Taz and Kodak
by Rick Beck
These generals weren't nearly as warm as Gen. Walker. Taz didn't feel at home and even admirals and air force generals came calling. It was a dog and pony show and he was the pony.
Taz smiled, saluted politely, as the generals chatted to each other and no feeling of organization existed. Taz is coming and everyone wants a piece of the cover boy, the army show, which more resembled a gang hanging around a rock concert they couldn't afford to go to but didn't want to miss.
The unease running through Taz was best swallowed and forgotten. He understood he had no right to any space of his own. He was in the army and this is what the army ordered him to do and he got no say in the matter. He'd wait them out hoping that they'd lose interest soon, but then the colonels, lieutenant colonels, majors, and captains began to make their appearance, mostly enamored with each other but glad to have any occasion to mingle with superiors in a non-threatening mode.
Taz made a concerted effort to remember the last general he saw up close. There was the one before departing for Vietnam that stood on a stage and kept calling the gathered throng, "My boys" as the two hundred men stood in formation before him under the watchful eye of stern sergeants who make certain no one yawned while at attention.
His boys were going off to be shot at and he was proud of them for their courage. Unlike Taz, most of them were draftees and did as they were ordered, which Taz also did, but he'd willingly joined 'this man's army.' He intended to be a man without having any idea what it meant. He certainly hadn't envisioned anything like this. It seems he'd joined the army and ended up in the circus.
The crowd grew, Taz yawned, the generals chatted with the colonels and everyone thought it was wonderful, each shaking Taz's hand as they looked for another superior officer to impress with the perfect creases in their uniforms. Taz shook, smiled, yawned off to one side, and pretended he wasn't there, while wondering where Kodak had gotten to.
Kodak was his salvation, a man he could talk to and get straight talk from. Kodak being there would give him someone more like himself to talk to. He was the face that went to the man on the cover of Time. It was all anyone saw. He was not a man. He wasn't even a soldier. He was just a face on the cover of a magazine.
The officers' club, being the next stop, meant lunchtime drinking. There was no offer of food and no particular attention given to keeping Taz's glass full. Knowing better, he'd accepted the drink from the general who seemed in charge, then slowly letting it leak out as he moved around the throng in a tilting maneuver to dispense the liquor. He was tired. Liquor was a bad idea.
He entertained himself with the thought of one of the more annoying officers slipping on the general's liquor and busting his ass. Although he knew it wasn't polite, he thought it would be satisfying. Anything but being there would be satisfying, and what the hell was Kodak doing and where was he doing it?
"You're him?" a sergeant setting down chairs asked him, as he stood off to one side.
"Him who?" Taz quizzed, feeling a bit less alone in the officers' club.
"Tazerski. You were on the cover of Time. I saw you. You're him," he said, positive now that he'd taken a closer look.
"Yeah, I'm him," Taz confessed. "Who am I again?"
"Come on, I haven't seen this many officers since the President stopped to refuel on his way to Japan. You're a hot ticket, Sergeant."
"The President huh? I'm impressed."
"Yeah, they all come out for the President. If we'd just collect them all and get them on a plane to Nam, this little police action would be over within a New York minute."
"Make some room," an officer snapped at the sergeant as a new line of officers came to shake Taz's hand.
He couldn't hide for long. Maybe if he'd started putting the chairs down with the other sergeant they'd have forgotten about him.
"See yea," Taz said, as the sergeant moved away to continue setting down chairs for the officers.
Taz was no longer able to hold his smile in place. He settled for not scowling at the officers who passed him like he was some dish in the chow line they weren't sure about. He yawned and moved to pour his new drink into a potted plant next to the bar. Its leaves were brown and ill shaped. He wondered if officers pissed there.
"Here you go, Sarge," a guy with hairy arms said, as he slid a new drink in front of where Taz stood. "Don't want you going dry on me. Proud to know you. I'm Kennimore. You need anything, you see me."
"Hey, Kennimore. I'm driving. Can you make mine ginger ale? Just wrap it up like it's booze but keep me in ginger ale and this soldier will be forever grateful."
"Ginger ale? The army's newest hero is a teetotaler? Who'd a thunk it?" Kennimore laughed as he did as Taz asked.
"No, I'm a drunk. Wouldn't do to get loaded in this kind of crowd. I just got these here stripes. I want to hang onto them for a few days. I don't much care for this gig, but it beats the stockade."
"You're okay, Sarge. I figured you'd be one squared away dog face, but you're okay."
Taz kept an eye on the circus, thinking he was in the center ring. He smiled on demand and shook any hand shoved his way. He hoped there would be some elephants. He'd always liked elephants.
After a couple of hours rubbing shoulders with the big boys, the commanding general was escorting Taz back to his staff car and they took off with a line of cars close behind. The general made small talk with him, and the two other generals squeezed into the staff car beside the famous sergeant.
They turned up into a driveway that had a big flagpole in the center of where it curved around in front of the big brick building, and the car stopped at the main entrance.
The general led the way into the lobby with Taz right behind. Nurses braced in snappy postures as the general was recognized. When they saw Taz in tow, their heads leaned together as they giggled and fawned over his passage. This was excitement in their otherwise dull day.
It was the general who led the way into the ward and it was then that Taz perked up. These were guys back from Vietnam. These were the wounded he'd never wanted to see up close, after a battle. Taz was cautious in war. He didn't think it was wise to get too close to death or dying, but here he felt safe. His war was over.
The general stopped to brag about who he had brought for a visit. When he turned to introduce Taz, he found him already leaning across the bed of one of the wounded, shaking his hand.
"How are you doing?" Taz asked with concern.
"Fine, Sarge. Do I know you? We don't see many generals in here."
"No, you don't know me. I'm just here with the general. Might as well thank fellows like you for serving."
"Who are you?" the soldier asked as he tried to smile, but was unsure of himself.
"No one in particular. I was in Nam a few days ago. I just flew here from there. They're showing me around."
"You heading back to the world, Sarge?" the soldier asked, anxious to hear it was so. "You aren't going back there, are you?"
"I don't know where I'm going," Taz explained. "It isn't my show. I just follow the general."
"You must be something special or someone in a hell of a lot of trouble to be traveling with a general," the soldier thought.
The general stood at the head of the ward and cleared his throat.
"I suppose most of you have heard about our distinguished visitor. I'd like to present you, Sgt. Tazerski," the general introduced in a voice that made it sound good.
"Well, that's me. I've got to go. Good luck, soldier."
"Yeah, Sarge, thanks."
In case the wounded didn't know who the general had brought them, a crisp new copy of Time magazine with the picture of Taz on the cover was put down on each of the beds by the general's aide.
"How are you guys?" Taz asked, as some of the soldiers looked at the cover of the magazine, realizing this was the guy on the cover.
"I just came back from over there a few days ago. I was luckier than you guys. You don't know how glad I am to see all of you," Taz said without the officers reading anything into it.
The officers once again found more interesting things to do as Taz became drawn to the soldiers they'd taken him to see. For them it was great publicity but for Taz it gave him something important to do. This part of it he didn't mind.
Before he got to the second bed to talk to the wounded soldier there, the cameras showed up. The soldier he was talking to held up the magazine as Taz smiled and the picture was snapped. This was a keeper. The general got into the act and stood behind the magazine that was held up between the wounded soldier and Taz.
Taz thought of Kodak and felt a little sad.
This was the shot of the day. Each time Taz stopped at a bed, a magazine was held up between Taz and the wounded man. The general lost interest after two pictures with him in it. They were all smiles and everyone felt like they were part something special. Mostly it was nice to be alive to be part of anything. Taz was happy to shake every hand.
"You going to make sure these men get copies of those pictures?" Taz asked the photographer as he followed him between beds.
"No one said that to me," the sergeant told him, looking mystified by the remark.
"Sure," he said, not comprehending Taz's meaning.
"I'm telling you. Make sure a copy of every one of those shots gets to the man in it. I don't care what you do with the negatives or whatever prints you make for yourself. Just see to it these boys get copies."
"Good as done, Sarge. I'll have nice 8 x 10s on their bunks tomorrow before lunch. The general will want to see them anyway. I'll just make extras."
"What about frames? Something that'll make them a nice keepsake?" Taz asked.
"I don't know about that. There's twenty-five guys in here."
"See what you can do. I'll round up some money for them. I want them to take something special back to the world with them besides the holes they got in Nam."
"I'll work on it, Sarge. I thought you might be a dickhead, but you're a regular Joe, you know?" the photographer calculated with a smile.
"Yeah, that's me. A regular Joe on the cover of Time, and I'm sure someone is rolling over in his grave about that one."
This allowed Taz to put things in perspective. He didn't want to be where he was but as long as he was here, he may as well do some good. Brightening the lives of the wounded was about the best thing he'd done since he left 1st squad. This part of the package he liked.
Each ward was just like the last. Some soldiers were still strung up to IVs that offered them healing fluids. Some were weak as babies and hardly knew he was there, but he stopped and spoke with every soldier. Others were energetic and lively and were happy to break the boredom, even if they had no idea who Taz was. Each man came with a sling, crutches, a wheelchair, or some other sign of their wound.
Taz talked, smiled, and happily shook each hand or stub. The general bird-dogged him for a time, smiling and shaking some hands himself, waiting for Taz to get his fill, and finally realized Taz intended to see every soldier in the hospital.
He left without his smile, telling his aide to call for his car once Taz was done. It wouldn't do for the general to make a fuss in front of the wounded, but this upstart sergeant needed to be put in his place. How dare he make a general wait.
Soldiers gathered around Taz, having heard his legend by the time he got to the third ward. They were happy for the diversion in their routine days of playing cards, small talk, and rehabilitation.
In some wards they sat in groups of four and five with soldiers standing around the chairs as they joked and talked about their experiences in Vietnam. Some men talked of home and their desire to get there soon.
Taz never thought of going home, but it would be nice to get back to the world. He'd never seen anything outside of Arkansas, until he joined the army. Then it was army bases and Nam. He was going back to a world he'd never seen and knew nothing about.
Some soldiers ignored the chatting, wanting nothing to do with remembering any of it. Most were eager for the contact. They were bracing to go back home and integrate back into their lives. The missing parts would mean stares and inconveniences for those around them. Handsome boys worried their girlfriends would take one look and run screaming to parts unknown. This was where they waited before taking that final step back into their lives at home.
When it was time to eat, Taz ate with the men in the ward he was in. The general's aide passed, waiting patiently at each door, when Taz went to the next ward. He reminded him the general had an evening meal planned. Taz nodded and smiled and left him standing in the doorway.
Taz's hand was sore, his face perpetually drawn to smile by the time he was joking with the nurses on his way out with the general's aide bringing up the rear.
"You come back and see us, Sgt. Tazerski," a nurse giggled as he passed.
"If you don't take care of those men I'll be back to kick some serious butt," Taz growled and the nurses giggled, excited by the hero in their midst.
The general's car waited just outside the main doors. Taz held each door for the aide, who seemed confused by the courtesy. The car started as the driver saw the two men coming. Taz held the door to let the aide slide in first and he slid into the backseat beside him, resting his weary head back on the seat.
They turned out of the driveway and Taz had no idea what time it was. He felt lost and out of sorts, knowing what was coming. He didn't know how much longer he could smile and shake hands. He needed a shower and a change of clothes and a nap, and a great big old club sandwich was on his mind as he sat silent.
"You can't treat generals like they work for you, Sergeant. They are not men to be trifled with," the aide revealed and the driver looked up into the rear view mirror. "Your smart move is to be pliable. A general's turf is sacred and he alone rules. Don't lock horns with Gen. Morse. He's not a man to trifle with."
Taz at first looked at the aide as he spoke. The driver kept looking up into the rear view mirror to see the men in the backseat. Taz watched the lush vegetation they were passing as the road was lined with beautiful palms and flowering plants of all colors and variety. It was a beautiful scene, but that wasn't what Taz was thinking about."
"My general's bigger than your general, and your general don't want to fuck with mine," Taz said, remembering Gen. Walker and one of his final admonitions.
The officers' club had been turned into a major parking lot as the dinner was scheduled to begin in less than an hour. Taz really wanted a break but knew he'd not get one today. He wasn't hungry and he wasn't in the mood to shake more hands.
As soon as they went inside the gathered audience closed in around them. This time the wives were accompanying the officers and being gracious was the only answer. No one seemed to mind Taz's late arrival. They seemed glad to see him and were satisfied in no time. He was just a sergeant and officers' wives didn't seem to be that impressed with an ordinary sergeant. They were much more interest in hobnobbing with the other wives, comparing outfits, and imagined pending promotions for their husbands.
It didn't take long for Gen. Morse's aide to come for Taz, and he followed him into the back of the officer's club where the door of an office was opened for him. The aide stood just inside the door as Taz found the general waiting for him.
"Sergeant, from this point forward, you do what I tell you to do and nothing more. When I say jump, you best jump if you know what's good for you. I'm not used to being left standing, while a sergeant chats with other soldiers. I'm a general officer and I expect to be treated with respect. I don't care on which magazine your picture appears. Do you catch my drift?"
"I'm in trouble, aren't I," Taz observed. "I sensed you were out of sorts back at the hospital."
"Out of sorts? Out of sorts! I'm the commanding officer of this base. I don't get out of sorts. I don't like your tone. Insubordination isn't going to be tolerated, soldier," the general barked as the aide winced.
"Gen. Walker, you might know him, he is the big general in that Pacific Theater. He specifically told me, should I have any trouble, which I suspect I'm having here on your base, he told me I was to get in touch with him immediately and he'd straighten it out for me…., sir."
The general looked as if he'd swallowed his tongue. His red hue turned a bit purple as he processed the sergeant's words. The aide was unable to conceal his smirk and he wanted to laugh at the sergeant's audacity. It was not how this general liked being talked to.
There was a certain power that came with being a commanding general. You were the ultimate power in your kingdom. There were certain hazards you avoided at all costs. One of these was for a general to never upset his general. Gen. Morse contemplated upsetting Gen. Walker, seeing no future in it. The sergeant was only here until tomorrow, and he could make allowances for a man just coming out of a war zone. It was the fair thing to do.
"I think you understand my position. We have a dinner to attend and then you're expected in town at a function there. I've made arrangements for you to be hosted there and we'll see you off tomorrow. I trust this is satisfactory?"
"Yes sir, anything you say, sir. I'm at your service," Taz said with a most pleasant ring in the words.
Taz pulled his ace out of the hole because he was too tired to put up with a grumpy old general. This way they both kept their rank and no one was any worse for wear. He had little doubt that Gen. Walker would come to his aid if need be, but this didn't require his attention.
Gen. Morse was soon beguiling the wives of his officers and they responded with giggles and wide-eyed fascination, knowing where their bread was buttered. The officers stood by silent, listening intently to the general's words. It was crowded, polite, and the food was good, although Taz wasn't hungry and poked at the food on his plate before pushing his plate away.
Once the meal was eaten, the guest of honor was escorted to the general's car without ceremony. The aide looked in as Taz started his journey into town where the newspapermen had requested his presence once the army finished with him. It was an odd departure for a hero.
"You're quite a guy, Sergeant. I thought you were probably more hype than substance. The way you handled Gen. Morse tells me there's no doubt you're a fighting fool. You make the most of what they give you, Sergeant. There are a lot of good men who look up to you. We want you to succeed. Good luck," he said, shutting the door, and the car drove away.
Taz leaned his head back and was instantly asleep.
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