“SOLDIER! WHERE’S YOUR NAME TAG?!!”
The captain bellowed this from about a hundred feet away, as Eddie stood there in his new Class A’s and his envelope full of papers in hand.
Travis Air Force Base was a big place, and it seemed that it attracted all sorts of people, especially those who were out-processing from the military, mainly the Army, back in the Sixties.
Eddie was just back stateside from the Mekong Delta, having survived, more or less intact, the experience of being a rifleman in the 9th Infantry Division.
Eddie was from Brooklyn, which probably accounted for a couple things – the fact that he DID survive his time in-country, and the fact that he never enjoyed taking shit from anyone, and usually didn’t. Eddie also had, in his pocket, a Dear John letter, which didn’t do much to make him a happy camper at the moment.
By now the captain, having bellowed out his intent to stalk, had stormed over to stand next to Eddie, and asked again, only quieter this time, as he was a few inches shorter and quite a few pounds lighter than Eddie’s 6’2”, 215lbs, “I asked, Soldier, where is your name tag? I see you have your new issue Class A’s on, and I know you were issued a name tag with them, so why are you not wearing it? What IS your name?!”
The captain seemed a little smug, standing there, likely feeling secure in the fact that he was a captain, and outranked the hapless Eddie, and everyone else around, as well, but he only came across to Eddie as someone looking like an overtaxed CPA, who had never been given much attention as a child. Eddie thought that likely the captain would have made a very good (or bad) prison guard, something that Eddie had first-hand knowledge about during his earlier years.
Eddie looked at the Captain, said, “I don’t need to be shouted at, or made to look foolish, as you are doing. You do not have to impress me or anyone else with your volume, and I won’t put up with it. Calm down and speak clearly and maybe I will reply to you, or…”
At this the captain bristled and started in on the standard “I am your superior officer…” but Eddie cut him off.
"NO, you are NOT my SUPERIOR anydamnthing, and you had better know that! You are wearing NO ribbons, not even a marksmanship badge, nothing on your right shoulder sleeve, and you have bad breath.”
The captain started to get back in Eddie’s face again, and Eddie backed away a step, dropped his envelope of papers on the ground by his feet, then stepped back to the captain, and said, in a very quiet voice,
“I have my name tag in my pocket but I’m tired of being the name on the tag. I have many names, some of them are legal but the ones that I like best I earned back there in Vietnam, where you pray to God that you never go to, because you know you will never make it home.”
“The name that I go by a lot, any more, is “Crazy Fucker.” Ask anyone in my old unit who the crazy fucker is, and they’ll tell you that it’s me. Because I’m crazy. For a lot of reasons.”
“And you, for some reason, seem to want to find out about that, so you decide to pick a fight with me as if you have a personal grudge against me?”
“Well, all right, let’s just do it. Do you want to do this right here, or would you rather just turn around and walk away and go have a coffee somewhere safe?”
“And if you turn around, don’t come back with backup thinking that you’re gonna take me down, because I always get back up, and I always finish it when I’m attacked, and I will finish it with you, if necessary. I just want to be left alone and let me get the hell out of here and go home. You do that, and I’ll let you do the same thing.”
“The captain blinked, as if he’d just been hit upside the head, and said, “Yes, well….” then he turned and walked away.
Eddie, from Brooklyn, picked up his paperwork and went on to his next processing point.