D. E. Larsen, DVM
I set my B-4 bag down on the walkway while I adjusted my collar and straightened my tie. I buttoned my coat. My uniform didn’t fit well after gaining 15 pounds on my 45 day leave at home following Korea. With a deep breath, I climbed the steps and entered the orderly room. There was a whole crew working on records in the back of the room, only the First Sergeant was at the front desk.
The First Sergeant was older and looked like he ate nails for lunch. He was about my height, five-eight, thin, and his rough complexion told of a life of hardship, and many hours in the sun.
“Boy, am I glad to see you, Larsen,” the First Sergeant said. He was practiced at reading name tags.
“Good morning, Sergeant,” I said. “I am here to report for duty and transfer to Germany.” I extended my hand with my orders. “You act like you knew I was coming.”
“I knew an E-5 would walk through that door sooner or later,” the First Sergeant said. “I have an important job for you today. I want you to go get settled into the barracks and change into your fatigues. As an E-5, working for me today, you get a squad room in the barracks. Do you have a combination lock for the door?”
“Thank you, that will make my stay better,” I said. “And yes, I have a couple of locks in my bag.”
“You can lock your room, and your stuff will be secure,” the First Sergeant said. “Once you have changed, you hurry back over here, and we will discuss your job.”
This company was housed in a group of older World War 2 buildings. They were neat and well maintained, but older. Having a squad room would provide me some privacy. I had not lived in an open bay in a barracks since my early days in the Army.
This company gathered troops for transport to Germany. They would assemble a planeload of soldiers over several days. Then make sure everyone got on the plane. Hopefully, my stay here would be a short one.
With my fatigues and combat boots on and a field jacket to give me some protection from the New Jersey December air’s chill, I headed back to the First Sergeant..
“Larsen, you are going over to the stockade and process Private Jones out of there and bring him back to me,” the First Sergeant said. “This kid is a deserter, he is a piece of scum, but my job is to put him on the plane tomorrow.”
The First Sergeant hands me a folder of paperwork and then reaches into the cabinet behind him and hands me a 45 with a belt and holster.
“You put this on and sign for it over at the orderly desk,” the First Sergeant said.
I buckled the 45 on my hip, adjusted the fit, and found the paperwork to sign on the orderly’s desk. I picked up the folder and turned to head out the door.
“Do you want directions to the stockade?” the First Sergeant asked.
“Yes, I guess that would be something I should know,” I said.
“You walk out this door and turn right, the stockade is down that street about a half-mile, you can’t miss it,” the First Sergeant said.
I turned and started for the door again.
“And Larsen, this jerk has run before, if he runs, you shoot him,” the First Sergeant said. “That is why you have that 45. Do you understand.”
“Yes, Sergeant, I understand,” I replied as I walked out into the December air.
The walk to the stockade was just what I needed after the overnight flight I had from Portland. I am sure that my face was flushed when I stepped through the door to the stockade orderly room. I was one of several NCOs there to pick up an inmate. I handed my paperwork through the screened enclosure to the Sergeant on duty.
One of the other guys noticed the Eighth Army patch on my field jacket and commented.
“How lucky does a guy get in this man’s army?” he asked. “Coming from Korea and going to Germany, how does that happen in today’s Army?”
“I guess I was in the right place at the right time,” I said. “I just asked for the assignment, and some clerk must have felt like doing a good deed that day. It is the clerks in personnel that run this Army.”
“For an E-5, you seem to have this Army figured out,” the guy said. “
“First Sergeant Scagliotti told me that when I was at Fort Devens,” I said.
The rest of the day was consumed with processing Private Jones out of the stockade. I had planned to sign a paper of two and take him back to the First Sergeant—no such luck. The out-processing was part of making these guys hope they were never returning to one of these places.
Private Jones was assigned a Drill Instructor to help him out process. There was a checklist that filled a full page, and the DI was on his ass the whole time. Private Jones was not allowed to walk anywhere. He had to run the entire time. From one station to the next, usually separated by a couple of buildings, we would run. Pick up is personal items, pack his clothes in his duffle bag. Then carry the duffle bag and run to the next building.
Finally, we were back in the stockade orderly room, and I finally had to sign for his release. I had begun worry that I would miss dinner, but there was just one signature here, and we started out the door.
The Sergeant in the orderly cage reminded me as I opened the door.
“Larsen, this scum has run before. If he runs, you shoot him,” the Sergeant said.
Private Jones was a little guy. Size-wise, he reminded me a bit of Don Miller, my friend who was killed in Vietnam in April. As we walked away from the stockade, he began to talk, and I don’t think he ever stopped.
“They are going to send me to Germany to be in an infantry unit,” Jones said. “Look at me, I am too small to be in the infantry.”
“I would say you are pretty darn lucky,” I said. “You could be going to Vietnam to be in an infantry unit.”
And on and on it continued. The half-mile walk to the First Sergeant’s office seemed like 3 miles. We were finally there, and I opened the door and shuffled Jones into the office.
“Good job, Larsen,” the First Sergeant said. “Now you take Jones over to the mess hall and get dinner. You are both probably hungry.”
So, here I go, over to the mess hall with this little jerk who won’t shut up. We go through and fill our dinner trays. I realize how hungry I am. I had a couple of bites at the airport when I got off the plane early this morning.
After dinner, we return to the First Sergeant’s office.
“Okay, Larsen, you two are going to be on the same plane tomorrow,” the First Sergeant said. “Why don’t you keep track of him tonight. I will give you a set of handcuffs so you can cuff him to his bunk,”
“Now come on, Sergeant,” I said. “I think I have done enough, I am not going to sleep with this little chatterbox.”
“Okay, I will get somebody else to keep track of him tonight,” the First Sergeant said. “You have done more than could be expected. You turn in that 45 to the orderly desk, and I will see you tomorrow at roll call.”
The orderly gave me my travel orders when I turned in the 45. The flight was not leaving until late afternoon, and the roll call was at 2:00 PM. I was duty-free tomorrow morning. I could eat an early breakfast and rest in my room until lunch. Then I should be rested for the overnight flight to Germany.
Roll call was held in a large multipurpose room across the street from the First Sergeant’s office. They had us pretty much lined up by rank, in 4 columns. The room was full.
The Duty Sergeant would call a name from the list and wait for a “Yo!” When they came to Private Jones, there was no reply. The Duty Sergeant paused, then called the name again, still no response.
As he called the name a third time, the First Sergeant came up and stood beside me. “Larsen, that little bastard ran again,” he said. “I should have made you keep track of him.”
“I’m not sure he would have been worth the bullet,” I said. “I sure wouldn’t want him in my squad if there was any fighting to be done.”
“I know,” the First Sergeant said. “But he needs to spend some time in that stockade before they wash him out of this man’s Army.”
After roll call, we loaded on a bus to the airport, then filed onto the troop plane for a flight to Germany. We had one stop in England and then flew on to Frankfurt.
At the receiving station, they handed me a train ticket to Kassel and a bus ticket to the train station. No real instructions and I didn’t know a word of German. It was going to be a fun trip.