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.


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