Two Tickets to Heidelberg
The encompassing sleep I’d found in the back of a two and a half ton military vehicle came to an abrupt end.
“Wake up Yoncas.”
I glanced around the cargo area then sat forward.
Near the back of the truck, a soldier studied me, his hands on his hips. “Well what do we have here, a couple of stowaways?”
I’d developed a habit of matching nametags with faces. I ran through the list and pulled one out. “Morning Corporal H.”
Corporal Jim H. had been in the military for a while. He had about ten years on me, and I guessed most of it had been spent doing the same thing, working in mess halls. There were more people like him at the time than you might have thought, quiet, unambitious sorts who’d found, for lack of a better term, a safe-haven in the military. He wasn’t the head cook, but chances were pretty good he’d been put in charge of this detail.
“We missed the convoy,” I said. “Sergeant M. was pretty upset about it. He told us to hitch a ride with you guys. I hope you don’t mind?”
“Better come out with the rest of it,” Billy added.
“Oh, yeah, I guess we’re supposed to help you guys out a little.”
Corporal H. grinned. “Guess you’re sort of at my mercy, huh?”
He moved his hands away from his hips and crossed his arms across his chest. “Say while we’re on the subject, what’s this I hear about you being from Oklahoma?”
I hadn’t realized we had been on that subject and I hoped the Corporal didn’t have it out for Okies. “That’s right. Wish I was there now.”
“What part of Oklahoma?”
“Sand Springs, a small town near Tulsa.”
“Yeah, I know where it is. Grew up in Sapulpa myself.”
I grabbed my duffel bag and climbed out of the truck. “We’re practically neighbors.”
The corporal smiled but his expression overrode the gesture. “I get to thinking about it now and then. I can’t say I miss it for the most part, but there were some times. Life wasn’t all that good for me there, came from a poor family, wasn’t all that popular at school. You know the routine?”
I wasn’t sure why the corporal had chosen that time to open up to me, but I wasn’t surprised that he had. Such occurrences had become common, a trend that would later encourage me to enroll in college classes. I would go on to earn nine hours of psychology credits at the University of Maryland. I had intended to obtain a degree in the subject, once I got out of the military. Yet another one of those things I didn’t follow up on.
Let me get back to the story.
“Anytime you want to talk, about anything,” I said, “let me know. I’m a pretty good listener.”
Billy had gotten out of the truck as well and he was standing next to me. “Where do we put our stuff?” He asked.
The corporal glanced at our deflated duffel bags. “Is that all you got?”
“No sleeping bags?”
“Didn’t have time to grab any.”
“This army is going to hell in a handbasket,” the corporal said. “Help me unload the truck and I’ll show you where to go.”
About an hour later, Corporal H. led Billy and me to a large, military tent that’d been set up approximately fifty yards northwest of the bivouac area.
As I write this it occurs to me that the story gets a little weird at this point, not by intent, but by epiphany as I rediscover the old memories along with you. Except for a kerosene-fed stove and a couple of cots, we found the ten by twenty foot space empty. To this day, I don’t know why that tent was there, or what its real purpose was. Billy and I used it without disturbance the entire time we were there. At the time, I considered our circumstance a bit of luck. However, looking back I experience a tinge of guilt as a trail of deduction leads to no other end than the majority of the other soldiers having shivered on the ground in sleeping bags.
“You can put your stuff here,” the corporal said.
Our trip to Baumholder turned out to be a bit of a vacation in comparison to typical military life. We worked about three hours a day, washing a few metal trays after each meal, and outside of that we were on our own. As quasi chow boys, Billy and I dined separately from the masses, taking our meals in the tent where we spent the bulk of the daylight hours for fear of being discovered and shanghaied into duty of a more strenuous nature. I imagined the veins in Sergeant M’s forehead swelling to capacity, had he known the outcome of our punishment.
Later that day, in the early evening hours, I was stretched out on the cot, fading off to dreamland. Keep in mind this was the same day that Billy and I had walked across half of Germany, looking for Coleman Barracks. Sleep would come easy, but not just yet. One of the few inconveniences of our private tent was the lack of a latrine.
“I’ll be right back,” Billy said.
About thirty yards north of the tent, an outhouse occupied a rather scenic spot overlooking a valley. I figured that was Billy’s destination, though his words had barely registered.
What seemed like seconds later, Billy rushed back into the tent. “You got to see this,” he said.
I sat up and dropped my feet over the side of the cot. “It’d better be good.”
“It is. Come on.”
Once outside, neither of us having a flashlight, we stumbled along in the darkness until we reached the area where the outhouse sat.
“Look,” Billy said. He pointed into the valley. “There they are.”
Struggling to adjust to the available light, I looked down the slope and into the darkness. The valley floor seemed to be moving. As if a large body of water had flooded its boundaries, the area bobbed and weaved with dark, undulating shapes. A mixture of grunts and snorts accompanied the chaos.
“What is that?”
“Razorbacks,” Billy said.
“We’re a long way from Arkansas.”
“Maybe so, but I’d know that sound anywhere.”
“Wild boars,” I said. “Germany is famous for them.”
“I don’t recon there’s much difference.”
“They’re getting louder,” I said.
“They’ve caught our scent.”
I turned away from the approaching snorts and scrambled out of there. Billy had a thirty yard jump on me but I was gaining on him. Propelled by the stench of hot, pig breath, I streaked past the tent and ran for the deuce and a half that had brought us to this demented game reserve. Not knowing the jumping and climbing capabilities of wild boars, I avoided the cargo area and climbed into the passenger side of the cab.
Expecting the angry beasts to body-slam themselves into the truck, pummeling it to the point of metal fatigue, I scrunched down in the seat, hoping to avoid detection.
Moments later, a scream that would melt the peels from onions cut through the night.
I sat forward, chanced a peek through the window.
Nothing. No pigs. No Billy. I was all alone.
I gathered my courage and climbed out of the truck. I couldn’t let my friend get trampled and gored by a bunch of overgrown, German pigs. I retraced my steps until I reached the hill overlooking the valley where the commotion had begun.
This area, too, seemed deserted. Until something or someone that resembled an African chieftain, brandishing a spear, came out of the darkness.
“Silly things cornered me in the crapper.”
“I’m guessing that was you I heard screaming?”
“That was no scream. It was a war cry. I found this old mop handle in the outhouse and chased the crazed razorbacks away with it.”
“It must have worked,” I said. “I don’t see any more boars around. I guess that makes you a hero of sorts.”
“Why do you say that?”
“If you hadn’t turned them away, the boars probably would have run through the camp. There would have been a lot of surprised soldiers, jumping from their sleeping bags.”
A couple days later, having finished the evening dishes, Billy and I were kicked back in the tent.
Even as one who lived this era, it’s been difficult for me to conceive of having no personal computer, no smart phone, no cell phone, or any type of device that would connect to the internet. And even if by some strange circumstance I would have had any of those things, there was no internet to connect to. Television and radio broadcasts were available, but neither Billy nor I had a radio or a television with us. All we had was conversation. I truly miss those times.
Anyway, by this time I had begun to experience cabin, or tent fever.
“We have close to an hour of daylight,” I said. “What do you say we go on a little exploratory mission?”
Billy looked comfortable and content in his cot. “Why would we want to do that?”
“So far all we’ve seen is the mess tent, this tent, and the outhouse.”
“This is the best duty I’ve ever had. Let’s not push our luck.”
“We could skirt around behind the tent and check out the area outside the camp. No one will notice.”
“What little sense of judgement I have left is telling me to stay here and enjoy my freedom.”
“We’ll be back to the tent within thirty minutes. What could possibly go wrong?”
I truly promise to wrap it up next post.
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