It was nearly November, and, as our high school English class was ending for the day, our teacher announced the next writing assignment. “For Veterans’ Day, each of you is to write an interview paper. That means you are to interview someone and write about what you learned. The person you interview must be a veteran, and you are to ask them about what it was like to be in the armed services.”
Most of the students groaned. Lenny was particularly vocal. “You mean we have to write something that some old person tells us?”
“I think you might find it more interesting than you think,” the teacher said.
As we headed out the door, Lenny turned to me. “Howard, who are you going to interview?”
“I plan to interview my father,” I replied. “How about you?”
“Probably my grandfather,” he said. “But the big problem is once he gets started talking about the war, he never quits.”
Later, when I asked my dad about what it was like in the army, he laughed. “How does a man explain the army? They try to kill you to make you strong, and they do stupid things just to teach you discipline.”
“Like what?” I asked.
He thought a moment, and then answered, “Let me tell you a story.”
Basic training had been hard. They had marched and marched and drilled and marched some more. When it was finally over, they were told they would be allowed a weekend furlough as soon as they could pass inspection.
The first inspection didn’t go well. Their sergeant found something wrong with every soldier. They did another week of marching and drill. Finally, the next weekend came. This time they worked much harder, and still, the sergeant found a few men who had something that wasn’t quite right. Once more, they spent the week marching.
When the third weekend came, everyone was determined to have everything perfect. They shined shoes, spruced up uniforms, and worked to get everything to perfection. The sergeant moved from man to man, finding nothing out of line.
When he reached the last man, the sergeant made him open his duffle bag. When he did, out rolled an orange.
“Is food allowed in your duffle bag, Private?” the sergeant demanded.
“No, Sir,” the soldier replied.
“And let me tell you why,” the sergeant said, getting right up nose to nose with the man. “The reason is because it would suffocate in there with your socks. I, therefore, declare Private Orange to have died in your duffle bag.” He then turned to the full group of men. “Doesn’t Private Orange deserve a proper burial?”
“Yes, Sir,” the men all answered unenthusiastically.
“As soon as he has received his proper burial,” the sergeant said, “you can all go on furlough.”
The sergeant chose the place for the grave, a horrible, hard packed piece of land. The men took turns chiseling through the soil. After a six foot deep grave was dug, Private Orange was buried with military honors.
As soon as the service was over, the men quickly filled in the grave and then assembled, excited to go on furlough.
“Well done, men,” the sergeant said. “But did you make sure to bury him face up?”
“What is face up, Sir?” one soldier asked.
“He does have a navel,” the sergeant replied. “And a person’s navel is on the same side as his face.”
The men dug up the orange, made sure it was oriented properly, and buried it again. By the time they finally finished, they only had time for a very short furlough.
When my dad finished his story, he smiled. “Military intelligence is an oxymoron, but they do teach you discipline.”