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The Major’s Wife – A U.S. Army Tale

Updated on October 11, 2017
1971
1971

It was a hot Sunday at the Hospital Motor Pool set along the highway that ran past the hospital at Kadena Air Force Base, Okinawa. Army Spec Four James Conway pulled ambulance dispatch duty. He sat in the hot center office working out the following week's schedule of drivers. Two drivers sat in the third area of the Quonset hut playing a game of cards that required a lot of loud talk and laughter. Conway just stood up to begin marking the board with the next week’s schedule, when the phone rang:

“Hospital Motor Pool, Specialist Conway,” he said, wondering what Marine, had done what, on the Island now.

“Where is my bus?” The female voice on the phone demanded.

“Your bus Ma’am?” He stared at the board. “I don’t have a bus scheduled today.”

“Do you know who this is?” The voice demanded.

“No, Ma’am. I don’t know.”

“This is Major Fallwell’s wife, volunteering with the Red Cross. We have an outing planned for this afternoon. Send a bus immediately. We have been waiting.”

There was a long pause before James responded, “Ma’am, I can’t release a bus on your say so. Besides, there is not a bus driver on duty today.” The phone went dead in his hand.

Five minutes later an Army MP pulled up in front of the Motor Pool in a jeep with a middle aged woman in the passenger seat. They both climbed out of the jeep and walked inside.

The two drivers hurriedly put on their fatigue shirts which they did not feel necessary to wear, playing cards, in the heat of the day. They stayed in the section of the building where they had been playing cards.

The woman, shoulders flung back, asked, “Are you going to give me that bus?”

“Ma’am, I can’t release a bus to you on your say so. And I don’t have a licensed bus driver on duty.”

She looked around, walked to the empty office used by the Sergeant in charge of the Motor Pool worked when he came to work. She spotted the phone and picked it up, Reading his name plate on the desk, “Where is Sergeant Hernandez now?”

“Ma’am? It’s Sunday, I don’t know where you could find him.” Though likely, he thought, he was with the Okinawan woman who lived with him.

The Major’s wife dialed the number she had for the hospital, “Give me the Officer of the Day.”

A minute later, Spec Four James Conway, was handed the phone. When it was his turn to speak, he said, “There are no drivers here licensed to drive a bus. It could take some time to find one.”

The MP, the Major’s wife, and the two ambulance drivers heard: “Well, you damn better find one.”

“Can you drive a bus,” she asked James with a tone which made the hair on his neck stand up.

“I am not licensed to drive a bus,” he responded, not answering her question. He was able to drive all the vehicles assigned to the motor pool but refused to pass the bus driving test, as he did not want the responsibility of backing an expensive bus, up to a more expensive plane for fear of damaging one or the other.

When the bus finally arrived at the hospital, the driver was told it arrived too late. The outing had been cancelled.

When Spec Four James Conway reported for duty on Monday morning, a Captain was in Sergeant Hernandez’s office with him. The Sergeant handed James a set of orders. He had been transferred to Ordnance Company on the far side of the Island and was to report by twelve hundred hours to his new duty station. The captain left; once he was gone the Sergeant arranged a driver and took James to the other side of the Island.

James walked into the offices of the new Company and reported to the Master Sergeant who had a scowl on his face. “My ear was bent for half an hour this morning because of you. See, that bucket? It has a toothbrush inside it. Fill it with water; your job today is to scrub the tile in the hallway with that brush. Don’t let me walk into that hallway and not find you there on your knees scrubbing that floor.”

A couple of hours later, an Army MP pulled up in front of the Ordinance Company in a jeep with a middle aged woman in the passenger seat. They both climbed out of the jeep and walked inside. They walked into the First Sergeant’s Office, where he stood and came to attention.

“I am here to see Specialist Conway.”

“You passed him in the hall, Ma’am.” The three walked out and approached Conway, who was taking his sweet time cleaning the same area of the hall since he started.

“You are at attention,” the First Sergeant barked.

Conway stood slowly, his back hurt; his knees hurt; he looked calmly in the Major’s wife’s eyes.

“Do you recognize me?”

“I don’t recognize you as a Major, Ma’am.” He said in a casual tone.

“Where is your Captain?” she had turned, red faced, toward the First Sergeant.

“Right this way, Ma’am, while I tell him you would like to speak to him.”

The MP, let the other two get to the office door. “Man, you are not playing this right,” he told Conway and walked back toward the office.

At zero three hundred hours, having sent word to his wife and his two month old daughter to clean out the Credit Union account and get reservations home with whatever she can carry, he stood on a tarmac for a flight to Da Nang, Vietnam.

Conway sat on his duffel bag in near total darkness waiting. “Only six months, you just have to make it six months. Then you are OUT!” But he knew it was going to be a long six months.

The next afternoon, Conway stood at attention in front of a Captain Miller, who was looking over his record. “Man, who did you piss off?”

Conway felt it was one of those questions, that the one, who asked it, did not expect an answer. It was hot. Hot like Okinawa, a steamy, sticky hot and there was nothing you could do about it.

“Report to Third Company. They are looking for drivers. Ask for Lieutenant Fallwell. That is all.”

Conway found his way to Third Company. He handed his papers to a Sergeant on duty.

“Good, good, you are licensed for Deuce and a Half’s and Five tons.” He sat the papers down. “When is that last time you were on a firing range?” He paused, “I find most new guys feel better here, once they have refamiliarized themselves with their weapon. Get an M-16 issued to you. Then, as they say, don’t leave home without it.” He signed an order. “You start in the morning.”

Months went by. The routine was much the same. Load supplies - form a small convoy and resupply outlying areas. A toxic mixture of boredom and fear prevailed. It was likely true in all Armies that balance between boredom and fear. Most of the men got high when off duty.

Conway had met the Lieutenant. He often drove shotgun in Conway’s truck. Both men appreciated that the other was on the quiet side.

At dusk after unloading supplies, the Lieutenant ordered us back to the trucks, we were going back to our base camp. It would take all night, but lots of supplies needed to be moved. From the sky, we were just a string of lights.

The first bomb hit so close that Conway swerved off the road. Steam rose from the engine. The windshield was shattered. Conway held the Lieutenant and tried to stop the bleeding. He tied a compression bandage on the wound. Once the Lt was taken care of, he tied a tourniquet around his own leg. The convoy was completely destroyed.

The Lt asked Conway to please tell his parents that he was proud to serve his country.

“You tell them yourself. We are OK. We’re OK. Help will be here soon. We’re OK. We’ll get picked up fast. We’re OK.”

An Army surgeon, in Da Nang took Conway’s leg. He was patched up and spent weeks recovering.

A First Sergeant he had not met visited him in the hospital. “I heard you tell the Captain that Lt Fallwell requested you carry a message for him. He was a friend of mine.” He held out a letter. “You can deliver this?” It was both a question and a statement.

“Yes, Sergeant, we became friends also. How do I find them?”

“You are being flown to Okinawa, to the hospital at Kadena Air Force Base. Air Force Major Fallwell is stationed there. His wife volunteers at the hospital there. She won't be hard to find.”

Buffalo Springfield - For What It's Worth 1967

Neil Young - Heart of Gold

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    • mckbirdbks profile image
      Author

      mckbirdbks 7 days ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

      Hello Gypsy - Thank you. Sometimes the video is the best part. I appreciate your visit.

    • mckbirdbks profile image
      Author

      mckbirdbks 7 days ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

      Hello Audrey, I was very surprised when they shut Ft. Ord down. But things change and change and change. Thanks for the visit.

    • Gypsy Rose Lee profile image

      Gypsy Rose Lee 7 days ago from Riga, Latvia

      Enjoyed your story. Love your choice of video.

    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 9 days ago from Nashville Tn.

      So you were at Fort Ord...been there many times. Gee, I enjoyed this story, especially the ending. The she-devil got her dues. Thanks Mike .

    • mckbirdbks profile image
      Author

      mckbirdbks 9 days ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

      Hello Genna – That is me in my misspent youth. That feels like a million years ago. I wonder how ‘that guy’ would react if he knew all the BS that was in front of him. But that is a different story.

      As for karma – you are certainly correct. The expression, ‘what goes around comes around’ seems to fit. I am glad you liked the story. I can recall the part of the story based on events very clearly.

      As for the music, I never graduated out of the 70’s and around ’79, I stopped listening to music all together. You and mar have introduced me to some very good music. I thank you both for that.

    • mckbirdbks profile image
      Author

      mckbirdbks 9 days ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

      Hello Verlie – Becky does stop by to read, so I am guessing she will see your message. The same people who frequented Emerald Wells Café still come to visit me. That makes me feel really well. It is so nice to be surrounded by the best people on the planet.

    • Genna East profile image

      Genna East 9 days ago from Massachusetts, USA

      Karma -- its cause and effect -- can be brutal as it is subtle with a reach that impacts both the culpable and the innocent. "Be careful what you wish for." Mike, is that picture of you? The reason I ask is that it looks like you. :-) This is a powerful tale, my friend...so well written, sage and speaks from experience by someone who has served his country in the armed services. The music is darned perfect -- with more soft acoustics, these are subtle yet commanding lyrics that "salute" the full impact of this story. Well done.

    • snakeslane profile image

      Verlie Burroughs 9 days ago from Canada

      Hi Mike, Just came back to say hi to Becky. Hi Becky! Miss you! And hi to you too, and everyone else who posted, you really bring people together Mike...You really know how...

    • mckbirdbks profile image
      Author

      mckbirdbks 9 days ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

      Hello Paula - Thank you. That is high praise. There is competition for the best storytellers here at HP. I

      appreciate even being considered amongst them. I spent three years in the Army. I frozen in Ft. Ord, sweat bullets in

      Georgia. Drove an ambulance in a Typhon and ate dust in Texas. I wonder what it was like in the French Foreign Legion.

      As for the Major's wife, she was smart to bring an armed MP with her.

      The story had a few directions it could have taken to finish. There were more shocking conclusions.

      Thanks for the nice comment. Hope you are well.

    • mckbirdbks profile image
      Author

      mckbirdbks 9 days ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

      Hello Shy - Sorry that your husband is in the hospital. I hope everything works out well, and soon.

      This story was based on a turning point in my Army career. (Not exactly a career.) I had a nice clean job,

      then someone did not schedule a bus, and I found myself working in a place that coordinated rebuilding blown up

      Army trucks 2 1/2 ton and five ton trucks. One of the things I did was savange parts from anywhere I could find

      (read steal) them. Oh, those were the days.

      About that score, don't pay it one bit of attention. My score floats all over the place. I think that reflects more

      on them than the writer. I saw one writer's score at zero. When I wrote to him to ask about it, he said HP was using

      that score as a form of punishment. So, you are now, 'Cool Hand Shy' the defiant one.

      Thanks for the blessings.

    • mckbirdbks profile image
      Author

      mckbirdbks 9 days ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

      Hello Peg - Thank you. Boy, that picture was taken a long time ago. It certainly is me. Me before Number one daughter arrived.

      The story of the Major's wife is based on true events, up to a point. Then the storyteller in me just made up the rest.

      That Ordanace Company assigned me to a much dirtier job than dispatching ambulances and going on Media Vac's to transport

      wounded to the Kadena Hospital. The chow was much better at the Air Force facility. ha

      I am sure you have as many Navy stories as I could tell. Some Marine stories float around in my head also.

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 9 days ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      Mike....Thanks for providing me with a U.S. Army Tale, to accompany my coffee break today. How privileged am I to be able to simply get comfortable in my own home & be entertained by one of the best story-tellers of all time?

      The Major's wife is a real sweety, eh? Just the sort of delusional creature who needs a quiet walk into the woods. I'll be glad to lead her.

      Life, hand in hand with Karma, can be a shocking, sometimes unfortunate experience for those deserving.... Have a wonderful day, Mike and thanks again. Paula

    • Shyron E Shenko profile image

      Shyron E Shenko 9 days ago from Texas

      Mike, great story, it seems like a story that was meant to be, but sad for the witch that she lost her son, and now she will be fed crow with the message from him.

      Glad you are back to writing, I almost quit yesterday when I signed in and my hub score was down to 84 it seems that if we are not on here 27/7 we are not up to snuff, but hubby is in the hospital and I don't do well working from there.

      I also love the irony of the last sad line.

      Blessings my friend.

    • PegCole17 profile image

      Peg Cole 9 days ago from Dallas, Texas

      Mike, First of all, the photo is great. I thought that might be you. The Karma of the situation was interesting. It seemed like the Lt. was a good man and I was sad for him. No wonder he was a quiet type with a dominant parent like the mother. Ah, memories of Air Force days and Navy bases came flooding back with your story. Hope you will continue with more service related adventures.

    • mckbirdbks profile image
      Author

      mckbirdbks 9 days ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

      Hi Bill - 'Great' comment. ha Thank you.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 9 days ago from Olympia, WA

      Great story, but no surprise there. Great to see a younger version of Mike...great to hear a great story from a great storyteller...lots of greats in that sentence. :)

    • mckbirdbks profile image
      Author

      mckbirdbks 9 days ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

      Hello mar - Yup, that is me. Ft. Lee 1971. Turns out they will put the safety of this country in the hands of anybody that shows up. The foundation of this story is based on fact. All the heroic stuff is made up. Thanks for being swept up. This is one of those stories that could have run a little longer and tugged at emotions in the conclusion.

    • marcoujor profile image

      Maria Jordan 9 days ago from Jeffersonville PA

      Dare I ask if the handsome young man in the picture is you, dear Mike?

      This story swept me up from start to finish. Loving the ending you selected as well.

      A treat to read a new story...building that short story collection 'slow and steady'. Hugs, Maria

    • mckbirdbks profile image
      Author

      mckbirdbks 10 days ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

      Hello Patty - I was reluctant to bring the Specialist and the Major's wife face to face at the ending. My mind saw various endings. One concept was Conway and an Officer showing up at the front door to notify the family of the death. Thank you for taking the time to read this presentation.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 10 days ago from North America

      This is a Twilight Zone ending - or O'Henry. The Major's wife was in for a shocking take-down with the news of her husband's death.

    • mckbirdbks profile image
      Author

      mckbirdbks 10 days ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

      Hello Martie - You are right, there is a lot of human folly wrapped in this story. And the death of a soldier is always a sad event.

    • MartieCoetser profile image

      Martie Coetser 10 days ago from South Africa

      Auw, what a sad story! It is hard to empathize with people who treat others with disrespect. It is even harder to control the revengeful spirit in our soul. Then comes the most difficult of all: mourning the death of yet another soldier.

    • mckbirdbks profile image
      Author

      mckbirdbks 10 days ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

      Hello Becky – The military, as you know, has a very strange hierarchy. Once you gain some rank, it gets easier, as even Sergeants get to pick on Privates and Corporals. Some think they are there to do their jobs, others bring their problems with them to share.

    • mckbirdbks profile image
      Author

      mckbirdbks 10 days ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

      Hello Verlie, Yes, this is chilling. As the summary explains, half the story is based on facts. The military is a feudal system. Those at the bottom are no more than serfs that do what they are told and if not they are severely punished. I debated a few different endings to the story. Thank you for coming by to read my first offering in a few weeks.

    • Becky Katz profile image

      Becky Katz 10 days ago from Hereford, AZ

      Chilling what the powers that be deem appropriate. I remember Dennis telling me that he got to scrub barracks latrines with a toothbrush, for minor reasons. I believe that those that make them do things like that should be scrubbing latrines with toothbrushes. Good story.

    • snakeslane profile image

      Verlie Burroughs 10 days ago from Canada

      Mike this is chilling, and truly told. How can anyone comprehend the vagaries of life for a soldier in wartime, and a hierarchical system that leaves a good man on his knees cleaning the floor with a tooth-brush just to humiliate? I love the irony of the last lines.