... and keeping your mouth shut ain't such a bad idea either.
It didn’t take long after it happened. The First Sergeant had shipped his ass,
bag and baggage out of the radio bunker before daybreak. They’d find out a
few days later that he had been assigned to Charley Battery, one of the 8th
Field's firing batteries. It was the old Army game in which the older career
soldiers took care of each other. Sergeant Walt Peters had really screwed up,
big time, and First Sergeant, Hollis C. Harris, Headquarters Battery Top
Kick, and an old timer himself, had yanked him out of harm’s way. He
yanked him, that is to say, before any of the troopers he had threatened had
the time to file any charges. Peters was gone, a middle-of-the -night job,
and if you knew what was good for you, you would just leave well enough
alone and forget it.
Never even said goodbye
Murphy had not even been there during the fracas, he was pulling the eleven
to seven radio watch at Fire Direction when it happened. When Fish Desio
had relieved him the next morning he filled Murphy in. Peters had crashed
into the bunker in the middle of the night, drunk out of his mind on booze
that he got only God knows where. He had yanked out his 45-caliber
sidearm, a brute of a pistol, and was waving it around, cursing guys by
name. He was especially hard on A. J. Corgreen who, ironically enough, was
the only other soldier in the Radio Section, besides Peters himself who had
enlisted. Everybody else was a draftee.
Things get mean, nasty…and terrifying.
Fish said that he had actually leveled the gun at Corgreen, raging at him that
he was yellow, calling his mother an unspeakable insult in an effort to
provoke him. Corgreen, of course, was much too frightened to be insulted.
He lay in his upper bunk, barely breathing until Peters lurched away, turning
to the small pot-bellied stove that was in the middle of the bunker. He
cocked the pistol, pointed it down into the four-inch deep sand enclosure on
the floor around the stove, and fired it. The roaring blast was like a signal to
the guys lying in their sleeping bags who came rocketing out of them to
subdue Peters in a swarm. “I don’t know who jumped 'onnim foist,” said the
Fish, “But ya’ cun’ betcha’ ass it wasn’t me.”
It was a gigantic stroke of good fortune that the round went straight into the
sand and down on into the ground. If it had ricocheted, God knows what
would have happened. You don’t get wounded by a slug from a 45, you get
killed by it.
Missed by absolutely nobody.
Just about no one missed Peters. A tall, gangly, South Westerner on the long
side of thirty he had come into the Radio Section as a corporal before
Murphy arrived. A career soldier who, at his age, and still only a corporal
was a sure sign that he had screwed up somewhere along the line and had
been broken down in rank. For sure, he had volunteered for Korea as a way
of getting his rank back quickly. An assignment anywhere else would have
meant a much longer process. He had moved up one grade to Staff Sergeant
shortly after arriving and as a result became Section Chief of the radio group.
A very high percentage of the soldiers in Korea in 1952 were draftees who
frequently referred to themselves as “US’s”. The designation US preceeded
the rest of a draftee’s serial number and marked him separate from the
career guys who had enlisted and whose numbers started with an RA which
meant “Regular Army.” A standing tease when Murphy was in basic training
and radio school was that any draftee who was perceived enthusiastic in
doing a chore was told he was acting like, “a goddam RA.”
Almost all of the time this was a good-natured jibe but when the US’s
became mixed in with the RA’s in Korea, a tension developed. The RA’s were
soldiers who perceived the Army as a career, that was the last thing in the
world that a US felt. Most US's wanted out, and the sooner the better. For the
most part the RA’s and US’s got along fine, but some of them didn‘t. Peters
was one of them, you could detect his resentment. Peters harbored a
suspicion that a US considered an RA’s chosen career as a joke and was
beneath him. It didn’t help when plenty of the US’s turned out to be good
soldiers and were awarded the rank that went along with it.
The smile and say, “hidy” moment.
After Peter’s departure it was like he had never been with the Radio troopers.
Every once in a while Murphy would bump into him and things would be fine.
“ Good to see ya’ , Pete. How things goin’,” that kind of stuff.
The last time Murphy had seen him Peters had been bumped up two ranks to
Master Sergeant, the highest achievable rank for an enlisted man. Murphy
had congratulated him. “Nice goin’ on Master, Pete.” He had pumped a little
admiration into his voice to sound sincere. Peters chuckled and went into a
gangly little shuffle, twitching his shoulders. Murphy knew he was pleased.
Peters said thanks and reached out and yanked on Murphy’s corporal stripes
saying, “See yer’ makin’ a little rank yerself, Murphy.” “Thanks, Sarge. Only
forty more years and I’ll be Master.” This piece of ingratiation produced a
loud satisfactory laugh from Peters. “You ‘all be good now.” he said giving
Murphy an affectionate little tap on the shoulder as he left.
They were in Panmunjom when Peters hit the big R, Rotation, and was going
home. In some kind of procedural dance Peters had been moved back to
Headquarters Battery so that the guy who was replacing him in Charley
Battery would have things to himself. During the short wait before he
shipped out he was assigned back to the Radio Section really as a place to
sleep. Even so, he was the top ranking NCO in their tent. He could not be
Just before evening chow when all the members of the Radio Section were
together in their squad tent. Murphy could hardly believe what Peters had
just said to him. “Murphy,” he said with a malicious grin, “They be needin
your talents real bad down the Motor Pool. Buncha folks goin’ to spread out
some oil sludge on the road, hold the dust down. Really gets to be a tairabul
nuisance, ya doan do somethin’ bout it.”
No way was this a job for someone with Murphy’s rank or time in Korea. He
was a corporal and had been with the Radio Section since October and this
was May. He, Fish, Gootch, and Skimpy Mills were the only ones left from the
shooting episode, all the other witnesses had rotated home. Peters was in
some way looking to get even for his humiliation, show everyone who had
come out on top. His vengeance was an act of pure spite, an effort to return
the humiliation to the guys who had witnessed his. Murphy was his chosen
Murphy looked back at him, stunned. He thought to himself, “This guy is
nuts.” He glanced down at Fish who was sitting on his cot, his back to Peters.
The Fish looked up at him and gave him a long, slow wink. Nobody else had
moved. They were all looking at Murphy waiting for his response. Murphy
was still looking at Fish. He saw him slowly and almost imperceptively move
his head side-to- side in a no-no gesture.
Stayin‘ cool in the Motor Pool.
Murphy realized what the Fish was signaling, shut up, say nothing. Look like
you’re mad, look like you’re whipped, pout, sulk, whatever and you satisfy
this malicious, screwball act of vengeance. Instead he took a little breath and
said, “Okay, Sarge, I’ll get right on it.” He looked back down at Fish who had
closed his eyes and was pulling a wide, closed mouth smile.
Donning his steel pot, grabbing his rifle Murphy did his best to affect a
casual walk toward the front of the tent. Just after lifting the tent flap to
exit, he stopped. Acting as though he had just remembered something he
said, “Hey, Fish, don’t forget I’m next on that book.” Fish, with an
acknowledging wave said, “You know it, Moiph“.
Of course, there was no book and Fish knew it. This was just a ploy to make
it appear that Murphy was indifferent to this venal act. He was, in fact,
furious. Turning back before he stepped outside to leave he looked up at
Peters and said with a sweet smile, “See ya, Pete.” He gave a quick glance to
Fish who, still with his back to Peters, had brought his hand down and,
making a fist, held it tight to his chest. With a smug little smile he looked
back up at Murphy who he knew would see the two little upward gestures he was
making with his thumb.
September 4, 2015