Friends and Influence

Sergeant Abel Squires was sitting on a pile of sandbags and smoking a cigarette when one of the soldiers in his platoon passed him the message that the company clerk needed to talk to him. Squires, a 29 year old career soldier, hauled himself to his feet and headed off to the duty office, one of a number of sandbag protected tents sitting in the middle of a circle of muddy foxholes. It was the rainy season in Vietnam and boot traffic had turned the entire company area into sea of mud punctuated with different sized puddles.

“He wants a what?” Squires asked the company clerk. The Spec-Four clerk was explaining that the company’s new commanding officer, a newly minted captain recently transferred from a supply job in Wiesbaden, Germany, had ordered a white glove company inspection for 1400 hours. It was just after 1100 hours. The captain had just relieved the departing former company commander, a major rotating “back to the world” after two uninterrupted tours of duty running the infantry company. The primary job was running Tactical Operation Centers, TOCs, that provided a variety of support services like patrols, both long and short duration, artillery, medical triage service and other support functions for the 326th Infantry Battalion. Abel Squires didn’t know whether to laugh out loud or not, and was trying to imagine passing the order on to his men, three squads of particularly surly long range reconnaissance patrols that were dirty, wet, and tired. He fully expected at least a couple of the guys to lock and load on his ass when they realized he was serious. “Is this guy nuts?” he asked the clerk.

“When he relieved Strombecker he told the major that he was appalled at the level of chaos and filth and told Major Bill no wonder he was getting relieved. I shit you not. Major Bill just started laughing, grabbed his duffle and walked out to the slick. As it took off, he was sitting in the doorway still  laughing at the guy. Then he shot the Captain the bird… I thought the guy was gonna have apoplexy.”

“Jesus.” said Squires in wonderment. The sergeant slowly shook his head back and forth as he sloshed his way out to the holes his squads occupied.

Of course, the men, well, young men, were instantly pissed on hearing the news. “We don’t even have the crap to clean our weapons with!” shouted Mark “Petey” Petersen. “We got a single rod and a toothbrush we gotta share with the other guys and we hafta use toilet paper from C rations for patches. All we got is the uniforms we have on, we’re buried in mud and this jackass wants a what? A white glove inspection? Goddam Army, man. FTA!” There were approving grunts and comments from the others. Ralph Mora pulled a grenade off of his utility harness and set it on a sandbag.

“Tell the captain to step his ass on down.” he said.

“Awrite, awrite! Take it easy now. There’s no sense in gettin’ all fired up over this. The guy is gonna figure out his big idea ain’t gonna fly and that’ll be the enda it.” calmed Squires. “Lets all jess relax. Okay?” The little crowd broke up and went back to reading letters from home, trying to shave, pawing a soggy magazine or just staring out past the perimeter while smoking. No one made any attempt to police up the area or even straighten out the piled up and damp pohchos and poncho liners used to create bedding.

At just before 1300 hours a few shots rang out and the people in the perimeter holes grabbed their weapons and peered outward, looking for threats. It became quickly apparent that the problem was not an errant patrol of Viet Cong, but a serious internal confrontation. Before long the word was passed along that the new captain had braced a few Korean Rangers whose units were working in tandem with US infantry. The captain threatened to give the trio each an Article 15, a punitive action that could cost a paygrade, a fine, and even restriction. The Koreans didn’t take it well and one of the shot his sidearm at the captain’s feet while yelling unintelligible things in his native language. One of the bullets accidentally struck the captain in the leg. The Koreans hit the trail and disappeared and the captain was airlifted to the Bien Hoa hospital for treatment.

The white glove inspection was cancelled, not that it would have ever succeeded. The captain, who never returned by the way, was lucky. Any number of disgruntled GIs were planning surreptitious accidents involving grenades, a practice called “fragging.” It’s doubtful that the captain realized how lucky he was to have merely been shot in the calf. We got a first lieutenant named Kanter who took the reigns shortly after the captain’s departure. Kanter, who’d been in country for seven months with the infantry already was an okay guy.