“Six miles! We still got six fuckin’ miles to go!”
“We only done less’n half way? Shit, Sarg!”
“I ain’t gonna fuckin’ make it!”
Waiting until the moans and groans stopped, “Like I was sayin’, we still got more’n six miles to go, an’ we ain’t gonna stop again till we get there. Chow’s gonna be there, waitin’! You guys getting’ hungry?”
“Does a whore’s pussy smell like Limburger cheese?”
“Yeah, it sure do!” one of the guys in the line answered.
“Okay, take it easy a couple’a minutes, the rest’a the march’ll be a snap for you. “Tench, hup!” And again, before the troops had a chance to come to attention, “Dismissed!”
July 12, 1952
Scattering in all directions, the men looked for someplace to urinate, relieve their bowels, and/or find some shade and have a smoke.
Not telling them, the sergeants didn’t want their men to know that since leaving camp at 0700 hours, in little more than three hours the column had actually covered nearly eight miles and that the worst of the march was behind them.
“Shit! That couldn’t have been fifteen minutes!”
Slowly, painfully, the men forced themselves off the ground and out of whatever shade they’d found along this dusty road.
“Shit, six miles to go!”
“Fuck! Like the man said, more’n six miles to go.”
“Quit’j’ya bitchin’! Fall in! Tench, hup! Dress right, dress! Tench, hup! Right shoulder, arms! Riiiight, face! Forward, harch! Hup-two-three-four, hup-two-three!”
Within an hour, hearing the groans, “Over hill, over dale,” Martinez began to sing in a strong, unwavering voice. “Okay, you guys, pick it up! Over hill over dale…”
A few of the men sang…
“We will hit the dusty trail…”
One by one, more voices joining in…
“…as those caissons keep rolling along.”
Now, the entire platoon singing as one voice, “For it’s hi, hi hee in the field artillery, shout out your numbers loud and strong!” Their backs straightening, their heads coming up, their feet lifting higher and coming down surer, “For where ’ere we go, you will always know, that those caissons, keep rolling along!”
“Over hill, over dale…”
The singing picked up by the first, second and fourth platoons…
“…we will hit the dusty trail, as those caissons keep rolling along. For it’s hi, hi, hee in the field artillery, shout out your numbers loud and strong! For where ’ere we go, you will always know, that those caissons, keep rolling along!”
“Look smart, we’re almost there! Hup-two-three-four!”
How’s that possible? Glancing at each other, thinking, How’s that possible?
We couldn’t have gone more’n six miles in an hour and a half!
Yet, as the column marched into a clearing, the odors of hot food suddenly weighed heavier than the dust that lined Mitchell and Norman’s nostrils.
“Platoon, halt! Left, face! Order, arms! At ease!”
A collective sigh was heard as the men of the four platoons simultaneously received and executed the given orders.
“Hey, we made it!”
Relaxing, the men of the third platoon grinned at each other.
“We really fuckin’ made it!”
Martinez, though, continued standing at parade rest, and as the men realized that he was watching them, straightening their backs, they stopped talking.
Speaking in a low, menacing tone, “I just wanna tell you,” Martinez said, “that for a bunch’a pussies, you fuckers…” As the smiles on the faces of the men faded, the sergeant’s frown unexpectedly turned upward. “…did real good! Drop your gear where you’re standin’ an’ grab some chow! Dismissed!”
The field mess unit: Cooked on base, the food was transported to the bivouac area by truck and kept hot in butane-heated steam tables.
There are two alternating, non-commissioned duty cooks. One remained in the bivouac area for lunch, supper and overnight for breakfast. The duty cook was relieved after breakfast when the chow wagon came from base with that day’s lunch and the relieving duty cook.
The company mess was in the northern perimeter of the campground, beneath a camouflaged tent cover.
“Well, well, well, if it ain’t my two favorite Jew boys! Hungry, Mitchie?”
“Yeah,” holding his tray forward, waiting for Skorupski to drop a ladle of chocolate pudding into the one remaining empty compartment, “damned hungry!”
“Shit! I’d taken bets the two’a you kikes would’a never made it all the way on your own. Come on, tell ol’ Skorp the truth. You two fuckers passed out an’ a truck had’a haul your worthless asses up here, huh?” Smiling, he looked for approval from the man standing behind Norman and Mitchell, but none came. “Oh, no, wait! I’ll bet your ol’ man called the base commander an’ they brought you fuckers here in one’a them nice open Jeeps. Almost like the convertibles all you sheenies drive around in back home, huh?”
“Yeah, sure, Skorupski, you fuckin’ Polack prick. My ol’ man’s a great pal of General Macarthur!” Norman said angrily. “How’d you get up here?” Curling his upper lip contemptuously, “You fat-ass fuck!”
“Polack prick? Fat-ass fuck, huh? You sheeny cocksucker, I’m gonna put’j’ya on report for insubordination to a non-com!”
“Do whatever the fuck you want! Just give me some goddamned chow!”
“Yeah,” the man behind Norman complained, “quit holdin’ up the fuckin’ line, you got lots’a hungry men here!”
After a long, forced march, the men were fed a choice meal, and this day’s menu consisted of roasted turkey, mashed potatoes with gravy, steamed cauliflower, fresh green salad, biscuits and chocolate pudding.
Scooping a heaping ladle of pudding from the serving tray, “Here, Lipensky,” Skorupski purposely dropped it, half into the empty compartment and half onto the cauliflower. “Whoops, sorry ’bout that, Mitchie… Next!”
Norman moved up a step.
Digging another overflowing ladle of pudding out of the deep tray, Skorupski slapped it onto Norman’s tray, but, most of it missing the tray, splashed onto Norman’s hand and splattered over the front of his tunic. “Whoops, sorry ’bout that, too, Normie… Next!”
The two glared at each other until, “Come on, Parminter,” the man behind nudged Norman. “Fuck ’em. Move your ass an’ give the rest of us a chance at the fuckin’ chow.”
“Yeah, sure.” Turning away, Norman followed Mitchell to a table. “That prick!” Dropping his tray, looking back, staring at Skorupski, “That fuckin’ asshole!” Wiping the pudding from between his fingers with a napkin, Norman then tried to blot it off his olive-green tunic, but only succeeded in rubbing the chocolate in where it showed as a large, brown stain. “Shit!” Stepping over the bench, he sat between Caraboolad and Mitchell.
“Know what, Normie?” In all the years he’d know him, Mitchell had never seen his friend that angry. Trying to calm him down, “I’ll bet this ain’t half bad.” Spearing a piece of cauliflower, putting it in his mouth, he chewed. “Umm, good shit!”
Smiling wanly, “I believe it, Lipensky,” Norman said. “Only you’d like chocolate-covered cauliflower.”
“I do believe that putz has invented something here.” Stabbing another, larger piece of cauliflower, Mitchell held it up. “Think I’ll call it a cauliflowercicle. Mmm, yummy!” Turning his fork upside down, the chunk of cauliflower slipped off and fell into the pudding with a sickly, wet plop.
The bivouac area for the men of Able, Baker, Charlie and Dog platoons was on a low-slung, grass-swept saddle valley surrounded by gentle, rolling hills. The immediate staging area was a quarter mile of freshly mown prairie grass that had been hacked down just days before by a team of Army regulars. The lighter green stubble inside the mown perimeter and the knee-high grass outside was dotted with thousands of deeper green circles where, throughout the years, herds of grazing cattle had left countless deposits of manure that had further fertilized the already rich soil.
On the crest of a hill about two-thirds of a mile to the south, silhouetted against the cloudless sky, was a large herd of grazing cattle that had been moved out of the way of this invading army by the dairy combine that leased this land from the U.S. Army.
Waiting for Martinez’ call that would signal the end of lunch and the start of that afternoon’s training exercises, that Norman and Mitchell both looked forward to—training for the firing of the mortar that they’d so laboriously hauled all this distance. Sitting, smoking, their backs resting against the trunk of a tree, the boys watched as a team of regulars dropped two-man tents off the back of a truck.
“Mitch, will you please stop that!”
“Huh? Oh, sorry.” He’d been absently flexing his wrists, popping the joints.
“Even when we were kids at Baylor everyone knew he was a schmuck. Would you believe me’n’Frankie thought, ’cause he was the oldest kid there, that he’d know all about girls and what they have here,” pointing to his crotch.
“Skorupski?” Norman asked incredulously, “You really thought that asshole, son of a bitch knew enough about anything to tell you anything?”
“At least he told me’n’Frank what it’s called.”
“Oh, yeah?” Recalling the day Mitchell came home from Baylor and the conversation on their way to the Douglas Theatre. “He’s the one you learned it from, huh? Skorupski’s the guy that told you ’bout pricks’n’cunts?”
“Yeah, and would you believe he’s so stupid he told us that if you suck on a shvartzer lady’s tit you’d get chocolate milk? And the asshole really believed it! He even showed Frankie’n’me how he beats his meat.”
“Skorupski showed you?”
“Yeah! He whipped his dick out and started doing it.”
Norman could not believe that any guy would do that. “And he had a boner?”
“No, not at first, but he sure got one fast enough.”
“Yeah, that I believe! He’s probably a homo, too.”
“Yeah, no shit, he probably is! And for a guy as old as he was, he didn’t know a fuckin’ thing about fuckin’.”
“Shit, Lipensky, for guys as old as we are now, we still don’t know a fuckin’ thing about fuckin’.”
“Yeah,” he sighed, “we don’t know much more now then we did then, but least- ways we don’t go ’round handin’ out a bunch’a bullshit.”
“Jesus!” Actually, Mitchell felt that regardless of his size and rank, he should have done something about Skorupski’s anti-Semitic slurs. “I’d love to find some way to get even with that fucker.”
“Yeah, me, too.” Taking one last drag on the cigarette, Norman ground it out on a rock then field stripped the butt.
“I’d love to think of a way to fix that anti-Semitic, Polack bastard’s ass.”
Leaning his head against the tree, Norman stared vacantly at the higher grass as it undulated in the slight breeze… “Hey!” Sitting up suddenly, he looked at Mitchell. “What did you say?”
“Huh?” Looking at his friend, “Nothin’. I didn’t say nothin’.”
“Yeah, Mitchie, you did. Not now, but before.”
Thinking a moment, “I don’t know what I said before. Why?”
“I… Maybe I got an idea.” Standing, he went to the outer perimeter of the mown area, walked into the higher, wavering grass and, seemingly looking for something, stopped. “Yeah!”
“Normie, what the hell are you…”
“Fall in! Third platoon fall in!”
Lifting himself off the ground, joining Norman as he walked toward the forming double column, “What’s your idea?”
“I think I know how we can do it.”
“I’ll tell you later.”