Tex strolled into Company ‘C’ headquarters. “Hey, Professor, how’s it hanging?”
“Straight as an arrow, a little to the left, thanks for asking.”
“Whoa, too much information. Did you obtain what I asked about?” Tex slipped him a $100 bill.
The Professor nodded. “You bet. I dug up all kinds of dirt on Eli’s draft board. He’s not the first questionable draftee by any means. Look at this article in Life Magazine.”
Tex flipped through the marked pages and the rest of the information. “This is great. I want you to put all this stuff into an envelope and mail it to my daddy. In a couple of days, I’ll call him and make something happen.
“Eli is lucky to have a friend like you.”
“I’m just making this world a better place for my buddies.”
Sarah started her day the same as she always did since becoming an Army nurse. Up at the crack of dawn, a quick shower, then after donning her crisp, white nurse’s uniform, she drove her assigned jeep to the base hospital, arriving at oh-seven-hundred hours.
Just inside the entrance, she grimaced at the hand-colored picture of the stern-faced base commander, General Herbert Wolf, with his pencil-thin mustache, hanging next to a photograph of the commander-in-chief, President Lyndon Baines Johnson. Sarah hurried along the black and white square floor tiles, past the functional plain gray walls, until she reached the elevator, which she took to the sixth-floor nurse’s station.
She signed in, picked up her chart and began her morning rounds, starting with sickbay. Military procedure called for all soldiers, even if dying, to rise up when revelry sounded at oh-six-hundred hours, make their hospital bed, and then sit in the hard wooden chair beside it until the doctor or nurse showed up. It didn’t make any sense, but it didn’t have to…this was the Army.
Sarah picked up a tray with a bottle of aspirin and several small paper cups filled with pink Cool-Aid and entered the “upper respiratory infection” ward. She got her usual amount of whistles and woo woos. “Okay, boys, you all behave now.” She turned away so they couldn’t see her smile, secretly pleased that her package still delivered.
The soldiers each wore a blue hospital pajama bottom and a white T-shirt with his last name stenciled in black letters on the front. Sarah handed each one, in turn, an aspirin and a cup of pink panther piss–the affectionate name given by the patients to the administered Cool-aid drink.
“What’s the chance of getting some penicillin or anti-biotic, darling?” One soldier asked.
“Slim to none,” said Sarah, “but you boys will be just fine.” She drew out the word “fine” at the end, which gave away her birth state of Georgia, although she hadn’t lived there for more than ten years now. It didn’t make much sense to Sarah to keep forty men locked up in one big room with no ventilation, coughing on each other like crazy, and spreading germs, but she accepted it as hospital policy, along with not distributing any penicillin.
The doctor arrived at the upper respiratory infection ward right after Sarah finished handing out the cool-aid and aspirin. He started his examinations with the first soldier on the right side of the room. The man held up his T-shirt, while the physician listened to his breathing with a stethoscope. If the Doc heard a raspy sound, “One more day of bed rest.” If the lungs sounded clear, “back to duty.”
The fifth soldier being examined leaned close and whispered, “Doc, please let me out of here or give me some penicillin. I am going to die in this crappy room unless I can escape from all these sick people and sleep.” He slipped a twenty-dollar bill into the doctor’s pocket.
The doctor smiled and announced, “Nurse, release this soldier with a three-day pass.” The other patients moaned in envy as the happy man ran out the door shouting, “I’m free! I’m free!”
Doc finished up and hurried out the door, nurturing the hope of another round of golf before night fell or the fall weather turned nasty. Sarah gathered up all the empty cups in a plastic bag and tossed them down a trash chute outside the ward entrance, and walked back to the nurse’s station to write up the morning report. She thought Free car, free housing, surrounded by single men, and they still pay me every month. Nope, not a bad life at all.
Mary, one of the other nurses on duty, asked Sarah. “So, how did the inoculations go with the new soldiers the other day?”
“Well, the usual number of macho guys fainted and we played Florence Nightingale. One rather cute, funny young man did catch my eye and…”
Mary interrupted. “Be careful now, you know the rules about dating trainees, and your father would go ballistic.”
“I’m over twenty-one, so it’s none of his business…and I’ve done nothing with Eli…yet.”
“You are so bad! Is that his name, Eli?”
“Yep, first one I ever met. Wonder what he’s doing now.”
Eli, along with the rest of Bravo Company, shuffled out of the barracks and into the cold morning for reveille. “Watch where you walking,” growled Sam, as Horowitz stepped on his foot for the third time.
“Where in the hell’s the flag,” muttered Steve, squinting toward the center of the field as he raised his hand in the salute.
Wolinski, as usual, had his face in mine. “Did you shave this morning, Private Jones? And take off those damn sunglasses!”
“You still need to send me to the eye doctor.”
“You always come up with an excuse. Ask the Professor.”
Wolinski walked up to Horowitz. “You are a slob. Your uniform is a mess and your shirt isn’t tucked in properly. What did you do, rub dirt on those boots? I want to see my face reflected in those toes.”
“Yes, Drill Sergeant.” Harry meekly replied.
Wolinski looked disgusted. “And grow yourself a pair of balls.”
This particular morning, the needle got stuck again, and the same reveille passage kept playing over and over. We eventually got tired of waiting, gave up, and wandered off to breakfast.
Wolinski pretty much stayed in a foul mood 24 hours a day. After his latest tirade, he had Bravo platoon assigned to kitchen police for five straight days with no sign of a reprieve. I hated KP. It consisted of the worse jobs in the mess hall, like peeling hundreds of potatoes until your fingers bled or facing a sink overflowing with endless greasy pots and pans that never came clean.
“I’ll bet Sarge is upset because our platoon has the worst marks in the whole battalion on the firing range,” said Sam.
I agreed. “I’m putting together a plan about how we can improve our shooting and convince Sarge to give us a break.”
“What is it?”
“You’ll find out real soon…”
We were sitting around the barracks killing a half-hour before our next training class. Steve snored away on his bunk while the platoon radio played a song called “Cherry Cherry” by a new singer-songwriter named Neil Diamond. Sam sat on his footlocker reading a letter from home while I plotted how to sneak past Sarge to see Sarah again.
Suddenly the door slammed open and in stormed Wolinski. The Professor followed three-feet behind with a yellow number-two pencil in one hand and a clipboard in the other. Private Horowitz, the first soldier in the first bunk on the north end of the building, announced “Platoon, attention.”
“Louder, you idiot,” commanded Wolinski.
“Attention?” Horowitz tried again.
“What did you say, Horowitz?” Tex asked, and then spotting Sarge, he yelled, “PLATOON, ATTENTION!” Steve sat straight up in his top bunk, fell hard to the floor, and then hobbled up next to me–still in his stocking feet.
“Prepare for inspection,” announced the Professor. “Open up your lockers and then wait at the foot of your bunk.” His job was to follow Sarge around the room and mark down each discovered infraction on his clipboard.
Sarge began with Horowitz. He sat aside the upper tray in his footlocker and then started tearing things out of the bottom and throwing them in a random pattern around the room. “Unauthorized,” noted Sarge, heaving a pair of blue bunny slippers into the air, which luckily Tex saw coming and ducked in time.
Sarge moved next to Horowitz’s wall locker, where he spied a full-length poster hung inside the door. “No pin-ups allowed,” Sarge said, ripping it down. But before tossing it, he took a closer look at the blow-up photo of an elderly woman with a round face, short hair, and dark business suit. “Who the hell is this, your mother?”
“It’s Golda Meir, Sarge,” said Harry.
“She’ll soon be the new premier of Israel and my hero. You know, Golda’s of Russian descent.”
Sarge crumpled up the poster and threw it to the floor. “No political or commie posters either. Write that down.” The Professor scribbled on his paper, Golda Meir, and then drew a line through it.
“Clean up this mess,” Sarge commanded Horowitz.
“Yes, Drill Sergeant,” Horowitz replied.
Turning to Tex, Sarge said, “This area isn’t too bad, Private Riley.”
“Thank you, Sarge. I hired a soldier to come in and tidy up twice a week.”
Sarge frowned. “Well, your area might be in order, but you are in terrible shape. Stand up straight. Suck in that gut.” Sarge slapped Tex in the stomach with the back of his hand–reacting when he hit something hard. “What the hell have you got under there?”
Sarge pulled Tex’s shirt out and discovered a brown money belt, stuffed full of $100 bills. “My God, there must be $5,000 here. What’s with all the cash?”
“I don’t normally carry that much, but I just got a care package from home.”
“Most soldiers receive brownies. I don’t like you, Riley. You’re some goddamn Army reserve puke who bought his way out of serving. Just because you’re rich doesn’t make you a better man. Professor, mark him down for guard duty.”
The Professor started writing on his chart, but when the Sarge turned away to leave, Tex slipped the clerk one of those Franklin bills. The Professor smiled, slipped it discretely into his pocket, and began vigorously erasing Tex’s name.
Sarge arrived at my bunk. “Eli, other than your footlocker display, this area is a disgrace. Your bed looks slept in.”
“Oh no, Sergeant, I stood beside it all night.”
“Try again.” Sarge grabbed the edge of the mattress and shoved my blankets, sheets, and pillow onto the floor. He tried to pick up my toothbrush from its proper spot, but it didn’t move. Sarge gave it another yank and the whole display came out in his hand. “Tell me you didn’t glue your toothbrush to the towel.”
“Okay, I didn’t glue my toiletries to the towel. That would be as stupid as laying it out in a display.”
Sarge sneered. “Professor, mark down this smart ass for guard duty for the next three nights.”
The Professor shrugged…what can I do?
By the time Sarge tore up every display on the first and second floor, the barracks looked like a small tornado had hit it. “You have one hour to clean up this mess and dispose of any unauthorized items. Following the cleanup, I want you in full combat gear and ready for a ten-mile run. You are all lazy sons-of-bitches and I have been too soft on you pond scum. That is going to change.” He turned and stormed out.
Sam said, “Damn if this is easy, what’s his version of hard?”
Tex said, “That man’s got a burr under his saddle for sure. Come on, guys, let’s get to work.”
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