Waking up on Saturday morning, I thought I was going to die. Actually, I might have if not for the three guys who forced me to upchuck the beer in the shower a few hours ago.
I wasn’t in motor transport, but my commanding officer sent me to a one-week school to obtain a military driver’s license. Ironically, he chose me because I was known to be a non-drinker and he needed someone to transport drunk Marines from the beach, where parties were held, back to their squad bays.
Among the several vehicles I was authorized to drive was the 6×6 M35A2 Military Truck. When I was in high school, I used to call them “National Guard trucks” because these were the vehicles used to transport troops to and from their annual training. The trucks weighed 12,880 pounds empty and could carry an additional 5,000 pounds of cargo or however many Marines could be stuffed inside.
The morning after my 18-beer alcohol binge, I had to transport Marines to the chow hall for breakfast. Having arrived at the chow hall, the Marines disembarked, and I sat alone in the truck’s cab profoundly repenting of the previous night’s activities.
My commanding officer appeared and asked why I wasn’t at breakfast. I replied that I really didn’t feel like breakfast. Apparently hearing of my experience the night before, and knowing that, in a few hours, I would catch a bus for the long ride from the Atlantic coast to the green hills of Tennessee, he ordered me to go eat something. If I did not, he promised, I would not be on that bus.
After going through the line, I sat at a table by myself and began to use a knife and fork on my plate’s contents — a single, solitary grape.
As I was slicing the grape into paper thin sheets, the C.O. came to my table and demanded, “What the $%&* is THAT?!”
“It’s my breakfast, sir,” I responded. He left the table and, a few minutes later, came back to where I was sitting, and dropped a plate full of creamed chipped beef on toast (affectionately known as S.O.S.), eggs, bacon, sausage, and other items that made my stomach roll.
“Sir, I can’t …” I began.
“Eat it or miss your wedding, Marine,” he said as he walked away.
I thought, at first, he was punishing me in an especially cruel and public manner. However, as I tentatively began to eat, I did feel somewhat better. After breakfast and the Marines climbed back into the truck, I drove my passengers back to the barracks, packed, and caught a ride to the bus station for the 345-mile trip to my hometown.
That doesn’t sound like a very long trip but, in those days, the bus stopped multiple times to pick up passengers. I was looking at an eight-hour trip that could stretch to ten hours. “That’s okay,” I thought, as I boarded the bus. “The worst is over.” I was wrong. So very wrong.
When I played football at Dobyns-Bennett High School, I loved the away games. The diesel fuel from the football bus was a smell that preceded victory most of the time. The diesel smell was a happy smell for me.
However, on this trip, the diesel fuel odor was toxic to my poor stomach and headache. I moved to the front seat to get away from as much smell as I could. After a short time on the road, we made our first stop. A U. S. Army soldier boarded, and we exchanged nods as he took the seat behind me.
Apparently, I didn’t look so good to him. I heard a pop and a hiss behind me, and the soldier leaned over the seat back and seat, “Hey, Marine, you don’t look so good. Have a beer.” I took one whiff of the can stuck under my nose and headed as fast as I could to the rest room at the rear of the bus. So much for the breakfast I was forced to eat.
The rest of the trip was a combination of diesel fuel smells, a jostling bus ride, a blinding headache, and my trying unsuccessfully to sleep. About the time I did start to doze off, the bus would stop at another wide spot in the road to pick up a couple more passengers. The soldier behind me had just enough beers to allow him to peacefully sleep through most of the trip. Somewhere in eastern North Carolina, he got off the bus as chipper as could be.
It was dark when we pulled into the bus station in Kingsport late on Saturday. I collected my baggage and got into the waiting car. My dad said, “How was your trip?”
“Oh, it was just fine,” I lied. But I was finally home. We were scheduled to have the wedding rehearsal on Sunday afternoon and the wedding on Monday, September 6, Labor Day weekend.
“Finally,” I thought, “this is all behind me. A good night’s sleep and I’ll be ready for anything.” Oh, not so fast. Not so fast.
(To be continued.)
[David Epps is the Rector of the Cathedral of Christ the King (www.ctk.life). Worship services are on Sundays at 10:00 a.m. and on livestream at www.ctk.life. He is the bishop of the Diocese of the Mid-South (www.midsouthdiocese.life). He may be contacted at email@example.com.]