hidden depths
Home sweet home Latest site info Poetic stuff Serious stuff Funny stuff Topical stuff Alternative stuff Shakespearian stuff Musical stuff
  click here for a "printer friendly" version

Encounters with Sergeant Bronson by Martin Green



I was drafted into the Army during the Korean War, went to clerk-typist school after basic, then was shipped overseas, not to Korea, but to 7th Army Headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany. All enlisted men on the base were housed in barracks and each barracks was commanded by a sergeant. Our barracks commander was Sgt. Robert E. Lee Bronson. Like most of my sergeants in basic, Bronson was a Southerner. He wasn’t a particularly imposing figure, of average height and build, but he had a certain force about him, like a coiled spring ready to leap at you, and he ruled the barracks with an iron hand.

My first encounter with Sgt. Bronson came just a week or two after I’d moved into the barracks. He called a surprise inspection and he didn’t think my foot locker was in good enough order, something about things not being where they should and also my socks not being rolled tightly enough. “Your footlocker is in piss poor shape,” he barked at me while I stood at attention by my bunk.

“I’m sorry, sir,” I said.

“Don’t sir me. I’m not a Godamned officer.” Then in a Southern drawl, he added, “Officers. Sheeeit.”

“I’m sorry sir; I mean Sergeant.”

“Give me ten,” he barked. I noticed that Bronson’s drawl came and went.

This meant ten push-ups. Back then I was in good enough shape to do them. When I stood back up again, he said, “I see you have a book in your locker. I guess you’re one of them college boys.”

“I went to college.”

“Ha! What’s that book called?”

“It’s ‘Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man’ by James Joyce.” I’d brought this book along with me by way of asserting that although I was a lowly private in the Army I was still an individual, something which the Army detested, as in “Whattaya think you are, an individual,” often shouted at me during basic.

“James fuckin’ Joyce, huh?” Then he smiled. “Hear he was a big boozer. Okay, you’re on latrine duty for a week. Put that locker in order. When the Captain comes around think I want him to see a mess like that. He’d chew me out, and you wouldn’t want him to do that, would you?”

“No, sir, er, I mean Sergeant.”

Latrine duty was as unpleasant as it sounds, but when the Captain did come around, my footlocker passed inspection.

My second encounter with Sgt. Bronson was of a different kind. I suppose every barracks had its bully and ours was a big fellow named Hatcher. He took a dislike of me, maybe because I’d gone to college; he called me “college boy” with a sneer every time he saw me and he made a point of pushing or poking me every chance he got. One evening when I got back to the barracks from the post library, I saw every item in my floor locker had been taken out and strewn across my bunk. “My, my, my,” said Hatcher. “Better clean that up. Sergeant Bronson wouldn’t like that, more latrine duty for you.”

I didn’t have to ask who’d done it; without saying anything I started to put my things back in the locker. “Don’tcha have anything to say, college boy?” said Hatcher.

I knew I had to do something; at the same time, I knew I couldn’t win a fight against Hatcher. I determined though that at least I’d get one good punch in. I leaped at him and hit him in the nose as hard as I could, then I waited for the beating to come. Hatcher held his nose. “It’s bleeding,” he said. “I’m gonna kill you.”

“No, you’re not,” said a quiet Southern voice. Sgt. Bronson had materialized, as he had a way of doing.

“He broke my nose.”

“Put a band-aid on it. Now get out of here before I break something else.”

After Hatcher had slunk away, Sgt. Bronson turned to me. “Not a bad punch,” he said. “But you don’t throw just one punch in a fight. You should have followed up; better yet, if the other guy is bigger, kick him in the balls.”

“I’ll remember that,” I said.

“Now get those things put back.”

“Yes, Sergeant.”

My next encounter with Sgt. Bronson came near the end of my tour and can be attributed to the German composer Richard Wagner. I’d discovered that Stuttgart had an opera house and had started going to evening performances there. It made a change from the usual dreary Army life and for a while I could pretend I was back in the civilized world, attending a cultural event. On this night I went to see the last opera in Wagner’s Ring, Gotterdammerung. Unfortunately, it was a long, very long, opera and ran well past midnight, which was the curfew deadline for the base. I was afraid I’d be stopped at the base entrance, but the sleepy guard there just waved me through. I entered my barracks with no one about. There were the usual snores and grunts. I went quietly to my bunk and was about to get into it when a quiet drawling voice behind me said, “You’re back a little late, Green.” Needless to say, it was Sgt. Bronson, doing his usual coming up silently act. I jumped, then tried to calm myself down. “Sorry, Sergeant. It was the opera. It was Wagner and his operas really go on long.”

“Did you get stopped at the gate?”

“No, I got through OK.”

“What do you think I should do to you?”

“Latrine duty?”

“I’ll keep that in mind. But never break curfew again. That’s considered being AWOL I had a word with that MP when I saw you weren’t back.”

“You did? Thanks, Sergeant.”

“I can’t have one of my men going AWOL. Wouldn’t look good for me, would it?”

“I won’t screw up again. Besides, that was the last of the Wagner.”

“That old boy was pretty long-winded, wasn’t he? But I like that last scene when everything comes crashing down.”

“You’ve seen …”

“Never mind what I’ve seen. You’re getting out soon, aren’t you?”

“Yes, in three weeks.”

“Then you’ll be back in New York and you can go to all the opera you want. Meanwhile, keep your nose clean.”

“I will. Thanks again, Sergeant.”

He snorted. “Get into your bunk.” Then he was gone.

On my last day I wanted to say good-bye to Sgt. Bronson. He was in the barracks, playing poker with some of the men. He looked up and said, “Yeah, what do you want, Green?”

“I just wanted to say good-bye, Sergteant.”

“What, you interrupted my poker game to say good-bye! Give me ten.”

I was about to drop down when he said, “I’m kidding, Green. I don’t know how you made it in the Army. But you’ll be okay as a civilian. Remember, if you get into a bar fight, more than one punch. And Italian opera is a lot better than that fucking Wagner.”

That was my final encounter with Sergeant Bronson. I think about him every now and then. I never did figure him out while I was in Stuttgart. I still can’t, which I guess is the way he wanted it.



Rate this story.

Copyright is reserved by the author. Please do not reproduce any part of this article without consent.


© Winamop 2014