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A strange tale covering the period from late 50's to present date. Truth or Fiction? Who knows?
There was a time once when people in hydrogen bomb factories thought they were making reactor parts. It was a time of deception and illusion, and only a few knew all ofthe answers. The story is told by one John Moran, over drinks in an American Legion bar. His audience is three so-called strangers he has just met. There are really three stories in the tale. The first is how John’s brother became entangled with the government. The second is John’s story of his own strange life. The third, and perhaps the most interesting of all, is the real reason why John has come to town. Are the stories true, one may ask? Reality is a mixture of truth and illusion. So I’ll leave it up to you to chose the blend.
Strange things seem to happen in November. Sometimes bad things, like the Ia Drang Valley. Sometimes, good things, like the end of World War I. We even get to chose the leaders of our government in November, most of the time. Did I say most of the time?
It was November twenty second, 1976 and America had just finished celebrating its two hundredth birthday. Thanksgiving was just around corner, and Me, Cody, Pat and Reed were enjoying a couple beers at the local American Legion. I had just finished telling them how I had first met Charley in basic training thirteen years earlier. Charley was a young hot shot buck sergeant from Texas.
Reed bummed a cigarette and made a quick trip to the rest room. When he got back, I picked up my story where I had left off.
"The next week, we started going to the rifle range on a daily basis. Right away though, I started having some problems."
"What kind of problems?" Cody asked.
"Well, we were "Battle sight zeroing" our M-14 rifles. Now, as a kid, I was a good shot with a 22. But all day I was having a hard time just getting one bullet on target. At the end of the day, my instructor passed me out of pure frustration. In the days that followed, I wasn't hitting anything I was aiming at. Finally the day came when we had to qualify with our weapons for real. That morning I took down 7 targets out of 100, which was a miserable failure.”
“When we broke for chow, I got word that Charley wanted to see me. I walked into the range hut and he was sitting at a table thumbing through the morning’s results. Charley quickly looked up at me and asked, `Moran, you ain't blind or anything like that are you?'
`Then how the heck do you explain these results? You know you boloed, don't you?'
`Well, bolos get recycled. You know that, right?'
`Well, what's the damn problem, Moran?'
`Sarg, I'm aiming, but I just not hitting anything.'
`Did you battle sight your weapon?'
`Well, kind of, Sergeant.'
`What do you mean, kind of?'
`Well I never did get it sighted in exactly.' Charley stared at me for a second, and smiled,`Go get your weapon, and come with me, Moran.'
"We walked outside and all of the troops were still eating. Charley quickly got a hold of a range NCO and asked, `Billy, could you do me a favor and set up number six.'
`Sure Charley, no problem.' Then Charley grabbed a butt can full of loaded rifle magazines and we walked over to the number six position. `Now jump in that in hole, he commanded.’ Then he yelled out, `Range cleared?'`Clear!' came back over the PA. Charley turned to me and said, `Lock and load your weapon. Now take out that row of 100 yard targets.'
"I took careful aim and fired five rounds at five separate targets. None of them went down. Charley immediately demanded, `Hand me that weapon, soldier.' He held the weapon in one hand at his waist like a pistol, and squeeze off five rounds down range in rapid succession. Nothing happened. Then he adjusted the sights and this time put it to his shoulder, aimed and squeezed off five more rounds at the hundred yards targets. This time one of the 300 yard targets went down. He looked down at me in the foxhole and asked, `Where the hell did you get this weapon from, John's Bargain Store?' Then he stuck his hand in his pocket and pulled out a set of keys.
`Come here, Moran! You know where my car is over there?'
`Good, here's the key to the trunk. In the trunk you will see a long white tool box. This is the key to the box. Open it, get my weapon, and bring it back here.'
"I ran over to his car and opened the trunk. There was a beat up long white steal box with a pad lock. I opened it and the inside was velvet lined, and there was an M-14 rifle in 3 pieces. I quickly put the rifle together and ran back to Charley."
‘Hand me the weapon, he barked.” Then he called for a clear again. He quickly slapped a magazine into the weapon. Once more, he held the weapon in one hand at the waist and banged off five rounds. Instantly, five 100 yard silhouettes went down in rapid secession. Next, he grasped the muzzle guard with his left hand, and still at the hip popped another five rounds. This time five 200 yard targets dropped. Immediately after that he took a kneeling position, shouldered the weapon and dropped five 250 yard targets. I was impressed all right. Last, but not least, he rose to a standing position and clicked off another five rounds. This time only four of the 300 yard targets went down. Charley stare at the standing target for a second in disbelief, Then yelled, `Clear the range and bring me that silhouette.'
A few minutes later, a PFC. ran up to Charley with the silhouette in hand. Charley took it from him and immediately stuck his pinkie through a hole, dead center in the head. He quickly turned to the PFC., `Fix that darn thing will you, private.' Then he handed me his weapon, and said, `You’ll use this weapon, and we'll try it again this afternoon." This time I took 98 down out 100 and made expert.
At the end of the day we switched weapons and he told me to turn mine in to the armorer. He smiled, ‘Tell the armorer, that this time you'd like one with a straight barrel!' Special treatment? You better believe it, anyone else just would have just been recycled. You know, put into another company, two weeks behind on the training schedule to do it all over again. There was one other strange thing about the incident, but I didn't realize it at the time. You see, NCO’s don't have their own personal weapons that they carry around in the trunk of their car."
Cody kicked in, "That guy must have been one heck of shot, taking down five targets one handed. Especially the way an M-14 kicks."
"Oh yeah, he was a natural, okay."
Pat asked, “So what happened after that?”
"Well, a couple of nights later, Charley dropped by the barracks for another one of his friendly visits. This time Panama, me and Barker were sitting on our footlockers, shining our boots, chatting about what a great president Kennedy was. Charley quickly joined in the conversation and dropped another one his bombs. This one was a real shocker.
’Great president?' he moaned. The guy's a damn traitor.' With that comment, Panama got really mad and told Charley, `You can't talk that way about the President, he's the commander in chief, sergeant.' Charley just smiled and said, `He ain't my commander in chief,and next week he won't be yours either.'
`What do you mean by that, sergeant?' Panama demanded.
`I mean maybe we're all gone have a new President real soon.' With that, Charley just winked at me and left with a really strange look on his face.
"Panama immediately turned to us, and said, `That guy is really stupid, man.' Barker agreed, but I didn't say anything. Strange as it seemed, for some reason I believed Charley knew what he was talking about."
"A couple of days later, after the noon formation,, Charley approached Corporal Nolton. `Nolton, he said, I'm going away on some personal business. So tomorrow, you'll be in charge of fourth platoon, also. Don't worry, I've already cleared it with the first sergeant.' Nolton smiled, `No problem, Charley. Where are you going?'
`I'm flying home tonight. I’ve got to see some people about my uncle’s estate. I'll be back the day after tomorrow.'
`Well, good luck. Have a safe flight.'
`Thanks, Nolton, I appreciate that.' Yeah, Charley and Nolton had their little runs in from time to time. But somewhere along the way, they seemed to have gained a mutual respect for each other."
"That night after chow, I ran into Charley as he was leaving the fourth platoon barracks. He was wearing blue jeans with brown construction boots. He also had on a white turtleneck under a blue and black flannel hunting shirt. In his left hand was an airline bag. In his right was that white tool box of his. That really struck me odd, somehow I imagined Charley going home in a suit with and attaché case. He just smiled at me, and said, `Hey, Moran! I'm going to Texas. Want me to bring you back a steer, partner?'
`No thanks, Sarg." He just winked and walked off to his candy apple red convertible.
"Bright and early the next day, we marched off to the rifle range again. There were 250 New Yorkers in our company. Of course one of them had to be named Kennedy. Joe was in the third platoon and was a pretty out going guy. Naturally, everyone knew him, and most us of liked him."
"By early afternoon, I was on the firing line again, when suddenly the PA blasted,`Cease firing!' Everybody cleared their weapons and just looked at each other. Then word passed down the line, `Kennedy got shot, pass it a long.' Everyone thought it was Joe at first. Then one guy at the end of the line yelled out, `Who shot him?' `A voice rang back, `Some guy in Texas.' With us being in New Jersey, a third voice quickly rang out, `Boy, what a shot!' Then the PA made the formal announcement, `The President has been shot. All we know is that he was rushed to hospital, but we don't know how serious it is yet. Platoon sergeants form up your platoons in the break area.'"
"When we got to the break area, we were put at ease with a "light em if you got em." Then in disbelief, the rumors started flying all over the place. The big one was the Russians were behind it and we're going to war. Even a couple of NCO’s were buying into that one. Finally, Nolton said, `I don't think the Russians are that stupid. So I wouldn't worry about a war for right now.' We hung out for about two hours as got updates over the PA. Finally, somebody made the decision to give us the rest of the day off. So we marched home in somber silence."
“About 9 PM, that night I saw Charley from our window walking back to his barracks. He was wearing the same clothes he had left in. At first, in the distance, he looked kind of tired and beat. But as he drew closer I could see a nervous fear on his face. That just wasn't like Charley at all, I thought. What stood out even more in my mind, was that white tool box of his, it was still in his right hand.”
“After that night, his visits to my barracks ended. So I never did get the chance to ask him how did things went in Texas. Three weeks later, we graduated basic. Nolton got his
third stripe and Charley got orders for OCS. Me, I got orders for Ft. Bragg. It seemed the army thought I was smart enough to skip school at Ft. McClellan and go right to work."
Cody asked, "So you didn't take Charley up on his job offer?”
"No, Cody, I didn't have to. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was already in the game."
Pat kicked in, “Wait a second. Are you telling us this Charley shot President Kennedy?”
“I didn’t say that, Pat. I was just saying that history is a strange mixture of truth and illusion. I'll leave it to you to chose the blend.”