Monday, November 30, 2009

Young and Foolish

When I was in university, lo, these many eons ago, I was, for a required two years, in the Army ROTC.

LSU, being a land-grant college, required this of all physically-able male students. Choice was Air Force or Army, and how you got in one or the other was random, unless you had plans to join a particular branch. Guy went down the line pointing -- "Air Force, Army, Air Force, Army," and I got Army.

We marched around in squads, platoons, companies, did close-order drill carrying old Garand M1-s -- nine-point-five-pound-gas-operated-semi-automatic-clip-fed-shoulder-weapons, Sergeant! -- and attended classes. Most of the instructors were career NCOs or officers on a rotation back from Vietnam.

We took the M1 apart and put it back together -- "Hey, Sarge, what do I do with these leftover pieces? -- checked for the uniform of the day when we drilled, cleaned our weapons after we marched. This last seemed silly to me, since we didn't shoot the things, they were surplus, the Army having gone to the M14 and the new plastic toy M16 by then. But: Swab the bore, boiled linseed oil on the stock, and be careful you don't break your thumb when you release that bolt, son ...

We went to the indoor range and shot .22 rifles, locking and loading our single rounds of ball ammo -- "Ready onna right! Ready onna left! Ready on the firing line!" and paper-punching at fifty to a hundred feet.

Growing up in Louisiana, I had an advantage over the boys from the big cities out-of-state. After the first session at the range, the RO came over and asked me if I want to be on the rifle team. Me? Oh, no, Gunny, my mother shoots better than I do. (Which, at the time, with a rifle, was true of both my parents. They could split playing cards. Them hillbilly and Oakie and Cajun roots out in the country and swamps demanded that you could put supper on the table, and ammo cost enough that wasting a round was just not done. I could beat them both with a handgun, though.)

And some of theWWII training films, especially about VD and how to read maps, featuring "Joe," who couldn't act his way out of a paper bag, were unintentionally hilarious. The colonel teaching the class would shake his head and say, "I have to show you this, it is part of the curriculum, sorry ..."

But I told you that story so I could tell you this story:

Since I had just bought myself a new Colt Targetsman .22, I elected that I might want to try out for the pistol team, so they let me shoot at the ROTC range.

The pistol cost, as I recall, about a hundred bucks. If you can find one in good condition of the same vintage, it might run ten times that much now. Naturally, mine is long gone, swapped for something else. If I had a time machine, I'd go back and tell my younger self to hide the comic collection from Grandma and to pack all the guns in oily rags and lock them up. I'd be rich now.

Um. Anyway, I was living at home and commuting, and a couple times a week, I'd go to the range and run a box or so though the gun.

Getting the pistol to the ROTC building was tricky. The laws at the time didn't allow concealed carry, nor was I old enough to get a license had there been any. You could carry it in the open, but walking around on the campus with a pistol in hand seemed like a good way to get myself in trouble. Shoot first and ask questions later would be more likely if you looked up and saw some skinny kid waving a long-barreled handgun under the campanile, and I didn't want to have that happen.

So I tucked the unloaded pistol into my briefcase for transport from my car to the range. Illegal, but if I got stopped and searched, that would be a mitigating circumstance. (Editor's Note: Somebody pointed out to me that taking a cased firearm to the range from one's car was permitted back in Louisiana, and that a briefcase could be considered such. Ah, well. I knew I was innocent.)

Sometimes I ran late and had to hurry to my next class, and I'd just haul the briefcase along with me rather than going back to the car to lock it in the trunk.

One day, my brain off somewhere far away from my body, I went into the library, carrying the briefcase.

Getting into the library was no problem. However, leaving the library, you had to show the contents of backpacks or briefcases to a checker. I spaced on that completely.

Headed for the door, and came the dawn: Oh, shit!

What am I going to do here?

So I shrugged, and bold as brass, walked up to one of the checkers and said, "Hey. I'm on the ROTC pistol team," which wasn't technically true, as I unsnapped the latches on the case. "I don't want you to get nervous, but I have a gun in here." Whereupon I opened the case.

Checker -- a woman and student -- looked at the gun and nodded. "Okay."

Long as I wasn't trying to swipe a book, she didn't care.

I didn't do that one again. And life got in the way and I never made it to try out for the pistol team. I did my two years in ROTC, and while they wanted me to go four and get sent to Vietnam as an officer, I declined. I got married, dropped out of school, and went off to adventures in California instead.

Truly there must be angels who look out for fools and children.


Dojo Rat said...

So, My mentor, friend and editor of "The Portland Free Press" the late Ace Hayes (you can google him) always packed a handgun.
One day during anti-war riots at Portland State University (1960's) he was stopped by a cop on the outside of a skirmish with students. The cop demanded to know what was in his briefcase. Ace, in his typical unflustered way said "A handgun and ammunition".
The cop thought for sure he was just being a smart-ass, and told him to move along.
Good thing. He actually had a handgun and ammo in there.

Steve Perry said...

I used to know a guy who carried an Uzi in a violin case. Seriously.