Pulling guard duty in Japan
“Specialist Third Class Gerald Elward report to the Orderly Room. Specialist Third Class Gerald Elward report to the orderly room.” The sound reverberated between the huts as the headquarters PA system paged me.
I reported to the orderly room as directed. I wondered what was wanted of me.
My hope was maybe a change in orders, as I hurried to report for duty. As I stepped through the doorway and saw the smile on 1Lt. Robert Mertin’s face, I knew I wasn’t going to like whatever he had in mind for me. I wished I hadn’t reported. I had already signed out for the evening, before I went to the mess hall for the evening meal.
It was too late; I was stuck with whatever duty he would assign me. It was my fault. I should have known they wouldn’t change my orders this late in the day. I hated myself at that moment for being so stupid.
“Elward, get into Class A’s (dress uniform) and get back here in 15 minutes.”
“Sir, I’m off duty. I’m signed out already. I have my orders.”
“Soldier, I’m ordering you to get into Class A’s and get your ass back here in 14 minutes.” He was smiling as he looked at his wrist watch. “Move it Elward, 13 minutes.”
Man, how I had hated Mertin’s smile. Every time he smiled, it seemed trouble brewed. I was stuck. I knew I couldn’t get out of whatever he had in mind. Damn, Class A’s. I had them packed in my duffel bag, ready to jump into them and go on pass after I ate. I was all packed and ready to ship out tomorrow morning.
I ran back to the barracks and started changing into Class A’s.
“Hey Elward, are you going with us or what?” my buddies asked, as they were heading out for a night on the town in the city of Fukuoka, Japan. Two were going stateside and the other three were being reassigned to different duty stations in Japan. I was the only one going to Korea.
“I guess not. That Mertin is sticking it to me. I don’t know what yet. All I know is he’s got me by the short hair.” I stepped over to them and shook their hands.
“So long, this is if I don’t get a chance tomorrow to say goodbye. It was great serving with you. I’ll miss you crazy nuts. Gosh! How I’ll miss you.” I turned and continued dressing.
“Hey, say goodbye to everyone you see, for me. Tell them I’m sorry, but I got stuck here on base.
“Tell them that Lt. Bobby is giving me the ass.” I laughed at what I said, knowing deep down it really hurt. We had planned all week going out tonight and doing the town, our last night together, and here I was going to perform some sort of shit detail for the one officer for whom I had no respect.
“Hey, Jerry, we’re going to miss you, too. You got our home addresses, so when you get your new duty assignment, send it there, and our parents will forward it to us. Okay?”
“Just get the hell out of here and have a good time.” I waved them away. I didn’t want them to see me get gushy. My eyes became blurry, as I held off tears. I knew we’d probably never see each other again.
Time in Japan
I had spent a little over a year in Japan (1956‑57) on the island of Kyushu. Our unit had been stationed near the village of Nakabaru. We were one of four 37th AAA batteries near the city of Fukuoka, protecting the Itasuki Air Base nearby.
Two months earlier, the 40th Brigade, to which the 37th AAA was attached, had been ordered back to the States. Most of the men would be transferred to other branches of the Army in Korea or transferred to other units in Japan if they had less than three months of military service to serve. Some would be sent stateside to other AAA units.
I was one of the unlucky ones going to Korea. Not knowing where or when was perturbing. I had packed my duffel bag with everything I would need. The civilian clothes I had purchased while in Japan were sent home. Tomorrow at 0800 hours some of us were to report to headquarters company to be trucked to Fukuoka to board a ship for Korea.
I opened the door to the orderly room and there stood Pat Hogan. He saw me and dropped his head until his chin rested on his chest. He didn’t want to look at me. At the time I wondered why.
“Elward,” Lt. Mertin said. “Here, put this on.”
He handed me an MP armband.
“Elward, until 0800 hours tomorrow morning you are ordered to guard Private Hogan. He is not to get out of your sight un-til that time.”
“Sir, who will be relieving me at 2000 hours?” l still had hope I could join the guys in town.
“Nobody. This isn’t a regular guard duty. No four on and eight off. You’re to stick with him all night.”
“Sir, what about when he uses the latrine or shower?” I asked, hoping to be very specific.
“If he has to take a shower or relieve himself in private, you are to wait outside until he is through, then resume your duties as guard.” Lt. Mertin commanded as he glared at me.
“Sir, what about sleep? Will I be relieved at 2200 hours?”
Mertin paused for a few seconds, then he said. “You will be responsible for Hogan until 0001 hours tomorrow morning, at which time you will report with him to the duty officer here. I believe Lt. Laubenstien is on duty then.” Mertin checked the duty roster then looked up. “Yes, Lt. Laubenstien will take Hogan into custody at 0001 until he reports to headquarters to be shipped out at 0800 hours.
“This should be plenty of time for either of you to finish packing and giving you five hours of sleep.” Mertin sneered at me. Then he looked up at Hogan. “Private Hogan… Elward will not let you out of his sight.”
“Yes, Sir!” I sounded off. I was sick. Sick to my stomach of this crappy duty assigned me. I thought of my buddies living it up in town, and here I was stuck guarding Hogan.
“Hogan, did you hear what I said?” Mertin barked.
“Yeah, I guess so.” Hogan answered, letting his voice trail off into a whisper.
“You guess so.” Mertin yelled. “Soldier, you screw up once more and it’s the brig for you. Do you read me soldier?” Mertin’s face was beet red.
“You mean Elward’s going to be with me all night? Wherever I go?” Hogan asked.
“That’s what I said. Wherever you go, Elward’s going to be with you. Is that too difficult to understand Private?”
Hogan shrugged his shoulders, nodded slightly, then lowered his head again.
Mertin peered at me. “Elward, if he gets out of your sight, you’ll go to the brig with him. I don’t, and I mean I don’t want him to make a move without you… period.” Mertin growled.
“Yes, Sir. I understand fully, Sir. Hogan will not be out of my sight unless he showers or relieves himself, Sir. Wherever he goes, so do I.”
“I’m happy that you understand that Elward. I’m leaving a note for Lt. Laubenstein that you will report with Hogan at 0001 hours tomorrow morning. By all that is Army and holy, you two better show up here,on time, or else.”
Mertin tried looking mean, but the smirk he tried hiding was showing through. I would have liked to smack him right in his rat-like face then. I controlled my temper and remembered I had a crummy job to perform. I told myself, just do it, and not let Mertin get to me.
Pat Hogan was a big Irishman. He stood at least 6’2″ or 6’3″ and weighed over 230 pounds. He could pick me up and pound me into the ground without too much effort if he wanted.
I was praying I wouldn’t have too much trouble with him. He had a reputation for being a fighter and getting into trouble in the village. It had taken five AP’s to restrain him in a bar fight one night. I touched the MP armband on my arm and realized it wouldn’t be any help if Hogan took off on me.
“I’ll see the two of you in the morning.” Mertin smiled. Then he left without saluting. He was usually a stickler for that.
The soldier performing the duty of “Corporal of the Guard,” had saluted Mertin and was surprised he didn’t get a sa-lute in return. He smiled at me as he gave Mertin a crotch salute as the lieutenant left the orderly room.
“That bastard. I just got chewed out earlier because I didn’t salute him.” He shook his head. “Did you see that? Not even a glance. Earlier I had my arms full of boxes for the Captain. Mertin expected me to put them down and salute him.” He shook his head at Mertin as he looked out the window at him, then he said. “What an asshole. I’m stuck with him for the next four hours. I got guard duty tonight when I should be with my friends. I guess you wanted to be with your pals tonight, too?”
“Well, you heard what Mertin said… as long as I stick with Hogan all night the lieutenant can’t shit on me tomorrow. At 0800 hours I’m on my way out of here, and I won’t have to put up with the likes of him again,” I answered.
I waited to see what Hogan was going to do. I felt I was ready for anything, but hoped wouldn’t be any trouble.
“I’m sorry to get you into this Elward. I just tried to sneak out and see my girl before I left, and that mother Mertin caught me. I was supposed to be on cleanup detail with some other goof‑offs.” He shook his head smiling, and pointed to himself.
“That damn Mertin has been on my ass ever since I got to headquarters company.”
The door of the orderly room opened and Babcock, a friend of Hogan’s, came in.
“Hey buddy, what happened? I was waiting outside and saw Mertin leave. I walked across the street so I wouldn’t have to salute him. What’s the skinny?” Babcock asked.
“Elward was ordered to stick with me all night until 0001 hours tomorrow morning. What a bunch of shit. I wanted to see Tokiko before I leave, and now I’m stuck here.”
Hogan put his face in the palms of his hands. When he raised his head he had tears in his eyes. He wiped his face with his sleeve then he sniffed deeply and reached for his handkerchief and blew his nose.
I looked at Babcock. “Why don’t you go and bring her here if it isn’t too far.”
“It’s not that far, only about three blocks south of gate No. 4,” Hogan told me.
“I could go and get her,” Babcock volunteered. “Too bad he couldn’t go there.” He peered at me.
“Mertin didn’t say he couldn’t go off the base, did he?” the Corporal of the Guard asked.
“Are you sure it’s only three blocks?” I asked.
“Yeah, why?” Hogan said, as he looked at me suspiciously.
“What are my orders, soldier?” l barked at him like Mertin had.
“You’re to stick with me until 0001 tomorrow, right?” Hogan answered.
“That’s what I thought he said. I was to stick with you until 0001 hours tomorrow. The lieutenant didn’t say where, did he?”
I could see the lights pop in Babcock’s eyes. He smiled and then started laughing. Then he looked serious. “What are you thinking Elward? Are you thinking we could leave the base and do a little visiting?”
Finally Hogan caught on. “Honest, do you really think we could?”
The Corporal of the Guard was smiling. “You’re right Elward. Your orders were to stick to him until you turn him over to Laubenstein at 0001 hours tomorrow. I heard him say stick with him, but he didn’t say where.” The corporal was laughing. “This is great, this is great.”
“Do you have your orders, soldier?” I asked. Trying to sound like chickenshit Mertin.
Babcock was exuberant. “Show him your orders, show him your orders.”
Hogan reached in his back pocket and took out some folder papers, and slowly opened them. “I believe these should be them.” He had a smile on his face worth a million dollars.
“Okay, let’s get out of here, but it’s going to cost you.” I kidded.
“Name your price Elward, just name your price.”
I assumed Mertin didn’t want Hogan to leave the base. That’s why he had me guard him. The thing is, Mertin never said that he didn’t want Hogan to leave the base. He told me not to let him out of my sight, period. I had entertained thoughts I might run into my buddies on the town. I knew they were going in a different direction, but I had hopes. At least I’d be off the base for the evening.
Our last night
We passed through the checkpoint at gate No. 4 without incident. The guards had seen so many orders the last couple of weeks they never even checked ours. True to his word, Hogan’s girlfriend’s place was about three blocks from the base. She had moved there to be closer to him, from their house near “C” Battery, where he was stationed when we got the deactivation orders.
We went to a bar where Babcock and I sat in a booth and were served hamburgers, fries and beer. Meanwhile Hogan and his girl were together in the next room where I could see his feet through a window of sorts. The bar was a Mexican motif with cutouts that looked like windows all along the stucco wall looking into the next room; our booth was next to one of these windows.
It was around 2330 hours when we headed back to the base. I had finished the evening with hamburgers and raw on-ions topped off with coffee so I wouldn’t have alcohol on my breath when I reported back with Pat. I was just tickled he hadn’t given me a hard time. All I worried about at this time was avoiding Lt. Mertin as we passed back through gate No. 4.
“Elward, I just can’t thank you enough for letting me see Tokiko before they shipped my ass out. You took a chance letting me leave the base. I won’t forget this.”
Pat extended his hand, and we shook hands. “Damn, Elward, that was great what you did for me. If I can ever do something for you… just name it. I don’t know if we’ll ever see each other again, but I’ll pay you back double, if I ever get the chance.” Pat smiled while vigorously shaking my hand.
“Pat, forget it. I enjoyed the chow and beer you supplied, as well as knowing I screwed over Lt. Mertin for sticking it to me my last night in Japan.”
Orders are orders
It was an interesting evening to say the least. I had done what Lt. Mertin ordered me to do. He said I was to stick with Hogan and not let him out of my sight unless he was taking a shower or relieving himself. He didn’t explain what kind of relieving himself.
He never said we couldn’t go off base. I wonder if Mertin thought I would even consider it. I was sure Mertin wanted to contain Hogan on base until he was to be shipped out in the morning. What he wanted and what he got were two different things.
Mertin could have been more specific and said that he wasn’t to leave the base under any circumstances. He could have, but he didn’t. Well, orders are orders, and being a good soldier, I followed my orders to the letter.
Author’s note: Pat, if you read this, contact me (firstname.lastname@example.org). I purposely misspelled your last name, as well as Mertin’s. I really would like to know what happened to you. As far a guarding you that particular night; well, I got more mileage from this story than you could have ever reimbursed me for. As far as Lt. Robert Mertin goes, well, a good officer would have been more specific, right?