Fun in uniform

Posted on September 8, 2012

In the dim past, in 1970 to be exact, I was serving in the U.S. Army in Viet Nam.
I was a 20 year old Warrant Officer, flying UH-1 helicopters in an Assault Helicopter company.
You may be familiar with the UH-1, commonly called the “Huey “, from photographs or vintage newsreels. It was a medium sized helicopter which carried a crew of four men, two pilots, a crew chief, and a door gunner. It also had the capacity to carry six or eight fully equipped combat troops. The passenger compartment was acsessed by means of two large doors which slid rearwards to allow passengers to enter and exit.
There was another Warrant Officer in my unit whom I will erroneously identify as “Manson ” He was our resident wacko. Every unit has one.
You have all met the type. Manson was the guy that everyone else was a little leary of. He always had a strange, far away look in his eyes. It was obvious to the rest of us that he heard music emanating from the ether that we did not. We all knew he was not wrapped very tightly.
He was also prone to bizarre, unpredictable behavior.
One night I was awakened in the wee hours of the morning by gunshots. They were coming from inside our barracks! You can imagine that being in an active combat zone with bad guys all around, that such an event would get your attention. I came squirting out of my bunk like a spat out watermelon seed, and scrambled out of the building to take refuge in the bunker outside. Others in my platoon did likewise. I was wearing only my skivvies, as I was not about to take the time to get dressed, but I had the presence of mind to grab my sidearm on the way out the door. I was fully prepared to do battle to defend myself and my comrades to the death against the evil enemy hordes which I was certain were about to descend on us like a plauge of locusts.
This turned out to be unecessary, as we were not under attack after all. Manson had awakened and seen a rat walking across the rafters of our hootch. It apparently had seemed perfectly logical to him to break out his service revolver, and execute the offending rodent. He had proceeded to blast away with a great deal of enthusiasm.
When the chaos died down, and we discovered the source of the uproar, we were understandably unhappy with Manson. Several of us confronted him in a verbal exchange that became increasingly ugly. It almost, but not quite, escalated into blows. Manson was more than willing to get physical, but our commanding officer arrived on the scene, and de-fused the situation. He chewed out Manson very thouroughly for his decision making abilities. He was particularly concerned that our hootch’s roof was now perforated with several bullet holes. In a tropical climate where rain is a very common event, this was of real concern to all of us.
The CO’s solution was to aquire materials to repair the roof, and ordered Manson to conduct the labor required to mend the damage that he had caused. In the tropical heat, this was an unenviable task. There is justice, after all, or so we thought.
Manson became moody and distant. His demeanor towards the rest of us bordered on hostility.
Several days after the rat incident, my platoon was sent to a forward staging area. Several of our aircraft were shut down while we waited for the upper brass to decide on what lunacy they were going to send us off to accomplish. The crews took the opportunity to do some serious goofing off.
I was lying on my back in the passenger compartment of my ship, knees in the air while I read a paperback novel. I was interrupted in my literary pursuit by a loud voice screaming;
“I have fucking HAD it with you! “
I glanced between my knees to see Manson standing beside my aircraft. Two things got my immediate attention. The first was the crazed look in his eyes. The second was the grenade he was holding in his hands.
To my horror, he proceeded to pull the pin out of the grenade, and let the retaining spoon fly off. He then rolled the deadly item across the floor of my aircraft, where it came to rest against my buttocks, perilously adjacent to intimate parts of my anatomy.
Now, I am sure that John Wayne would have reacted by grabbing the grenade and tossing it back at Manson.
I chose a different course of action.
I screamed like a little girl and my book became airborne. I rose up on the soles of my boots and the heels of my hands, and scrabbled backwards like a demented crab. In the few feet available to me, I managed to gain sufficient velocity to propel myself out the opposite door, whereupon I found myself with no further means of support to prevent gravity from taking over. I crashed the two feet to the ground, landing on my back with horrendous force. Enveloped by choking clouds of dust, I then heroically curled up into the fetal position with my arms wrapped around my head, whimpering like a spanked puppy, while I waited for the impending explosion….which never came.
Instead a short period of time later, I became aware of a sound that I did not expect. It was uproarious laughter, coming from a group of my friends, many of whom were present and had observed the entire incident. To this day I believe that many of them were accomplices to this evil deed, although none would ever fess up.
I had been had! Ha, ha. Very funny.
With all the dignity that I could muster, I picked myself up from the ground and attempted to knock the greater part of the crud off of my clothes.
My initial impulse was to rip Manson’s heart out of his chest and eat it raw. As he was a much larger man than myself, I reconsidered that plan.
The only reasonable course open to me at that time was to be a good sport. What else could I do? I entered into the general merriment, and acknowleged that it had been a very effective gag. It had gotten the desired reaction from me.
For those of you unfamiliar with grenades, you should be aware that there is an method to render them non-functional. Manson had previously unscrewed the fuse from the top of the device, allowed it to trip, thereby causing the detonator to burn away. He then re-assembled the nasty thing, replacing the spoon and retaining pin. To the casual observer, it looked like a normal fully functional grenade.
When my wounded pride had healed a bit, it occured to me that an opportuity was now available. That little imp, you know the one, popped up on my shoulder and whispered in my ear;
“It’s your turn. Why should he have all the fun? ” Why indeed?
I secured the grenade from Manson and re-assembled it.
I then walked down the flight line to another aircraft where my crew chief, an enlisted man whom I will call “Donovan ” was napping in the shade underneath a fellow crew chief’s Huey.
I knelt beside him and shook him awake. When he came around, I said;
“Chief, none of us are going to get out of this alive. I’ve decided to end it now! ” whereupon I tripped the dud grenade, and dropped it in the dirt next to his hip.
His eyes bugged out like a tromped-on toad. A strange gurgling sound emanated from his mouth that resembled a rough running outboard motor.
Forgetting that he was under the belly of an aircraft, he attempted to spring to his feet, not once but twice, with predictable results both times, smacking his head on the underside of the Huey. Then with his hands he desperately tried to brush the ominous item away from his body, with an equal lack of success.
I, of course, had my henchmen present to enjoy the spectacle. Once we all broke out in hysterics Donovan realised that he, like myself, had been had. I must admit, that once he realised the gag, to his credit, he took it with much greater dignity than had I. He joined in the general laughter. I am sure the relief he felt at still being alive had a lot to do with his attitude.
Time passed, as time will.
A week or so later, I and my crew were sent to an airfield on the coast adjacent to a Navy base. We were shut down, once again waiting on the powers that be to confer on what mischief they were going to visit on others.
Donovan had apparently been influenced by the same imp who had directed my own actions during the aforementioned event. Knowing that I had retained the dud grenade in my possession, he asked to borrow it from me. He took it and wandered off to parts unknown.
I loafed in my aircraft, killing time.
A half hour or so later, Donovan returned. I observed that his left eye was swollen and beginning to darken up quite nicely. He was pinching his nostrils together in an attempt to staunch a flow of blood from his nose, with limited success. There was a large bloody abrasion on his left jaw.
He tossed the now infamous grenade to me, with an admonition to “Keep the damn thing “
Upon my inquiring what had happened to him, he related the events of the preceding thirty minutes.
A short walk away from our landing pad was the gated entrance to the Naval base. As is the case at all such bases, the guards on duty were U.S. Marines.
Donovan had decided it would be great fun to scare them with the grenade. He had rolled it into their sentry box, anticipating that the result would be hilarious.
He was mistaken.
The two Marines on duty had not seen the humor in the situation, and had proceeded to express their displeasure in a very physical manner, hence Donovan’s injuries.
By the way, the rat survived. Manson had missed him.

Last edited by T. Clifford on October 20, 2012, 9:04 am

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1 response to Fun in uniform

  1. Yep, great story telling style. Good yarn. That one goes into the "Vietnam stories" section on

    Very punchy last line too. I also liked the use of italics. I would encourage that. Next thing we’ll have you working with images.

    This ranks high on the easy readability scale. It cries out for more. Lots… more.

    typos:  accsessed    tromped-on toad.

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