Leroy Takes Charge

This blog post and the other three

below it on this page

are actually four parts of one continuous story

that is read from here to the bottom of the page.

One day on Okinawa in 1970, I was over in the 30th Artillery Brigade Headquarters office building's little snack bar sitting on a stool at the little snack bar lunch counter there while eating a two-bit fried bologna sandwich and sipping on a nice cold, Grape Nehi soda.

The snack bar was run by an Okinawan husband and wife who were very friendly and great jokesters; they had outstanding Americanized Okinawan comic timing and were easy to get along with. I always enjoyed my times with them.

There was this African American U.S. Army captain in there that day, Capt. Sawyer, whom I had never seen nor heard of before. He was sitting over at a table and talking to a buddy of mine, Sp.4 Marion. Marion was a clerk somewhere in the 30th Arty Bgde Headquarters.

Marion was asking the captain about what could be done in retaliation if Marion’s suspicions that his wife had a live-in lover, back home in America, were true. For some reason, Marion had been reading strange things between the lines of his wife’s letters to him that made him believe that the monthly, Army dependent checks, which the Army was sending to his wife and their two kids, were not only supporting her and the kids but also a new man in her life. Marion was a pleasant, sober thinking and acting married guy, but he had some bad things to think about that day, which would cause most people to contemplate doing the wrong thing.

Sp.4 Marion said to Capt. Sawyer, “Can I cut the checks off?”

Capt., “No you can’t do that, it’s illegal. There are rules that keep the paymaster from doing that without a lot of the right paper work going through, and that could only happen if you and your wife got a divorce. But, then you would probably have to pay her alimony and child support.”

Sp.4, “I can take care of stopping those checks without getting a divorce; between what I can do at my desk, and who I know at other desks, I can get it done.”

Capt., “Aha! Then I can get you for bloobidy blabidy (I wasn’t listening to every word they were saying or hearing it all clearly, because of my usual comic interactions with the husband and wife snack bar hosts).”

Sp.4, “But what if I blimpity blampity, and then that will get her good.”

Capt., “Ahh. Well then I’ll get you for shippity shmapitty.”

Sp.4, loudly, “Well what if I go home on leave, when they don’t know I’m comin’, catch him there in my house with my wife and kids, and beat the livin’ daylights outa him.”

Capt., sneeringly, delightedly, “Yeah! Then I can get you for all kinds of charges and put you in the stockade to do hard time.”

My attention had fully peaked by then, and I heard every word of those last two statements clearly.

I couldn’t believe my ears. Capt. Sawyer was relishing the thoughts of punishing Sp.4 Marion for doing something that he had not done yet, probably couldn’t get the nerve up to ever even attempt to do and so most likely wasn’t ever going to do.

Them two soldiers went on with their conversation a bit longer, until, all totaled, I had heard Capt. Sawyer say the words, “Then I’ll get you for,” or “Then I can get you for,” at least eight times.

In my time in the Army, I had witnessed too many men getting Dear John letters and other bad news from home.

There’s an old dogface soldier saying:

“What’s the best thing that can happen to a soldier?

Answer= “Getting mail.”

“What’s the worst thing that can happen to a soldier?”

Answer= “Reading it.”

Usually, when a guy is in my buddy Sp4 Marion’s position, some other one, or several, of us soldiers, who know him best, helps him to work it out somehow. We talk with him, we walk with him, we sit with him, we stay with him till we’re sure that we have done all that we can to ease his troubles.

On several occasions previous to that, I had overheard Jilted Johns being warned not to do something stupid, which they had just told one of their higher ranking comrades that they were contemplating doing. But, up until that day, the higher ranking soldier had always given his lower ranking comrade that warning not to do something stupid in a tone of voice, and with obvious body language, that indicated that it would cause him personal pain to have to levy the required punishment on his lower ranking comrade.

Capt. Sawyer was the first and only GDSOB who I ever knew to relish the thought of getting to punish a lower ranking soldier for loosing his grip over his own personal family problems.

As I sat there sharing jokes and laughs with the snack bar hosts, I had been glancing over towards the heartless Capt. Sawyer, and I kept thinking,
“Who the fk, what the fk, where the hell did you come from?”

The next thing that Capt. Sawyer said to Sp4 Marion was, “When I take command of headquarters company in three days, things are going to change. I’m going to straighten that mess out over there. I’m going to clean the place up and change some poor attitudes, or they will suffer the consequences.”

Capt. Sawyer was talking about the barracks that Marion and I lived in.

I took a good, hard, cold, but slightly grinning, look over at Capt. Sawyer and projected the thought towards him, “You and me is gonna tangle. Real soon.”

The 30th Artillery Brigade Headquarters Company Barracks wasn’t any kind of a mess. I assure you that our attitudes were adequate for the given conditions.
Most of the guys who lived there in barracks worked in the main office building, which was catty corner across the street from the barracks. They were friggin’ easy goin’ 9 to 5 clerks for kryste’s sake, not a bunch of hard charging infantry guys who had too much steam to blow off after training hard all day playing dangerous war games.

We kept the place as clean and as orderly as it was supposed to be.

Most guy’s personal hygiene was fine. Those men who’s personal habits began to stink were told so, and they were threatened with retaliation, in a reasonable manner, by the barracks mates who had to live near them.

And there was only one drunken fist fight in the barracks, during the whole time that I was there.

Nobody got too noisy in the barracks, especially when others had to sleep.
Conversations were always cordial, and often comical, in the chow hall. The day room was always clean, comfortable and relaxing.

I rarely ever heard of any nasty arguments amongst my barracks mates, and only one came close to physical violence, when Andy couldn't take anymore of his roommate J. T.’s twisted tormenting.

Andy was a self controlled, sensible man who was a dedicated karate student. And Okinawa was the best place in the world to be a karate student.

J.T. was a part time stereo salesman up at the Main PX, and he looked, dressed and acted the part. He gave me great advice and good deals on stereo components.

They both worked together in the company commander’s office.

J.T. could get under anybody’s skin, if they spent enough time with him. I learned quick not to invite him to drink alcohol with us, because, when he got drunk, he could really screw up a good time. He got way too drunk way too fast. I still have a set of color slides of him getting drunk and demented at a typhoon party.

When Andy had finally had his fill of J. T.’s jabbering jaw one day, he still had just enough self control left to keep him from hitting his fellow soldier, but he had to hit something, so he smashed his hand against a cinder block wall and broke his damn hand in several places.

Us guys who lived in the 30th Arty Bdge Headquarters barracks were well mannered army men. I had no idea where that new captain got his dipshit ideas, that we needed to be reigned in and retrained.

When Capt. Sawyer took over command, he immediately began to push everybody around.

His first big clean up the barracks and straighten out the bad attitudes technique was to make us scrub down the squad bays and rearrange the furniture in them.

When Capt. Sawyer took over at the 30th Arty Bge HHB, in our twenty man squad bays, we had double stacked, bunk beds set up with make shift room dividers placed between each pair of bunks. The dividers were made of wall and foot lockers. From left to right, first there was a side by side pair of wall lockers, then a pair of side by side foot lockers on two wooden stands, then another pair of side by side wall lockers.

We had the double bunks arranged across from each other in an alternating pattern that gave us the most possible privacy. It was the best pattern that anyone could come up with for any privacy at all.

On the evening of Capt. Sawyer’s first day in charge of the barracks, while the bays were being scrubbed down and the furniture was being rearranged, I happened to be CQ Runner that night.

The CQ Runner and CQ (Company Quarterly) are two guys from the unit who stay up all night, in the day room, to be there to answer the phone and/or rouse the troops in case a war breaks out or some other emergency like a fire in the barracks arises. CQ duty times were 5 PM to 9 AM on weeknights. The CQ had to stay in the day room, and the runner could only leave on official business. They both had the next day off work.

It was unusually quiet in the day room that evening, because all of the other guys, who lived in the barracks, were upstairs doing the captain’s bidding by cleaning every nook and cranny up there while totally rearranging the furniture. The CQ and I didn’t know all that yet though. We only thought that there was a big cleanup going on; we did not know about the furniture being moved around, till the next morning.

I already knew that Capt. Sawyer was the kind of SOB to make them guys do more work than was necessary for the given tasks, and I informed the CQ of that fact. Consequently, when no one came down to the day room, all evening, to watch TV, play pool or anything, we thought that they were just cleaning the place up for longer than usual.

While we were doing the first part of the CQ shift, just before 11 PM bed time, we had a couple of guys drop in from upstairs with weird looks about them. They were hot, sweaty, dusty and tired, which was normal for the kind of work they were doing, but they had weird, flustered, pissed off looks on their faces and in the way that they walked and moved. And they weren’t talking at all. Everyone else in the barracks were either already cleaned up and in bed or still taking their turns at showering and shaving.

The guys who came into the day room were all obviously having a severe, weird reaction to something. It turned out to be Capt. Sawyer’s new Feng Shui (pronounced Fung Shway), that he had instituted up in the squad bays. Those poor, tired, quiet furniture rearranges could only sit down and stare at the day room TV for just a bit.

Oh, in case ya don’t know what Feng Shui is: it’s an ancient Far Eastern system of arranging a positive home or an environment. Unfortunately, Capt. Sawyer was a thoroughly negative individual.

Our barracks mates’ weird ways caused the CQ and I to look at each other with puzzled questions on our faces, then to inquire of them as to what they had been up to up there. They only shook their heads a little and muttered mumbled words that amounted to, “You won’t believe it.”

When I went up to go to bed in the morning, I couldn’t believe it.

Most of what little privacy that we had managed to secure before, with the old furniture placement pattern, was kaput. The place looked crowded and cramped.
It was dismal.

Capt. Sawyer must have gotten the idea on how to rearrange things from a scene in an old 1940s war movie, when the future war veterans were still recruits in basic training.

Brand new Company Commander Captain Leroy Sawyer had made all of the squad bay residents take all of the wall lockers and line them up back to back, side by side in a long row down the center of the large room.

Then they had to take the top bunks down and put all of the bunks side by side, about three feet apart, perpendicular to and between the outside walls and the wall lockers, all the way down the room. The foot lockers on stands were placed at the foot of every owner’s bed. There was one long row of bunks on each side of the wall lockers, with the head of each bed placed about two and a half feet from the wall lockers.

Sure, we only had half of the beds on each side of the wall lockers, but all but the guys on the end bunks had one pair of someone else’s snoring nostrils to agitate each of their ears as they slept.

All of that previous meager privacy, that we had had, was greatly diminished. Gone were most aspects of privacy for everyday things like dressing, writing emotional letters home, quietly reading a book, just sleeping—people don’t like to be looked at by others when they’re sleeping.

The rearranged furniture definitely wasn’t placed according to the usual arrangement of a 1970 era US Army fully trained soldiers’ barracks, which afforded barracks mates as much privacy from each other and comfort with each other as possible. It made my stomach wretch and my face turn away in disgust, when I walked into the bay and saw what Leroy had done.

That was a miserable morning. There was nothing that I could do but crash out in my public area bunk.

About noon time, I was awoken by a commotion. I looked around and realized that two non-Vietnam Veteran, lifer, sergeant, clerks were re-rearranging the squad bay Feng Shui again. One was an E6 and the other was an E7. They were both married men and had homes off post. So this was interesting to see them taking care of something that normally was not their problem. It didn’t take but a few moments to find out why.

E6, “What the hell happened?”

E7, “Aw, they went to the Inspector General, the Chaplain, The Mole Hole guys went to their section chief, one who works in Colonel Hergert’s office complained directly to him, somebody called their congressman, all totaled at least a dozen of them made formal complaints to five different higher ups. Now we gotta do this.”

Them two lifers were at it all alone for the rest of the afternoon. They put every thing back the way that it had been up till the day before. Our most possible privacy was once again restored to what it had been.

Eventually, I had to get up and go take a walk. I sure as heck weren’t gonna pitch in and help, like I woulda done if I had held just a smidgen of respect for them two individuals.

The next day, a bunch of 4×8 sheets of ½ inch plywood were delivered to each bay. The two unhappy lifers came back with an electric drill, some screws, and attached one sheet of plywood to the back, inside edges of each of the two inside, side by side, wall lockers, that again had the two foot lockers on wooden stands placed between them. That added a nice bite more privacy.

Shoot, it got even better later on. An Army directive came down from way up above us, and it declared that from then on all Army barracks living quarters, at least on Okinawa, were to be set up and decorated pretty much like the residents living in them wanted to do (see http://okinawa1970-71.blogspot.com/2007/04/rockin-on-rock-okinawa.html ).


Cherlyn said...

Good blog - I am linking you, if you do not mind. :) We have been here on Okinawa since late 2002, so your stories are definitely interesting to me.


ursusdave said...

Hey Cherlyn, did ya check out the set of photos on my 30th Arty Bgde Okinawa blog? They are mostly of one day at an Okinawan civilian school, and I am desperate to have those now fully grown Okinawan folks in my photos see them. If you could circulate that info around with your local island born friends it may be really neat for all involved.