Tuesday, September 15, 2009



The Battle of the Hinky Dink

A Comic Interlude

The compartment was stuffed with keyed-up recruits on their way to boot camp at Parris Island. As the train jerked out of the Raleigh station, I found an empty seat up front and collapsed. It had been a rough few days getting my under-age enlistment papers signed, enduring the physical exams, and thumbing the tedious hundred-mile hitch hike from New Bern.

Our Marine babysitter, a corporal, slid the door open and stuck his head in, and roared:

“Shut your fucking cakeholes! OK . . . listen up. It’s going to take this train about eight hours to crawl down to Beaufort where we get off and take a bus to the Island. Get all the sleep you can. It’s the last decent sleep you’re gonna get for a week. In a little while we’re gonna bring you boxed suppers. Eat it all. It’s the last civilian food you’re gonna eat until you graduate from Boot. Oh Jesus H. Christ and Chesty Puller who sits on the right hand of God! What am I saying? I am looking at this sorry cluster fuck recruit shit pile, and I am thinking, most of them will get kicked out anyway, so why bother telling them anything? Can any of you dickless wonders tell me why I am wasting my breath giving you this valuable information?”

The guy next to me who appeared to be napping through the corporal's tirade, opened his eyes, and offered:

“Because underneath your false bravado, you’re really a swell guy with a heart of gold?”

The coach car went dead silent.

“What’s your name, recruit?”


“What’s your first name, Bald . . . win?”


“Marion. Mar . . . i . . .on. Marion. Mary . . . un. Well . . . Mary, let me give you a piece of advice . . . if that’s OK with you?”

“Go right ahead.”

“Thank you so much.”

Marion Baldwin and the corporal were trying to out-sarcasm each other. The rest of us were watching with dread fascination.

“You’re very welcome.”

“The first time you use that smart mouth of yours on a Marine Corps Drill Instructor, he is going to rip out your tongue and eat it in front of you. That’s going to be the last thing you see before he kills you.”

“I’m afraid. Very, very afraid.”

The corporal just smiled and, with a sigh, shook his head as if in sorrow.

“The rest of you ass pimples need to make a decision here and now. You can keep your mouths shut, do what you’re told, and behave yourself like the sweet little pussies that you are, or you can follow the example of . . . what’s your name? Mary? The example of smart-mouth Mary over here and fall into the deep, deep shit. Your choice. Don’t leave this car until I come back for you.”

He slid the door shut. The conversation buzzed alive. I looked over at my companion who was grinning at me. He stuck out his hand.

“But you can call me Gus.”

We shook hands.

“Why Gus?”

“My full name is, get ready, Marion Augustus Egbert Linnet Baldwin the Third, but, like I said, you can call me Gus, short for Augustus.”

“Gus it is.”

“And your parents burdened you with what unfortunate nom de plume?”

“Bob Smith, I mean, Bob . . . Jenkins.”

“Interesting. Don’t know your own name. Either you are in disguise, a spy perhaps? Or just stupid?”

“Probably the latter. I joined the Marines, didn’t I?”

He liked that and laughed appreciatively. For the next couple of hours we talked, as young men do, about ourselves, and why we had ended up on this train, clattering through the night toward a rendezvous with thirteen weeks of torment in the South Carolina swamps.

Marion “Gus” Baldwin was about my height and size. Where I was dark, he was fair, and exemplified his Scandinavian ancestry. He was handsome in a picaresque sort of way and had a glint in his eye that could best be described as ‘wicked.’ I liked him immensely.

The boxed meals arrived and were passed out among the Marines-to-be. I don’t remember what was in each box except for one item, a sugary rolled-up pastry in cellophane. Something like a Ding Dong, this culinary masterwork was labeled “Hinky Dink.” I was taking a cautious bite of mine when, behind me, a recruit began to complain.

“Where’s my Hinky Dink? I didn’t get no Hinky Dink. I WANT MY GODDAMN HINKY DINK!”

As he whined, Gus looked over at me with an evil smirk (I would soon learn to recognize this particular smirk as the prelude to disaster).

“He wants a Hinky Dink.”

“Yes he does.”

“Shall we sit here like sweet little pussies . . . or shall we go to war like United States Marines?”

I made my decision.

“Semper Fi.”

“Gung Ho”

Like a well-trained fire team, we rose in one smooth motion, whirled, and fired our twin Hinky Dinks right into the whiner’s face. Splat! Splat!

In shock, the Dinked complainer sputtered, “Who did that? Who hit me with a Hinky Dink?”

“That guy up front, Mary.”

With an innocent shrug, Gus explained, “You said you wanted a Hinky Dink.”

“You son of a bitch.”

The victim of our assault grabbed a half sandwich from his companion’s box and hurled it at us. We ducked. It hit the guy in front of us right in the back of the head. After a short pause, the injured party picked up the half-sandwich, slowly rose from his seat, and turned around. It was my first look at Lawrence Covington, black as night in the jungle, muscled like a Zulu war chief, little stub of a cigar sticking out of the corner of his mouth. From the streets of Chicago. Oops.

“You hit me wid yo sammich.”

Covington was surrounded by a quartet of other guys from the Chicago streets. They got to their feet.

“Get that crackuh!” Covington hurled the sandwich back toward the big-eyed whiner.

And it was on.

The Battle of the Hinky Dink.
Our first Marine Corps combat.

Covington’s gang started throwing every piece of uneaten food in their boxes, indiscriminately hitting anyone seated in the rear of the compartment. Gus and I decided that our best move was to enlist with Covington, and we joined his squad, now swelling to brigade size with new volunteers. But there were more “crackuhs” in the rear of the train. We were outnumbered! Soon the rear guard had emptied their boxes by launching all the contents at us. We were re-supplying with ammunition! Now it was our turn to bombard the unarmed defenders with pieces of food that were getting noticeably smaller and harder to lob with each artillery exchange.

Back and forth the battle raged. The air was thick with flying debris. After a while there was nothing big enough to effectively throw at the enemy. We calmed down, out of breath, and looked around at the greasy chaos that covered the floor, the seats, and each other. Covington started laughing and we all joined in. Someone started chanting:

“Hinky Dink! Hinky Dink! I want my Goddamn Hinky Dink.”

Pretty soon we were all chanting at the top of our lungs. Later we would learn the traditional Corps cadence calls, songs, and routines. But none of those ever surpassed the exultant hymn of our first Marine victory.

“Hinky Dink! Hinky Dink! I want my Goddamn Hinky Dink.”

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