My adventure started on a quiet morning in Fort Bragg’s Repo Depot, processing center, Army’s idea of limbo. I had just graduated Signal school in Georgia and was waiting to be sent to my new outfit, 82nd Signal Battalion. And once there the next step would be going to airborne jump school. Three weeks of hell ending with a three jump- day and a two jump- day and graduation.
It was a Friday and with the weekend there would be at least three days more before I got processed. Days with nothing to do but think and fret about what was in store for me. Except for the sergeant, sitting on his bunk closest to the door, and myself the barracks was empty. The other men in Repo were either on KP or doing an Army make-work like picking all the pebbles off the grass. They were slick- sleeve privates, I was a one- stripe, PFC. The sergeant and I got out of this work details because of our rank; but my rank was too low for the sergeant to stoop to talk to me, and that suited me fine; he came off as a stuck- up jerk.
When he first came into the barracks one of the men had tried talking to him and was shouted at, ‘You will address me as Sergeant Crowe, soldier. Not Hey, Sarg.
Naturally the name evoked a few hidden ‘caw- caws’ from the men.
Crowe stood up, tall. Well as tall as any 5’8” man can stand. He remarked it wasn’t the first time he heard that B.S. and volunteered to leave his stripes on the bed if anybody wanted to step out back and caw-caw to his face. Crowe was short but stocky and in good shape. Nobody took him up on his offer and nobody bothered to try to talk to him again, including me.
His 82nd patch and wings that had seen quite a few washings, so that meant he had been a paratrooper for a while. His sergeant’s patch was brand new, so that meant he had re-upped, gone to some kind of advanced training and now he’s waiting to either go back to his old outfit or a new one. He just sat on his footlocker and spit-shined his two pair of Corcoran jump boots, over and over. He’d stand tall in any inspection.
I was laying on my bunk putting myself into a relaxing self-hypnosis state to relax. I had just put my calves to sleep and was working on my thighs when the door opened and the company clerk bellowed, ‘Ten Hut’!
The sergeant and I both jumped to attention as the clerk and a captain with an MP band walked in.
‘At ease, men,’ the captain ordered. ‘Sergeant Crowe, PFC Ostertag, I am Captain McElroy.’ I looked quickly at Crowe and he looked at me. The captain laughed, ‘No, men. Not any bad news. Good news.’ I sighed and I imagine Crowe did the same.
‘Instead of going into Fayetteville and drinking 3.2 beer, you are going on a trip to someplace you always wanted to see. Guess where.’
Hawaii was Crowe’s guess. Mine was Paris.
McElroy smiled and shook his head. ‘Nooo,’ he said. ‘If it was either of those places I’d be going and you’d be stuck in Fayetteville. It’s one of the birthplaces of our country, Philadelphia. Hey, cut the frowns’, he laughed. ‘It beats Fayetteville. There’s a soldier in jail up there that we want back here.’
Crowe tried to ask a question, but the captain just waved him off. ‘Pack a go-bag to do you ‘til Monday. Get into your Class A’s and report to me in Repo HQ.’
Crowe and I did as ordered and we did it in silence.
McElroy explained the Philly cops wanted the prisoner out on Monday morning. The MPs were swamped. The Asian Flu was hitting them hard and there was a big bad weekend coming up. Mid-month payday for the Air Force at Pope Field. Crowe and I were the two highest ranked available in Repo. He gave us the Orders, chits and per diem we would need, MP arm bands, a set of cuffs, and each of us a ‘45 with holster and belt and a quick refresher course on the weapon.
When I buckled on the gun, it felt like it weighed a ton. When Crowe buckled his on, his face lit up and I swear he added a few inches to his stature.
We were driven to the train station and got out tickets. We traveled in coach going but were promised we’ve have a private cabin coming back with the prisoner.
It wasn’t until we were grabbing a meal in the train’s dining car that Crowe offered me his hand and ‘introduced’ himself. ‘Sergeant Calvin C. Crowe, PFC. You can just call me Sergeant Crowe.’
I shook his hand. ‘PFC Donald E. Ostertag. You can call me Don, Sarg.’
Calvin C. was a talker once he started. He began with his background. He had grown up on a small ranch outside Calgary, Canada. He had worked with horses a lot and rode in small rodeos, hoping to qualify to ride in the Calgary Stampede.
I broke in and mentioned that I had worked a lot with horses also. Buying, selliing, boarding, breaking…
My words went in one ear and out the other. He was interested in a monologue not a dialogue. I didn’t have enough rank to interest him. Plus I was a leg, a soldier that was not a paratrooper. Our food came and I busied myself with a cheeseburger and fries while he continued with his history, between bites.
He enlisted in the US Army specifically to join the paratroopers. When his first hitch, three years, would be up he would have qualified for US citizenship to go along with his Canadian citizenship. He had found a home in the army. As soon as he got his two stripes, he reenlisted for an extra six years. The first reenlistment brought a big bonus and six years really brought a big bonus. Plus it brought that third stripe, the rank of sergeant. He was so proud of his sergeant chevrons I wondered if he had them tattooed on his left bicep to go with the tattoo of the paratrooper wings which I knew he had to have on his right bicep.
When he got settled back in his old outfit, he was going to buy himself a Harley Hog with some of his bonus money. I asked him what school he asked for with his new enlistment. He floored me when he said Advanced Infantry.
When he first enlisted he could have had his choice of what he wanted to do, an Army school with a good trade, or he could have requested where he wanted to be stationed like Europe; and then he could have volunteered airborne. This way he got what very few wanted, the Infantry, first line in a war, not much of a trade in civilian life. He could have gotten a choice of school or station with his new reenlistment, but he took more Infantry training. Go figure. He was pretty well talked out when we got back to our seats where we both fell asleep.
When we got in the cab in Philadelphia he surprised me by telling the cabbie to take us to the city jail. I would have thought we would into our hotel first, but he was the boss.
The desk sergeant read our orders and commented it would be hard to let Billy the Kid go
Crowe quickly asked if this guy was some kind of desperado. The desk sergeant just laughed and told us that our charge was just a kid, too young to be in the Army.. Seems he lied about his age and when he flunked out of jump school, he went home without permission.
‘Nice boy. We’ve a shine to Master William P. Fuller.’
‘Deserter,’ Crowe said. ‘Damn chicken- shit deserter.
The desk sergeant snapped, ‘Nah. He was still wearing his dog tags and field jacket when he got picked up. He had every intention of going back. You two are going to escort a kid who should be in high school not in the Army. You’re going to bring him back to camp and after a couple days he’s going to be sent back home. Some desperado.
‘Now according to this order you don’t get him until Monday morning’, he added.
‘I still want to see him,’ Crowe said, ‘Tonight.’
‘Okay, I guess that’s your prerogative’. He rang for a guard. ‘Leave your weapons with me.’
I was glad to hand over my belt, holster, and weapon. Sergeant Crowe looked like he was going to argue, but slowly set his 45, and only his 45, on the desk. The guard escorted us to the cell and Crowe demanded that the door be unlocked so we could go in. William P. Fuller looked up. He had a big smile on his face.
Sergeant Crowe bellowed out ‘Ten Hut’, walked over as the lad jumped to attention and pushed the kid against the stone wall of cell. ‘Okay, punk, why did you do it?’ He snarled as he grabbed the lad’s shirt. Surprised both and prisoner and me with that move.
The guard pushed me out of the way and poked Crowe in the ribs with his night stick. He ordered both of us to go back to the desk. We heard him consoling the frightened boy as we left. We stood at the desk and waited for the guard to come. The guard was angry and told the desk sergeant what had happened.
‘You don’t come in our jail and mistreat our prisoners,’ the desk sergeant hollered. Crowe tried to talk, but shut up when the cop hit the desk top. ‘You keep this shit up and I’m going to call the guy who signed this order, and tell him we refuse to entrust the prisoner in your care, Sergeant Calvin C. Crowe,’ He continued to read off the orders in his hands. ‘Says here you two ain’t even real MP’s. Just some jokers they had who were handy.’ He wrote out a receipt for our weapons and told us we’d get them back come Monday morning. Then he told Crowe to leave his holster also.
Naturally Crowe objected. He said he had every right to carry his authorized weapon. But he desk sergeant disagreed. ‘There’s too many guns on the streets now. We don’t need some teenage gang dragging you in an alley and walking out with your gun. Almost all guns used in crimes were stolen.’ Crowe said that would never happen. The cop just laughed and said he bettercall ‘this here Captain McElroy’ and get a couple real MPs sent.
‘Well,’ I said, ‘I’ve only have one stripe to lose.’
That brought Crowe back to earth. He touched his new sergeant chevron and agreed to leave the weapon. But he wanted to keep the holster and belt. The desk sergeant shook his head and pointed out it would really be stupid to get hit over the head because somebody thought there was a gun in that empty holster. Crowe threw the belt and holster on the desk and ordered me to follow him.
I waved goodbye to the desk sergeant after thanking him and saying, ‘See you Monday.’ He shook his head and saluted.
To Be Continued