Didn’t Ask, Didn’t Tell

Back in the mid-Eighties when the former host of Death Valley Days served as the commander-in-chief, I was the executive officer of a Marine company deployed in the Caribbean. We were de-snailed and ready to return to Camp Lejeune when word came down of some kind of problem along the border between Nicaragua and Honduras. The big kahuna had a hard-on for the Sandinistas, all that Oliver North stuff, so we took on ammo and prepared to respond.

The possibility of popping caps was pretty sobering. I checked on the troops in the berthing area to see where their heads were at. They were sharpening their e-tools and talking trash to pump themselves up.

I went to the ward room to have a cup of coffee. Two of the platoon commanders came in and said they were concerned about the company commander. He was a rummy and had behaved erratically since before we left Lejeune.

One of lieutenants said he’d been talking about fragging the captain with his platoon sergeant. The other felt we should just beat him up.

I told them that we were officers in the United States Marine Corps, not characters in The Caine Mutiny and to focus on their tasks as platoon commanders. I told them the captain would be fine. I don’t think they bought it.

I went on deck to think. I didn’t want to become one of the honored dead or a mangled vegetable in a VA hospital.  What would happen to my wife and daughters? What if I didn’t hack it when the poop hit the fan?

And now this.

A couple of minutes later, the first sergeant and the company gunny approached me.

The first sergeant spoke in a gravelly voice like a pirate, “XO, the skipper’s an idiot. We’re going to kill him as soon as we go ashore and you’re going to run the company.”

The gunny silently nodded his head.

I was stunned. These were not butter bars earning their first Sea Service Deployment Ribbons; they were the most senior enlisted men in the company and decorated Vietnam veterans.

The first sergeant went on to detail his experiences with incompetent officers in combat and the gunny added that he could put up with a pain in the ass officer when nobody was shooting at us, but he wasn’t going to allow anyone to die because “the Marine Corps had seen fit to pin railroad tracks on a jackass.”

I looked back and forth at them. I wanted to scream, but I spoke calmly, “I can’t believe you’re even talking to me about this. Look, I know there are problems with the captain, but I’m not going to have any part of killing him.”

“That’s okay, XO. We’ll take care of it,” the gunny said.

For a moment, I thought about suggesting just wounding him. I shook my head and said, “This conversation did not take place. I don’t want hear anymore about killing the skipper. Do you read me?”

They both nodded.

I made a waving gesture and said, “We’re done here.”

They said, “Yes, sir,” and left.

I leaned on the railing. I didn’t recall anything like this in any of the leadership classes at Quantico.

A few minutes passed and one of the platoon commanders appeared and said he wanted to talk.

I told him no, that I didn’t want to hear anymore.

He said it was about something else and it was important.

I said okay.

He said, “If I get killed, I want you to do a couple of things for me.”

“Sure.”

“First of all, I’m a bisexual.”

He paused and my shoulders shivered.

“Look, I don’t have the hots for you or anything. I just want you to tell everyone that I was a bisexual and I loved my country as much as anyone else.”

I cleared my throat. “Okay, and if I get killed, you be sure and tell everyone I was a liberal pothead.”

He laughed and then continued seriously, “And the other thing, I’ve got a footlocker back at Lejeune that’s full of leather stuff I don’t want my parents to see.”

I assured him that it wouldn’t get shipped home with his personal gear.

Nothing happened, never left the ship.  We all made it back to Camp Lejeune safe and sound.

I never told anyone about the platoon commander or killing the captain. The last I heard, he made major.

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A Wonderful Thing About the South

I stand up for “Dixie.”

Got a painting of Robert E. Lee hanging on the wall,

Faulkner on the bookshelf,

and a Confederate flag in my footlocker.

Kind of embarrassed by white politics though.

Not really into states rights,

Jesus riding on a stegosaurus creationism,

or the Stars and Bars flying on public buildings.

I dig having all these blacks folks around.

I know they’re all over this land now,

but most of them came from the South,

that original American sin thing,

slavery.

One steaming summer Saturday afternoon,

forty-four years ago,

when my father was off fighting the Viet Cong

and I was fighting boredom in Micro, North Carolina,

I walked by a paint-peeling black Baptist church

and heard their  choir practicing.

Lillian Hellman said that white folks may have the pianos,

but the black folks have the voices.

That joyful noise is one of the reasons I stand up for “Dixie.”

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Sherman Was Right

Uncle Billy nailed it.

War is hell.

All that energized metal can really jack you up.

Put you in a gallon-sized body bag.

Put you in a wheelchair.

Put your head in a scary place.

It’s a bad thing to get into.

And not just for the dudes dressed up like digital shrubs.

Pretty rough on their kids, too.

Looking at someone’s daddy come home with parts missing.

Looking at someone’s daddy come home as the honored dead.

Looking for your daddy on the evening news.

It’s a bad thing to lay on a child.

War is hell,

unless you’re selling GI socks to Uncle Sugar.

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Gulf Oil Spill Reaches Lavonia, Georgia

“It has been said that something as small as the flutter of a butterfly’s wing can ultimately cause a typhoon halfway around the world.” 

— Chaos Theory

Folks who drive around in northeast Georgia might get the impression that the economy here is based on raising chickens, yard sales and selling jelly on the side of the road.

That’s not true.

There’s a company up in Toccoa that’s turning restaurant grease, soy oil and animal fat into fuel for diesel engines.

That seems like a pretty good thing.

And there’s another company right outside Lavonia that manufactures construction fasteners used in projects all over the world including the Big Dig up in Boston, the Kowloon Island Wastewater Plant in Hong Kong and wind turbines in Minnesota. 

Last year they shipped product for five offshore drilling platforms.

Now that looked like a pretty good revenue stream.

All that drill, baby, drill talk from Caribou Barbie.

And even the Obama administration,

which tea baggers around here fear is primarily concerned with promoting the barbecue of white Christian fetuses over burning Bibles by homosexual illegal immigrants,

seemed cool with offshore drilling.

So,

they invested a pot full of dough in new equipment and geared up to make big money helping to bring go juice to the fuel tanks of America.

But something happened a few weeks ago.

The offshore drilling cash flow stopped.

And last week, lay-offs.

I don’t know if butterfly wing flapping in China can cause a hurricane in Louisiana,

but when British Petroleum fouls itself uncontrollably in the Gulf of Mexico,

the stink reaches all the way to Lavonia, Georgia.

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Three Flags Over Georgia

Northeast Georgia is not the most progressive corner of the New South.

In some ways, it’s a caricature of the worst of the Old South.

The county I live in is represented by a congressman who called the president a Marxist Nazi.

The illiteracy rate is 41%.

Forty-one percent.

That comes out to 820 of the 2000 folks in the town where I live.

We have the smallest Carnegie library ever built, but we do have ten churches and a gun store up by the highway that looks like a Star Trek armory where you can buy automatic weapons and silencers.

The deer are really tough around here.

This is also the home of the segregationist governor who campaigned on the platform “No, not one will enter.”

It’s not the People’s Republic of San Francisco,

more like Mayberry on meth.

But just a few miles from here

over in Stephens County

(named after the vice-president of the Confederacy),

there’s an even smaller town,

four hundred people,

where you can see something rather surprising.

I’ve lived on an island off the coast of Maine to Oahu in the Hawaiian chain.

I’ve seen plenty of American flags

and a lot of Confederate flags,

sometimes together,

like at Klan rallies.

I’ve seen more than a few gay pride rainbow flags, too.

But I never saw all three together until I drove through Martin, Georgia.

By the way,

the trading post owner says the rainbow flag is by far the biggest seller of the three.

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Bible Belt, with holster

 

I’m not an anti-gun fanatic.   

I dig guns.   

I’m a retired Marine officer,   

the son of a retired Marine officer,   

thirteenth generation   

in a line of gun-toting rednecks   

who landed at Jamestown.   

    

I’m not hostile to Christians either.   

I may be into a Dickens kind of vibe at Christmas,   

and all those eggs and rabbits in the spring   

hits me like a pagan fertility festival,   

but I’ve “felt the spirit” in a revival tent,   

and my mother’s people have been   

hardcore,   

heavy metal,   

washed in the blood of the lamb,   

real deal,  

evangelical,  

Southern Baptists   

since they got off the boat   

nearly four hundred years ago.   

That being said,   

I’m a little nervous   

when people   

who say they’re really into the Jesus thing,   

and who believe in talking snakes,   

hear the calling   

to pack heat   

in the service of the Prince of Peace.   

Sort of like when those foreign fundamentalists do it for Allah.   

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Every day’s a holiday

When I’m in line at the post office here in Lavonia, Georgia I listen to how people respond when the clerk at the counter asks how they’re doing.

 “My check is late.”

“Stamps are too high.”

“It’s too hot.”

“It’s too cold.”

“It’s too rainy.”

“It’s too dry.”

One old guy always says, “I’d be better off dead.”

I say, “Every day’s a holiday with me.”

I first heard that in 1967 from a Marine in a hospital ward on an island off the coast of Maine.

I was eleven years old and lived in quarters next door to the naval prison where my father was commanding officer of the Marine guards. The seriously wounded from Vietnam were being sent to military installations near their families to recover and there were plenty of mangled Marines in the hospital aboard base.

My dad visited them at least once a week and he often took me with him. Before the first time I went, he told me that the Marines in the ward looked different than the ones walking around in the post exchange, but I was not to act shocked. I was there to cheer them up and provide a sense of normalcy.

One of the Marines in the ward had both of his legs blown off around the middle of his shins. His wounds were infected with gangrene. The corpsmen changed his bandages frequently, but they were always brownish red and damp and smelled like rotten meat. He was nineteen years old.

The first time I went up to his bed and asked him how he was doing, he said, “Every day’s a holiday with me. How are you?” We talked about the Red Sox.

The gangrenous infection spread and more of his legs had to be amputated up to his knees before the next time I saw him. When I asked him how he was doing, he said, “Every day’s a holiday with me. How are you?”

He had more four more surgeries after that. The knees went first, then the lower part of his thighs, then up to the middle of his thighs, and finally everything up to his hips, but every time I saw him, he always said, “Every day’s a holiday.”

I saw him on Friday before the final weekend of the baseball season. When I asked him how he was doing, he said, “Every day’s a holiday with me. How are you?”

We talked about the Red Sox. They had a slim chance to go the World Series, but they had to win their last two games against the Twins, who had beaten them like a rented mule all year. He believed they could do it.

He died Saturday morning.

Boston won the pennant on Sunday afternoon.

Every day might not be like Christmas when you were five years old, and we sure are a long way from heaven, but at least we’re close to the highway.

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