After the fighting ended in Europe, when an opportunity for fun or doing work that was interesting presented itself, I was determined to make the most of it. In parts one and two, I described how my buddies and I got transferred to the MP’s outside Antwerp in Belgium but opted instead to go AWOL to Paris in search of better jobs. During a tryout at Stars and Stripes, the Army daily newspaper, I’d impressed the editors enough to get them to send for me once they had the address of my new unit.
Back in Antwerp, my buddies Charlie and Bob decided to try again for a way to avoid the MPs.
At the area headquarters, a major interviewed the two in a hallway, giving their resumes quick glances. “No, nothing for you here,” he said, “report to the MPs.” Then he motioned for me to come forward and looked at my records, “You stay,” he said.
See, there’s your proof about the advantage of a college education.
I was given a job as a messenger delivering mail around the building. It was dull but I wasn’t worried. I had a plumb assignment waiting for me in Paris after all. I wrote to Stars and Stripes with my address and waited. The other mailroom staffers kept on the look out for a letter from Paris, and I counted the days.
After a few weeks, a friendly mail sorter alerted me that a transfer envelope had arrived. I grabbed it and went to see the lieutenant in charge of the mailroom to ask him to sign off on my departure.
Surprised, he sat and read for what seemed like an hour. Then he said emphatically: “Permission denied. You’re too valuable here, I won’t let you go.”
Stars and Stripes has always been run as if it were an independent American newspaper, not an Army propaganda sheet. Repeatedly, it has reported facts under their mission to operate professionally, whether the Army brass liked seeing the news in print or not. The story told was that they had once gone as high up as General Eisenhower to protect their freedom. They had it and used it. Once, an officer was found naked and dead outside a brothel. It was a page one story in Stripes.
The paper’s feisty reputation became my weapon. I said to the lieutenant blocking my transfer, “Sir, you know what those Stars and Stripes guys are like. After I tell my friends at the paper you classified me as essential because I’m a messenger boy when they want me as an editor, who knows what kind of story they’ll write…”
The lieutenant didn’t do much to hide the rage tightening his jaw. But then a small smile crossed his lips. “Get the hell out of here you son of a bitch,” he said, as he signed the orders. He might not have liked having to back down but I think he was amused about my determination.
That’s how I got to work for Stars and Stripes in Paris, the start of my real education about editing and writing–skills I have used through a multitude of careers in the almost seven decades since that day in an Army post office. Sometimes there are moments when your gut tells you the right thing to do. Besides, my options were look at pretty girls on the Champs-Élysées or stay in the Antwerp mailroom indefinitely. I was not taking no for an answer.
How about you or your relatives who served in the military?
Have you heard similar stories about soldiers or sailors who managed to outwit the military once their war was over and all that was left to do was wait for the time when they were ready to be shipped home? Leave your comments below, or write about it on your blog and leave me the link.