The Last Jump

“Those who know how to win are much more numerous than those who know how to make proper use of their victories.”

Polybius (203 BC – 120 BC)

Two busses loaded with GIs rendezvoused at the Airborne Command Training Center at Fort Benning, Georgia.  The instructors, who were to teach this class, were milling around.  They all looked incredibly fit and wore white form fitting T-shirts with an image of a parachute on the front.  Above the parachute was the word AIRBORNE.  Their jump boots were highly spit-shined and they wore fatigue pants and baseball caps.  No rank insignia was visible.  When the doors opened the screaming began.  The bus storage compartment contained the boys’ barracks bags.  The instructors yelled orders to grab the first bag they could reach, run it over to the nearby drill field and drop it in one huge pile.  There were instructors all along the way who barked orders and pushed and nudged the troopers as they ran.  The trip ended near an elevated wooden platform that was used to demonstrate calisthenics.  The ragged line of soldiers staggered toward the platform under the continuing verbal and physical barrage of the instructors.

“Pile ‘em up right here!!”

“Fall in right there!!”

The eighty soldiers swiftly fell into formation facing the platform, a group of freshly built barracks directly behind them.  An officer stood facing them, hands on his hips.  There was an air of confidence about him.  It seemed everyone here, officers as well as NCOs, had that swagger.

“Welcome to Airborne Basic Jump School.  My name is Lieutenant Colonel Reuben H. Tucker and I’m the XO of the Five-oh-four PIR.  There are a few things you need to know before you begin here.” Tucker paced slowly from one end of the platform to the other.

“First, half of you won’t make it through the next four weeks.  Hell, you might not even make it through the first four hours!”  He stopped and looked directly at the middle of the formation.  “You know who you are so why don’t you save us all a lot of time and just quit right now.”  Johnny Kilroy believed the colonel was looking directly at him.  No one moved.

“Fine!  Then we’ll do it your way, the hard way,” Tucker continued while the instructors slowly circled the formation like sharks stalking prey.  “At this school, we double-time everywhere.  If you’re not running it means you’re seated or you’re dead.  Do not ever let anyone see you walking anywhere or leaning on anything or you will do enough pushups to slow the earth’s rotation.”  Tucker began pacing again.

“If you’re given an order or if you are asked a question in which you wish to respond in the affirmative, you will yell, ‘Strike-Hold!’ at the top of your lungs.  Do you understand?”  Two or three men yelled, “Strike-Hold!”  Tucker shook his head.  “This is not a good start, you can do better than that.  DO YOU UNDERSTAND?”

The whole formation screamed, “STRIKE HOLD!”

“Better.” Tucker stopped pacing again.  “The last thing you need to know is that this is a cadre trained regiment.  Most of the instructors will become part of the Five-oh-four or Five-oh-five after this class is trained.  They may become your squad or platoon leaders.  You’ll go into combat with them.”  The subtle meaning was clear.  Since they will likely be going to war with these instructors, they will not cut the students any slack.

“Captain Wolff, take over,” Tucker descended the steps from the platform.  Captain Louis Wolff ascended the steps at the same time, saluted, smiled and whispered as they passed each other, “Sir?  Slow the earth’s rotation, sir?”

“Right, Captain,” he smiled back.  “I need to come up with a better one than that.”  Colonel Tucker hopped into his jeep.  His driver sped off quickly, spraying dirt and gravel.

Wolff looked out over the sweating and shaken group of trainees.  “I’m Captain Louis Wolff.  I’m the training officer for this class.”  Wolff scanned the faces of the men before him.  “I think I recruited some of you.”  He paused.  “What the hell was I thinking?”  He shook his head in disgust.  “Well, let’s get this over with.  When you hear your name, go find your bag and report to the barracks directly behind you.  On the double!”  He nodded to the instructor at the head of the formation.

“Adams!” yelled the instructor.  A soldier broke out of the second rank, ran behind the formation, fished around for his bag with sharp, fast movements, found it and ran inside the barracks.  Before Adams found his own bag the instructor had already yelled, “Brown!”  That soldier did the same.  The instructor continued down the alphabetical list as a group of searching soldiers milled about the pile, shoving, pushing, and trying to get close enough to read the names stenciled on the canvas bags.  All the while another instructor was yelling at the group to hurry.  The names were being called faster than the soldiers could find their bags.  The crowd around the pile got larger and more unruly.

“Kilroy!” the instructor hollered.  “Shit, we got two.”  He looked up at Captain Wolff, shrugged and yelled, “Kilroy, John!  Fuck, we got two of them.”

Two men broke out of the ranks from opposite sides of the formation.  They both waded into the mass of scrambling GIs.

Johnny pushed his way in and started to turn the bags to see the names.  Arms and bodies were struggling to do the same thing.  It was chaos and the instructors continued yelling for the men to move faster.  Johnny turned over a bag, heard a soldier yell behind him, “that’s mine” and he tossed the bag back.

“Thanks, Mac.”

He continued prowling the pile under the constant barrage of insults.  The group began to thin out as more men found their own bags and fewer men looking at fewer bags sped up the process.  Finally, there was one bag left.  It was older and more worn than his.  He turned it over, read the name.  It was not his bag.

“What’s the matter, little girl?  Let’s move, hubba-hubba,” an instructor yelled.

“Not my bag, Sergeant,” Johnny answered, his voice seething with anger and frustration.  “I’m John P. Kilroy, this bag belongs to John No-Middle-Initial Kilroy.”

“Well, pick it up sweetheart and we’ll go find that dumb ass.”

Johnny hoisted the bag on his shoulder and followed the instructor into the barracks.  Double bunk beds lined the walls.  Bunks were also set up in the center corridor.  Instructors continued yelling and screaming.  The barracks was bedlam.

“Attention!” the older instructor yelled and the barracks became silent, each man standing rigid at the foot of his bunk.  Johnny dropped his bag and stood at attention in the middle of the corridor.  “I’m Staff Sergeant Bancroft.  I’ll be running this platoon through this training cycle.”  Bancroft had thin lips and a hawk-like nose.  His eyes scanned the room, black and piercing.  “Don’t worry about the crowding situation, by the end of the week there’ll be plenty of room and we’ll remove these extra bunks.”  He walked slowly up the corridor weaving between the soldiers.  “Do you candy ass pussies really think you have what it takes to become paratroopers?”  Before anyone could answer he continued in a louder voice.  “Do you sorry pieces of dogshit think you have the physical toughness and intelligence to be paratroopers?  I don’t think so.  Some of you can’t even fucking read!  Where’s Kilroy?” he screamed.

“Right here Sergeant,” a voice from the back answered.

“C’mon,” Bancroft motioned to Johnny who picked up the bag and followed.

They moved quickly to the last bunk in the back.  Jake Kilroy was standing there, at attention, the barracks bag he took unopened on the bunk.

Bancroft got right up in Jake’s face; his fiery eyes boring into Jake’s soul.  “You took the wrong bag, lady.  Can’t you fucking read?”

“I realized it when I got in here…” Jake tried to explain.  Bancroft was having none of it.

“You are John NMI Kilroy.  That bag says John P. Kilroy.  Belongs to this soldier here,” he pointed his thumb over his shoulder.  “If you can’t even read your own name and serial number, how the hell are you supposed to identify landmarks, road signs, read maps?”

“I can read, Sergeant.  It was a mistake.”

“Oh, we rushed you too much?  We made too much noise?  Is that what you do under pressure, make mistakes?”  Bancroft was nose to nose with Jake who realized answering his tirade was just getting Bancroft more agitated.  Jake said nothing.  Bancroft backed away.

“You’re John NMI Kilroy.  I can’t just yell Kilroy when I want you because I got two of you …so your name from now on is Enema.  Get it…N-M-I… En-em-a?   You better answer to that name.  Know why, ‘cause you’re dumber than shit.”  Bancroft grabbed the bag on Jake’s bunk and tossed it to Johnny, looked at him and said,  “Take that bunk.” He pointed to one a few feet away.  He took Jake’s bag from Johnny and tossed it on Jake’s bunk.  “I’ll be watching you,” turned to Johnny, “you too!”   Bancroft stormed out of the barracks.

“That’s great,” Johnny complained out loud.  “As if this wasn’t going to be hard enough.”

“Sorry, Mac.  I’m Jake,” Jake held out his hand.

Johnny looked at Jake’s hand in disgust and backed away.  “Fuck you.  You’re Enema.  And it’s an appropriate name for you too.  If you didn’t have your head up your ass, neither of us would be noticed.  Now we’re both on his shit list.”  Johnny felt his anger rising.

Jake clenched his fists and took a step forward.  “I have to take his crap but I don’t have to take yours.”

Johnny didn’t back down.  He didn’t know how.  He dropped the barracks bag and took a step forward.  “Why not?  Let’s go!”

Just then a blond haired, blue-eyed soldier stepped in between the two of them.  “C’mon boys.  This is not the time.  You can settle this later.  No reason to drag the rest of us into it.”  Some of the other soldiers murmured their agreement.  Johnny stepped back.

Jake dropped his hands and pointed at Johnny.  “This is not over.”

Johnny replied, “Not by a long shot.”

The soldier picked up Johnny’s barracks bag and walked him over to his bunk.  He put his hand on Johnny’s shoulder.  “It was an honest mistake.  We can’t be turning on each other.  That’s what they want.”

Johnny exhaled, the stress of the moment leaving his body.  “I know.  It’s just that I wanted to stay unnoticed.”  He managed a slight smirk.  “So much for that.  Thanks for stepping in.  My name is Johnny Kilroy.  Some of the boys call me Yank.”  He extended his hand.

The soldier shook it.  “I’m Schuyler Johnson.  My friends call me Sky.”

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