I heard the bell ok, though I wasn’t sure what round it was or what I was doing. I did remember I was supposed to keep my hands up and my head moving. The next couple of seconds reminded me that I was running in a formation with the rest of my infantry company during our morning Physical Training (PT) routine. Glancing at the men around me they were already looking at me — but why? Rubbing the sting at the back of my head I realized finally that I had just been gerber-slapped by Sgt. Turd again.
What in Christ’s name had I ever done to piss that guy off? I hadn’t a clue, me. Was it that he didn’t like my beard? That couldn’t be it — none of us were allowed to grow beards. So the fact that he had me guessing at reasons that didn’t exist meant that he really had me puzzled. What the hell had I done to piss that guy off?
“What the hell did you do to piss that guy off, Hand?”
“I screwed his grandmother.”
“No shit? You no shit screwed his grandmother — was she hot?”
“No, Ray; I DIDN’T screw his grandmother; that was just sarcasm to replace my lack of worthy response, Ray.”
“What’s ‘sar… spasm’? That Sgt. Turd just has it out for you. He definitely thinks he’s above everyone here — he suffers from illusions of deleur!”
Delusions of grandeur; yeah, I knew what he meant. Sgt. Turd was an E-7 Sergeant First Class (SFC). That is a pretty high rank as Sergeants go. He was a bit too old to be an SFC, which suggested strongly that he had been passed over for promotion to the next rank several times.
He was old, pretty tall, smoked, wore glasses, had buck teeth with gaps between them, and tawked with a yokel drawl. He had come to fancy slapping me in the back of the head during morning PT formations, citing various trivial infractions such as talking while in-formation or not keeping head and eyes forward.
I was just a Corporal trapped in a world where there was no recourse against this Sgt. Turd fellow, who didn’t like my beardless face for some Goddamned reason and aimed to ameliorate that disdain by gerber-slapping the occipital region of my brain housing.
“Slapper’s gonna slap,” was the absurd notion I had resigned to, meaning I just had to accept the fact that I was stuck in that world where I was just going to have to put up with it until one of us left. It was not “legal” in the Army in those days for men to strike each other like that, but that Sgt. Turd was an old-school brother from back when it was an accepted practice, and he was high enough in rank that nobody was going to say anything to him about it.
Woah… where the hell was I? What round was it? Hand’s up; keep the head moving… what’s everyone looking at? I really gotta shave this beard. I looked off to my left and Sgt. Turd was there glaring at me. That sorry fuck had just slapped me again.
“Keep the Goddamned chatter down, Hand — I’m not going to tell you again, mister!”
“What were we talking about?” I whispered to the guys around me.
“Nothing! You weren’t talking at all. Man, that guy just really really hates you for some reason.”
So that’s just how it was; it was really going to be a long slow life until I could get away from this monumental asshole. He really was suffering from illusions of crushed velour. I deduced that I must look just like someone from his childhood who he really hated. Perhaps some kid in elementary school who came up to him every day in the cafe-gyma-torium, jammed his finger in his mashed potatoes inquiring:
“You gonna eat those?”
That or perhaps that one-night-stand gal I had hooked up with at a sports bar in Colorado Springs months ago had actually been this guy’s grandmother. I was scraping for an answer so I ruled out nothing. I had taken both physical and cultural anthropology in college prior to coming to the Army, so I knew that my hookup gal, being a full-caliber decade younger than Sergeant Turd, couldn’t physically have been his grandmother. My desperation for an answer had me calculating to seek her out and demanding to see her driver’s license.
“…two… three… four… five…”
The ringside referee was standing over me counting me out there where I lay back-flat on the canvas. Everyone was looking at me as usual.
The ref waved his arms and called the fight on a knockout; the winner of the match was Sgt. Turd.
And so there I was, actually laying on the pavement with several of the guys kneeling around me. Sgt. Turd had gone too far this time and knocked me out with a spirited occipital slap to the noggin sending me to take an asphalt nap right in the middle of our morning PT run. The guys helped me up and we walked the most direct route back to the Company cantonment area, eventually getting it back up to a jogger’s pace.
“Man, that guy really hates you, Hand; his deleur is getting out of control! You must have screwed his Mee-Maw!”
“Just shut up, Ray… how the hell was I supposed to know his grandmother hangs out at sports bars in the Springs?”
“Turd has it out for you, man… he’s really got it in for you!”
“Yeah, Ray… and now I don’t know whether I’m coming or going.”
And so it went.
Later that morning the Company First Sergeant came to me and told me I was being summoned by the Company Commander, and to report immediately. “Summoned” didn’t sound good at all and I just hoped it was just a poor choice of words on the First Sergeant’s part. Al Pacino got summoned in the movie Donnie Brasco and it was curtains for him — curtains, I tells ya!
“Stand at ease, Corporal Hand,” my Commander bid me where I stood saluting.
“Corporal Hand, it was brought to my attention that Sgt. Turd knocked you unconscious in the street this morning during the PT run, and that in fact, this sort of physical abuse has been going on for some time now. How long has this been happening?”
“Sir, it seems it has been going on now for… 10… maybe 11… or perhaps about 12 months, Sir.”
“So would you say then Corporal Hand, that this abuse has been going on for a year now?”
“Yes, yes I would Sir; one year.”
“Why haven’t you ever reported it, Hand?”
“I, I’m a low-maintenance man, Sir — I don’t like to complain. Sir, I do not wish to file charges against Sgt. Turd, Sir.”
“That’s very noble, Corporal Hand, but that’s not how it works in the Army. I’m filing charges again Sgt. Turd and that’s the end of the story — dismissed.”
That’s how it ended. Sgt. Turd got reassigned elsewhere and I was off to Airborne school and the Green Berets, assignments I had put in for months prior as a way to escape my confinement in the Army Infantry. It was a rough couple of years I endured getting through all of the developmental pains to gain a foothold in the Green Beret ranks.
Once there, I quickly realized that the toil had been worth it. Respect and admiration were a couple of perks that came along with the beret. I experienced both of those every time I ventured onto the main post of Ft. Lewis, Washington. Ft. Lewis is where I found myself in my second Green Beret assignment some three years after graduating from the selection course.
One of my trips to the main post area was for a mandatory formal photograph required by the Army’s promotion board. I made the initial trip there to get the photo taken, and then, a week later, I made my follow-up run out to pick up the developed photo. I sat in a waiting room with other G.I.s from the post waiting for distribution.
“Well, gaaawd damn, Corporal Hand!” some yokel in the room bellowed out. I looked up and out to catch a lock-on to the even older now face of Sgt. Turd. The back of my head tingled. Yeah, there he was alright, still trying to get that promotion to the next rank. Now everyone in the room was staring at me because Turd had singled me out; they all waited for me to say something.
“That’s Staff Sergeant to you — not Corporal,” was all of my answer and the room stared on.
“HAND!” came the call from the distribution window and I approached to receive my photos. I paused at the window to put my beret on before I took my exit. I usually waited until I got outside to do that, but I wanted Sgt Turd to see what progress looked like. I turned and headed out.
I paused there on the porch just outside the front door of the photo lab, hell-bent on having some last thing to say to Sgt. Turd, but just not knowing what I was to say, still, I waited. When he stepped out he stopped and looked me over momentarily there where I stood looking him back:
“You got something to say, Hand?”
“Not a Goddamned thing, Sgt.”
And that was the end of that opportunity to say something cool and closing…
Sgt. Turd took the three steps down from the front porch of the photo lab on his face and stomach. He came to rest head and face-down in the short-cropped military grass below. I fought the urge to count him out as the ringside referee as I stepped around him toward my car. Some troops exiting the photo lab had him sit up leaning against the stair banister. It looked for all the world like he had just tripped and fallen down the stairs — well, I mean he had, you know.
There was not much grandeur to him at the moment where he sat leaning against stairs of the photo lab, wondering how he got there and what he was to do next. His hands were down and he wasn’t even moving his head. If his grandma could see him now she might be ashamed… or as ashamed as you can be of someone else when you’re 70 years old and still hanging out in sports bars rooting for the crimson tide and trying to pick up stray tomcats.
No grandeur at all there in a mental haze during a summer day, sitting on a freshly knocked-out ass in the freshly low-cropped grass, giving every bit of an illusion of crushed green velour — nope, no delusions at all.
By Almighty God and with honor,