13 January 2010

Separate Rations, Sex and Quarters

Sicily Drop Zone

South of the Border

The Indian chief could have been a problem. Worse case scenario - I disappear. Best case - I get my ass kicked by some high school kids. I avoided both. 11 years later on Ft Bragg I came close very close to making a mistake that could have lasted a life time. At the time it seemed nothing more than a quick and easy solution.

We were waiting to load a C130 for a night jump in August. I was sitting on the tarmac reading 'Fear of Flying' by Erica Jong. I had already read the book but liked the image it presented... A paratrooper reading a paper back about fear of flying. Maybe someone from the Army Times would take a picture. No one who walked by me knew what the book was about but plenty of comments were made. None very original. Except one.

She was about six feet tall with blonde hair and piercing blue eyes. She was a private first class, a generator mechanic and I was told she spoke fluent French. She looked at my book and said, "How 'bout a zipless, Tintin?" I was stunned but managed to get out before she had walked too far, "I was thinking of something a little more physical, private!" She turned and smiled and duck walked away in a too tight parachute harness (MC1-1 Bravo) and a too big helmet cocked at a silly angle.

Have you read Fear of Flying where Erica Jong longs for the zipless fuck? A spiritual form of love making sans any removal of clothes or the more literal translation, the unzipping of zippers...his or hers. If you haven't read it you should.

We jumped Sicily drop zone that night and just like swimming in the Boy Scouts you couldn't walk off the D.Z. without a buddy. As I stuffed my parachute in an aviator kit bag I saw this tall figure coming towards me. "Who do I have?" said a woman's voice. It's Tintin, " I replied. "Oh, shit," she said. By the time we got back to the duece and half trucks and turned in our parachutes we had discussed, Erica Jong, Susan Sontag's, On Photography, the Bee Gees and dinner which we were to have together that night.

She cancelled dinner last minute but we went out the next night and saw the Woody Allen movie, Annie Hall. We dated for a couple of months and decided that it made sense to get married. Not because of love but for separate rations (money), quarter's allowance (money) and living off post (sex).

We were married in SC just across the border because there wasn't a waiting period. I remember the cement floor had yellow painted foot prints where we were supposed to stand. I lingered on the foot prints and had a uneasy feeling something wasn't right but a rail thin man married us in less time than it took for him to eat breakfast while his wife witnessed the event and handled all the paper work. In and out in ten minutes.

That night in a motel at South of the Border we didn't talk except to argue. The fighting lead to driving back to Ft Bragg around 2AM and by 7AM I was in another C130 and off on a 30 day field exercise to ponder my actions. I returned 30 days later to discover she had bought a house in both our names. It had a cyclone fence around the back yard and was in a very bad neighborhood. This was not the separate rations, sex and quarter's allowance I had in mind. I heard the Indian chief and this time I panicked.

I called a realtor who happened to be my mother and asked her what could I do. She explained it all...annulmets, waiting periods, etc. A day later I was sitting in front of a woman who was a JAG captain who asked, "Did you consummate the marriage?" She was in starched fatigues and I couldn't help but stare at her Judge Advocate branch device on her collar. Never saw many of those. "Uh, I'm sorry, what does consummate mean?" I asked as intelligently as I could. I wish she'd asked me about Susan Sontag because she looked like someone I could live off post with. She threw her pencil down and looked at me, "Did you sleep with her after you were married?"

I explained that we didn't sleep with each other after we married but we had slept with each other before we were married and did that count -- and she told me it didn't and before you knew it everything was taken care of. It all went away. I saw her a year later. She had married and was getting out of the army. She emailed me last year. Two grown children. Divorced. Deals cards in a casino. I often wonder why things happen the way they do.

11 January 2010

The Indian Chief - Part II

Hammond Hills, Ft Bragg   1966 -  The woods are in the background

Special Forces Camp A-223,  1966 - Vinh Than is in the foreground

The voice was a low rumble that crept out of green overgrowth and bushes.

I was playing in the woods behind quarters for senior enlisted men. Dad was a captain but Vietnam was keeping Ft Bragg hopping and officer's quarters were on a wait list. I wonder today if I would have heard that voice in the woods behind the officers billets. Maybe.

I was playing alone so it must have been a Sunday. We didn't go to church but everybody else did. I had a Man from U.N.C.L.E. attache case. The one with the secret camera and shoulder stock P-38.  I had asked for a trench coat that Christmas but would make do with a navy turtleneck and long blonde hair while working on a Illya Kuryakin accent.

"I am a great chief," the low rumble said. Not thirty feet away. Maybe less. I looked up from my brief case. "What?" I said, looking for the voice. "I am a great Indian chief and I'm looking for brave warriors to fight for my people." I turned to the voice and faced the bushes to my right and up a slight hill. I was calm. I was curious. I answered back. "What people?" "My tribe is out west - many moons away."

Out west? I was born in South Dakota and had lived most of my eight years out west: Ft Bliss and Ft Sam Houston, TX, Ft Sill, OK... I knew the west.

"Where out west?" I said putting my brief case down and folding my arms. "My people moved many times - many years." I nodded my head, "Me too. Where did you go?" "Many places," he replies. I remember as a kid hearing my father saying 'horse shit' a lot. I always wondered what the big deal was about horse shit but something was telling me this guy might have some.

I yelled to him, "I've lived  in Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and I was born in South Dakota. Do you know those places?" There was silence. Then, "Yes. We were in those places many times."

My father had left Ft Bragg and was in Vietnam. I had dreams of him in his camp spurred on by John Wayne in The Green Berets. My grandmother had taken me to see it. I also had the record that inspired the movie, "Ballad of the Green Berets" written by Sgt Barry Sadler, a neighbor and someone my grandmother thought was a, "pretty big honcho." My father thought he was a Staff Sergeant and not a very good one.

My dream was always the same. My father's camp is being attacked by Viet Cong. My father is giving orders to his men and I walk up carrying an M-16. He looks at me and yells, "What are you doing here!?" I shrug my soldiers. He points me to a position and I join a circle of men surrounding him. We aim our weapons at the charging enemy.

I ask the Indian chief, "Where were you in all those places?" "Come to me, brave warrior and I will tell you."

I looked down at my PX French Shriners and kicked at some dirt that looked just like the dirt at Ft Benning and Ft Jackson. I don't remember being scared. If anything, I thought this 'chief' was probably a high school kid who was teasing me in front of his buddies. He wasn't very convincing and I was getting bored.

"Come to me, brave warrior. I will take you back in time where many buffalo..." "Nice try." I thought. I waved goodbye to the bushes and walked the ten feet or so out of the woods and up a hill to our cul de sac. I jumped in a dumpster next to the car port and played astronaut and then I walked some fifty feet home.

I have no idea who the Indian chief was although I do wonder how lucky I was. I never mentioned it to anybody. Bigger things were going on. The army was kicking us off post since my father was in Vietnam. Another move --  but this would be the first time on the other side of the gate