Saturday, September 5, 2020

The Forest, Part Two


2Lt Paddock was awakened by something dripping on his face. Something cold. When he opened his eyes it was just before daybreak. Water was dripping from a small branch just over his face. SSgt Graves hadn't been kidding when he said it was going to rain, it had, all night. A wet, drizzling mess. Though the men were somewhat protected by the pine boughs they'd cut and rigged into lean-tos, something that Gammell had suggested, they were still wet. They looked bedraggled and miserable. Kinda like how Paddock felt.

The morning was cold, the lieutenant sat up and noticed that his platoon sergeant wasn't there. But the new company guide, Cpl Jimmy Winston was right there, brewing up some coffee in a pot he'd "organized" from somewhere. It smelled incredible.

"Ya know you're not supposed to use your helmet to heat water?" The lieutenant asked before he'd actually looked at what Winston was doing.

"I know L.T., that's why I'm using your steel pot..."

Paddock sat up and realized in an instant that Winston was pulling his leg. "Why you son of a..."

"Ya want sugar L.T., I got some of that too." The act of Cpl Winston handing a hot mess tin cup of coffee to his lieutenant killed the lieutenant's angry retort.

"Now I know why Baker Company let you go." the lieutenant offered as he took his first sip. It burned his tongue, but it was just what he needed.

"Why's that L.T.?" Cpl Winston had asked for the transfer, his old platoon leader was a martinet, a real pain in the ass. He wondered if Paddock knew that.

"That's an easy answer, Baker Company is a bunch of dumb asses, you're way too smart for that bunch. But you didn't hear that from me." Paddock winked at the platoon guide and asked for some of that sugar, if it really existed.

It did.

"Where the Hell is your lieutenant Staff Sergeant Graves? I wanted to brief him, not you." Captain Alphonse "Tex" Josephson was constantly angry about something. Word in the battalion was that he'd wanted to be in the airborne, but froze on his first training jump, so now he was with the Big Red One. Not the Screaming Eagles not the All Americans.¹

He wasn't actually from El Paso but from a little town in New Mexico not far from El Paso, the town of Chaparral. He insisted that he was from Texas and that his nickname was "Tex." The battalion staff called him "Chaps" behind his back, which annoyed the regimental chaplain to no end.

SSgt Graves wanted to say something which would send him back to being a private, but he restrained himself, being in the Army for seven years had taught him that much. "Second Lieutenant Paddock was up all night checking the outposts, Cap'n, so when the runner came to me, I decided to let the lieutenant sleep. Okay with you? Sir?"

CPT Josephson sensed the disrespect from Paddock's platoon sergeant. He didn't like it but he knew that battalion thought the man walked on water. Word from regiment was that they were looking to commission Graves, apparently the man was that good. In Josephson's eyes, the sergeant was just another jumped up low-life. In the pre-war Army he would still be a private.

He told Graves what battalion had wanted passed down, then dismissed the man. Paddock's platoon was going into company reserve, simple enough, it's not like the man had to make any decisions, he just had to tell Paddock to get his raggedy-assed platoon back to the battalion CP. He would have selected a different platoon for the reserve, but he had to admit, Paddock's men had recently lost a very good sergeant and another good soldier to a damned Nazi sniper in some damned little village. So he lived with the decision. He was an asshole, even he knew that much about himself, but he wasn't an idiot. It was a good decision.

As Paddock finished his coffee he saw SSgt Graves coming up the trail. The man had a smile on his face.

"What's up Sarn't Graves? Somebody shoot old Tex?" As soon as it slipped out of his mouth, he regretted saying that. If it was just him and Graves, that would be okay, but Winston was right there.

"Hey L.T., I'm gonna go see Doc Milbury, I can't hear shit this morning. I think I have an ear infection or something." Cpl Winston was perfectly serious when he said that, though he'd had to choke back a laugh at the thought of SSgt Graves shooting the company C.O., the man was kind of unpopular, but in reality he wasn't that bad a guy. Just pissed off at the world and the Army. Hell, right now who wasn't pissed off at the Army?

"Carry on Jimmy, I hope your hearing gets better soon." 2Lt Paddock knew that Winston had heard him, he also knew that Winston wouldn't say a word about it. What had he done to deserve Graves and Winston? They made his life a whole lot easier than his old platoon sergeant, Draper, and his sycophant Sgt Fortin. Both killed at the same time when the halftrack Fortin was driving had hit a mine. Draper was sitting up front when it happened, they'd both died on the spot.

Graves had been waiting to get a word in when Winston headed down the path, "Yeah L.T., we're going into company reserve for a couple of days. I talked to Top² and he says that we'll pull the duty at battalion. We'll get hot chow, showers, and new uniforms. Maybe the Krauts won't be able to smell us coming from a mile away anymore."

"I dunno Herb, the Krauts smell worse than we do, remember those last prisoners Able Company brought in, poor bastards hadn't seen a bath in months."

"Heck, L.T., hard to stop and wash up when the Big Red One, the Old Reliables and the Third Herd are chasing your ass back to the Fatherland!"

"Heh, there is that. Let's get the men moving, I want to get into a hot shower like ten minutes ago."

"Gotcha L.T., I'll get the ball rolling."

Second Platoon did indeed get fresh uniforms, hot food, and a semi-warm shower. But it felt good enough to the guys who'd been on the line for far too long. McWhorter and Cambridge couldn't figure out why their platoon mates were so happy about the luke warm showers.

"Last night in the rain, rookie, that's our normal way to wash up, ya strip down, soap up, and hope it keeps raining long enough to get the soap off. Damn, you new guys don't have a clue, do ya?" Pvt Jack Leonard, who'd taken over from Ollie as the squad's grenadier, loved picking on the new guys. Until the Cat reminded him that he was almost as new as McWhorter and Cambridge.

"Stow it trumpet boy, at least those kids started as infantry, not in the band."

Leonard blushed and started to say something when Cat said, "It's okay Jack, I'm just messing with you, you're as good an infantryman as anyone. They will be too, if they live long enough. And that's something we should think about. We might need to rely on those two someday, we want to train 'em up right. Okay?"

Leonard nodded and said, "Ya know Cat, they should promote you, you already sound like a sergeant."

PFC Melvin Katz watched Leonard walk back to the chow tent. He shook his head and muttered, "Yup, and I could sure use the extra twenty-four bucks a month, not that there's anything to spend it on out here."

As he said that, it started to rain again. At least now they were under canvas, not sleeping in the open under pine boughs. Being off the line was good, hopefully it lasted long enough to make a difference.

¹ Respectively, the 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions..
² Top was the nickname for a unit's first sergeant, often the most senior NCO in a unit. Also known as Top Sergeant or First Sergeant
³ The Old Reliables was a nickname for the 9th Infantry Division, the Third Herd was a nickname for the U.S. Third Armored Division, both of which served in the U.S. VII Corps under Major General J. Lawton Collins ("Lighting Joe") alongside the 1st Infantry Division or Big Red One.


  1. Disparaging a fellow officer in the presence of lower ranks.....not what you want to do when you need to keep discipline, no matter how much that fellow officer deserves it. Hot food counts for a lot out in the field eh Sarge?

    1. Ah, but it happens.

      Hot food is everything when you haven't had any in a while.

  2. Simple pleasures can be big things.


    Human beings are human beings.

    More enjoyable and thought provoking stuff Sarge, Thanks!

    1. Simple pleasures are usually the best.

      Yup, people gotta people, it's what we do.

      Thanks Shaun.

  3. "as new as McWhorter and Cambridge." Dawned on me, that the men I grew up admiring were just as green as these two at some point. When I knew them, they were men that had been there, seen the elephant, and made it home to real life. Forever changed, but not unapproachable. There was an air about them that told you they were different. Most probably dangerous, but just not to you.

    Thinking of them as all thumbs and green was a new one on me.

    1. Hard to imagine but yeah, everybody starts as a rookie at some point in their career. Doesn't matter what line of work you're in either. It's a rare individual who seems to "get it" from day one.

  4. This post and the previous one do a good job of capturing the post-combat letdown and FNG's being 'integrated' into the unit. Glad to see the gang get a bit of rest - comparatively the Ritz when looked at from the front lines, eh?
    I remember getting large surplus peanut butter cans for our rations in Boy Scout camps... but at that point they were only about ten years old. Must have been 'organic' since we had to stiff the oil back into the solids.

    1. Ah yes, the organic peanut butter, a crappy product designed to make someone feel good, but not the someone eating the stuff.

      I thought it was important to cover all aspects of war, not just the shoot outs, running battles, and so forth. Who was it who said that the Army in WWII was hours of boredom punctuated by minutes of stark terror?

    2. That peanut butter wasn't bad. I've had worse, and yes, the worse were of the organic variety. Bleh.

      Nice thing about that (the gov issue) peanut butter was it made good peanut butter cookies once you drained the oil off the top (if you're cooking large batches, that is.)

      Otherwise, it's IMAT food.

    3. It was palatable, unlike some of the stuff that came in the ration packs!

    4. Last time I got military rats at Boy Scout camp was the summer of 75. Over in New Mexico. It was Noble Peanut Butter in green cans. Noble because it didn't mix with anything. Hard, stiff, and like eating a jaw breaker. Dad and the scoutmaster from the troop camping near us went to the local town and ran them out of hot dogs and hamburgers. We chowed down on Wednesday night. They got "talked to" for feeding us in out camp, but we were losing weight.

      When the SM next to us drove off a bear with a rifle shot (prolly cause of the feed the night before) they nearly kicked the troop out. Don't know if dad mentioned his 357 in his tent. I may have learned the wrong lesson, but "be prepared" meant a lot more than a pocket knife and a rope after that... to include food, you just never know....

      "If there is any doubt, there is no doubt."

    5. Be prepared means many things, being truly prepared though, that's something else.

      That particular peanut butter sounds terrible, the stuff we got in the C-Rats was pretty good.

    6. Back when my dad was in Sea-Scouts, which was before and during the war, anyone over the age of 12 was allowed and encouraged to strap on. Especially after Dec 7th.

      On Kwaj, there was no need for the scouts to be armed. Even when they went camping on other islands in the atoll. Of course, it was hard for the scouts not to find stuff that went boom...

    7. I'll bet there were surprises like that all over the place on those islands.

  5. Hey AFSarge;

    Damm., you got the Lingo down pat.."3rd Herd", You show the interaction between the LT and the SSG Graves and how they respect each other is telling and how SSG Graves respects his LT by covering for his LT against his jerkwad CO "Respectfully" as only a Old school non-com could. If he didn't respect his LT, he would have his mouth shut. Also showing all the little things like the showers...Aw man, people don't know how much of a big deal a shower is, we would sneak off during our field problems and find the "Swimbad's"(they had them in almost every town in Germany) and one person would stay in the jeep and everyone else would use the showers every 3 days so we wouldn't reek then the last person would go. We would pay the 5DM or what ever the cost of admission to go "Swimming"...Just to use the showers. We had that luxury because our stuff was always moving around per doctrine we could go into different towns and get away with it. 1SG never caught us...we never blabbed. Excellent read. When you finally put this into a book, I would like an autographed copy...putting this out there.

    1. Nothing like a good hot shower after being filthy for a while. Heck, luke warm works for me!

    2. Ditto, Mr. G and OAFS. I'd like an autographed copy, too.

    3. (Don McCollor)...(A story that I can't find)...One ingenious small unit noted a Chemical Warfare decontamination station set up waiting wistfully for trade. Armed with the proper "chits" for a possible gas exposure, they enjoyed almost unlimited hot water showers...

  6. Very good job. Civilians just don't realize how important getting clean after being filthy. There's also the psychic aspect, removing the 'funk' of death and destruction. It reaches almost a symbolic state. May be why so many religions deal with washing as part of the purifying ritual, along with some version of acknowledging one's sins. Hmmm.

    At least our boys didn't get jacked up while in the field and filthy for not being 'strack.' Heard that happened a time or two. Heard it still happens a time or two even now. Guess there's jerks in any type of management. I mean, yes, people in the field can be a tad bit too loose, but just normal field schmutz and filth? Nah.

    In the Pacific they found that it was essential to change uniforms regularly due to all sorts of tropical rot setting in on cotton uniforms, which would eat the wearer's skin. Guadalcanal was a brutal learning lab of all the wonders of tropical living in horrid conditions (something we forgot about by the time Vietnam came around.) Uniforms sent in early as combat supplies, laundries set up as soon as possible and fresh-water showers (first, go jump in the salt water to knock off the big chunks (and salt water did a good job of killing surface bacteria and molds) then the fresh water then the new uniforms.) Very very important. (Also very important lesson learned in the Island Hopping campaign was to make sure all the rotting flesh and bones were buried quickly. Sometimes they would even hit the area with a flamethrower or avgas to cook all the bad stuff. Not a lot of room for men, equipment and planes on a lot of those islands.)

    Glad the new SSG is working out. The relationship between Graves and his LT is a good one. Hopefully he won't be promoted too soon, or his replacement be too much of a jackass. Maybe Brandt survived and thrived and will be back, but doubt it (still hope, though.)

    Keep up the good work. Stay sane(ish.)

    1. Staying sane? I'll try, I didn't have much sanity to start with!


  7. I think in a combat unit the enlisted and their the officers were pretty close. I think the junior officers were probably closer to their enlisted men than they were to the officers and staff positions wouldn’t you think?

    I remember in that wonderful movie the cold blue about how these 90-year-old veterans were talking about life as a crew member in a B-17

    And that crew was a family officers and enlisted

  8. Captain Alphonse "Tex" Josephson and then two mentions of a CPT Johnson. Same guy or two Captains? Saw this one the first day, figured one of your other sharp eyed "editors" would catch it. Very much enjoying the story by the way.


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