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