You Never Can Tell
by Chuck Gundersen
The story so far:
Lieutenant Marshall has discovered a lone personnel carrier in the track park at 3 AM on a morning when the battalion has moved out for an alert exercise. A machine gun, left unguarded, is mounted on top. He climbs up, removes the machine gun, takes it to his office and later that day, calls the driver of the personnel carrier, PFC Holley, in to dress him down for leaving the machine gun unguarded. Lt. Marshall is delighted to be able to call PFC Holley in for this dereliction of duty. Among other things, Lt. Marshall says that it’s a good thing he wasn’t a Russian when he found that machine gun. PFC Holley agrees and says that’s true, “you might get shot.” They both know that Holley is not the man who should have been called in. Sergeant Miller, the Squad Leader, should have been called in, but Marshall has called Holley in because he and Holley know each other from an incident several moths earlier, in which Holley angered Marshall — deliberately, in Marshall’s view — and Lt. Marshall does not like PFC Holley.
It was like this: Spec 4 Cameron, the driver of “Big Bad Butch,” the squad’s personnel carrier, had completed his tour of duty and had rotated back to the States. PFC Holley, trained as a 106 MM Recoilless Rifle gunner, and having been for a period of time the Battalion Courts and Boards Clerk, and having driven “Big Bad Butch” once, for a distance of about fifty feet, on a training exercise a year earlier, naturally was assigned to be the new driver.
Before long, Holley became comfortable driving “Big Bad Butch.” He’d learned Butch’s characteristics and his foibles, and they’d become a team. Holley decided it was time for a new name. Since they were in “B” Company, the name had to begin with “B.” Holley painted over “Big Bad Butch,” and stenciled in “Bob Dylan.”
“Bob Dye-lan,” Holley’s squad leader, Sergeant Miller, said. “Who’s that?”
“A folk singer,” Holley said. Sergeant Miller shrugged.
Lt. Marshall, from Charlie Company, wandered over from Charlie Company’s row of personnel carriers in the track park a couple of days later, to see if there was really a track named Bob Dylan in Bravo Company. He objected; said there was not going to be a track in the Second Battalion of the 54th Infantry named after a greasy pacifist and that he would take it up with Holley’s platoon leader, Lt. Tolliver.
The next day, Lt. Tolliver, who didn’t seemed as upset as Lt Marshall, told Holley the name had to go. Holley painted over the “ylan” and left it “Bob D.” Lt. Marshall objected. Holley painted out the “D.” Lt. Marshall objected. He painted out the second “b,” and left it “Bo.” Lt. Marshall objected, said Holley was just trying to get away with something.
PFC Holley thought about it, and since he already had the “Bo,” wondered what name he could make out of it. “Bobby Darin?” “Bo Diddley?” “Bonehead?” That last one almost got stenciled on, but then he thought of one more: “Botulism.” He stenciled it on. Lt. Marshall said “Botulism? What the hell, Holley?” Holley said it was food poisoning. Lt. Marshall said he knew that. Holley said it was deadly, a real killer, a good name for an armored personnel carrier. Lt. Marshall said he was tired of Holley’s little game, tired of his smartass ways and tired of being jerked around. He said that Holley was going to drop and do fifty pushups and after he finished doing the fifty pushups—to Lt. Marshall’s count—he was going to paint “Botulism” out and come up with a name that started with “B” and the second letter could not be “o.”
He named it “Bubbles,” and by this time word had gotten around. Half the guys in the battalion wandered by to look at it, and many of them seemed to have found reason to be nearby when Lt. Marshall came to see it. Lt. Marshall was livid; said it was a fairy name and he wouldn’t have it. This time Holley knew that he’d pushed the Lieutenant about as far as he could get away with. There was talk of insubordination, although Holley wondered if that could be proven. He was just a dumb PFC trying to come up with an acceptable name that started with “B” for his personnel carrier.
Still, better to be safe than sorry. He painted out “Bubbles” and stenciled in “Blood and Guts.” That was acceptable. Lt. Marshall may have won, technically, but he and Holley both knew that Holley’s goal, once Marshall’s objection to the name Bob Dylan was established, was simply to annoy Marshall, and at that he’d succeeded very well.
So when Lt Marshall discovered the machine gun unguarded on a personnel carrier named Blood and Guts, he didn’t really care who the ranking member of the squad might be, he knew exactly who he was going to call down.
Back to Lt. Marshall’s office:
“Might get shot? What do you mean by that?”
“Well, it’s obvious, sir. A Russian wandering around on a US Army post carrying an American machine gun he took off a personnel carrier might get shot.”
“Yeah, yeah, except I’m not.”
“Anyway, that’s not the point, Holley.”
“I thought it was, sir.”
“That I might have been shot?”
“That you might have been a Russian.”
“That’s right. That’s the point.”
“And now that you bring it up, Holley, if I was a Russian, one of you guys, whoever was supposed to be on guard, should have shot me. Maybe you. You’d like that, wouldn’t you?”
“No, I wouldn’t, sir.”
LIeutenant Marshall looked at PFC Holley speculatively for a moment and then said “I understand that you’ve been Colonel’s Orderly ten times.”
“First man in the battalion to do that.”
“Yes, sir. That’s what I was told.”
“It’s a lot of work to be chosen Colonel’s Orderly, isn’t it? A lot of spit polishing boots, polishing brass, cleaning your rifle, memorizing the general orders, the chain of command, military history, random military information; maintaining a military bearing at inspection.”
“Doesn’t seem like your style, Holley.”
“So why would you go to all that trouble?”
“Well, sir. If you get chosen as Colonel’s Orderly at Guard Mount, you get excused from Guard Duty that night. If you get chosen ten times, you get excused permanently.”
“I know. So that means that ten different times at Guard Mount, you’ve been chosen as best soldier, and you’ve been made Colonel’s Orderly.”
“And since you’ve been Colonel’s Orderly ten times and you’re the first man in the Battalion to do it, that means that, technically, you’re the best soldier in the Battalion. Do you think anybody believes that?”
“I don’t know, sir.”
“Do you believe it?”
“Maybe not, sir.”
“Well, guard mount is a very narrow context, sir.”
“Guard Mount is a very narrow context. Jeez. Holley? You’re a smartass. Good soldiers are not smartasses.”
That didn’t seem to require a response, so Holley said nothing.
“Are they, Holley?”
To be continued…
Chuck is the owner of the Teago General Store in South Pomfret. Find more of his stories, poems and other writing, including the first part of this story, at www.chuckgundersen.com.
This article first appeared in the July 14th print edition of the Vermont Standard.