Commentary from the boondocks. If it makes any sense, it is just by chance. firstname.lastname@example.org
Thursday, July 15, 2004
Cletus has fallen way behind in his series of interviews mainly because he is having a little problem getting anyone to talk to him after he says he is going to write it down. The only ones so far have been people who warned him up front that anything embarrassing would mean they would have to kill him and who have the gumption to back it up.
Cletus has been talking to a retired Army officer who happens to be African-American and who has some funny stories. He hasn't yet agreed to be interviewed but did share a story with us.
"It was 1976 and I was stationed at Ft. Jackson, South Carolina when my name came up on the survivors assistance roster. The soldier had been killed in a motorcycle wreck and the family had already been notified so my duty was to accompany the body, do what I could to help the family and deliver the insurance check. I was relieved that I did not have to do the notification and when the Sergeant Major suggested that I pass the duty to one of the white officers because he thought I might be safe up in the hill of South Carolina, I told him it was 1976 and I was an officer in the US Army and I wasn't about to back down from my duty. Besides, I thought to myself, what could go wrong and besides, the next one might be a notification. I'd take the easy one. All I had to do was call the family, drive up to thier home in the mountains, deliver some money, help with the funeral and get back to Ft. Jackson.
Well, it turned out that quite a few things could go wrong. First, the Mother didn't have a telephone and I was unable to find anyone who could carry her a message. After a few hours trying to reach her, I checked out a nice green Army Plymouth Valiant and headed off to Blacksburg, SC with the insurance check and the soldier's personal affects. Driving into Blacksburg, I remembered the Sergeant Major's concern for my safety. A few blocks in, I started to be amazed that they used blacktop for their streets which seemed to be the only thing black in Blacksburg. After seaching for the address of the Mother for a while and asking several pedestrians and service station attendants for directions, I went to the police station where one of the many white guys sitting around told me that he wasn't sure about the address, but the Chief knew everyone and he would be back shortly. By then I had begun to imagine all kinds of bad things that could happen to a nice young, good-looking black Army Captain in the remote hills of South Carolina and being whipped by a big, bad police chief was at the top of the list. After I had sweated about an hour the Chief came wondering in and thank the Lord, he was black. The first and only black person I saw that day.
I followed the directions the Chief gave me and finally found a little unpainted pineboard house that reminded me of the one I had grown up in back in Arkansas, two rooms in front and two smaller in back. I guess it must have been 400 sqaure feet total with a rusty tin roof and a run down porch. I looked around for the mean dogs I was sure were lurking under the porch just waiting to tear my leg off when I tried to get to the door, but there weren't any. I walked up to the door and knocked but there was no answer. The door was half open and I saw a woman apparently asleep in an old ragged chair, but then I noticed several empty beer bottles and decided passed out was more likely. I called to her and she kind of raised up. I was getting a little nervous since I could see the headlines about the black army guy raping the white woman or something. Through the door I found out that I was in the right place and that she was the Mother of the deceased. I asked if I could come in and after several cups of coffee, I managed to get her almost coherent. She already knew that her son was dead but didn't know about the insurance check I was bringing. She had received some money from the Army, her son's final pay and another check for survivors I guess. Anyway, she had apparently spent the money on beer and whiskey. I told her I would drive her into town to deposit the check I had brought, but she didn't have a bank account. I told her we could drive in and set one up.
We got in the Plymouth Valiant with the bench seat and before we were to the main road, she was sitting in the middle, patting me on the leg and getting as close as she could get. Now this was not supposed to be happening. There was nothing in the briefing I had received that said anything about being attacked by the Mother of the deceased. I was also remembering how few blacks there seemed to be in the area and wondering if I was going to make it back to Ft. Jackson. I had visions of being lynched for attacking a white woman. She leaned closer and said: "You are the cutest little darky I have ever seen." I stopped the car, got out and yelled throught the window, "Ma'am, this is 1976, we ain't darkies, spades, spooks, colored or n----rs. We are African-Americans or blacks, okay?" She said okay and I got back in the car. We started up and drove about a mile. "You are still the cutest little darky I ever saw". I gave up correcting her language and concentrated on fighting off her advances. It was an interesting afternoon.
The bank was closed and I had to get the Chief to help me get it opened. As I told the banker what we needed, the Mother hid her face and bellered loudly, looking out from behind her hands now and then to leer at me. We got the checking account opened, I drove her back home and went back to Ft. Jackson. There were a few other trips to Blacksburg, the funeral and I spent sometime helping the lady get things settled. She turned out to be a very nice person when she was sober and apologized for her actions. We parted friends.
A few weeks later I was telling my softball friends about the adventure and my three year old son was playing nearby. I never thought about him listening to what I was saying until he told his Mom that: "Daddy was fighting with a woman and she tried to kiss him but he wouldn't let her."
I guess he was about right.
Wednesday, July 14, 2004
Terry Oglesby posted this about an incident that occurred on the Fourth. I dug this out from a few months back when we could be depended on to post occasionally.
We haven’t done any blogging about the war from the BBQ Emporium. It’s not that the war doesn’t concern us. It does. In fact, we know people who are in the war and we worry about them. Cletus says this reminds him of when we were young men and the war in Vietnam was going on.
Bubba is a couple of years older than Cletus and was drafted in 1968. He ended up in the Infantry and by early 1969 he was in Vietnam doing patrols through the jungle carrying an M60 machine gun. Bubba was always a large man, even in his 20s, and the M60 is a big gun so they were a good match. Cletus being a few years younger was drafted about the time Bubba landed in VN. Bubba quickly got good at his job and he says it became clear real soon that your chances of survival increased as you became familiar with combat and the conditions in Vietnam.
Bubba spent about six months in the Infantry before he got the chance to extend his tour in exchange for a transfer to an Army aviation company where he became a helicopter door gunner. Now there are a lot of people who will tell you that just proves that there is not a lick of sense in the whole Jones family. Probably the least safe job in Vietnam was any that involved flying helicopters. Bubba just laughs and says that it beat walking and he didn’t have to carry his machine gun either. One of the reasons he extended his tour was to keep Cletus out of Vietnam. The rule at the time was siblings would not be involuntarily sent to VN at the same time. Bubba and Cletus may fight and argue a lot, but Bubba has always felt responsible for taking care of his “little” brother.
So Bubba had a tour of 18 months in Vietnam. He says he ended up killing a lot of people in that time and he has always been sorry that he had to do that. The young men he killed were much like him, just fighting because someone told them to. Bubba says he would like to be able to say that he was fighting for democracy or the American way or freedom and he guesses he was, but as a 21 year old, he was just fighting for his buddies and to stay alive. So he regrets having to kill the people he did, but at the time, he had no choice that he could see.
Bubba says he regrets killing all those people but there is one person he regrets not killing. After almost 18 months in daily combat, he came back to the United States in 1971 and mustered out at Oakland. He rode a bus over to San Francisco to catch a plane back to Alabama. By the time he got to the airport, he was bone-weary tired. He had been up close to 48 hours and had spent half that time on airplanes. All he wanted to do was to sit down and sleep. As he walked through the airport, a longhaired hippie type walked up to him, called him a baby killer and spat on him. Bubba says he stood there thinking about killing the feller, but he was just too tired. It wasn’t that he would have needed any weapon other than his own two hands. He was just too tired.
He is still aggravated that he didn't kill the guy.
Bubba says that he thinks anyone has the right to protest the war and demonstrate as long as that is all they do. If he hears about anyone spitting on any soldier, he may take the opportunity to undo his mistake from 30 years ago.