The Devils in Baggy Pants

“American paratroopers – devils in baggy pants – are less than 100 meters from my outpost line. I can’t sleep at night; they pop up from nowhere and we never know when or how they will strike next. Seems like the black-hearted devils are everywhere…”

WWII German officer

“What the fuck you wearin?” Were the first words I remember hearing after returning to Fort Bragg after the first Gulf war. They were uttered by The Sergeant Major.

The Sergeant Major was Sergeant Major Hoggard: responsible for more than 900 paratroopers on the President’s quick reaction force, Vietnam veteran and former prisoner of war, with a chest full of badges that would impress almost anyone, even without understanding what they all meant. His right shoulder wore a special forces combat patch, though his left shoulder only had ranger and airborne tabs above the 82nd Airborne’s “AA,” colloquially referred to as the 82nd Alcoholics Anonymous: a drinking unit with a parachuting problem, but meaning “All Americans, because when it was formed as the 82nd Infantry it was the first time in American history that a military unit had soldiers from all states; hence, All Americans. 

After WWI, the 82nd Infantry was disbanded and reformed in the midst of WWII and became America’s first “paratroop” unit in 1944. The All Americans gained accolades in WWII that are legendary. A famous poster in international newspapers and magazines at the time – still a poster displayed in practically every airborne leader’s office, including The Sergeant Major’s – epitomized the 82nd soldier of the time. His age was around 26, unlike the age of 19 as in The Sergeant Major’s era, and he was a white male who would have either volunteered for the military or been drafted: either way, he would have had to have volunteered to be Airborne. In that photo, the older, rugged, unshaven man is wearing a trenchcoat covered in snow and looking on the edge of death due to fatigue and too many battles in too many consecutive months. He’s carrying a small bazooka, and the reporter who took his photo was documenting America’s best hope against Europe loosing to HiItlers Nazi Germany and their intimidible Panzer tanks dominance was a few scraggly paratroopers in the 82nd and a scattering of 101st troops and a few others. They had been t combat for years, and on that cold winter a few stood their ground, united yet not – the 555th demonstrated that – yet non of that was relevant at that moment. The largest and fiercest armored ground force the world had ever known was headed for a small weakness in the Allied defenses, and The Battle of the Bulge was about to begin. The cameraman captured the paratrooper’s expression just as he had answered the reporter’s question of “who are you?” And the paratrooper had said, “I am the 82nd, and this is as far as those bastards are going.”

Soon after, a group of 82nd paratroopers landed into combat wearing the newly designed Airborne uniform, made with extra large cargo pockets to help carry basic living needs or extra ammo for soldiers jumping behind enemy lines. A captured German officer’s diary exclaimed:

“American paratroopers – devils in baggy pants – are less than 100 meters from my outpost line. I can’t sleep at night; they pop up from nowhere and we never know when or how they will strike next. Seems like the black-hearted devils are everywhere…”

Since then, that group of paratroopers has passed on a legacy, and they’ve been known colloquially as “The Devils in Baggy Pants.” Officially, they are the 1st Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division, ?? Airborne Command, United States Army. And since WWII, the nine battalion’s of the 82nd Airborne have also been called “America’s Guard of Honor,” and at any given moment one of those battalions has been on two-hour recall notice to parachute into any area of the world within 18 hours; the other eight battalions are staggered from DRF-2 to DRF-3 with recalls of 4 and 6 hours to DRF-4 to DRF-7 training phases to being practically on vacation all the time. The inspection process for DRF-1-3 is arduous, and the stakes are real. I had first seen The Sergeant Major on television, albeit briefly, during my high school Christmas vacation in December of 1989, just after the 82nd had parachuted into Panama and taken over the county – along with a group of SEALS and Delta Force soldiers and a surprisingly well coordinated and diverse group of Americans – and international television was showing a group of young and presumably unshaven 82nd soldiers surrounding El Presidente Noriega’s home and, rather than killing him, had surrounded his home with large, stadium quality speakers and had been blaring 1980’s hard rock and heavy metal into his home 24/7, depriving him and his personal guards – the Panamanian equivalent of special operations or secret service – of sleep. Humorously, the paratrooopers, who were around 19 years old on average, had graduated high school around 1986 or 1987, shortly after Van Halen’s eponymous 1985 album, “1985,” and David Lee Roth blaring Van Halen’s world-wide hits, “Jump!” and “Panama.” How could they not? They had just left the cold winter of Fort Bragg North Carolina and missed Christmas to parachute into the hot jungles of Panama under firefight and capture an airport and bring in all other American troops and then still have the energy to surround El President’s palace and, to demonstrate the values we hoped to install on even the fiercest solder, to not kill unless to immediately defend others, like a combination of Sampson and the Good Samaritan, to not kill when blaring Van Halen 24 hours a day over Christmas may do the trick. It may not be as poster-worthy as “This is as far as the bastards are going,” but to millions of teenagers like me, watching bursts of news about the American invasion of Panama and Reagan’s War on Drugs interrupt or normally scheduled broadcasts, the 82nd was the coolest thing we could have ever imagined: kids began wearing Vietnam-era shirts like, “Airborne: Death from above,” and “Kill ‘em all: let God sort ‘em out,” and teachers quoted John Wayne from his famous movie where he wears the maroon beret of the 82nd Airborne in the Battle of the Bulge. And, even better, I’d later learn that when the 1/504th’s Delta Company’s C-130 airplane pilots opened the jump doors a few hundred feet above the jungle, they blared the new top hit of 1989 over the speakers: Gun’s N Roses “Welcome to the Jungle.”

Delta Company wasn’t supposed to jump, and not all did. They were on DRF-4 and under The Sergeant Major’s command of the 1/504th Battalion. But, one of the other battalions had failed readiness inspection and were on the Division Commander’s shit list and then President Bush called them and told them to invade Panama. They did what they were told, but not with the failing Delta Company; in the 82nd, Delta companies are the anti-armor paratroopers, a smaller group than the other companies but much more heavily armed now than in WWII, with the newly released HUMVEE”S to carry and keep on top a choice of TOW-II missle systems (Tube Launched Optically Tracked missiles capable of punching through 38 inches of armored steel 3,750 meters away).50 caliber machine guns with armor piercing rounds (hard steel inside of a softer metal to weaken then penetrate, capable of 1,800 rounds per minute with an effective range of 1,800 meters), and a new weapon for the army, adapted from the navy and merchant marine’s in Vietnam and made famous by the poster of soon to be President Kennedy behind one, MK-19 Grenade Launchers with the new HEDP rounds, High Explosive Deep Penetration (hehehe) rounds, capable of melting through 2 inches of armored steel and then exploding with  enough shrapnel to create a 5 meter kill radius and a 15 meter injury radius. Each HUMVEE was maned by a three-man squad, a commander who controlled the old school radio with only a few click range, meaning each HUMVEE was at times out of range and therefore a force on its on, with the commander instantly became the HMFIC (Highest Mother Fucker in Charge), and carrying an M-203 combination M-16 machine gun and grenade launcher and with a new type of bayonet shared with the marines capable of cutting all kinds of shit. His driver would have an M16 and his gunner would have a Berretta 9mm and whichever weapon they chose to mount; though it was customary to give the driver their 9mm so that he could shoot out of the window with one hand while steering with the other. The Secretary of State and all military leaders had decided that one more platoon of Airborne anti-armor was needed, and The Sergeant Major’s D-Company , 1/504th, passed readiness inspection even though they didn’t have to, because that’s what you did for The Sergeant Major, and of all four platoons with two Humvees each, The First Sergeant of the Delta Dawgs sent Anti-Tank Platoon 4.

I saw brief glimpses of faces of the paratroopers and all were white, so I didn’t see The Sergeant Major in Panama. I must have seen him on the follow-up news in January of 1990, soon before the Baton Rouge City Wrestling tournament and my grandfather’s death on March 11th, 1990.

Saddam Hussein ordered the largest tank fleet the world has ever known, albeit comprised of mostly outdated Soviet T-54 and T-55 tank, but with a whole lot of them and 500,000 soldiers following, to invade the small country of Kuwait. Eighteen hours later, the 82nd was air-landed by fleets of C-130’s and C-141’s and a few C-5’s; they piled out into 119 degree heat and practically collapsed from fatigue and heat shock, yet somehow they and few Sheridan tanks and Humvee’s drew what President Bush called “The Line in the Sand” and began Desert Storm.

A few months later, a world wide coalition had formed. America had 560,000 soldiers in Saudi Arabia at the border of Kuwait and Iraq; total allied forces surpassed any armed force in history. On January 4th, 1991, a year after returning from Panama and immediately following the largest coalition air bombing since Dresden, AT4 would follow the French forces across the border and begin Desert Storm. A few months later, ??? Airborne Command leader General Stormin’ Normin would be credited for a historically relevant clear strategy and exit plan, and Regan funded technology would be credited as facilitating a decisive victory with minimal loss to American lives; in fact, Desert Storm was the first U.S. military action where we didn’t kill more of ourselves in fratricide or to medical error than ever before, including Panama.

AT4 gained a bit of recognition during the capture and destruction of the Khamisiah Airport. At first, we were told to keep everything intact, including the MIGS and experimental tanks and secured silos, for study by higher up and for immediate use by us: we were to prepare for a parachute jump into Bhagdad to either secure an airport or capture Saddam: details would be given as they unfolded. A few hours of fighting later, the command was given to destroy the airport. The Delta Dawgs created a security perimeter and demolition engineers set explosives everywhere and one of our HuMBEE commanders – they were called tank commanders and HUMEE’s were still very new – coordinated a call for two 15,000 pound bombs, each squeezed into a C-130 and strapped to parachutes and timed to detonate above Khamisiah just as the ground bombs detonated, obliterating everything. For good measure, the Air Force was dropping bunker busters all around us, bombs that penetrated 30 meters of bedrock before detonating or exploding in the general vicinity with enough fire to consume all oxygen in all nearby bunkers, and a couple of modified C-130 Spectare Gunships were rattling rattling guns just in case any survivors escaped their bunkers.

That explosion released Sarin nerve agent, and to this day the Veteran’s Administration Medical System says that 60,000 former soldiers have a series of conditions referred to as “Desert Storm Syndrome.” After decades of research comparing symptoms across different demographics, including civilians, multiple independent research groups would show, statistically, that you were 40x more likely to exhibit Desert Storm Syndrome if you had two criteria: were within 100 miles of Khamisiya and had taken the experimental anti-sarin prophalactic oil, ???? Bromide (ironically). This would be the subject of fierce reactions from parents, voters, and therefore politicians: my testimony about Khamisiya has been the subject of three different congressional committees over the past three decades. At the time, I was in First Squad, AT4, as the newest, youngest soldier in Desert Shield, and had been assigned as a fourth member of First Squad, an ammo bearer and casualty replacement. At first, I was 5’6” tall and 147 pounds. A lot happened quickly. I ended up with a mention in a small award for when two of us captured 14 of Saddam Husein’s Republican Guard in what was described as hand to hand combat initially, but was really just us deep in pitch black bunker protecting Khamisiay. We were running low on ammunition and entered the bunker with two bayonet’s, a 9mm, a .12 gauge shotgun and a few grenades but with night vision goggles, NOD’s, and that was enough to overcome the odds. The Republican Guard HMFIC had a notebook that became useful to higher up, and I was asked to work with higher up’s men. I still don’t know what that meant, but I had also had a 24 shot disposable film camera, one of the few cameras available in Iraq, even with all of our technology back then. After we blew up Khamisiyah, higher up would have a photo I took of the mushroom cloud over Khamisiyah and a few shots of destroyed bunkers and bodies sprawled around unsuccessful anti-aircraft embankments (and I’d explain a few random photos during rare down time, more than one crass photo taken by others rom when I had set the camera down, and a shot of an enormous lizard nicknamed “Achmed the Lizard” that we had nursed back to health and used as a mascot after some assholes intending to be funny had spray pained his back with the V sign we all wore on our roofs to alert the air force to not kill us; in our photo, we had placed Achmed the Lizard near our reflective IR tape that created a 5 meter safe zone from Specter Gunship 20mm automated gatling machine guns. In addition, I would be questioned about several villages we had, under orders, not protected after the war ostensible ended and Saddam’s forces retaliated by massacring, by my estimate at the time, hundreds of men, women, and children while we watched and then that we tried to save as those forces rolled on to the next village.

When we returned to Fort Bragg in May of 1991, almost exactly a year after my high school graduation where we had blared, among other songs like MC Hammer’s “Can’t Touch This!” and Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Boby,” Van Halen’s Jump! and Panama, and of course Guns N Rose’s Welcome to the Jungle and Sweet Child O’ Mine. But I was different. I had grown. I was almost 5” taller and 60 pounds heavier than when I had left Fort Brag the year before. But I hadn’t realized it until two days after we landed, when we were commanded to switch desert uniforms for our old jungle fatigues (a welcome treat: we had only two uniforms and most of us hadn’t bathed in months before Kobar Towers a week before). When I squeezed my 5’11” and 187 pound body into my old, medium sized BDU’s, I first thought they had shrunk. Maybe the North Carolina cold froze them? I was from Louisiana: what did I know about cold winters?

I was still confused when The Sergeant Major stopped me walking across the common area, carrying a few letters and care packages that had been held in North Carolina instead of being forwarded to Iraq. Of course, I snapped to attention. It was The Sergeant Major, the man who visited all 950 or so men, albeit briefly, to slap a few on the back and share cigars when he could, and to tell a joke or two and check in on the leaders by checking in on the men. I didn’t know what to say: I didn’t know what the fuck I was wearin,’ and then it dawned on me, and I felt myself become a different enough of a person in a short of enough of a time to say that I was instantly self aware and a new man: I even had under arm hair now.

“At ease,” he said, and I did the best I could with the packages tucked into one arm cradle.

He looked me up and down. He was slightly shorter than I was and had a pudge like a lot of older men who had once been in phenomenal shape and had built out their stomach muscles. His left shoulder had a Ranger tab and then the Airborne and AA. His right shoulder had the legendary Sky Soldiers: as a veteran of 20 years in various combat situations, he had his choice of combat patches, and if you had to choose why not choose the flaming angel wings of the Sky Soldiers? His chest was a mass of patches that I didn’t recognize yet. I had no patches, because my uniform was still my basic training issue and I had transitioned straight from Airborne school to the 82nd on the front line, the original line in the sand that had crept forward like the Battle of the Bulge but with the 82nd and French leading this time. I was given the only uniforms they had left, size XL, and no one noticed my gradual growth and I must have not noticed no longer needing to roll up my sleeves, or thought my two uniforms were shrinking in all the funk and filth I had put them through the past four months.

“I said, what the fuck you wearin, Private?”

Because I had already realized what had happened, I was seeing everything differently. I saw how he must have seen me. I saw him as me; I had read the books, and knew he was a young kid in Vietnam when he captured his first prisoners and made hard choices, and I saw him being rescued from his small box by special forces troops and joining them in the fight even after weeks of food and sleep deprivation. I was awake for the first time since joining the army, and I spoke without thinking.

“I grew, Sgt. Major.”

“You fuckin’ grew?” He chewed on that for a bit, literally. His lips moved his unlit, half-smoked cigar from one side of his mouth to the other, and he gnawed at it delicately and deliberately, as if that’s how he always collected his thoughts.

“You that mother fucker that speaks Sand Nigga’ and shit, ain’t ya?” He said rhetorically, I probably felt; I wouldn’t have known what rhetorically meant back then, but I knew from his tone and body language that he hadn’t asked a question. I remained as silent as my dad being read his Miranda rights.

The Seargent Major’s lips navigated his cigar back to its original location in the far corner of his mouth and continued seamlessly into a bemused smirk. His head continued and cocked slightly and he said, in a way I interpreted as a question of sorts,

“I heard you pretty good with a knife.”

“Yes, I am, Sgt. Major,” I replied. It was true, and someone had taken a photo of the evidence and it had been circulated around because a cherry had won the battalion’s informal Stretch competition, something we did on breaks in combat to unwind and involved hurling our bayonets at each other’s feet in alternating turns. If you stuck within a blade length they moved their foot to that spot and stretched out a bit more. The winner was the last one standing. I had had an advantage, despite my disproportionately long feet, in that I had been issued the only bayonet left at HQ, a Vietnam era like The Sergeant Major would have used, meant to stab and pierce armor and ribs and tires, not the more modern and thicker tool that assumed the days of trench warfare and  hand-to-hand combat were over. I had learned to throw knives from a high school buddy and it was easy to adapt to my bayonet, and I won Stretch and was caught on film laughing and having fun in the process.

The part about speaking Sand Nigger was exaggerated. I only knew a few phrases and numbers up to ten that I had learned from Mr. Samuels, an old Jewish magician at the Baton Rouge Magic Club, before I had left for basic training; he had told me Israelis and Arabs are more alike than most people realized, and had demonstrated by teaching me a few phrases in both Hebrew and Arabic. But, in the land of blind men, a one eyed man is HMFIC, and I was frequently called upon to help interrogate prisoners by both the 82nd and the French. And because I was from Louisiana and Uncle Bob had taught me a bit of Cajun French two years before, when I had stayed with him as his hospice care, I was surprised to discover I could somewhat communicate with the French and they were pleased with that and I was a translator of sorts in the first few weeks after the air bombardment and up until the March 4th capture of Khamisiyah, when I had the opportunity to interrogate Saddam’s Republican Guard after a skirmish about the length of a round of high school wrestling. Apparently, I was appreciated by higher up and word had filtered back down and The Sergeant Major probably paraphrased someone by saying I spoke Sand Nigger.

He took out his cigar and erupt into a brief but joyous laugh and exclaimed, “Holy shit, H’uah! That’s what I’m talkin’ ‘bout!” He chuckled and looked me in the eye and deliberately moved his right hand towards his pocket as he said,, “Hey, there, H’uah! You want a cigar?”

He imed his words with his actions like an experienced magician directing people to where he wanted them to look. He said, “I got one right here…” as he fished around his pocket. He found one and tried to yank it out but it must have been a big one and was stuck.

He yanked hard a few times and said, “Holy shit, H’uah! That ain’t a cigar, it’s my dick! My big, fat, black dick!” He withdrew his hand then and said, “Ha! Just fuckin’ with ya, H’uah.”

He looked at my name tag, the only patch I had other than US Army and my E2 stripes, and said, “All right, Private Parts. Ha! Just fuckin’ with ya. Partin, if RoboTop don’t get you squared away by Monday, you come see me, y’ hear?”

RoboTop was our new Top Sergeant, a nickname for First Sergeant, and RoboTop was probably the largest, fiercest, and most taciturn human I had ever seen, even after having grown up watching 1980’s pro wrestling on TV. I cocked my head and realized that even RoboTop would snap to do what The Sergeant Major Said, and that had nothing to do with the rank of either man. I stood a bit taller and perhaps with my shoulders a bit more broad, even with the care packages still cradled in my left arm, and I said, “Yes, Sgt. Major.”

He looked me up and down again and asked me a few questions about what had happened at Khamisiyah and the villages after. We chatted a bit as two fellow combat vets.

Two years later, I was wearing an 82nd combat patch had a chest full of badges and was certified expert in practically every weapon in NATO armorment, from bayonette to pistol to machine gun to missle, and was serving on small experimental team that The Sergeant Major had thrown together with RoboTop’s input. The army transitioned from the old school radios to SINCGARS, Single Chanel, Integrated Ground and Airborne Radio Systems that had adapted frequency-shifting technology and was beginning to adapt to satellites and global communications, and I somewhow had begun excelling at new technology and was a trainer of sorts to some early stage adapters in special operations. By this time, I had a secret clearance and newly elected President Bill Clinton had called upon the 82nd to go to Haiti – my recon team aborted at the last minute and jumped somewhere else in an ill fated mission that put a few of us in the hospital back at Bragg, and that’s when I first heard that the film JFK and Hoffa had been released and that all Americans were clamoring for Clinton to release the top-secret JFK and Martin Luther King Assassination Report, publised shortly after Hoffa disappeared and after almost fifteen years of research and interviews after the 1964 Warren Report had wrongly said that Lee Harvery Oswald acted alone when he shot and killed JFK, and when Jack Ruby shot and killed Oswald in the police station two days later Ruby acted alone: in the 1979 JFK Assassination Report, first released by Clinton in 1992, the committee concluded that there were three main suspects: Hoffa, Marcello, and Trafficante. I read the report again and again, and of course all the books that were being published seemingly every day by insiders hoping for a movie deal or conspirasists focued on uncovering the truth. Most seemed to overlook a critical detail that jumped out to me: the massive report began with a 1962 FBI surveillance report overseen by J. Edgar Hoover, a year before Kennedy’s assassination, that elaborated on my grandfather, Edward Grady Partin, and Jimmy R. Hoffa had plotted to kill the president’s brother, US Attorney General Bobby Kennedy, with explosives – which the world already knew from Life magazine and the 1983 film “Blood Feud” – and concluded with their second, back up plan that smelled suspiciuosly like the president’s murder less than ten months later. In the report, they discuss recruiting a sniper and giving him a rifle outfitted with a scope and having him shoot and kill Bobby Kennedy as Bobboy, whom Hoffa always called “Booby,” as Booby drove through a southern town in his convertible. They chose a southern town because of intense and vociferous opions from right wing people who would either help kill a Kennedy or applaud anyone who did. Hoffa was clear that any shooter should not be able to be connected to the Teamtsers. Of course, I knew the tale: Oswald had been trained in Russian linguistics by the US Army before defecting to Russia and then returning to New Orleans with a wife and child, where he visited Cuba and then moved to Dallas and allegedly shot and killed Kennedy with an Italian surplus carabine retrofitted with a scope by a Dallas gunsmith, and then Ruby unequivocably shot and killed Oswald in the Dallas police station as Oswald was being escorted out in handcuffs and showcased on international live television: the world saw it happen on real time, analog televison. The debates had raged sicne then about if Oswald’s shot were possible and whether or not there was more than one shooter and whether there was a conspiracy. Personally, I knew I could have made the shot and therefor even Oswald, though a horrible shot according to his scores in the Marines; even a blind squirel finds a nut now and then. And I knew I could have orchestrated a team hit on anyone, especially in a convertible surrounded by tall buildings like the infamous 6th floor library where Oswald’s rifle was found under a windowsill with three meticolously displayed 6.5mm rounds, just like the fragments in Kennedy had been and how one surprisingly intact round was found at the hospital where they took his body. The coicidences were obvious. What was less obious was that even in 1992 few people knew that Jack Ruby was indebted, or felt indebted, to Hoffa because Ruby had once been a business agent of a Dallas dumptruck business absorbed, probably merciciously, by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. Even less obvious, probably because few people recalled the 1968 trial by New Orleans Jim Garrison, and of those even fewer would recall the news reoprts back then that claimed to have photos of Big Daddy and Jack Ruby a month before Kennedy was shot in Dallas and another witness claiming they had seen Big Daddy with Oswald around the same time and had kown Oswald ever since Oswald had trained in the Baton Rouge civil air force by my grandmother’s homes: by the time Garrison wrote his book that would become the film about JFK and the allegged CIA conspiracy to kill John F. Kennedy he had omitted Big Daddy’s part in it, probably because Garrison’s witnesses disappeared and the photo was never found and he decided, perhaps, that as Hoffa’s attorneys would write, my grandfather was a dangerous person.

It’s very likely that in 1992 I was the only person to realize that my grandfather was behind President Kennedy’s assassination.

I practied the right to remain silent, which is even harder to tempter than the right to free speech, and never divulged what I had realied. Nothing would lead me to talk, not even several training courses where I signed waivers for physical and mental consequences of weeks of food and sleep deprevation and experimental interigation methods. To this day, it’s only something I mention to a few friends and laughing and high and my tongue is attached to my thoughts without temperence; that never happened when I was in the military. Sure, we laughed a lot, but as paratroopers on the president’s quick reaction force we were tested for marijuana frequently and randomly, and I never drank alcohol, despite the 82nd’s reputation as All Alcoholics with a parachuting habit.

Almost three years after the Khamisiya, I had won a few more awards and was soldier of this or that and was asked if I wanted another experimental role as an unarmed Peacekeeper in the Middle East with a diplomatic passport that would allow me to walk across the border of Israel and Egypt as a part in the 17 country coalition created by Jimmy Carter in 1979, the MFO. I was told it was because of Storming’ Normin, who only a few people knew was an amateur magician and member of the International Brotherhood of Magicians All American Ring in Fayetteville, North Carolina, I would spend six months with a lot of privileges and practically no accountability other than to pre agreed upon morals and values and codes of conduct that began with: Thou shall not kill; unless, of course, it’s to save any innocent life this time, unlike the villages we saw slaughtered. Of course I said yes, and I became somewhat of a combination of James Bond, Jason Borne, and MacGuyver. Humorously, my nickname was frequently “Dolly,” just as it had been in middle school until I had begun pronouncing my name in the Cajun accent, Pa’tan, instead of like Dolly Parton.

After the MFO, I tried out for and earned a spot on the Fort Bragg wrestling team and tried out for the Olympics. I lost gloriously and without ambiguity, beaten by the winner with as much clarity as Jack Ruby unequivocalbly shooting Lee Harvey Oswald. Satisfied that I had done my best in all things and maintained what I believed were the values and ethics of Coach, I ended my service with no regrets.

I left the army early because Martin Luther King’s birthday was a holiday in January of 1994, and I drove 14 horus from Fort Bragg to Baton Rouge and began my first classes in LSU’s newly formed civil and environmental engineering program two days after removing my beret and keeping my only souvenieer, the bayontte I had used in the first Gulf war.

I had only chosen LSU becasue it was one of only eleven environmental engineering programs in the country back then, and the only major university to begin after Martin Luther King’s birthday instead of the more common first week after New Years; had I not gone to LSU, I would have delayed starting college by at least a sememster, and I didn’t want to loose momentum. Because of that, I probably pondered Martin Luther King and his parts in the assasination report; though I dind’t have the personal experiences to make sense of everything I had read. I understood enough, though, to recall some of the more serious conversations I had under The Sergeant Majors tutorage, about what it meant to be an All American. He had been drafted during the civil rights movement, just before Martin Luther King’s 1968 assassination, and though I never accepted a cigar from him I think we were truthful with each other and I have no doubt that we were both Americans, and All American’s on America’s Guard of Honor.

I began college in a small southern city surrounded by voicifereous opinions where they had filmed “Everybody’s All American” only a few yeras before, and I wondered how to help everyon see the deeper meaning sooner and without the experiences I had had; I’m still hoping I’ll find a way one day.