Authors: W.E.B. Griffin
When he had the low-altitude weather, and started to walk out of the office, the Spec-7 called after him: “Colonel?”
Lowell turned to look at him.
“If you should ever need a job as a clerk-typist…” the Spec-7 said.
“I take that as a compliment of the first degree,” Lowell said.
“That was my intention, sir,” the Spec-7 said.
The Officers’ Open Mess
Fort Hood, Texas
0605 Hours, 23 October 1962
Chief Warrant Officer (W-2) Stefan T. Wojinski, like most long-time enlisted men, was seldom comfortable when general officers were looking at him. And he was especially uncomfortable now, for there was a major general looking at him in a way that clearly indicated he was annoyed, and perhaps even worse.
The major general was having his breakfast at the head of two four-man tables pushed together in the cafeteria of the Officers’ Open Mess. He was dressed in fatigues; and as if to symbolize that the 2nd Armored Division was very likely on its way to war, he wore a .45 Colt pistol in a shoulder holster.
The only officers in the room not wearing pistols and fatigues were Lieutenant Colonel Craig W. Lowell and CWO Wojinski, who were in class “A”s.
Wojinski wasn’t even sure what he was doing here. He had no idea why General Hanrahan had not sent him back to Bragg with Colonel Mac. The general had given him an explanation and all that. He’d told him Lowell was going to need him to help get the 2nd Armored Division moving. But that didn’t make much sense, Wojinski thought, since General Hanrahan was as aware as he was that what he knew about armor could be written in large letters with a grease pencil inside a match book.
The real reason, Wojinski had finally realized, was that when Colonel Mac told that asshole, Colonel Minor, that he’s on TDY to XVIII Airborne Corps (Get your ass out of here!), the shit was going to hit the fan, and the general didn’t want him to get splattered with any of it.
Now yesterday had been a good time. No staring generals. No trouble. Just plain fun. What happened was that on the way over, Wojinski—sort of stretching the point since he knew even less about flying than he did about armor—had flown the Commander for almost two hours. Colonel Lowell, shortly after they took off, started to yawn.
“Pity you can’t crap out, Duke,” Wojinski said. “You must be beat.”
“And you’re bushy-tailed and wide awake?”
“I slept all the way, mostly, from South Dakota.”
“Let me show you how this thing works,” Lowell said. “And then you sit here and wake me up in case something goes wrong.”
The Duke had shown him how to read the altimeter and how the Radio Direction Finders worked, and what a blip on the radar meant, and then announced he was going to “doze a little.” He told Wojinski to wake him if anything went wrong, and particularly if “any little red lights come on.”
Wojinski didn’t touch anything except the ashtray lid while he was at the controls. He just sat there and watched the needles, and watched for red lights to come on. But if there are only two guys in an airplane flying at twelve thousand feet right across the Gulf of Mexico from Florida to Texas, and one of them is sound asleep, who’s flying?
When they landed at Houston, the Duke told him to “follow me through,” which meant that Ski kept his hand on the wheel and his feet on the rudder pedals as the Duke landed the airplane. Though they had enough fuel to make Fort Hood without stopping. Lowell told him they were landing at Houston so they wouldn’t be almost out of gas when they got there, because he wasn’t sure they’d be able to get any at the Army Air Field, and because he wanted to file a flight plan, which would let Hood know they were on their way.
They had come across the Gulf of Mexico without a flight plan.
“Why no flight plan then,” Wojinski asked, “and then we make one now?”
“That gets complicated, Ski,” the Duke said. “Unfortunately, we are not as well equipped as the authorities would like with over-the-drink gear. And making a dog-leg over land would cost us a couple of hours.”
Translated, that meant if they went down in the Gulf, they would drown. It was something that Wojinski had thought about as he “flew.” On the one hand it seemed stupid and dangerous, but on the other, he knew the Duke well enough to know he would not have done it if he thought there was more than a very slight chance that something would go wrong.
He “followed through” again when they took off from Houston, and when they landed at Fort Hood. His imagination took over, and he began to think about maybe applying for pilot’s school. A fantasy he quickly talked himself out of. He liked being where he was.
When he went into the Army he never dreamed he would make warrant officer. And he knew, too, that if they’d ever made him take the written exam, he would still be running around with six stripes on his sleeves. He’d gotten the warrant when the Duke got his silver leaf, after they’d gone to Cuba and bailed Colonel Felter’s ass out of the soup. The promotion was more like a medal than anything else, the big difference being that it meant he could retire on the same pay as a first john right now, and if he kept his nose clean, he could make W-4, and retire on a major’s pay. Medals didn’t pay a goddamned thing, except that there was some kind of a pension connected with the Congressional, and you got to send your kids to West Point. Two of Colonel Mac’s were at the Point, and that saved him a bunch of money.
So now, anyhow, he was a chief warrant officer of Special Forces. He was somebody. He didn’t think there were many aviation warrants who got to go hunting with the general and a bunch of colonels. In aviation, he would be just one more anonymous warrant who had somehow managed to get through flight school. The grass was not always greener.
When they landed at Hood it was almost three o’clock in the morning. By the time they got from the airfield to the post and into a BOQ, it was almost four.
“We have time for an hour and a half in the sack,” Colonel Lowell told him. “Use it.”
He woke up to the sound of the Duke having it out with Avis Rent-A-Car in Killeen, Texas. They were willing to send a car out to him, but they insisted that he drive the man who delivered the car back to Killeen. Colonel Lowell told them he didn’t have time for that. He was polite at first, but when he didn’t get his way, he jumped all over their ass. When the Duke was crossed, he could eat ass as well as anybody Ski had ever met. So he was not at all surprised when Avis sent two cars.
They went to 2nd Armored Division Headquarters, where Lowell got into another argument, this time with the staff duty officer. When the staff duty officer told him that the way he was supposed to report in was to go to the secretary of the general staff (who would come on duty at 0730), Lowell told the guy he was under orders to report to the commanding general immediately on arrival and that it was his intention to comply with his orders.
“I’m an inspector general on the staff of General Boone, Colonel,” Lowell said. “And if you refuse to put me in touch with the commanding general right now, that fact will be paragraph one in my report.”
The staff duty officer turned white in the face.
“The general is having breakfast at the Officers’ Open Mess, Colonel,” he said. “If you wish to go there, I cannot, of course, stop you.”
Ski wondered if the staff duty officer had gotten on the phone the minute they’d left his office. The
pissed look the general was giving them now made that seem a very likely thing.
“Are you trying to attract my attention, Colonel?” Major General Stuart G. Lemper asked.
“I had hoped to, sir,” Lowell said. He walked closer to the table where the general was having a breakfast of scrambled eggs, sausage, and toast, came to attention, and saluted. Ski, three feet behind, copied him.
“Lieutenant Colonel Lowell reporting to General Lemper at the orders of General Boone, sir,” Lowell said.
General Lemper returned the salute.
“And who is this gentleman?” he asked, thickly sarcastic, nodding at Ski. “Is he with you? Yet another expert to help us through our problems?”
“Sir,” Lowell said, “may I introduce Chief Warrant Officer Wojinski?”
General Lemper almost immediately regretted his sarcasm. It was not this lieutenant colonel’s fault that he had been sent here. General James G. Boone had sent him. He should not hold that against Lowell.
“Have you gentlemen had your breakfast?” General Lemper said, with considerably less venom. “Will you join me?”
“Thank you, sir,” Lowell said.
There was a cafeteria line rather than waiter service.
“I’ll get it, Colonel,” Ski said. “What would you like?”
“Anything but grits,” Lowell said.
When Ski had gone off to join the line, General Lemper looked at Lowell.
“All else having failed, General Boone sent a couple of snake-eaters?”
“Ski’s a professional snake-eater, sir,” Lowell said. “I’m more of a paper pusher. Not that I want to be, but that’s how it’s turned out.”
“What kind of paper?” General Lemper asked.
“When this came up, I was helping General Howard with the Howard Board,” Lowell said.
“And he sent you to MacDill?”
“No, sir,” Lowell said. “He’s probably wondering where I am. General Jiggs is at MacDill. He asked for me.”
“You’re acquainted with Jiggs?”
“I once worked for him, sir.”
“I have explained to General Jiggs our problems here,” General Lemper said. “Would you say that your presence here, Colonel, indicates that my explanation was unsatisfactory to him? Or perhaps he understands, but General Boone is unable to?”
“Sir, General Boone instructed me to tell you that I am not here to find fault with any officer, but rather to help in any way I can.”
“That’s what is known as coating the cyanide pill with chocolate,” General Lemper said. “Unless, of course, you are some sort of expert. Are you some sort of expert, Colonel?”
“No, sir,” Lowell said. “I have never been assigned to an Armor unit larger than a battalion.”
“But here you are to find fault with us, right?”
“I’m here to help in any way I can, General.”
“When you’re not writing science fiction for Triple H Howard, what do you do, Colonel?”
“I’m at the Aviation Board at Rucker, sir.”
“General Boone must really think highly of me,” General Lemper said. “To send an aviator and a Green Beret warrant officer to get me out of the rough.”
Ski returned with two trays, set one in front of Lowell, and then sat down.
“I can only repeat, sir,” Lowell said, “that my orders are to make myself useful in any way I can, and that I am not here to find fault.”
“And you can make me a good price on a bridge in Brooklyn, right?” General Lemper said. And then he looked over Lowell’s head. “You want to see me, Wallace?”
A huge chief warrant officer, a W-4—the most senior warrant—broad-shouldered, barrel-chested, and crew-cut, was standing almost at attention behind Lowell.
“I had hoped to have a word with the colonel, sir,” he said, in a deep gravelly voice. “That is, if the colonel remembers me.”
Lowell looked over his shoulder and got quickly to his feet. He was smiling broadly.
“Prince!” he said. “How the
He put out his hand, and it disappeared in the huge hand of Chief Warrant Officer Prince T. Wallace, and then the handshake turned into an embrace. They pounded each other on the back. It was an extraordinary demonstration of affection.
“I gather the colonel does indeed remember you, Wallace,” General Lemper said dryly. “Curiosity overwhelms me.”
“I was with the Duke in Task Force Lowell, sir, in the Pusan Breakout,” Wallace said with quiet pride. “And then I went to the Yalu and back with him.”
General Lemper, who had been a colonel in Europe at the time, had heard of Task Force Lowell. It had been a classic use of Armor in the breakthrough and the old Cavalry task of disrupting the enemy’s lines of supply and communication. Lemper had gone from Germany to duty as an instructor at the Command and General Staff School at Fort Leavenworth, where he had replayed Task Force Lowell on the sand tables a dozen times. Task Force Lowell had made the textbooks.
“You’re that Lowell?” General Lemper asked.
“Yes, sir,” Chief Warrant Officer Wallace answered for him. “It had a bullshit name, Task Force Bengal, but we changed it.”
“We had a stowaway, General,” Lowell said. “In direct disobedience to orders, Prince, who devoutly believed I couldn’t find my way across the street without his help, pulled a driver out of his hatch in an M46, threw him fifty feet into the bushes, and climbed in.”
“I didn’t throw anybody anywhere,” Wallace corrected him. “I told him the chaplain wanted to see him. By the time he found the chaplain, we were gone.”
“Maybe Paul Jiggs believed that,” Lowell said. “I never did. I believed the kid with the pine cones in his nostrils. Say hello to Mr. Wojinski, Prince. I’ve known Ski even longer than I have you. Ski, this is Prince Wallace.”
The two warrants shook hands.
say, didn’t you, Colonel,” General Lemper said, “that you were acquainted with General Jiggs? But I
, did I, ask you how
It was not the sort of question to which a reply was expected.
“Wallace,” General Lemper said, “General Boone, very likely at the suggestion of General Jiggs, has sent Colonel Lowell over here to point out our errors to us.”
“Well, sir,” Wallace blurted, “if anybody can get us out of low gear, the Duke can.”
Lowell’s face tightened, almost into a wince. But to his surprise, General Lemper did not take offense.
“Our basic problem, Lowell, is rail transportation,” General Lemper said. “That can be further defined as follows: (a) The Congress has not seen fit to fund the construction of an adequate rail yard here, or to provide sufficient switching locomotives. (b) The railroads, although I am sure they are doing their best, have not been able to furnish us with enough flatcars, particularly of the type without braking wheels at one end, which means we cannot simply form a train of flatcars and drive tanks and other heavy vehicles onto it. (c) In their haste to provide us with the cars we have requested, the incoming empty trains are mixed: flatcars and boxcars. This necessitates our forming new trains, composed of cars in the order we need them.”