D. E. Larsen, DVM
After getting settled into our squad room, Bill Drake and I started preparing for our first twenty-four-hour shift as CQ. Sergeant Scagliotti had wanted our fatigues to be sharp with extra starch. Mine had been buried in my duffle bag since basic training. I dug them out and hung them in my locker for the night. Then I polished my combat boots before crawling into the bunk.
We were up and ate an early breakfast at Con-4, the battalion mess hall. It was a little before eight when we entered the orderly room. Sergeant Scagliotti was waiting for us.
“I like to see guys that show up early and are ready to go to work,” Sarge said.
“I didn’t expect to see you here on Saturday,” I said.
“You won’t find too many people in this man’s Army who will outwork me,” Sarge said. “I just wanted to make sure you guys were lined out with your responsibilities. When you’re behind this counter, you represent me. I want to make sure you understand that part of your job.”
“My fatigues have been in my duffle bag since basic, but I did polish my boots,” I said. “I should have a couple of sets of fatigues from the laundry by our next shift.”
“That’s okay, Larsen,” Sarge said. “It will take a little time for everyone to get settled. Doug, here is my outgoing clerk. He is going to get you guys straight on all the paperwork. The one thing I want to emphasize today is the job of this orderly room. This is a duty company, and these guys are going to be pulling KP on a daily basis for months. And there will be other details they will get to help with around the battalion. We will have a morale problem if we don’t protect our troops. My main job, and your job, is to make life as easy as possible for these troops. I don’t want to hear of any officer who gives anybody in my company any grief. There will be no inspections, no walk-throughs, and no harassment. Those instructions come straight from Col. Mallet. He plans to be here most Sunday afternoons to cheer up these troops. Do you understand?”
And so it began. Bill Drake and I shared a squad room in a barracks. We pulled CQ detail for Sergeant Scagliotti on a twenty-four hours on and forty-eight hours off schedule for the next four or five months. It took some adjusting to the twenty-four-hour shift, especially around three or four in the morning, but we made it.
The orderly room was full of troops the first Sunday that we worked. Many of the guys were still adjusting to the activities of the base. With the company day room upstairs, the orderly room turned into a gathering place.
Suddenly, Col. Mallet stepped through the door. I snapped to attention, and before I could call the group to attention, Col. Mallet said in a loud voice, “As you were.”
Col. Mallet was an impressive figure of a man. He was large and well-muscled with a blond handlebar mustache. He was a Medal of Honor recipient from the Korean War, leading the last bayonet charge in the Army.
He immediately mingled with the troops and discussed how things were going for everyone. He was concerned that we might need some organized physical training to keep everyone in shape while waiting for school.
Jason was quick to respond, “We are all in pretty good shape, Sir.”
“How many one-arm pushups can you do?” Col. Mallet asked.
“I can usually do three or four, Sir,” Jason said.
“I’ll match you,” Col. Mallet said as he dropped to the floor.
They knocked out five pushups before Jason gave out.
Col. Mallet stood up and said, “Anyone else wants to try me?”
The Col. had five other guys lined up, and he matched every one of them. Most of the guys had to struggle to reach Jason’s five. Col. Mallet was still smiling after doing nearly thirty.
“Larsen, you tell Scag that I was here,” Col. Mallet said. “I have to stop over to the Honor Guard Barracks now. I will be back next week, and I expect you guys to do more than five one-armed pushups.”
Sergeant Scagliotti almost giggled when I told him of the pushup contests.
“You guys need to call me Scag in this office,” Sergeant Scagliotti said. “The only exception is when there is a senior officer present. And I have decided that we need a dog. The lieutenant is going to pick him up this morning. He is a ten-week-old Saint Bernard pup. His name is Danny, and I am going to enlist him in the Army.”
As the weeks passed, Scag became more and more talkative, and Danny grew from a ball of fuzz to near adult size.
One afternoon when a large group had gathered in the orderly room, Scag started telling war stories. The stories went on most of the night.
“I joined the Army in 1943,” Scag said. “I was eighteen and a kid who hadn’t been out of Brooklyn. The Army showed me Europe. I missed D-Day but was on the front lines as we pushed toward Germany. One night we were getting a shelling from German artillery. I was in a foxhole with my squad leader, an older guy. We were in that hole for a long time with shells landing all around us.”
Scag continued, “I said we have been here too long. I’m going to find another hole.”
“This is the safest place to be, Kid,” the squad leader said. “Just be patient, and it will be over pretty soon.”
“I’m going over to Charlie’s hole,” Scag said as he jumped out of the foxhole and ran twenty yards to a foxhole with Charlie in it. “I dove into Charlie’s foxhole head first. Less than a minute later, a shell landed square in the foxhole with the squad leader. I have never questioned my instinct since.”
And then there were stories from Korea.
“We had a compound on one hill, and the Turks had a compound on the hill next to us,” Scag said. “We had our compound lit up all night long, and guards posted all around. The Korean slicky-boys would still steal us blind. The Turks turned off their lights and went to bed, and they would never have anything stolen.”
“Why was that?” Bill asked.
“Early on, they caught and killed one of those slicky-boys,” Scag said. “They ran a rifle rod through his ears and hung him up over their main gate. Finally, a UN commander came by and talked with the Turkish commander. He told him he had to cut the guy down. So the Turks went out there and cut the body down, leaving the head hanging from the rifle rod. The head was there until the next visit from the UN commander. Those slicky-boys never bothered them.”
The next morning, Scag looked pretty rough. He had gotten a couple hours of sleep in his chair. He came out into the orderly room with his boots untied and his pants unbloused.
“Larsen, one thing I wanted to tell everybody last night that I didn’t get to,” Scag said. “The thing you need to learn about this man’s Army is that the people who run this Army are that Spec Four down at the personnel office. The generals think they have control, but those Spec Fours are the ones that run the Army. You get that figured out, and you can go far.”
One afternoon Scag was still at the office, well after his usual go-home time. He started pacing the hallway as the clock approached six.
“What up, Scag?” I asked.
“That damn little butter bar took a truckload of our guys out to Col. Mallet’s Vietnam Village on a work detail,” Scag said. “The mess hall closes soon, and he isn’t back. I am going have his ass.”
A short time later, the lieutenant pulled into the Company compound and offloaded the detail of the guys.
“Larsen, you follow me,” Scag said. “I might need a witness.”
Out the back door, we went. The lieutenant had the guys in formation and was getting ready to release them when Scag got right in his face. Scag’s belly prevented them from touching noses, but he was literally in his face.
I am standing to the side. The contrast between my starched fatigues and the dirty fatigues of the guys in detail was striking.
“How dare you take my men on a work detail and fail to get them back for chow,” Scag said. “You had better never plan to ask me for men again. And now, you load these guys up, take them over, and make sure the mess hall will feed them dinner. And if the mess hall won’t, you take them to the PX and buy them pizza, beer, or anything else they want.”
The lieutenant swallowed noticeably. “I’m sorry, Sarge,” the lieutenant said. “Time just got away from me.”
“Sorry doesn’t fill a belly,” Scag said. “You get these guys fed, or I will have your ass. And if you don’t like it, I will meet you at battalion first in the morning. Now you get your ass in gear and get these guys fed.”
Scag retreated to stand beside me, and we watched as the lieutenant loaded the guys back in the truck and headed toward Con 4.
“When you have responsibility for men, Larsen, you stand up for those men against any man, regardless of rank,” Scag said. “This lieutenant will learn from this experience and have a little more respect for the men under him.”
It was the middle of April when I got a class assignment and transferred to Company G for night school. It was nice to be back to a daily schedule, but Sergeant Scagliotti had taught me well in those few short months I served as his CQ.
2 thoughts on “First Sergeant Scagliotti”
I enjoyed the story. That part about the foxhole, and the instinct to move to a different one. I have read other accounts of such things and wondered how they knew something was coming, and soon. How the Turks handled theft sounds right out of the time of the Danes and Saxons.
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Now that is commitment to leadership by example! Any people leader could learn from this.
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