Monday, August 27, 2012

When it's time to be planted ...

The first couple of pages of a story I've been working on:

FIRST SERGEANT

When reaching the age at which he should consider such things, First Sergeant (Ret.) Reynaud Joseph Hochster gave great thought to his burial clothes. Class A uniform, of course, AG-344 (AG meaning Army Green) and not that limp blue thing the Army decided every soldier should wear, soldiers looking more like doormen than any Marine in dress blues, and that took a lot of doing, out-doormanning a Marine. You had to give props to the jarheads in one respect, though – the USMC green uniform looked better than anything the Army ever came up with. The Eisenhower jacket was close, and Hochster sometimes thought the Army should have brought back the short jacket, rather than screwing up with the blues. But the Army was never known for unscrewing anything (ditto the Air Force, the Navy & etc.), although getting rid of the black beret as standard headgear came close. Besides, Hochster considered, concerning the Eisenhower jacket, even a hint of stomach size problem made a soldier look tubby. Not Hochster, though. Hochster had never looked tubby, even in his later days, when exercise was only a bad memory; even then Hochster maintained a slender build.

So AG-344 it was for burial, Class A, jacket adorned with ribbons and badges and other accoutrements – the CIB; some ribbons eaerned by actually doing something; many of the “I stuck around long enough somebody told me I was supposed to wear these” type ribbons; expert badge for pistol, rifle and machine gun. Hochster did not have jump wings or pathfinder wings or air assault wings. He was a grunt, a groundpounder, and he saw no sense in leaving the ground except on a transport plane that would land here and pick him up, fly for a time, and then land somewhere else and he would walk off. Hochster agreed with the Old Leg Soldier antipathetical axiom concerning Airborne: “Only a fool jumps out of a perfectly good airplane,” as well as the other saying, guaranteed to initiate some conflict when shouted at any bar or club near The Home of the Airborne School at Fort Benning: “Only two things fall out of the sky – bird shit and airborne.” Hochster himself had never shouted anything in a crowded bar in Columbus, Ga., or Phenix City, Ala., but he had given, and received, his share of knuckle sandwiches.

In his later soldiering years, though, pounding the ground in leather personnel carriers changed to riding on or in armored personnel carriers, the APCs another means of transportation to a point where Hochster and his soldiers would get off and walk. Always there was the walking.

After a time of considering his burial clothes, Hochster wondered if the Class A uniform would stand up to whatever locale Death deposited him. What if he was taken to a jungle? Or to a desert or snow-clad mountains or plains? Or even to a place of temperate climate? Class A’s would not be the uniform of choice. And what if there were bad guys at the new place? Hochster would need firearms. At least one, and that one preferably a rifle. He knew it is better to have a long gun on a short-range gunfight than the other way ‘round.

So, although he decreed burial in Class A, Hochster specified that his coffin also contain: one set of jungle fatigues; winter underwear (just in case); jungle boots; two pairs of good, civilian boot socks; a black canvas belt with field buckle; and a bush hat. With clothing decided, Hochster instructed that he also be accompanied with a hard plastic gun case containing: one Springfield Armory M1A (the nearest comparable M14 rifle available) with cleaning kit in stock; canvas sling; five loaded magazines; and two 60-round bandoliers. Hochster considered adding a Colt M1911A1 pistol, magazines and ammunition but then decided, How far do I want to go with this? Why not just buy a ten-foot-square CONEX container and put in a jeep, MOGAS, five-gallon cans and a couple of cases of MREs and leave space for my body? Nope, the rifle and ammunition should be enough.

And so it was, when the day came, Hochster was buried IAW instructions, accompanied by six pallbearers, two road guards and one to count cadence.

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