Thursday, July 30, 2020


National Archives

For the first time in weeks Sgt Brandt saw the rest of 2nd Platoon moving up. The guys in his squad, 1st Squad, had been operating semi-independently since 2Lt Heintzelman and SSG Andersen had been wounded and evacuated. He hadn't really gotten to know the new L.T., though the new platoon sergeant he knew. The man had ridden a desk in the rear at regimental HQ since 1943. Now someone else's pet sergeant was riding that desk, seems that SSG Draper had pissed someone off at HQ. Sgt Brandt wished the guy was anywhere but here.

"Sgt Brandt?" The new lieutenant came over to the squad with his hand extended.

Brandt stood up and dusted himself off, "Yes sir, pleased to finally meet you sir." Brandt shook the man's hand, the man had a good grip, which Brandt thought was a pretty good indication of character. Never trust a man who shook hands limply, his Pop had always told him.

"I've heard good things about 1st Squad, Sergeant. Really good things. Seems you guys have been with the tankers for a while. Do you like it?"

Brandt chuckled, "Well sir, like is a pretty strong word, ain't nothing to like about combat. But Sgt Kaminski, the guy commanding the tank platoon we're attached to, knows his business so it's not bad."

At that moment SSG Draper, SSG Andersen's replacement as platoon sergeant, was berating Red Thomas, said his uniform looked like crap, or some such nonsense. Sgt Brandt looked at the new lieutenant.

"Go ahead and take care of that Sgt Brandt, I'll get the other squads settled in, we're moving out tomorrow. Do you want to continue to ride the tanks? I can get one of the other squads to do it, you guys can ride in the trucks."

Brandt thought about riding under canvas in this country, blind to what's outside. "Uh thanks sir, but we'll stick with the tanks, that is if it's okay with you, sir."

2Lt Nathan Paddock, West Point Class of 1944, looked at Brandt for a couple of seconds, chuckled and said, "If that's what you want. Can we talk later?"

"Certainly sir, I'll find you."

Red Thomas was still sitting as SSG Draper continued to give him crap. Sgt Brandt walked over to them.

"Problem here Staff Sergeant?"

"Yes Brandt, your men look like crap, they are disrespectful, and what's worse, they seem to find me amusing."

Brandt shook his head, made a gesture with one hand and the entire squad stood up.

"First of all Staff Sergeant, it's Sergeant Brandt, not 'Brandt.' Second of all, my men have been in the thick of things for a few days. We've been in near constant action since D-Day. The men are tired, they're hungry, and probably not in the mood to deal with some martinet who has spent most of the war behind a desk. This is the front, Staff Sergeant, we have no time for rear area niceties. Now, if you wish to talk with a member of my squad in the future, you come to me first. Okay?"

"I'm not sure I like your attitude Brandt." Draper scowled as he said that.

"Perhaps no one gives a shit what you like, Staff Sergeant." Cajun Tremblay, who had come up quite silently, could look pretty menacing when he wanted to, he'd also revert to his 'down in the bayou' Cajun accent when he was really angry. At the moment he was furious, most of what he was saying was indiscernible to any but a fellow Cajun. What's more his hand had moved to and was now resting on the handle of his bayonet.

"Are you threatening me private?" Draper was ready to pull rank, which was not a great idea at the moment.

"Look Staff Sergeant, things are rough out here, close to the front. We don't take crap from anyone, Germans, rear echelon suck ups, or anyone. Why don't you run along now?" Cajun was so angry he was trembling.

"I'm going to report this Brandt! There will be a court martial, I swear!"

At that moment, 2Lt Paddock, who had noticed the commotion being stirred up by Draper, a man he detested, came back over to Brandt's squad.

"Do you have lots of free time Draper? Is this all you've got to do right now? It seems that I ordered you to arrange food for the men and a place for them to bed down. Is this how you do that?"

"Uh, sir, I delegated that to Sgt Fortin."

"You don't delegate Staff Sergeant, I get to do that, you don't. Now go do what I ordered you to do, move it!"

As Draper moved off, 2Lt Paddock looked at Brandt, "Sorry about that, Sergeant Brandt."

"Ah, it's the Army sir. I'm used to it."

"Nope, that man is an asshole. But you didn't hear that from me. Understood?"

Sgt Brandt choked back a laugh as he said, "Sir, yes sir!"

"Carry on Sergeant. See me after chow, okay?"

"Yes sir, L.T.!"

As the new butterbar walked away, Sgt Brandt felt good and bad all at once. The new officer seemed smart. Always a good start. But the new platoon sergeant, he felt trouble brewing there, a guy like that could destroy unit morale nearly overnight. He'd have to watch that one.

* Due to the color of a second lieutenant's insignia, a gold bar, they were often referred to as "butterbars." At least until they had proven themselves.


  1. I spent two years on Forrestal, the first half was under the tenure of a Chief Engineer that might have been technically competent, but he lacked any skill at all in dealing with people and he was universally hated by the Engineering Department.
    His successor was cut from a different cloth and the Engineering Department won the Engineering "E" under his direction.

    When the second CHENG was new he ordered a National Bilge Day. That means you pump down the bilges, physically remove trash, flush the bilges with fire hoses and pump all the disgusting yuck over the side.
    After we were done bilge cleaning in my space (yes, my space, I was an Second Class Machinists Mate and running the Machinists Mate half of the forward Auxiliary Machinery Room) I was surprised to see the new CHENG show up by himself and wearing a set of soaking wet and filthy coveralls, he introduced himself to me, asked me if the bilges were clean, and when I said yes he smiled, lowered himself into the bilges and spent a bit of time feeling around under the water.
    Then he climbed out, shook my hand and said, "Now I know I can trust you."
    In that and other things, he was a real leader and we would have followed him to the ends of the earth.

    1. I was fortunate in having served with a number of good officers.

    2. That second CHENG? Good man. Too many good men (and women) have been destroyed in the last 30 years in the name of whatever politics the Commmander-in-Chief is allowing to be played in his navy.

      An Officer that is willing to do his job is a Godsend. Unfortunately, said officer is now a threat to upper officers who can't find a toilet without guidance, let alone do their jobs.

    3. Don't get me started on the current group of flag officers.

  2. The best CO I ever served for, Marine or Navy, was the CO of the last ship I was assigned to as the Combat Cargo Officer, the USS Wasp. That man, if he said something, you could believe it...hands down. If it sounded like he cared, he did. If he sounded like he was trying o motivate you, he was.

    Once, off the coast of Nicuragua, we were doing some Humanitarian Relief due to a hurricane that had just destroyed the coastal area. We sent folks ashore to offload aircraft and load helos on the premise that there would be support facilities for them. There weren't. Whe nthe CO found this out, he came over the 1MC and asked if anyone had the time, we needed a working party to get food and drink from the hangar bay to the flight deck (about 100 yards up the ramp). I came out of my office to the hangar bay and it looked as though someone had kicked over a fire ant nest! Sailors were coming from EVERYWHERE to help out. We formed two lines up the ramp and to the flight deck and moved over 6000 lbs of cargo in less than 20 minutes. That CO just had a way of speaking that made you WANT to work your ass off for him and when he told you good job....he meant it.

    At his change of command, I was standing in the line waiting to bong him off the ship. He came by and shook my hand. I told him that one day, I was going to see solid gold shoulder boards on him. He smiled and returned my salute. He is now a 2 star Admiral. If the word came down today that he wanted me to work for him, even 13 years later, I would drop all and go.

    1. Officers like that are worth their weight in gold.

    2. I knew a captain in the army like that. Started out as a marine then transferred to the army and was a sergeant in special forces in Vietnam

      Somewhere along the way he became an officer and if he told any of us that were going off a cliff we would’ve gladly followed him.

      Because we knew he would’ve been leading the way

  3. I have never served, but the officers that you describe are the same as the best business leaders I have worked for: lead by example and demonstrating at some level a willingness to get down into the muck (John in Philly, I had no idea that was a real thing) as needed.

    1. Leaders are leaders, whether they wear a uniform or a suit.

      You want to do your best for them.

  4. What TB said. My first manager at the current hole was a man I'd do anything for. And quite often did. The latest.....

    And those cajuns know places that bodies don't come back from. I used to work in that state, and there were places and days that scared the tar out of me. Thank God, dad taught me to be respectful and have a firm handshake. Some times, I wonder if that's what kept me out of a pile of gator crap. Getting lost and stopping to ask directions was normal, but not always something I wanted to do over there. Outsiders... well if cajuns spoke Chinese, foreign devil would probably be the closet translation. The attitude sure came across...

    Good story...

    1. Thanks STxAR. Pvt Tremblay is named for a guy I served with, French-Canadian not Cajun though historically they are from the same stock. A fun guy, but you didn't want to get on his bad side!

    2. It is the same with any flavor of 'redneck' or 'hillfolk' or 'crackers (native Floridian cattle-people,) or, well, the Bubbas and Two-First-Name folk.

      Tremendous work ethic if inspired. Tremendous negative attitude if uninspired. And they always know how to get rid of bodies.

      Learned several ways while hanging with Florida commercial (small boat) fishermen. Put me off shrimp for life. Won't go anywhere past that.

      The 'salt of the earth' folk are good to lead, if they deem you good enough to lead them.

  5. Another good installment, Sarge.
    Draper is the kind of twit that doesn't know how to keep the priorities straight. The primary objectives are to defeat the enemy and to keep your men alive. While all the regs are supposedly designed with those objectives in mind, sometimes they just get in the way. Ditto for martinets (nice use of that word, BTW) like Draper, who are so full of themselves and yet so limited in their abilities, they can't contribute anything useful and in fact are counterproductive. I've worked in groups with those people, but thankfully the majority of the folks I've worked with are true leaders.

    1. Draper is based on a real guy, a guy I had the misfortune to serve with early in my career. Didn't like him, not at all.

    2. It is funny but I’ll bet you just about anybody in the military ran across their own “Draper”.

      I knew a few...

    3. I can almost guarantee it, unless they were a Draper.

  6. "Now, if you wish to talk with a member of my squad in the future, you come to me first. Okay?"


    When I was R.A. enlisted, we had a couple of SSG Draper's and one 2lt. Draper in our maintenance co. Fortunately, the OIC for our section was a tough as nails CWO3. When I made Sgt., I was pretty much able to work around the id1ots until they moved on.

    Later as the CO of my reserve unit, I made it clear that nobody screws with my people. Ever. We mustangs are kinda touchy about that. If anyone was hassled, they were to refer the individual(s) to me, and state that they were under direct orders to do so.

    Interesting photo. Is that an extra piece of armor next to the gun mantel? Looks like the last guy in line is the BAR man.

    1. That's what it looks like to me - there are also some plates welded to the sides, to help against flanking shots esp. from Panzerfausts.
      Also, it is fitted with the Culin hedgerow cutter on the front. Evidently they were so successful that 60% of the tanks in Normandy were fitted with them by the time Operation Cobra was launched.
      Here is the Wiki article on Sgt. Culin -

    2. Adding extra armor, sandbags, spare bogie wheels, even logs were used to add protection for the crew.

      Yup, B.A.R. man.

    3. Tom - I often wonder who the "hillbilly from Tennessee" was that Culin credited for giving him the idea. There was also a lieutenant involved who really got things moving. If you dig deep enough, it's usually a team effort. Remember what Patton said about "individuality" as regards the Army.

    4. Those plates? Those were add-ons over sensitive sections, usually over ammo or fuel. Could either be direct from the factory, or a kit for field work, or... as usual, something hogged together field expedient-like. The military analyzed where the problems in the Sherman's armor and worked diligently to correct.

      And, as OldAFS said, crews added all sorts of stuff. So did most other nations' crews. The Germans were known to stuff all sorts of things behind the schürzen, both comfort items like mattresses and balks of wood or sandbags.

    5. I saw an old Sherman on display in downtown Bastogne back in '97. Had a hole in the side armor, which wasn't very thick. Adding more armor helped the survivability, but it was a good thing the Shermans had really good engines, some vehicles balk at extra weight.

  7. Hey AFSarge;

    Yep a good Officer is worth their weight in gold and a bad officer can ruin an outfit, I saw both in my time. My last CO, we called him "Major C" spoke like he was from the deeps woods of Tennessee even though he had a masters from Emory Riddle but he gave a damm about his troops and it showed. We would walk to hell and slap the piss out of old scratch hisself for the man. That is the kind of loyalty he inspired. I have also seen the other kind where we were stepping stones......Well it takes all kinds I suppose.

    1. "It takes all kinds..." Yup, someone has to make general in peacetime, it's usually those latter types.

  8. Someone is asking to accidentally step in front of a bullet, or, since jerks like Draper always have someone else take care of their kit, find themselves with a non-functioning gun right when they need it most.

    David Drake, in a lot of his milscifi, has a reoccurring name, "Platt," that always seems to be the slacker who holds down everyone else, usually a private but sometimes an NCO. Once you come across the name 3-4 times in different books, it doesn't take a genius to realize that some (male external reproductive member (nickname for Richard))-head named Platt so pissed off and made such an impression on Mr. Drake that he thought to immortalize said Dick-tete Platt.

    They are everywhere. They are the origin of the concept behind the 'Peter Principle' and are especially found in Human Resources areas.

    And, yes, somehow Mr. Drake makes his Platts go splats, whether having them catch live grenades, or die by their own stupidity, slabbing the Platt is a thing in a Drake book.

  9. Been there. Seen good officers and bad. Unfortunately, the bad politicians seemed to be running things when I was in. I don't think that we had a single officer in my division (E division) that I honestly respected.

    We had one CO that I really respected. The one before him was awful. He would hold NJP on an aircraft carrier as follows:
    He would be on the flight deck, standing behind a lecturn. The accused sailors would be lined up in ranks on the aircraft elevator, at the hanger deck level.
    The elevator would be raised. The CO would say: "You all must be guilty, or you would be here. I find you guilty as charged. Reduction in rank, half month's pay times two, restriction to the ship for 45 days. Dismissed." and then the elevator with the accused on it would be lowered back down to the hanger.

    In contrast, the second CO was awesome.

    1. That guy was an asshat, a discredit to the Navy, and a disgrace to whatever commissioning source he dropped from the bowels of.

  10. Speaking of engines, this one always fascinated me--

    And Butterbar--aka Shavetail. From the Calvary days, when new mules tended to wander off in the field, so their tails were shaved to make it easier to keep an eye on them.

  11. Draper better watch out that he doesn’t get a shot in the back.

    As far as a second lieutenant, when we first met a second lieutenant we assumed he didn’t know what he was doing unless proven otherwise.

    I think in writing that you drew from your own service experiences because you sure showed the best and the worst in leadership

    1. Kinda like State Farm, I know a thing or two, because I've seen a thing or two.

    2. I know I learned more about leader ship in the army — good and bad-just from observing

    3. Sarge - isn't that Farmers Insurance, not State Farm (e.g., Jake)?? :-)

    4. D'oh! You're absolutely right, it's Farmer's not State Farm. (Bastard was wearing khakis, I should have recognized him as Jake. She sounded hideous...)

  12. I would have loved to bust my ass, for Lex.

    1. You and me and hundreds of others.

      I think that is one reason he so inspires the loyalty even eight years after he’s gone

    2. Absolutely.

      One does not forget such a man.

  13. During my initiation into the Brotherhood of Real Chiefs I was taught that the first duty of the Chief's Mess was to watch out for the troops. The second was to train all newly commissioned Ensigns, with the exception of certain Mustangs (former Chiefs), in the way the U. S. Navy was supposed to work. Old Guns

  14. You had me going there for a second. I thought the 2ndLT would be depicted as so many have before, a clueless idiot, but you redeemed him. By the way, I haven't commented much on these because I admit I haven't stayed completely current. One of those, better to remain silent...kind of things!

    1. I could have gone either way, then I remembered my very last OIC in the Air Force, a really decent kid and good leader. So I demoted him from captain and transferred him to the Army! But a fine officer nevertheless.

  15. (Don McCollor)...Never in the military in my job, but I probably would have been a bad conventional officer (hating to issue orders). Simple rules: Be polite. Never show angry at mistakes (though there were occasions) because a few cold words (not profane) have more effect (on those to choose to listen). Never put someone to a dirty job if you are not helping them. Always listen to your elders (what a machinist with 20 years experience has to say). Almost always, let them improve on what you design (they usually come up with something better). And always try to help...holding wrenches and bolts (when not in the office) or holding doors open for the custodians. I was one of the few that was in very early and visited with custodial staff. Funny thing. Anything modest that I (infrequently) asked just happened the next night.


Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)
Can't be nice, go somewhere else...

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