“The Second Hardest Decision,” by Erwin A. Thompson. Duck or Cover? A WW II Chronicle.
This story written by my father Erwin A. Thompson--now 95--is a continuation of my POP ON MONDAY series. It tells the story of what my father calls "Big Men"--that is men of great character. In the normal round of a day in Army life, should they protect a good seargent and risk their own positions? Or should they duck and cover? This bunch protected and risks to deftly deal with army regulations in order to prevent a big fuss.
Also read "The Hardest Decision I Ever Had to Make," earlier in this series. Written by my father, a WWII War hero. Who to choose for a dangerous night patrol, and how to get back alive.
The second hardest decision I ever had to make
by Erwin A. Thompson
Normal military procedure in the camps where I was stationed in the States was for the non-commissioned officers to fall the company in for Reveille and take the report. This report was then turned in, either to a commissioned officer who was the "Duty Officer" or taken directly by either the first sergeant or the Charge Of Quarters to the Battalion headquarters.
One morning First Sergeant Dick was not to be found, and no one formed the company as a company and took the report. The platoons were formed by the individual platoon sergeants, but nothing was happening on a company level. This could be serious, as the Battalion Duty Officer would be down soon to find out why the required report was not in.
I was not the senior sergeant, but since none of the others was doing anything about it I asked one of my corporals to take the Third Platoon. I assumed the First Sergeant's position, gave the official command to "Fall in," and took the report from the platoon sergeants. I was then faced with the decision of what to do with it!
It was an agonizing decision. If Sergeant Dick turned up, without having gotten into unfavorable contact with the M. P.'s, turning him in as being absent without leave could be a serious and un-necessary problem. On the other hand, if he had been detained or did not show up within a reasonable period of time, having reported him as present or accounted for could have serious consequences for me!
Sergeant Patterson had been with the company since it had been formed in 1941 at Camp Robinson. I asked his opinion. He said it had to be my decision, but added the thought that they might make an example of Sergeant Dick. A new Post Commander was trying to show his authority by invoking strict military discipline. It was my memory of Patterson's own personal experience with "strict military discipline (detailed elsewhere in this chronicle) that tipped the balance of my decision.
I decided to turn it in as "All present or accounted for."
Having done this, I felt that I had better tell the Company Commander about it so that if he did not want to go along with my decision he could change it before things got completely out of hand.
Captain Yoe was in his undershirt, indulging in an officer's privilege of being a late riser. I had talked to Patterson about it before I made the decision. He was Regular Army, and one of the finest soldiers I knew. They had broken him a couple of years before for a thing that was completely needless. He said he thought that the "higher ups" might make an example of Sergeant Dick.
I relayed this to Captain Yoe. I remember saying: "You will never get another First Sergeant like Sergeant Dick!" He kind of smiled a little and said: "I might get one that would show up for Reveille." He went along with it, though, and figured out a way to cover us. He said: "When a man is on pass he is properly reported as present. We will consider that Sergeant Dick is on pass."
This was just one of the things that proved the bigness of the man. Not only agreeing with my decision, but figuring that Sergeant Dick had a pass coming, even if he had not taken it with him.
But then he asked a very obvious question: "Who is going to be our first sergeant today?"
I told him that thought I had enough understanding of the job to get by for the day, and I would be glad to try. He agreed. My one day's training at the Officer's Candidate School in Robinson was going to have to do the job!
It did. I got some help from the Battalion sergeant major. I had to make out four different morning reports that day to finally get one that would pass. One disadvantage, I had no experience with the "ground rules" of Camp Fannin. Also, I did not know what had taken place the day before that needed to get put into a morning report.
Sergeant Dick showed up about mid-morning, definitely with a hang-over. He would be a distinct disadvantage to himself and the company to be seen in the company area. Sergeant Carter was the supply sergeant. We fixed a bed back behind some other materials and settled our protege there in the supply room until he became presentable for viewing.
I surely did appreciate my brief exposure to the duties of first sergeant at the pre-OCS school.
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