I have a relationship with a young guy, a web designer, who
rents space in one of the offices in our complex. We bump into each other a
couple of times a day. Have a cup of coffee (always mine) from time to time and
in general shoot the shit. He is an US Army Iraq war vet, nice guy in his early
For whatever reason, today we started talking about Basic Training,
his stories are like all Basic Combat training stories and for some reason
today he brought up how the Sgts could never pronounce his name. His last name
is HUGHES and they always pronounced it HUG-ESS. I laughed my ass off because I
was in a squad with a guy named Hughes and waaaay back in the 60’s he was
called HUG-ESS, too. I told him about my fellow squad member Paul Gonoud, the
D. I always called Paul, GO-NUDE, another guy named Reynolds was always RAY-NOLDS.
We agreed they must have a US Army Special Surname Pronunciation course they
teach at D.I. School. Years ago I asked my Dad about this phenomenon, he said
it was the same thing in WW2.
Back in the 60’s there was a major change in Basic training,
some ruling was handed down that insults had to be done in a collective
fashion. No more “you are the sorriest mother fucker I’ve seen in this man’s
Army since Christ was a Corporal!” was changed to “you people are the sorriest
bunch of motherfuckers I’ve seen in this man’s Army since Christ was a Corporal!”
Just as much as an insult and nobody could write home (or to a congressman) and
whine about being singled out as a sorry mother fucker, even if they were one.
My friend HUG-ESS said they don’t use any of the classic swear words anymore.
So now the phrase would be “you are the sorriest group of people I’ve ever seen
in the (no sexisms allowed) Army. I think it kind of takes the sting out of it
I told HUG-ESS about the funniest moment ever in Basic. We
had a sorry mother fucker in the 2nd squad. Jimmy Kurtzhal was a
classic, never learned how to make his bed, couldn’t march, couldn’t find his
ass with both hands and a compass. Nobody likes guys like Kurtzhal because you
end up having to take care of all the things he can’t or won’t do and everybody
gets in trouble if he doesn’t have his shit together.
About 6 weeks into Basic, around the time everyone is
beginning to look, sound and act like soldiers and there are the first hints of
unit cohesiveness. Kurtzhal was called up to the front of the company formation
by MSgt Burton, the steely-eyed 1st Sgt of Delta-3-2. With the
disheveled Kurtzhal’s face inches from his, Burton shouts out “Kurtzal, I’m
sending you on sick call this morning, do you know why?” Kurtzhal whispers, “No,
Sgt”, Burton looks over little Jimmy’s head and bellows, “I can’t fucking hear
you, Kurtzhal, what the fuck did you say?” Another weak answer from Jimmy and
more shouting about not being able hear him. Jimmy finally squeals (like a nine year old
girl) “I don’t know why you’re sending me on sick call, Sgt, I feel fine!” Sgt
Burton looks at Jimmy and yells in his face, “So now you’re a fucking doctor,
Kurtzhal and you’ve diagnosed yourself as feeling fine. That’s as big a load of bullshit as I’ve
ever heard and believe me, Private you are not feeling fucking fine!" Sgt Burton continues,
once again inches from Jimmy’s face, “Let me tell you why you’re going on sick
call this morning, Kurtzhal, you’re going on sick call to get a glass window installed
in your stomach because your head is so far up your ass you need a way to see
where you’re going, do you fucking understand me?” At that moment Sgt Burton looked over Jimmy’s head and stared at the entire company daring us to laugh or smile, we didn’t.
He sent Jimmy off with the medics to sick call, we never saw him again. The company clerk packed up his gear and the rumor was Jimmy was recycled all the way back to the first week of basic.
My pal HUG-ESS laughed until he cried, just like the members
of Delta-3-2 did when we got back to the barracks after formation.