|Jul Advent calendar for December 4:
Gallus Rostromegalus is a blogger with a lot of hilarious, incredible stories. The following story is just one of many.
Originally posted by "Gallus Rostromegalus"
The Story of my Father’s Very Brief military career.
Content Warnings: Military, guns, hummingbirds, Profanity, Lots of Profanity, spectacular incompotence, catholicism mention, alcohol mention.
As usual, all names have been changed or redacted to protect people’s privacy.
In the fall of 1969, my Dad was hit by a car and suffered a serious concussion, causing him to miss midterms and put his grade in a hole he wouldn’t be able to recover from, as this was the days before a lot of professorial accountability. Like a sensible person, he decided to Withdraw for the semester and focus on recovering and maybe take a part-time job to pay for spring tuition, because you could do that back then.
“Son,” My grandfather asked, sitting on the couch with Dad shortly after he was discharged from the hospital. “What about your college deferment? I’m worried about you getting drafted.”
“Dad,” Dad said, filling in job applications. “I’m legally blind without my glasses! I’d be a danger to anyone around me with a gun. Even if I get drafted there’s no way in hell I’d pass the medical exam.”
“Don’t swear in my house.” Said Grandpa, under the entirely mistaken impression that the US Military was run with any sort of competence.
Literally a week later my Dad’s draft papers came in, and he reported to his local draft board, driver’s license and doctor’s note in hand to prove He Is Legally Blind Without His Glasses, only to be waved through without so much as a sideways glance by anyone resembling a doctor.
“They must be desperate.” My dad concluded when he got home that night to pack.
The news was devastating to the family, as both his parents had siblings to WWII. Grandpa was ready to beg, bribe and otherwise compromise his intensely catholic morals to get Dad out, and Grandma prayed to any available saint that would save her son from the fate of her brothers. She had quite the collection of saints in her sewing room, some forty figurines and dozens more candles and images, along with some stained glass she’d made herself of saints, landscapes and animals, including a large hummingbird that lived on the sewing room window since they’d moved into the house.
Dad pleaded with them to not do anything they’d regret, and returned to the base for basic training.
Dad’s drill sergeant was a man whose real name was “Ross” but insisted on being called “Bulldog” or “SIR!” by everyone depending on rank. Dad supposed this might have been a defense mechanism as Bulldog had an intensely jowled and acne-scarred face that did greatly resemble a fighting dog well past their prime. The image was not helped by the fact that he was constantly smoking rose-flavored tobacco in a pipe that had seen better centuries, and consequently smelled like a terrible combination of trailer park and the women’s perfume counter at Macy’s.
Bulldog was also… not great about following protocol, which is a terrible failing in a Drill sergeant, but Dad supposed at that point in the war Bulldog had become horribly depressed by the sheer numbers of young men he was sending to their deaths and had kind of stopped giving a fuck about their safety and his own.
Which lead to an incident about three weeks into Dad’s training camp when in the middle of a Weapons Qualification lesson, Bulldog pulled Dad’s glasses off and bellowed “YOU WON’T HAVE THOSE COKE BOTTLES WHEN THOSE [incorrect slurs, because there’s no such thing as an informed bigot] BLAST YOUR ASS TO KINGDOM COME.” before stomping off to go change the paper targets, leaving Dad standing there with an M-1, squinting in what he hoped was the general direction of the targets.
To give you an idea of HOW bad my dad’s vision is, I once asked him at what distance things got blurry, and he responded by taking off his glasses, putting his hand up to his face, and slowly moving it back. He stopped about eight inches from his face and nodded.
“So I can see my hand from here but I can’t distinguish my fingers. I think that green blob over there is your mother.”
“I’m in the living room.” called mom. “You’re looking at the blender.”
So it should come as no surprise that as soon as Dad heard someone shouting “Ready! Aim! Fire!” He did precisely that.
Hummingbirds are often mistakenly characterized as Delicate Little Rainbows that are a gift Direct from Heaven when the truth is they’re really Vicious Little Bastards thrown out of Hell for being too Nasty.
You would be too if you could eat nothing but frappuccinos and the occasional chicken nugget, everything around you was at least the size of a pickup truck and regarded you as a tasty snack, and you were forced to defend your fridge from not only equally vicious rivals but goddamn insects that are bigger than you are.
Being a hummingbird is awful under normal circumstances, and now there are maniacs with loud machines and projecties as big as you are stomping around and yelling and well-
At that exact moment, one of the nesting hummingbirds, having grown progressively more exasperated with the activity on the base, dive-bombed my father, hurling it’s tiny body directly into his ear and slicing the lobe up, and making him jerk slightly as he fired.
He missed Sergeant Bulldog by mere inches. Dad still isn’t sure if the Hummingbird caused him to miss or put him closer to accidental manslaughter, but it mattered little as Bulldog grabbed him by the head, shrieking in spittle-flying fury-
“ARE YOU FUCKING BLIND?” He roared.
“YES!!” screamed my father, also hysterical. “SIR THAT’S WHAT THOSE ‘COKE BOTTLES’ ARE FOR SIR!”
Bulldog stopped, suddenly and uncomfortably confronted with the nature of causality. He only let it stymie him for a moment. “GET YOUR IDIOT ASS TO THE MEDIC, I’LL DEAL WITH YOU LATER!”
At the medical center, an extremely befuddled doctor dilated Dad’s eyes, took pictures because Dad had the worst case of myopia he’d ever seen and wanted to put him in a medical journal, and asked him:
“What the HELL are you doing here?”
“Very nearly shooting people sir.”
“Well, we can’t have you shooting people while you’re in the army! I’ll get your medical discharge started.”
Dad decided not to comment on that statement, thanked the doctor, and wandered blindly back to his bunk.
It took them a full thirty days to process Dad’s discharge, perhaps largely due to the fact that actually FINDING the captain was a task for hercules- The man had an almost phobic aversion to his office and a tremendous love of whiskey so actually locating the man and early enough in the day that he was still sober enough to sign anything was a race against time and a battle against the wits of a man determined to get out of work, which is when humanity is at its peak intelligence.
In the meantime, it simply wouldn’t do to let dad bike the five miles back to his home and come back for the paperwork, nor let him sit quietly and not accidentally maim anyone, so he was put on garden duty.
Supervised by recently-suspended-from-instruction Sergeant “Bulldog” Ross.
By the second day Bulldog had mostly run out of steam, perhaps out of a sense of really, whose fault was that? So He would mostly stand in Dad’s general vicinity, waxing philosophical on the nature of war, government and whatever else he could be crotchety about that day while continuously smoking his rose-flavored tobacco in his pipe. Dad planted a frankly absurd number of flowers, trying to make a planted display that would spell out the name of the base in eight-foot letters, just in case someone has managed to miss all 824,594,359 signs beforehand.
On day five, perhaps attracted by the bright colors or the stench of artificial rose, the Hummingbirds found the new garden.
At first, it was timid little trips to the edge farthest from Dad and Bulldog, testing this new territory for both risk and bounty, but upon finding it full of sugary goodness, they became bold, getting closer and closer to Dad, zipping in as soon as he got up to get the next flat of flowers, then not waiting for him to finish planting them before they were up in his face, squeaking angrily for him to get out of the way of their lunch.
One male objected to Dad and Bulldog’s presence particularly strongly, dive-bombing and buzzing angrily at them, an ounce and a half of glittery impotent rage. After a month, he’d gotten quite aggressive, and one day flew directly up to Bulldog’s face to chitter curses at him eye-to-eye, only for Bulldog to take out his pipe and blow a cloud of smoke at him, laughing as the bird tumbled over backwards in midair.
Agitated with the sudden noxious cloud, or perhaps merely a violent psychopath in its own right, the bird flew back, then straight up into the air for a good fifty feet before going into a dive, aimed directly at Bulldog’s face.
Dad doesn’t recall actually moving, only a sense that he ought to do something, and launched himself out of the dirt, arms outstretched to clap and force it off course-
“SHIT! What the hell was that for?” Demanded Bulldog.
“Well, the hummingbird looked like it was going to attack you, Sir. So I stopped it.”
“How noble. What are you standing there like an idiot for?”
“…I think I caught it sir.” Said Dad, staring at the tiny bill poking out from between his gloves. The two of them leaned in close as dad very slowly opened his gloves and peered inside.
The hummingbird immediately forced it’s tiny head out to peep furious profanities at them both.
“How is it,” Bulldog wondered aloud as the hummer continued to curse the both of them for the next seven generations. “That you can’t see to hit the broad side of a barn but can pull a shitty little bird right out of the air?”
“I’m wearing my glasses, Sir.”
Bulldog looked up at him, glaring with such intensity his face ceased to be a face at all and transformed into a dali-esque collection of wrinkles.
“Fuck you. Now go take that damn thing to the other side of the base so it doesn’t come back.”
“Yes sir.” Dad nodded, nearly saluting out of reflex before remembering that he was holding a live and very angry bird. It took him several hours to get to the other side of the base, with literally everyone stopping to ask him what the hell he was doing, well I have this bird sir and I was told to release it on the other side of the base- how in hell did your blind ass catch a hummingbird, well I had my glasses on- Fuck you, go ditch that thing already.
At three o'clock on the dot the very next morning, two MPs woke up my dad and told him he needed to report to the front office right away, no time to get dressed, right away right now.
They marched him directly to the main office, barefoot and in his Pajamas to be greeted by not only Sergeant “Bulldog” ross, but nearly every officer on the base, including the lieutenant and the Captain, all of whom were… attempting to stand at attention with varying degrees of success, most weaving slightly, some snorting with poorly-concealed laughter, and the entire room reeking of booze.
“GENTLEMEN!” hiccuped the lieutenant, before shaking himself and continuing, “WE ARE GATHERED HERE TODAY TO HONOR OUR ‘COMRADE’ -snort, giggle- IN ARMS -louder derisive laughter- FOR HIS BRAVERY AND SERVICE IN THE FACE OF EXTREME DANGER-”
“IN THE BEAK OF EXTREME DANGER!” Howled one of the assembled officers.
“-AND FOR HIS SERVICE IN DEFENDING AN OFFICER OF THE UNITED STATES ARMY. I AM ~SO~ PLEASED THAT WE HAVE CAPTAIN [REDACTED] HERE WITH US TO PRESENT THIS MEDAL.”
He turned to the Captain, who took out a small box and motioned Dad forward. Upon closer inspection, it turned out to be a chocolate box from See’s Candies.
“[REDACTED], in honor of your brave and frankly improbable service in the defense of Euge- sorry, Sergeant Ross, and the capture of a dangerous wild animal, we award you this medal- The Flying Purple Bastard.”
He opened the chocolate box to reveal this*:
(Image Description: A piece of cardboard cut out approximately in the silhouette of a hummingbird, by someone with only a passing familiarity with what hummingbirds look like. The cardboard has been haphazardly covered in tinfoil and cartoon eyes drawn on. It’s attached to a scrap of ribbon and a safety Pin.)
Which was then pinned crookedly to Dad’s nightshirt, after accidentally stabbing him a bit, saluted him as someone attempted to play the bugle but made a rather melodious farting noise instead, then slapped Dad in the face with a manilla folder full of papers and shouted. “DISMISSED!”
“Those are your discharge papers.” Said Bulldog. “Get the fuck out of here.”
At which point Dad biked home in the rain, and thus ends my father’s military career.
*Pictured here is actually The Flying Purple Bastard 2.0, as the original was destroyed when partially eaten and fully regurgitated by one of the cats.
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(You can find the original post containing this story here.)
If you want more stories like this, check out this introductory post or the blog's Family Lore tag. And apparently, all that stuff will be going into a book someday... EDIT: Said book is now available for preorder on their Patreon.
Check back tomorrow for another day of the Jul Advent Calendar!