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Saturday, November 20, 2010
THE STARTING PISTOL
I was finally to get out of the Army on May 1st, but meanwhile I thought it’d be fun to play around with a starting pistol. One of my Army buddies, Mark Bergquist, agreed.
Mark was scheduled for guard duty in front of the Headquarters Building in the middle of Fort Bragg. He and I were stationed in the Headquarters Platoon, and our barracks was right next to the post’s main Headquarters. Fort Bragg’s post commander worked there. It was on a weekend that Mark was to carry a (real) rifle as he paced slowly back and forth in front of the building. As planned, I happened by, walking up the sidewalk, while traffic passed by on the street. When I got to Mark, I pulled out my starting pistol and fired a couple shots at him. Mark collapsed on the lawn, apparently dead, his rifle lying beside him. I glanced at the passing cars as I put my pistol in my coat pocket and then quickly walked off while Mark lay there. No one stopped. No one inquired. As far as we know, no one reported it. After a few minutes, Mark got up and continued his guard duty. I got away with murder in broad daylight, with witnesses, right in front of the main Headquarters in the middle of the Fort Bragg Army Post.
I killed Mark a few times in Fayetteville, too, and got away with it every time. We thought this was really bizarre. So finally we set up something that we thought surely would get a response. We went to a movie on post. Although there were many seated in the theatre, the front rows were empty, except for Mark and me, front and center. There were a couple empty seats between us. Before every movie in an Army theatre, it was customary for the National Anthem to play while a huge American flag appeared on the screen. As the theatre lights dimmed for the Anthem, I pulled out my pistol and shot Mark twice, right in front of an audience. Flames shot out of the loud gun in the dark, and Mark slumped in his seat. Then the screen lit up with the American flag, and I glanced back at perhaps more than a hundred witnesses, put the pistol in my pocket, and stood for the Anthem like a patriot, while Mark remained slumped dead in his seat. No one approached us. No one left. The Anthem ended, I sat down, the movie began, and after several minutes Mark finally sat up and watched it with me. He didn’t even get in trouble for not standing during the Anthem.
Finally, after three years of service, I was honorably discharged from the United States Army on May 1st of that year. Coincidentally, this happened to be the weekend of the gigantic Moratorium against the Vietnam War in Washington, D.C. So Mark put in for leave that week, and after my discharge, he and I hitchhiked up to D.C. Both of us wore three-corner hats, like Revolutionary soldiers. I also wore a camouflage shirt and carried a concertina on which, after practice, I could play the Battle Hymn of the Republic.
Along the way up to D.C., we found ourselves in some isolated country on a road hardly traveled. There were long waits between cars, and when one did come, it would just speed by. I got so frustrated at one point, that when a car finally came after an hour-long wait and just zoomed by, I pulled out my starting pistol, stepped out in the middle of the road, and began shooting at the back of the car. Hundreds of feet up the road, the car slowed down. I suspect the driver thought I was giving him the finger. But then, when he saw I was shooting at him, the car sped up suddenly and was soon out of sight. Mark and I then thought, oh crap, he’s going to report us. Fortunately we did get a ride before any police came.
Washington, D.C. was packed! An armored policeman stood on every corner. None of these policemen seemed to enjoy my rendition of the Battle Hymn of the Republic. Most of the thousands of people were congregated on the acres of lawn surrounding the Washington Monument, for here was where the music was played and the speeches were given. Not wanting to feel left out, Mark and I hopped, skipped and jumped our way to the front of the crowd, right beside the action. This was one of three times in my life that I became terribly claustrophobic. There was no place to sit, and no place to stand without standing on someone’s coat or blanket. We were closed in by people, and when I looked back the way we had come, I saw nothing but thousands of people sitting closely next to each other, with no pathways of escape. Suddenly I had to get out of there! Frantically making my way through the dense crowd, stepping on people’s things, and perhaps people, I finally escaped. And with my new reputation of being very impolite, there were no doubt many who were happy I escaped.
Eventually Mark and I bid each other farewell, and I went to the airport to fly home, from Washington, D.C. to Washington State, transferring flights in Chicago. As I stood in line at the Washington, D.C. airport, about to passed through a metal detector, etc., it dawned on me that I still carried the starting pistol. It wasn’t a real gun, so I wasn’t worried about it, but thought that maybe the personnel at the check station would be concerned about it. I saw a man in a black suit standing against the wall, obviously an airport agent of some sort, and so I went over to him and said, “I have a starting pistol in my rucksack…”
Immediately he had me follow him, and within minutes I found myself sitting in a chair in the middle of a room and surrounded by several, black-suited agents. They had taken my pistol out of my sack, and were fiercely interrogating me. No matter what I said, I was some dangerous revolutionary attempting to board a plane in our Nation’s Capital with a gun! Their behavior roused my anger and we were yelling back and forth. How ironic it was that, after getting away with several murders, I finally got a reaction for doing nothing at all. After a while, one agent took a look in the barrel of my pistol and said, “This gun can’t shoot anything.”
“That’s what I’ve been telling you!” I said.
After a confused stirring, the bad guys suddenly became good guys. “Your flight has pulled out,” one said. And I soon found myself running alongside an agent onto the tarmac to catch my plane. It had rolled away from the terminal, but had stopped (for me?) and put down its stairway to the ground. The agent still had my pistol, now wrapped in cloth, as the two of us ran up the stairs and into the plane, just behind the cockpit. The cockpit door was open, and the pilot stepped out to talk with the agent. The agent then turned to me and said nicely, “I’m letting the pilot keep your gun during the flight. When you land in Chicago, he’ll give it to you.”
When we arrived in Chicago, the last thing I was going to do was ask the pilot for my gun and go through the whole thing again while trying to get on my next flight. I let him keep it, and when I finally got home, unarmed, I wondered if perhaps now pilots were running around pretending to kill each other…or, maybe my pistol was finally being used to start races.
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