Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Bully - Part 2

One day an NCO entered the Orderly Room to ask a question about the duty roster and a short leave he wanted to take. Bully was out of the office but under previous First Sergeants I had been taught how to fill out the duty roster and had even maintained it, so I knew I could answer the question. I opened the middle right hand drawer (yup, I still remember it clearly) of Bully's desk, took out the NCO duty roster, found the information, and told the NCO what he needed to know. Putting the duty roster back in the drawer, I discovered that it had been lying on a small ledger which was labeled with my name.


Who would have resisted that temptation?

I opened it and found that it contained dated entries detailing even the most minor infractions I had committed against Army and company procedures. There wasn't enough material in there to justify even a chewing out, but it was clear that he was building a case. I started my own log, concealing it in my room. No need to emulate his mistake and let him know about it.

One payday Bully and another NCO went to the Finance Office to pick up the company payroll. They should have returned within a half hour, but two hours later there was no sign of them. I began getting calls asking when the troops would be paid. I made a couple of calls and a little bird told me that Bully was in the NCO Club, armed, holding the payroll, and getting drunk. I flipped a mental coin and Bully won. I asked the CO for permission to leave and locate Bully and he gave it. I grabbed the Supply Clerk, told him to sit at my desk and answer phone calls, and headed for the NCO Club.

The NCO Club served the NCO's from a number of companies and was moderately busy when I arrived. Several heads turned when I walked in, as I was not of sufficient rank to "belong" there. One NCO from my company asked me rather belligerently, "What are you doing in here?" I told him I was there on business, looked around, and spotted Bully sitting on a bar stool. I walked over to him and saw immediately that he was three sheets to the wind.

He saw me, put on a big smile, and shouted, "Heyyy, Donnie, let me buy you a drink." That's what too much alcohol will do to some people. Friends might want to fight you, but this enemy and I were old buddies.

"Top, you're two hours late with the payroll. You'll be an E-6 next week if we don't go back to the company now."

We did, he got another NCO to fill in for him during the process of paying the troops, and he disappeared. I imagine he went home to sleep it off. I think the CO was preoccupied and didn't realize what had happened, and Bully got away with it. He never did acknowledge what I had done for him.

Several months later I screwed up. One morning I didn't get back to the company from an overnight stay in Vilseck until after I was supposed to be at work. About an hour late, I walked into the Orderly Room, said good morning to Bully, and sat down at my desk.

MSG Bully: "Well, I've got you now, son. I'm going to have your ass busted." He pulled out the little ledger he'd been keeping and waved it at me. "And I've got a lot of stuff I can add to your AWOL this morning."

Donnie: "It's a standoff, Top. I've got one just like that, but the entries aren't about me. My favorite is the one about you being two hours late with the payroll, drunk at the NCO club, holding all that money and carrying a loaded forty-five."


Donnie: "In front of fifty NCO's."

This was a killer for him. There were too many witnesses for him to deny it, and I saw the realization dawn that it was something I could hold over him forever, or at least for as long as we were likely to be together.

Silence again.

Donnie: "I have a proposition for you. You find me an administrative slot that isn't limited to E-4, in another company, I'll apply for it, you use whatever influence you have to see that I get it, I'll leave, and we'll just forget our little differences."

And that's what happened.

And you should have heard him during those phone calls: "Hey, I've got a real good man here who deserves a chance to make E-5 but is stuck in an E-4 slot." ("Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue." - La Rochefoucauld)

I became the post Finance Clerk at headquarters in Grafenwoehr. Whenever Bully needed something done regarding his or his troops' pay, he called, voice smooth as silk, sweetness and light for an attitude, and I accommodated him to the extent that I would anyone else in the same situations.

I don't have first hand knowledge of what happened to Bully later, but in some ways it's a small Army and several years later I ran into someone who had known us both. He told me Bully had been transferred to Fort Knox, promoted to E-8, and then busted back to
E-7 for inefficiency. Cool.

An Ethical Grook
Piet Hein

I see
and I hear
and I speak no evil;
I carry
no malice
within my breast;
yet quite without
a man to the Devil
one may be
to hope for the best.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Bully

I had been kicked out of the Armored Corps and into an office after three bouts of pneumonia in a couple of years. The company needed a new Company Clerk and I could type sixty words a minute, so guess what. Really, this was for the best: I was a fish out of water when it came to working with tanks. I had accomplished my main goal, which was to get an assignment in Germany, and I would remain with my company and my friends.

I was moved from a six man room in another building to a one man room in the company's headquarters building. The upstairs quartered some of the company, but mine was the only downstairs room with a bunk and it was almost directly across from the door to the Orderly Room. Through that door were the Commanding Officer, First Sergeant, and the brand new Company Clerk.

Due to a string of coincidences and weird events, there were several changes of Commanding Officers and of First Sergeants during the next year. I took to the new position like a fish to water, and after a year represented the only stability in the company's headquarters. The effect of this was that almost everyone who needed a favor, information, or some action within the company started with me.

Finally, a Master Sergeant whom we'll call "Bully," was assigned permanently to the First Sergeant slot. He was a pay grade E-7 and bucking for a promotion to E-8, the grade associated with his new position. I was nineteen or twenty and he was about thirty-five.

It distressed him greatly that members of the company would enter and turn to me with a question, rather than to him. They would then hear things like, "Why don't you ask the Mail Clerk?" and "Why don't you ask the cooks?" He began to take it out on me, as if I had instigated it. I tried to reason with him, explaining that it was due only to the frequent turnover in his position and that soon people would ask him automatically. He nodded, but nothing changed.

On one occasion a German girlfriend in Vilseck called me at work (the only time this had ever happened). Something important to her had come up. I was at lunch and Bully told her I wasn't there, that I'd been on leave for several days, and that he didn't know where I was.

I found out about it that night when I went to see her. I just filed it away and didn't say anything to him. A few weeks later his wife called and asked for him. Instantly, I told her he was on leave and I hadn't seen him for several days. There was a long silence, followed by a "thank you."

He never said anything about it to me.

I recall that on Saturday mornings he conducted inspections of the barracks and rooms, and once a month these were "full field" inspections, foot lockers and wall lockers open, field gear laid out on the bunks in ordained positions. I worked Monday to Friday and half a day on Saturday. One Saturday afternoon I returned to my room to find that he had thrown all my gear off the bunk and onto the floor and dumped my foot locker contents onto the floor. This was rather extreme - something that you wouldn't see even in basic training - and I hunted down the Master Sergeant who had accompanied Bully during the inspection. He said, "I'm sorry. Bully said something about rust at the bottom of a tent pole and went crazy."

I went back to my room, restored some of the contents of my foot locker and examined all my tent poles. No rust. By now I understood that there was to be no reasoning with him, no recognition by him of the real cause of the problem. In his mind, *eye* was the problem.

I decided to live in the rubble. The following Saturday he was steaming on his return from his inspection, and asked me, "Why didn't you pick that stuff up?"

"You put it there, right?"


"I figured that's where you wanted it."

Seven days later: "You better pick that stuff up, son."

"Sooner or later, Top."

Another 168 hours and he was breathing fire.

Master Sergeant Bully: "Are you going to pick that stuff up or not?"

Donnie: "Why did you do that, Top? Why did you throw it on the floor?"

MSG Bully: "There was rust on the tent poles."

Donnie: "And I say there wasn't. Want to have it refereed? I'll leave everything where it is and Monday morning we'll ask the Old Man to look at the poles and tell us who's right."

Silence. Perhaps two minutes of it, which is a long time under such circumstances.

I grabbed my hat and said, "Right. I'll put it away. See you Monday, Top."

After that he was somewhat more circumspect in his approach to tormenting me, but it was still hostility 24/7.


Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Forget Our Training, Did We?

My outfit in Vilseck, Germany, was on one of three posts making up what was then (and may still be, for all I know) the 7th Army Training Center, the other two locations being Grafenwoehr and Hohenfels. NATO troops trained there year-round, and once a year a huge exercise, "Operation Wintershield," involving tens of thousands of opposing forces, took place. When this occurred, our company gymnasium was converted into a lounge for General Officers. No kidding, just generals, and there were dozens of them.

One of the sections dealt with chemical, biological and radiological warfare (CBR). Among other things, this section had the use of a helicopter which was especially fitted for CBR - more specifically, for dispersing CS, or what we called CS gas. Exposure to this (chlorine and sulfur) would cause your eyes to burn and cause you to have coughing fits until your lungs were cleared. And for a while after that, too. If you got a good lungful you weren't going to smoke cigarettes for a day or two.

One day during an Operation Wintershield period, a friend who worked in CBR called me and said that one of the opposing armies had requested CBR support and the section had agreed to provide it. Did I want to go along for the ride?

I'd never been in a helicopter and thought it would be interesting. I asked for and received permission from the First Sergeant to leave my job and make the trip.

My friend (who was a Specialist Fifth Class, so we'll just refer to him as SP5) and I got into the helicopter and strapped ourselves into seats. One whole side of the helicopter was open, and the trip to Hohenfels was cold. SP5's seat was right at the edge of the opening and mine was directly opposite. Much of the center was taken up by a large white tank containing CS. At some point a lone soldier in a jeep, top down and entirely in the open, was spotted and it was determined that he was one of those who for the moment were our "enemies."

We put our gas masks on and as the helicopter swooped down on the jeep SP5 grabbed a hose with some special kind of nozzle affair. The helicopter tilted, leaving me looking almost straight down on the jeep, and SP5 soon sprayed the moving jeep with CS. The driver panicked.

We were close enough to him to see that he was carrying a gas mask and I am certain that he had been trained, as were we all, to put that mask on and clear it in a few seconds, no inhaling required during the process, but his instincts were wrong and he decided he would outrun the helicopter, ho ho ho.

His goal was the woods, perhaps a half mile of bumpy dirt road (or bumpy off-road if he chose) away. He dodged, sped up, and slowed down, but about once a minute he was rewarded with another cloud of CS. Eventually he reached the woods. He slowed the jeep down and jumped out, leaving the jeep to roll where it would.

Our last view of him sticks in my mind - he was standing at the tree line, looking up at us and giving us a one finger salute.

Hey, GI, they taught you about that gas mask for a reason.

Sunday, January 20, 2008


In 1972 I was working as a newly trained assembler programmer at a Boston newspaper, and spending some evenings at the Board Room, a third floor bar. Through a long series of coincidences this led to a vice-presidency in a Chicago company a few years later. But first things first.

Among the regulars at the bar were two men who knew each other from an earlier employment. They were both ten or fifteen years older than I, but we hit it off right away, and often chatted, played chess or bumper pool, or otherwise socialized.

One day Drew offered me a job in one of his departments at Blue Cross of Massachusetts, and a day or two later I accepted. I was assigned to a program development department and given the title "Senior Systems Designer." Whatever that meant, I was unqualified for it, but was or soon became quite competent at the actual work I had to do.

On the day I reported to my new job I was surprised to see Rob, the other of the two gents from the Board Room, in my area talking to two or three employees. I walked over and when there was a lull in the conversation I ventured, "Hi Rob. What are you doing here?"

"You work for me, son." It turned out that he had just been hired as VP of data processing, which made him Drew's boss.

As it happened, it didn't affect our social relationships, other than to strengthen them. Occasionally Rob would call me and ask me to visit with him for a cup of coffee. Amazingly, at least to me, this was a problem for some of the other people in data processing. All programmers and analysts (and, ahem, Senior Systems Designers) were on the same floor, and some were annoyed by my relationship with and access to Rob. Screw 'em. I never used the relationship for my own benefit and I didn't much care what people with such small minds thought.

The visits became very frequent several months later, as a result of the championship chess match between Boris Spassky and Bobby Fischer. Rob knew that I had played a little tournament chess. He also knew that I got my butt kicked a lot, but that I still had a better understanding of the game than he did. On most days the newspapers carried a report of the preceding day's chess action, and Rob would call me to visit, set up a chess board, and ask me to go through the play with him, attempting to answer any questions he had.

Some days he would tell me to pack it in an hour early, leave work, and join him at the Board Room to watch the match, which was being televised on PBS, moderated by chess master Shelby Lyman. Naturally, this triggered more buzzing regarding Rob and me. Oh well.

I worked in that department for several years, sometimes spending evenings or weekends socializing with Rob, Drew, and Rob's new Assistant Vice President, Paul, who had also worked with Rob and Drew in the past. Incidentally, they were three of the friendliest, most personable, most intelligent people I ever met.

For reasons too convoluted to go into here, I left Rob's area and moved to Blue Shield. It seemed to me that the data processing area was headed for serious problems (in the event, it was) and going in a direction I didn't care to take even if it turned out to be successful.

I have always been able to separate my business life and my social life, even to the extent of dealing differently with the same person in the two environments. When I left the department it was because I was absolutely convinced that Rob was making a major mistake with the company's data processing. We occasionally discussed it, always agreed to disagree, and remained friends.

March 9, 1943 - January 17, 2008

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Still More Confusion

Richardson and I were in the same squad, a squad responsible for the maintenance of a number of tanks. One of the maintenance functions was seasonal - the oil changes: thinner oil in winter, heavier oil in summer.

I do not recall how many quarts of oil those M48s required. Twenty? Thirty? In any event, the way we changed the oil was:

· Shovel a couple of feet of sawdust into a concrete trench which was perhaps a dozen feet long and about two thirds the width of the tank.

· Drive the tank over the trench.

· Put on class "X" fatigues and boots. These were items that were otherwise unusable, and it didn't matter that they were about to be saturated with dirty oil.

· Get into the trench, reach up, twist off the cap, and let the oil come pouring out - down your arm initially, into the sawdust eventually.

· Exit the trench and wait for the oil to empty completely.

· Get back into the trench, wade over and twist the cap back on.

· Exit the trench and fill 'er up with new oil.

· Back the tank away from the trench.

· Get into the trench with a bucket and shovel out the sawdust and oil.

One day Richardson was to change the oil in a tank, and he forgot one step. Yep, that's right, that step. When the oil had drained he didn't screw the cap back on. The fresh oil went in the top and flowed out the bottom for who knows how long. Eventually, someone noticed that he had been at it a long time and used a lot of oil, walked over, examined the situation, and discovered that the sawdust was awash in a veritable ocean of oil.

Richardson had to wade hip deep in oil and sawdust to put the cap back on. After the oil was replaced the entire squad donned class X fatigues, grabbed buckets and shovels, and emptied the trench, alternately laughing and cursing.

Time passed and Richardson was transferred to 2nd Echelon Maintenance, where he didn't do a great job. He was to be given one more chance, and was sent for training on the new M60 tanks we were to receive.

He returned, full of knowledge and proud of it, and we got our first M60. It was driven by someone to the middle of the concrete between the tank sheds, and the NCO in charge ordered Richardson into the tank.

"Turn the turret to the right." Whirrrrrr, and the turret turned to the right at a pretty good clip, it being hydraulic.

"Turn the turret to the front." Whirrrrrrr, the turret turned to the front.

"Raise the gun." Mmmmmmmmm, the gun,already pointed front, was raised.

"Lower the gun." Mmmmmmmmm, the gun was lowered, almost touching the ground in front of the driver's hatch.

"Raise the gun." Mmmmmppphmpppphmpppph. The gun bucked and quivered, but stayed put.

"Raise the gun." Mmmmmppphmpppphmpppph. No dice.

"RAISE THE GUN!" Mmmmmppphmpppphmpppph. Not today, Sarge.

Gun and tank were too long for any of the sheds, so there they sat, covered with canvas, for a couple of weeks. Eventually, an armored division familiar with the M60 came through our area, and one of the NCOs fixed the problem.

Richardson was transferred to the company mailroom.

Not long thereafter, I got my third bout of pneumonia, got kicked out of the Armored Corps, and was sent to the orderly room to be the company clerk.

One night several months later, in the Casino, a gasthaus in Vilseck, I was approached by a burly gentleman about 20 years older than I, dressed in civilian clothes.

"Are you with Headquarters Company?"

"I am."

"I oughta punch you right in the mouth."

(Whaaaaa?) "Why? Who are you?"

He was, in fact, the First Sergeant of the 663rd Ordinance Company, a neighboring outfit. "You almost killed my wife. You threw a fifty pound sack of mail out of the second floor window of the EM (Enlisted Men's) Club and just missed her."

I called one of my friends over and said, "This is six-six-three's First Sergeant. Would you tell him my name?"

"Donnie Richards."

"And our mail clerk's name?"

"Mike Richardson."


The First Sergeant's mouth opened and closed a couple of times, he began to look sheepish, and he said, "I'm sorry. Let me buy you a beer."

I speculate that he had come to the Casino and asked one of the German waitresses about "Richardson," and that she confused it with "Richards" and pointed me out to him when I arrived. But the confusion may have started earlier. I don't know what led him to the Casino, as I never saw Richardson in Vilseck.

Oh well, all's well etc.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

More Confusion

A couple of months after the petroleum dump incident, Richardson and I were on guard duty again. This time the Sergeant of the Guard took the precaution of assigning Richardson a well lighted station - the post's gate on the road which led to the town of Vilseck.

The precise protocol for leaving the post required a pedestrian, cyclist, or automobile driver to stop and present identification for verification by the gate guard. If someone did not stop, protocol required the guard to shout "Halt!" three times before taking any action.

However, hundreds of German men and women from Vilseck and other nearby towns worked on post, and at quitting time many of them exited by bicycle. The gate was at the bottom of a hill, and not wanting to lose the bikes' momentum, the civilians would glide by, simply holding up their IDs in the hand nearest the gate.

Richardson's first shift included quitting time for most Germans. The first cyclist through was a middle aged putzfrau who sped down the hill, held up her ID, and sailed right by Richardson, smiling.

"HALT!HALT!HALT!" BANG BANG BANG . . . . Richardson emptied his whole magazine of .45 caliber rounds, aiming at the putzfrau but hitting nothing within sight. The putzfrau redoubled her pedaling efforts and when she got home had quite a story to tell her friends and family. After she changed her underwear.

Once again the Sergeant of the Guard was disgusted. Another incident report to file, this one to account for an entire magazine of rounds fired at an unsuspecting civilian bicyclist.

From that day on, all guards were issued blank rounds.

Richardson just was not good at anything job related, although Lord knows he tried. He was a good soldier in the spit and polish sense, but his job related thoughts were from some other universe.

Toward the end of my time as a tank crewman, Richardson (who was also a tank crewman), managed several blunders which I'll tell you about in the near future. I want to finish this post by relating the story of my victimization in an incident staged by my good and faithful friend, squad mate, and constant companion, Johnny.

Truthfully, I was a fish out of water as a tank crewman. I am not handy, I have little common sense regarding the physical world, and frequently things that are obvious to other people are not obvious to me.

The tanks that we had were M48 A1s and M48 A2s, 48 ton tanks with 90 mm guns, all the same size externally. The day came when we received our first M60, 12 tons heavier, a few inches wider, a foot or two longer, carrying a 105 mm gun.

Now when you take a tank out into the field and drive through mud and dirt, perhaps knock down trees or whatever, a lot of junk gets stuck in the treads, and the first thing you do when you get back is clean the tank. We would get a head start on this by driving the tank through the "birdbath," a concrete trench with a washboard bottom, sloping ramps at each end, maybe five feet high and containing perhaps three or four feet of water. Driving a tank through this would knock out most of the clumps of dirt and mud, although not the branches or bushes that fouled the tread.

Any time you drive a tank on post, you have a "ground guide," a person who walks in front of you (although off to the side a little) and signals you to go faster, slower, turn left, etc. I was to be the first driver through the birdbath with the new M60. Being a little wider than the M48s, this tank was a tighter fit with the birdbath, leaving only a couple of inches between tank and concrete on each side, so I kept my eyes riveted on my ground guide, who was my good and faithful friend, squad mate, and constant companion, Johnny.

I reached the ramp I would enter, the tank tilted a little and I stopped. Johnny took a look, was satisfied that the tank would not hit the concrete on either side, and gave me the signal to proceed. As soon as I began, he pumped his arm, signalling me to go faster. I did so, and about halfway to the bottom of the birdbath I noticed that the tank had created a wave larger than usual, due to the additional size of the tank. Oh well, who cares; it's going the other way.

As the tank leveled out, Johnny kept pumping for me to go faster. Now going faster gave the tank a little more of a bounce on the washboard bottom and knocked out more of the crud, but it seemed to me I was going pretty fast. Still, I obeyed. All of a sudden, Johnny lost it. He collapsed in laughter. I looked up and that wave was coming back, its top about a foot above my head.

Goddamnit, I'm gonna kill that SOB. I reached under the seat and pulled the lever that allowed the seat to drop and to take me below the level of the hatch, but as I reached for the lever to close the hatch, the wave struck.

I jumped up into the turret and stuck my head and shoulders out, looking like a drowned rat, I'm sure. My entire squad and most of the rest of the tank section was behind me, all laughing hysterically, some of them actually lying on the ground, and off to the side that was the case with my good and faithful friend, squad mate, and constant companion, Johnny.

Apparently, I had been the only one who didn't realize - and was not told in advance - what would happen.


Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Confusion Reigns

I arrived in Vilseck Germany in February, 1959. Another private with a name very close to mine alphabetically - we'll call him Richardson - arrived at about that time. This unholy coincidence caused us to appear next to each other on the First Sergeant's duty roster. (The duty roster was simply a list of names used as a way of keeping track of whose turn it was to perform certain duties - guard duty for example.) As a result we pulled guard duty together for many months before illness, leaves, or something caused a little separation in the dates when our names came up.

Guard duty consisted of standing guard at one of four stations: two of them were the entrances to the post, one was the ammunition dump, and one was the POL (Petroleum, Oil and Lubricants) dump. The latter two were out in the boondocks. We each served two four-hour shifts followed by eight hours off. During the off periods, we had to stay in a "guard room," a room big enough for the dozen scheduled guards and the Sergeant of the Guard (a position assigned according to the rotation on a different duty roster, one for NCOs. With the sergeant's permission we could go somewhere else nearby, but could not just wander around. He had to know he could contact us immediately if necessary.

At about one o'clock in the morning during one such night, after I'd been in Vilseck for several months, I was in the guard room when the field phone rang. (A field phone was a big old clunky thing that allowed two-way wireless communication. You've probably seen them in movies about World War II or Korea.) The Sergeant of the Guard answered it and from across the room I could hear, "I got him! I killed him! I shot him! I hit him! I killed him!"

"Slow down. Who is this?"

"It's Richardson. I got him, I killed him, I shot him."

"I'll be right out."

The sergeant grabbed his .45 and holster, buckled up, and headed for the petroleum dump in the woods.

Well, it turned out that Richardson had shot at (and missed, by the way) an owl. This owl must have lived nearby and was a contrary creature if ever there was one. He was well known to all who pulled guard duty there, for he had the annoying habit of dive-bombing us while we were patrolling the dump. He would fly in from somewhere, sit atop the six or seven foot tall barbed wire fence that surrounded the dump, and at some point when you were walking away from him he would swoop toward your head from behind you. It was enough to scare the soul right out of you.

That night, Richardson had seen something move (the owl, as it landed on the fence), decided it was an enemy beginning World War III, and let loose with several rounds from his .45. It must have scared Hell out of the owl as there were several feathers beneath the owl's resting spot on the fence, as well as signs that if the owl had been constipated he was now past that problem. As far as I know this was the only time anyone on our side got the better of it in the owl vs. POL Guard conflict.

The Sergeant of the Guard was disgusted. Every round of ammunition had to be accounted for, and this meant he was going to have to write up an incident report.


Sunday, January 6, 2008

AWOL in Philadelphia

In late January of 1959, I completed my second eight weeks of training. My first eight weeks had been infantry training at Fort Dix, New Jersey, and this was armored training at Fort Knox, Kentucky. Upon graduation, we all got orders for our next assignments. One set of orders assigned three of us, Mike, Malon, and me, to a holding company at Fort Dix, New Jersey, awaiting flight assignment to the same company in Germany. (I had been in the Army one week longer than they, due to a case of pneumonia resulting in my missing a week of training and therefore being reassigned to their company, which was one week earlier in the cycle. Such attention to detail does the Army pay that this gave me seniority - my date of rank as a Private was a week prior to theirs - so *eye* was responsible for all our records and for our arrival at the holding company.)

We arrived, were assigned bunks, and stood formation with our Platoon Sergeant and the company's First Sergeant. The latter instructed us on the routine, which was pretty much that we were on our own except that rosters would be posted every day with the names of those responsible for policing the grounds and for other menial chores. His last words to us were, "There will be no passes, no leaves, and no bedchecks."

I decided I would go home (Beverly, Massachusetts) for a visit, and gave Mike and Malon my home phone number. They agreed to call me collect if anything came up that required my presence.

Nine days later Malon called. My name had come up on a duty roster. I was to be part of the detail cleaning up the area on the following day.

I returned to the company, pulled my detail, and headed for home again. This time, however, I was just about broke, and was going to have to hitchhike. Nobody wanted to pick me up for a couple of hours, however. I was about to give up when a gentleman stopped and said he was going to Philadelphia. I decided to take the ride, reasoning that I would have better luck getting a ride in that busy city.

Well, I didn't. I guess I gave up. I found out where the USO was and paid it a visit. But while I was there, something, I don't know what, made me call the company. I got Malon who expressed great relief that we were in touch and told me that we were flying out the next day. This was critical information. I was already AWOL, although that was unimportant provided that I didn't get into some other trouble, but if I missed the flight, the company to which I was supposed to report would drop me from the rolls - that is, declare me a deserter.

It was early evening and I was afraid to trust my hitchhiking luck. I explained the situation to one of the USO hostesses and asked her to call the Military Police. She said there were none in the area, but there were Air Police, the Air Force equivalent. I asked her to call them. She allowed me to listen on an extension as she told them there was an AWOL GI at the club who needed a ride to Fort Dix. They asked her not to tell me that she had called, and we smiled.

Soon two of them arrived. There were perhaps a half dozen servicemen in the club, and the APs announced that they wanted to see everyone's IDs. I walked over and told them I was the one they were looking for. Having determined that this was the case they escorted me to McGuire AFB, where I was booked, then drove me to my company at Fort Dix. My First Sergeant had to sign papers transferring custody from them to him.

When they left he turned to me, scowled, and asked, "Are you bucking for something?"

"No, Sarge. I found out that we're shipping tomorrow and I had the USO call the APs so I could get a ride back here."

After a pause, he scowled again and said, "Get out of here."

Right ho.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

First Joint

I grew up in New England, for the most part New Hampshire during grammar school and Massachusetts during junior high and high school. The illegal use of drugs was frowned upon much more sternly than today, and in my parents' circles people who used drugs of any kind were referred to as "dope fiends." I suspect that they actually knew very little about the subject, and as teenagers my friends and I knew even less.

I didn't know of - and still don't know of - any drug use by my friends during my high school years and my years in the Army. Since I already knew everything anyway, I dropped out of high school at 17 and joined the Army. I spent nearly ten years there, but finally tired of it and got out. Honorably, I might add, and as a staff sergeant (E-6 for those of you from other services).

I imagine that some military friends and acquaintances used drugs - or at least marijuana - especially during the year I spent in Vietnam. But many things go over my head and not only did I not know of anyone doing so, the thought never even occurred to me.

I left the Army at age 27 and embarked on a civilian life. As time passed I learned that several of my friends smoked grass, but I didn't have any particular interest in doing it myself. I was already aware that the claims of politicians that it was addictive were nonsense, but I didn't need any more expensive habits, or bad habits either, for that matter.

Pot smokers are easy to get along with for reasons other than that they may be stoned. They'll offer you a hit and if you decline, well, that's cool. No pressure. They don't proselytize.

When I was thirty-five, I met Joan, a waitress at the Backgammon Lounge in Boston (now defunct, alas). We became friends, but not dating friends. Soon after, a girlfriend of hers, Mary, moved to Boston to share an apartment with Joan and Lily, another girlfriend. All three were from the same small town in New York, and all in their mid-twenties.

Coincidentally, Mary was hired at the same company and in the same programming division where I worked, and for a short time I was the only person in Boston that she "knew," outside of her roommates.

During the first or second week that she was there she came to me and asked if I could be her chauffeur for an afternoon several days from then. She was going to a dentist to have wisdom teeth removed, and "They're going to put me under and I don't want to drive after that." It was an easy yes, and several days later I drove her to the dentist.

After a half hour or so she left the dentist's chair and I was summoned to another area where I found her on a cot, her head on a pillow and a blanket covering her from ankles to chest, her face looking like that of a chipmunk. I pulled a chair over to the cot, took one of her hands, and waited until she opened her eyes. "How do you feel?"

"Great! I don't want to come down. I can't wait to get home and roll a joint."

When we were given permission to leave, I walked her to the car. We had one stop on the way to her apartment, and that was for groceries - soups, ice cream, whatever she was going to be able to eat without much chewing. I was useless at helping her put things in the refrigerator, the first criticism being "Not my shelf." The girls had shelves of their own and separate areas in the freezer.

Food safely stored, she sat down with a baggie and rolling papers and began rolling a joint, a process I had never witnessed (and still cannot imitate). "Colombian," she said, as if it should mean something to me. I just nodded.

In fact, she rolled two of them and when she was done she lit one and passed me the other. Now's as good a time as any. I decided to see what the fuss was all about and lit the other. In short order I was flying, on one of the best highs grass has ever given me.

We moved into the living room, she turned the TV on, and we sat on the couch. The experience is impossible to describe and the closest I can come to it is to say that I had a wonderful feeling of well-being, and that it seemed that there was some kind of field, more powerful than an aura but possibly its big brother, around my head. I was absolutely content. Numb, but content.

The girls had an old console black and white TV, which fit nicely with everything else. Old, used furniture, threadbare carpet, and so on. They had all just finished college and were just starting out. Still, it was one of the most comfortable homes I've visited. We watched the TV - some sort of game show I think - in total silence. After a few minutes, the vertical hold went and we watched that for a few minutes. Not entirely sure I could stand up, I nevertheless said, "I'll fix it."

I could and did stand up and I walked over to the TV, crouched down to examine the controls, and actually stopped the rolling. Miracle of miracles.

I stood up, walked to the middle of the room, and turned around to admire my handiwork. A few minutes later Joan arrived home, took in the situation, and said, "Hi Don. Are you leaving or just standing?"

"Just standing."

OK, back over to the couch with Mary. Lily arrived and soon the four of us were stoned and watching some awful TV program.

Somehow I found myself holding a glass with some liquid and ice cubes, as was everyone else. Now I still had on my three piece suit, white shirt - collar buttoned - and tie. I became aware that the girls were giggling and that Mary was trying to get an ice cube inside my collar. OK, that's cool. This didn't bother me at all, and I slowly became aware that way out there somewhere, perhaps eighteen inches to the right of my neck, there was a cool spot. Before long the spot began approaching my neck and became too cool, and I took the ice cube out from under my collar and plunked it into my glass, earning a small round of applause.

That's pretty much it. I know that marijuana has different effects on different people - I have a couple of friends who get paranoid when they smoke it. They feel like everyone's whispering about them. They've tried it, they didn't like it, and they just don't do it.

Since then I have shared marijuana with any number of people, somewhere along the way no longer being surprised to learn of different people who smoked it, a list that in my experience goes from teenagers up to executives in billion dollar corporations.

As for the girls, we all became good friends, with Joan remaining my "best" friend of the three. Perhaps three or four times a year I'd get a call at one o'clock or even two o'clock in the morning: "We're bummed. Why don't you come over and visit. Bring your popcorn popper." I would, and I'm sure that all four of us were dragging on the mornings after.

One New Year's Eve I was between girlfriends and had declined several invitations to parties, determined to just relax for once. Joan called and was in tears. She had been stood up by the bum she was dating and she had nothing to do and was alone in the apartment. I drove over, we got stoned, and I took her to see Superman, which had been released only a couple of weeks earlier. We got there just as the movie began and the only adjacent seats were in the first row. Stoned, Superman, big screen, first row - how good does it get? It was about two and a half hours long and when it finished we still had the munchies. There was no question of being seated at any decent restaurant without reservations, so we picked up some Chinese food and took it back to her apartment. All in all, a fun night.

I still do the occasional hit. I'm an easy high and a quarter ounce will last me a year. The only person I ever turned on was my father, who volunteered. I was candid with my parents about it, as was my brother. Once Mom asked me "Why do you do it?" and I told her about the feeling of well-being, and she seemed content with that as an answer. Lord knows she had seen my brother and me smoke it often enough with no effects obvious to her except perhaps that we sometimes became a little quieter, sometimes a little sillier.

She once watched my brother Billy roll a joint and asked, "Billy, could I try making one of those?" "Sure, Mom." When she was done she proudly held up something that looked like Moby Dick, but lumpier.

A thought: If you smoke pot and you haven't seen the 1930s movie "Reefer Madness," try to find it and watch it. Get high first. It's an anti-marijuana propaganda film, and the ultimate in high camp.