Lieutenant Fuzz
by: Forrest Brandt
© (1999)

I entered service at Ft. Eustis, Virginia, in September of 1967. We were told to be careful in filling out our DA Form 1058 "Dream Sheet" as we were to be sent where we requested, even Europe, if possible before getting orders for Nam to finish our two year commitments. The army and we Second Lieutenants (butter bars) realized we had only one year in which to learn how to be leaders, good officers, effective, and capable veterans before meeting the test of war.
      I had requested being stationed at Ft. Lewis, Washington as a sort of ultimate dream. The army gave me just what I wanted and on December 1st, 1967, I drove my Camaro convertible across the snow covered mountains and down into the soggy, rain swept, plain south of Puget Sound.
      I thought I knew rain and drab winter. I was wrong. It rained in buckets, dogs, cats, down pours, sheets, monsoons, gully washers, storms, fronts, deluges, and in between it either sprinkled or showered. Looking back on it now I realize that I had been on post for three weeks and had not seen Mt. Rainier or the sun.
      My girl friend, soon to be my fianc�e, was teaching 3rd grade in Stockton, California, eighty miles east of San Francisco, by volunteering for courier duty, catching space available hops or driving I managed to see her quite often.
      In her presence, the sun was incidental and leaving her to return to Ft. Lewis only made the lack of sun that much more evident and depressing. We announced our engagement on Valentine's Day. She had flown in for the weekend and the sun actually shone in the Greater Seattle-Tacoma area for most of our time together. It sure seemed like an omen to me.
      Two weeks later, faced with the debts I had incurred during her visit, I decided it was more prudent to cancel a planned trip to sunny San Francisco and use the money saved to make our lives more solvent. We talked on the phone and wrote long, lonely letters to each other.
      On Thursday I dropped my low quarters off to be repaired at a little shop in Olympia. Both of my class A uniforms needed a cleaner's touch, but my salary as a second lieutenant didn't seem to cover as much uniform maintenance as my boss demanded. I turned one uniform into the post laundry, stuffed the second into the bottom of my laundry bag and counted on being able to get by with fatigues during the interim.
      On Friday, after the colors were struck, I joined some other lieutenants at the FLOOM (Ft. Lewis Officers Open Mess) perhaps the dullest officer's club in recorded history, for a couple of beers and all the free hors d'oeuvres we could grab and gobble before the field grades and their wives wandered in and decorum was restored.
      The party seemed to go out of the place quicker than usual so I piled into my car and began the 20 minute drive back to our Boston Bay house. I drove into the car port and picked up the mail, two letters from Judy greeted me. I set them on the kitchen table, pulled my boots off, grabbed an Oly from the fridge, and then sat down to indulge myself in her words. I had barely read the greeting when the phone rang. I picked it up not knowing what to expect and heard her pleading voice, "Please, please come here. It's been an awful week. The kids were rotten to me. The principal was in to evaluate and my lesson fell apart. My mom is bugging me about wedding plans, the teacher next door shouted at me. Please, please come ... NOW! I know we agreed about the money but I'll even buy the ticket, please, please, come."
      What was there to say? I called around and located a 9 PM flight from Portland that I could just make. I called her back and told her the flight and times. Then I began to think. The only way I could afford to fly was on stand by. That meant class A's.
      "Oh No!"
      I ran to the basement and found the laundry bag. I reached into the bottom and pulled out the wad of "New Action Army Green", pulled the pants and jacket apart, shook the uniform out, put it on hangers and placed it in the bathroom. I took a shower turning the water as hot as I could stand it, hoping, praying, the steam would remove the most offensive wrinkles. Then I was out of the shower and scrambling around. I found my suitcase. I threw in a sweater, a pair of khakis, a dress shirt. I managed to find two sets of clean underwear. I pulled black socks from the laundry bag.
      "Damn. Brass! Where's the brass?"
      I scrounged through my jewelry box and grabbed, hoping I had what I needed. I located the iron and put a lick and a promise on the only tan, long sleeve, uniform shirt I owned that was not at the laundry. I pondered the dirt ring around the collar. Would ironing burn it into the shirt forever? Who cared? I gave a tentative touch to the uniform's worst wrinkles, sure that I would scorch the thing or set it on fire. Then I began to put the whole thing together. Finally I had all the brass in approximately the right places, I located the tie, got everything buttoned up and I was ready for the low quarters and then out the door.
      "LOW QUARTERS! My low quarters are in the repair shop!" I shouted to myself in despair. I put on a pair of Bass Weejuns, grabbed my boots just in case, and ran out the door. I slammed the Camaro into reverse, backed out onto the Boston Bay road and then made like Jackie Stewart at Le Mans all the way into Olympia. I pulled up to the shop just in time to see the taillights on the owner's car disappear down the road.
      "Too late! Well, press on. Love calls and I must answer."
      I headed for Portland scheming my way around this predicament all the way. I pulled into the long term parking lot, pulled out the boots and put them on. They were definitely not regulation but they were closer to regulation than ox blood Weejuns. For a second I debated blousing my pants into the boots airborne style, then thought better of it and let the legs hang as usual. I grabbed my grip and ran for the terminal.
      The flight was less than memorable and we were soon taxiing to our gate at San Francisco International. Judy was standing there waiting for me. She hugged me and waited for a long, lover's kiss. Instead I gave her a quick peck on the cheek, grabbed her by the elbow and whisked her away, telling her about my uniform along the way. I hid in the corner while she retrieved my suitcase from the baggage carrousel. Then I made a bee line for the men's room and changed into civvies as fast as I could.
      That done, my heart stopped racing and I began to act like a human being. We spent the weekend talking, listening to the Mama's and the Papa's, Simon and Garfunkle and John Williams Baroque Guitar album. Cares ceased, romance flourished and the sun put winter's gloom far behind me. Sunday morning we packed up my clothes, washing and ironing my shirt and pressing my class A's. Then we took off for a picnic in Golden Gate Park.
      It was an idyllic day, bright, warm, breezy. I hated to see it end. Finally, about 4:00 p.m. we headed back toward the airport. Judy dropped me off, telling me how grateful she was for the opportunity to put work aside and rejuvenate her spirits.
      Now, once again, I had to ponder my uniform situation. I decided that leaving the pants hang over the boots was not only non regulation but it also looked goofy. Since I had Cochran paratrooper boots anyway I decided to blouse my trousers. Uniform on, I purchased my ticket for Portland and waited for the flight.
      It was about this time that my luck began to turn. The sun, which I had so enjoyed during the weekend, had spent its time heating up the land on the lee side of the mountains. The warm ground pushed the air up and pulled cool ocean air in. Huge clouds of fog began to roll in toward the entire west coast. Sitting in the airport, waiting for a flight, thoughts of love still fogging my brain, I didn't notice.
      My reverie was ended by a PA announcement: "Northwest flight 253 to Portland, Seattle and Vancouver has been canceled due to fog." I ran to the desk.
      "What can I do. I have to get back tonight?"
      The ticket counter agent was kind. "I'd try and catch PSA's flight at 6:15." I grabbed my bag and scrambled to the PSA counter. I managed to get there ahead of the mob that was beginning to assemble as other airlines canceled their coastal flights. Several tense moments passed during which time I began to realize that I had not bothered to sign out from Ft. Lewis. If I weren't able to report for duty at 06:00 hours on Monday I would be AWOL. My stomach churned in dark thoughts of doom and anticipated ass chewing. Finally we were called aboard.
      I was the last standby allowed to board and by luck the only seat left was next to an Air Force sergeant. He'd been around a bit as attested to by his chest full of ribbons, two rockers over his sergeant stripes, and a long row of overseas stripes on his sleeve. He was near 20 years in if not over and I would have to guess that by 1968 most career men had had a tour in Nam or Thailand. I know he had at least two rockers and a slug of overseas stripes.
      The flight took off and we began to talk back and forth. He reeked of competence and leadership qualities. It turned out that he was being relocated to a radar site near Portland. He was flying in ahead of time to get squared away, get housing and prepare the way for his wife and kids who would soon be joining him. His household goods would be going through Ft. Lewis. I had prepared a briefing for the Colonel in charge of the post's logistic services, including household goods, and knew the names, phone numbers and building locations that could help the sergeant out. I passed these on to him. He thanked me and added, "Let me get your name so I can tell your boss what a help you've been, lieutenant ... ?"
      I expected him to add my name but instead he stared at my right breast pocket where my name tag should have been. After a clumsy silence I said, "Ahhh ... it's Brandt, b-r-a-n-d-t. I forgot my name tag." I then began to explain that in my rush on Friday I had grabbed all the brass but had forgotten my name tag. He chuckled. "I see you forgot your jump wings too." He knew about the boots and assumed I had passed airborne school.
      "Well, not exactly. You see," and then I had to explain even more about the weekend and the final desperate minutes trying to get out of Olympia.
      About this time the voice of the pilot came on the intercom, "Uhhh, folks if you look out your window you can see that Portland is clouded in. There's a clearing out over the ocean and we're going to circle here for a few minutes to see if it looks like it may move in." A few minutes later he was back on again, "Uhhh it looks like the fog isn't going to move but we got word that Seattle is clear so we're going to run up there real quick and see if we can't land there."
      Moments later, "Uhhh," It was the pilot again and my teeth clenched as soon as I heard him start the sentence. I knew it could not be good news. "Folks, Seattle fogged in during the time we were circling Portland but it is clear over Vancouver so we're heading there now. We'll be down on the ground in 30 minutes. Sorry."
      My face must have dropped to the floor. My companion looked over and said, "That's not so bad. They'll put us up for the night and get us back first thing in the morning. The worst thing that can happen is that they'll hit you for another leave day."
      "It's worse than that Sergeant." I said and then I proceeded to tell him about not signing out. In less than 9 hours I was going to be AWOL, out of uniform, and out of the country. He looked at me with growing sympathy. "Isn't there someone you can call to cover for you in the morning? Go to sick bay as soon as you get there, anything to cover."
      The plane landed and I rushed to a phone and called home. I hoped to get Nick or Jim both of whom sounded like me and spoke with a normal Midwestern accent. But Jim had "got lucky" with a Pacific Lutheran University coed and would not be back before dawn. Nick was staying on post because he didn't have any wheels. No one had his phone number or even knew where he was.
      That left John. John had graduated from Mississippi State. He had a southern accent, slow and thick as black strap molasses. I told him about my predicament and asked him to call in, pretend to be me and tell my boss I was sick. John said he would try. I prayed that Jim would wander in and John could pass the assignment on to someone more believable.
      I came back to my sergeant-companion. By now the airline had arranged ground transportation and hotel rooms for us. We boarded the bus and I shared the results of the phone call on the trip into town. We arrived and I retrieved my luggage from under the bus. We had taken just four or five steps when I reached into my pocket. Something didn't feel right. I slowed down and rummaged through the pocket. "Ah no! My car keys! Their sitting right on my girlfriend's dresser. I forgot to pick them up."
      The grizzled sergeant put his bag down and looked straight at me with a bemused expression. A twinkle appeared in his eyes in recognition, and an all-knowing grin wrinkled his face as if he were suddenly pleased there were still surprises left in the universe. "Sir, let me get a good look at you, cause when I get to my next duty station I'm going to tell everyone how I met the real--- original --- Lieutenant Fuzz!"

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