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