Monday, March 17, 2008
Roy B. whips it
I've been talking about my time in an artillery unit stationed near Nürnberg, Germany, in 1967-68. Scroll down to read from the first, posted Saturday, March 15.
Roy B. was one of the guys in Charlie Battery. Roy, along with three other guys and I had been in the Army since day one, when we entered Basic Training at Fort Lewis, Washington, on December 1, 1966. The first time I saw Roy I saw a tall, lanky guy with a baby face and shock of black hair that made me think he had Native American ancestors. He sat down across from me in the mess hall for our first breakfast as trainees. He took his toast and then the sugar shaker and poured at least ½" of sugar on top of his buttered toast. I hadn't seen that before.
Flashing forward to our time in Germany and Charlie Battery. Roy was one of those guys who just didn't seem to fit in. We didn't use the word "hippie" much to describe people in our unit, but Roy probably qualified. He had a very laid back, "Hey, man," kind of demeanor. Distracted. Peaceful even. Usually.
When Roy and I were new to the ammo section of the battery we were putting boxes of rifle ammunition into a bunker in the battalion ammo dump. Roy came walking up with a box of ammo in his arms and a lit cigarette in his mouth. Our sergeant had the cigarette out of Roy's mouth and crushed into the dirt in less time than it takes to tell the tale, and blistered him with profanity.
A few months later Roy was powder man during a training exercise. All six of our 155mm self-propelled howitzers were in the field, preparing to fire. The gunpowder was in bags, sewed together in a line of several bags. Depending on the distance of a target a specific charge was called for. If it was a "charge seven," then excess bags were cut off the string and the first seven bags were inserted into the gun for firing. The powder man, in this case Roy B., would run the excess powder bags back about 100 meters, then drop them into a hole he'd dug into the ground. At the end of the exercise the excess powder was set on fire and burned up. During this exercise a charge seven was called for, and Roy did his job, running the powder back to the hole. There were six powder men, one per gun. But there was only one safety officer, a second lieutenant, who would run from gun to gun, setting down a level set to the proper quadrant and deflection on the breech block of each weapon. During this incident the safety officer screwed up, as did the gunner. The gunner reversed the coordinates, and the safety officer didn't check that breech block with his level. Roy told me later the tube of the gun was pointed in a different direction from the other guns. When the fire order was given, gun number 6, Roy's gun, had its shell explode near an ammo dump several miles away. A German family was outside the fence surrounding the site, enjoying a picnic in the woods. The shell burst near them, but luckily no one was killed, nor did it hit the ammo dump, averting a real major catastrophe.
The incident was serious enough that the general in charge of our division was flown in by helicopter, and our battery commander, first sergeant, chief of firing battery, gunner, safety officer, and Roy, stood in a line at attention while they were questioned. When the general got to Roy to ask why if he saw his gun pointed in the wrong direction he didn't call cease fire Roy's answer was, "Hey, sir, I didn't think I could snitch out no officers."
There were punishments handed down, and it's safe to say that having this incident in their files might have stopped the forward progress of the officers and non-coms involved. Roy, being the low man on the totem pole, was fined a sum and confined to barracks for two weeks, after which he was transferred to another battery.
A few months later Roy was in downtown Nürnberg and was jumped by three G.I.s out to rob somebody. They beat him with a two-by-four and stole his wallet. Roy ended up in the hospital, and when he reported back to duty had a turban of bandages on his head. His shock of thick black hair stuck out in various places through the turban so he was dubbed Porkypine. Roy was no help to the Criminal Investigation Division (CID), investigating the incident. He said he didn't remember who mugged him, or their faces.
Ah, but he did. When he was better he went downtown, and after looking around found his attackers. He was armed with a bicycle chain and put a couple of guys in the hospital. The guys he beat apparently never told the CID who attacked them, although it was common knowledge to us. I asked Roy what happened and all he said was, "Hey, man. I just took care of some payback."
I last saw Roy when we were all called to that summer camp in California in 1970. I asked Roy what he was doing as a civilian and he said, "Oh, I'm living around, in the park, crashing on peoples' couches. You know." No, I didn't know, but hey, man, that was just Roy.