The Armistice celebrations this year warmed my heart. Such a change in attitude from the old, ugly Vietnam days when many Americans frowned on our military. It reminded me of my days when I wore khaki instead of polyester.
During the Korean War due to a cowardly desire to stay alive and avoid the draft, I joined the National Guard - a stay-at-home organization in those days. Smart, Teddy,” said all my friends. Well, turns out it was a smart move for two weeks, until the U.S. Army activated our National Guard unit. Now I was a real soldier - a target for some nutty North Korean.
First thing our leaders did to us - and why they chose 2:00 a.m. to do it was a mystery that only the CIA, M-5, and the KGB could untangle - was throw us into maneuvers. In the dark of a moonless night, they flew us into Texas meadows. “OK, men, set up tents,” bawled our first Sergeant. All this in a pitch-dark field in the middle of a storm like the mother of Katrina. Set up tents? Who had taken a course in tent erection? The National Guard from whence we came had heated buildings and well-lit classrooms. Tents were for Bedouins and Boy Scouts.
Well, the Army, in its wisdom, had included in our aircraft the main ingredients of a tent: which are a big piece of canvas, ropes to anchor it to the ground, and pegs which bonafide tent makers knew you tied to the ropes and pounded into solid earth. Cheap housing was all the rage then. After all, what was a piece of canvas, four ropes, four pegs, and a center pole worth? A couple of bucks?
We understood the basic concept, but were stymied by the fact that we had landed in a giant bowl of chicken soup. Pegs that hold the ropes that hold up the tent need good solid earth, not mush. Worst of all, not one of us new soldiers had ever set up a tent. What to do? Rain continued to come down in buckets propelled by a 40-knot wind. But we were saved by one of our freezing, soaking buddies who had once set up a tent on a hunting trip. After hours of trying to pound pegs into the soup, he had an insight. “Hey, look at those two trucks. We’ll set up our tent between them - we’ll tie the ropes to the trucks - get it.” Great idea, agreed twenty tent novices. “Yeah,” said one genius, “the wind might pull out our pegs anchored in mush, but never budge those trucks.” So that’s what we did. We unfolded our cots - set up the stove, and went to sleep in our truck-anchored, invincible tents.
Nobody had noticed the insignia on the trucks. “Refueling.” And in the night - like good refueling trucks are supposed to do - they drove off to an adjacent airfield to feed fuel into thirsty aircraft. Of course, in the process they pulled a 200 square foot chunk of canvas that used to be a tent behind them and left twenty newborn soldiers shocked to find themselves tentless - naked - unprotected in a tentless Texas night. The moon came out to laugh at us.
The humor of Ted, the Scribbler on the Roof, appears in newspapers around the U.S., on National Public Radio in Huntsville, Alabama and numerous web sites.