The Prairie Spy

Alan “Lindy” Linda

One of the good things about deer hunting is that Cousin J. comes to visit. It gives us a chance to sit in my heated deer stand and, well, chat. (Real men don’t chat, you know. Just so you know.) We talked. 

In the process, since he’s a fellow Vietnam veteran, we exchange stuff about that. He was in the Marines; I was in the army. Both organizations give new meaning to the word “disorganized.”

Those are the stories we tell. We tell the more humorous stories of our time during that period. The rest of it? Ah, that’s buried so deep now we don’t want to dig it up.

And so I remembered a time in the Army when, right after basic training, they couldn’t send me to Vietnam because my brother was there. So they instead sent me to Ft. Sill, Oklahoma, to a Pershing Missile Battalion.

Now, that sounds pretty exciting, right?

No. For part of the six months I spent there, I drove a truck full of other GIs, out to the artillery range, where their mortars and other rounds routinely set the woods on fire. Which we put out.

The other part was more exciting, because we convoyed to Green River, Utah, where we fired the Pershings at Mexico. Due to my extreme background in electronics and to my secret government clearance that I’d gotten as a civilian, they put me in the Project Control booth.

Where I made coffee and kept clean napkins in front of the U.S. Senators and generals that came to view the launches.

But that’s not the story. Back at Ft. Sill, there were lots of Vietnam veterans coming back from their year over there. Since they signed up for a three-year hitch so they could get some special training, the army would give them the training, which, depending upon what it was, could last from six months to a year, after which they sent them to Vietnam as Eleven Bravos.

Meaning infantry. 

They’d spend their year over there, but then have four or five more months of duty left. So the army sprinkled them around state-side bases, where they finished their hitch.

My battalion had a building each for Headquarters Company, “A” Company; “B” Company; and “C” Company. The buildings were identical, and were lined up in a row, with a connecting sidewalk. All I remember is that they were brown, lots of concrete, single story. But they were identical.

A new Captain came in, and decided to show every one who was the boss. He issued the order to completely reverse the order in which the buildings were occupied. In other words,  Headquarters, “A,” “B,” and “C” would completely reverse, with Headquarters going to “C,” and so forth. We were all packing up, getting ready to move, when the soldier with the locker next to mine–let’s call him Bill, for lack of a better name–began packing his suitcase.

Bill was one of the returning veterans from Nam. “What are you doing?” I asked him.

He said: “Daddy’s planting corn back home in Indiana. I’m going home to help him.” He kept stuffing the suitcase. As he was leaving, he asked me to do him a favor and any time during roll call when his name was called, “tell’em I’m still here, will you?”

Well, sure.

The moving went about the way you might expect, with the nearly half of us who were returning veterans who didn’t give a damn about anything messing it up every chance they got. 

So: Soldiers were in the wrong building; soldiers were still moving; soldiers were everywhere but where they were supposed to be.

The First Sergeant called Bill’s name during roll call one morning. I answered: “He’s still in “B” building, First Sergeant.”

The First Sergeant said nothing. There were at least a couple of dozen others in the same boat.

This went on for nearly four months, during which I would pipe up and make up excuses for Bill. “He mistakenly moved to C. He’s on sick call. I don’t know where he is. He’s here somewhere.”

Nearly four months later, Bill showed up, sunburned from the farm, ready to get his papers and get out of the army.

I looked forward to those roll calls. I was able to exercise my abilities to generate new and yet believable excuses for Bill. Plus it kind of let me get even with them for their various ways they found to make life miserable for all of us.