Going Home – Home Again?

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Reading order for the Going Home series is posted on the author profile.


The MPs didn’t speak to me on the ride. Only the hum of the Willys engine, chants from platoons doing obligatory physical training, and wind rushing past my helmet intruded on my thoughts. I sat through it wondering why I was being dragged away my outfit. It didn’t appear I was under arrest. The ride took the better part of a half hour.

At the end of the ride, we pulled up in front of a nondescript building. The sergeant roughly led me inside, my pack carried by the corporal, down a hallway into an office occupied by a harried senior NCO. He was on the telephone when we entered his office. We stood silently in front of his desk while he stared up at the ceiling, clearly exasperated. When he spoke, it sounded like he was talking to an obstinate child. His end of the conversation was punctuated by the occasional ‘Sir!’ He was on the phone with an officer.

When the conversation ended, he slammed the phone down and muttered something unintelligible, then turned his attention to the sergeant. ‘What?’ he barked.

‘Private Taylor as ordered, Master sergeant!’ my escort responded.

‘Dismissed Sergeant, Corporal. Close the door on your way out,’ the man behind the desk ordered. My escort departed without another word, carefully closing the door behind them. ‘Stand at attention, Private!’ he told me, louder than necessary in the closet-sized office.

He picked up a small folder, put it down on the desk in front of him, and paged through it slowly. The room quickly grew stiflingly hot with the door closed. I stood in front of him, sweating. Once he’d gone through the entire folder he leaned back in his oak chair and rolled it away from the desk a bit.

‘At ease. Who the hell are you?’ he asked with a growl. Before I could say anything, he continued. ‘I don’t like getting phone calls from brass. I especially don’t like getting phone calls from three-star brass telling me to pull a private off a troop ship about to depart. And that if don’t find said private, I can kiss my stripes goodbye. So, Private, once again. Who – the – hell – are – you?’

I wasn’t sure what to make of the question. Okay, my father was an admiral, but he wasn’t a three-star and there was no way in hell he’d pull strings to get me off a troop ship bound for Korea. I wouldn’t ask him to. I’d get my ass handed to me. So, I said the only thing that made sense, though I knew it wasn’t going to answer his question. ‘Pfc. Jonas T. Taylor, Master Sergeant!’ I barked the response as drilled into me during training.

‘I know that for Christ sakes, Private,’ he said sarcastically. ‘You got an uncle that’s a U.S. Congressman? Your mother the president’s niece? Your wife’s father the Secretary of Defense? Now, answer the fucking question, Private Jonas T. Taylor. Who the hell are you?’

‘Permission to speak freely, Master sergeant?’ I responded.

‘Dammit, Private! I asked a question. I expect you to answer!’ he responded impatiently.

‘I am just an unemployed college graduate that got drafted. I showed up an induction center three days late and two thousand miles away from where I was supposed to report, Master sergeant.’

‘Yeah, I ain’t buyin’ it, soldier! Your file says you’re a college boy. But college boys are a dime a dozen. I bet there’s more than a hundred privates still on that ship that are college boys. Three-stars don’t give a shit about college boys. At least not enough to personally call me and threaten my stripes.’

‘I don’t know what to say, Master sergeant. I have no idea what’s going on,’ I told him. But I was beginning to think my next set of orders would put me somewhere near JPL. I soon learned I was wrong.

‘Okay, soldier. I’m stuck with you for ten days and then you’re going to Ft. Benning. I’m ordered to send a detail with you to make sure you get there in one piece. I got more important things for my men to do than wet-nurse a VIP private on a cross-country train ride.’ He turned his attention from me to a closed door that led to an adjacent room and barked, ‘Corporal Collins!’

The door opened almost immediately. A skinny, nervous little corporal came in, ‘Yes, Master Sergeant?’

‘Private Taylor will be with us for a few days instead of joining the party in Korea. He’s assigned to Sgt. Kittery for the duration.’ He turned his attention back to me. ‘Sgt. Kittery will assign quarters and duty to keep you occupied until your travel orders are processed. Be ready at oh-four-thirty on the 27th. The detail assigned to escort you will pick you up at your barracks. Dismissed!’

Cpl. Collins led me into his office. Without a word to me, he picked up his phone and made a call, ordering a driver to take me to Sgt. Kittery. Sgt. Kittery was expecting me, but he wasn’t any happier to see me than the master sergeant.

I quickly learned Sgt. Kittery was a hard ass with a platoon of screw-ups assigned to him for disciplinary reasons. superman lois izle Beginning with an exhausting morning physical training regimen that started at oh four hundred, I spent ten fourteen-hour days working my ass off. Doing every foul, dirty job that needed doing. I spent Christmas Day hand-scrubbing the inside of an endless line of garbage cans used for kitchen waste. At least work ended early enough that day to allow us to shower and change before Christmas dinner.

The morning I was leaving, Sgt. Kittery kicked my bunk, told me to get dressed and drag my ass to his office. It was almost an hour earlier than I needed to get up.

When I got to his office, he looked at me like I was from another planet. ‘What were you doing here, Private? My job is to instill some discipline in screw-ups. You’re not a screw-up. Who’d you piss off to get assigned to me?’ He turned his back to me, poured a cup of coffee, and then turned back to me to hear my answer.

‘Apparently the Master sergeant. I have no idea why. I understand the Master sergeant got a call from a three-star ordering him to collect me, threatening to bust him if I got away. I really don’t know for certain what’s going on, Sergeant,’ I told him.

‘But you’ve got an idea,’ he said.

‘I do, but if I’m right, you don’t want to know more, Sergeant.’

He handed me the coffee. ‘So, you’re some kind of VIP private? That’d piss him off. Who you got pulling strings for you?’ he asked with an edge to the question.

‘My father is an admiral, but I can guarantee he didn’t pull any strings for me. He never has and would damn sure not start now, Sergeant.’ I heard the door behind me open and close.

‘Here’s your escort, Private. Good luck. You’re gonna need it if people find out you’re getting special treatment because of your connections. Dismissed.’

The trip to Ft. Benning was uneventful. My escorts were two sergeants, recently promoted to staff sergeant, both transferred to Ft. Dix in New Jersey. They were escorting me to Georgia, first. They were weren’t hostile but weren’t exactly friendly, either. They had my orders and were to deliver me and my orders to the base commander’s office when we arrived at Ft. Benning.

I was left with the base commander’s adjutant, a lieutenant colonel named Smythe. Despite how the name was spelled, he wasn’t a Brit. The conversation with Lt. Col. Smythe was far more cordial than my meeting with the master sergeant in San Diego.

‘At ease. Welcome to Ft. Benning, Private Taylor. I’m not sure why this fell on my desk. I see the paperwork but not the personnel until graduation. You’re assigned to the Officer Candidate School class that begins Tuesday,’ he told me. ‘But I don’t see your application or any of the accompanying documentation in your file. Misplaced, I guess. General Thomas ordered me to add you to the class before he left yesterday.’

‘Permission to speak, sir?’ I asked.

‘Granted,’ he responded without looking up from the folder in front of him.

‘There isn’t any application or accompanying documentation. I didn’t apply for Officer Candidate School,’ I told him.

His head snapped up. ‘I don’t understand. Why are you here then?’ he asked.

‘I can only guess, sir. I have a PhD in Physics. I turned down a job offer at Jet Propulsion Laboratory in May of ’49 and again a few months later, despite significant pressure applied to encourage me to accept. This may be how my services are being retained,’ I told him.

He was scowling, but I detected some amusement when he spoke. ‘That wasn’t very smart, considering what’s happening in Korea. You should have taken the job, Private. The pay would have been much better as a civilian. And if you were at JPL, you’d have been given a deferment. You could still end up in combat.’

From there I was turned over to a sergeant who took me to my barracks and showed me everything I needed to know to get me through to Tuesday morning when school began. Despite the fact that he outranked me, he was more pleasant than any sergeant I’d dealt with. In the meantime, my time was my own, though I was restricted to base. I spent some of it exploring the base while doing my daily physical training, at least those areas that weren’t restricted. I also met some of the other OCS candidates.

I hadn’t received mail in several weeks. It would be another month before it caught up with me. I called home, collect, the first chance I got. Mike answered the phone and screamed in delight. Gwen joined her, awkwardly sharing the phone. I spent almost an hour on the phone with them. It would be an outrageously expensive phone call, but I didn’t care.

Mike told me she was doing and feeling well. Enjoying every minute of the pregnancy. Gwen snickered and said, ‘Liar!’ But Gwen confirmed Mike was doing well but was uncomfortable and the size of a house. The baby was pressing on her bladder, her feet were swollen. She taiwan crime stories izle complained of being hot all the time and couldn’t get comfortable. Seth and Sara were taking a nap, so I didn’t get to talk to them, though both Mike and Gwen had plenty to tell me about them.

Before saying goodbye, I gave Gwen my new mailing address. She was thrilled to hear I was in Georgia rather than on my way to Korea, the last word they had of my whereabouts. She asked why I was in Georgia. I told her I’d been assigned to Officer’s Candidate School and explained what that meant. Her enthusiasm over my safety waned. I told her I thought it would work out better in the long run but didn’t tell her why I thought so.

Mike’s baby was born Feb. 8, 1951, two days after her due date, a healthy little girl, seven pounds, one ounce, nineteen and a half inches. Curly brown hair, blue eyes. We had discussed names through our letters. I suggested Margaret. Mike and Gwen liked Elizabeth. She became Elizabeth Bonnie.

The next three months went quickly. School wasn’t much of a challenge academically but was demanding and stressful in a host of other ways. I was assigned to the Engineers; Infantry and Artillery were the other options though I wasn’t given a choice. Little of what I learned seemed likely to be applicable at JPL. I developed an easy camaraderie with most of the other OCS candidates, though it was a competitive group. Most in the engineer’s group were civil engineers. A handful were mechanical or electrical. A couple were geologists, one was a hydrologist. I was the only physicist. And apparently the only PhD, a fact I kept to myself.

At graduation, we received our commissions as second lieutenants. We could expect to receive our assignments and travel orders the next day. Most of the Engineers planned to get together for drinks that evening at the Officer’s Club, the first time we were granted entry. I expected the Artillery and Infantry classes would be there, too.

I was in my quarters, almost ready to leave for the Officer’s Club, when a corporal showed up. He knocked, came to attention, snapped a salute, greeted me as Lt. Taylor, and introduced himself. I returned the salute and gave the ‘At ease’ order. The base adjutant wanted to speak with me immediately. The corporal would await me in the car. He came to attention, saluted. He held the salute and stood stock still until I returned it and dismissed him. It was going to be an adjustment being on the other side of that exchange.

When I got to Lt. Col. Smythe’s office, I was told to go right in, he was waiting for me. The door to his office was open but I knocked, came to attention and saluted when he looked up from his desk. He returned the salute and told me to close the door.

‘This is a first for me,’ he began. ‘Congratulations, lieutenant. My report says you stood out among the officer candidates.’

I was a bit confused by his first sentence. ‘Thank you, sir. But I’m sure you’ve addressed newly commissioned officers before.’

‘I have. But what I’m going to do now is a first.’ He opened a drawer and took out a box much like the one my lieutenant’s bars came in and handed it to me. It was a bit discolored and battered. It had seen some time and travel. I opened it and looked down at gold oak leaf clusters. U.S. Army major insignia. It was my turn to be confused. ‘What are these, sir?’ I asked.

‘They’re yours. Congratulations, Major Taylor,’ he said. ‘It took seven years, including nearly two years of combat in Africa and Europe during WWII before I got my oak leaf clusters in late forty-four.’ He sounded vaguely bitter.

‘Thank you, sir,’ I said uncomfortably. ‘But I shouldn’t have these, I haven’t earned them.’ I tried to hand them back to him, but he shook his head.

‘No, their yours. The paperwork came through yesterday, Dr. Taylor,’ he told me. ‘I was surprised enough that I took the time to confirm it. I have your orders. Want to hear where you’re going? Or would you rather wait?’

‘Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California,’ I responded.

He handed me my orders. ‘I never believed the Army was organized enough to be this Machiavellian, Major. I’m still not sure I believe it. Lt. General Mackle either holds you in high regard or he needs your skills for some special project.’ He stopped talking for a moment. I couldn’t think of anything to say so I remained silent. ‘Is your class going to the Officer’s Club? He asked.

‘Yes, sir. I was about to leave for the officer’s club when the driver you dispatched arrived,’ I responded.

‘Put your clusters on, Major. My driver is waiting outside to take you to the officer’s club. I’ll see you there later. Congratulations, Major Taylor.’ He extended his hand. I shook it and when he released it, I came to attention and saluted. He returned the salute and said ‘Dismissed.’ As I turned to leave, he added, ‘Your promotion was communicated terim izle yesterday but no hardware came with the orders. We have a surfeit of gold bars here, but no oak leaf clusters. Those are the clusters I received in Belgium in late 1944 when my commanding officer was KIA. Do them honor, Major.’

It was a cold, damp night. I was uncomfortable as hell on the ride to the Officer’s Club. But not because of the weather, I shrugged my overcoat off to change out the insignia. I fumbled with it. My driver’s eyes bugged out of his head when he saw me putting on major’s insignia in the rearview mirror.

I was late joining my friends at the Officer’s Club. I hesitated before going inside. I knew the clusters were going to cause a stir. I considered these men friends though I knew I’d probably never see any of them again after the next day or so. I went inside and looked around. I heard someone call my name before I spotted anyone I knew. I made my way to the table and pulled up a chair. Someone poured a beer for me. A toast followed and we all drank. I needed it.

I’d been sitting with my colleagues for almost an hour before Paul Confortini, the lone hydrologist said, ‘Jonas, take your coat off. Stay a while!’ A chorus of three or four others parroted the sentiment.

I resisted but they heckled me until I relented. I reluctantly stood and took my overcoat off. Everyone at the table fell silent as I sat down again.

John Tailor, a thirty-three-year-old Purdue-educated electrical engineer leaned toward me and asked, ‘What the hell, Jonas?’

I heard Tailor say, ‘Oh, shit under his breath just before someone else said ‘ten-hut.’ Lt. Col. Smythe had chosen just that moment to make an appearance at our table.

Before anyone could react, Smythe said, ‘At ease, gentlemen, it’s a party.’ Smythe looked at me first, right at the insignia on my uniform.

I heard Tailor mutter, ‘Oh, shit.’ again.

Smythe looked around the table and said, ‘Congratulations gentlemen. I’ve reviewed your fitness reports. I think you’ll be fine officers and do us proud.’ He engaged briefly with several sitting at the table then said, ‘Please excuse me, I’d like to congratulate the other officers.’ He looked at me and nodded. ‘Good to see you again, Major Taylor.’

My friends were dumbfounded. Confortini spoke first, “Permission to speak, sir?’

I shook my head and looked at him with a smirk. ‘Give me a break, Paul. What?

‘With all due respect, sir. What the fuck?’ he asked incredulously.

Everyone laughed nervously. And awaited an answer.

‘Look guys, I don’t understand this anymore than you do. Lt. Col Smythe didn’t explain when he gave me the clusters earlier,’ I told them.

‘Your education? We all have college degrees. That’s why we got into OCS. So, you have a degree in Physics. How does that rate oak leaf clusters?’ Bob Simmons asked, his annoyance obvious.

I found myself a little annoyed. Not at them but at myself. I would have been better off sharing the fact that I had a PhD. ‘It’s Dr. Taylor,’ I responded. I thought it sounded a little haughty after I said it, which wasn’t my intention. ‘I don’t think it deserves the clusters, either. But I wasn’t allowed to refuse the damn promotion.’

The table remained silent. I could tell they were uncomfortable. They were supposed to be having a few beers with friends and peers. Instead, there was a superior officer sitting among them. I wasn’t happy with Smythe for ordering me to wear the clusters. I wondered if he did it intentionally. Was this another instance of someone tormenting me for some perceived special treatment?

‘I don’t know what to tell you. I got drafted. I did basic and Advanced Combat. I didn’t apply to OCS. I was about to board a ship for Korea as a private when I got pulled out of my unit. I don’t understand or like it any more than you do. None of it was my idea or my doing,’ I told them. I’m not sure they believed me.

I stayed and had a couple more beers. Conversations resumed but they were subdued now, rather than imbued with the energy, smiles, and enthusiasm I observed when I first arrived. I tried to fit in, to resume the comradery that had been built over the previous three months. But everything had changed. I was no longer one of them. Without intending to, I’d ruined the evening for them. I was considering leaving when Smythe’s driver showed up and told me the adjutant was waiting outside for me. I wished them luck. They all said goodbye, almost grudgingly, a few adding ‘sir’. They were as bewildered and uncomfortable as I was.

Lt. Col. Smythe was waiting in his car, the corporal opened the door as I approached. Smythe motioned for me to get in. I slid in next to him, wondering what he wanted. The corporal closed the door and went around to get in behind the wheel.

‘I’m sorry I ruined the celebration with your friends. I should have let you have tonight and promoted you tomorrow,’ he sighed. I didn’t say anything. He tapped the seat behind the driver’s shoulder. The driver put the car in gear and pulled away smoothly. When we got to the intersection where he could have turned toward my quarters, he went straight instead.

‘Where are we going, sir?’ I asked.

‘The airfield,’ he told me. ‘You live near Los Angeles?’

‘Yes, sir. Encino.’

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