Watch out Charlie
My C.O. didn’t seem the least bit concerned or upset at my wanting to transfer out of his unit. He never asked why. When I turned in the request the clerk hardly even looked at it. He just looked at me with a curious look, no smile, just a look, and went back to the Major’s office. He came back out a few minutes later and told me it would take some time to type up the orders,
“And!” he added, “I’ve got to find an aviation unit that will take you!”
Didn’t he mean a unit that needed me? It was no use bothering to correct him. He told me to check back tomorrow, sometime in the afternoon.
For the time being anyway, no one acted like they had heard anything. Maybe that guy actually did keep his trap closed. Maybe it was my look.
It was time to make some changes in my life, changes that will hopefully allow me to earn a place in this world. So far, I had never felt truly close to belonging to anything worthwhile.
So that I would be ready when the time came, I needed to prepare. To live to tell the tale of what lay ahead, I would need to be strong. The results of this war I’ve seen so far were those caskets in Saigon, and the wounded, and compared to just how many troops are over here, the odds seemed pretty good of my not ending up like that.
Only that once was I scared that much. There would be time to think about that later, and I would. The only thing on my mind now was what my homecoming would be like now that my job was different, and a little more dangerous.
This would be a test, where I either proved myself to the world, or failed miserably. Now, assuming I was able to step into that place of respect, exactly how does that happen? How I was supposed to act? It would have a lot to do with how I would be treated. After this, there shouldn’t be anything else I should have to do.
Of course, for a while, until the word gets around, I would have to make sure everyone knew. It only stands to reason. I would have to get it across, somehow, that I had been in combat. How else would they know how to act towards me? Unless, of course, there might be some scar, easily seen with shorts or a t-shirt on.
There was just a hint of excitement at that thought, and I quickly caught myself, not wanting to wish anything into existence. The closer I came to the possibility, the more I found myself not wishing for it to happen… kinda.
Either way, once word starts to spread, it would take off on it’s own and just become the norm. When people looked at me, they would see not only a person, but I would want them to know that I was a veteran.
It wasn’t full blown glory I was after. It never was. It was just to be on some level better than always feeling like I was a nuisance to have around. In almost every situation I could remember I was somehow not quite up to some unknown standards, not quite good enough to just be accepted at face value, and that’s what I needed to change. It was going to be up to me to accomplish it.
Growing up, I remember always having a strong need to prove myself, and now I understood who it was I needed to prove it to. It was Dad. I’m sure he didn’t plan it that way but he was the one that gave me this desperate need.
One thing still stood out in my memory. I mowed the lawn, all on my own, and was feeling pretty good about myself, for even deciding to do it. Just like I saw him do, I got the mower out, checked the gas and oil, and mowed all of the front and back yard. Once finished, I wiped the mower clean of grass, and put it away right where it belonged Then, I waited for him to come home.
At seventeen minutes after five, his usual time, he pulled in the driveway. I got up from the porch to greet him. He pulled up to the garage door and shut the car off, looked up at me and smiled. I remember the smile. He opened the door and started to get out. That was about as long as I could wait.
“Dad, I mowed the lawn for ya!”
Something along the lines of “Good Job,” or even just a “Thanks!” was all I really expected. He looked the lawn over. Surely, he noticed that it was a good job, but to my surprise, he just turned and headed for the door.
“You forgot the side yard!”
And he disappeared inside the house!
No big deal right? Wrong! It was a big deal! By itself, I guess it wasn’t much, but it was the way things were, as far as any kind of praise being passed around at our house. It started to add up to this desire I now had, this need to believe that I can do good and that I have done good already.
It’s not true that he had never been completely satisfied with me, or my accomplishments. Mom did tell me once, that Dad told her he didn’t compliment us much because he felt we would be satisfied with that and never strive to be any better.
And don’t think kids don’t realize that parents do have favorites. When Dad was bragging Bryan up some, because of his good grades, or his interest in cars, I heard it. Those extra little things he would say, like when company was around. It wasn't “Bryan is so smart, and David isn't!” He just seemed to pay a little more attention, to things Bryan did.
Was this the drive behind my need to be recognized? This probably wasn’t what Dad had in mind when he asked me if I was going to do anything with my life. Was this all just to show him? Either way, I was not able to stop myself from going on with it.
The next time I checked with the clerk, he told me he had one more paper to finish typing and to go ahead and start signing what was already done. One of the pieces of paper included in the stack was one of the answers to the inquiries my unit had sent out to several Aviation companies, letting them know that they had a soldier available that was requesting to be a gunner, and could anyone use him. It was from one in an area that I knew there was a lot of enemy action.
Past my name, my new M.O.S., and what I was requesting to do, there was the question of whether I passed my flight physical. Flight physical? I didn’t take any flight physical. The box was checked “yes!” What did they check for in one of those? Turn left and cough? Was there something I needed to be checked for, something that might make a difference in how I would perform my duties? I couldn’t think of anything.
Then, there was the comment the C.O. of this other company wrote at the bottom of his reply.
“We could certainly use this man, as we are presently short fifteen gunners at this time!”
I understood exactly what that meant. All of those guys did not rotate back to the states at the same time. Again I thought about those silver boxes back at Saigon and wondered if any of them were from this company. Looking back at the first page, I was relieved to find that it was not the one they were sending me to.
That shook me right up. My legs actually started shake as I read those words and I felt very grateful to whoever decided not to send me there.
The clerk walked in with the last of the papers that needed to be signed. It was just standard stuff, no “next of kin” forms this time. Did I request this transfer? Yes! Did I understand my new destination, and what my job would be? Yes, and Yes. Did I understand my new DEROS date? (Date Expected To Return from Overseas)
Then, by signing here I state my understanding of all that was written henceforth, therefore and whatever?
I penned my name, including my middle initial, and I was now a door gunner in the United States Army. I made it! All that was needed now was find out exactly what that meant.
Before anyone else even knew about it, I was packed and out of the room. I held nothing against them at all. Things had just got off on the wrong foot. It wasn’t their fault. I acted like a kid and they treated me like one. I wasn't a “Newbie” anymore. My fatigues had lost that brand new dark green look and I was determined to make a better impression at the next place.
It wasn't that everything I did was dumb, or wrong. There were just so many things I didn’t seem to know or understand just yet. Not only did I look young, but I acted that way too. Except for Paul, who took me under his wing and wouldn't steer me wrong, most people just didn’t have much use for me. It went all the way back to that Air Force Sergeant, who basically told me to “Grow up and come back when!” And I’ve seen that same kind of look in the faces of many people since. Rather than listening and maybe following at least some of the advice I’d been given, it was only making me more determined to show them they were all wrong.
The chopper landed to pick me up and take me to my new home. As it came in and set down I watched with much more interest now just how everything was done. No time like the present to start learning as much as possible.
Jumping aboard, I was determined not to duck this time when the rotor wash hit my head, but it still happened. The gunner, who was standing straight up, didn’t seem to notice as he helped me load my stuff. There were two of them, one for each side. Real soon it would be me doing it, and just the thought of it made me all prickly inside
As we lifted they leaned way out on their special seats, the ones behind those awesome machine guns. They were looking around, making sure there was nothing in the way and the ship was clear to take off, all the time talking to the pilots by pushing on a little switch in the cord that connected their helmets to the radio. It was their job to watch for hazards the pilots might not be able to see. That would be one of my jobs and I was taking mental notes, wanting to be completely serious about this, becoming more determined to do it right than I have ever been about anything!
The gunners, leaning far out from their seats, out past the door weren’t wearing any harnesses or belts, and we were already hundreds of feet in the air. I was still having enough trouble leaning over from the middle of the passenger seat. The pilot was flying normally but I still felt queasy and would need to work on that. Gunners can’t be to sick to fly!
We descended and I looked out to see my new base. Finally, there was something that looked like it should be in a combat zone. Instead of lots of buildings with a few planes and helicopters, there were a few hooch’s, and lots of planes. Just then, the pilot swung around to line up with the runway, and I was almost sideways again. This time, it tickled.
He gently came down and taxied into his spot called a revetment. The gunners jumped out and went about their business. None of it was making much sense to me right then, but everyone had to have a first time. I would learn and I would be good at it.
Finding the assigned company, I reported to the orderly room and handed my orders to the clerk. He glanced at them, and actually smiled up at me!
“Welcome aboard! Have a seat! The C.O. will be right with you!”
While he took my orders into his office, I looked around at all the charts and maps. There was a big white board with numbers across the top. These had to be the helicopters numbers. Over the top of those were the headings, such as pilot, crew, and status. Stopping at the status heading I noticed there were about eight out of twenty, more than a third of them, not flight ready. I strained my eyes, trying to make out the smaller writing in those boxes.
“Turner! The Major will see you now!”
He smiled again. These people are actually friendly. I knew that in a combat unit, there would be more of that brotherhood I’d been searching for. Maybe I found it
I made sure to smile back, not a big kid grin, just enough, and walked in to report.
“Sir, Specialist Turner reporting!”
And I saluted, not all briskly, not overdone, just nice, and proper.
“At ease Turner! Sit down will you!”
He was very pleasant and I felt an immediate kinship with him, but I was not going to relax and open up until I knew for sure what the real deal was. He read my orders over and read over the top part a second time, the part with my personal information. He looked up with a surprised look on his face.
“How old are you Turner? To the month, how old are you?”
I added it up, to the month, and it even sounded young to me. Even rounded it ahead didn’t make that much difference.
“Eighteen years and five months old sir!”
I answered, trying to sound like it was no big deal. He smiled.
“You know! I think you may be the youngest person I have under my command! I’ll have to check that! No! I’m sure! You are!”
He looked back at the paperwork.
“You requested to be transferred to this unit! What made you want to be a door gunner?”
What should I say? This could be some kind of test, maybe to see if I have what it takes. That was exactly why I was here, but that was my reason, not his. The only thing I could think of to tell him was that I wasn’t satisfied with my last job.
“I wasn’t happy with my former M.O.S. It wasn’t really what I came here to do. I wanted to be somewhere where I felt I could make a difference!”
Apparently, that was what he wanted to hear. It spurred me on.
“And, I want to fly sir!”
Maybe I should add that I want to help win the war. No. That seemed a little much. The general attitude around here was “Do your time and get out!” There were no cries for victory, no posters with “Rosie the Riveter!” This just wasn’t that kind of conflict.
Besides, I wasn’t sure how I stood on the whole thing. I had been too busy trying to get into it, to see what was going on. And, I still hadn’t learned how to hate yet.
He leaned back in his chair and looked me over. He was looking at the best solid front I could manage. Inside, I was Jell-O. It felt no different than sitting in the principal’s office. In all this time, and with everything I’ve experienced, I felt no older, and not much wiser than I did back then. When he spoke, it brought me back to things at hand.
“Well, you will get the chance to do both things here Turner!”
Then he got serious.
“I have two rules! One! Show up when you’re supposed to, and do your job! Two! Don’t do anything that would make me look bad! You follow those rules, and your time here will be well spent! Got it?”
I smiled inside. This was the most freedom I’ve ever felt, ever! If life in a real company was like this, I might stay in the army a little longer. Then I remembered I still had six and a half years left on this enlistment. Lets take one thing at a time.
“Yes sir! I will!”
“Good! You will be assigned to the second flight platoon! The clerk will show you where it is! Get squared away! You’re dismissed! Welcome to the company!”
I was so charged up about everything happening that I came to attention smartly and gave him the best salute I had, dropping my hand only after he returned it. His response wasn’t what I expected. He did return my salute but it felt like he didn’t care. As I walked out, a little disappointed, he called me back.
“Turner! Around here, we are a little more… casual.” If you want to fit in here, you need to relax a little. Take your time. You wont be flying missions right away. We will give you time to get the hang of things, before we throw you to the wolves.”
He smiled. I almost saluted him for that, and stopped myself.
“Yes Sir! I will try to do that!”
There was no way I was going to relax. But I would do my best to keep it to myself.
Finding a room in the second flight platoon that wasn't in use, I threw my stuff in an empty locker and put my lock on it. At home I had the top bunk so I unfolded the sheet and blanket and made my bed, thinking that soon, I would lie in it. As I tucked the blankets, with that special way to fold it, a pleasant feeling came over me. It felt like I finally found a home.
67-A-1-F Door Gunner, Helicopter, Utility! That was now my primary M.O.S. I had only been on this base a few hours, but already felt pretty official. Even the base itself had a different feel to it, like this was serious stuff. It wasn't as clean and inspection ready as the R&R center, and I liked that. It looked more used, more like the newsreels. This was my ticket.
The clerk had already filled me in on what I needed to do, including getting a weapon assigned to me. He also assigned a ship to me. It was “Two-nine. She was quite a walk down the flight line but each aircraft I passed, added to the anticipation.
Then, there she was! What an amazing thing. I walked all the way around it, taking it all in. The shape, just the way it sits on the skids, I cant describe the thrill I felt, knowing that soon I would be flying in that machine, and this time I would be the one sitting behind the machine gun!
There was one thing I did notice almost right away. There were four places around the bottom towards the back that had these square patches, riveted on and spray painted to match. These had to be bullet holes, and looking at them gave me a quick dose of reality. In my haste to get here, I kept overlooking the reason there are weapons aboard these ships.
Other than walking around looking at it, there was nothing else to do. I didn’t want to start playing around with something and break it. The other crews were busy working on their own ships. No one was paying attention to me, so, I just tried to look busy. The tail rotor, that was there. The doors opened and closed. I stepped back to look at the main rotor. That looked fine too. Everything looked just fine, except those four little holes.
I wanted to sit in the seat. Another quick look around at the others told me no one was paying me any mind. They might, if they saw me sitting in an empty helicopter, grinning, of course. Torn between what I couldn’t wait to do, and having everyone think I was some kind of a nut, I finally decided that it could wait. There would be plenty of time later. It was all so close now I could almost taste it!
For now, I would have to be satisfied only imagining what it would all be like, when the stuff started. Even though I was right there, I still had no clue what anything was about. Then, I remembered that a gunner has to have his gun. (I’m out of basic now, I can call it whatever I want!) How did they assign the weapons? That would be something I could check out.
It was a long back walk up the quarter mile flight line. It didn’t seem that far going down. It would have been nice to be assigned a ship that was a little closer to the beginning of the line.
After walking for what seemed forever, I spotted the building where they kept my machine gun. A sign above the door said “Arms Room!” I was about to become armed and possibly dangerous! I was cracking myself up. The very large grin on my face as I walked in about to ask to be issued an instrument of war, would not be very gunner like, and I did my best to wipe it off.
Once inside, I just stood there, amazed, for a moment. Machine guns, and rifles, and grenade launchers, oh my! They were all over the walls. There must have been over a hundred machine guns alone! And, one of them was about to become mine! I wondered if I could pick and choose.
The corporal at the desk was reading a boob magazine. Even though the picture on the cover was quite impressive, I hardly glanced twice. I was far more impressed with what was on those walls. The corporal glanced up, smiled, and put it away.
“Can I help you?”
He asked, very politely. It’s hard to describe just how a little difference in someone’s tone could make such a large difference in the way it made me feel inside. I straightened up, trying to look the part.
“Yes! I just transferred here as a gunner, I need to be assigned a weapon!”
This was so amazing. I just asked for someone to give me a machine gun. And he’s going to do it! There was something unnatural about all of this. It felt like I was a part of some criminal enterprise, and we were about to go rob a bank. It was going against everything I had been taught growing up. This would be the start of an even different feeling. It was stronger than me and I was afraid to let it inside, for fear it would take over. It was a slight dread and it started building inside, for what, I wasn’t sure yet.
There was still a small part in my mind that felt he was going to look weird at me, or say something smart, and this would all be over. I was worried that he was not going to give me one. But, he reached under his desk and brought out a piece of paper, about the size of a business card, and tossed it on the desk.
“What’s your last name?”
He wrote it on the card, and handed it to me.
“You’re assigned! Anything else I can do for ya?”
I expected something a little different, a little more ceremonial. Shouldn’t I be sworn in, only to use it in the defense of our country or something, not just you’re assigned? It took something away from the moment. But. I was now armed, no matter how it happened. Maybe I should ask for a pistol too, if it was that simple. But, I left well enough alone which was probably good. He was already back into his reading material.
The card he tossed me had the number 016 on it. I walked down that very impressive row of weapons, amazed at the power I felt, just being around them. Most of them looked well worn, which only added to their appeal, but they were clean and well maintained. Over the top of all of them, fastened up on the wall was a barrel. It had blown up and the end was all split. Under it were the words
“Keep Them Clean and Change Your Barrels!”
At first glance, all the weapons looked the same, but a closer inspection revealed several little differences that made each one unique. There were C-Ration (food) cans, empty with both ends cut out, fastened to the breech on some. It was to help guide the bullets into the weapon smoother. It felt good, being able to figure out things like that.
Others had words, scratched into them, little sayings that soldiers make up about war. One even had a short barrel. It was missing the notched part at the end, whatever that was called. That was a little frustrating, not knowing.
There was a relationship between these weapons and their owners and I could actually feel it. One had the words “Widow Maker!” neatly scratched just above the breech. It left no doubt what the combination of that weapon and its operator was there to accomplish. The kind of feelings one could have towards a machine gun, I could only begin to understand, but I couldn’t wait to find out.
I glanced again at the card, double checking the number, and noticed several other names, already written on the card. I could make out the last one. It was Stone. I wondered if he just finished his tour and went home, or something else. Asking the guy at the counter didn’t seem like a good idea. It might be taboo or something, mentioning a persons name if something did happen to him. Maybe later, I could find out more.
I found the one that had my number over the top, and glanced over at the corporal to see if he was maybe waiting for me to ask to take it out. He was busy, and paid me no mind.
I would need to be a little more aggressive in my actions, not so worried about checking with someone every time I wanted to do something.
I pulled the chain out that held it in, grabbed it and pulled. It didn’t budge! Crap! How could something weigh so much? This time, with both hands, much more determined, it came out, catching on the bottom rail. When it swung free, it smacked me in the shins. I wanted to scream, okay swear, but held it all in. No one was going to know that my weapon already beat me up.
Once over that first shock, it didn’t seem all that heavy. Grabbing it up by the handle, I carried it up to the desk and asked the guy where to take it to clean it.
“Out back you’ll find some half barrels! Everything you need will be right there!”
I just couldn’t get over how everyone seemed genuinely happy to help, or at the very least polite. There was that much difference from where I had been so far. Was it the “combat” part in our company’s name, in parenthesis at the end? This is the bottom line in the military, what it all boils down to. Everything else I had done, up to this point was to support or train those that were in combat. This was the reason for all of that, and I was now a part of that reason.
As I carried the weapon out back, this wave of importance went all through my body. It was still mixed with the realization that I really knew nothing about what my job actually was, but I was enjoying it all the same. This was nothing like where I was, just a week before.
I hauled the weapon up across my shoulders, like I’d seen someone do earlier, when something dug deep into my neck. Trying to hold on to the barrel with one hand, I let it slide back but couldn’t hold it, and it fell to the ground.
After a quick glance around to make sure no one else saw me, I grabbed it up with both hands, and lugged it the rest of the way, and finally managed to get it up on to the cleaning table. Would I have to carry this all the way down to my ship every day, and back? It must weigh about thirty, forty pounds! Maybe a jeep carried them for us.
Laying it down, top facing up, I looked at it. That's about all I knew how to do at that point. I figured out how to open the breech (where the bullets are loaded) and I looked it over closely. It seemed fairly simple to me. There shouldn’t be any problem learning how to load it. After all I was an expert rifleman and I would become an expert on this thing too. It was just a rifle that fired a lot more rounds.
Then, probably for the first time, I fully understood what I held in my hands, and a rush went through me, that almost knocked be back. For a moment I stood there, unable to move, realizing the awesome destructive power of this thing before me, and what it was specifically made to do. It grabbed hold of me in a way I can’t describe, and I couldn’t make it go away. It was making me serious.
Some youthful part of me faded away just then, and something far more grown up was beginning to take its place. This weapon here in front of me had the power to take a life. It probably has, several times. There was definitely something about it that seemed much more powerful than I was, and would probably ever be.
To sit behind this weapon, in that chopper down there, I would have to become something much harder, something far more determined than I have ever have imagined being, even in Germany. Very soon, I would be using this weapon to kill enemy soldiers. This one piece of equipment just turned me from being a regular soldier, and it felt funny to picture it like this, but I was now an instrument of death.
And there it was! Everything about the military, all I have seen and done up to this point, all the marching and drilling, practicing in Germany, even listening to the radios, all of it had only one end purpose, and that was death. It was all there for the destruction of human beings, to kill as many of them as completely and efficiently as possible, and pray not to be killed in the process. It was the first time I really understood that if I do this job right, someone else will die, and, if I do it wrong…
So now, in the middle of all this new excitement, something like a cloud cast a shadow over my thoughts. I was perhaps just days away from crossing over into something, and I was only beginning to understand how serious all this really was. It was something so big and so permanent, I felt small and insignificant in comparison, and I was not sure how to act anymore. There was also the question if I perform this duty when the time comes, will I hesitate, or actually pull this trigger, knowing that another person, a lot like me will die? What if I just wounded him and he crawled around the jungle for days before finally passing on. This goes against everything I had ever been taught, and believed in. It was not a natural part of me and not something that could be changed by combing my hair a different way, or even putting a weapon in my hands.
This is all getting into an area I hadn’t really considered. I was so wrapped up in wanting to knock off some enemy that I never took into account they were anything other than targets. But, this was war dang it! And these were bad people! They did horrible things to the villagers of this country, who only wanted to grow their rice. We were here to stop it and I wanted to help. If it required me to shoot enemy soldiers, then I would have to start getting mad. It was time to start learning how to hate them.
There was one little problem. I didn’t really come here for some patriotic reason, and I knew that. I was here because of something inside me, some deep-rooted desire, entrenched in my subconscious that drove me on, something maybe ingrained in me from my ancient ancestors.
And maybe it was because all the time I was growing up, it was instilled in me from my family, teachers, and the movies, that it was good for men to go to war, and if they weren’t men when they went in, they were coming out. Either way, there I was!
What other kind of feeling would make me able to do it if I couldn’t hate them. I couldn’t just walk up to someone, especially someone I didn’t know, and bash him in the head with a pipe. Something would stop me before I could act. I would always “think twice” before doing anything that drastic. That same hesitation could get me in trouble when the time came. I had come all this far, without ever considering the most important question of all.
Then, I realized that there would be three other lives aboard my helicopter, and I would have some responsibility over their safety. There was a section of the ship that would be my duty to defend, and that was basically the whole right side. What if my actions, or lack of, got someone else hurt, or worse? The very thought of that happening, frightened me so much more than anything happening to myself.
A new determination flowed over me as I resolved that nothing like that would happen, not on my watch. And I added to that, all the condescending looks from all the condesendent people. I didn’t come all this way, just to prove them right!
That determination got even stronger taking over, and once again I felt confident in my ability to get through this. How could I ever face family or friends again, if I came home with the label “coward?” I couldn’t, and it just wasn’t going to happen! I would find a way to be able to shoot these guys, and not have it bother me.
I looked again at “Betsy.” That name just came to me. That’s what I would call her. Why a woman’s name? Because hell hath no fury. I would treat her like one, keep her clean and well maintained, just as soon as I figured out how take her apart. If I did that, she wouldn’t quit on me when I needed her most. She would protect me and keep me safe. I wanted to believe that was true.
I closed the top back down, clicking it in place, and started wiping it down. I needed to be at least looking busy, just in case anyone was paying attention.
I turned to see yet another smiling face and it felt so comfortable smiling back. His name was John. And he was my crew chief and would become one of the closest persons I have ever known in my life. And one day, he would save it!
There are two gunners for this kind of helicopter. In the air, their jobs are the same. Shoot the weapons. On the ground, their jobs are very different. The crew chief is responsible for the ship. He has things to check, before, and after a flight. There could be a loose connection or too much play at critical points. He also is responsible for deciding if a helicopter is air worthy after suffering any battle damage. He actually has the authority, even over the pilots, to ground a ship that has something seriously wrong. I’m glad I didn’t tell anyone I could be a crew chief!
There was one particular thing he always checked. You air jockeys out there already know. Your smiling, I can tell. It was nicknamed “The Jesus Nut!” This was a large steel nut on the very top of the rotor assembly. That one nut held the whole thing together. If it came off, or even got loose, the blades would spin off, and the ship would drop out of the sky like a rock. I was so glad that it was not my responsibility.
But, there was a trade off. The gunners, like me, had the job of keeping both the weapons in good working order. That was a pretty heavy responsibility too. If they malfunctioned at a critical time, well, it wouldn’t be good, so I took that responsibility very seriously. Gunners also put the fuel in and helped watch over the ship, looking for holes, leaks, or other possible damage to bring to the chiefs attention. It was also their job to keep the ship clean. Soon, I would find out what all was involved in that part. It sometimes meant washing blood off the floor.
John had also just transferred here from another company where he had been a crew chief. This was his M.O.S., what he had been trained to do. To be able to do his job I guess you’d have to be. This was a good thing. He knew what he was doing, and that would make me look good. There would only be one instead of two guys fumbling around out there. It couldn’t have worked out any better. Plus, we were both newbie to the company, so if we stood out, we were gonna do it together.
Together! It made me stop for a moment and reflect. That bonding that soldiers do. I think I just felt some of it. Was John feeling it too? Would he feel it? Would we have to go through something first, some action? Is that how it happens?
He stood a couple inches shorter than me. His brown hair was a bit shaggy around the ears, for the Army anyway. And he always had this constant idiotic grin on his face. I say that because after a while it got to me. It was like he knew something no one else did, and he might let them in on it, maybe, and the thought of that made him grin. He also had this pair of round, gold-framed, dark blue sunglasses that made him look like John Lennon, with a grin.
“Just trying to get comfortable with it!”
This could very well be the beginning of my first real friendship and I wanted to be totally honest about everything with him. We would be together, hopefully, for a long time, and I didn’t want that time being spent with any kind of regrets. That fear, was stronger than that of admitting my innocence. A friend would overlook that.
Acting like I knew things I didn’t, had been the cause of a lot of my problems so far. This was a clean slate. Then again, there was no harm in wording it like maybe I knew a little bit.
“Ever shoot one before?”
Well, that wasn’t gonna work.
“Not even with blanks!”
If this was to work, I had to be totally, maybe brutally honest.
“Well I’m pretty sure we can fix that! My names John, and I’m going to be your crew chief. The C.O. told me to find you, and take you under my wing. You’re David right?”
Nodding that I was, I made sure to grasp his hand firmly. Good thing I did. He had quite a grip, probably from squeezing the trigger. Mine would get that strong too, soon enough. In one way, I liked being under someone’s wing. Not too much though. Don’t treat me like a kid.
An old feeling of resentment popped up and a fight started inside my head. He was already trying to lord over me. Then common sense took over and I calmed right back down. It wasn’t good to start right out by getting an attitude about anything. Being taken under someone’s wing must be a good thing, something they do to everyone, not just in my case.
I knew one thing. I couldn’t spend the next year jumping back and forth, up and down with all these emotions. There has to be a point when everything starts to come together, and life calms down and becomes more normal. Just this day alone, my mind has jumped in a dozen different directions, none of them even remotely the same.
Being tucked, for a while anyway, might not be all that bad. It was for my own good after all. I would have to keep pride from getting in the way of someone telling me something that just might save my life. That feeling was just going to have to be put on the back burner for a while. It could have all the fun it wanted when I arrive back home. Right now, my concern was making sure that happened.
There were so many things, that still needed to be sorted out in my mind, and it needed to be done before other things started happening. Each understanding I reached with myself started to make me feel better, making me believe that I might actually come out of all of this a much better person because of it. Decisions I never thought I’d be making, doing and saying things that were almost coming naturally. I was growing up before my very eyes. But, just before I could pat myself on the back, another thought popped into my head. I had not experienced my job for real yet. Still, with the back and forth.
“That's right! Real nice to meet you John! My friends call me Dave!”
Throughout my growing up years, depending on my mood I have gone from David to Dave, and back and I was into the Dave phase now. My curiosity was more tuned to whether or not he would respond to the friend part.
“Dave it is!
That was a good start.
“Are you ready to get started?”
All of a sudden, I wasn’t! I'm sure he didn’t realize that he was asking me to actually start. Up until that point I was only getting ready and felt like I still need more time to do so.
I hesitated. If I said yes, that was it, we would begin, and all of a sudden I wasn’t all that sure if I was all the way ready. What would happen if I said no? I wasn’t sure if I would ever be ready.
“Great! Why don’t we just start right from the beginning and run through the whole thing! It would be much easier than trying to figure out what you do and don’t know already!”
It sounded like he was giving me a little credit. Just his tone and how he related to me calmed me right down, even helped me think a little straighter.
“Good idea! No use having to ask, each time something new comes up!” I said.
That would really be the only way I would ever get all this right. There was still a little something inside that didn’t want him to know just how green I really was.
He smiled. He knew. He had to.
“Besides!” he added. “We need to be coordinated up there!”
Then he lost that grin.
“It’s pretty important that we have confidence in the other person when we’re up there!”
He stared intently into my face. I could see my reflection in those glasses. He hadn’t asked a question, but his statement needed an answer. He was looking for something in me and it seemed very important that he find it. This was fast becoming another one of those crossroads for me, where my decision will affect more than just that moment.
Just how far do I go trying to make him believe that I am not quite as immature as he is making me out to be, when honestly, I am? These kinds of decisions were getting more serious with each new one. Even if he catches me in a “little white lie” it would damage this new beginning we had with each other, and he mentioned confidence.
I wanted to be someone he could have confidence in. But how could he have any confidence in someone who knew absolutely nothing? What did I really know about anything other than just enough to be dangerous?
He was still waiting for some kind of response, and nothing was coming to mind, nothing I thought he would like to hear. That was what I was trying to come up with. That’s the kind of answer I always gave, and it usually worked. But, this time the circumstances were different, and the consequences were far more serious!
I did something for the very first time, something very unnatural to me. I told him the whole truth, without adding or making anything up. Staring back into my own reflection, I told him like it was.
As I did, the features on my face took on a new kind of look. There was nothing fierce, or tough about it. I was not trying to put on any kind of appearance. There was no effort involved in this. My face just relaxed. This was a whole new side of me and it actually looked different. It looked good!
All this was brand new to me, and he had already seen me do everything I knew how to on that machine gun. I knew nothing at all about those amazing flying machines sitting out there on that runway, except that I liked the flying part, and that is what I told him.
Then, having no idea where it even came from, something I wouldn’t have thought of before, I asked him to teach me. I would listen to him; learn quickly, and hopefully one day soon, he would feel he could depend on me.
It was like listening to someone else talking with my voice. Once I spilled it, it felt great, like being in a “groove!” It felt natural, actually peaceful. There were no little white lies to have to remember in case I was asked again. I just said it and that was it. Does it always feel like this, to simply be honest?
All the time I was speaking, he was listening intently, but his face didn’t give me a clue as to how he perceived my confession. As soon as I finished, doubts about what I had just done, started creeping in. Did I just bury myself? Maybe I should have gone ahead and at least made up a few things, or not told him quite so much. Or… it’s still possible, that just maybe, this was the right decision. Again I found myself holding my breath.
Then, he smiled what became his trademark smile.
“Something tells me we are gonna get along just fine!”
And, if that wasn't enough to make my year.
“Come on!… Bring your sixty! Let’s go flying!”
He turned and started towards the flight line.
“Just like that?” I asked.
He stopped, looked back at me, and grinned.
“Just like that!”