The National Guard…
…Was not exactly as Norman had pictured it, although his guess was pretty close, if one considers being off by more than fifty percent, close.
A buck-private’s pay for each three-hour weekly drill session was $2.25; for the two weeks of summer training, $37.50. Again, contrary to Norman, Mitchell immediately discovered that in the Army, or, if you will, the National Guard, the surest way not to get what you want is to want it.
The weekly sessions, though, were not too far off from what he’d expected, being comprised of formation and drill, formation and drill, then later in the evening, after a cigarette break, drill and formation.
Remembering his training at Baylor Military School, the execution of the well-remembered drill commands came easy, and although the twenty-five-pound field pack he was made to wear on his back and the eight-and-a-half-pound Garand M1 rifle he was made to carry on his shoulder became heavier and heavier as the session ground on, Mitchell didn’t mind because being, maybe, just a bit overweight, he considered the time spent in the armory as exercise that the government of the United States was paying for.
May 17, 1950
“La-pimp-sky, Parminter! Front and center!”
His head snapping forward, Jesus! Mitchell thought, What’d I do now? Stepping out of line, he glanced at Norman, four men to the right, who’d also stepped forward.
They marched front and center, halting in front of Master Sergeant Raphael Martinez.
“Paraaade rest! At ease!” Martinez called. “Dismissed!”
The formation broke for their cigarette break, and along with it, Norman and Mitchell.
“Whoa! Not you two fuckin’ clowns! You come with me, I wanna talk to the two’a you.”
Following Martinez outside, they stood at attention.
“Jesus Christ! At ease, for Christ’s sake!” Taking a package of Luckys from his tunic pocket, Martinez pushed three upward, took one himself, then held the cigarettes forward. “You two guys…” Flicking his Zippo to life, he passed the flame around, “…for a couple’a fuckin’ Jews are pretty good in there,” nodding his head towards the drill floor. “How’s come you fuckers do drill so good?”
“I’m in R.O.T.C.,” Norman replied.
“My folks sent me to military school during the war.”
Rolling his eyes, “Military school! Ain’t that sweet! Her mommy sent her to fuckin’ military school durin’ the war,” mimicking Mitchell, who blushed.
Master Sergeant Raphael Martinez reminded Mitchell of Frank Rizzo a little because he was small and wiry. But that was where the resemblance ended. The sergeant had straight, black hair cut into a military brush. He had dark, almost black, eyes and thick, scraggly eyebrows that jutted in all directions as though he’d purposely brushed them against their grain. His nose was long and thin, with large nostrils overgrown with coarse hair that mingled with a mustache so thick that it was impossible to tell where the nose hair ended and the mustache began. A jagged, white scar bisected his lift sideburn and ran downward, past his jaw onto his neck. Above the left pocket of his tunic were three rows of combat and campaign ribbons, including a Purple Heart.
“You know,” Martinez said, “it’s really tough shit when my two best men are a couple’a fuckin’ Jews.” Taking a deep drag on the Lucky, he exhaled through his nostrils.
Fascinated, Mitchell watched the sergeant’s nose hair wave in the twin streams of gray smoke, as Norman, not sure what to make of the backhanded compliment, said, “No shit, Sarge, we’re really that good, eh!”
Martinez smiled. Obviously capped, in comparison to the rest of his teeth, his two front teeth were disproportionately white. “Hey, you fuckers, don’t go gettin’ all swell-headed; you ain’t all that good! It’s just that the rest’a them shit-heads…” motioning with his head again, “ain’t no fuckin’ good at all!” Taking another drag on the cigarette, “You two guys want to volunteer to be on my mortar squad.”
“Huh?” Not sure if this was a question or an order, “Uh, Sarge,” Norman asked, “are you asking or telling?”
“That’s how it sounded to you, Parminter, like a question?” Not waiting for an answer, “Shit, no!” he said. “That weren’t no question; that were a tell!”
“A tell? I thought you asked if we wanted to volunteer to be on your mortar squad.”
“Like maybe it sounded like I’m askin’, but you didn’t understand me real proper-like. You two fuckers are on my mortar squad.”
Taking a deep draw on the cigarette, Martinez began to cough, hawked up some phlegm, turned his head to the right and with a loud Phflett! spit the glob onto the sidewalk where it landed with an audible splat… between a pair of glossy, spit-shined boots, leaving a silver tendril of sputum trailing across on mirrored toe.
“Wha’the’fuck?” A hand reached forward, grabbed Martinez by the sleeve of his tunic and pulled him around. “Ya’fuckin’son’of’a’bitch!” The voice deep and gravely, “What the fuck ya think you’re doin’?”
Astonished, though the voice had sounded somewhat familiar to Mitchell, there was no mistaking the face and body.
Leaning forward, clasping the soldier’s fist, forcing the hand open, “What the fuck you callin’ me?”
Martinez said through clenched teeth. “You fat, fuckin’ prick!” Bending the soldier’s fingers, he jerked upward on the hand forcing the much larger man to step in even closer…
Nearing nineteen years of age, Corporal, William “Skorp” Skorupski was 6'1", weighed 252 pounds and had a noticeable paunch. His shiny, pink scalp showing through closely-cropped, light blonde hair, Skorupski’s complexion was deep red, as though he’d sat too close to a sun lamp for too long a time. His squat face was pocked with flat, red scars, the remnants of a hundred, or a thousand, ruptured pimples.
Black, Mexican eyes stared into pale blue Polish eyes and the faces of both men underwent a startling change: The jagged, white scar became translucent red against the deep crimson of Martinez’s anger-flushed face. Skorupski’s face turned chalk white and the flattened pimple scars appeared to become accentuated, as if refilled with pus.
“’Ey, Sarge, let up, man!” Standing on his toes, Skorupski attempted to go with the pressure being exerted on his fingers. “Oh, come on, Sarge, le’go! I’m fuckin’ sorry! I didn’t know it was you!”
Releasing him with a shove, causing Skorupski to take two steps backward, “Don’t you ever call me a son of a bitch!” Poking him in the chest, standing on tiptoes, attempting to bring his face to the level of Skorupski’s. “Ever! You fuckin’ hear me?”
Backed against the steel handrail, “Yeah,” opening and closing his hand, working the pained fingers, “sure, Sarge. I’m fuckin’ sorry. Like I said, I didn’t know it was you. Okay?”
Looking over the shorter man’s head, noticing Mitchell, squinting, staring at him, “Hey, don’t I know you from someplace?”
Rather hoping Skorupski didn’t remember him, “No, I don’t think so,” Mitchell said. “I’d remember if I know you.”
“I d’know, you look real familiar.” Still staring, trying to remember, “Like maybe you’re someone I used to know.”
A loud, shrill whistle signaled the end of the break.
“Come on, time to get back.” Flipping his cigarette with a trailing tail of sparks, “You two guys hang around after the drill. I wanna talk to you some more.” Glancing at Skorupski, Martinez rushed into the armory.
Flipping their cigarettes also, the boys followed Martinez inside.
Scratching his head, Skorupski watched Mitchell’s back, then he, too, rushed inside.
Nine-thirty, the session over. “Sarge,” Martinez, Norman and Mitchell, once again outside, “what’s a mortar squad do?”
Enunciating each syllable, purposely mispronouncing his name, “La-pimp-sky, you sure are one dumb cocksucker, ain’t’j’ya?”
Sighing, bringing his eyes back to Martinez, “Yeah, Sarge, if you say so.”
“La-pimp-sky, a mortar squad carries the mortar and ammo.”
“Yeah, Sarge, I know that, but what’d’they do after that?”
“Do? I told’j’ya, they…”
“I mean, yeah, I know they carry the mortar and stuff! But let’s say we’re in a battle, a real battle, where would we be?”
“Up shit creek, La-pimp-sky,” he laughed. “Up shit creek!”
“What he wants to know is, would we be functioning as an advance unit or as rear support?”
“Advance unit? Rear support? Jesus, Parminter, you really did learn something in R.O.T.C. after all, didn’t’j’ya? Parminter, I wouldn’t trust the two’a you fuckers behind me with a pea shooter.” Drawing on his cigarette, becoming serious, “Look, we ain’t a weapons company, but Captain Trainer wants a mortar squad for McCoy, so’s it really don’t make a flyin’ fuck where the two’a you’d be in a real battle ’cause this is just for the duration of McCoy. I need six guys for the squad, an’ seein’ as you two seem to have some kind’a half-assed kind’a prior trainin’, I’m gonna make the two’a you squad leaders.”
“Squad leaders!” Looking at Norman, Mitchell’s eyebrows went up. “We’re gonna haul the gun!” he said, not unhappily, thinking he and Norman might be exempt from the long marches he knew were a part of maneuvers. “How do we do it,” he asked hopefully. “By truck?”
“First off, a mortar ain’t no fuckin’ gun!” Martinez corrected. “An’ no, you dumb shit, you don’t go by truck! What the fuck you think? You think the Army’s the fuckin’ Chicago Transit Authority? You’re gonna march, just like the rest’a them fuckers.”
“The mortar; how much does it weigh?” Norman asked.
“The tube’s twenty-seven pounds and the base, thirty.”
“How’ll we lug it?”
“I figure you’d start off with the tube, and Parminter here, the base. Then, if you guys want, you can switch off during the march.”
“The tube? How?”
“Over your fuckin’ shoulder and the base’ll hook onto your buddy’s field pack.”
“Sarge, the tube and base, a full field pack, and an M1? Ain’t that just a little too much?”
“You dumb shit, La-pimp-sky! How the fuck you think you’d be able to march holdin’ the tube and a fuckin’ M1? The two’a you’ll be issued .45s.”
“No shit!” Glancing at Norman, Mitchell’s face broke into a broad smile. “Really, Sarge? I’m going to be issued a .45? A real .45!”
“Sure a real .45! You think the Army’d give you a fuckin’ toy gun?”
“We get to shoot ’em and everything, huh!”
Thinking these two were underage, now thinking that Mitchell was even younger than he’d first thought, looking at him quizzically, “They ain’t no fuckin’ cap pistols, but, yeah, you’ll get to shoot ’em.”
Turning to Norman, poking his thumb in Mitchell’s direction, “What the fuck’s wrong with him?”
“Nothin’, Sarge. It’s just that…” knowing it sounded stupid, “him’n’me were talking, before we joined here, and he said that he hoped he’d be able to get a .45, uh, to use.”
Looking skyward, “Jesus,” Martinez said. “Give me strength! What a bunch of fuckin’, baby pussies! La-pimp-sky, if you ever found yourself in a real battle you’d sure want to trade that fuckin’ .45 for an M1 with a bayonet fast enough.” Holding the low burning stub of his cigarette between the darkly nicotine-stained fingernails of his thumb and forefinger, drawing deeply on the last half-inch, he flicked the ember in the air.
“Yeah, well I’m glad we don’t have to worry about whether or not I’d want an M1 over a .45, ’cause fortunately there ain’t no war going on now.”
“Yeah, La-pimp-sky, thank God there ain’t no war goin’ on now, ’cause I don’t know where we’d be if this country had to rely on a bunch’a dumb fuckers like the two’a you!”
June 25, 1950
The North Korean Army crosses the 38th parallel.