I knew you’d love it,’ he said, as he set the package on the kitchen table.

One of his tricks, she knew it; but she didn’t care. He was back home after two years in the Army. As the three older kids moved out one by one the house grew larger, emptier, and quieter each time one of them left. And when the baby of the family left, it really sucked the excitement of raising a family out of her life. Some parents can’t wait for the nest to empty, but not Mom.

Now at least he was back. She knew he would bring back some of the old excitement in the house. The youngest of four, but always the leader in laughing and tricks and stirring things up. Grandpa use to say that you could just see the wheels turning in his eyes when he cooking up his next mischievous thing to do. The little ‘angel’. Maybe bringing home that present was a sign he was breaking out of the quiet mood he had been in since he came back.

When she had mentioned to Dad how Raymond seemed different, older, Dad pointed out that the Army brags that they make men out of boys. Plus with the three older ones gone, there was no one around to tease or to encourage him. Or maybe he is just resting up. He’s had two years of dreaming up some new tricks.

Raymond had been a guard at a secret radar post in the woods up in Alaska. Thirty miles from the nearest town, he told her. Pretty boring. Both the post and the town. He said to break the monotony in camp he would volunteer to dress up in a protective padded suit and let the dog trainer sic the guard dogs on him. In town the main attraction was the small bar that served bad beer and Tombstone pizza. The beer and pizza were more dangerous than the attack dogs. Whenever she tried to find out more about his time in the Army he would just tell her it was secret. Loose lips sink ships, what ever that meant. He was a soldier, not a sailor.

She made a move to unwrap the gift but stopped. ‘I suppose you want me to wait until you have a bigger crowd to laugh at your trick,’she said.

‘Mom, it’s your Christmas present. You have to wait until Christmas to unwrap it. I’m going to put it in the living room right by where the tree always goes. Be handy come Christmas.’

‘It’s six months ‘til Christmas. Go hide it in the barn.’

‘It is going in the living room,’he said. ‘You’re a big girl now and I know you won’t peek at it. Besides, I had the man wrap it with all kinds of newspapers and cardboard so you can’t feel what is inside.’ Then he took it in the living room.

The first few months Mom tried to guess what it was. She came up with some possible guesses and a few improbable ones. It became a game between the two of them. One time she guessed it was a statue and she caught a quick smile on Raymond. She continued with other guesses, but every now and then she would go back to statue, and finally she declared that it was a statue.

From then on she tried to guess what kind of stature. She narrowed it down to a statue of the Madonna. She went further and declared it was Our Lady of Fatima or maybe Our Lady of Lourdes. Satisfied that she had nailed it, she backed off thinking about it, except when she had to move it to dust mop.

But it took over her thoughts again as Christmas grew closer. Christmas Eve was the time for the kids and their families to spend in their own homes. For Mom and Dad, it meant putting up the tree, preparing for the big dinner the next day, and Midnight Mass. Early afternoon saw the children and grandchildren arrive bringing food for the big meal and presents to be opened after the meal.

Except this year Mom insisted that she get to open Raymond’s gift because she wanted to use it for a center piece on the table. Everybody agreed because they were all anxious to see what had been sitting in the living room for all those months.

Raymond had the last say though, and he had no objection just as long as Mom stuck by her promised to keep it on the table throughout dinner. He also had a big grin on his face. I, for one, suspected a trap; but Raymond moved fast and set the package in front of Mom, who had scissors in hand to make short work of the ribbon, shiny paper, newspapers, cardboard Scotch-taped together.

And as she peeled each layer off, she kept repeating that she was right, it was a statue, it was a statue. She kept vacillating between Our Lady of Lourdes and Our Lady of Fatima.

And as the last covering fell away, the statue was revealed. Only it wasn’t Fatima or Lourdes or even a Madonna. It was a replica of

For now, as they use to sign off back in the day:

Stay tuned, same place tomorrow for the exciting conclusion of the story.

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

 

DAY(S) THE MUSIC DIED

The Day the Music Died

This is a Blog Posting from 2014

Gee, it’s been 56 years since Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and the Big Bopper finished a concert at The Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa. Their next gig was in Moorhead, Minnesota. They never made it. Their plane crashed shortly after take-off. February 3, 1959 – ‘The day the music died’, as Don McLean proclaimed in his song/poem ‘AMERICAN PIE’.

Their deaths really didn’t affect me as much as it affected others my age. I was in the Army at the time. Although I kept up with popular music before I went into the Army, I pretty much lost track of the Top 40 hits during my Army stint.

At the time I was in Headquarters Company, 82 Airborne, Signal Battalion At Fort Bragg. Unlike the men in the two line companies, who lived in squad rooms, we in Headquarters Company had two-man rooms. My roommate, Patricio Menes, and I were into ‘cool’ jazz, Brubeck, Kenton, etc.. I had a small hi-fi phonograph and the two us had a number of LPs. Neither of us had a radio or a car with one . And I didn’t have one on my motorcycle. We heard some of the music of the day when we were shooting pool in the day room and American Bandstand was on TV. And we heard a lot of the music on juke boxes when we went to Fayetteville.

The first I heard of the plane crash was the next night when Patricio came in  the room and told me, ‘Richie was killed in a plane crash.’ I thought he was talking about some friend of his, but Pat put me straight. ‘Richie Valens! ‘ LA BAMBA!’

I knew the song because Pat played it often on juke boxes. Valens came from L.A. just like Patricio. Pat and the other Latinos from the L.A. barrio thought Valens was one of their own, and liked to sing the Mexican folk song, LA BAMBA, which Valens, not only made a hit out of it, but sang it in Spanish. I often wondered how Pat and his friends felt when they found out that Valens didn’t come from the barrio, but from a suburb of L.A., and his Spanish was limited to ordering from a menu and reading the lyrics of his hit from a cue card.

And it was several days after I heard Valens was killed in a crash that I learned Buddy Holly and The Big Bopper were also killed in that crash.

Over the years I learned the back stories like Waylon Jennings, a member of The Crickets, gave up his seat in the plane to the Big Bopper, who was sick, and went by bus with the other Crickets as well as Dion and the Belmonts. Waylon took off on his own shortly afterwards and went ‘outlaw’.

Then there the story of how the concert promoter in Moorhead filled out the bill as best he could and brought in a local boy, Bobby Vee, as one of the acts. Vee followed up that appearance with several hit singles, and when the time came for Vee to record his first album, he hired a young Bobby Dylan to play guitar on the album.

And over the years, I began to appreciate the talent  of Buddy Holly.

Since that crash took place before I became a stage hand, I never had the pleasure of working those three. I saw the movies based on the lives of Holly and Valens. And I worked BUDDY THE MUSICAL several times. But it’s not the same as seeing them in person.

As far as the others in the back story, I had the pleasure of working them all many times. The name of Bobby Vee may not be familiar to most people but he was very talented and fun to work, especially in the later years when he and his sons put on their shows. Sadly, I read the other day that Bobby Vee has Alzheimer’s.

A few years later, Patsy Cline, Cowboy Copas, and Hawkshaw Hawkins were killed in a small plane crash. And the list of musicians killed in light plane crashes goes on and on. The two that hit me the hardest was Ricky Nelson and Jim Croce.

Although he is largely ignored today, Ricky Nelson was big, big, big in the early days of rock and roll. For several years, only Elvis outsold him. And then he let his addictions grand his career to a screaming halt.

I had just worked Nelson shortly before his death. He was so excited. His concerts were selling better than he had hoped; his all time hits album had just been remastered, and he felt maybe his career would take off again. He was also high. They figured out that fire from cocaine freebasing on the plane caused the ‘Travelin Man’ to have his ticket punched.

The two favorite front acts of Sue Wiel, promoter at the Guthrie, were James Taylor and later, Jim Croce. Taylor was so thankful for Sue’s faith in him when he was trying to bust the big time, that he promised to come back and play two shows at the G when he did make it. And what shows they were! He also brought along his wife at the time, Carly Simon, who sang some duets with James and a few solos. Two big acts for the price of one. At that time, he was so big he could have easily sold out an arena show, but he had made Sue a promise.

I got to know Jim Croce during his front act performances at the Guthrie. After he finished his act, he would come up to the lighting booth and sit next to me to watch the main act. He was interesting, a good story teller, and he made no bones about loving his wife and his newborn baby. A nice person and a great talent.

Like James Taylor before him, Jim also planned to do a couple thank you shows for Sue, when he made it big. And like James Taylor, he was good to his promise. He was booked to play the Guthrie, even though he was hot enough to play a much larger venue in the Twin Cities, on the tour that took his life. Killed in a small-plane crash. What a loss!

So many, many musicians had their careers cut short because of small-plane crashes. So many, many days that ‘music died’.

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.       

DAY(S) THE MUSIC DIED

The Day the Music Died

This is a Blog Posting from 2014

Gee, it’s been 56 years since Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and the Big Bopper finished a concert at The Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa. Their next gig was in Moorhead, Minnesota. They never made it. Their plane crashed shortly after take-off. February 3, 1959 – ‘The day the music died’, as Don McLean proclaimed in his song/poem ‘AMERICAN PIE’.

Their deaths really didn’t affect me as much as it affected others my age. I was in the Army at the time. Although I kept up with popular music before I went into the Army, I pretty much lost track of the Top 40 hits during my Army stint.

At the time I was in Headquarters Company, 82 Airborne, Signal Battalion At Fort Bragg. Unlike the men in the two line companies, who lived in squad rooms, we in Headquarters Company had two-man rooms. My roommate, Patricio Menes, and I were into ‘cool’ jazz, Brubeck, Kenton, etc.. I had a small hi-fi phonograph and the two us had a number of LPs. Neither of us had a radio or a car with one . And I didn’t have one on my motorcycle. We heard some of the music of the day when we were shooting pool in the day room and American Bandstand was on TV. And we heard a lot of the music on juke boxes when we went to Fayetteville.

The first I heard of the plane crash was the next night when Patricio came in  the room and told me, ‘Richie was killed in a plane crash.’ I thought he was talking about some friend of his, but Pat put me straight. ‘Richie Valens! ‘ LA BAMBA!’

I knew the song because Pat played it often on juke boxes. Valens came from L.A. just like Patricio. Pat and the other Latinos from the L.A. barrio thought Valens was one of their own, and liked to sing the Mexican folk song, LA BAMBA, which Valens, not only made a hit out of it, but sang it in Spanish. I often wondered how Pat and his friends felt when they found out that Valens didn’t come from the barrio, but from a suburb of L.A., and his Spanish was limited to ordering from a menu and reading the lyrics of his hit from a cue card.

And it was several days after I heard Valens was killed in a crash that I learned Buddy Holly and The Big Bopper were also killed in that crash.

Over the years I learned the back stories like Waylon Jennings, a member of The Crickets, gave up his seat in the plane to the Big Bopper, who was sick, and went by bus with the other Crickets as well as Dion and the Belmonts. Waylon took off on his own shortly afterwards and went ‘outlaw’.

Then there the story of how the concert promoter in Moorhead filled out the bill as best he could and brought in a local boy, Bobby Vee, as one of the acts. Vee followed up that appearance with several hit singles, and when the time came for Vee to record his first album, he hired a young Bobby Dylan to play guitar on the album.

And over the years, I began to appreciate the talent  of Buddy Holly.

Since that crash took place before I became a stage hand, I never had the pleasure of working those three. I saw the movies based on the lives of Holly and Valens. And I worked BUDDY THE MUSICAL several times. But it’s not the same as seeing them in person.

As far as the others in the back story, I had the pleasure of working them all many times. The name of Bobby Vee may not be familiar to most people but he was very talented and fun to work, especially in the later years when he and his sons put on their shows. Sadly, I read the other day that Bobby Vee has Alzheimer’s.

A few years later, Patsy Cline, Cowboy Copas, and Hawkshaw Hawkins were killed in a small plane crash. And the list of musicians killed in light plane crashes goes on and on. The two that hit me the hardest was Ricky Nelson and Jim Croce.

Although he is largely ignored today, Ricky Nelson was big, big, big in the early days of rock and roll. For several years, only Elvis outsold him. And then he let his addictions grand his career to a screaming halt.

I had just worked Nelson shortly before his death. He was so excited. His concerts were selling better than he had hoped; his all time hits album had just been remastered, and he felt maybe his career would take off again. He was also high. They figured out that fire from cocaine freebasing on the plane caused the ‘Travelin Man’ to have his ticket punched.

The two favorite front acts of Sue Wiel, promoter at the Guthrie, were James Taylor and later, Jim Croce. Taylor was so thankful for Sue’s faith in him when he was trying to bust the big time, that he promised to come back and play two shows at the G when he did make it. And what shows they were! He also brought along his wife at the time, Carly Simon, who sang some duets with James and a few solos. Two big acts for the price of one. At that time, he was so big he could have easily sold out an arena show, but he had made Sue a promise.

I got to know Jim Croce during his front act performances at the Guthrie. After he finished his act, he would come up to the lighting booth and sit next to me to watch the main act. He was interesting, a good story teller, and he made no bones about loving his wife and his newborn baby. A nice person and a great talent.

Like James Taylor before him, Jim also planned to do a couple thank you shows for Sue, when he made it big. And like James Taylor, he was good to his promise. He was booked to play the Guthrie, even though he was hot enough to play a much larger venue in the Twin Cities, on the tour that took his life. Killed in a small-plane crash. What a loss!

So many, many musicians had their careers cut short because of small-plane crashes. So many, many days that ‘music died’.