Personal Notes on an Infantryman J. D. Salinger
نسخه قابل چاپشناسه : OL0206تاريخ ارسال : شنبه 23 مهر 1384
Collier’s CX, December 1942
A SHORT SHORT STORY COMPLETE ON THIS PAGE
He Came into my Orderly Room wearing a gabardine suit. He was several years past the age—is it about forty?—when American men make living-room announcements to their wives that they’re going to gym twice a week—to which their wives reply: “That’s nice, dear—will you please use the ashtray? That’s what it’s for.” His coat was open and you could see a fine set of carefully trained beer muscles. His shirt collar was wringing wet. He was out of breath.
He came up to me with all his papers in his hand, and laid them down on my desk.
“Will you look these over?” he said.
I told him I wasn’t the recruiting officer. He said, “Oh,” and started to pick up his papers, but I took them from him and looked them over.
“This isn’t an Induction Station, you know,” I said.
“I know. I understand enlistments are taken here now, though.”
I nodded. “You realize that if you enlist at this post you’ll probably take your basic training here. This is Infantry. We’re a little out of fashion. We walk. How are your feet?”
“They’re all right.”
“You’re out of breath,” I said.
“But my feet are all right. I can get my wind back. I’ve quit smoking.”
I turned the pages of his application papers. My first sergeant swung his chair around, the better to watch.
“You’re a technical foreman in a key war industry,” I pointed out to this man, Lawlor. “Have you stopped to consider that a man your age might be of greatest service to his country if he just stuck to his job?”
“I’ve found a bright young man with a A-1 mind and a F-4 body to take over my job,” Lawlor said.
“I should think,” I said, lighting a cigarette, “that the man taking your place would require years of training and experience.”
“I used to think so myself,” Lawlor said.
My first sergeant looked at me, raising one hoary eyebrow.
“You’re married and have two sons,” I said to Lawlor. “How does your wife feel about your going to war?”
“She’s delighted. Didn’t you know? All wives are anxious to see their husbands go to war,” Lawlor said, smiling peculiarly. “Yes, I have two sons. One in the Army, one in the Navy—till he lost an arm at Pearl Harbor. Do you mind if I don’t take up any more of your time? Sergeant, do you mind telling me where the recruiting officer is?”
Sergeant Olmstead didn’t answer him. I flipped Lawlor’s papers across the desk. He picked them up, and waited.
“Down the company street,” I said. “Turn left. First building on the right.”
“Thanks. Sorry to have bothered you,” Lawlor said sarcastically. He left the Orderly Room, mopping the back of his neck with a handkerchief.
I don’t think he was out of the Orderly Room five minutes before the phone rang. It was his wife. I explained to her that I was not the recruiting officer and that there was nothing I could do. If he wanted to join the Army and was mentally, physically, and morally fit—then there wasn’t anything the recruiting officer could do either, except swear him in. I said there was always the possibility that he wouldn’t pass the physical exam.
I talked to Mrs. Lawlor for quite a while, even though it wasn’t a strictly G. I. phone call. She has the sweetest voice I know. She sounds as though she’d spent most of her life telling little boys where to find the cookies.
I wanted to tell her not to phone me any more. But I couldn’t be unkind to that voice.
I never could.
I had to hang up finally. My first sergeant was ready with a short lecture on the importance of getting tough with dames.
I kept an eye on Lawlor all through his basic training. There wasn’t any one call-it-by-a-name phase of Army life that knocked him out or even down. He pulled K. P. for a solid week, too, and he was as good a sink admiral as the next one. Nor did he have trouble learning to march, or learning to make up his bunk properly, or learning to sweep out his barrack.
He was a darned good soldier, and I wanted to see him get on the ball.
AFTER his basic, Lawlor was transferred to “F” Company of the First Battalion, commanded by George Eddy, a darn’ good man. That was late last spring. Early in summer Eddy’s outfit got orders to go across. At the last minute, Eddy dropped Lawlor’s name from the shipping list.
Lawlor came to see me about it. He was hurt and just a little bit insubordinate. Twice I had to cut him short.
“Why tell me about it?” I said. “I’m not your C. O.”
“You probably had something to do with it. You didn’t want me to join up in the first place.”
“I had nothing to do with it,” I said. And I hadn’t. I had never said a word to George Eddy, either pro or con.
Then Lawlor said something to me that sent a terrific thrill up my back. He bent over slightly and leaned across my desk. “I want action,” he said. “Can’t you understand that? I want action.”
I had to avoid his eyes. I don’t know quite why. He stood up straight again.
He asked me if his wife had telephoned me again.
I said she hadn’t.
“She probably phoned Captain Eddy,” Lawlor said bitterly.
“I don’t think so,” I said.
Lawlor nodded vaguely. Then he saluted me, faced about, and left the Orderly Room. I watched him. He was beginning to wear his uniform. He had dropped about fifteen pounds and his shoulders were back and his stomach, what was left of it, was sucked in. He didn’t look bad at all.
Lawlor was transferred again, to Company “L” of the Second Battalion. He made corporal in August, got his buck sergeant stripes early in October. Bud Ginnes was his C. O. and Bud said Lawlor was the best man in his company.
Late in winter, just about the time I was ordered to take over the basic training school, the Second Battalion was shipped across. I wasn’t able to phone Mrs. Lawlor for several days after Lawlor was shipped. Not until his outfit had officially landed abroad. Then I long-distanced her.
She didn’t cry. Her voice got very low, though, and I could hardly hear her. I wanted to say just the right thing to her I wanted to bring her wonderful voice up to normal. I thought of alluding to Lawlor as being one of our gallant boys now. But she knew he was gallant. Anybody knew that. And he wasn’t a boy. And, in the first place, the allusion was labored and phony. I thought of a few other phrases, but they were all on the long-haired side, too.
Then I knew that I couldn’t bring her voice up to normal—at least not on such short order. But I could make her happy. I knew that I could make her happy.
“I sent for Pete,” I said. “And he was able to go to the boat. Dad started to salute us, but we kissed him goodby. He looked good. He really looked good, Ma.”
Pete’s my brother. He was an ensign in the Navy.