We poured some more beers and Pat asked, “That’s a neat story but what’s got to do with your brother?” “Well Pat you might say it’s a little piece of one of those pieces I mentioned. Let me continue and you’ll see where it fits in.”
We were in our third week of basic, when the Army decided to give us our very own platoon sergeant. His name was Corporal Nolton.
He was a pretty straight shooter and had been a sergeant in the Marines. He decided to transfer over and that cost him a stripe. He was good though and he knew he’d get that stripe back quickly and then some.
The only problem with the Corporal was that he was a daytime platoon sergeant. After the day's training he’d go home to his wife. So at night we were still wide open for Charley to stop by and screw with us.
Charley seemed to get a kick out of screwing with us and there was a real big distance between him and the guys in my platoon. Naturally, everyone in the platoon resented his demeaning attitude towards us. In fact, the word hate might be more descriptive. But for some strange reason he’d actually talk to me like a person.
One night in the barracks, me, Chavez and Rizzo were sitting on our footlockers shinning of boots when Charley walked in and went through his usual harassment routine. He locked everyone’s heels and expressed his opinions of our shortcomings. When he was through, he walked over to my area and put his boot on my footlocker. Then he took over his shiny helmet liner and placed it on his knee. In a real friendly like manner he smiled, “Moran what are you and boys here bullshitting about?”
“Well sergeant, Rizzo here was talking about signing up for Special Forces.” Charley turned to Rizzo and cranked, “You want to be one Kennedy’s SS troops Rizzo?” That comment kind of shocked us. After all, Kennedy was building up the army and we thought he’d be one of Charley’s idols.
Now Chavez was from Panama, in fact his nick name was Panama. Like a lot of other Latin Americans, Kennedy held sainthood status with him and his family. So he stared hard at Charley and growled, “What do you mean by that comment Sergeant?” Charley growled back, “I meant what I said, Chavez, the sneaky Petes are Kennedy’s own personal army. You can make rank fast in the sneaky Petes alright, but that’s because they don’t follow the chain of command. Old General Stillwell just picks up the phone and tells Jack, I need this, I need that, and old Jack gives him anything he wants for his boys.” Then he quickly put his helmet liner back on and left. We all just looked at each other and Rizzo said, “Boy that was kind of strange wasn’t it?” Me and Panama just nodded in agreement.
Two days later I was on KP when PFC Williams came over to me with the first cook. “Moran, you go back to the barracks and change your fatigues, then report to the orderly room on the double.” This was good news and bad news. The good news was I was getting a break from KP, God only knew what the bad news was going to be.
When I walked into the orderly room I reported to the first sergeant. He looked me over from head to toe, then barked, “Go into the Captain’s office, you got a visitor. Make it brief Moran, then get your ass back to the mess hall, understood?”
I opened the door and there was Kenny leaning against the desk. He was in his dress green uniform and I wasn’t exactly sure how to act. So I saluted with a “Private Moran reporting as ordered sir.”
He returned the salute and smiled, “As you were Private Moran, close the door please.” I shut the door and asked, “Ken, what are you doing here, is everything at alright at home?” “Oh, I’m sorry John, it’s nothing like that. I was just down here on business and finished up a little early. So I just decided to stop by to say hello and see how you are doing. So how is army life treating you, John?” “Well, Ken that’s kind of like asking someone how they enjoying their broken leg.”
“Well you’ll do alright, kid, you have some pretty good people training you. The important thing is that you pay attention to what they are teaching you, it may save your life one day.” “Yeah, I know Ken, I am.”
“Are you still stationed at Governors Island, Ken?” “Yup, but it looks like I’ll be moving here soon. It seems I need some additional command experience. So I’ll probably be getting a training company in a month or two.” “Is that good, Ken?” “Oh yeah, it’s something I need for my career. Besides the assignment will only last for about nine months.”
“Have you talked to my brother lately?” “Yeah, about a week ago, He’s getting to be a really weird guy lately, if you know what I mean?” “Yeah, I know what you mean.”
“Well look, you’ve got to be getting back to duty soldier…and John, if there is anything you need, let me know.” “Thanks Kenny. I’ll keep that in mind.” I snapped to attention, saluted and headed back to mess hall to finish out the grind.
The next day during drill, there was a major altercation between Nolton and Charley. It was over Charley screwing with us in the barracks again, Nolton stood his ground like a pit bull and we were amazed. It was strange, because Charley was a sergeant and Nolton was only corporal. But Nolton wouldn’t give inch and it ended with Charley yelling, “Let’s take this up with the first sergeant later.” Nolton barked back, “You got that right, friend.”
We were all worried about loosing Nolton. He seemed to sense it and gave us reassurance, when Barker asked, “Won’t you get in trouble for back talking him?” “What makes you think I’ll get in trouble, Barker?” “Well, he out ranks you right?” “Only in grade, he does not out rank me in command. I command a platoon just like he does and I’ll be damned if I am going to let him screw with my command.”
The first sergeant must have agreed with him. Later Nolton told us, “If Sergeant Taylor enters the barracks while I’m not around, you will give him all of the respect due an NCO. But I want to know everything he does while he’s there, understood?” We all chimed in unison, “Yes Corporal.”
Charley paid us another visit that very night. But this time he just walked in and looked around. Then he smiled, “As you were gentlemen.” Then he walked over to me and took his helmet liner off and sat on my bunk. “Moran, where are you going after you get out of basic?” “I’m going to Ft McClellan for AIT. I’m going into the chemical corp. sergeant.” “Chemical Corps, why would you want to do that?” Before I could answer, he thought for a second and said, “Oh I remember now. Fort McClellan, the Candle Factory.” I was a little puzzled so I asked, “Why do they call it the Candle Factory?” “Because the troops there are always dipping their wicks in WACS. That’s the WAC training center as I’m sure you know.” “I didn’t know that sergeant.” “Who do you think you’re kidding Moran, you’re planning on getting yourself stationed there permanently aren’t you?” “No sergeant, I want to work in a lab.” “A lab? Well I got some bad news for you young stud; the Chemical Corps ain’t got no labs, just smoke generators. Why don’t you go infantry, if you do I can set you up with a real super job.” “Training the troops, Sergeant?” “Heck no, young trooper. Training the troops is just my part time job right now. I’m just here for six months to get my E-6 stripe. My next stop is OCS. What I’m talking about here Moran is setting you up as a military Courier.” “Military Courier?”
“Yeah, that’s what I do in real life, Moran. It’s the best damn job in the army, son. You get a Top Secret clearance, and then they stick you in some dumb outfit like your chemical corp., so no one can mess with you. You just hang out until they send for you. You travel first class to Brussels, Paris, Tokyo, London, you name it. Most of the time you’re in civilian clothes. A lot of times they don’t have a post to put you up in, so you spend a couple of nights in a top notch hotel while you’re waiting for the reply, all expenses paid. You interested, Moran?” “Let me think about it sarg.” “Well don‘t think too long young trooper.”
Yeah, at the time I couldn’t figure out why Charley spoke to me like a human being, when he treated everybody else in the outfit like phlegm. It was strange because I was only a seventeen year old kid. I could only attribute his friendly attitude towards me to the Cribs incident. But even that didn’t seem like a good enough reason for the buddy treatment. It was strange all right and got a lot more interesting as time passed.