-- 4-39--

Forrest Brandt, 1LT, USA (1968-1969) - 2

         I escorted Brian Clark (?) from the BBC and the guy from the Overseas Wee(a)kly.  Both went about their job like an ordinary beat reporter for a daily.  Talk to people, take notes, record some of it, shake hands, and jump on the chopper back to Saigon.  Clark spent three days with 1/1 and 1/2 (Mech) as they were working out of An Loc and Song Be along Highway 13 and we were getting a lot of activity in that area at the time.  Lived with both units, went on patrol, and hunkered down in NDPs.  The Overseas Weekly guy just wanted to get a story on Colonel Archie Hyle who had apparently appropriated some G-5 funds to get a chicken hatchery (incubator) for the village of Lai Khe which ended up being set up behind his tent (maybe he and the CG had a thing for fresh eggs) at the same time he had just written an order for the removal of all girlie pics and filthy (his words, not mine) short timer calendars (remember: "God Damn you Charlie Brown"?) from EM tents to be enforced by "Yours Truly."  


           I may have put this on the net some time ago when we were discussing Bob Hope and other entertainers in Vietnam.  I got to escort Joey Bishop around the First Division's AO in early 69.  He arrived in jungle fatigues, no band, no girls, and no entourage.  He could have sat in Lai Khe and done a gig in the Officers' Club and the EM clubs, but he insisted on taking a chopper out to as many FSBs and NDPs as we could get to in two days.  He walked through the wire and just sat down with the guys and talked.  At the end of his visit he passed out note cards and had the grunts write their parents names, addresses and phone numbers on the cards which he then collected.  When he got back to the states he called the parents and talked to them...all from his own pocket. I never watched his show and until I met him I thought of him as just a hanger-on to the rest of the rat pack.  In those two days he impressed me.


          My first assignment in Vietnam was with the 1st Signal Brigade in Long Binh.  I arrived about three weeks short of my promotion to First Lieutenant and discovered that I was to be the unit's transportation officer...a butter bar in an office filled with LTCs, MAJs, a hand full of Captains and very senior NCOs.  It was a shitty job and I began to look for ways out, a course of action, which did not endear me to the other brass hats.  So let me add this to Don's sandbagging tale:


Major Zaremskie's Revenge:


          Lieutenant Colonel Paperone was in Hawaii visiting with his wife and kids and enjoying a break from the war. Major Zaremski had been left in charge. He called me into his office.  He was slouching in his chair, turned sideways, legs stretched out and crossed, a freshly lit cigarette clamped in his lips, fatigues starched and tight on his lean body. He took a long, easy drag and stared at the toes of his boots as if looking for the answer to some deep philosophical question. Without looking at me he began to speak, smoke coming out with his first words, "Lieutenant, I got a little project for you. Right down your alley."


          With that he pulled himself forward and spun the chair so that he could lean across the desk toward me. "I think your problem is that you don't know our equipment and its capabilities and without that information, hey, anybody would look stupid. Know what I mean?"  A used car salesman smile crept across his face, "So, anyway, here's what I got set up for you."  Pause. Puff.  He reached to the side of his desk and used his pinky signet ringed left hand to push two books, each an inch and a half thick, toward me.  "I want you to take these two manuals. They show you every stinkin' vehicle, radio, antenna, generator, trailer...." His smile rested just short of a sneer and then he continued, "the whole fuckin' list of what we own here in signal and once you know that shit, you'll know how to go about your God damn job."   He took another long, luxurious drag and resumed the slouch he had maintained when I entered.  "So, I don't want to see you just reading."   The head turned toward me again and an earnest look swept across his face.  "No sir. I want you to take this manual and I want you to make me a hand written list of what we own and what it does."  The smile had reemerged on his lips and eyes,  "That way, when you're done, I'll know that you know enough to work here and then maybe that list will help me to know just what I can expect from you.  Got it?"


          "Yes Sir." I knew exactly what the task was.  It was make-work, chicken shit in army parlance. That was as obvious as the smirk on his face.  He didn't have any real work for me, but he was going to exercise his power while the boss was away.  He was going to show the cocky-ass lieutenant how things stood. That was his prerogative.  He could assign chicken shit till it ran out my nose and there was nothing I could do about it.


          "In fact Lieutenant," the earnest look returned, "I want that shit in duplicate and I want it no later than Wednesday, then we'll see what else I can come up with so you don't have to sit at your desk with fuckin' nothing to do."


         Well, what was there to say or do?  Chief Warrant Officer Joseph didn't say anything . If he had it would have only been, "I told you so."  He knew Zaremski and his butt hole buddy, Major Gonsalves, and he knew how to keep them off of his turf.   He avoided my look and wrapped himself in his own reports. For a short period of time it seemed to me that the whole office knew that I was an untouchable, a pariah, that it was dangerous to be seen with me, that I was the bad kid being punished and if you didn't want to be included you better stay clear.

         I located a black ball point and a white legal pad, sat down at the desk, opened the first manual and began to transcribe: "ANPRC-25, radio set, pack mounted, battery powered, range..." Item by item I recorded.


          I hadn't had such work since Greenmont Elementary and Mrs. Findley's fourth grade.  She would assign us pages to do in a grammar workbook, then she, sitting at her desk, would go around the class room calling on each person to read one sentence and provide the correct answer:  "Tom said he (don't, didn't) know where the ball was."   I sat in the fourth chair of the first row, closest to the door. From wherever she started in the room I would count ahead, in both directions, and figure out which two sentences I might have to do and do those two.  Then I would get back to the baseball cards or the Lionel Train Catalogue stuffed in between the pages of the work book and spend the time more usefully, wondering why the Reds didn't trade Bud Podbelien for Robin Roberts or imagining how good that Santa Fe Super Chief would look on my train board.


          This went on from the first days of school until just before Thanksgiving break.  On one dark day in mid-November some lug head three chairs away picked 'ain't,' a ridiculous answer and Mrs. Findley, instead of forcing the kid to see the error and change his answer, moved right on to the next person.  Suddenly I knew I was going to be accountable for sentence 21 instead of 22.  I shoved the catalogue to one side and flipped back to the workbook. Mrs. Findley, a lean, friendly woman with black and gray hair in beauty shop waves, looked over the top of her gold-rimmed glasses.  "Forrest, what do you have in that workbook?"


          "Nothing Ma'am."


           "Well then, bring your workbook up here for me to see."


           The crisp ironed lines were fast going out of my shirt.  My copper red burr hair moved forward on my scalp as I scrunched my forehead trying to think this one out.  I tried to lift the workbook in such a way that the catalogue would slide to the desktop and leave me to deal only with the consequences of a mostly unfinished workbook.  Instead the catalogue hit the desktop with a slap, slid to the seat and then made an ungainly topple to the floor, inches from the rolled up cuffs of my dungarees . It rested in such a way that the magnificent silver cars of the Chief, rose from the floor in a long, smooth curve, like the incline of a roller coaster, peaked, and then descended back to the green tiled floor.


           Mrs. Findley began by confiscating the precious catalogue then she looked at the workbook.  Page after page revealed the same thing: One, two, possibly three sentences done.  The ones I was called upon to read aloud.  The rest was as barren as the moon.  "Well, Forrest, you'll have to make these up. I want you to stay in at recess and after school until you have caught up."


          I got to know the principal's office very well.  I was placed at a little desk pushed against the cinder block walls, my back to the big wood window that faced out toward the crawdad and polliwog filled creek across the street from the school and the sidewalk leading to Browning's Drug Store, the source of frozen Milky Ways, cherry cokes, bubble gum, baseball cards, clear plastic squirt guns and two toned Duncan yo-yo's; all the places and things I might have been enjoying instead of sitting here trying to choose between endless variations of 'couldn't', 'can't' and can't.


          The old Regulator school clock rested on the wall high above my head, the hands and sturdy ticks recording the tortured seconds and minutes of each recess and the first half hour after school ended each day.  The time seemed to lay before me like a straight stretch of highway across Kansas until, at long last, just before Christmas break,  I was caught up with all the work.  I left Mr. Foster's office a free man, my debt to society paid in blood time.  Then I had a final thought, "God, please don't let her find out about Mad Magazine and my math book."


          Now here I was, all grown up, out of college, commissioned as an officer in the army, shipped off to a foreign war and someone with half of Mrs. Findley's mentality and none of her concern about my education, was taking me back to those days.  I would survive again.  What I would learn was dubious. Major Zaremski may have been an asshole, but right now he was the asshole in charge and this was going to be a long ten days.