Guest post written by my cousin Dante Miles. For several weeks the chapters of his book “Change Gonna Come” will be shared here. Feel free to share!
I lucked out in getting concurrent travel with Patsy. So often the Army sends the service member ahead and leaves the family to fend for itself and then straggle behind. Since it was just Patsy and I, we had a blast. We flew commercial (civilian aircraft) from the Bay Area to New York where we spent the night. The following day we continued on to Heathrow outside London, England and on to Frankfurt, Germany. Patsy cleared customs while I completed military in processing. A jeep from my new MP Company picked us up outside the airport and whisked us to the Company area in Frankfurt. I was heartened by the service and efficiency afforded us. It felt great to be back in the MP’s where I knew my job, what was expected of me, and how to perform, or so I told myself. The folks we met couldn’t have been more gracious. We were driven almost immediately the forty of fifty kilometers to Gelnhausen, FRG where there was a small Army Kaserne (base). As with so many other opportunities in my life, these three years could’ve been memorable in so many ways had I just shown up for them?
We stayed temporarily in clean, but, otherwise, run down transit quarters. The Captain in charge told me to take as much time as I needed to get settled before reporting for duty. Neither Patsy nor I wished to live in government housing but the prospects off the base initially proved gruesome. The housing folks took us to a few places that weren’t fit for animals and a couple that were situated above the livestock‘s living area. Finally we secured a beautiful apartment in Neidermittlau, FRG, about five miles from the base. As we yet had no transportation I took the train each morning. It was an adventure to be sure. Later in our stay Patsy stalled our car while straddling the railroad tracks, an anxious few moments! My new immediate supervisor and his wife took us to a local Gausthaus where we feasted on schnitzel and beer. Shortly after my arrival he invited me for lunch and produced a bottle of whiskey. Sad to say our relationship and my good feelings both evaporated at that kitchen table. Acrimonious might best describe our tolerance of each other going forward. I don’t know what he thought of me, but I saw his performance of duty lackluster at best and, more than likely, malfeasant. Later he sought disciplinary action against me for insubordination but the Company Commander didn’t back him up. Instead, I was assigned to the Provost Marshall and became a Desk Sergeant; a mind numbing, albeit, fairly autonomous position that played to my strengths. My ability to accurately assess people (personal relationships aside!), places, and events, and a willingness to make decisions has long been my forte. One positive characteristic of Army life being there is a position for everyone, regardless of skill, ability, temperament, or disposition. Much as water seeks its own level, if a soldier is willing to put forth the effort a spot can be found where he will flourish.
I, of course, acted as my own worst enemy. I drank heavily, gambled consistently, and associated with likeminded soldiers. This activity was not in keeping with the highest traditions of the MP Corp and I knew it. Patsy was left alone a lot in our apartment until she found a volunteer position teaching swimming in a neighboring town. My work routine consisted of three day shifts, (7 am to 3 pm), then 24 hours off, three swing shifts, (3 pm to 11 pm), and another 24 hours off, and three graveyard shifts (11 pm to 7 am), followed by a seventy-two hour break. My sleep patterns were atrocious and I never felt rested. On top of that I would often time play poker all night and show up for work without sleeping at all. In between we would have practice alerts where every soldier was commanded to report to his or her duty station on the double for a head count. This usually took place in the early morning hours. I would be called at home between 4 and 6 a.m. and be allowed ten minutes to reach the Company area in full battle gear. Failure to comply could be punished severely. This all took its toll on our marriage and Patsy and I began drifting apart. I only remember one serious argument when she told me to go fuck myself and I probably needed to at least try. Though I loved Patsy dearly, like Lyn before her, I decided her presence interfered with my outside the marriage activities.
Two of her college chums paid us an extended visit and the four of us traveled to Austria in a VW Bus. Those two freeloaders stayed with us, used our house as a storage locker, and we fed them for several weeks. Jack and Evie told Patsy they were selling the VW Bus prior to flying back to the U.S. They both knew Patsy coveted it, but at departure time the assholes demanded full market value. Luckily I was able to borrow the money from our landlord and Patsy dubbed it, “Vincent”, for Vincent Van Gough. I was happy for Patsy and proud I could come through for her; though, thereafter we pretty much lived separate lives. One evening we had a “chat” and determined to pretty much do our own thing. In a way I felt sad but, at the time, my drinking and gambling were, unfortunately, a priority. This is not to say there weren’t wonderful times spent with German friends eating schnitzel, French fries, salad, and drinking good German beer, schnapps, and an occasional cognac for Patsy. We also enjoyed dancing at the NCO club when they had a weekend band. K.C. and the Sunshine band were popular at the time and we learned the appropriate dance steps.
Patsy pitched slo-pitch softball and darn well if you ask me. To my best knowledge she continues to play these forty years later! She often traveled to different military posts to play their teams and occasionally I would tag along. She is competitive but doesn’t let losing affect her as it does me. I played flag football in the autumn and invariably wouldn’t be able to walk after the first few games so out of condition was I. Really it wasn’t the conditioning so much as lack of stretching. I am fortunate I didn’t pull a muscle or tendon. My only injury in Germany was a badly sprained ankle I suffered when I landed on it wrong during a pickup basketball game. Patsy was forced to drive me to and from work which didn’t please me and was a nightmare for her. I couldn’t stand being a passenger in any vehicle and nitpicked Patsy to death. How the poor girl endured it is beyond me. Now that I think of it, this may have led her suggestion that I perform the anatomically impossible on myself.
As was my custom, I enrolled in college extension classes through the University of Maryland. The one that sticks out was a Poetry class. I have long loved writing poetry though my desire far outshines any creative capability. In the middle of the course and as part of the mid-term exam the class was tasked with analyzing a particular poem the title and author of which is unimportant. Certain individuals were then called upon to share their impressions with the class. The poem spoke of an ocean liner making a trans-Atlantic crossing in rough weather. After multiple readings and pondering I was convinced the content served as a metaphor for an aging lady of the evening. When I broached this interpretation my classmates soundly discounted and heckled my theory. I felt, as I have most of my life, that I was totally out of touch with my “peers”. When later in the mail I received an “A” grade for the course it left me shocked but feeling validated.
A Sergeant E-5 who just transferred in to the unit was assigned as our fourth Desk Sergeant. There were four of us Desk Sergeants to cover the Military Police Desk 24/7/365, I being the senior in rank. Most often we operated as a tight knit group because we needed to cover each other’s asses. Desk Sergeant is a high profile position where the possibility of stepping on ones “Richard” (sometimes with track shoes on!) loomed as an ever present reality. This was especially true in Gelnhausen as there was a Staff Sergeant Willoughby whose sole function seemed to be hassling the Desk personnel. For the three years I was stationed in Germany I never did figure out what his job entailed. He seemed to appear and disappear at will without accountability. I liked the new man. He, like me, was a bit overweight but wore his uniform well, was intelligent, and in general maintained a regal military bearing. He brought a much needed breath of fresh air to the stale atmosphere at Gelnhausen and we hit if off immediately.
About this time the Operations Sergeant (my direct boss) and the Operations Officer (his superior) met in a closed session with this newest addition to our staff. Apparently they collected enough information on me to know one of my off duty cohorts worked in Drivers Testing. Staff Sergeant Fitzpatrick and was responsible for issuing International drivers licenses that allowed military personnel to operate motor vehicles on German roads, not just military bases. They proposed the new Desk Sergeant tell me he couldn’t pass the test and ask me to intercede on his behalf. Needless to say, this would have brought a screeching halt to my military career. Most likely I would have faced Courts Martial and loss of rank, pay, and privileges. I salute the conspirators for choosing the only person I might have considered abetting illegally. I truly felt a kinship with this “Brother” and fellow NCO.
It didn’t take long for my feelings toward and about him to be validated. Instead of setting up SSG Fitzpatrick and me, he sought me out and exposed the whole plot. Following a lengthy and heartfelt discussion we determined the path of least resistance had him informing the connivers that I refused to participate. I was planted firmly between a rock and a very hard place. I desperately wanted revenge, a “get back”. Gratitude for having dodged a career ending bullet didn’t occur to me. I viewed my friend’s willingness to stick his neck out for me as confirmation of my grossly inflated sense of self. I felt entitled to his and everyone else’s loyalty. Anything less than absolute allegiance was perceived as betrayal and, consequently, unacceptable. Confronting the plotters would deliver up my friend without defenses to these lower life forms; a Judas act I could not and would not stoop to. This was one I had to eat, put my big boy pants on and walk through it with my mouth shut. Believe me; I held a grudge with the ever present day dreams of how I would punish the scum for way too long. While composing this page I stopped and tried to find one of them on a social media site, luckily without success.
I didn’t yet know that resentments are the poison we concoct for others that we drink ourselves. It has amazed me how my magical magnifying mind is able to maintain all-inclusive focus on negativity while giving short shrift to the goodness in my life. This example screams out the duality. I was blessed with the true friendship of another human being whom I loved and respected and who saved my ass, but I could not appreciate his gift. Instead of getting down on my knees and thanking God for delivering this most sacred of all presents, I chose to act on feelings of hate, revenge, and, of course, self-pity. Indeed, I felt pride in being singled out by the miscreants. They were so gutless they had to concoct an illegal, back stabbing scheme to “get” me. Even with a stacked deck they couldn’t bring their conspiracy to fruition. What losers! Speaking of losers; the same acts they were trying to catch me at were those I was losing my health, marriage, career, and self-respect pursuing!
Following a cooling down period to allow some time and distance from this fiasco, I was approached by the Prince Hall Masons (primarily black Masonic Lodge) for membership. I was, am, and will always be deeply humbled by the honor. During the entirety of my life I have felt a kinship with the black experience and gravitated to their culture. I can’t prove that keeping mum and not exposing my friend (a member) was the motivation for their sending a representative to recruit me, but, it would pass the probable cause test. For reasons I have spaced I didn’t follow through and I deeply regret this oversight.
One reason the Masonic opportunity may have passed by without follow up is my once again being “transferred”, this time to the Military Police in Hanau, FRG. The unit 1st Sergeant, Davey Hart, who I knew from my days on the Presidio of San Francisco specifically, requested I be sent to his unit. We also served in the 9th Division in Vietnam at similar times but didn’t connect there. For a while I felt like Napoleon returning from Elba. At long last a soldier who I respected unconditionally and with whom I would willingly march through the gates of Hell saw something of value in me. Again, with high hopes, I enthusiastically packed my duffel bag and moved out sharply. In actuality, our apartment in Niedermittlau sat midway between Gelnhausen and Hanau. It may have been five miles further but nothing would dampen my spirits. Again, I was assigned as an assistant platoon sergeant and tasked with performing as a Military Police shift supervisor working the streets in a police cruiser, and later, Desk Sergeant. I went on a crash diet to look more professional in my uniform. Almost from the moment I arrived in Hanau I felt an indefinable tension in the air.
Throughout my military career I could not or would not successfully interact with my peers. As a rule I got along well with my supervisors, due mainly to my willingness to handle any assignment and I unfailingly took care of the troops whose welfare I was charged with. As the result I enjoyed, for the most part, the platoon members respect and obedience. They knew I wouldn’t ask them to perform any duty I hadn’t performed and, indeed, would work side by side with them to successfully complete the task at hand. Having a Combat Infantryman’s Badge on my uniform afforded me instant credibility as one who’d been in the “Shit”. This is not stated to award me Sainthood. It is a simple matter of practicality. My career depended in large measure to the performance level of those under me. Also, I learned in Vietnam the value of a “team” effort as opposed to a supposed leader barking orders and expecting robotic execution. No leader can know, see, and hear all they would need to achieve omnipotence. They must depend on subordinates that hopefully they have personally trained to share their intelligence gathering in a common effort to successfully complete the mission and return every mother’s child home safe and sound. This is not always possible but should be the goal of every military leader.
To illustrate the point allow me to relate an incident. U.S. Army troops in Germany were constantly training, a week here, two weeks there. The two major training sites were Hoenfells (sic) and Grafenwohr. On one, thankfully, summer exercise, I was ordered to navigate my squad through a series of unmarked and remarkably similar roads, much like a maze. I got us lost and am solely responsible. If, however, we’d been functioning as a team it would have been a simple matter of branching out, recovering our bearings, and returning to the starting point. As it was we remained at our position all night until found by other MP’s the following morning. The squad members simply acted deaf, dumb, and blind and would only go through the motions of following directions; offering nothing in the way of discovering a solution to our predicament. I could have taken issue with the squad’s dereliction of duty but I didn’t. I was humiliated and wished the entire incident never occurred. I doubt I have been more frustrated in my life. On another occasion when placed in charge of troops in the field my direct order to a squad member was disobeyed and he ran to the Lieutenant who countermanded my order. At the time these incidents may as well have been out of body experiences so befuddled was I for a cause or explanation.
Finally, things came to a head when my platoon sergeant ordered me into his office for a “sit down”. He was not a bad sort and I got on with him fairly well. He stated flatly that I could not expect my squad to back me up on the streets if I wasn’t “nicer” to them. “Nicer to them!” that phrase sticks in my craw to this day. What the Hell could he be talking about? I was a Non-Commissioned Officer in the U.S. Army with a mission to carry out. It is always mission first, troops second. Even though, as stated above, I did my damnedest to train, nurture and protect those in my charge. It wouldn’t and it didn’t occur to me that I needed to be “nice”. That aside, I was not one to expect backup from anyone and certainly not those who already conspicuously displayed open contempt and disrespect for me. When I asked my “supervisor” to detail my shortcomings, tell me where I went wrong, provide some guidance that I might improve myself, his response left my mouth agape. It’s nothing you have done, personally, he informed me. However, just before you arrived in the unit 1st Sergeant Hart told the entire MP Company at the morning formation (the Company forms up by squad and platoon for a roll call and head count) that he was bringing in a real Non-Commissioned Officer, something that was sorely missing in the unit. Someone this bunch of shirkers would do well to emulate.
Until that moment I hadn’t a clue how despised the 1st Sergeant was in this Unit. For him to make such a statement is incomprehensible to me. I won’t even hazard to guess his motives. The enormity of this indiscretion defies belief. I had walked into the eye of the hurricane without warning or defenses. At that moment I knew what a guy feels like who takes a knife to a gun fight. For a moment I sat there stunned, and then slowly I transitioned from disbelief, to denial, to anger, and finally, rage. Suddenly the circumstances of the past few months crystallized in my mind and everything made perfect sense. The animosity, the apathy, disrespect, and direct disobedience weren’t meant for me personally; I was merely a means of bringing discredit on a virtually untouchable 1st Sergeant.
Yes, I had plenty of my own issues. This is one of those times my being a lone wolf kept me in the dark. Had I put forth more effort to be part of the Company rather than holding myself aloof someone would surely have put a bug in my ear much sooner? Were it not for me battling multiple personality disorder, PTSD, alcoholism, and the twin demons of rage and self-pity I surely would have recognized something outside my control was amiss here. But, all that is “After Whist!” (A card game that is more about verbal one-upmanship than cards). I played the hand I was dealt as best as I knew how.
I left the platoon sergeants office looking for 1st Sergeant Hart with blood in my eye. If not for the reverence in which I held the man, one of us would not have survived the day. As I write this I have a visual of confronting him in the hallway outside the Orderly Room. I didn’t bother to afford him the courtesy of going behind closed doors. In a controlled fury I related the information I’d been given and asked him if it was true. He instinctively knew, as he is also a combat soldier, this was no time for bullshit. After apprising me of my inappropriateness in accosting him in this manner, he confirmed the story. To his credit, I was immediately transferred out of the Company and returned to Desk Sergeant Duties, in Hanau, FRG this time. I saw Davey recently (2012) in a VA Dental Clinic and he didn’t remember me, much less the incident. Go figure.
Though a much larger city, Desk Sergeant Duty in Hanau was considerably less taxing than Gelnhausen. I credit this more to German Police activity than any contribution of the U.S Army and MP’s. The Desk was receiving reports of break-ins in the military family housing area. This was highly unusual and even more so because the perpetrator was accused of fondling children in their bedrooms. At first I admit to being highly skeptical, thinking it more likely a product of the children’s imagination. Then one early morning about Five a.m., I received a call at the Desk from an enraged father claiming he had seen the back of a male figure as he exited the window of his daughters room. He had been awakened by his child’s screams and came running. At that hour we probably had two vehicular patrols and I immediately dispatched both of them to the scene code three (red lights/siren).
In minutes one of my patrols radioed for permission to stop a German National walking alone in the area. This was touchy business. For an MP to accost a German citizen in any area, even one generally understood to be under U.S. Military jurisdiction, he must have his ass well covered. To muddy the waters, I didn’t like or respect the MP requesting to make the stop. I viewed him as a pompous braggart and after all that went down since arriving in Hanau, I was leery of being set up. I radioed back permission to detain the subject only for purposes of identification and clarification of his business in a U.S. housing neighborhood at that hour. In a very few minutes that seemed an eternity the MP radioed for permission to apprehend the subject as he claimed to possess no identification, professed not to understand English, and refused to cooperate. This may seem like a no-brainer but, believe you me; I was way out on a limb. Military Police did not arrest German citizens. The diplomatic repercussions would surly cause every supervisor in my chain of command to duck and let me take the hit. This was a time when my can-do, gung-ho, reputation could easily be turned against me and viewed as over reacting or grandstanding. I knew all this as I depressed the radios squelch button and relayed my permission to apprehend. Then I eased back into my chair and wondered what in the Hell I’d just set in motion. It didn’t take long to find out.
The first thing I did was call the German Police. Thank God for them and the way they do their business. They were in the MP Station practically before my patrol brought in the suspect. I had, thankfully, by this time picked up enough German to communicate with them. Being fellow Law Enforcement Officers they were keenly aware of my predicament. Had I wrongly detained one of their own, they would have brought the rope and tied the knot at my lynching; but they also knew the unadulterated chutzpah it took for my patrolman to arrest a German citizen and for me to authorize it. They took this baby raping piece of human garbage into a back room and fifteen minutes later came out with a full confession. Before any back stabbing, second guessing, naysaying, hypocrites who masqueraded as senior enlisted Military Police and Officers even heard their morning alarm clock, I had filled out and filed the necessary paperwork to transfer custody of the individual to German control. He was unceremoniously dumped into the rear seat of a German Police car and driven away, never to molest another child.
Yes, there were the formalities to wade through. I worked for hours on the SIR (Serious Incident Report) that demanded an original and five carbon copies without a typo of any sort to be sent directly to every U.S. Army Command in Europe. Every swinging dick with a stripe or insignia denoting a higher rank than mine grilled me for their After Action Report. The victim identified the suspect in a line-up that afternoon and again later in court. Her father thanked us profusely and the German Police acknowledged me with a knowing nod of the head and one of their official winter jackets. Though too small to fit properly, I cherished it for years to come. That recognition meant more to me than anything. Actually, I was relieved and grateful the incident wrapped up so quickly and neatly, before the Monday morning quarterbacks sunk their teeth into me. I must give that MP a huge ATTA BOY! Whatever I may have thought of him before this episode, he became a Cop’s Cop in my estimation thereafter. Honestly, I doubt anyone else in that MP Company would have pressed me for authorization to affect an arrest on a German National. That took gargantuan brass balls. I duff my cap to you, Copper!
This incident went a long way to rehabilitating my image on many fronts. Suddenly I was again the go to MP Staff Sergeant who could and would take on any assignment. Captain Koneke in Gelnhausen abruptly changed his mind about me and wanted me back there. During my pre-returning interview with him I pointedly asked why he wanted someone back who, but a few months previously, he couldn’t wait to get rid of. The question, naturally, just hung in the air without acknowledgement or response. Again, it didn’t take long for the answer to become apparent. The good Captain once again had his tit in a wringer and needed bailing out. He had been ordered to find an NCO who could serve as a Convoy Commander and move the Divisions track and wheeled vehicles, along with their personnel, to and from the seasonal training areas on German roads and autobahns.
Being appointed a Convoy Commander is an honor, privilege, and grave responsibility. It may be the most accountable position an MP NCO can assume in a peacetime situation. The stripes on his sleeve cannot begin to match the responsibility of riding herd on a column that could stretch half a mile up and down the autobahn. The Red Army Faction (European Terrorists of the time) was active and heightened the stress on everyone. Once a Brigade Commander (Colonel) ordered me to have my men unload their fire arms while we were still in the convoy staging area. I told him flatly that would not happen. If he wished to disarm the MP’s I would obey but never would I ask myself or my men to display unloaded firearms; suicide is all that is. The Colonel backed down and I was one relieved NCO. On a lighter note, another time I made a wrong turn and took the convoy through a tiny German village. I had a queasy feeling in my stomach watching the road narrow but prayed it would widen after we passed the quaint little shops on the two whole blocks of downtown. It didn’t! We reached a dead end and were forced to turn the vehicles around. The team razzed me something fierce over that one.
During my tenure in Hanau, Patsy and I were blessed with our first child. A baby boy we named Scott Daniel Miles. Much to my regret I was unable to bond with him in any significant manner. The reasons have already been catalogued ad nauseam in this narrative and need not be rehashed here. I am ever grateful for being in the delivery room for his birth. I must’ve appeared quite a sight decked out in hospital greens waiting to hold my son when he came down the birth canal. I think I was in a bit of shock seeing his little body spattered with blood and afterbirth. As with Chris before him I immediately knew something was very wrong in how I perceived this child of God. One morning Patsy placed him beside me in our bed and my overriding thought was when she would take him away. Scott, if you ever read this I want you to know I am sorry and I pray you will have a better relationship with your children. God bless you son.
The remainder of my tour in Germany passed without much fanfare. I curtailed the drinking and gambling and things seemed to improve at home. In early 1978 I received change of station orders sending me to Ft. Hood, TX to complete my Army commitment which ended in June, 1978. Patsy, bless her heart, left Germany before I could and flew with Chris to her parents’ home in El Cerrito, CA. I don’t remember if I took leave or flew directly to Ft. Hood. Rejoining the 502nd MP Company in some ways was a shock. Instead of the cold, drafty, wooden barracks we slept in in 1968, the new facilities had three man rooms for the soldiers and I luxuriated in a double room with private bath and no roommate. Once the Company Commander and the First Sergeant were convinced I wouldn’t re-enlist they saw no point, nor did I, in giving me any responsibilities. In the meantime my days were spent mostly hanging around the Company area in the morning and swimming and sunning at a local lake in the afternoon. I was able to purchase a VW bug so I had transportation and that meant I could frequent the four or five NCO clubs on the post. I could also keep the fridge in my room stocked with cases of quart bottles of Coors beer. I most often took a couple of quarts to drink just before I entered the Clubs so I wouldn’t waste money. Needless to say I didn’t deny myself female companionship though I was mindful not to risk an infection I might pass on to my wife.
The four or so months I spent there between March and June, 1975 passed slowly. I could not wait to be discharged. The plan was to return to El Cerrito where Patsy already had an apartment, pass the CA State exam for insurance agents and go into business with her father. Once again all would be well in my life when… but in the meantime I felt justified in wondering why the world treated me so poorly. I couldn’t see I was living the Life of Riley. On June 15th, 1978 I packed the VW and struck out for CA. I never realized how expansive the state of Texas is. It took three tanks of gas in the VW to leave the state. Leaving Ft. Hood I spilled a coke down the front of me and was denied rooms at three motels before a light bulb went on and I changed the shirt. The trip was uneventful but I do recall stopping in the pool room in Oakland so I could flash the two grand or so I received in discharge money even before I went home and unpacked the car.