by Jim Foreman


The moment we walked into the barracks it was obvious that they had long been populated by women before being locked shut until the next war required their use. Not only were the latrines totally lacking of the fixtures known as wall-hung urinals, but each sink was fitted with a mirror far larger than necessary for shaving. The walls were painted a sickly shade of off-pink and frilly curtains hung on every window. A slight hint of perfume still lingered in the air.
       Billy Bob sniffed the stale air and remarked, "This place smells just like a little old whorehouse called the Chicken Ranch, down near where I went to school at Texas A&M. I got a hard-on as soon as I walked in."
       We had barely finished making our bunks in an acceptable military manner, including one for Goldberg, when Sgt. Schultz came in. "Everyone on this side of the barracks report to the mess hall for KP," he said, waving his hand toward one side of the building. "The rest of you men start arranging your gear in your lockers, according to the diagram on the bulletin board."
       A dozen men headed out for the mess hall and their first taste of the bane of soldiers everywhere; Kitchen Police. They trudged into the mess hall and reported to Sgt. Cook, the Mess Sergeant. "The first two men in line start peeling that pile of potatoes," he ordered. "The next two get busy on pots and pans, three more help set up the serving line and rest of you sweep and mop the floors."
       Sgt. Cook turned around, took one whiff of Obert and yelled, "What in hell is this filthy thing doing in here? Get out of my kitchen, you stinking hog; want to give everyone the GI shits? Tell Sergeant Schultz to send me someone else to replace you on KP. I won't have something like you stinking up my kitchen."
       Sgt. Schultz strode into the barracks, grabbed Billy Bob and sent him off to replace Obert who was supposed to have been washing pots and pans in the mess hall.
       "Snort, Snort," Oinked Obert as he flopped down on his bunk. "KP sure didn't last long for me, did it?" Then Obert turned over and went to sleep.
       When Billy Bob staggered in from his session of pots, pans and grease traps; reeking of garbage, lye soap and sweat, Obert was laying on his bunk, still fully dressed but snoring loudly. "I've just spent the last ten hours up to my ass in grease, garbage and steam because of that fat bastard over there," he said. "As long as he's allowed to remain that filthy, the Mess Sergeant isn't about to let him in the mess hall and all of us will be pulling extra details to fill in for him.
       "Looks like we need to invite him to a little GI Soap party and clean him up a bit," said Red Ryder. "Big and dirty as he is, it is probably going take at least a dozen of us to give him a good bath."
       "Get some GI brushes and several bars of lye soap," said Billy Bob. "We'll all strip down to our skivvies and drag his ass into the showers for the bath of his life. He can't get away with hiding behind dirt and filth around here."
       "Reckon we ought to harpoon him first?" asked Red. "He looks like a beached whale laying there."
       "Looks like Moby Dick," said Ward.
       "Moby Dick is a whale?" laughed Red. "Hell, I always thought Moby Dick was a venereal disease."
       Brushes and bars of lye soap were brought from the mess hall and all the while, Obert snored and grunted, contented as a hog in mud. "OK, everyone ready?" whispered Billy Bob, as they huddled around the sleeping hulk. "At the count of three, we grab him and drag his filthy ass off to the latrine. One, Two, Three."
       A dozen men pounced on the inert Obert, grabbing arms, legs, fingers, ears and anything else that offered a good hold. Obert began squealing like a stuck hog as they dragged him, fighting and farting, toward his destiny with soap and water. When his clothing was finally removed and every shower head blasting at full force, not an inch of his body escaped the wrath of the stout brushes and caustic soap as they worked their way through multiple layers of dirt and crud.
       The battle raged on. No quarter was asked and none was given. Obert was making a desperate effort to preserve his lifelong style of slovenly living against a dozen men who were armed with industrial strength soap and brushes and just as determined to bring a little cleanliness into his life. They wrestled and fought, tumbling and rolling from one shower stall to the next, over toilets, under sinks. Squealing, swearing, fighting and farting could be heard from one end of the company area to the other, but not a soul came to investigate the fracas. Noses were bloodied, eyes gouged, fingers bent and ears bitten; but not until the last bit of toe jam was washed away, every shred of belly-button lint removed and the long accumulation of grease, cooties and dirt scrubbed from his hair was Obert allowed to emerge from the showers. He almost glowed in a state of pristine pink asepsis which he had not even known on the day that he was born. 

       Half an hour before the earliest rising roosters even thought about voicing the arrival of dawn, Sgt. Schultz turned on the lights and blasted on his whistle, "Reveille, youse bastards! Drop your cocks and grab your socks. Formation in fifteen minutes."
       Eyes squinted against the glare of unfiltered bulbs, blankets flew into the air, bare feet pounded on the wooden floor as bladders, filled to the limit, raced for the latrine to be emptied. The whole barracks was in sudden motion; all except for Obert. He lay in his bunk, white as a sheet, mouth hanging agape and glazed eyes wide open. He was covered with beads of cold perspiration.
       "Hey Sarge," yelled Red Ryder, "I think that something is wrong with Filpot. He looks dead."
       Sergeant Schultz shook Obert, then felt his pulse. "He's still alive, but just barely," he shouted as he raced toward the orderly room to call for an ambulance.
       In due time, the olive green ambulance with a huge red cross on either side, bounded up the company street and skidded to a stop at the barracks door. A doctor and two attendants, carrying a canvas litter, rushed inside.
       After checking over Obert, the doctor replied, "He doesn't seem to be wounded in any way, but he is in a severe state of shock. I never saw anything like this before. Does anyone have any idea what might have happened to him?" Not a word was mentioned about the gang bathing which had been administered the night before. "We'll have to get him to the hospital immediately, hope that we can save him," said the doctor as they rolled the inert hulk onto a litter and carried it, with great huffing and puffing, to the waiting ambulance.
       Soon after the ambulance roared away in a cloud of dust and flying gravel, it was discovered that the entire sewer system for that barracks was plugged and water was backing up into the latrine. The base plumbers were called and came with their plungers, chemicals, snakes and Rooter-Rotor machines. Three hours later, water finally began to flow through clean sewer lines and one of the plumbers said, "Never saw such a mess in all my life. The drains were plugged solid with hair and some kind of scales. Looked and smelled like someone had been cleaning fish and butchering hogs in there."

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