Captain Hollinsworth ordered my participation in the revelry which marked the 45th anniversary of the invasions of Normandy and Omaha Beaches during World War II. The Berlin wall had recently fallen and the military, having put aside most war games, spent surpluses in funding conducting ceremonies, honoring the triumphs of the most powerful nation on Earth so that high-ranking officials could show off their brass and members of congress could travel under the disguise of foreign policy, free of charge, to places like Paris.
“But sir– you can’t send me on this mission. I expect that I will be discharged within the next few weeks. I wrote Congressman Barney Frank from Massachusetts regarding my request for discharge. How long does it take for an open homosexual to be released from the Army?”
“Who is Barney Frank?”
“He is an open homosexual who serves in Congress. I was advised to write the congressman in regards to the delay in the processing of my discharge.”
Hollinsworth looked at me skeptically– “Until investigations are complete in regards to your claim, it’s business as usual and you remain a soldier.” His mouth puckered tightly. The cosmetic deformity of a hair-lip vanished when he was mad. “The battalion commander wants five escorts from Bravo Company. You have a valid stateside driver’s license and are going to France, Specialist Taylor. I will not discuss the matter of your military separation right now. It’s only a forty-day assignment. Perhaps it is best that you are away from this unit, considering rumors that most likely are being said about you here on Fliegerhorst.”
“I’m not worried. Everyone in the platoon has been supportive since I came out. They don’t care. They knew something was up with me anyway. I never went drinking and into the whore houses in Frankfurt with them. They must have known.”
“I told you to keep quiet about the matter. Why have such a blemish on your DD-214? I see no reason why you cannot fulfill your eight-year enlistment contract. Look at the bright side– you’ll see France while you’re here,” Hollinsworth snipped, softening his glare, realizing perhaps that all gay men love Paris. He seemed sorry for me as the fault over his labials returned and redness of his face faded again to pale.
“Thanks,” I said, not sure of the commander’s true intentions or what he may have been plotting. I wondered if the special assignment to France was simply a tactic to delay the process for obtaining a Chapter 13 discharge. “Thanks for not being judgmental. I always wanted to see Paris anyway. Do you think I’ll have free time while there?”
“Details of this assignment are sketchy. In all likelihood, you will report directly to a full- bird colonel who may or may not have the need of a driver. I understand that dignitaries will have air transportation available to them as well. There is a chance that the officer and dignitary will travel by choppers to participate in various wreath laying ceremonies. All drivers on this detail must have secret security clearances and because you are a radio operator, you meet the criteria. Gay or not– you are still a soldier and have no choice. Dismissed.”
I packed two-duffle bags with carefully starched and folded uniforms, every pair of underwear I owned, including brown-issued Army tighties; a shaving kit, and several armfuls of civilian clothing including a pair of Kenneth Cole leather shoes that I purchased in New York City while on leave there. The shoes with black and red horse hair and shiny silver buckles were patterned in zebra fashion. Heads turned every time I stepped out in them, but the weather in Germany was always too damp to risk ruining the $200 treasures. Paris and New York were the only two towns where such shoes could be worn without causing concern.
We would be staying in the French countryside near Omaha Beach, according to Hollinsworth. He addressed the group of five drivers from Bravo Company in formation as we stood at the gates of base with our duffle bags–
“Stay sharp. Look alive,” he reminded.
The four other soldiers from Bravo Company were from platoons other than my own– I knew one of them– Specialist Cromwell who had taken the Army’s Preliminary Leadership Development Course with me. Cromwell nearly flunked out of map reading. Enlisted men who wished to be promoted to ranks beyond E-4 had to pass PLDC. Map reading was a skill that many soldiers could not master. Following two weeks of intense classroom instruction and armed with heavy-duty compasses, we were handed paper maps covering a radius of forty miles and released into Black Forrest of Germany to track-down coded flags that were hidden throughout the landscape. Exact locations of numbered flags were noted by small red dots on the maps. I found my three flags in less than an hour and was on my way to completion of the task when I stumbled upon Cromwell in the woods looking quite shaken and dumbfounded.
“Help,” he said that day, with every last ounce of manhood pouring out of him. He couldn’t tell a spur from a ridge and didn’t have the faintest clue to the concept that the closer lines were on the map, the steeper terrain was. Cromwell explained to me that he anticipated seeing at least one blue line, marking water on the maps, but it seemed we were in a desert in Bavaria.
“We are not allowed to help each other,” I whispered, although there was really no one watching or listening to us in the middle of the woods. He just stared at me like a Greek God, resting his back upon a needless pine. I waved my flags at him, almost teasing his stupidity.
“Please,” he begged. His body was tense and his huge biceps were of no use for map reading. I looked into his dark brown eyes wishing I could ask for a kiss in exchange for finding his flags, but instead remained a man.
“Alright,” I said. “But we can’t be seen together. Here take two of my flags and my map and give me your map.”
“Why not give me all three flags?” He asked.
I looked at him with reverence and replied, “Just wait here.”
I sat next to Cromwell on the floor of the helicopter which was our transformation to France. He didn’t seem to object to my desire to be next to him during the flight. It was a helicopter with two propellers that spin perpendicularly to the body of the craft. Neither of us had ever ridden on a helicopter. Cromwell explained to me that he hoped to one day attend jump school.
“You’ll have to learn map reading in jump school,” I reminded him as we fastened ourselves into harnesses chained to the walls of the chopper.
“Don’t ever tell no one. Okay?”
“Why would I do that?” I asked. He offered me a piece of gum and patted my back.
A chief-warrant officer of Puerto Rican decent briefed us on how to properly ride in the cargo area of a CH 47-D Chinook helicopter:-
“Here are the rules: the back hatch will remain down and we will be flying low. Stay seated and you will have a great view of the French countryside. One thing I should note, if anyone gets sick and pukes– don’t look at them. In aircraft such as these, nausea is contagious. Don’t ask why. It’s just how it is. Just look away if anyone tosses it,” he snickered.
We thought his warnings were silly, but later, over France, they all lost their morning chow, including Cromwell and his wad of gum. I looked away until the last whimper and subtle splash of stomach acids was heard under the subtle roar of propellers above. Like the gravity free bay of the space shuttle, grits, scrambled eggs and chunks of bacon were flying everywhere. My head remained buried in my duffle bag, face down atop my zebra shoes until we landed on Omaha Beach.