View Full Version : An Army Christmas

December 5th, 2015, 12:01 PM
From Letters to the World, December 1970

December 24th began as any other workday. The barracks were cleaned, the lawn was policed up, and the street was swept before Lou drove through on his street sweeper. The rest of the day was uneventful. The real work had long since been done in the motor pool and we spent the day pounding Diogenes' tub and shamming Abraham, as usual. I found a small clod of dirt lodged in the front suspension spring of my Jeep and made a two-hour job of dislodging it, washing the entire spring, and coating the parts with gunk to make them actually look clean and shiny. As the day wore on, the rumor of our evening GI party began to circulate. We had not been given a direct order to report to the barracks at any particular time, so at 1700 hours (that is 5:00 PM to you benighted civilians) I skipped straight to the mess hall. I wasn't about to miss Christmas Eve chow for any blessed GI party.

One morning at the beginning of November we were standing in our dress formation when Ratso came marching out stiff legged and red faced. We could see that he already had a case of the hips. This morning inspection was not gonna be pretty. He began to make his beady-eyed sweep down the ranks. Suddenly he turned and glared at someone. "Straighten that gig line, soldier!" he growled. He moved on and transfixed another hapless wight with his evil eye. "Your brass is crooked, soldier!" he rumbled. He stood on tiptoe in front of another guy and looked closely at his ears. "When was the last time you got a haircut?"

"Last Saturday, First Sergeant!"

"Get another one. And this time, stand closer to the barber!" he yelled. Suddenly he ran around the end of the rank and halfway down the next one. He was speechless for a moment and then, in a quiet smooth voice he said, "Specialist Wilkins, are you chewing gum?"

"No, First Sergeant." Well, it was only a half lie. His jaws weren't chewing gum; his stomach was chewing gum.

Ratso returned to the front of the formation and began a tirade about military discipline and our disappointing and total lack of that article. He ended his speech with, "And you all are gonna GI the barracks. TWICE! ON CHRISTMAS EVE!"

So I went direct to the mess hall after work on Christmas Eve. The chow was good and I took my time with it. In my absence, the guys in my bay were just finishing the cleaning job we did every morning. We were putting away the mop and dust rags when our platoon sergeant entered the bay. "Are you guys finished?" he asked.

"Yes, Sergeant!"

"Good. Do it again!" he said and then left.

Well, there was a good deal of bitching and moaning over that order. Finally I got an idea. I said, "Hey. Gather around here a minute. I just passed the orderly room and all the lifers are just sittin' around smokin' and jokin'. They were all standin' on the planet when Wilkins got caught chewin' gum. Why aren't they down here swingin' a mop with us?" Rhetorical question. "Look. We should spread some of this Christmas cheer around a little. The lifers should enjoy it too."

"Yeah. How are we gonna swing that?" someone asked.

"The lifers are here only because they were ordered to stay until the job is finished. But its Christmas Eve. They also have orders to get the hell home ASAP. If we make ourselves fifteen minutes' extra work, we can make it look like an hour's worth. If they cut for home early, the Old Man chews their butts for disobeying an order, dereliction of duty, and insubordination. If they wait too long, they get their buts chewed when they get home."

There were grins all around. So we dragged all the beds and footlockers into the hallway and pushed the wall lockers up against the walls. Then we poured two buckets of water on the floor and took down the windows. When our platoon sergeant came to check our progress he found one guy slopping around in the puddle with a mop. The rest of us were spit shining boots with our feet in the mop water.

"Hey!" he yelled. "What the hell's the mess for?"

"Well, Sergeant, it wasn't clean enough the first time, so we're giving the floor a soak."

Then he saw the windows. "What are the windows doin' on the floor?" His neck was beginning to turn red.

"The oil on the hinge pins was dirty, so Jeff took the hinges down to the auto shop to degrease 'em and put in clean oil. It

won't take more than an hour. Then we can start on the next bay."

"Get this place cleaned up now!" he yelled. His face was red up to the cheekbones.

"That's a problem, Sergeant. Y'see, they're using the screwdriver in the latrine. There's a lot more windows down there."

"J-J-J-Jesus wept!" he said and headed for the latrine at a dead run. There was a lot of yelling down the hall where the latrine was, but it got quiet after a while.

We began to clean up the mess, but the word was, "Go slow." Finally, someone looked out a window and saw the lifers making a break for their cars. Ten minutes later we had the area standing tall again. We doused the overhead lights and lit the Christmas tree we had made from a discarded missile nose cone cover. I stuck a candle in an empty tobacco tin. I opened my wall locker doors to show all the Christmas cards I received. Most of the cards were from total strangers: school kids from all over my home region. I opened a package of Mom's chocolate chip cookies, a jar of sweet gherkins from a church group in Akron, and popped the cap on a nice warm, skunky Heineken. Bliss.

I'm spending Christmas in an Army barracks, far from home, family, and friends. They tell me that I'm supposed to be sad, depressed, and homesick, yet I feel none of these emotions. I am warm, dry, well fed, and have interesting things to do (or at least I can invent interesting things to do). An Army Christmas is just another part of this adventure I'm having. Tomorrow could be even better.

Abstractor of the Quintessence
Order of the Digital Grail