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

MY GUN CONTROL (I)

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