Taz and Kodak
by Rick Beck
Coming out to face the press before their departure, Kodak took the lead. Taz stood watch, cradling the big rifle, ready to drive back the unruly invaders to the camp mess tent. Kodak had offered to tell the tale and Taz had nodded approval. It was a done deal before they faced the questions that everyone wanted answered.
"War is easy and relatively simple. There isn't a lot to remember. You fight to stay alive. You fight to keep your buddies alive. Keeping his buddies alive, even when he didn't particularly care for their company in camp, or anyone's company for that matter, gave Taz a purpose, no matter how noble or obscene. It's difficult to say if he thinks these precise thoughts. I see him as hating no one, but he is a product of his training."
Kodak paused as he remembered the things Taz told him, wanting to explain Taz without revealing confidences only he was privy to. He was a journalist but not at the expense of their friendship. It was a fine line he walked, but talking for Taz was important to him, when Taz wanted him out in front of their new found fame.
"Maybe there is one person he hates, but he doesn't fight because of hatred," Kodak explained, calculating who Taz was to him, so he'd understand who he'd become after months in a war zone.
Kodak prepared his words, organizing ideas in simple terms that seemed appropriate. Trying to understand Taz was almost as difficult as trying to explain him to an audience. His proximity to Taz and his feelings for him were all that was important. The soldier had guarded over him, kept him safe in war, and now it was Kodak's duty to keep Taz safe when he could.
What changed? What event created this change? Alone, desperate, without any logical reason to expect they'd survive, they'd come back conquering heroes. The fickle nature of the world was as big a mystery as ever to him. Was there any logic to it or was there only randomness? Was anything more random than war?
The idea of 'one in a million' seemed appropriate. In Nam you got the million dollar wound and went back to the world. Kodak had taken the million dollar picture. He'd never see the million but the result was the same. It defied logic and all that Taz was couldn't account for the insane reaction to him once he stopped doing what he did best.
One picture taken as a response to having nothing else to do started the avalanche, which had swept them up. Being in love with the subject in the picture was an ironic twist that kept him smiling. He didn't know that Taz could be loved, but there were some things that existed without logic.
They made decisions about their work, both of them, which propelled them into a journey of a million miles. They were lost in Vietnam. They were celebrities for being found. There was no sense to be made of it and once you accepted that you rode the wave.
Kodak knew he had no idea what the odds were against them getting back alive, because he only had half the picture. Taz had failed to share with him that he had no more bullets. He'd gotten out of the chopper to do his job, just a little different view, seeking a little different result. It all made perfect sense at the time. From that came a zoo back at camp.
Taz got out of the chopper doing nothing any different than usual, but the results were different. They were immediately under enemy fire. He forced the enemy to stay down, and when he may have dove back into the helicopter's open door, he couldn't, because Kodak was still in danger. Regardless of what was said, he stayed to save his friend.
"We charged into the bush, virtually unarmed without either of us knowing it at the time," Kodak said as he relayed the story in a way that fit the questions."
The facts were incredible. It didn't need any embellishment to make Taz seem heroic. He was heroic. He was heroic every day. Putting it into words made it seem real, when it seemed like a script.
"The universe stretches on forever and how do one or two tiny changes in actions totally turn it on its nose?"
1st squad listened for a different reason. The guys were grateful to get their warrior back, but it was more than gratitude. They owed it to him for services rendered. Even without Sgt. Jacoby telling them anything, they suspected they were never really recovering Taz to return to 1st squad. They kept a look of distance in their eyes they watched Taz standing guard over Kodak.
His presence was enough as the cameras flashed pictures of him that would make sense to the outside world. No one there knew what came next, except the word was Japan and the world. The concept was too large for two men, lost and found. 1st squad and the camp were going to be there when it was all over. War simply moves along at its own pace and in its own direction.
"A picture published, the soldier missing, a desperate search is delayed and then launched, a country captivated. All unpredictable forces set in motion to create a happening. Recovered against all odds, a heroes welcome, stuff of which movies are made."
"An obscure soldier in a faraway war made famous overnight. A photographer, who came to Vietnam in search of a story, only to become one. The world turns. The war goes on and we all go home if that's how the story ends."
Applause and recognition was accompanied by flashing flashbulbs, and the click of two dozen cameras as motion picture cameras turned. It was a five minute speech that took an hour to rerun in his head. Kodak sensed it wasn't the last time someone would ask him to tell them how it happened in his own words. He had thought about them and rehearsed them, knowing Taz was going to want him to tell it.
Fame and receiving good treatment was a foreign affair to a man like Taz, who'd known nothing beyond surviving for too long. His father's beatings were easy compared to this. By the time he left to join the army, he didn't feel anything. He hated his father and he wanted to kill him, but he calculated going to war and killing for the army was a better idea and would keep him out of prison for a while.
When Taz had been ordered to Vietnam, he wasn't afraid. He didn't expect to leave Vietnam, not alive anyway. This was what made him such a good soldier, only he wasn't a good soldier at all, simply a fighting machine with nothing better to do. He did not fear death because he hadn't lived and therefore had nothing to lose. Death was his strength and every man who fought beside him knew Taz willingly stood between them and it. Taz was willing to die rather than watch his buddies die. That's why 1st squad wasn't about to accept anything short of bringing Taz back.
The wounded of 1st squad sometimes sent notes back, to let their buddies know they made it home safe. It wasn't unusual for them to say, 'tell Taz thanks.' Everyone knew why it was Taz they singled out.
Taz had been wounded twice himself. The first time he consented to allowing the nurse to pour alcohol over the flesh wound before covering it with adhesive tape. The second time he reluctantly poured his whiskey on the wound, then he drank the bottle. By the time he sobered up the wound didn't require adhesive tape.
These were random events that had little to do with Taz. He stood and he fought and when he returned to quarters, he forgot about the war. It was on most soldiers' mind much of the time. They had to survive to make it home to their families and sweethearts, but Taz's acceptance of dying meant he would never need to go home again. He'd never really had a home, save 1st squad.
Kodak didn't pretend to understand Taz. When you care about someone, understanding will come in time. Learning about his past meant forcing him to relive it. It wasn't wise to make Taz do anything.
Taz pulled his dress uniform from the bottom of his duffle bag, along with the low quarter shoes, and the hat with the hard shiny brim. They still had their basic training shine. They hadn't been out of the duffle bag since Taz graduated basic training and went off to A.I.T., advanced infantry training. He'd worn out his fatigues, and cut the sleeves out of the shirts and let the pants become victimized by the Asian humidity. No one expected a fashion plate in The Nam.
Without a base dry cleaner, he'd have to travel appearing to be wrinkled as well as hung over. He wasn't hung over but he longed to be. First stop was Japan. The cargo plane was met by officers and reporters. Kodak asked they not photograph Taz. It was the kind of request that was respected, when it came from the man who took 'the' picture. Taz didn't care if they photographed him, but Kodak knew that one day he might.
Taz was distant and disassociated from the turmoil going on around him, which made Kodak even more vital to him. The first few times he faced the unruly mob he was in shock, answering the questions yelled in his direction, until he stood behind Taz with relief. He couldn't carry the B.A.R. on the plane, so shooting the reporters was out of the question if not out of his mind.
Kodak was handed a telegram from his editor as soon as they reached the hotel in Tokyo.
"Kodak, money has been forwarded for you to get tailored suits while in Tokyo. We're told that the military will send you to their tailor, where Pvt. Tazerski will have uniforms made for the tour. Have a gray suit and a charcoal gray suit tailored for you. We don't want you playing second fiddle on this tour. Splurge and have some shirts made, and get a nice pair of shoes so you look sharp. It's on the paper so be reasonable. We aren't made of money."
Kodak chuckled. Maybe they'd pay him what they owed him, after keeping him on a very modest allowance for his 8 months in Nam. A general's aide met them at the hotel. It was a first class hotel in downtown Tokyo.
The aide showed them to their rooms. They stopped in front of what was to be Kodak's room. It was modest, with a single bed and a small bathroom.
Taz was escorted to a two room suite with a huge bed and a picturesque view the aide appreciated for them but Taz failed to notice. The bush was nothing like Tokyo. The room was nothing like the limbs and leaves Taz had constructed to protect them from the rain a few nights before. It seemed like a long time ago. It seemed like another world.
"You got something in a small?" Taz asked. "I'm liable to get lost in here."
"Only the best, Pvt. Tazerski. Compliments of Gen. Walker. He's quite proud to have you in his theater. This is his room when he stays in Tokyo."
"Which side of the bed does he like?" Taz asked, staring at the brightly colored bedspread.
The aide wasn't amused by Taz's sense of humor. He gave him a hard look, not understanding the circus that surrounded such a soldier. Showing up in a uniform that looked as if he slept in it wasn't going to do. It wasn't going to do at all. Gen. Walker would set him straight.
"What's the movie tonight?" Taz followed up, after realizing he failed to amuse the squared aware major aide.
"Movie?" he repeated with an attitude.
"Yeah. What's playing in the general's theater. I haven't seen a good movie since forever," Taz exaggerated as Kodak was surprised by the irreverence.
"There's a bar here. All the General's favorites," the aide continued, and without missing a beat he opened and closed the doors to the liquor cabinet with a dozen bottles, glasses, and a bucket of ice.
"I'd go easy on the liquor. The reporters have this hotel staked out. We wouldn't want to make a bad impression, now would we?"
"Heavens no, we wouldn't want to do that," Taz said, alarm dripping in his voice.
Again the aide gave off a long hard gaze.
"That's not a good idea," Kodak interrupted. "Have the liquor removed."
"What?" the aide asked, as if he'd suddenly gone deaf.
"He doesn't want any liquor. You don't want him to have any liquor. The general especially does not want him to have liquor."
"You're no fun," Taz complained, opening the door of the cabinet to look at the aged and bonded booze. "Man, could I go somewhere on that shit. Hey Kodak, all I need is one."
"Yeah, but you're the hero and no point in taking the luster off the rose on the first night."
"No, I suppose not, but it would make for an interesting night."
"Or week," Kodak said. "Send someone up to take it out."
"The general is going to want to come up here and have a drink with him," the aide calculated, pretending Taz had now gone deaf. "This is the general's room. He won't like having his liquor removed."
"Hey, what's your name," Taz barked with as much disrespect as he could muster.
"Major Wilson, private," the aide said with a sharp edge for the heroic soldier, who obviously didn't know who he was talking to.
"You see him," Taz said unrepentant, nodding at Kodak. "When he tells you to do something, that's what you do. Okay?"
Major Wilson eyed Taz and Kodak with equal contempt. He knew what his orders were. The general had bought into the fever pitch surrounding the soldier, being stirred by the news services around the world. It would all come to a screeching halt, once the two characters wore out their welcome.
This was the United States Army and tradition and respect were paramount. This poor excuse for a soldier was going to regret crossing swords with Major George Anthony Wilson, he thought as he nodded at Kodak, without accepting what the private had told him.
The major left the room without further discussion, closing the door behind him. He'd have a long talk with the general and get this situation straightened out in short order.
"You believing this? We were sleeping under a bush a few nights ago and now we're up here where the big boys play. How about I have one little drink for old time's sake?"
"How about we don't. Luckily my room isn't so much different from sleeping under a bush, but I can visit you up here in the big house if I feel deprived during the night," Kodak said, with a touch of surreal joy with the circumstances.
"Hell, you ain't staying in that closet. Look at the size of that bed. Too bad 1st squad ain't here. We'd all fit fine in that bed and still have room for that haughty major."
"Can you imagine the expression on Washington's face?" Kodak smiled. "He'd love this."
"He ain't even seen a bed this size. Neither have I. Too bad he couldn't come with us. Washington was okay," Taz thought fondly.
"Yes, he was."
"He put up with a lot of shit from me and never complained."
"He never complained about anything," Kodak said.
"No, he didn't. He made sure I had whatever I needed. I remember after that sergeant got wasted and I picked up his B.A.R. the first time. Damn that thing was heavy. I didn't know what I was doing, but the guys always took care of me once I learned its personality. I was a lucky guy."
Taz hadn't thought about his journey since the day he took over the big rifle. The B.A.R. had been left at the airport, ready to be shipped back when Taz left Japan. He felt funny not having it within arm's length. He felt funny without 1st squad.
Taz didn't think he should take the B.A.R. It belonged to Sgt. Conroy. He was a walking talking piece of gristle, who had gone career after WWII, volunteering for Vietnam. He'd learned to love his B.A.R. more than he'd ever loved anything. It was his weapon of choice. He'd kept the supply lines open to get him what he needed to keep the B.A.R. in like new condition.
When Sgt. Conroy no longer needed it, Sgt. Jacoby argued with Taz.
"It's not regular issue. Where in the hell will we get supplies for it? It's too big. You're too small. It doesn't belong in Vietnam."
Taz loaded it up anyway and carried it on the first patrol Sgt. Jacoby led, after Conroy was killed. When they ran into Charlie, he was more surprised than 1st squad at the results the first time Taz fired the B.A.R. It was so exciting he didn't realize how successful he'd been.
He'd seen Conroy with it and it made him seem ten feet tall. He'd watched how Conroy got Charlie ducking fast, as he sprayed fire into the scattering enemy. Once he'd done it, 1st squad was charging toward the enemy, laying down fire at a furious rate.
Taz failed to get the barrel up to do what he saw Conroy do at first. It had weighed down his arms, but he almost immediately adapted to the weight, getting into action fast. The B.A.R. became an extension of his arms. It was part of who he was as a soldier. Taz had found his place in the squad and there were no more arguments.
The M-16 was less than half the weight and easy to maneuver. It was too light for Taz's taste. He needed something more substantial. The B.A.R. was perfect in his mind and he made believers out of 1st squad in short order. In a few minutes he wielded the weapon like a fighting fool: The fighting fool of 1st squad.
Sgt. Jacoby, once back in camp, checked to make certain the B.A.R. stayed in good operating condition and the supplies kept coming. He assigned Washington to keep clips loaded with the crate of ammo that was left under his bunk, once Conroy was gone. No one had to tell him twice that the B.A.R. was in the right hands.
It hadn't been more than an arm's length away from Taz most of each day for months. Taz felt a little awkward without it, but he knew this was a new life. He had never had much of an old life and didn't know what to expect.
His status as someone special definitely wasn't on his to do list when he joined the army. Now these were his orders and he'd do what he could not to get into too much trouble. He trusted Kodak to help him in this endeavor. Taz trusted Kodak in a way he'd never trusted anyone. What he felt for him he couldn't explain, but he liked it.
There was room service for lunch in Taz's room. He had Kodak order him a club sandwich and French Fries. He didn't know what a club sandwich was, but it sounded good to him with all the things he'd been missing all in one pile.
Taz ate one and Kodak feared for his fingers. The amazement in his eyes over the taste of real food was amusing. Kodak had a tuna sandwich and by the time the second club sandwich showed up, Major Wilson was back with an address and orders for Taz to go get his tailored uniforms.
Taz ate one quarter of the sandwich, put the metal cover back over it and they headed for the address on the paper they were given. Kodak's measurements were taken, sizes established, and he was soon sitting near by where Taz stood with the tailor hustling around him, making certain to get his measurements right. Then, once he put a pair of military type britches on him, began to pin them up to make sure the fit was correct.
"Ouch," Taz blared, as the tailor pushed a pin into the material and Taz. "Ouch, damn it."
"So sorry," the tailor said with the heavy Japanese accent.
"Damn it. Don't he know the war's over and his side lost," Taz bellowed, unhappy as another pin pierced his skin.
"So sorry," the undaunted tailor said.
"He's just paying you back," Kodak said.
"Ouch! I wasn't in that war. I'm going to bleed to death before I get my ass out of here. I can wear shorts and a T-shirt."
"No you can't. You've got to make the army proud. You haven't come this far to surrender now," Kodak kidded, having a tailor with a better aim.
Taz would receive four dress uniforms. He wore the dress shoes back to the hotel and carried a bag full of socks, underwear, and ties. There was a belt and a dozen fine handkerchiefs and two dress hats. Each of them wore a hat, but it was a little small for Kodak's head, making it more of a lark.
Tokyo was huge. Neither of them was ready for the size of the city and so many people. Everyone was polite and friendly, with Major Wilson seeming to be the only asshole in the city. Luckily he knew where he wasn't wanted.
There were officers everywhere but Taz had worn his civvies, wanting to feel like something other than a soldier for the first time in too long. They stopped at a Japanese restaurant and let the waiter suggest popular local dishes. It was heavenly having fresh food, even though they didn't recognize the tastes.
There weren't any formal activities scheduled the first night in Tokyo. Being fresh out of a war zone, decompression was a good idea. They'd not run into a single reporter when they were out on errands and there was a soldier posted at the elevator when they stepped out on their floor, and another at the door of Taz's room. Each came to attention as quick as they sensed someone was close at hand.
"At ease. At ease. I'm just a soldier like you," Taz reminded the soldier at the door. "What, the general here?"
"You're him?" he said, sounding sure.
"Yep , I'm him," Taz said. "Him who am I, if you don't mind me asking? I'm new in Tokyo."
"You're Tazerski. I saw your picture in Time magazine in the general's office. We're supposed to take care of you. Not let anyone annoy you. Make sure you don't get lost again."
"Time magazine?" Kodak said, still wearing the undersized dress military hat, but cutting a fine figure in his red Hawaiian shirt and soiled shorts with his worn out sneakers.
"Cover," the soldier said. "Awesome story, sir."
"Good grief, I'm Taz, he's Kodak, you got that soldier?" Taz snapped.
"Yes, sir," the soldier replied sharply.
"You don't lighten up I'm going to have to shoot you," Taz said and the soldier laughed. "That's better. We're having dinner later. They make a hell of a club sandwich. What if I order you and your buddy one? You think he'd eat one?"
"Yeah, he'd love one. Me too. That's great. We don't get to eat while we're on duty here, just stand guard when the general's on the floor. He don't like being bothered."
"Yeah, well, me and your general share that in common. Anyone comes nosing around, run them off, and if that S. O. B. Major Wilson shows up, shoot him."
The soldier started laughing and he was relaxed after that, realizing Taz was just another soldier not taking the hullabaloo seriously.
"He's an asshole," the soldier offered in his candid opinion.
"What's your name?" Taz asked.
"Cook. The other guys Mason. You need anything, anything at all, you just ask one of us. We'll be here every afternoon and evening as long as you're here."
"I'll keep it in mind, Cook. Just relax if we're the only ones on the floor. I'm about as army as Bob Dylan and we don't have to play pretend. You need the facility knock. You want some food, let me know."
"I appreciate that," Cook said, opening the door for them.
Once back in the room, Kodak made sure the liquor cabinet was empty. Taz was already planning his order for room service for dinner and studied the menu to make it memorable. He nibbled on one quarter of the three-quarters of a club sandwich as he made plans for the evening meal.
"Have a piece," Taz said.
"We just ate," Kodak remembered.
"Yeah, we might not ever get to eat again. You better eat while we can. Once they find us out, we're in deep shit."
Kodak sat down and nibbled at the potato chips and enjoyed the still fresh sandwich. He watched Taz looking at the menu.
"Anything worth eating?" Kodak asked.
"They've got four kinds of shrimp. I love shrimp. I don't remember the last time I had shrimp."
"Order them all and we can share them. I can eat shrimp."
"Steaks, chops, fish, chicken, it'll take us a month to try all this stuff, Kodak. The general certainly knows where to stay."
"I need a shower. I'm going to go see if I've got something clean I can put on. I should have gotten a pair of slacks and a shirt off the rack."
"You seen my bathroom? You can shower here and no one has to see how you're dressed. They got a stereo and a television set in that wall unit. I wonder what's on TV?"
"Japanese, Taz. We're in Japan."
"Oh yeah, the general has to have some records. You can't tell me he ain't all American."
"Probably. I'm going to go checkout the shower," Kodak said.
"Call me when you get the water warm enough for my fragile body. I haven't had warm water since before basic training."
Taz didn't wait to be invited. He let Kodak have a few minutes to himself before he climbed through the shower curtain into the huge tub. Kodak was immediately soaping up his chest and their embrace was their first long lasting unencumbered affair.
They weren't about to talk about this need to be close at every opportunity, but they'd both accepted it was the way it was. Holding each other with the steam rising up around them made it about the best shower either of them could remember. Neither mentioned the other's excitement as indicated by their ever present barometers. It was a nice part of a nicer shower.
"You're handling all this better than I thought you would," Kodak said to Taz as they sat watching Tokyo moving past down below their balcony.
"I don't have much to say. Once they ask the same damn question a hundred times, what's left to say? Besides, you handle them way better than I do. You, they understand."
"I'm the journalist. I know the way their minds work. The same questions over and over makes it more likely that when they slip in that revealing question you might answer it just to say something different. 'Are you still beating your wife,'" Kodak announced in a deep broadcaster's voice.
"Yeah, or are you still showering with your good buddy?" Taz said with a coy smile.
"We've got to be careful not to blow this thing up, Taz. There's no point in poking a finger in the eye of the golden goose."
"Yeah, I know. I wish I didn't have to play their games but I'm still in the army. I'm happy I'm not in Nam anymore but I hate playing the fool for the army. If you step out in front when I get in trouble, we'll do okay. I don't like all the fuss though."
"Me either, but the smart thing is to go along with them until they get tired of us. Then we go off to have a life of our own."
"Together?" Kodak asked.
"Why would we split up now? I thought we were cool."
"Totally," Kodak said. "Just checking. I don't know much about much."
"I don't know much, Kodak, but I know a good thing when I got it. Now I've got to figure out what to do with it."
"We got time, babe. We got the rest of our lives."
Each of the soldiers on the floor came in one at a time, once the food arrived. Each sat at the table to have his sandwich, while Taz and Kodak had shrimp and a half dozen different fresh vegetables. It was outstanding and Mason proved to be even more laid back than Cook. He relaxed immediately and polished off his share in a couple of minutes, heading back to the elevator in case anyone came up.
Taz lay across the bed holding his stomach after stuffing himself for the third time that afternoon. He could hardly move and he fell asleep there. Kodak nodded at Cook when he got up to go to his room. Cook thanked him again for letting him eat.
It was some time long after Kodak had been asleep for hours that someone was at his door.
"I'm lonely," Taz said, standing in the doorway of Kodak's room.
"You came down here in your boxers?" Kodak asked. "Didn't Cook wonder what the hell you were doing?"
"What, you want I should wear my dress uniform to come see you? You ain't that pretty. Cook and Mason went off at midnight. How 'bout I sleep here?"
"It's only a single," Kodak said, surprised by his friend's request.
"Yeah, well, so am I. I just left a war zone. Give me some respect. I need some company, big guy. You going to deny me that?"
Kodak climbed into bed first and Taz got in and snuggled up against him, reaching to move Kodak's arms around him. He got no protest and both men were comfortable in that position. It brought on almost immediate sleep, which was interrupted by some frantic knocking in what seemed like only a few minutes.
Kodak walked sleepily to the door.
"He's not in his room. I've got his schedule. Do you know where he is? I've got work today. I can't go chasing him around Tokyo."
"What, you can't wait until the sun comes up?" Kodak asked, wanting time to think.
"It's 10:30. There's a news conference at two. The general wants to have dinner with him tonight. You need to get him dressed and down in the lobby by eleven and I'll brief him as to his schedule. Do you have any questions?"
"No, major, I'll have him in the lobby by eleven. Give me some time to wake up," Kodak said, closing the door before the major got a look inside.
"Why didn't you invite him in?" Taz asked.
"We don't need to start something we can't finish. I'm sure the major wouldn't understand."
"Ask me if I care what that dickhead understands. He's lucky I don't have my B.A.R. I'm going to get us another major, one that ain't quite so arrogant. I'll be in the lobby when I'm damn good and ready to go there."
"Eleven. You've got to go get dressed. I need a shower," Kodak said.
"Another shower? We showered for an hour last night. Bring your clothes. I don't trust a bathroom that's not big enough to turn around in. I'll see to it there's another bed put in there for you. I don't want you sleeping down here."
"It's fine. It's a hotel," Kodak said. "I been sleeping in the woods."
"Yeah, well I ain't staying up there in that palace and have you down here. You're with me, babe. Where'd we be without that picture you took? This is a team effort, buddy, and I ain't saying it again."
Kodak wasn't going to argue about the easy stuff. He might need to talk Taz into something important to keep him out of trouble, and using all his ammo on sleeping arrangements wasn't smart. As far as sleeping arrangements were concerned, he was more than happy to give Taz his way.
Taz's hand was tired from all the handshaking that went on before lunch. He didn't know whether to salute, shake, or curtsey. He'd never seen that much brass in one spot, and they all smiled and seemed pleased he was there.
Kodak was always introduced second, but all the officers were keenly aware of his role in the photograph that now hung in each of their offices. Kodak got as much attention as Taz by the time they'd finished lunch and chatted about the skirmish over in Vietnam.
A two hour lunch was beyond Taz's and Kodak's experience. There were salads, soups, fancy doodads, and a main course, followed by an amazing display of desserts. Taz knew what was coming and though he hadn't gotten breakfast, he ate sparingly at the officer's lunch meeting. There was no formal speaking arrangement with a press conference following the lunch.
That night was the general's dinner to honor Taz. It was about people thanking him for his service. Rumor had it the general would present Taz the Bronze Star. The other officers would all return, making the faces seem a little more familiar. This would only last a few days and then the events were spaced further apart, once they got back in the U. S.
Celebrity was cause for celebration, drinks, toasts, and speeches. Kodak told Major Wilson to make certain Taz was served ginger ale. The major sneered at the suggestion Taz should not be allowed to drink. It didn't take a genius to know there would be trouble if he did. Major Wilson was rather hoping for trouble to take this pair down a peg or two, but he passed along orders to keep Taz's drinks without liquor, since the responsibility had been given to him.
There was time for Taz and Kodak to go up to their rooms to dress for the press conference. Taz looked totally military in the new tailored uniform and Kodak decided he'd stick to Hawaiian over Bermuda shorts. This was Taz's show and he'd stay in the background until he got his suits for personal appearances.
The news conference was held in the main ballroom of the Pagoda Hotel. They were led into the area behind the stage by Major Wilson who acted nervous about the publicity. There were speakers that preceded the introduction of the pair. It was how all such news conferences would go. It was no longer simply Taz and Kodak on review. Everyone far and wide wanted to be a part of it.
The questions at the airport had been spontaneous to a certain extent. Organized insanity could appear that way but it was a small dose of a larger scheme to introduce a warrior to the kind of battle you waged with the media. The army wanted Taz to represent them and put a heroic face on the Vietnam War, which had recently lost favor in the country. They regarded Taz as the answer to the public relations difficulties they were having concerning the war.
As they started up the steps that led them onto the stage, Taz found the B.A.R. shoved into his arms. It was such a familiar feel it immediately excited him to have it back. Kodak pushed him up the steps and they were immediately in the center of a clicking and flashing frenzy.
Taz was blinded by the light. He held his B.A.R. in the way he'd hold it while on routine patrol. Cameras went crazy as he turned from one side to the other looking at the confusion. Kodak kept Taz between him and the pictures. He wasn't the one people wanted to see and as long as they were taking pictures, there were no questions to be answered.
They ended up in front of a podium with microphones hung all over it, after everyone else on the stage moved back away from the stars of the show. There was an army motion picture team on a platform in back of the ballroom, facing the stage.
"How do you feel," a reporter yelled, when the confusion died away."
"Fine," Taz said, leaning toward the largest microphone and feeling out of place.
"How's your room?" someone else yelled.
"Fine," Taz said. "It's bigger than this room."
The comment got the reporters laughing and Taz's shy boyish demeanor appealed to them and their cameras. Being wide eyed and unsure of himself was unusual for the people who often appeared at such events.
"How does it feel to be famous?" someone shouted.
"I don't know. I'm the same guy as before. Maybe ask my friend. He's one of you guys. He knows more about all this than I do."
Taz moved aside well out of the range of the microphones, leaving Kodak standing alone. He saw Major Wilson in the rear of the ballroom and other officers seated behind the reporters, who had attended the luncheon. He had to say something.
"He's the same guy as before," Kodak said, repeating Taz's opinion, while he tried to remember the thoughts he'd been organizing since they'd been put on the plane that took them out of Vietnam.
"We were lost in the jungle a couple of days ago. We had no idea anything like this was going on. How does it feel to be famous? Taz is a soldier. Taz is a damn good soldier. Pardon my language. I've been in-country too long. I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for Taz. That's a fact."
"What are your plans? Are you going to stay with Taz? Are you going on the tour with him?"
"Yes, we're in this together. I take the pictures. He shoots people."
Everyone laughed this time.
"You guys have become pretty close?"
"Yes, we have. He kept me alive out there."
"What kind of guy is he?"
The room became quiet. Kodak answering for Taz didn't seem to bother anyone. Each question was asked clearly and without reporters competing. The men they'd been waiting to hear from were in front of them and they were happy with the access.
"He's the kind of guy that stands out in the open to lay down fire to protect his squad. He's the type of guy that doesn't ask for a thing. He does his job. Ask 1st squad how they feel about him. All the regular members of 1st squad will say he's the best soldier they know. He's the best soldier I know."
"How does it feel to have a picture you took traveling around the world at light-speed?"
"I've just got here. I don't know if I feel anything yet. If my work is successful my paper will be very happy and maybe they'll give me a raise or at least pay me what they owe me."
Everyone laughed as Kodak felt odd being center stage. He waited for the room to go quiet again.
"Maybe you can name your own price at any paper in the States," someone yelled.
"I don't have any offers."
"You will," someone yelled, and everyone laughed.
It was mostly Kodak addressing other journalists and Taz was relieved he didn't have to think of anything else to say. He wanted off the stage and he wanted to get out of the insanity. He wanted a drink and he wanted to get lost somewhere that was quiet.
Kodak had rehearsed what to say in this situation. Every time there were questions he thought of all the possible responses. Remembering what he rehearsed was difficult. Once he'd given a response, he usually remembered it and then thought of things he might add. It was too bad he didn't have a clean shirt but no one seemed to mind and their presence created an excitement that rendered mundane things unimportant.
"What are you looking forward to most?"
"The food. Some rest. A real bed to rest in. No one wanting to shoot at me. Everyone speaking English."
The laughter returned to the room.
"You've come to the right place. Tokyo has a million restaurants. Does Taz like the food?"
"He's eaten everything but the silverware."
The laughter was contagious and the reporters seemed to be satisfied with asking the easy stuff. Kodak stayed out front until the questions slowed down, and then he stood beside Taz, moving him forward and the cameras took over after that. All of these pictures were of the two of them and these would be the ones that had America going wild over the dynamic duo.
"You okay?" Kodak whispered for only Taz to hear.
"I'd be better if I had a full clip in this rifle," Taz said softly, smiling big for the cameras.
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