Friday, February 5, 2010

Duty Driver

When I was stationed at Fort Mead, the watch bill rotation dictated that about twice a year, I would be assigned to be duty driver for the Navy detachment. Ordinarily, that was about as exciting as watching paint dry. I would drive a more senior NCO around to a checklist of locations. For example, to check the small Navy storage building at Fort Mead to make sure no one had made off with any supplies. It was about as challenging as having a morning paper route.

One evening in the winter of 1983/1984, I got a very big surprise. A horrible incident had happened on base: a young soldier’s wife had left him, and he did not take the news well. (Note to my readers: I didn’t witness this, but I heard about it.) He attacked her with a knife and stabbed her repeatedly. I understand that he gouged out one of her eyes. When the Military Police arrived, he pulled a gun and shot himself in the head That evening, I was assigned to go out to the airport and pick up that young soldier’s mother, a middle-aged black woman, and her minister. About all I said to her was my introduction, and a very quiet apology for what had happened. Aside from that, I made a very determined effort to keep my mouth shut for the rest of the evening.

The duty chief petty officer that night was Steve Hope, who was the bane of my existence for the two years I was at Fort Mead. About the only time I spoke up was to explain that our two visitors were not husband and wife, but parishioner and minister. It simply would not do, I explained, to put the two of them in the same room at the Fort Mead Guest Facility. I remember driving that woman to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. to visit her daughter-in-law. I escorted her up to the young woman’s room and remained in the background. I remember her saying over and over, “I don’t believe he did it.” Again, I kept my mouth shut. I certainly wasn’t going to argue with her.

When she went in to see her daughter-in-law, I was standing in the hallway, about thirty feet away from the young woman’s hospital bed. I did catch a very quick glimpse of her face. The entire right side was covered in bandages and gauze. I can only hope that the plastic surgeons on Walter Reed’s staff were up for a big job.

After their visit, I drove the mother (I’m sorry; I don’t remember her name after twenty-five years) back to the guest house. I guess it’s some consolation that, while I have had my share of disappointments over the years, I’ve never come anywhere close to losing it like that. I have no idea what could motivate a man to commit such a heinous act.

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