The short life of our brand new, three-ton diesel

... Better a short life for the diesel than the guys who were driving it.

by Joe Sullivan

They had been in the new place almost a month. Joe knew they were behind
Old Baldy a hill that had a history of heavy fighting. When the cease fire
took place it was in the hands of Joe Chink. This was a good place to be
after the shooting stopped as opposed to before it stopped.

The Battery setup here was much more deliberate. The troopers were living in
tents that were set up on platforms that provided wood floors for the occupants.
The tents had been lined up so that they were in a straight line. The cots in
each tent were lined up in a straight line. Everywhere you looked, straight lines.
The Army’s idea of beauty. Straight lines. They were the 8th Field Artillery
Battalion of straight lines.

It was a complete contradiction of how the 8th Field looked when it was a
combat-ready unit. A set up of structural helter skelter with randomly placed
bunkers and squad tents. Vehicles parked everywhere, each pointed in a different
direction. This was the screwed up look of an organization that would be ready
to move at the drop of a hat.

A very nice place.

Joe would chuckle to himself when he thought of the replacements who were coming
in. The only thing they would know was how the 8th Field looked today. The
replacements would write home and say that they are in the field artillery. They
would say it’s very nice.The guys who the replacements were replacing were seasoned
artillery soldiers who had been around for a lot of bad stuff. Guys who knew what
to do. The rookies were replacing veterans. This was an impending problem for the
officers who would be in charge.

The officers were trying to get the old soldiers to stay awhile longer. The Battalion
Exec told Joe that he'd be promoted to Sergeant First Class if he stayed on until the
first of the year. Joe said thanks and that he would think about. He did think about
it. For about eleven seconds.

Eventually there were going to be more new guys than experienced ones and it would
only get worse as time went on. Joe Berry Jr. a grizzled Texan who had been a rodeo
bull rider before he joined the Army and who was now Top Sergeant of Headquarters
Battery summed it up best when he said, ”More skosh (pretty soon) thar’ goan be
more hossis asses than hossis.”

A sweet, new deal.

Joe had to admit that things were very nice for him now. Sunday was now a day off.
Sitting on his cot, shaved, showered, wearing clean underware, clean fatigues and
shined boots. The book he was reading he had read before when he was on the
troopship on the way over. It was written by a Malden guy, Henry Morton Robinson.
The book, The Cardinal was about  a guy who starts out a nobody priest and ends
up a Cardinal.

Joe didn’t know that the book was about Malden when he bought it in the PX. Not
only was it about Malden it was about the street he lived on and the parish church
where he went to Mass. It talked about Caferella’s Spa an ice cream and soda shop
on Pleasant Street. He had been there many times and had gone to school with the
son of the owner, Rudy. Joe was stunned at how personal this book had become. It
was a novel, but it was about real places, places he had been. Joe had saved the
book because he wanted to read it again. He was scheduled for Rotation in October
and this was late August. This was a good time to be reading about home.

Surprise! Surprise!.

He had almost come out of his skin when he heard the totally unexpected concussive,
thunderous, explosion. He sat there frozen. What happened? The cease fire had been
in effect since the end of July. Was there some colossal screw up?  Had things
started again as they had been continually warned that they could?

To his relief there was no follow up. He could tell by the sound that it was not
outgoing artillery fire. It certainly wasn’t incoming. The low shrieking whistle
that comes with that would have left Joe face down on the floor. But it was
definitely armament of some kind.

The only other guy in the tent was Mutt Quiring who had been peacefully napping
making up for the sleep he missed because of a card game the night before. He was
still on his back but up on his elbows and was looking at Joe.

“Did you hear that?”, Joe said.

“Thought I dreamed it.” He replied.

They had a discussion as to what it was. Not outgoing, not incoming.“What the hell
was it then? Joe said.

They had walked over to the tent opening, Mutt in his stocking feet. Looking out,
they couldn’t see anything unusual going on. Looking across the field that extended
out in front of them they could see a truck backed into a shallow stream that the
troopers used to wash the grime off their vehicles.

The new stuff starts coming in.

“That’s the new truck,” Mutt said, “three-ton diesel. Big bastard. Say they’re
going to replace all the deuce and a halfs with them” The two and a half ton truck,
always called a deuce and a half, was the hallowed veteran of Army transport. They
were used for everything, moving troops, hauling ammo, name it. Every 105 howitzer
in the 8th field was hauled around by a deuce and a half.

Mutt continued, “They got two kids driving it. Replacements, figure that out.”
Joe said that they probably were trained on operating diesels back home. “Experienced
rookies, how’s that for a switch.”

“Thing is brand new,” Joe said. “Now the war’s over we start getting the new stuff.”
“If the shooting starts again they’ll probly stop sending it.” Mutt said looking over
at Joe who was now responding with a soft shoulder-shaking laugh.Mutt, following up
with a sarcastic smirk said, “Don’t want anything bad happenin’ to the new stuff.”
Joe was laughing out loud now.

An ambulance.Things begin to look bad.

The situation was changing fast over by the truck. Guys were now running toward it.
Shortly after, the ambulance arrived. The medics jumped out and began to carefully
load somebody onto a litter.  After picking him up they slowly slid the litter into
the back of the ambulance. After running around to the other side of the truck they
did the same thing with another soldier. This guy sat up after they loaded him on
the litter and one of the medics slowly pushed him back down.

One of the medics got into the back of the ambulance with them.  The other medic
closed the doors and ran up to the cab where he started up the ambulance and took
off for the front gate.

Bad news, good news from Alex.

Alex Santesi a burly. not-so- talkative Texan was walking away from the accident
scene toward Joe and Mutt. Alex, a radioman, lived in the tent, too. When he was
almost at the tent Joe hollered out, “Alex, what happened.”

Tossing his arm back in a gesture toward the accident scene he twanged, “Backed
inta the stream to wash the truck, went over a tank mine, blew the whole ass-end
right offa’ the truck.”

“Wow!” Joe responded, “How are the two kids who were driving”

“Medic said one a them probly got a broken arm. Said the other kid was in shock.
He was shakin like a dog onnna’ wet sack and was cryin’ his eyes out. Lucky they
decided to wash the back end first. They drove that dude in frontwise first we’d
be talkin’ body parts.”

Joe grimaced at Alex’s grisly speculation who was now up inside the tent joining
Joe and Mutt.

“What the hell’s a tank mine doing over there? Is there any vehicle in Headquarters
Battery that hasn’t been washed in that stream? What the hell set it off?” Mutt said.

Alex, the common sense Texan replied, “Biggest thing what ever got washed in that
stream is a duce and a half. That new diesel goes over three ton, easy. Extry 500
pounds probly what done it.”

Alex sums it up.

Joe said, “God, imagine if those two kids got wasted. What would you call it, Killed
in Action? War’s stopped, there is no action. How’d you like to be their parents?
Sweating out your kid going to Korea. Just before he gets shipped out they find out
the war is over. Huge, massive relief. Thank God! Letter home;” Dear Mom and Dad
everything’s fine, we play softball and everything, They gave me and my pal, Jimmy a
brand new truck to drive. Regards to all. Love, Billy”. And then they find out about
this. How the hell would you explain what happened now? What a way to find out what
happened to your kid.” Joe finished his feverish rant.

There was a pause. They were all considering Joe’s emotional message.

Then Alex said quietly, ‘They ain’t figured out the good way for tellin' that yit.”    

May 6, 2016

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