Part 7 of the Man Who Fell: "Hang in There..."
To catch up, click on parts 1, 2, 3, 4 , 5, and 6.
Being a reservist with a house and family back in Oklahoma, and after not having seen them all those months, all he could think of in that crushing moment was, ‘Oh my God, I’m stuck in this tent!?”
He quickly came to terms with his predicament and adjusted best he could. Right off the bat he established a “new relationship” with the skinny corporal. He left the tent intending to take a trip to the Post Exchange.
“Whoa. Where do you think you’re going?” the corporal demanded.
“I’m going to the PX. If you have a problem with that then you can come along with me.”
“Come on man. I’m just doing what I was told. If I let you go I could get in trouble,” the redhead practically pleaded.
“Well, I’m going, so you do what you got to do.”
From what he can remember of it, for the rest of his tent-living time George pretty much came and went as he pleased. The corporal continued to hang around, but they just ignored each other—a mutual agreement to live and let live.
The next two months passed in a blur. George would walk to the barracks for a shower and shave and then find himself at the sink without remembering the walk. Or, he’d walk to the PX and then he’d magically be back in the tent with a bag of sundries that he couldn’t remember buying. Even with his painful injuries he walked everywhere, but rarely remembered the actual walking part. Perhaps it was his body’s defense mechanism shielding him from the worst of the hurt.
On the day of the court martial George clearly remembers getting squared away in his best uniform and being nervous as hell. Two serious looking MPs showed up at his tent, probably sent in part to check out his state of mind for the colonel. They put George in handcuffs, and then one of them left. The other MP told George, “Wait a minute.”
And so he did until at last Colonel Bank entered the tent wearing fatigues and a soft hat. George came to attention and the colonel stood directly in front of him and in a very solemn voice spoke to George, “Sergeant W, I’ve thought it over and I have decided to drop all the charges.”
After spending so many months thinking about his predicament, George desperately wanted to say his piece, to explain why he said the things he said and did the things he did, and so he began earnestly, “I apologize sir, however, due to the circumstances…”
The colonel interrupted him harshly, “I don’t care if you were in five different pieces—you will never speak that way to an officer ever again. Do you understand?”
George shut his mouth, locked his body, and kept his explanations to himself.
To this day, considering what happened, he doesn’t understand why the colonel put him through the charade of an impending court martial. Knowing what I know now about military legal procedures, such as the requirement to provide counsel which was never done, its obvious there was never any intent to press charges. George theorizes that maybe the colonel wanted an excuse to come back to the USA from Bad Tolz Germany, but that is pure conjecture.
Incredibly, as far as the results of the parachute malfunction investigation George was told that the findings were secret and could not be disclosed! I asked him if he had any enemies, because it sure sounds like someone was out to kill him. We’ll never know.
Remember earlier in this story when George’s mere “living” presence caused people’s eyes to grow as big as plates in surprise? Well, the third time is the charm. When he at long last got back to Oklahoma and walked in the door of his home, he was delighted to see his wife and his mother in the living room, but instead of rushing up to him to deliver hugs and kisses they looked at him in shock, like they were looking at a ghost. The army had dutifully sent a telegram to his wife informing her that he had died during a military operation. This must have been during that time he had found himself in the Womack morgue. His family had spent the entire summer thinking him dead-and-gone in some faraway place.
George stayed in the army for four more years before his injuries pretty much forced him to call it quits. Believe it or not, he managed to stay in SF until the end. He even continued to jump albeit with great pain on every landing. Clearly it’s true that these Green Beret fellows are made of incredibly tough stuff, but that fall from the sky ruined him for the rest of his life as he freely admits. It was late afternoon two months ago when George came over to retell his incredible story over several rounds of coffee and tea. The fascinating tale took several hours to narrate and as I walked him out to his vehicle he thought of one last bit of irony. He told me that printed on his birth certificate are some very prophetic words to be sure. I couldn’t believe it when he told me what they are with that big toothy grin of his, “I must have had a very hard birth, in fact, according to my birth certificate it says that I was stillborn!”
Since that day he has never been without pain, and his physical and mental conditions have kept him from following most of his vocational dreams. The amazing thing for me is that he has little bitterness in him for the army or the SF. He is very proud of his service and most of his friends and acquaintances to this day are fellow SF veterans or "normal"vets like myself. (Most of us "normal" veterans consider these SF guys to be just this side of supermen).
It seems that from the very beginning of his life, George W has spent much of it proving to other people that he’s NOT dead! Hang in there buddy... I believe you!
Labels: The Man Who Fell