Sunday, April 6, 2008

A Peculiar Salute

In my outfit in Vietnam there was a young black soldier, a left-hander nicknamed "Dimp" for his dimples. Dimp had an easy-going sense of humor, liked to tease, and didn't mind being teased. His dimples were never more prominent than when he teased someone, sunk the hook, and waited for his victim to realize he'd been had.

Dimp was one of several who taught me the card game "Coon Can," a game played predominantly, but not entirely, by blacks, at least in our company. Coon Can is a two-player game, a member of the Gin Rummy family and was usually played for small stakes. After one such session, Dimp asked me, "Hey, Donnie, do you know why they call this game 'Coon Can?'"

"No, why?"

"Because some coons can and some coons can't."

I looked up and there were dimples everywhere.

Several months after our tour in Vietnam began, Dimp, a Private First Class (E-3) became eligible for promotion to Specialist Fourth Class (E-4). Such promotions were allocated from on high, and candidates appeared (individually) before a "board" of several interviewers, typically the batallion's two Company Commanders and the Batallion Sergeant Major. For weeks in advance of his appearance before the board, Dimp's friends schooled him, making him memorize the General Orders - again (we'd all had to learn them in basic training) and asking him anything we could think of that he might be asked by the board. If he showed the least hesitation on a subject we would give him all the information we could so that he would understand why something was the correct answer, making it easier for him to remember.

The big day arrived and we all held our breath. Dimp was nervous, but not unusually so. Finally, he was called to appear before the board. He was gone for a "normal" amount of time, and returned looking glum.

"How'd it go, Dimp?" "Think you made it, Dimp?" "Miss any questions, Dimp?"

Dimp had known the correct answer to every question put to him, but . . . when he reported to the board, he saluted with his left hand due to his nervousness. As it turned out this was enough to tip the balance, and one of his competitors was promoted. Dimp would have to wait a month for another chance.

By the following day he was smiling again, even at the teasing he was getting over saluting left-handed. We didn't let up on the questions and answers, and I am happy to say that he was promoted next time around.

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