U.S. Army Clerk in Germany, 1960s

From Eat Your Heart Out, Ho Chi Minh: Or Things You Won’t Learn at Yale, by Tony Thompson (BookSurge, 2012), Kindle pp. 94-95:

In the brief periods when we weren’t playing soldier or cleaning our military kit, we were completely free but only to go anywhere we wanted within Grafenwohr. Men wandered from shed to shed, checking on what kind of gambling was going on and on what was being traded. A vigorous commercial undercurrent existed everywhere in the army.

Watching men shooting craps one afternoon, I ran into Specialist Fourth Class Chandos, who worked for our first sergeant. Chandos was a loan shark and was checking on the activities of his clients, most of whom were our senior sergeants. The craps shooters had pulled a blanket taut over a cot and were shooting dice on it.

Though it was strictly forbidden for soldiers to lend money, and especially not to their non-commissioned officers, this was obviously a great business. The sergeants shooting craps were born losers and were soon cleaned out by a street-smart black soldier. Then they needed a further loan to go on shooting.

Chandos himself only played poker and almost always won since he played exclusively with the battalion’s most stupid sergeants on payday. Chandos was a short, funny Greek from some northeastern American city. He boasted that his time in the army was going to buy him a Pontiac convertible. I hope Chandos succeeded in this; he was a friendly, amusing man and only charged 50 percent interest per month. In other companies, the rate was 100 percent.

We immediately liked each other. Chandos was finding that his orderly room job got in the way of his loan business, especially when he needed to work on collections. He asked me if I could type.

Could I type? After churning out all those midnight essays at Yale, I could type like gangbusters. He said that he would work on the first sergeant and get me transferred to the orderly room. I thought this was a terrific idea; the other occupants of the orderly room were the captain and the first sergeant. So it was no coincidence that every time I went there, the orderly room was warm as toast, even when we were out in the field and the orderly room was in a tent.

Chandos was as good as his word. Within months, I made my first upward career move in the army, becoming the orderly room flunky.

In the barracks or in the field, decisions were made in the orderly room. In our company, the captain merely signed off on decisions made by the first sergeant. This was not taught at West Point, but our first sergeant was infinitely more experienced than the captain—and infinitely wiser. I did whatever the first sergeant wanted done. Apart from making dozens of pots of coffee day and night, this work varied a lot.

On a Monday morning, for example, I’d be writing letters for our linguistically and vertically challenged Puerto Rican company commander, when the first sergeant, who in practice ran everything, shouted for me to retrieve Blicksen, our toothless cook, from the custody of the MPs.

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Filed under economics, Germany, military, U.S.

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