Lieutenant Marshall pointed at the 50 caliber machine gun leaning against the wall in the corner of his office and said “You know what that is, Holley?”
“Yes, sir,” PFC Holley said. “It’s a 50 caliber machine gun.”
“Very good,” he said. “Do you recognize it?”
Holley had just said that he recognized it, so the question mystified him.
‘Well,” he said. “Sure, I recognize that it’s a 50 caliber machine gun.”
“Yeah, but it’s not just any 50 caliber machine gun.” Lt. Marshall said. “It’s a special one. You know what makes it special?
PFC Holley couldn’t see anything about it that made it different from any other 50 caliber machine gun.
“It’s yours, Holley, that’s what’s special about it. And it’s here in my office.”
“It’s mine? Sir?”
Lt. Marshall leaned back in his chair and folded his hands across his stomach in a self-satisfied way.
“That’s right, Holley, it’s yours. If you go check, you’ll find that your 50 Caliber machine gun is not where it belongs. It’s missing. You know why?”
“Because it’s here?”
“Yup, it’s here.”
“Why is it here?”
“Why is it here, Sir.”
“Why is it here, Sir?”
Lieutenant Marshall smiled and settled back more comfortably in his chair.
“I was hoping you’d ask that, Holley, because there’s an interesting little story there. You want to hear it?”
It was clear that Holley was going to hear the story. It was also clear that he probably was not going to come out well in the story, but he was curious. Why would Lieutenant Marshall have the machine gun off his personnel carrier? Lieutenant Marshall began the story:
“You may remember that we had an alert last night.”
Of course Holley remembered. They had alerts periodically. He hated them. Everyone hated them. An alert meant that either we were suddenly at war with the Russians or that we were being tested to see if we were ready to go to war with the Russians. War with the Russians apparently never started at two in the afternoon. War with the Russians always started at about two in the morning. We’d be sound asleep, peacefully asleep and somebody would burst into the room shouting “Alert! Alert!” and roust us all out of bed. The new guys would jump up in a panic. The rest of us would drag ourselves out of bed in foul moods, cursing Seventh Army or Brigade or whoever had called this alert — we knew it was only a drill. We’d get dressed, grab our field gear, run down to the arms room, check our weapons out and head down to the track park. Then we’d fire up the personnel carriers — 12 ton behemoths called “tracks,” in G.I. jargon because they had tracks instead of wheels— and convoy out to our alert position which was somewhere near the Czech border, and be there to repel the Russian invasion. When we’d all got to our positions and set everything up, we’d get a cursory inspection by some officer from Brigade and then after a while we’d get word to stand down and return to post. No Russian invasion after all. We would return and it would be a new day and we’d face it with our night’s sleep all shot to hell.
“Yes, sir. I remember.”
“Well, a funny thing, Holley. I was assigned to stay behind as security, so I was doing my rounds and when I got to the track park I found your track all by itself, just sitting there in the moonlight. I knew it was yours, Holley, because I remembered the name: ‘Blood and Guts.’ That’s what you finally named it, isn’t that right?”
“That’s right, Sir”
“Why was it there?”
“No motor, sir.”
“No. The mechanics pulled it out. They’re going to put a new one in, but right now there’s no motor, so Captain Dutton said the squad should stay with the track. So that’s what we did.”
“That’s what we did, Sir.”
“That’s what we did, Sir.”
“You stayed with the track?”
“Inside the track?”
“So, I would say that it’s safe to assume that when I came into the track park at 3:15 this morning and saw your track there by itself and this 50 caliber machine gun mounted on top, that you were all inside the track.”
“I guess so, Sir.”
“And when I climbed up on the track and stood on top of it, you were all inside.”
“I would have to say yes, Sir.”
“And when I unmounted the machine gun and climbed down off the track with it, you were all inside?”
“Uh, yes, Sir.”
“And when I walked off with that 50 caliber machine gun, you were all inside.”
“And no one heard me.”
“I didn’t, Sir.”
“Apparently no one else did either.”
“Apparently not, Sir.”
“Apparently not, Sir.”
“You know what I think?”
“I think you were all asleep.”
Well of course they were asleep. It was three o’clock in the morning. And of course they should have set up a guard rotation, which Holley could see was the crux of the matter here, although he wasn’t quite sure what that had to do with him. He wasn’t the squad leader. Sergeant Miller was the squad leader and, in fact, Sergeant Miller had brought up the issue of a guard, but before the discussion got too far, they’d all dozed off. They’d slept peacefully until they heard the rest of the battalion rumbling down the Zollnerstrasse returning from the alert. When all the tracks were parked where they belonged, in perfectly aligned military ranks and files and all the gas tanks were topped off and logs filled out, they gathered up their stuff and returned to the barracks to stow their gear. An hour or so later an orderly tracked Holley down and told him to report to Lieutenant Marshall’s office.
Lieutenant Marshall and PFC Holley both knew that Sergeant Miller was the one who should have been called in, but they both also knew that Marshall didn’t like Holley, and that’s why he was skipping over the chain of command. This wasn’t really about a machine gun, it was about Bob Dylan.
To be continued…
Chuck is the owner of the Teago General Store in South Pomfret. Find more of his stories, poems and other writing at www.chuckgundersen.com
This article first appeared in the July 8th print edition of the Vermont Standard.