Wednesday, June 1, 2011

AWOL

1300 formation, F Troop 6th Armored Cavalry, a pleasant summer day, 1968, Fort Meade, Maryland.

“Sergeant Merriman!”

“Yes, First Sergeant!”

“Is Private Weeble one of your soldiers?”

“Yes, First Sergeant!”

“Private Weeble is presently in custody at the Provost Marshal’s Office, following his arrest for Absent Without Leave. At the conclusion of this formation, you will proceed to the supply room, where you will draw a pistol belt, a pistol holster, a .45-caliber pistol, a full magazine and a set of handcuffs. You will then go to the PMO, where you will secure and handcuff Private Weeble. You will bring Private Weeble to the orderly room. If Private Weeble attempts to escape, you will shoot him. Do you have any questions?”

“No, First Sergeant!”

Private Weeble had made his unauthorized trip home less than a month before. He had surrendered to the nearest Army authority one or two days before his status changed from AWOL to desertion. Private Weeble began his unauthorized leave before I took the platoon, but that timing was of no importance. He was one of my soldiers now.

Private Weeble was from a mountainous part of eastern Kentucky. Had the local draft board not considered him of sufficient physical and psychological nature for the Army, and had the Army not agreed, Weeble would never have had anything to do with the military forces of the United States. He would never have become Private Weeble, but would have remained John Weeble and continued to work at whatever his job had been until such time as he retired. Or he would have gone from job to job, taking whatever was available for a young man of his talents and abilities in his part of Kentucky.

But the local draft board had selected Weeble, told him so in a letter and informed him of date, time and place to report to a bus station, from where he would be taken to the nearest military entrance processing station. Weeble complied with those instructions, just as he complied with instructions at the processing station. He completed several written tests, and he was judged of sufficient physical and psychological character by Army doctors. The Army sent now Private Weeble to Basic Combat Training and then to Advanced Individual Training, where he learned basic repair techniques of wheeled vehicle maintenance.

In addition to his mother and his father, brothers and sisters, Private Weeble left behind in Kentucky a wife. And shortly after reporting to F Troop, 6th Armored Cavalry, Private Weeble was told his wife did not remain home at night. Especially, he was told, his wife did not remain at home on Friday nights and Saturday nights. Someone in his family told him “that woman you married is unfaithful.” More than likely the wife’s escort was some SOB Weeble did not get along with in high school, some SOB whose parents had sufficient influence with the draft board … Well, sometimes it is that way.

Private Weeble wrote to his wife, he telephoned his wife. And one day he said to another soldier, “I’m going home and straighten this out.”

As instructed by the First Sergeant, I got a pistol belt and holster and pistol and full magazine and a set of handcuffs. I walked to the Provost Marshal’s Office and I took custody of Private Weeble. I said to Private Weeble as I handcuffed his hands behind his back, “If you run, I will shoot you.” That was nonsense, and the First Sergeant knew so when he gave that guidance to me. Army rules are quite specific concerning under what conditions deadly force may be used when moving a prisoner. Running is not of itself one of those conditions. Whether Private Weeble knew of the nonsense I neither knew nor cared.

We began our walk back to the troop. About halfway there, Private Weeble said, “Sergeant Merriman, can you loosen these handcuffs? They’re awful tight and they hurt my wrists.”

I didn’t.

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