Second Louie Blues
While I was awaiting “trial” for “losing” four rifles and a fifty caliber machine gun, and searching for those same lost rifles, I was also running the arms room. I handed out weapons, made sure they were unloaded and clean when they came back, kept track of the paperwork, and generally got the arms room and its files in shape for the next guy. In the course of performing those duties, there walked into my life a young Second Lieutenant (made to look even younger by a shock of curly blond hair) from Brooklyn... or Queens... or one of the other Five Borroughs, who wanted to be issued an officer’s forty-five.
In the year nineteen-nineteen or thereabouts the Colt Arms company developed a forty-five caliber semiautomatic sidearm for the US Army that was still in daily use in 1963, and well beyond I’m told. Each officer in Camp Page, including doctors, dentists and martinets was issued one upon arrival. It was my task to teach them how to load it, charge it for firing and unload it without making holes in themselves or bystanders.
I collected an unassigned sidearm and began the lieutenant’s education. He wasn’t having any. “Give me the gun!” was the first thing he said as I demonstrated loading bullets into the magazine.
Without looking up I snapped, “It’s a sidearm, Sir, not a gun.”
He ignored that. It was apparently time for me to learn history... his history. “I’ve spent the last four years learning to be an officer, and I know how to load a sidearm. Now give it here!” I handed it over. I didn’t know it, but he’d spent four years in ROTC, where he might have spent two days on this particular sidearm... one hour each day. In any case, he rapidly filled the magazine, checked the safety and slapped the magazine home in the grip.
“Now,” I began, “you have to charge one into the chamber and then safely unload the weapon.”
“Teach your grandmother to suck eggs,” he muttered as he checked the safety again, pulled the slide back and let it go. So far so good. Unfortunately, everything went rapidly south from here. He pointed the weapon straight over his head and before I could get a sound out of my mouth he fired a slug through my ceiling and the roof, snapping his arm back over his head, spraining his wrist and dropping the pistol. Since I was already moving toward him, I caught it before it hit the concrete floor and fired again. While he cradled his arm and moaned, I explained where he’d gone wrong.
“What you’re supposed to do, Sir,” I was really trying not to tick off another officer, “is visually check the safety. You pushed it on before you loaded it, but you pushed it again, without looking, before you racked a round into the chamber.” I demonstrated. He looked like he might speak. I held up the pistol. “You were still OK, but you neither ejected the magazine,” I pressed the release that popped the magazine out of the grip, “nor emptied the chamber.” I racked the slide back, ejecting the round that had automatically fed into it when he fired. “Notice that the slide stays retracted,” I pointed, “and requires that you release it before you can fire it.” I released the slide and pulled the trigger. There was a loud “clack.” The Lieutenant flinched.
I glared at him. “Go to the maintenance shed and get a mop, a ladder and a bucket of tar. You’re gonna fix my roof.”
“Me?” He was appalled. “I’m an officer. Officers don’t fix roofs.”
“You do!” It was the Company Executive Officer. The XO had come to investigate the bang. He looked at me. “Nice instruction. Might’ve been good to have given it to him before he holed your roof.”
“My fault.” Second Louie was at least man enough to fess up. “I took the gun from him.”
“Sidearm,” The XO corrected him absently. “Go get your tar and stuff and fix his roof before it rains.”
Most of the company showed up to watch a Second Lieutenant ruin a set of nearly new khakis tarring a hole in the roof of my arms room. Someone had spread the word of the impending event and since we had no television...
This was going to be our new XO.
Well, at least I was shut of him... wasn’t I?
Apparently not. A few days later our new Second Louie strolled into my arms room again. “Hear you’re a biologist,” he said without preamble.
“Yes.” I didn’t want to encourage this idiot. I might have to frag him one day.
“What’s this?” He reached into his fatigue jacket pocket and pulled out a small snake coiled among his fingers. Great... the Army made some kid who collects garter snakes a Second Lieutenant.
“It’s a snake.”
“I know that.” Was that a hint of exasperation? “What kind of snake?”
“How should I know? This is South Korea, not Brooklyn. Tell you what – you go over and get a big glass jar from the cooks. Make sure it’s really, really clean. Put your snake in it and punch some holes in the lid. I’ll look it up later.”
He was back in a few minutes. “I never saw so much pointless motion as when I put it in here. Geez! By the way, give me a bayonet. I need to punch holes in the lid. Those cooks nearly threw me out bodily.”
I got a bayonet and punched a couple of holes in the lid. After lunch, I got a couple of books on Asian snakes and began counting headplate scales and watching mannerisms. I tapped on the jar, shook it gently and generally irritated the snake into moving and finally attacking me.
Second Louie showed up about four-thirty. “Where’s my snake?”
“I released it. You couldn’t have kept it.”
“Why not? People keep snakes all the time.”
“Novices don’t keep Cobras, especially not young ones. They have no control over how much venom they inject. If he’d bitten you when you pulled him out of your nice warm pocket, you’d have been dead before I could get you into a vehicle to take you to the clinic... which has no anti-venin anyway.”
I caught him before he hit the floor. Yep, if the balloon went up I was definitely fragging this guy, right after Captain Martinet.