CLOWNS FROM THE RINGSIDE
The General strode into the Enlisted Men’s Latrine boldly and asked the attendant orderly:
GENERAL: Do you consider these wash bowls clean?
General (irate): No? No what?!
Reply: No soap.
Needless to say it was a no happier General who found himself faced with the predicament of inspecting this same latrine orderly’s rifle during a field inspection. Coming to inspection arms the soldier got his foot movement tangled up in a blanket at his feet and went down in a cadence of four for a count of ten. In order not to let the General feel too guilty about helping to conceive such a system that would drop a man in the midst of an intricate maneuver with an M1 bolt, the ex-latrine orderly arose and with one hand, obligingly presented the General with the rifle much as the attendant at a Shooting Gallery would do to a faithful customer, and with the other hand he condescendingly patted him on the back and whispered into his official ear, “Here”. Some report it sounded like: “there, there”. No matter how it sounded it had the same dynamic affect upon the General’s nerves as the previous incident. But to those who do not believe such a thing ever happened in the American Army much less in the 99th Division, least of all in the Recon Troop and claim that were it to happen and twice in a row as reported, the culprit would not have lived to report the tail, to all these scoffers and to those who maintain such an attitude could only mean a hatred of everything Army, everything GI, everything virile and military, let us step into the barracks for a minute a short while later.
Young: Lemme have your shelter half bud.
Reply: Okay, but what’s up? Are we going to the field for the night?
Young: No, but my wife’s here.
Reply: I know that. I saw her sleeping in the Day Room last night. I guess this housing shortage must be plenty rough on you couples.
Young: Not at all, not at all. We are going out to “D” area to bivouac together. It will be better than our honeymoon out there.
Yes, to those who have the fortitude to find them the army has it’s uses. Few may ever bivouac-bide-a-wee with their spouse or spend most of their time revealing to the world the really amusing hidden side to the nature of stricter Generals as a pastime, but Ray P Young did that and did it for an unusually long time. That in time the Army ceased to see that he had his uses and thereby failed on their part of a reciprocal agreement with him is not to his discredit. He established in bold relief to his antics the really high calibre discipline of Recon and at the same time he instilled among it’s members the heritage of greatness “to be able to laugh at yourself”. There have been times when even to laugh was hard and then in those dark hours more than ever fellows thanked their “lucky stars” for Ray P Young and that they had known him or even known of him. Maybe he never realized this, maybe he would laugh at his being called a ‘martyr’ to a cause - the cause of joy - but none the less, even in combat, another General was to see shades of Ray P Young and the full force of the persuasiveness of his doctrines when “somewhere in Germany” Lt Staley borrowed Sgt Barry’s field jacket to hide a wool knit sweater and came out from behind his M8 all smiles and salutes. The fact that the General did not reciprocate but gazed upon him in stony silence was due to the host of shiny medals, swastikas, and other 5&10 cent loot that hung all over the jacket like wampum on an Indian Chief. This time the shades of RP Young had silenced the opposition.
Here, pop, there is no point us duplicating our efforts, is there?
Reply: No, you’re right there, son. We gotta work as a team, like the army; that’s the way this kitchen must run.
Reply: Okay, Okay go ahead. Well, you cut the beef and I’ll make the gravy.
Reply: You mean if I cut out the beefing you might get the gravy.
And people came to know the amount of bay rum and hair tonic left in their bottles in the barracks by their chow. And an enlisted man received a toilet kit from his wife and left for the weekend. A day later there was no bathwater, shaving lotion or hair tonic in it, just an assortment of empty bottles.
And then there was in a troop of twenty year olds the prize draftee - a man of 47 - the answer to all these mysteries, “Pop” Shankland. He had seen the world in the Army instead of the Navy and from there his troubles began. His rich aunt couldn’t see him at all so she had the draft board “greet him, meet him and treat him” to another turn in the Army. In his many travels two things on Pop had outgrown everything else - his heart and his palate. He could drink anything from Saki, Vodka, Cognac, Schnapps or Whiskey, to Eau De Cologne, or Old Mrs Mason’s Hair Tonic or Aqua Velva. The results of this were unfortunate on the troop’s stomach but never on Pop’s. Being a cook, once inspired by a little Mennen or Yardley’s, Pop stopped at no extreme in by-passing and improving the menus. Everything was strongly seasoned - so Pop could taste it - cocoa, coffee, soup or ice cream. Next the menu was generally consolidated as Pop, a “bon viveur” and “gourmond”, leaned heavily on the Chinese, generally producing a big surprise package of chop suey and - of course, seasoning. But for all the belly aches there were more belly laughs with “Pop” and for all the immensity of his “borrowing” - anything with alcoholic content in it - from a dollar bill to Campho-Phenique - Pop’s heart was always bigger, his circle of friends was ever wider even than the world he had traveled in. Punctiliously he paid all his debts on pay day and he always more than kept the 99th Recon in debt to him as the kind of a guy you would not mind to die with as long as “Pop” himself would not have to do too much of the dying.
Hello Pete, are you comin’ to visit me while I’m sick? I want to thank you.
(later): Well Larry, you must be up here to see me. Now I’d like writing paper, a brush, and ...
Interruption: No, I ain’t.
(later): Well, just because I thought you were visitors and didn’t know you were here to be patients like me, that’s no reason to be surly. Look, we are all back again together side by side just like at the barracks. Now why shouldn’t we be happy?
Joint Reply: Only one reason.
(then): You guys are yellow of being called “gold bricks”, I’ll bet that’s all.
(then): Well, what is it then?
Reply: This is how we got here, being side by side with you, by your sneezing side to side trying to find your handkerchiefs on the floor. Now d’ya understand?
The stage, Camp Van Dorn Post Hospital; the actors, two patients, Lawrence Maloney and Bill Petriquin; the culprit, T/4 Irving Wurzel. Yet this same nearsightedness and eagerness to achieve a mission could serve to astound as well as to annoy. On Louisiana Maneuvers this same Wurzel had a Copperhead snake on his bedroll. Someone informed him of the fact and counseled him to scram. Being at heart an intellectual and a conservative, he was determined to see the danger first and then fight his way to freedom. His actions were automatic enough: he grabbed a knife and then commenced to eye his bedroll up and down at close range. The unfortunate snake reared up to strike but could not accomplish it because the object of his effect, the T/4's head, kept weaving back and forth in front of him, his eyes groping for his opponent. Suddenly Wurzel saw the coiled reptile within a few inches of him and slashed off his head. Both the snake and onlookers will never forget the blind devotion to duty and unerring courage of the same Wurzel. Thus it is with all great characters and even humor itself, it is “chacun a san gout” or everyone to his taste. It was an unforgettable fellow like Wurzel that after Young had taught the troop to laugh and Pop Shankland had shown them what to laugh at - life’s troubles - it remained for someone to teach them that before you laugh at a guy be awfully sure you are not really laughing with him in respect and admiration. For it was the same Wurzel who with Sgt William Fulton on December 18, 1945, relayed through by radio the report of the heavy armor attack on Hofen, which little idiosyncracy brought down commendations from Division and let many people along the besieged front, from doughboy to staff, thank their lucky stars.
* * *
They say names to laugh at and laughing faces are always seen in laughable places. There were many laughing faces during the big “blanket toss” at Camp Barkley with the exception of one man who wore a pained expression at both ends. It was T/5 Earl W Ruhl who they forgot to place the blanket there for his descent. Maybe the faces looked more incredible than amused when a jovial laughing 1st Sgt Bryant “bought the beer for the bunch at Barkley”.
* * *
Among some of those laughable names was a strict combat problem which bothered all paper soldiers armed with M1 pencils and filing cabinet minds for many weary ETO months. Who was “Doncus”? Across Germany they came across building after building reserved for “Doncus”. “Democracy” they knew, “Danzig” yes, even “Danube” and “Deadeye”, but what was this “Doncus”? That was a secret, intimate only to the General and his guard - Frank J Rusnak, Joe Domino, Gerald Crowley, Bones Torrence, Bob Park and Buck White. It always was situated very near “Dauntless” and like the Irish Free State it never relinquished its independence and equal rights before all in sovereignty. Sufficient to the day is the evil thereof. So be it.
* * *
Another stiff combat problem was what mysterious force kept T/4 Grover Sirmons so boldly and exemplarily at his post half-way up a hill while enemy artillery kept screeching by and his troop-mates had all run down the slope to their foxholes. A certain amount of groping in the dark through the snow revealed one Pfc John Fisher both buried and anchored to the Sergeant’s coat. “Although just along for the ride” Pfc Fisher was very anxious to have it continue but quick and get into the foxholes below.
* * *
Then Sponaugle tossed Steele, or so they say, in open combat, but all is fair in love and war. Rumor has it that it must have been love, and who is to say more? Then, of course, was the time that Cresencio Bravo tried out the old saying “there are no atheists in foxholes” during a little incoming “stuff”. Only trouble was they made that sofa too low and that night too long. He never did get under it. Reports here have shown he would have done better without his steel helmet and web equipment on, but then he is in supply and they believe the individual soldier is responsible for his equipment at all times.
Whenever Sgt Frank Minehart or T/5 Everett Whittney get nightmares it is always Christmas Day. They are backing into some trouble. Then someone starts in shooting and all the guns get frozen. After that they wake up and there is Spam for breakfast again.
Rumor has it that the best prepared troopers has been voted to Lt Von Burg and Joe Markowitz. Lt Von Burg for his pistols, and Joe Markowitz for his personal appearance during the Bulge, decked out in grenades and various other weapons: entrenching tools, knives, bayonets and extra bandoliers. T/5 McCard claimed white whiskers would have completed the picture of him as a military Santa Claus “ready to give the Jerries everything he had”. Runner up and a close second in this contest was T/Sgt Knowles, in charge of motor maintenance. He carried quite a repertoire of weapons: one carbine and flare, one Garand Rifle (plus grenade and bayonet), a tommy gun complete, and trench knife. T/5 Zeke Cahalane chortles “but he used them like a champ coming down the fairway of the 18th hole in a golf tournament”. At night guard he preferred the M1 with bayonet. On patrols with poor visibility he brought the tommy gun. When on long tedious maneuvers his carbine and flare were his sole armament. If it was daylight and he could hear the tanks, he used the Garand without bayonet but with anti-tank grenade. The trench knife he used to open his mail with and held at all times ready against a personal assault from the rear. T/4 Patterson claims that he never yet exactly learned his armored “roadmaster’s” armament against aircraft. At first Sgt Knowles had cautioned his men not to annoy the planes with their fire, since they only came over “to scare the civilians”. Secondly at one time when the planes swooped in low and strafing, T/5 Zarecky asked Sgt Knowles what he was going to shoot at them with, he replied that he was “tied up right then getting into the basement” and would “let him know later”. Later developments proved that T/Sgt Knowles maintained “vigilance” to be his greatest secret weapon and set his men an example of always sleeping with one weather eye cocked open.
Do Maloney, Allie Smith and Doc Olsen yet know the difference between a foxhole, M1918 A2 and a slit trench M1945 PU? Do Gillette and Ancona know yet that the other one can box and would like a “try out”? Does Sublett know if Ziegler has the key or has Ziegler given it to Conroy, or is the dark room open after all? Why do eager Weaver and that bad young man named Weber not stop La Rosa from playing the accordion until he knows ‘er? A little murrah!