War Stories


“It’s so dry, San Franciscans are wearing succulents in their hair.” – Elizabeth O.

There i was, pinned down by the Nazi machine-gun nest that had killed the rest of the members of my squad.  I’d thrown my last grenade, fired my last round, and broken my bayonet on the last Kraut i’d killed.  I’d drunk all my water and eaten all my rations, but luckily i’d saved the P-38 that came with them.

So all i had to do sneak up on the nest and, one by one, quietly use the P-38 to slit the throats of the sleeping Huns.

Oh wait, wrong war, wrong generation.

Actually, i was safe in Germany while friends were dying in Vietnam, so i didn’t get shot at but have, instead of glorious tales of heroism, some memories of amusing moments.

Like when i was going into the Army and they asked what religion i wanted on my dog tags.  When i said “none”, the response was “Officers have a religion, so put one down.”  So i wrote “Metodist”, and that’s what my dog tags say.  Yes, a religion with one adherent.

The army was good for me.  Partway through the training, after you’d had time to bond with your buddies in your platoon but while you still had half the course remaining, they put you through this thing called the “Confidence Course”, which with delicious military irony was designed to play on your fears.  To flush out the claustrophobes, it had narrow, dark tunnels you had to crawl through, which i found no problem at all.

On the other hand, i had always been terribly afraid of heights, so especially for me they had a sadistic device consisting of 35′ telephone poles with 2×6’s nailed non-too-securely to them at 4′ intervals.  You had to climb up one side, over the top, and down the other while the whole edifice shook precariously from the dozen or so of you on it at once, and what made this really terrible for me was the spacing of the 2×6’s – far enough apart that much of the time you had only one of them to hold onto.

The diabolical ingenuity of the Confidence Course was that however much young men might fear enclosed spaces or heights, their fear of public cowardice is much greater.  So what i immediately learned was that i was quite capable of clambering over heights so long as somebody was watching, and this has served me in good stead ever since.

Another confidence builder was the discovery that i was a better than average shot.  After we qualified on the M1 Garand (which sure does date me:-), they passed out the little silver medals at the evening formation.  I was sitting on my bunk admiring the thing when my reverie was interrupted by gales of laughter from a nearby soldier.

See, i was so pleased with myself that i was humming.  What’s wrong with that? you ask.

It was “C’est moi” from the recent Camelot album.

Let him know i’d shoot him if he told on me.

Meanwhile, a well camouflaged sign on Mission Street.

Mission Street sign

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2 Comments

  1. Rick
    Posted 30 May 2015 at 15:21 | Permalink

    Matte, I never saw the Broadway show but have seen the film, of course. I thought Harris was a good Arthur; I think he effectively portrayed a gentle man with a good heart who could do little to stop his beautiful idea from spiraling out of control. I thought that’s how White wrote him in The Once and Future King, which I devoured when I was 14 and re-read many times. I have a hard time inagining a “gentle” side of Burton–but that’s just me. I also thought Redgrave was perfect as the self-absorbed Guenever, who was clearly fond of Arthur but never loved him. Nero’s Lancelot matched her self-centeredness, and more; quite the couple. I always enjoyed White’s version of Lancelot because he was physically unattractive (although women never seemed to mind) and really didn’t like himself. An over-achiever definitely… White also did a nice job portraying Arthur and Lancelot as true friends–necessary to really set the tragedy of the love triangle. It was hard to find fault with any of them…… Anyway, the Arthurian legend has always been one of my favorites, probably because it’s rife with moral ambiguities. I find those kinds of stories fascinating… Did you ever see the movie Excalibur (1981)? A John Boorman film. It’s like an epic poem–it has that feel of imagery, of things hinted at or shown but not explained. And Nicol Williamson is by far the best Merlin I’ve ever seen. He gets all the best lines, too. 🙂

    • Matte Gray
      Posted 30 May 2015 at 17:33 | Permalink

      Wow. I’m awestruck by your memory. Mine has got so bad that i can’t even recall whether i saw the movie, but i definitely remember being just blown away by the album and played it over and over. And then rushed out and read White’s The Once and Future King with great pleasure.

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