Stodghill Says So

An opinionated posting on a variety of subjects by a former newspaper reporter and columnist whose daily column was named best in Indiana by UPI. The Blog title is that used in his high school sports predictions for the Muncie Evening Press.

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Location: Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, United States

At the age of 18 I was a 4th Infantry Division rifleman in the invasion of Normandy, then later was called back for the Korean War. Put in a couple of years as a Pinkerton detective. Much of my life was spent as a newspaper reporter, sports writer and daily columnist. Published three books on high school sports in Ohio and Indiana. I write mystery fiction for Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine and others. Three books, Normandy 1944 - A Young Rifleman's War, The Hoosier Hot Shots, and From Devout Catholic to Communist Agitator are now available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other booksellers. So are four collections of short mysteries: Jack Eddy Stories Volumes 1 and 2, Midland Murders, and The Rough Old Stuff From Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine.

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Section Sergeant's Quiet Afternoon

For no particular reason I've been thinking about a sunny summer day in Louisiana when the prospects for a pleasant afternoon were bright for the mortar section sergeant, meaning me. My work was finished so I picked out a shady spot under a tree, checked it for snakes, lizards, scorpions, tarantulas, black widows and other forms of life found in abundance at friendly Camp Polk.
My mortar crews had set up on a long ridge overlooking a wide valley where a lone wooden shack was visible about fifteen-hundred yards in the distance. I had noticed on a number of occasions that firing ranges for mortars were always on a long ridge overlooking a wide valley where a lone wooden shack was visible about fifteen-hundred yards in the distance. This was so the wooden shack could be blown to smithereens and the mortarmen could enjoy seeing it happen.
So with my work finished - to be honest about it I hadn't had to do a thing - I rested my back against the tree, lit a cigarette and relaxed. I had taken a couple of puffs when one of the men (Army terminology for anyone lacking bars on his shoulders or stripes on his sleeves) came running over and while gasping for breath managed to say, "The shell didn't come out of the tube."
This, of course, was not news I wanted to hear. It meant the shell had been dropped in the tube, hit the firing pin and . . . nothing. It also meant the section sergeant with the help of the squad leader had to get it out. Unless it decided to come flying out on its own while they were at work.
So I walked over to the offending mortar, waved all the others back to where they could stand watching from a safe distance, and then for a minute or two the squad leader and I stood staring down at the mortar as if we had never before seen anything quite like it.
Finally accepting the fact that the shell was not going to come out on its own, the squad leader knelt down and unfastened the thingamajig that held the tube to the base plate. He then began lifting the tube. Up - up -up until we heard the grinding sound of metal scraping against metal. The shell was coming out.
This was the signal for the section sergeant - me - to cup his hands around the mouth of the tube. Carefully. Very carefully so that not even a stray hair was in front of the tube. More grinding and still more until there it was - the silver-colored point-detonating fuse. The thing that would cause the shell to explode the instant it touched anything whatsoever.
Needless to say, the section sergeant allowed it to pass untouched. Then the dark body of the shell appeared and that meant the section sergeant's cupped hands were quickly squeezed together. Naturally the section sergeant then held the shell proudly in the air for all to see while the squad leader slipped the safety pin (a cotter pin to civilians) back into place and bent the ends so it couldn't slide out again. The shell then went into its cardboard container and the container was marked for ordnance to pick up. Mission accomplished.
So I went back to my tree, checked to be sure that nothing had come crawling over during my absence, sat down, gave a long sigh, lit a cigarette and had taken a puff or two when one of the men came running over calling out, "Christy dropped the shell in in the wrong direction."
While this was not as serious, fooling around getting a mortar shell out of a tube never qualifies as a fun way to spend time. I got up, said a word or two to express my feelings about the world in general and the men in my mortar section in particular, and this time walked over to a different mortar. Silently vowing along the way that for the rest of the week Christy's life was going to be a living hell.
That's how it's done in the military because of an oft-repeated axiom: R.H.I.P - Rank Has Its Privileges. Christy had spoiled my quiet afternoon so I would spoil his week. Fair is fair and that's just the way it is, both today and back in 1952.


Blogger STAG said...

A quiet afternoon on a mortar range. What's wrong with that sentence....


10:14 AM  

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