Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Training Officer

If you are a first time visitor to my blog and this particular story is the first one in my collection of short stories you are reading, let me give you a fair, "heads up." This story is one I've shared in parts with many friends over the years but have never placed in writing. Those that have followed my blog will know my most significant piece was "The Mockingbird, and what it means in my life!" This was a rather long semi-autobiography of sorts where, if you have read it, you found that I spent time as a police officer in Jackson, Mississippi, and this is where the focus of this story finds ground. If you have spent anytime in my work, you also know I have tried to keep my stories as "G" rated as I could, simply because that is who I am in the early winter of my life. I simply choose not to offend anyone that ventures purposefully into my work or just happens upon it. So with that said, let me caution you before you engage this story, there is profanity. I use it in context, not trying to impress anyone, but to shed light on the "law enforcement culture" that existed. You will find abbreviated words instead of the written words to protect you from being offended. I am apologizing before you even start this story, so understand this before you begin. I do hope you enjoy this collection of events, and hopefully, I can help you sit in the front seat of my patrol unit without being too offended... Stay with me, and I do hope you enjoy this one as well.

After graduating from the Jackson, Mississippi police academy and completing my training in the city's 2nd precinct, I was assigned to Jackson's 3rd precinct located in Northwest Jackson. The precinct concept was brand new upon my graduation and the physical precinct office was a trailer located at the Jackson Mall. In the late 70's and early 80's this part of the city's demographics existed somewhere in the 70% black and 30% white population and it was here I was assigned to the midnight shift from 11pm at night until 7am the next morning. I was, at this particular time in Jackson's history, the only white police officer assigned the 3rd precinct's midnight shift! The northwest part of the city was divided by Highway 49 out of Jackson that went thru Yazoo City as well as other delta cities and was known then as Delta Drive. The name was changed years later, and is known today as Medgar Evers Blvd. The city's 3rd and 2nd precincts were divided by Clinton Blvd to the west and the 4th precinct bordered the 3rd precinct along State Street. All four of the precincts were broken into five zones or beats to which radio cars were assigned. In my assigned precinct, units were designated as 3 for the precinct, Alpha for the day shift, Bravo for the evening shift, and Charlie for the midnight shift, followed by the zone or beat the unit was assigned. I was the lone white officer assigned to 3-C-1 in the north part of the city which bordered the 4th precinct and was a one man unit. 3-C-2 was a two man unit as was 3-C-3 and 3-C-4. We were rounded out with 3-C-5, which was the only other one man unit in the precinct. 3-C-97 was the Sergeant and 3-C-98 was the shift Lieutenant. It took a while, but I finally became part of the Charlie Shift personnel. After a few "situational" incidents, I guess I proved myself to my black officer com padres for whatever reason, and I no longer had to rely on back up from 4th precinct personnel. Word was "put out on the streets" not to mess with their white officer.

After about a year of playing solo in the relatively safe confines of 3-C-1, I was moved to the west part of the precinct and assigned 3-C-5. This was an active zone and quite different from the mostly residential conditions I found in 3-C-1. There was a lot of activity in this zone that consisted of bars, industrial production, commercial enterprises with airport, and residential neighborhoods complete with low income apartment complexes scattered throughout. There was never a boring night and I-220 was being constructed through the heart of my new beat! If I had the time, I could literally roll my windows down on any given night and hear sledgehammers bursting through cinder block walls. Gunshots could be heard throughout the given nights, and how they never found me, I'll never know.  You see, I was one of those crazies that enjoyed driving 100 mph to an unknown disturbance with shots fired! A graduate of the police academy with me, who played defensive end with Jackson State University football team, told me affectionately one night that he thought I was a Viking! We found ourselves riding together one evening, when he suddenly told me to turn around and stop a late model Lincoln Continental that had just passed us going in the opposite direction. I, of course, asked him what he did and he just laughed and stated those famous last words, "trust me." I thought to myself, Ok, here we go. I throw on the blue lights and this car with Illinois tags, NFL34, pulls slowly to the curb. As we prepare to exit the car, my partner asks me if I will stand back and let him make contact. Sure! Why the hell not, I think to myself. I mean, if an automatic anything comes out of the dark tinted windows of that nice ride, at least I would stand a chance of getting a couple of shots off! It was mere seconds as my partner approached the door, that it flew open and a rather healthy looking black male literally jumped out of the car and grabbed him in a bear hug!! Things did not short circuit in my mind, but it damn sure went into overdrive as the scene in front of me began to unfold! I am not going to dirty up my blog with what I really thought initially, until I realized, this was an affectionate greeting of old friends, he turned to me and motioned me forward as he spoke, "Come here, Ferguson. I want you to meet someone!" The man introduced himself as Walter Payton as he shook my hand.  His high pitched voice and smile that we all remember from his Chicago Bears days was even more warm in person on that dark Jackson street under blue lights! He was a true gentleman. They were team mates at Jackson State and just a chance encounter of many class personalities I met while there.

Law enforcement was in my blood and I simply loved it with a passion. I also respected it with the same degree of passion because I knew danger was around every corner and I could easily get hurt. A simple domestic disturbance one night ended up in one of those "ah crap" situations. Husband was mad at the wife. Wife wanted to beat up the husband who did not take well to being hit by his wife. So here I find myself, arriving as the primary unit to this party along with a couple of other officers from 3-C-4 as my back up. Should I remind my readers that domestic disturbances are where most police officers are at greatest risk? Anyway, after a few tense moments, the five of us begin to talk calmly and we reach one of those points of compromise "we think" will enable us to exit the home without any hurt feelings or anyone going to jail. One of these go 10-8 (back in service), HBO (Handled by Officer) calls... We like those. The wife stands to walk us outside to the cars, leading the way out of the front door, followed by my two back up officers. As I reach the door, I turn around and tell the husband, "Thanks for working with us here, my friend," or something like that and then said something along the line that "We don't want to be here anymore than you want us here." Before I could finish my "thank-you's" and "good byes," this man punched me in the side of my mouth! Stunned and shocked, I began to taste my own blood as he began to push the door shut on me. Yes, there is such a thing as an adrenalin rush!  At this intersection in time, something switched on in the primitive parts of my mind and I knew someone was going to tote an ass whuppin!   It did not matter to me that he was about 6'3" of solid muscle.  I simply knew that I was bleeding and his ass was going to jail, dead or alive!  I discovered that a four battery D Cell metal flashlight was a formidable weapon and I lit into him with a vengeance.  His pectorals, deltoids, and biceps absorbed vicious blows from this law enforcement tool as I deliberately avoided the head and collarbone. I wanted him going to jail in pain and not to some hospital for stitches!!  If I was not connecting with the metal flashlight, my left fist connected with any exposed part of his face or body that I could find. Somewhere during this testosterone driven dance of man versus man, we found ourselves in a small kitchen. It was here that a downward stroke of my right hand revealed I no longer had the metal kell light in my hand and I could hear my back up screaming directly behind me, "FREEZE MF, OR I'M GOING TO SHOOT YO ASS!"  I didn't have to look to discover a pistol was pointed at my back and instinctively knew I wanted no part of that!  This area we were fighting in was simply too small for my backup to get around me to help, so I thought the easiest thing to do would be that little judo throw they call the "hip roll!?" You know... the kind you learn in the academy on mats where your buddies 'let' you grab them and toss them around? Yeah! That one. Well, let me tell you this. You learn just enough in the police academy to get your ass whipped regardless of how "text book" your move actually is?  Well, I discovered that halfway through this particular move that if you hit the stove, you are probably going to come down on the top of your head with him on top of you!  Oh yes, absolutely!  It was at this moment my lights flickered and began to dim!!  I landed right on the top of my head and knew immediately something had malfunctioned in my physical system. My back up could finally get his hands on this man as he began to stir with his second wind.  I knew there was no more fight in me but did not know how badly I was hurt.  I just knew it had to end because someone was going to die.  With all of my remaining strength, I forcefully grabbed a handful of male genitalia with every intention of removing his manhood for life!  Oh yes, it worked beautifully! There was this blood curdling scream and he stilled his struggle as my back up hand cuffed him ensuring a higher probability both of us would live another day. I was still bleeding from that cut on the inside of my mouth and my neck was hurting like crazy.  Forcing myself up, I put him into the back of my patrol car and after dropping him off at the city jail, I drove myself to Baptist Hospital, and found out I had a cracked 7th cervical vertebra. Four weeks in a cervical collar and I'm back into action!

Never ending situations. Because of Jackson's history during the civil rights movement, one of the settlements made with the community, or so I was told, was that the police department would never again use Police Dogs as a tool because of the abuse white officers inflicted upon blacks by allowing them to bite without provocation! We actually saw film of this during our academy days and by gosh it was nothing but abuse.  As a result of these tragic events some 15 years or so after the fact, I find myself along with other officers going into dark buildings in the wee morning hours of the night, looking for burglars hiding somewhere within with unknown weapons!  What a thrill these times were! Every burglar we caught was under circumstances just like this! How any of us ever survived, I'll never know, but we did.  Only one time did things go seriously wrong. One of our officers chased after a fleeing burglar suspect.  As he grabbed his collar from behind, the suspect turned firing a  .22 cal bullet point blank into his face under his left eye. The bullet caught the bone and followed it around his face exiting through the external ear! Officer down, but not out. He never lost consciousness and returned to work a couple of weeks later!

With 3-C-5 being a one person unit, my move to the West side of our precinct proved interesting. Survival instincts sharpened, but yet I became even more brave as I became more comfortable with the fast pace of that particular beat or zone. Many of my dispatched calls involved emergency care of some sort and Jackson's Fire Department also functioned as the city's emergency ambulance service. This simply means that every time I responded to a call involving medical assistance as a result of fights, stabbings, or gun shot wounds, I was not alone.  I may have been the only law enforcement officer on the scene but there was also a Fire truck there staffed with 4 able bodied firemen to include the Ambulance crew complete with 2 or more equally competent EMT certified firemen.  On more than one occasion they reminded me 'they' were my back up.  They never had to step in to assist me in the performance of my duties but I am sure their presence positively deterred any thoughts of misbehavior on the behalf of any perp.   Here are four to eight firefighters standing ominously around with a couple of them holding fire axes?  I knew they had my back and even the most mentally challenged of Jackson's criminally minded knew it as well.  Because of this special bond that existed between us I got to know these men of that fire station quite well and a few of them became close friends!

Sometime in 1979, my shift Lieutenant called me into his office and told me that another class of recruits was graduating from the Police Academy, and he had selected me to be a training officer. I mean, why not. I had not been shot yet, only shot at! Came close to being beaten up, but actually got the "best" of him at the last moment, as he went to jail and I went to the hospital. No internal affairs investigations or complaints from citizens and my court attendance subpoenas were very low, meaning my arrests were substantiated and not contested. What he told me impressed him the most was I had the lowest "resisting arrest" charges than anyone in the precinct yet my arrests were near the top in both felony and misdemeanor arrests. Well, I wasn't privy to that kind of information nor did I know they kept tabs on such statistics like that, but after talking with him I pretty much realized I didn't have much of a choice in becoming a training officer or not. So I left the meeting, got into 3-C-5, and proceeded to my assigned zone so my presence there could calm the hearts of the honest and strike terror in the hearts of the dishonest while wondering, what kind of new experience this "Training Officer" title would bestow upon me. Anyway, it seemed my solitary days of patrolling the city alone were coming to an end and I just hoped I liked this person??  After all, it was made clear to me that who ever this trainee was, things were going to happen my way and not theirs for the next three to four months.  It actually depended on that trainee recruit's ability to comprehend what they were being taught. You see, there was something I knew out there, we were not playing Hide and Seek or Tag You're It!  What was happening in those Northwest Jackson streets was far too real and sinister which means one could seriously get hurt.

Sometime within the next few days, I received a radio call from dispatch to 10-21. That simply meant for me to drive to a pay telephone, that was common during this time period, and radio back to dispatch the telephone number! That was our cell phones back then. They would promptly call me at that number I gave to them to give me messages of a private sort they chose not to put out over a monitored police frequency. I was informed that someone wanted to meet me out on Clinton Blvd at one of the local "stop and rob" convenience stores! Now who in the world, I thought, wanted to see me at this time of the night. After all, the honest people were at home in bed and every person or vehicle we encountered at this time of the night was, exponentially criminally prone, in our conditioned minds. As I drove into the far end of the parking lot as to ensure I was actually meeting someone, I noticed a skinny white male wearing glasses leaning against a car in the well lit lot. As I drove slowly to where he was standing, he stood up and started walking toward my car. Before he got too close, I told him to stop and then asked if I could help him. He asked me if my name was Officer Ferguson, and then my curiosity really became active. I think I responded with something like, "what’s more important is who you are and what can I do for you," kind of response. He then introduced himself as "Norm," and told me I was going to be his training officer.

As we shook hands, I wondered how he knew who his training officer was going to be, when I was not even told who my "rookie" was going to be. Said he had just graduated that day and was going to report to duty the next night! I listened as he rattled on, taking in his Air Force framed glasses and noticing he was older than what I expected. He was neatly dressed and his hair thinned on front of his forehead, was combed neatly to the back, accompanied with a nervous habit of raising his eyebrows constantly as he spoke. His ears stuck out somewhat and I wondered if he was a "nerd." As I carefully observed his speech and mannerisms the thought that was dancing through my head was, could he fight his way out of a wet paper bag.  Rattling on, he told me he had heard a lot about me and wanted to meet me, which I found interesting, so I asked him my first question. "Norm, do you smoke?" He looked at me surprised and said, "Well, yes," and I simply responded, "Shit!" One of the perks of working in a unit by yourself is the only idiosyncrasies and/or habits you had to put up with were your own, and to this day, I have never gotten on my nerves. What I did know from that answer alone was my new "rookie" was going to be interesting getting to know. After our brief meeting, he left and I thought about him the rest of the night. I made up my mind to do what I could to help him transition into a functional police officer. For some reason, it pleased me that he was mature and single like I was at that time and was a veteran of our country's Air Force. Norm was within a couple of years of my age of 28 or so and if I recall correctly, knew that tomorrow night a new chapter in both of our lives was to begin. I wondered if my primacy affect on him was positive or negative but quickly dismissed how he might of felt toward me. The next few months would decide his future in law enforcement and the main thing I was going to look for was his ability to cover my back and look out for his!

After our first roll call, I realized this habit of raising his eyebrows was something that would eventually get on my nerves, so I decided the best thing for me to do was simply not look at him. As we walked to our unit 3-C-5 that we share with the Bravo and Alfa shifts, I asked him what was the first thing we needed to do? He looked at me with that "say what" look and just stared. "Norm," I continued, "we check the car for damage, and we push our hands down into the crease of the back seat to see if there might be any drugs, drug paraphernalia, knives or guns pushed there by people the other shifts might have arrested!" As he started pushing his hand into the crease of the seat, I then added, "You might also discover that if a drunk has thrown up or pissed their pants in the back seat (which often occurs), you might run your hand into that wet mess wondering which it is, urine or puke!" Oh, this got his attention, and I realized immediately, he was a germaphobe as I broke out in a small grin. This was going to be interesting. Anyone that knew me then as today on a personal level knows I have a sick sense of humor. I wasn't sure how this would play out but knew I was going to be the beneficiary. I told him his seat was the passenger's seat and his job would be the radio. "I drive. You talk on the radio, and know where we are all of the time!" I showed him how to test the blue lights, as well as our electronic siren consisting of the wail, Hi-low, and whelp. I told him the "whelp" siren was the one I preferred, as it was the most effective because it captured the attention of the general public quicker than the others. After showing him how to test the public address system, I then told him to make sure the shotgun was loaded without having a round in the chamber. Rookie question. "Why don't you keep a round in the chamber?" Training officer answer, "The psychological affect that an Ithaca shot gun has when you arrive on scene, slide to a stop, exit a marked patrol unit, and rack a 12 gauge '00 buck shot into the chamber!' 'I know personally that it will actually clear a crowded street corner!" He seemed to like that answer, when the bottom line truth was, it was simply safer not to have a round in the chamber.

As we pulled out of the precincts parking lot headed to our zone, I then told him I wanted him to repeat after me! Made him repeat it... "Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil!" Say it, I told him, and he did, then I finished... "Because we are the meanest SOB's in the valley!!"  "Say it," I said with firmness, and he repeated it for me. As our training officer and rookie learning sessions began, I told him it was his responsibility to learn our zone as quickly as possible and always know where we are. ALWAYS... At least once an hour as I drove, I would slam on the breaks and scream "SHOTS FIRED!! WHERE ARE WE??" The first time I did that, I felt he came close to wetting his pants but as the night progressed, I explained trouble many times found us and we needed to be aware of our surroundings... Then, I told him to tell me who we are!!! He got into the mode of my silly promptings and started quoting out loud when I requested, "yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil because we are the meanest SOB's in the valley!" He got use to me testing his resolve, yet at the same time, always treating him with the respect he deserved when we interacted with the public. He was my equal and whereas he may have been in a training mode, I wanted him to know his best interests were in my favor. And the smoking habit of his drove me crazy... I hated that with a passion then as I do to this day. "Crack a window" became part of my continuous harping directed toward him. Along with the exercise of raising his eyebrows and that nasty smoking habit another thing became even more evident. He thought he was pretty. Oh yes... One of those. Nothing on the uniform and every time we stopped that unit to get out for whatever reason, he didn't just run a comb through his hair, he pulled a brush through it while looking into a mirror! *Oh dear God* And I thought I had idiosyncrasies...

First night out, he asked me to stop at one of the local "stop and robs" so he could get him a package of Red Hots. Do you folks remember that candy? I think it's still around. The little red candies covered in red food die, smothered in Cinnamon that makes them hot? Well, Norm would not buy the .10 cent packages. He bought the .49 cent packages. The big ones! He loved them and between those things and his smoking habit he made himself pretty content... I would scream, "Shots fired! Where are we?" and he would respond, "Flag Chappel and Clinton Blvd!" Boy was coming along fine! Of course this was our first night! "Let me hear it, Norm," and without prompting out of his mouth came, "yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil because we are the meanest SOB's in the valley!" Good, I thought. Soon he will understand. So as the night progressed, I showed him the limits of our zone, introduced him to the night attendants of the local stop and robs, and took him by the fire station to meet our "reinforcements!" I also introduced him to some of our local trouble spots, like the Red Carpet Lounge. I told him before we walked in to that bar, "Just look, observe, and keep your mouth shut in this one, because if you're ever tested, this will be the place!" He did good. The manager of the place was a two time resident of Mississippi's Parchman State Prison and the two of us had an understanding that if I ever got into a bind out there in his overnight den of sin, he would be the first one I would shoot!  I think he believed me but I also wanted Norm to know how important this man was to us. In other words, he needed to know there were simply some things of a law enforcement nature we simply overlooked for his benefit, which in the long run benefited us. As we left the Red Carpet after our first visit, I asked him to say it and it flowed out freely, almost boisterous... "yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil because we are the meanest SOB's in the valley." *That's right, I thought. Keep it up!*

I was constantly preaching to him about where we were and situational awareness. Some silly stuff, like when we left a stop and rob, I would ask him how many cars were in the parking lot and what color were they? Stuff I never really thought about when I worked alone, but hey, I'm the training officer and he needs to know what’s going on. And of course, traffic stops! I'll never forget our first one. A car simply passes right in front of us through a red light! "Norm? What did you just witness?" He saw it too, so I asked him if he was ready to make his first traffic stop and he says, "Oh yeah!"  As I engage the blue lights the car pulls slowly to the curb with two spotlights highlighting the suspect's vehicle! Because this was his stop, I called in the tag information over the radio before I even get out of the unit.  As Norm was approaching the driver, I noticed the blue and white handicap sticker on the rear window. The driver's window on the car was down and sitting behind the driver's seat is a wheel chair with the push handles actually sticking out of the window behind the driver's left shoulder. As I positioned myself in the proper academy taught cover position at the right rear of the car, I hear Norm say with a little 'force' in his voice, "I need you to step out of the car!" I'm sorry, but I almost lost it. Before the driver could respond, I told Norm, "He's handicapped my friend, don't you see his wheelchair?" Well, when it dawned on him that his "Situational awareness" had failed him, Norm started apologizing to the driver, who was by this time laughing. Norm thrust his driver’s license back into his hands and said, "You have a good night sir, and you need to stop at our red lights from now on!" He stormed back to the passenger side of the unit, got in and slammed the door! Temperamental, are we? As I get back into the car, I have this big grin on my face and just casually commented, "He had felon written all over him to me, Norm!" I just heard something mumbled under his voice that sounded similar to STFU or something like that. I knew he was embarrassed, but hey, he walked right into that one with his ego and not his head! I didn't do it!

As the night started to turn into dawn, completing our first night together, we slowly made our way to the city garage and fueled our vehicle before ending our shift. I told Norm, as we pulled into the precinct parking lot, that I was pleased with him. Told him if he would stop his nervous twitch of raising his eyebrows all of the time and quit smoking, I could put up with his red hots and maybe write something good about him. Said we would work on our traffic stops and he started laughing, so I knew he had a personality somewhere in that strange interior of his. As I stopped the car, I asked him one more time to let me hear it! Without hesitation he let it spill out! "Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death we shall fear no evil because we are the meanest SOB's in the valley!" I smiled at him and said, "Now, are you ready for the rest of this self imposed scripture to be revealed to you from experience, or would you rather learn it the hard way?" He looked at me and said, "Tell me?" I said, "Listen carefully to what I am going to tell you. Keep this in your head the rest of your life and never forget it." I said slowly to him as he looked at me, "yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we shall fear no evil because we are the Meanest SOB's in the valley." Then I ask him to listen to the rest and understand in the deepest part of his soul. "Yet one day from another valley came!" I told him there are way too many people who are more criminally inclined than we could possibly imagine and they will hurt us without hesitation much less provocation. We were simply caretakers of many different people that have more problems than our collective minds could ever imagine on chance encounters and we CAN GET HURT! Our main objective is to never force someone to challenge us! I hope he never forgot that lesson.

As time passed, I eventually let him drive. This was yet another thing about him that drove me absolutely insane! I could literally get out of the car, urinate against a tree and catch him before he was too far down the road because he drove so slow. I told him several times, "My gosh Norm, we have an entire zone to cover in just 8 hours, don't you think you need to pick it up just a little?" Every call we went on and before he would get out of that unit, he brushed his hair in the mirror! It was the second time he pulled this stunt that he found himself running to catch up with me as I left his ass primping in the car. Another one of his weaknesses showed early in our relationship. He could actually sleep sitting straight up. Dead silent, and sound asleep as if in another world. You will find later in this story, that is how I had some of my best fun with him. Yes, there were things that I simply had to accept about Norm, and he was learning his share about me too. We spent 8 hours a night together within three feet of each other. The only time a husband and wife spent that much time together in close proximity was when they were actually sleeping together in the same bed! We simply had to get use to each other and that was fine with me.  His most obnoxious habit was his smoking which I detested with a passion. I also had my ways of getting back and took advantage of it too.  Gas. Oh yes... Simple passing of intestinal gases generated from the process of digesting foods was my weapon of choice. As these silent killers found their beginnings on my side of the unit, I would simply tell Norm to "crack the window." Having heard that request a million times from me and without thinking, he would lower the window as requested. These grossly obnoxious fumes would make its way to the properly vented window having no other option but to violate his area of occupation. When it registered in his olfactory senses what had just happened he would launch into a temper tantrum I knew he was capable of and start cursing while rolling the window all the way down screaming "drive faster!"   I simply sat there laughing myself silly knowing it was a silent killer that just set him off! I replied that if I had to put up with his damn smoking he could take a fart or two passed in his honor. Poor guy, being the germaphobe he was I'm surprised he didn't go tell the Lieutenant on me. I laughed when I thought about that! "Lieutenant, could you make Ferguson quit farting in the squad car because it stinks and makes me mad!" It seemed to me that the Lieutenant thought we were having too much fun as it was anyway!

Speaking of the Lieutenant? One night Norm and I passed through one of the many all night hamburger joints with each of us packing out a sack full of those undersized burgers we called "gut grenades."  Seeking a quite place to devour our bounty in peace, I drove to the airport to hide from the urban blight we were sworn to protect.   Driving onto the tarmac, I pulled up under the wing of a Cessna that was neatly parked in a long row of other aircraft, turning the lights off to our unit as to begin our burger feast. I often parked there as it was peaceful and the only lights were those from the radio and distant mercury vapor street lights accented with the white and green rotating airport beacon. Half way through our dwindling meal, we observed headlights driving onto the tarmac. It was our Lieutenant. As he began the slow drive along the row of aircraft of which we were tucked into, he never saw us as he approached from the down side. As he passed parallel to our unit, I just couldn't help myself. I turned on the headlights, blue lights, and activated the whelp siren simultaneously as the look on his surprised face would have earned a Pulitzer Prize in photography had we captured it on film! It was beyond horror! Of course, we got out of the car, took the ass chewing, while I was explaining that instead of going into the burger place we chose to eat in the middle of our zone, just in case anything went down and we were needed, sort of explanation. I'm still trying to teach my impressionable trainee how to deflect problems we encounter, so as this little field interrogation with the Lieutenant ended, I turned toward the car and said out loud to Norm, "I told you that was not a good idea, Rookie," at which time the Lieutenant immediately responded, "That had Ferguson Bullshit all over it!" We laughed about that the rest of the shift, and from then on it seemed that every time the Lieutenant looked at the two of us, he would just shake his head and smile. Quite frankly, he knew what was actually happening between Norm and me. It could be described with one word... Bonding.

Many times, because we were a zone unit, we were simply the first to respond or just happen up on any given situation. We drove up on a fire at one of our apartment complexes early on in our shift one evening and requested police dispatch to notify the fire department. The unit involved was a quad-plex, or simply stated, four apartments on the bottom floor with four apartments on the top floor in one building.  People were gathering around and watching as I asked if everyone was out of this particular part of the quad-plex that was opposite the fire and not yet burning. I ran to the downstairs door and started beating on it trying to wake people up! Someone shouted encouragement by saying, "They be in theah," so I started kicking the door as hard as I could to gain entry. I stepped back three or four times kicking as hard as I could to force the door open too that apartment.  As I stepped back one time too many, I found out that neighborhood dogs become extremely excited when their world is rocked by blue and red lights from the arriving fire department accentuated by the piercing sounds of sirens. This one particular dog, for some reason became focused among the excitement on my aggressive behavior toward that door and without even knowing it was present; bit me in the quadriceps of my right thigh!  I just thought it hurt when it happened!  I screamed to Norm to "get that dog," as the animal turned and ran into the watching crowd with Norm in foot pursuit. Protocol for dog or cat bites then as it is today in many municipalities, is to take the animal and impound it for 10 days or until the owner could prove it was properly vaccinated against rabies. This animal nailed me good and it was my intention to kill it before it got to our animal impound facility, so as the fire department took control of the scene I start looking for Norm. Remember now, I told him to get that dog??  Well, I found him at the next quad-plex occupying the open doorway of a ground apartment with what seemed like 200 people standing around this poor black lady of whom was holding this "victim" dog in her lap!  I heard him say, "Oh hell yeah, this dog is going with me!" Did I mention that Norm had a problem sometimes with "situational awareness?" I don't think he realized there were not enough police personnel working the midnight shift that night in Jackson, Mississippi, that could help us 'take' that dog away from this helpless woman.  Trust me here, an already excited crowd was rapidly conforming into a mob mentality at his prodding’s!  I simply tapped Norm on the shoulder, limped into the apartment and knelled down next to the lady.  I then showed her (and the crowd) my torn pants and blood at what time I assured her, if she could prove that her pet was currently vaccinated I would leave them alone.  If she could not, it was a requirement of law that any animal, cat or dog, would have to be impounded for 10 days to insure the absence of disease.  I promised her that 'her pet' would be returned to her at no cost if he was safe and that I would personally bring him back to her myself.  My plea seemed to calm the masses as she gave up the dog to Norm and I limped of to see if any further crowd control was needed.

After a while, Norm came up to me and asked if I was OK. He could tell I was limping pretty bad and folks, let me tell you here, a dog bite is serious when he gets all four canines into a muscle. Not only do you bleed from the puncture(s), but the bruising of the muscle mass itself becomes extremely painful. We eventually walked back to the unit and in the cage or back seat I find my victim dog is patiently waiting his demise. As much as I was hurting, I had every intention of killing this animal as to get my revenge... Bite me one more time. Please, give me an excuse, as I opened the back door reaching my hands into the back seat to gain control of this disturbed animal.  Those eyes were the first thing I noticed and then his wagging tail.   Need I mention how soft his fur was and that he smelled good, too?  I told Norm to drive as I packed him around to the front seat, holding him in my lap, talking and petting on him as we drove to the animal impound.  After he was safely Impounded, my next stop was the infamous, Baptist Hospital. I couldn't walk out of the emergency room so Norm had a new partner the next couple of nights and to this day, I can see the four marks this dog left on my quadriceps. 

It was a week or two before Christmas, I recall with accuracy. Dispatch sent us to assist the Coroner with someone who had passed away in a residential neighborhood. Now, let me quickly explain the Coroners office in Mississippi during the late 70's. You do not have to be a medical doctor to be a Coroner. At the scene of any "deceased" person, the Coroner assembles a "jury" of persons that are gathered. This is usually police or fire department personnel and consist of five people. The first juror sworn in is "the Foreman" of the jury and the others are just members. We are actually sworn in and paid for these services. The Foreman received $7.50 and the other jurors receive $5.00 each. What we would do was simply watch the coroner examine the body and either agree or disagree with him on the cause of death, thus signing the proper affidavit before being released.  I mean, come on folks, when the Coroner would run a wooden dowel though the path of a bullet wound that penetrates the entire skull, wouldn't you agree with him on the cause of death?  Well, anyway, the call came in that our coroner needed our assistance and since it was in our zone, away we went.

Fire department personnel were already there and a slight aggravation crossed my mind as I knew I wasn't going to get the Foreman's pay, so Norm and I entered the house. Inside were a handful of people with a body lying on the floor close to the couch where someone had noticeably been trying to sleep. On the couch was an old aluminum wash tub with white towels in it, spotted with alot of fresh blood. The Christmas tree was lit up and as a solemn feeling became evident we observed a man a little older than us, holding the hallway door closed as the voices of younger children were heard in the background, "we want to see Paw Paw." This was the deceased son who had brought his children to have Christmas with his Dad one last time, as he was in the last stages of terminal lung cancer. He began coughing up blood and as the coughing spell continued simply died in his home with his son and grand children present for the holidays.

Norm was noticeably upset. He could hear the children crying and was back and forth to the hall door, attempting to comfort them. As he took in the situation, I could tell this was getting the best of him as he fought tears while talking to the man's son. He didn't even want to be on the Coroner's Jury as we went about our business, so the body could be removed by the funeral home that had arrived by this time. What seemed like forever only took the recommended amount of time for us to do what we needed and remove ourselves from the circumstances we encountered. Norm had seen dead people on patrol before. At $7.50 to $5.00 a pop from being on the Coroners Jury, sometimes the checks we received at the end of the month pushed close to $100 bucks! What I am saying is death was ever present in our profession. Getting Norm's head straight concerned me. We got into the car and started down the street. Nothing was said so I thought I would break the ice with him. I simply said to him, "Norm, with all that blood in that pan, it looked like that man spit a mouth full of red hots on those white towels, didn't it?" You would have thought I had launched a Nuke at his mother's house! He did not speak, he screamed, "YOU’RE THE MOST INSENSITIVE SOB I'VE EVER KNOWN IN MY F...ING LIFE!" Maybe I should have let him vent but before he could finish his tirade against me, I slammed on the brakes throwing him into the dash and windshield. Before he knew what was happening I was out of my door, around the car, yanking open his door, and literally dragging him out of the car. I slung him across the hood of our patrol unit threatening to punch him in the mouth! I told him, "I want you to listen to me you SOB! In this job your are going to see death in the worst scenarios you can possibly imagine! You CANNOT afford to get personally involved with this shit or it will cause you to blow your brains out someday!!" In retrospect, I was surprised that someone in that quiet neighborhood at that time of the morning, didn't call the police on the police!  As he regained his composure, he stood up and looked at me, and I continued, "Norm, you HAVE got to find humor in death or this job will drive you insane and if you can't understand this, you need to get out of this police business right now and find something else!" Lecture over. I didn't say anything else as I watched him walk back to the passenger side of our unit. I got in and continued to drive. I was seriously entertaining writing this up and presenting it as the only real negative I had observed to this point in his training. I was alone in my thoughts and he sat over there absorbed in his own. It seemed like the silence would never be broken and it sure as hell wasn't going to be me speaking to him. I had deliberately fired the first volley! I left him alone and before long I heard what I thought was a slight sobbing noise coming from him and you can bet my senses were tuned into what I was hearing. The sobbing was actually a guttural sound that was the foundation of a chuckle. The chuckle turned into a slow laugh and I was beginning to wonder if I was going to have to stop this car again and actually fist fight with this big baby! What came out of his mouth next I will never forget, and knew Norm was going to make it in this vastly vacillating world of law enforcement. He simply started laughing and said, "It did look like red hots, didn't it Rodney?" I knew if he was serious, it wouldn't be long before he was ready to leave the protection of my nest! There was one thing we still needed to work on.

I was always up to something but Norm knew that he could always count on me to cover him when we were actually interacting with the citizens we encountered that prompted the presence of the police in the first place. Many times he would ask me to stop so he could get some coffee... Sleepy again, are we? I thought to myself.  Not three miles down the street, he would be sound asleep with that cup of hot coffee balanced precariously on his chest. The first time I decided to get his attention about his sleep habits was text book. I simply screamed as loud as I could while throwing on the brakes in the middle of nowhere as hot coffee went flying all over him, the car, and even me. As if on queue, I fly out of the car raising all kinds of hell about how his sleeping is going to get us both killed and make him drive! It works... He's wide awake now so I show him the proper way to do it. Norm, I'm going to take a nap, so if you need me, wake me up. I didn't mind him dozing, but he would go sound asleep. I left him in the car one night and went into a greasy spoon restaurant and ate an entire early breakfast. He never knew I was out of the unit. Woke up a little while later while we were responding to a call and afterwards said, "I'm hungry, wanna get something to eat?" He just didn't understand when I told him to go "intercourse" himself, that I had already eaten.

Our last week together found us discussing his strengths and weaknesses. At this point, I knew Norm had what it took to become a good law enforcement officer and I had no intentions of wrecking his career by handing him off to someone else for a couple of more months. I addressed his weaknesses. Norm, you will never be pretty, so leave the brush at home or get a crew cut. You need to quit smoking for your health and if you started wearing a cinnamon perfume I would swear you were a box of red hot candies. After we laughed at that, I told him what really caused me concern was the fact that he did not just sleep, but he soundly slept. I strongly suggested that after I turned him loose from his training period, he might consider requesting a transfer to either the day or evening shift where this problem would not bother him. Taking this under advice, he assured me he would try his best not sleep this last week we were together.  I strongly predicted that I would find great pleasure in bringing to his attention this weakness of his when he did drift off into these reem sleep coma's.  And with this, I conclude this short story into a condensed period of three of the last five nights we spent together.

That night, he did very well. We were busy more than likely and those nights kept him pretty much in tune with the action. I also let him drive. The next night somewhere around 2 or 3 am, I sensed my partner was again losing his battle with his demon sandman. Close to our precinct headquarters was a railroad switching conglomeration of 8 or more tracks that found switch engines moving cars around for rail distribution on a 24-7 schedule. Determined to stay true to my prediction of his inability to remain awake, I pulled our patrol unit directly in front of an idling diesel switch engine setting just short of the traffic crossing. My soul, the lights from this engine alone lit up our unit like a direct ray of sunlight! You could actually feel the heat! Poor ole Norm.  He was sound asleep. I get out of our unit and flash my light to get the engineers attention.  As I walk toward the engine, he steps out of the engines cabin and climbs down the ladder to the ground and shakes my hand.  I took the time to  apprise him of my current situation and pointed out my still comatose partner as we conversed and the huge engine continued to idle just feet away. He started laughing as I suggested my plan of action that might help adjust this sleeping patrol officers sleep habits.   I walk back to my unit and open my driver's side door with Norm's side of the car a scant 20 yards away from the engine. As I gave the engineer the signal with the pumping of my arm up and down, I felt the entire ground begin to vibrate as he throttled up that switch engine. As it reached what seemed full throttle, I screamed at the same time the engineer got down on the trains air horn! Oh my gosh!!  It scared me and I knew what was going on! Norm awoke in the middle of a nightmare that had come true! As he turned his head toward the oncoming train wreck and what he knew was soon to be his last breath, I could see the little red veins in both of his x-rayed ears as he started screaming at his pending doom! Well, I was incapable of function at this point as I was laughing so hard my stomach started cramping! As the engine idled down and the engineer came off the engine to laugh with me, I couldn't help cramping up again as the engineer started explaining the look of our Lieutenants face that Norm and I both witnessed that night at the airport.  He simply described Norm's reaction from his perspective to a tee. Oh yeah, Norm was pissed.  But somewhere between the euphoria of being alive and the anger of being scared to death, what was he going to do, pull his gun and shoot us or laugh along with us? We eventually shook hands with the engineer and drove off with him, of course, driving.  Again. I reminded him of the seriousness of his deep sleep habits.  "Norm" I said, "I drove up and parked next to an idling diesel engine; got out and visited with the engineer for 10 minutes while you slept." I went on explaining to him that I could have been getting beat to death while he slept away and he would never know! I think he zoned out on that visual pleasure alone as he was put out with me the rest of this shift. I could not help but laugh, thinking to myself, what’s new?

Spring was beginning to tease us this time of year. It would get warm in the daytime yet become very cool in the night and early mornings. I rode my 750 Yamaha motorcycle to work and would stop by my house to get a heavy jacket so I could ride back home the next morning a little on the comfortable side.  On this particular night, Norm had made it almost all night long and I was somewhat proud of him. As the dawn began to break, he gave up the spirit and fell asleep yet again. Should I have mercy? I think not.  Just was not in my nature!  I pulled into the driveway of my home, left the car idling and walked inside to get my jacket.  As I walked through the kitchen, I picked up a quart jar that had a hand full of green, early spring clover that contained a little brown grass snake I had caught the day before that had not yet turned green. As I got into the car, I looked over at Norm who was still sound asleep.  I slammed the door real hard to get his attention and reached over dumping the clover and the snake right in the middle of his lap.  I said, "Here Norm, look at this!"  As he stirred into a semi-conscious state, he opened his eyes and started getting pissed that I had dumped 'this crap' on his uniform! As he started brushing the clover off of his lap, I heard this scream, "A SNAKE!!"  He literally tore out of his side of the car pulling his service revolver from the holster as to shoot and kill the 14' King Cobra I just threw on him!  OMG folks, did I tell you that I lived in a very residential section of Jackson, Mississippi that didn't take kindly to gunshots at 6am in the morning?  I tore around the car and grabbed him almost screaming saying, "Put that damn gun up you fool, you ain't gonna shoot a hole in our patrol car!" And with that I attempted to calm him down. He was awake again, but as things began to drift back to a resemblance of normal,  I had to go through a complete cycle of uncontrolled, hysterical laughter complete with those laughing cramps. I later found out that I woke up my next door neighbors as well as my own roommate, and before Norm would get anywhere close to that police unit, I had to find that little snakely creature hiding somewhere under the seat making sure Norm didn't shoot both of us.  As my roommate came out to investigate the disturbance, I actually had him take a photograph of that encounter. Somewhere in my possession, I have a picture of me holding up this little worm of a snake, with Norm in the back ground in a quick draw position! I may post it if I stumble across it someday, on this story. I still think we had one, maybe two nights to go, before our divorce was to be granted.


During this time that I was a training officer, I was also on Jackson Mississippi's Pistol team. I hand loaded all of the rounds I shot in competition in the living room of my home.  I had the equipment to push out the expired primer caps, polish the brass and re-size each brass casing. You then place a fresh primer cap into the brass. The primer is the place the firearms firing pin strikes when you pull the trigger. When the firing pen strikes this primer cap, it causes a small explosion that ignites the gunpowder next to it that is carefully measured and placed in the cartridge. Simultaneously as this explosion occurs, it forces the bullet out of the end of the barrel, thus making the gun shoot! Simply put, the primer cap does to the powder what a blasting cap does to a stick of dynamite. Savvy? Ok. Remember this, it's important. I had on my table about 200 rounds of brass shell casings that only had the primer caps installed. I had not yet hand loaded the measured gun powder into the brass shell casings, so what I had was an incomplete bunch of yet completed cartridges that if inserted into the appropriate firearm would not be dangerous at all.  However, if you pulled the trigger, this action would  result in a very loud pow! With this in mind, Norm and I entered our last night together.

It was a Tuesday night that ended on a Wednesday morning. Since our weekends were pretty wild, I had the feeling my sleeping partner would doze off in the early morning hours. True to form, we rattled on about this being our last night together and how much I had taught him. We talked about many things and checked all the bars looking for some resemblance of trouble. We found none. Not even a traffic violation and the only moving vehicles observed toward the fading shift before the honest people show up, were the newspaper tossing folks. Had so much fun with Norm as I called his attention to what I knew was a paper thrower early one morning when he was brand new. With their driving being somewhat erratic darting from one side of the road to the other to toss papers, or stopping abruptly to cram one into a paper box, it certainly gets your attention. "Turn off your lights Norm and follow that fool.' 'He's either drunk and throwing out beer cans or looking to burglarize something!" Norm hit that invitation harder than a large mouth bass hits a top water bait. Turned off the lights and started following this car through the still sleeping neighborhoods, thinking he really had something. It took about 5 minutes before he realized what was going down, but it was still funny! Took awhile but the banter died down between use and the old sandman came around to visit Norm one last time while in my care.

Somewhere around 5:30 or so, I stopped by my house to pick up my heavy jacket as it was getting rather cold. I had already turned the heater on full blast in the car and was beginning to sweat myself before the stifling heat woke him up. He wanted to gripe and I told him to shut up, that he needed to stay away. He fell back asleep while bitching at me. So, as I walked out of the house with my jacket, I passed the table with all of the future cartridges in their respective stages of reloading. Ah yes, why not. I pulled my Smith and Wesson model 66 from my holster and emptied the six Plus P rounds of .38 cal ammunition into my hand placing them into my pocket. I reached down and picked up one brass shell casing that only contained the primer cap and put it into one of the empty revolver cylinders. I adjusted the chosen cylinder exactly where I wanted it and re holstered my weapon. I got into my car with my snoozing partner who was just getting over his anger at being warmed to wake, and realized he was on the fast track to another :30 to :45 minute nap. I backed out of my driveway on Meadowlane and drove toward Northside drive as I eased my pistol from its holstered position. I placed it over by Norm's knee and said, "Hey Norm, I've been working on the action of my pistol," and started pulling the trigger. Click, click, click, POW!!! The primer cap goes off next to his leg. The reaction was priceless... He almost broke his own jaw with his knee as the term "knee jerk reaction" was defined that very moment on the corner of Meadowlane and Northside drive in 3-C-5. He told me again in so many choice words that I was f...king crazy and needed to be institutionalized. We got out of the car as if on queue and changed places as he drove the rest of the remaining morning. He bitched and screamed all the way to the gas pumps and back. I laughed and didn't even engage him. This was it, he said. He couldn't take no more. I wondered if he realized this was our last night together... Anyway, as we pulled into the precinct and got out of the car, I walked over to him and shook his hand and said, "You passed" and walked away.

Within a week or two, I left Jackson's Third Precinct and joined the city's first federally funded DWI Task force and was given my own take home unit. I was now officially a member of the City's Traffic Division, along with three other officers and a Sergeant. T-91 (Tango 91) was my assigned unit number and the entire city was now mine to patrol with only one objective. To find as many drunk drivers as I possibly could, and to investigate any serious injury accident or fatality that occurred during my shift.

Ole Norm and I had encounters with the general public after that and I knew that if any one police officer on Jackson's entire force would step in for me, it would have been him. Any time I ever needed a back up and Norm was near, I not only knew he was coming, I could hear him. Somewhere in the distant darkness I could hear the siren engage as he responded immediately upon my request for backup. It was always the 'whelp' siren. In the few months we spent together, I was able to impress upon him, of all of the sirens available to us on the electronic box, that one was the most effective because it would capture the attention of the general public quicker than the others.

I left Jackson Police Department a few years later and the last I heard, Norm had made Sergeant. Jackson, Mississippi is light years in my past, but still memories surface in my dreams and in the stories I have verbally shared with many friends. Even years later, I recall driving through the old precinct sharing my distant past with my present. Some how placing these memories in writing is somewhat therapy, and makes me smile when I recall them. I wonder what kind of training officer Norm made.

Rodney S. Ferguson
October 18, 2012

Friday, August 3, 2012

What About Today?

I am sitting in my office on a Friday morning supervising trustees assigned to city hall as their supervisor is out on sick leave. As Pandora Radio entertains and calms my social senses, I pass through pictures posted on facebook of friends I have know for years, I stare deeply into the faces of acquaintances of long ago. There are many I remember, yet way too many of them has simply slipped my memory. Melancholy peppers my thoughts as I dwell on the loss of the many persons that helped condition me into the man I am today. I sit and allow my eyes to meander the faces and smiles of so many that chose to be a part of my life. I pause and drift into a place I find myself often visiting. Let me see if I can possibly take you there and if you wrestle with the same question(s).

Life is given to us. We are ever present in who we are this very moment. As I scan the pictures and postings of facebook friends, there is a recurring statement that defines each of us. We hear it in many different ways but none the less, we express it… This very moment. Right now if you can. Stop reading, close your eyes and try and dwell on this simple question. What are you excited or happy about right now? As you answer that question ask: Is it a coming event that I planned? Something you “wish” to do, someone you wish to be with, or someplace you are “planning” to go or a place you would rather be? Who, what or where do you wish to run too?  Are we not guilty of wishing our life away for a future event? I know I am. All of my life I have wished my life away for something perceived better than what I have right now.

I recall grammar school. First grade at Barkdall Faulk elementary in Monroe. I wished years from my life just to be a 6th grader! As I observed them ‘down the hall’ or in the playgrounds, they were so big, strong and scary. I so longed to be like them. I would have given five years of my life to be what they were at that time. The next big crisis where I wished my life away was to turn 13, to really be a teenager. I wished for 15 to get my drivers license and then 18 to buy and drink beer because I had come of age. At the time you had to be 21 to vote so here I find another couple of years I would have just given away. I guess I’ll stop at wishing I was 25 for my insurance rates to drop, but all in all I find I would have wished away the entire spring of my life.

I know for me, I was fortunate enough to not be in control of the physics that is omnipotent to only our Creator because then, as now, had I been about too, I wonder if I would have pushed the “advance through time” button just to satisfy my selfish needs?  So because I belong to a greater source, I was forced to breath everyday, sustain life as I was designed to do, learn to love and dislike, expand my knowledge and simply mature to a point at some distant time, unknown to me. I will at some point in the distant future, cease being just as I became a being on January 13, 1951. But until that time, I have a snapshot of those passed years on Kodak paper filed away in some box or albums passed on from generation to generation. There are also the archives of my mind, pressed there from days of living and interacting with others just like me, in a place called memory.  This place is created by Intelligent Design and it is here we oft times visit our past.

And goodness, what our past reveals about us. We do go there often. With old letters, old friends and even when new acquaintances or circumstances cause us to trip unsuspectingly into the tangled vines of our stored memories. We may smile, laugh out loud, grimace, sigh or cry with happiness or sadness.  An ocean of memories is there and it just depends on what stimuli that prods that moment, as to how it will appear to us in perpetual thought(s) of euphoria or depressive moods. So let me try and tie this together.

I am guilty of searching my future for ways to escape the lessons the present time we call today is teaching me. Oft times "that today" is nothing more than a moment of “still accountable time” that you set aside to plan a future event that will come, only to pass. The fingerprint of those actions will always remain as the coming sunset buries the actions of that day in memory. Think now. If a solution to perceived unhappiness is found in the form of a real act or that of even a fantasized dream, what becomes of that day? Our today, our right now, is the most import moment of our life! Why do I find myself wishing away this most important moment of my life for a coming act or event real or unplanned? There are to many times I have neglected the things that are critical to my mental stability to plan something in the future that I anticipate will eliminate me from the unhappiness of what I am experiencing now? The mountains, the beach, the ocean, large cities, small time America are all things we plan and anticipate while so many times neglecting our now and the precious “expendable commodities” know as human companionship. My kids are grown. I watched them grow up and leave me because my dreams included them, where their dreams did not include me. Those grand kids that look at me in awe, just as my kids did at one time, I need to embrace and enjoy as much as I possibly can. These are just some of the things we take for granted.

As we plan away our ‘present’ for a future event, does our now become wasted time? I think not, but I know our "now" could be more productive. I know that any future event will become our present for a given time and then it too, will be archived in the memories of time. So here I am wondering what difference I have made in the lives of the people I interacted with either by choice or consequences or chance. Those I have impacted positively as well as negatively. I wish I could go to many and beg forgiveness for the many times I placed my needs and pleasures before theirs. As I learn to navigate the expanding geography of the last season of my life, I need to focus more on every precious moment.  I should not become obsessed with some distant event yet achieved, but also destined to become lost forever with my passing, until I stand before my God.

Rod Ferguson
August 03, 2012

Friday, June 8, 2012

How I Became Alaskan Folklore.

Alaska. The 49th State to join the United States of America. When this occurred on January 3, 1959, I was only 10 days shy of 8 years of age growing up on the south side of Monroe, Louisiana on Georgia Street. I was in Mrs. McMurphy’s second grade class at Barkdull Faulk Elementary School and quiet frankly can’t recall our teacher telling us about this historic event taking place. I just simply grew up knowing that Alaska was the 49th State in our Union and Hawaii was the 50th and it occurred in my lifetime.

Fast forward twelve or so years later to November 1971. I volunteer for the draft and joined the United States Army asking for a tour in Vietnam. I remember them telling me at the recruiting office the best way to get there was to become part of the Military Police Corp or Artillery… Well, what would you think a hard headed; brain damaged 20 year old class A personality type that had worked as a radio operator for the Louisiana State Police the last 18 months of his life would jump on? Oh you bet! I was going to be an MP. Sure, I thought about the pride and glory the Green Machine had to offer if I pursued a career in Aviation or even one of those high tech fields like becoming a snake eater?  Special Forces, Airborne and other career fields intrigued me, but no one was getting six years of my life.  Two was my limit so I made my choice.

I planned the next couple of years of my life to perfection, as I not only wanted to serve my country, but knew as well there were excellent benefits a veteran could use to his advantage down the road.  I entered Fort Polk, Louisiana as a raw basic training recruit. Vietnam was “drawing down” and my basic training company was the first in the Brigade to put soldiers through basic combat training without emphasis on Vietnam. I arrived at Fort Polk the day before Thanksgiving in 1971 and was locked up in some fenced area with concertina wire on the top of an 8ft fence called the reception battalion. Guess where I spent Thanksgiving, the Friday, Saturday and Sunday after Thanksgiving? Right there in that God Forsaken place with a million unknown faces and personalities with one pair of shoes, socks, drawers, jeans, tee shirt and shirt to my name!  I stood in line two hours at a bank of telephones so I could call home on Thanksgiving day.  I got my wonderful and always "cheerful"  mother on the telephone right in the middle of the Ferguson Thanksgiving Feast.  Every one was there and were having a wonderful time!  "To bad you aren't with us, son!"  Not the standard "we miss you," or  "we are thinking about you!"  No, nothing at all like that.  My mom was rubbing in the fact I had to leave for the Army two days before Thanksgiving.  Well, it worked.  I had an attitude and when I ripped the seat of my only pants from crotch to the small of my back in a friendly football game on Thanksgiving Day, you can imagine my attitude, say around Friday evening??? What in the Hell have I gotten myself into! I joined the Army! Why am I in prison?  I'm surprised I didn't didn't kill someone after going insane over that long weekend!

Well, I finally was assigned to Echo Company, 4th Battalion, 1st Basic Combat Brigade that following Monday and a new chapter began to unfold for me as I met my new family or platoon that I would live with the next 8 weeks or so.  Little did any of us know, but our entire company were guinea pigs for the Army’s new training program. Christmas comes around half way through Basic Combat Training. They let us go home for 10 days for Christmas and New Years! We come back and finish training and I’m expecting to get orders to MP school. Nope. They send me home for two more weeks saying the Army is sending me to Hawaii and awarding me my Military Occupation Skill or MOS based on my civilian past as a “dispatcher” with the Louisiana State Police. I was to report back to Fort Polk and then fly away to Hawaii for the remainder of my military obligation. Well, I realized Vietnam was out, so imagine my surprise when I reported back to my old unit E-4-1 and found out I was going to Alaska and not Hawaii!  I had come to grips that I belonged to the Army and they could do with me whatever they chose to do, so gear up.  Whatever befell me would not last longer than two years! 

After arriving at my port-of-call, McChord Air Force Base in Washington State, another long wait ensued as I patiently awaited my number to board a Military Airlift Commands C-141 Star lifter for my passage to Alaska. I flew, riding backwards all the way to my destination. I arrived at Elmendorf Air Force Base on March 3, 1972. As the back of the aircraft opened the true southerner in me became obvious. Shuffling to deplane my eyes glimpsed the snow covered peaks of the Chugiak Mountains that surrounded Anchorage, Alaska and my first breath of Arctic air froze the hair in my nose as I froze in my tracks to take in what was happening to me. Rudely I was pushed from behind and a stern “keep moving” was barked somewhere in the crowd as my mind tried to comprehend the beauty of what I had never in my life seen before. Every where I looked was stunningly beautiful! And how can I explain a comfortable cold!?! I came to find out, that a comfortable cold unlike the harsh cold of the South is simply cold air without humidity! 

I boarded a military shuttle bus for my ride to my new duty station, Fort Richardson, Alaska which was next door to Elmendorf AFB where I had just landed. I was to in process and be assigned my duty station. Now remember, the Army assigned me my MOS or military occupational skill from my civilian job as a radio “dispatcher” with the Louisiana State Police. In Alaska, in the Army, that translated to “Forklift Operator” in a warehouse! I became indignant with the Spec5 that was in processing me and told him not no, but heck no was I a forklift operator… I had volunteered for the Military Police and was a Radio Operator with the Louisiana State Police for almost 2 years before I volunteered for the draft.  I'm telling you folks, I was pretty put out with my situation. Here was a little skinny southern boy a million miles from any source of security growling at a seasoned veteran of some Army I was wondering if I really wanted to belong too!  He leaned back and looked at me as my indignation became a whine and then a plea for help and asked me one question. “Private, can you type?” I blinked, caught his glare and said, “Well, yes, actually I can?”

Some 15 minutes or so later a spy looking dude *literally* slips into the personnel office with a tie and trench coat complete with dark sunglasses and addresses this Spec5 that was handling my crisis. They both looked over at me and immediately realized I was already well aware of their conversation and knew it had everything to do with this particular Private with a southern drawl.  What ever they were saying I wanted them to know I was sure interested as the back of my mind was screaming, "What in the world is going on…?"  This spy type individual had my paperwork in his hands as he comes over in his civilian attire and asked if he could talk to me for a few minutes. Well, of course! Please, talk to me or give me some poison because I am not going to spend two years up here driving a forklift in some warehouse full of igloo blocks! He already knew I did not have a criminal background because of my State Police employment and he was very interested in how well I could type. I think I said something like, “better than you,” as I broke out in a grin and he extended his hand and said welcome to the United States Army’s CID Command. That is USACIDC or United States Army Criminal Investigation Division Command.

That day I was awarded a 75B MOS or Clerk Typist by my favorite Spec5 who helped fill out a Top Secret Security Clearance and for the next several months I final typed through 7 carbons investigative reports for 6 Criminal Investigators in a room just large enough for one person. I knew what the Generals wife was thinking! I was guarded treasure.  They took excellent care of me as I was promoted from E2 to E4 in less than three months! Life was grand and the investigators loved me because I was an excellent typist. I was more than they had imagined and I got anything I wanted. I was the first clerk in the Alaskan Army to get an IBM electric typewriter but there was this one lingering problem that kept haunting me. I joined the Army to be a Military Policeman NOT a Clerk Typist.

Military Policemen in the United States Army do a lot more than just patrol the Army Post answering calls, working traffic accidents and writing speeding tickets. Around Anchorage and several other important cities up in the remote mountains were missile sites that hid the Nike Hercules missiles that were placed there by the U.S. Government to knock Soviet Aircraft out of the sky if they ever invaded our country. These missile sites had armed soldiers that protected them. There MOS was of course, Military Police. They would helicopter into these remote missile sites for two weeks at a time and train and provide security in temperatures down to100 below zero at times.  And as fate would have it, there was a shortage of these MP’s...  The United States Army Alaska or USARAL was given permission by the Department of the Army to conduct a 6 week MOS awarding Military Police School at Fort Richardson, Alaska! Guess who was given permission to attend that school if I promised to keep my typing responsibilities up in the evenings? I remained the property of the CID, but allowed to attend the MP school where I graduated 7th in the class and number one in defensive driving and the .45 cal US Army model 1911 semi auto handgun or firearm of the Military Policeman! And this story has now found its foothold. 

There were 50 of us that attended this special class and upon graduation, 49 were assigned to various Nike Hercules missile batteries throughout the State of Alaska. As for me, well,  I returned to my little cubby hole typing CID reports with a brand new MOS, 95B or Military Police.  I could now return home and kinda lie that I was an MP and not a clerk typist.  However, because of the close working relationship with the Military Police Company and the CID, I was allowed to work patrol on weekends and other free time as did the assigned “line duty” military policemen. Those duties included answering radio calls for domestic disturbances, criminal misbehavior, wild animals, traffic accidents, road monitoring, which is making sure civilian traffic can traverse mountain roads to the ski resort ran by the military is safe, etc, etc… Another job that is shared with all of us is Gate Duty. The Military policemen are generally the first contact people have with military protocol when entering a military facility.  I enjoyed this job. It was one of pride and you had to look good as well as be able to communicate effectively. Imagine that. Me? An Ego? But there I was. Usually assigned on a rotational basis with the other line MP’s to Ft. Richardson’s Gate One! If the President of the United States were to visit Fort Richardson, that would be the gate he would come in. And there was Gate Three.  Oh yes, Gate Three!  I will get to that one.   Gate Two was between Elmendorf AFB and Fort Richardson, so it was only there in physical existence but never manned by Soldiers or Air Police.

Gate Three was 10 miles from nowhere and was a remote entrance of the base seldom used by anyone except civilian employees and very few military vehicles. Because it was an entry point to a major military base off a major civilian highway, it was manned by Military Police. Usually just one. One poor, often cold MP who was left alone for hours at a time by himself with only a telephone and radio walkie talkie. The Gate was well lighted at night and was large enough to handle 4 people for short periods of time if they were standing. It had two slanted plate glass windows that would deflect headlights where the MP could be clearly seen when entering the Army Post as well as leaving. The MP manning the gate could see you easily coming and going and any driver could see him. There were two sliding doors on each side of the gate that allowed person(s) easy access or egress to the gate if paperwork, i.e.; passes etc were needed. In all reality, Gate Three was so far out from the Army Post itself, that you had more visits from moose and arctic foxes than you did people. When your turn came to work Gate Three, you hated it. You closed up, turned on your heater and would sit there wishing someone would come by; call you, wave or something… You just sit there with all of this built up testosterone and energy looking around at everything but really nothing.  Then you notice them.  Is that?  No, it can't be. Are those really bullet holes in the bottom of this guard house that have been fired through the metal foot railings? I could not believe what I was seeing!  Bullet holes? I remember getting down on my hands and knees and looking up close and personal at not one but several 45 cal size bullet holes that was in more than just the metal foot railings!  I was absolutely amazed!   I remember laughing at just what kind of idiot would discharge their weapon out here at this God forsaken spot!  They did not have bullet holes in the base of Gate One! I know. I made it a point to look.

Eventually the CID Command found a replacement for me in the typing department and allowed me to transfer into the 56th MP Company full time. I was one happy camper! I was finally on track to gain law enforcement experience that I could carry back into civilian life.  My plans were to return to college in Criminal Justice and maybe become a State Trooper or Police Officer somewhere. I took my turns at Gate’s One and Three like all of the others and wrote my share of tickets and investigated many auto accidents. Some of the worse were when automobiles would hit Moose crossing the roadways. Actually shot my first Moose with my .45 that had all legs broken because of an automobile hit. Another responsibility of the Military Police was putting the United States Flag up every morning and taking it down and folding it every afternoon. I loved pulling the Stars and Stripes up the flag pole in the early mornings as reveille was played and cars stopped at 7am. I remember the ice falling off the long rope as I hoisted the flag and her beauty unfolded in the crisp Arctic air. Many times I would get tears of pride in my eyes as she gained altitude to a spot higher than any other on the Post.

I also learned a very good life lesson one morning at Fort Richardson that I shared many times with law enforcement peers over the next few decades, and I would like to share it with you. It was one of the first times I was alone on patrol.  I had my own MP vehicle and I was armed with that .45 Colt Automatic pistol. I was one of those proud, egotistical, full of crap, look at me, who's chest was so pushed out the top three buttons were undone.  I was the text book definition of trouble?  Have you ever seen one of those kinda young cops?  Well, on this particular day it was snowing very hard and I looked and saw a pick up truck traveling “to fast for existing road conditions” down MY roadway. Oh yes. It was my road. I was the police! This soldier was not going to get away with this violation of Alaska’s Motor Vehicle Laws as long as the 56th MP's had me to enforce their laws!  I turned on my red lights and stopped this aggressive violator and approached his vehicle demanding he step out of his truck into the falling snow so “we” could “conduct business” face to face. The window is lowered and I’m offered drivers license and  an ID card through the window. I tell him again, "Please step out of the vehicle, Driver."  The lone occupant shakes the information cards at me and for some reason that action just “pushed” my ego button, as I had a knee jerk reaction. I said something like, “I told you to get out of that truck” as I opened the door and grabbed a hand full of soldier and pulled him out from behind the wheel and put him against the camper shell of his pickup. Oh was I on a high! So easy as his hands went up and he leaned against the camper waiting for my next instruction. Instead, as if in unison, I noticed on his right shoulder his military insignia or unit patch. It was an arrowhead with three lightening bolts through it with “Special Forces” and "Airborne" across the top.  The patch was melting into my mind while at the same time screaming warnings that this was a Green Beret Soldier with maybe three or more tours in Vietnam that I had up against this truck!  As my mind began the slow process of screening this information to me I heard him say in a very calm voice of words, “If you touch me again, I’m going to hurt you!” DING!  It finally registered in my restricted mind that I was had. Here I found myself the aggressor. My next move probably did more for me than any text book I could have ever read and simply sat a standard for me the rest of my life. I simply said, “I’m sorry Sarge, I’m being a total asshole!” He stood up, looked at me, smiled and apologized for driving to fast because he was late for formation and his first sergeant was a real horses ass! I told this soldier to proceed and he patted my shoulder and said, “lets have a beer at the NCO club,” as he got into his truck and left. And he probably could have hurt me had he chose. He did not threaten me.  Simply stated a clear fact of what he was going to do if I kept acting the way I was acting. From that day forward I knew what it meant to treat someone the way I wanted to be treated. With respect.

I also had to learn some lessons the hard way. Regardless of how well I could drive on ice and snow, even with the awards I had received to prove it, ice was still slippery. If you parked your MP vehicle on an icy mountain road with the slightest of incline and got out of it?  it would simply start to slide without provocation down the icy slope you left it on until it hits something that is large enough to stop it. This was usually found in the form of a snow bank or a tree. I was lucky. My vehicle plowed into a snow bank. Of course the Lieutenant that came to investigate my incident did not attempt to listen to my explanation as he had me locked at attention at 25 below zero chewing on me when I interrupted him and said, “Sir, your Car!” I found extreme humor in watching him try to catch his vehicle as it slid away from him.  I did not say a thing as my stupid grin said it all, but neither vehicles suffered damage.  I know he laughed about the incident with his officer buddies because it was really funny but he simply could not share that with an Specialist E-4 as we both stood their watching a wrecker pull our vehicles out of that snow bank. I continued on up to the ski resort checking the rest of the road only to have it closed because of the hazardous conditions and he went back down the mountain to Fort Richardson where he belonged.

Another thing the MP Company did that defied common sense logic in a 20 year old was this. The MP Armory gave us our assigned Colt .45 automatic pistol and a magazine of five rounds of ammunition. You were allowed to put the magazine into the pistol, but you could not chamber a round which would allow you to “discharge a bullet out of the pistol,” if you pulled the trigger.  I tread cautiously here for readers that might not understand the function and operation of the semi automatic 1911 Colt .45 cal Pistol. The rounds of ammunition are in a magazine that you insert in the handle of the pistol from the butt of the weapon. It locks in and is carried there in what is known as condition 3. If you have to discharge the pistol in an emergency to protect your life or even kill an injured moose, you must pull the firearm out of your holster, pull the entire top of the pistol back in a sliding motion where it picks up the round of ammunition in the magazine.  As you release the slide, it chambers the round and cocks the firearm making it able to fire! This is critical that you, my reader, understand how this firearm functions. If you don’t, you will miss the entire point as we continue. From a safety standard, it is better, according the US Army, not to have a round chambered.  However, if one had to use his weapon to protect his own life, not having a round chambered could in fact cause them to lose their life if a perpetrator were to have a firearm pointed at them or even attack them with a knife!

So I find myself some months later in my patrol unit as the dogwoods have already bloomed in Louisiana but snow is still present in quantity in Alaska. My radio number is called and I answer as my Sergeant ask me to proceed to Gate Three and relieve the MP assigned that gate so he can take my vehicle back to the Post dinning facility to eat lunch. As I exchange places with him I watch him disappear down the long straight road as far as I can see him. I am alone again at this desolate spot. It is a very beautiful day and not really cold. I look around and see nothing but a couple of moose moving a few hundred yards from the gate and I begin to “think.” Dear God.  At this exact point in my life it did not cross my mind that idiots also think and thinking without common sense is dangerous especially when those thoughts running through your mind have a logical solution, even if it violated military regulations! This makes perfect sense!  Why should I not put this thought process to practice. What if I had to pull my pistol from my holster and shoot someone to save my life? How quickly could I actually un-holster my weapon, slide the top of the weapon back, chamber a round at the same time cocking the firing mechanism, raise the weapon, aim and then fire at a target intending to harm me? Well, I then concluded, what better place than the desolate Gate Three to find out!  Alone out here by myself, I could practice this until it becomes a natural reaction?  Post Script here:  An idle mind is the Devil's workshop!  Has this crossed any of your minds yet?  Allow me to continue...  Well, I remove my .45 cal pistol out of its holster, press the magazine release button dropping the magazine containing the five rounds of ammunition from the butt of the weapon.  I take said magazine with the five rounds of ammunition and lay it right in front of me on the counter of Gate Three at arms length.  Being the trained Expert Marksman I am, I then slide the breach all the way back to make sure there is not a round in the chamber.  Confirmed clear, I pull the trigger and hear the metallic "click" as the hammer hits the firing pin. I smile at myself and return my now safe and empty firearm to my holster.  I am now ready to practice my fast draw.

A car pulls through the Gate entering the Army post and I wave them through. As they disappear down the long road toward Fort Richardson, I get into a comfortable standing position and reach for my pistol. I draw it with my right hand and as I bring it up I grasp the top of the weapon with my left hand sliding the breach to the back of the pistol cocking the weapon and had the magazine containing the ammunition been in the pistol, would grab a round from the inserted magazine and chamber it rendering the firearm capable of firing.  Releasing the slide I extend the weapon at arms length, holding it in a proper firing position, take careful aim at my selected target and pull the trigger, “click” and then re holster. Are you getting the sequence down? Draw the weapon with my right hand, pull or slide the top slide or breach of the weapon to the rear of the firearm, cocking the weapon and picking up a round of ammunition from the magazine, which upon its release chambers the round enabling the weapon to fire. Pointing the weapon at the intended target in a good firing position and pulling the trigger, I smile in satisfaction upon hearing the metallic "click."   That’s what I need to practice. Over and over again. Draw, cock, aim, click. Re holster. Draw, cock, aim, click. Faster this time. 50 times, 100 times… I am getting good at this… Smooth now,  I tell myself… Then a familiar sound… The whop whop report of helicopter blades popping the air as is passes in close proximity to Gate Three!  I scan the area for approaching cars or by chance human beings and find nothing or no one!   I bolt out the side of the guard shack at a dead  run toward the side of the road. I leap into the air toward a snow bank and as I jump I draw my pistol, cock, aim at the helicopter and "click" as I disappear into the snow! Got him as I get out of the snow bank and brush snow from my uniform!  This is actually true entertainment and excellent practice… Draw, cock, aim, click!! I shoot a couple of moose… Oh yeah… And the occasional cars that pass in and out of the Post.  As the driver approaches my Gate they see a Military Policeman with perfect posture as I acknowledge their coming and going.  What they do not know is I am positioning myself to "draw, cock, aim and click" on some piece of their vehicle as it passes even with my sliding doors!  I smile as I think of the driver possibly thinking, 'that sure is a clean cut Military Policeman in the plate glass window of the guard house.'  I wave them through the gate and as they get even with me, I go through the process. Draw, cock, aim, click as I focused on a license plate or tail light as they drive away from me. I am deadly. I have this down to an art form. I have drawn this .45 cal weapon from my holster, cocked this weapon, aimed it and clicked the trigger over 200 times if not more, killing helicopters, cars, moose and countless murderers that were attacking me while my loaded magazine lays safely on the counter of Gate Three within hands reach. All of this while waiting for my lone peer to return from his lunch at the dining facility while I was taking his place at the assigned Gate 3 before allowing me a return to my patrol duties.

As I look down the long road toward Fort Richardson I see an MP car coming… No radio contact so I am convinced it is the MP returning to his post with my assigned vehicle. Time to go back to work so I casually pick up my magazine of five rounds laying on the counter of Gate Three at arms length and slip it back into the butt of my .45 cal pistol which was already snugly secured in my holster. Let me ask you a quick question here.  Do you remember putting your keys into your pocket this morning when you got out of your car? Or in your purse?  Are you sure they are there?  Your keys. Did you lock the door of your car?  Turn the A/C up at home so it would not run all day?  All of these things are at arms length you know.  Do you remember performing any of these menial task?  Well anyway, the MP vehicle I saw approaching was not the returning gate guard in my unit, it was my Sergeant.  As he circled my Gate, I was told  that the Gate MP was on the way but had to stop and do something at headquarters and would be another 30 minutes or so getting here. He asked if I needed anything and I told him no. As we finished our conversation he started heading back toward Fort Richardson on that long straight stretch of roadway. As I watched him disappear I saw an Orange Volkswagen approaching my gate to exit the post. Instinctively as from many reps of recent practice, I got into the perfect posture for my continued practice quick draw. I acknowledged the driver as he exited the post and as he drove past my door and hit that "react spot" I drew my weapon, cocked and selected the easily displayed license tag as my target.  Everything, oddly, seemed to be in slow motion.  My draw was crisp as I pulled the weapon into a firing position cocking the weapon with my left hand.  With both eyes open I search for and locate an object of focus as my deliberate actions are steady and smooth.  As the vehicle comes into clear view through the slanted glass window I close my left eye and with careful precision focus on sight alignment as I pulled the trigger... “BBLLAAAMMMM” as the firearm recoiled and launched a 230 grain .45cal round at its intended target, just as it was designed to do! As my ears were deafened by the sound of the exploding cartridge round in the closed confines of the guard structure, I fell straight to my knees and cried “JESUS” as I gripped the still loaded and ready to fire again pistol with both hands! Folks, I was not cursing my Lord and Savior, I was asking fervently for his appearance and help at that very moment!  I looked up long enough to see that the Volkswagen continued on his way without stopping so I convinced myself “I missed” as what was left of my sanity slowly began to return to my shattered senses.  I mean, come on folks, had you been driving that Volkswagen and an MP just put a bullet into the trunk of your car, would you have stopped?  I somehow managed to unload my weapon while still on my knees, tore off pieces of my tee shirt and cleaned my discharged weapon to a spotless finish.  I then promptly knocked out the plate glass window that bore evidence of the perfect bullet hole thus telling the story I was running into the gate when I tripped and fell into the window. I just could not tell them I deliberately shot that damn car! So, as the song of the popular country song reminds us today, that was my story and I was sticking to it.  And as further evidence of my damaged mental status, I convinced myself I had not done something that stupid! I mean, for crying out loud!  What idiot would discharge a weapon at Gate Three?

Long story short, the gentleman driving the car did not hear the shot or feel it hit his car. I missed the license tag that I was aiming at by 2 or 3 inches and when he went to his mailbox after returning home from work that evening; he noticed the hole in his trunk, just below the left side of his license tag. He opened his trunk or actually, the rear hood to his motor and there lying in a spot on his engine was a .45cal full metal jacket bullet. Putting the broken window and the hole in his car together he called the MP Company and when I came on post the next morning, they were taking pictures of the hole in "the orange Volkswagen car!"  I went down and told one of my CID buddies the truth and he told me they were seriously looking at the MP that was assigned that Gate that day. His weapon had been fired a lot... In fact he admitted he had shot a whole box of ammo he brought out there just to play with to throw off boredom, but to the best of his knowledge, he didn’t think he had shot someone’s car.  He didn't think?  I thought to myself, "That Idiot!"  Without hesitation, I marched into the Provost Marshals office past the Command Sergeant Major and told the Full Bird Colonel I was the one that shot that car.

I actually enjoyed being a Specialist E-4 before being busted back to a PFC E-3 and after scraping wax with a razor blade from the floor of the Post Museum for six weeks I was even more surprised they allowed me to return to line duty. It would take another chapter in a Short Story to tell all the details that went into the investigation, but my 'honesty' had allot to do with the fact I was not sacrificed to the Lions, and I'm not talking about Detroit here!  Until the printing of this story, other than verbal confession(s) to selected friends, I never told the investigating officers the whole truth about deliberately drawing my pistol and purposefully aiming at that license tag before actually pulling the trigger.  That fact has been kept a state secret and never put into print until now.   I eventually made contact with the gentleman whose car I shot and introduced myself and apologized for my role in this incident.  I told him I was thankful I was not in Fort Leavenworth prison and that they only took one stripe from me.  He asked me of course what actually happened and even then I didn't have the heart to tell him the "whole" truth.  I'm sure he drew comforting consolation from my statement, "you were never in any danger," as I brushed off any further explanation of what actually transpired within the heart of Gate Three. I also know I will not forget this gentleman's name as long as I live. Mr. Easterday. A civilian employed at Fort Richardson, who actually resided in Eagle River, Alaska, came and went through Gate 3 a couple of times daily. Our visit that day in his office was most pleasant for me and I'm sure for him as upon leaving he told me, "had I known this would have caused you this much trouble, I would have never reported it!"  From the bottom of my heart, I believed him. 

Anyway, I never got that stripe back as I was Honorably Discharged a couple of months later upon completion of my tour of duty in Alaska in August of 1973. I enrolled at Northeast Louisiana University now called University of Louisiana at Monroe and graduated in May of 1976. While working on a second Bachelors degree I was employed as a security guard at the Monroe Airport and noticed a soldier in his Army Class A Uniform waiting to board a flight.  I observed the United States Army Alaska Patch on his shoulder and asked him where he was stationed. He told me he was posted at Ft Richardson, Alaska outside of Anchorage and was returning back to his duty station. I asked him what unit he was assigned to and he said he was with the 56th MP Company. What a coincidence I thought. I then informed him I was once at Ft Richardson and was also with the 56th MP Company myself... I asked him if he enjoyed working Gate Three and if all the bullet holes were still there. He started laughing and said he hated that place! I told him I did too, and as a result that boredom bred at that remote outpost it caused me to shoot an unarmed Volkswagen that passed through that gate while I was working it in 1973. That soldier turned pale right before my very eyes.  His smile slightly disappeared and he cocked his head and looked me directly in the eyes and said, “You did that? You really shot that car?” “My God man, we still talk about you up there today!”  It was obvious from the look on this man's face that he had met the legend.  I wonder if they still talk about this incident at the 56th MP Company at Fort Richardson, Alaska?  I may see if they have a facebook page and send them this short story.  After all, the statute of limitation has long expired...

And that is how you become Alaskan Folklore.

Rod Ferguson
June 7, 2012