Army bully number one walked behind me on a march that was the graduation exercise for Infantry basic training. If you made it through 20 miles of Georgia heat carrying a rifle and back pack, you were ready to ship out for combat in Europe, replacing soldiers who had been killed.
After we marched 15 miles, the soldier behind me began to tread on my heels and he
kept doing it till my temper lit up. Though my tormenter was a lot taller and outweighed me by 30 pounds, I yelled: “Get off my heels, you _____, or when we get back to the barracks I will break your _______head.”
The two expletives were words combining the letters c and k, which make a strong anger snarl.
He stopped and when we were back at our barracks, his eyes avoiding mine, we went our separate ways.
I encountered bully number two in a camp where 18-year-olds were sent to wait till they were close to their 19th birthdays. So many 18-year-olds had died in combat, the government decided to slow down shipping teens overseas.
It was boring. Our training days were over. All we did was march back and forth.
A corporal in the camp where we were on hold began to harass me and another soldier. We had been college students. He was only a few years older but hadn’t come from a college.
He was bullying us and you knew it when you experienced it, as a Supreme Court justice once said was the way to recognize pornography.
One evening the corporal joined us in a recreation room and began taunting. We listened for a while and then I said, seeming calm: “If you’re going overseas with us, the Army newspaper Stars and Stripes says corporals known as bullies are getting shot by their own men.”
But don’t try this at home.
This is not an instruction manual for parents with children facing school bullies. Kids are too young to ward off bullies with words. The fury you need isn’t intense enough until you’re about 18 is my guess.
But I want to confess I was once a bully at a younger age. It was before we all went into the Army and happened during a stick-ball game—the form of baseball on New York City streets where a broom stick is the bat for a rubber ball.
I got into an argument with another kid who wore glasses and was really skinny. I remember thinking, “This guy is easy. I’ll beat him up.” And I lunged at him. No excuses, I was about to bully him.
Other kids pulled us apart, there was no fight, and my ‘victim’ and I never happened to speak again. Apparently, we later went to different Army training camps, but were both sent to Europe as Infantry rifle replacements though I ended up with a Combat Engineers battalion needing to replace casualties. After the war, I found out who in our neighborhood hadn’t made it home. One who died in combat was the skinny guy with glasses. His name was Aaron Kaplan.
When I wrote a novel recently called Saving the President, the plot called for a lieutenant colonel to help America’s first female president fend off international bullies.
I named the colonel Aaron Kaplan.