This is a long story about a long story. Many years ago I was advised to call it a novel.
Illegally Sane 8
It was a little after 10 now and the place was starting to empty out a little. Gene, the old bartender dropped off another pitcher and I went on with my story.
I had joined the army on the buddy plan with Richey Barker. The army actually kept its word and we went through basic together and both got orders for the 86th chemical battalion at Bragg. Naturally we took leave together and hung out in Brooklyn for two weeks.
We mostly did what we did prior to signing up. That of course was hanging out in bars and chasing women. I really didn’t spend much time at home. I’d come in about 3 in the morning, sleep until 10, shave, shower and head back to Vandervere Bar. But I did give the old man and Bob a good two hours worth of chatter when I first arrived home.
The good news was that Bob finally had a job. Yup, after four years of college and a degree, he was now a $35.00 a week usher at the local movie theater. It was his first steady job since graduating college. It was a vast improvement over him sitting in his room for 24/7. He was even starting to send out resumes again. This time, on Kenny’s advice, he was targeting private corporations. He had already gotten a few rejections, but all in all it was a good sign that he might actually be getting out of his rut. So I headed off to Bragg with the hope that maybe Bob was finally getting a life.
When me and Richey hit Bragg, we reported in to the repo depot. Officially it was known as the replacement company. That’s where you hung out while they got your papers in order for reassignment to your permanent unit.
Each morning after chow, they’d have a formation and assign you to the crummiest details on post. The second day, me, Richey and ten other guys got the you, you, you… and you fall out over on the right selection.
There were eleven E-1s and 2s, and one PFC in our detail. The first sergeant quickly gave our orders to the PFC. “March these men over to the mess hall and report to the first cook for KP.” That of course meant that the PFC was supposed to pull KP with us. Now the main post mess hall fed about 1500 troops, so it was long hard 20 hour stint and we all knew it.
The PFC was a pretty slick guy and no fool. So he reported to the first cook with. “These are the men the first sergeant sent over for KP. I've got to get back to orderly room.” then he split. It was a real slick well executed move okay, and me and Richey were the only ones who caught it. We always admired that kind of talent, so honored the lesson with our silence.
Yup, it looked like it was going to be a real bad day for us, until the first cook said, “Okay, I want you men to write your names on this pad.” Instantly, I looked at Richey and he looked at me. Through our eyes we told each other, “They don’t have our names.” So I sign in as Private Patrick Hyde and Richey signed in as Private Henry Run. A minute later we went out the back door to get mops and just kept on going.
We ended up spending the day at the main PX and even took in a movie. There was no doubt in our minds how the first cook was spending his day. He was running around the mess hall all day yelling “Run and Hyde, Run and Hyde.”
Two days later we got our orders and hopped into the back of a deuce and half.They dropped me off at the 502nd Combat Support Company. Richey got dropped off two doors down at the 85th Smoke Generator Company.
I spent the next couple of days in intensive training. Each day was the same. Right after the morning formation it was police call, then PT and the rest of the day was spent mowing the lawns, edging and pulling up the weeds between the cracks in the sidewalk. By the third day it became obvious to me what our combat mission was. In the event of war, it was to be our job to see that the troops had a nicely manicured landscaped battlefield to do their fighting on.
After a week, I finally went to the field for real training. We played soldier with tents, rifles, perimeters and the whole nine yards. There they told me that I was being trained as a 534.10 CBR tech and tell specialist. The job involved driving around the battlefield after a biological, chemical or nuclear exchange taking a bunch of readings. Then I was supposed to report to the brass and let them know where all the hot spots were. I ended up being pretty good at it and they even gave me a driver’s license.
I spent the next two months doing the daily routine, cutting grass, going to the motor pool, the usual make busy details. Then we went to the Mojave Dessert on maneuvers for two months. When I got back to Bragg I needed a week’s leave. Richey didn’t want to come along, so I went home by myself this time.
It had been over four months since I was last in Brooklyn. So I had a lot of catching up to do. Things had changed a little: some of the guys made the same choice me and Richey did. Dino and Big Al were in the 101st. Whale and Moon were in The Big Red One, and Little Joe, well, he was now serving in The Atlanta Pen for interstate grand auto. But some of the gang was still intact. As usual, I mostly hung out in the bars again and really didn’t spend any time with Bob. But at least he was still tearing tickets at local theater.
I was back in Bragg for about two weeks, when low and behold, my platoon was drafted into the 82nd Airborne Division. It seemed we were combat support for the 82nd and someone decided we had to move in with them. So we packed up and moved to New Division as part of headquarters company support command.
Now being part of the 82nd meant that you had to be airborne, and we of course were not. So over the course of three months, one way or another we all became paratroopers.
Me and Rivera got our jump training on post with the 5th Special Forces Group. The army figured this might be a quick cheap way to get it done. We stayed up on smoke bomb hill with them and got our wings and five jumps in, in only two weeks. Immediately there after both of us spent the next week in the hospital with pneumonia. See in our spare time come rain or shine, the sneaky Petes worked us to exhortation with 20 hour days. There was no malice involved; they just considered that good training.
After our experience, the army figured out it was cheaper to send the guys to FortBenning in groups of six. This way they’d be a better chance of them coming back with jump wings instead of Angel wings.
Yup, after two months we were part of the division all right, and the division sucked. They knew more ways to screw with you there than any place I’ve seen since. The good news was, the guys in Headquarters Company were all good people and we made a lot of new buddies fast.
Now the 82nd was part of STRAC back then. Pat asked, “What’s STRAC?” “Strategic Army Command, Pat.” That meant if the army needed to be somewhere, we’d be the first to get there. So on occasion, we had what they called Alerts.
There was a Shot Gun Alert, which meant IRF, Immediate Ready Force loaded planes and sat there. At the same time, DRF, Division Ready Force, who was sitting in the vehicles outside of their barracks, drove to Pope Field marshalling yard. The rest of division got in their vehicles and sat outside of their barracks.
If the alert went to Shot Gun, Shot Gun; IRF got airborne and circled, DRF boarded aircraft and the rest of division drove to Pope.
If it went to Shot Gun Shot Gun Shot Gun, IRF headed for destination, DRF got airborne and everybody else loaded on planes. In short, America was going to war.
On April 26th of 65, we had a Shot Gun alert. We drove our jeeps and deuce and a halves out of the motor pool and parked them on the side street next to the barracks. Then we loaded them up and sat there. Of course, we were restricted to the barracks, but we could take breaks and go to the day room and watch TV. The news on the air mostly covered Viet Nam, even though the war had technically started yet. Then there was something going on In the Dominican Republic. In the rumor mill the winner seemed to be Nam by a land slide, Of course there was still a good possibility we weren’t going anywhere at all.
The next day it started looking real. We were ordered to draw our weapons from the arms room. I was outside sitting in my jeep when I was told to report to The First Sergeant. When I walked into the orderly room he handed me a holstered 45 and two loaded magazines. “Take your jeep and go over go to Support Command headquarters and report to Sergeant Major McCollum.” When I got there the Sergeant Major informed me that I would be Colonel Austin’s driver for the day.
I ended up driving the Colonel all over post; to Corp Headquarters, then Pope Field, then home for lunch. After lunch, it was back to Pope, and then division headquarters. Finally I dropped him off at home. This was a 24 hour stint, so I had to hang out at headquarters on stand by. Then after the sergeant major told me to pick up the Colonel at home.
On the way back to support command, I got raised by Champion, division headquarters on my radio. My call handle was Lancing Raider 1-5 Yankee. The call was a direct order to Colonel to report immediately to division HQ.
When we approached the building, the colonel told me to drive around to the back. As I pulled in to park, there was General York standing on the lighted sidewalk waiting for us. He was a dead ringer for John Wayne and even had his drawl. I couldn’t miss noticing that he was wearing a formal dress uniform with a white tuxedo jacket. I knew right away, that when you drag a general out of a formal evening affair, things must be pretty serious all right.
The colonel got out of the jeep and walked over to greet him. After a quick salute and a handshake, General York patted him on the back and said, “Bob, lets go inside, we have a go.” The colonel quickly waved me over and told me to go back to Support Command and stand by.
When I got back, I hung out for about an hour. Then Grayson, the colonel’s regular driver showed up and I was sent back to barracks to get some sleep. When I got back there Sergeant Bowen told me to get my sleep in the jeep. So I sat there on the side street and watched as convoy after convoy passed in review on their way to Pope.
Finally, it was our turn and off we went. We drove down the darkened roads, as row after row of C130s passed overhead with their take off light dimming in the distance. When we arrived at the marshalling yard we were guided to our staging area by flashlights. We sat in our jeeps for about 15 minutes and Bowen and a couple of other guys came over with ammo boxes. “Load em, he said, and now I knew it was for real.
An hour later, me, Vargas, Rivera and Torres were loading our jeeps into a C130. The crew chief checked the riggings, the tail gate went up and we were on our way.
There were only the four of us, the crew chief, my platoon sergeant and Lt. Col Butts, and a whole lot of gear in the plane. After we got airborne I asked the silly question, “Does anyone know where the hell we’re going? Better yet, does anyone know what the hell we’re going to do once we get there?” My platoon sergeant replied, “No Moran, I don’t, do you? Then colonel Buttes responded, “You’re going to war young man and we’ll be landing in three hours.” At that comment my platoon sergeant went into shock. Pale faced and panicky he asked me, “Have you ever been in combat, Moran?” I replied, “Sarg, I’m seventeen years old, what war do you think I fought in? Then I asked him, “Weren’t you in Korean War, sarg? I always heard you saying, “Boy, Korea was hell.” “Well I was in Korea, back in 56 and it was hell. It’s the coldest damn place on earth boy. I froze my ass off over there.” That iced it for me. I knew exactly what I was going to do if took fire getting off the aircraft. First I’d just shoot the sarg, then hit the ground and wait for orders from the Colonel. I wasn’t about to get my ass shot off, taking orders from a scared panicked buffoon.
Cody kicked in,” If he was buffoon, how’d he make E-7?” “He never served in a line unit, Cody. He made his rank brown nosing and he was good at.” “So what happened then John?”
We touched down at day break and the colonel told us that they pretty much got the airfield under control. He said there was still a little sniper fire, but nothing to worry about, just get your equipment off the aircraft, and find your unit.”
When the tailgate dropped, we freed our jeeps and drove straight off the aircraft. Then Vargas asked the Colonel, “Where do we go sir?” He looked around as said, “Why don’t you drive your jeeps over to that building and look around for your unit.” My platoon sergeant thought he might get in some extra brownie points with colonel, so he stayed behind.
We took off and pulled up to a hanger. Then we got out and lit up cigarettes. We still had no idea where we were. It was something the colonel forgot to mention. One thing was for sure, it was the tropics okay, palm trees and all. Suddenly a couple of shots rang out and we dropped. Simultaneously, we slapped our bolts back and chambered a round. Rivera barked, “Let’s go into this building.” “Sounds good to me; so we kicked the door and entered with weapons raised.
Inside there was an old beat up P51 Mustang and three Spanish looking guys in blue overalls. They immediately put their hands up and I told Torres, “Ask these guys where we are man.”
After a three minute exchange in Spanish, Torres told me we were in San Isidro, Dominican Republic. Then he said, “Moran, these are good people, they like Americans and they said they are on our side.” I looked them over for weapons, but they seemed cool. But just in case I told Torres to keep and eye on them. We went outside again, just as a jeep pulled up with a Major in it. “Who are you people he asked?” “We’re with the five oh deuce, sir.” He grabbed a clipboard from the rear seat and thumbed through it. “Five o deuce, five o deuce. Okay, get in your jeeps and follow me.”
We left airfield and drove for about fifteen minutes down a maze of dirt back roads. Finally he stopped and motioned us over. “Right down this road gentlemen…and have a nice day.”
By now you guys might have noticed that from time to time the army tended to lose track of me. Those occasions for the most part were all that allowed me to keep my sanity. See, I really don’t do well under supervision, and never have.
Reed kicked in, “so you were a post ghost type of guy.” “Something like that, maybe even a little more, Reed.”