Sunday, September 20, 2009



This is it. The final episode in the YELLOW WOOD series. It completes the expedition I wanted to attempt. Thank you, my friends, and my dear sisters, for being sturdy companions as I hiked strange paths, taking such odd forks and twists through the forest of memory.

There will be an epilogue in a few days that I am very confident you will enjoy. “Guaranteed to raise a smile,” as the song lyric promises. The epilogue covers events that occur within the chronology of YELLOW WOOD, but also go far beyond the limits of this series. That’s why it’s not included here.

So let’s get on with it, and wrap it up.

Gung Ho

PFC Jenkins, Robert, U.S.M.C.

“The Old Man wants to see you.”

Out of the corner of his mouth Gus Baldwin asks , “What have you done now?”
I gave him my most innocent shrug.
He warned me, “Do not mention my name.”

The Old Man was still First Lieutenant Mike Stevens, and he was still shy of his twenty-sixth birthday. I stood at attention in his office at Cherry Point, North Carolina. The Old Man kept me standing there for what seemed like several minutes.

“Jenkins, what the hell are you doing in my command?”

“Sir, I was given orders to report to this . . . .”

“Shut up.”

I shut.

“You have the top tech rating in the battalion. Your IQ and aptitude scores are off the charts. Why are you a PFC in Delta Battery?”

“I . . . ah . . . got promoted from Private?”

“Do not mess with me, Jenkins.”

“No sir, messing with you, sir, would be a mistake of classic pro . . . .”

“SHUT . . . YOUR . . . HOLE.”

Hole. Shut. Mine. Completely.

Lieutenant Stevens swiveled around in his desk chair and stared out the window as a launcher loaded with HAWK missiles was pulled along by a loader. Too fast. Tank driver fantasies. Gunny Cunningham catches him shit will fly all over base. Wouldn’t want to miss that. Where’s Gunny when you need him?

The Lieutenant didn’t seem to notice. The wall clock ticked. I waited. Marines are pretty good at waiting, even standing at attention.

“At ease, Marine.”

I relaxed, but not too much. What was this about?

“I’m going to recommend you for Officer Candidate School.”


“We’ll send you to college, on our ticket. You graduate as fast as you can, you malingering fuck, we commission you, you give us five more years, six if you want to go to flight school. You want to go to flight school like your stepfather?”

How did he know about my stepfather, Lu Smith, the “former” Marine fighter pilot? Smith wasn’t even my last name. Well, Stevens was, after all, the Old Man and thereby semi-divine, but his knowledge of my background was, in a word, disconcerting.

He repeated, “You want to go to flight school?”

“No, sir.”

“Okay, no flight school.”

“I mean, no sir, I don’t want to go to OCS or get a commission.”

The Lieutenant stared at me like I had spit in his face. Then he spoke, very, very softly. It is not a good thing when Marine officers speak very, very softly.

“Please, if it’s not too terribly much trouble . . . .”

Oh shit, I am screwed.

“Please tell me why you are declining a free college education and a commission in my United States Marine Corps after I have hung my ass out in the wind to provide you with this singular honor?”

Really, really, really screwed.

“I want to go to Viet Nam, sir?”

“You. Want. To. Go. To. Viet. Nam. (Every word was its own sentence.) What the fuck are you talking about?”

“It’s the only war we’re fighting, sir, and I want my piece of it.”

“Oh my God, do not, do NOT, quote me that Gung Ho bullshit! Viet Nam is not a war! It’s a stinking dog turd and good Marines are being killed for that stinking dog turd.”

“It’s the only dog turd I’ve got sir, and I’m afraid it will be over before I get into it.”

Contemporary readers will appreciate the irony of that statement.

“Let me tell you how it’s going to be, smart ass. You are going to accept my offer. We are going to help you clean up your cluster-fucked academic record from Florida State, then we are going to put you somewhere else, and that somewhere else just might be the Naval Academy at Annapolis. In four years you are going to graduate with honors and you are going accept your commission in the Marine Corps. You are going to Basic School. And then, and then, you are going lead Marines in the real fight, the fight against the goddamn Soviet Union because that’s where the real war is. Do you read me, Jenkins?”

“No, sir.”

“What part did you have trouble understanding?”

“I understood it all, sir, but I must respectfully decline your offer.”

“Respectfully . . . decline.”

“Yes, sir, and I petition you to grant my current request for immediate deployment to Viet Nam. I have been submitting those requests every week.”
He ignored me.

“Do you even know where Viet Nam is?”

“It’s somewhere in Asia, sir, swampy, I believe.”

“Swampy. Oh my Jesus U.S.M.C. Christ. I have got Chesty Puller’s little fight’n devil dog right here in my own unworthy office. Jenkins, you may be some kind of test-taking genius, but you are the dumbest motherfucker I have had the misfortune, the miserable bad luck, of having in my command. Why is God in heaven punishing me?”

He sat there rapping his knuckles against the desk. Not a good sign. Maybe he wanted an answer to his question.

“I don’t know, sir, why God in heaven is punishing you.”

Sometimes I wish I could just keep my mouth shut. But he didn’t come after me for my wise-crackery. His mood changed.

“Is that your final decision?” Fuck the commission. Fuck Lieutenant Stevens. Send me to Viet Nam?”

Deep breath.

“Sir, yes, sir.”

“Caiazzo, get your lazy ass in here.”

Sergeant Caiazzo sauntered in to the Old Man’s office. Disheveled, overweight, Caiazzo was a caricature of the typical admin puke, but he was a pretty decent guy. Just wouldn’t want him on night patrol.

“Cut orders to get this dumbfuck PFC transferred to Bravo Battery, Second LAAM. That’s in Chu Lai, Jenkins. Viet Nam, Jenkins.”

“Yes, sir.”

Caiazzo, get him out on my battery before I have to see his sorry ass ever again.”


Caiazzo slouched out of the office.

“What are you waiting for, a brass band to play the Marine Corps Hymn?”

“No sir, thank you, sir.”

“Do not fucking thank me. Dismissed.”

I snapped to attention and executed a snappy about face.

“Jenkins. Stop. Caiazzo!”

Caiazzo stuck his head back in the door.


“While you’re typing up his orders, get his promotion papers together.”


“We still have one Lance Corporal allocation?”

“Yessir, but you were going to give it to . . .”

Stevens cut him off.

“Give it to this . . . warfighter.”


Caiazzo winked at me and disappeared.

“Why are you still cluttering up my office?”

“Sorry, sir, I’m gone with the wind, sir, gone with the wind.”

“Fuck you, Jenkins.”

I was trying not to grin.

Well. We’re done. You’re done. I’m done. The YELLOW ROAD is done. It feels kind of incomplete doesn’t it? Unfinished. Of course, there will be another expedition, a journey to that most bizarre of all American wars, Viet Nam. For those who have been making a certain request, yes, there will be romance. Romance, and weirdness enough for an entire season of The Twilight Zone.

So, let’s get off this Road with homage to the poem that framed it, from Robert Frost,

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a road, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.


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