Typically around the turn of the year I think about friends and family who are no longer with us. Watching the Gerald R. Ford service from the National Cathedral I found that I had tears in my eyes as I listened to the hymns and watched the Ford family. Military funerals have always affected me deeply. Robert Crawford Ransom, I think of you frequently. I wish we hadn’t all persuaded you to accept your Commission.
On to Lieutenant David B. Dave is also no longer with us but whenever I think of him I have to smile.
Like many of us caught up in the Viet Nam situation, Dave had not finished college when he entered the Army. He was bright enough to qualify for Infantry OCS and lucky enough to be accepted into Jump School. When I joined the Airborne Battalion in August of 1967, Dave was the Executive Officer of my Company. He was single, living in the BOQ (Bachelors Officers Quarters) near Lawson Field. These were World War II wooden, 2 story buildings in various stages of disrepair. There were 6 of these buildings, each divided into roughly 30 small rooms housing one Officer per room. Each room was fitted out with a bunk, a small table and a green chair (fake leather). These BOQ’s were used almost exclusively by Officers attending Jump School with the average stay being 3 weeks (unless one flunked out sooner). In any given week there might be only 50 Officers living in the six buildings. Dave was assigned as the BOQ Officer in addition to his other duties as a Company Executive Officer. Typically, when an Officer was put in charge of government owned equipment, he had to take a full inventory and sign for it thereby relieving the previous signer from liability (more on that in a later post). Dave had signed for six building, sinks, commodes etc. plus 180 bunks, chairs, tables and small lamps-one per room.
Base pay for a Second Lieutenant was $202 per month. We drew an additional $110 per month as Hazardous Duty pay for our required monthly parachute jump (we tried to jump more frequently just to break the monotony of the job).
Like the rest of us, Dave owned a car and being single he tended to date and consequently run through his meager pay fairly quickly.
He needed a way to supplement his income. He passed the word that he had faux leather chairs for sale at $20 each including delivery. Naturally every Sergeant in the Battalion put in an order. Dave removed the front seat of his car and generally spent several hours each night driving out the back gate of Ft. Benning into Alabama and then driving around the outside of the Fort to make his deliveries. While this took him almost double the time, he was able to avoid being stopped by the Military Police as the back gate was unmanned. Over the course of the next few months, there was an active market in illicit chairs.
In April of the next year, Dave received his orders for Viet Nam. Panic set in when he realized that the incoming BOQ Officer would take inventory before signing for the six buildings and their contents. When the fateful day arrived, Dave had it figured out. He corraled a dozen recruits to stand by. Dave and his relief carefully inventoried each room in the first building. As they moved to the second building at a deliberately slow pace, the recruits entered the first building and quickly started removing chairs and putting them in the fifth and sixth buildings that were chairless. As the two Lieutenants left the second building to move to the third, the same process occurred. Chairs were moved into chairless rooms in buildings 5 and 6. The inventory taking sped up and by the time Dave and the new LT. entered building 6, there were still chairless rooms. A signal was given to Dave and he started the count on the second floor which had a chair per room. When they moved down to the first floor they found that all rooms had chairs except for the last six. The new LT was complaining that he wouldn’t sign as there were chairs missing. As they walked to the front of the building they discovered six chairs in a pile in the Day Room. The inventory was complete and the rookie signed. Dave breathed more easily and departed for leave and then Viet Nam. The recruits dranks free beer that night.
I think of Dave everytime I sit on my faux leather chair. I have had it for 40 years.