It was 1968 in Illisheim, West Germany.  We were the 591st Transportation Unit, 3rd Support Brigade, 7th Army Europe.  I was in the 1st Platoon, 3rd Squad in the largest maintenance company of the US Army at that time.  Our company was supplying two aviation units and the aircraft of the 3rd Armored Cavalry in Nuremberg.  We were maintaining so many aircraft that I do not remember the exact number.  In addition, we took care of our own aircraft and company area mess hall.  We were forty klicks to the nearest anything other than ammo, tanks and guest houses.  The 3rd Air Cavalry aircraft was our main job and always had highest priority.  We were blessed not to be in Vietnam at that moment.         

                We prepared for six solid weeks for our yearly IG (Inspector General) Inspection.  This was required for line units in the US Armed Forces.  The day had finally arrived.  It was a Saturday morning in February.  The day dawned rainy but when it came time to line up in ranks, it had tapered to a light drizzle.  As I was walking to the parade area between the barracks and aircraft hanger, there was mud everywhere.  We came to the railroad crossing.  At this point, there were cobblestones between the tracks and to either side.  The tanks used the railroad right of way while heading to the railroad loading ramp.  As a result, you could not see the tracks.  You could only see mud.  If you slipped on the tracks, you were ruined for inspection.  We all went slowly down the three steel stairs, atop the railroad platform, behind the aircraft hanger and on to the parade area.  No one jumped off the platform on this messy day as we were all ready for inspection. 

          Staff Sergeant Charbono gave all of us a once-over before we were called to attention.  “Griffiths!  Take off your headgear.”  I removed it and found it was covered with bird droppings, fresh bird droppings.  I got out my handkerchief and started to wipe it off the hat.  “Leave it alone!  It is an act of God!” Staff Sergeant Charbono shouted, loud enough for all 274 GIs to hear. 

          The GI to my right was Specialist, 4th Class Sanzi.  He liked to be called by his last name even by his closest “issued” friends.  His stated goal upon leaving the US Army was to become a war protester.  We loved him.  (If I may use that term in the new millennium.)  “You do know what US Army stands for?” was his favorite question.  “Uncle Sam ain’t released me yet!”  he would always say with a straight face.  He was well known to us.  He would spike the 16mm army training films with 10 second vintage X-rated German 16mm movie clips.  This was done in the heated basement of the barracks, after a day of work out in the cold.  His boss never knew he had done this, and all we knew was that he was an enlisted man.  He always had his buttons sewn on upside-down along with his US Army crest on the “bus driver’s hat” as we called it.  We also referred to it as the Ralph Crapton (Jackie Gleason) hat.  Why would we expect him to correct himself for the inspection? 

          We were the first platoon to be inspected.  All was going well except that the rain had picked up a little.  We were at attention in open ranks.  (We were only limited by a white chain.  This chain was glass held on by white paint over steel.  1st Sergeant Hooper had erected this chain to keep the drunken GIs off his grass and flowers when in season.  He had earlier posted the duty roster to include this area for patrolling.  This was the cleanest and safest area in the “Fatherland”.  We had live ammo on duty only in the company area and not on the runway, truck depot or hanger area.)  During inspection the Commanding Officer, Inspector General and 1st Sergeant Hooper would side-step through the rows of each platoon.

          While at full attention, I could see the Commanding Officer (Captain Cramer, due for Major rank the following month) from the corner of my eye.  (We were blessed to have such a just and fair Commanding Officer.  No one ever said a bad word about him.)  Standing in front of Specialist, 4th Class Sanzi, Captain Cramer’s face went rigid.  As he stood transfixed by the upside-down insignias, I had the honor of seeing this pale, fifty year old face turn red and solid in a matter of seconds.  The 1st Sergeant and Captain Cramer were always ready to answer questions from the Inspector General.  They took their cue to sidestep when the Inspector General flinched prior to his sidestep.  All of a sudden, the Inspector General steps on Captain Cramer’s foot and the Captain came out of his rage-induced trance to step in front of myself.  When they had all sidestepped to the next man, the Inspector General was now in front of Sanzi.  Captain Cramer was looking at my hat with the bird droppings now hanging in front of my face.  He was in tears, trying to control his anger.  Surely he was praying that the Inspector General did not see Sanzi’s upside-down buttons and crest, well polished though they were. 

          “Private Sanzi, how long have you been in this man’s army?”  the Inspector General screamed in the fog, rain and silence.  There was silence so loud and sweat so cold as 278 wet men awaited an answer.  My ears were ringing from the general’s bark.  “All day sir, all day.”  Sanzi smiled and men strained to keep from being the first to laugh out loud while at attention and in formation.  Stomachs twisted and toes bent inside shoes to prevent the laughter from coming. 

          The Inspector General stepped in front of me and nearly knocked Captain Cramer off his feet.  He had had enough of Sanzi instantly.  He was from the 3rd Support Brigade and had to drive in through fog, as opposed to flying the 220 kilometers from Heidelberg to Illesheim.  He must have been exhausted.  “Specialist Griffiths!  What is that on your Class A cover?!”  “Bird shit sir, bird shit!” I screamed.  I did not mean to scream but I was still trying not to laugh from Sanzi’s reply.  My stomach muscles were still in a knot.  “How did it get there?”  “An act of God sir!” 

          Two hundred men broke ranks, leaning on each other as if in a gas attack.  Sanzi and I were at attention waiting for the old Inspector General to kill us or something.  He just broke for his Jeep and drove off, leaving the rest of the inspection team waiting for orders.  1st Sergeant Hooper dismissed everyone except for Sanzi and I.  Staff Sergeant Charbono yelled that no disciplinary action should be taken until the results of the inspection were known.  1st Sergeant Hooper yelled from atop the railroad platform that we would both be “grunts in Nam” by that time. 

          We got the best inspection report of the battalion two weeks later.  To top that, we were saluted by every private in the company for months.  We never made it to Vietnam either.  I had two brothers who did:  Michael A. afloat on the William V. Pratt-DLG 63 and Donald H. ashore in Long Bin, the Republic of South Vietnam.

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