by: john harrison
“I was not lying.” I said.
“But, L-T my mother had already passed.” he said.
“L-T” was and perhaps still is the almost universal nickname in the Army for a lieutenant, any lieutenant. If you have served together and you meet again after you are out of the service, you always stay the same rank you were when you last served together.
“Well, how was I to know that? Your mother loved you, probably. Maybe even a lot. So, that part was true, right?” I said.
We were sitting together at a table in a hospitality room in a hotel drinking. It was at a 3/506th Airborne’s reunion several years ago and a former Alpha Company trooper was trying to tell me that I had lied to get him and two of his friends out of jail in Nashville when we had been training with the 101st Airborne Division at Ft. Campbell, KY, before going to Vietnam. With the full benefit of my very expensive Jesuit education from Georgetown University, I was trying to explain to him why what I had admittedly said to the Sheriff that night to get him and his two buddies out of jail was not actually a lie. I thought I was doing pretty good in the argument. I was sure I would win.
“Your mother had been very sick from time to time when she was alive. So, that was true, right?” I said.
“She was dead L-T, not sick. You lied. You know you lied. Admit it.” He was smiling.
He thought for sure that he had me at last.
One of my jobs as an XO, or the executive officer of an airborne rifle company had been to take care of troopers that managed to get into trouble with the law. Besides going to nearby Hopkinsville and Clarksville for me this often involved going to Nashville. It is the closest large city to Ft. Campbell, and it had an almost unlimited number of bars filled with cold beer and good looking young women. I would visit with either the police or the Sheriff depending on who had custody of the miscreant to try to get them released without being charged.
I got the call from the Nashville Sheriff’s office almost every weekend, usually first thing on Sunday morning. If there was such a thing then, they surely would have had my number on speed dial.
Sometimes, if it was not too bad, I could handle it over the phone, but sometimes I had to go down and actually talk to the Sheriff personally. Although I would not say we were friends, we had gotten to know each other really well in a very short period of time.
The Sheriff was an old fashioned southern patriot. There really is no other way to describe him. He wanted to be talked into letting my guys go. He knew that we were a D-1 unit on our way to Vietnam as soon as we finished our training cycle at Ft. Campbell and he respected that. However, because of his job, he also needed what he considered to be a real reason to let the guy go. That was the hard part, coming up with a new, a new real reason each time. Sometimes just promising harsh Army justice was not enough.
“Officers shouldn’t lie L-T.” the trooper said
Even though it sounded a lot more like “Ossiffers” I still knew what he meant. His voice made it clear that he had started drinking much earlier that day than I had.
“Well, your mother had been sick at some point in her life, and she was worried about you. After all you were in the Army and you were on your way to Vietnam; there was a war going on there. She was probably worried about you, right?” I said.
“I already told you L-T—she was dead. She died before I even enlisted. You don’t worry much when you’re already dead.” he said.
“Well, her being dead and all might have been part of the reason the fight started. It might have been the reason you enlisted. You had lost your mom, you were sad, you were angry, that could have even been the reason you threw that fellow into the window at the bar, and then hit the other one with a chair. So, what I said might have been true, right?” I said.
“They were legs, L-T. That’s why the fight started. Joe called one of them a ‘fucking leg’ and then one of them threw a punch.” he said.
“See, when I said that they started it all. I was right. They threw the first punch. It was not your fault, you were just defending yourself, right?” I said.
“Before that, I did sort of say something to their girl friends about how they’re dating a bunch of pussies. That probably didn’t help either.” he said.
He smiled broadly at the memory. He was enjoying this. He really liked the memory of that night, of that fight.
“Well, they were legs. So, they were pussies. You both were only telling the truth about them. They had no right to be angry, and if you had just won that damn fight and then gotten out of there before the cops came I wouldn’t even have had to come get you.” I said.
“We were winning until I said to Joe: ‘Watch this shit!’ Hey, don’t you go changing the subject. You’re tricky.” he said.
Did I mention that we both had been drinking. Although I had started later than he had, we had been drinking together almost all afternoon. When he picked up his beer I looked again at the small white scar on the big knuckle on his right hand.
“Taking out that guy’s tooth didn’t leave much of a scar on your hand.” I said.
“Doc Lovey pulled it out with pair of needle nose pliers. Good thing the Sheriff didn’t see it. He never would have let me go. There you go again, don’t change the subject. I got you L-T. You lied. You did.” he said and he smiled broadly again.
I don’t know which he enjoyed more, pinning me down, or remembering that fight in a bar long ago in Nashville.
“All right what part of what I said was a lie?” I asked.
“Well, you talked all about our mothers like you knew them personally. Not just me but them other two as well. But, but you didn’t even know them other two guys. They were from Bravo Company, not ‘A’ Company. You never even seen them before much less seen their mothers. You never even talked to them before. Did you?” he said.
“Well, they had mothers too, and all mothers worry about their sons. That was the important part. You boil it down and that’s all I really said. Besides I knew by then that the Sheriff was a real sucker for mother stories.”
“But then you said that I was a great soldier.” he said.
“So?” I replied.
“And, that I had never been in any trouble before.” he said.
“O-K, I lied.”