Tuesday, April 15, 2014

“Sooner kill you as look at you”

I wrote this post in 2008. With some changes and editing I am presenting it again.

In these days of contractors like Halliburton running parts of what used to be Army responsibilities, do soldiers even have KP anymore? When I was in training from December 1966 through April 1967 I got more than my share of that duty. KP stood for kitchen police, although no one could tell me why. Military Police were cops, and “policing the area” meant picking up cigarette butts and debris from the ground, but why there were kitchen police was a mystery.

Like most GIs I hated KP. It meant going to work at around 4:00 a.m., and not getting off until as late as 9:00 p.m., depending on how industrious we could be or how fastidious or prickish the cooks were. I saw all kinds. The cooks in our Artillery training unit at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma were some of the worst slave-driving sadists I encountered. We fixed them, though, by sending them Scout.

When I think of Scout I conjure up the image of Devil Anse Hatfield of the famous Hatfield-McCoy feud. He and Scout may not have been related by blood, but by attitude and meanness.

I don't remember Scout's real name. We called him Scout because he told us to, and Scout was a man to be reckoned with. He came from Montana. He didn't talk very much, but from what we learned from him he had been on federal probation for several years for moonshining, of all things. When his probation was over the draft board snapped him up. Scout was tall and lean, with a pinched face and perpetual scowl. His eyes were dark and his eyelids heavy, giving him a hooded look. I think of Scout as a survivalist or a militiaman, hiding out in the hills, living off the land. Often in the middle of the night I'd wake up in my bunk to see Scout walking the floor. He was an insomniac, so sometimes other guys paid him to take their fire guard shifts. We had two hour turns where we were up and walking the floor to make sure the place didn't burn down. Some guys just couldn't stay awake and crashed onto a bunk during their guard duties. I did that a couple of times, but Scout never did.

The rumor was that Scout was more than a moonshiner, that he had killed some men in Montana but that the law couldn't prove it. It was probably a legend grown up around his mysterious personage, but to a bunch of 19 and 20-year-old soldiers it seemed real enough. Scout was probably not more than five or six years older than us,  but to us he looked much older. We could see he'd had a hard life. Scout didn't plan on staying in the Army. He told us if they gave him orders for Vietnam he would not go no matter what. Soldiers deployed to Vietnam got an automatic one-week leave to go home. We figured when we got our orders at the end of our training he was planning to go over the hill to Canada or disappear into the wilds of Montana. To that end Scout was saving money. He'd charge people $5.00 or $10.00 to take their fire guard shift,  and he charged between $15 to $25 for a KP shift, depending on whether it was a weekday or on a Sunday. Everybody wanted Sundays off. I paid Scout $25.00 once so I wouldn't have to do Sunday KP because my parents said they were driving to Oklahoma to see me. They canceled out, but I didn't dare tell Scout, so I gave him the $25 and that Sunday I went to a movie.

The sergeants were probably listening to the same scuttlebutt and rumors as us trainees. They might have believed that Scout was a dangerous person. They didn't stop him from taking those KP shifts even though it meant he missed training. He wasn't lazy. He did his work in the mess hall but the cooks didn't treat him like they treated the rest of us. In a place like the Army it pays to cause fear in people.

I never found out what happened to Scout. When the orders were read out at the end of our training his name was called for Vietnam. I looked at him but his face looked like it always did, like he'd as soon kill you as look at you. Whether Scout ended up in Canada as a deserter or somewhere hidden in America I don’t know. If his threat to desert was empty, and if he actually went to Vietnam as a soldier there were probably people who ended up dead. And not all of them would have been the enemy.

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