By Jim Bracewell
During the early 1970's, I was an Army captain assigned to Sixth Army Headquarters at the Presidio of San
Francisco. At a headquarters that high up the pecking order, there were many high-ranking officers.
Captains definitely were a minority, and enjoyed about the same degree of prestige as a second lieutenant
at the Pentagon. We worked long hours to make our bosses look good, and were rewarded with certain
additional privileges such as the eagerly anticipated opportunity to serve as Staff Duty Officer. This
was an excruciatingly boring detail that lasted all night during the week, and twenty-four hours on the
weekends. The tour of duty usually was followed by a day off for the bleary-eyed captain. That meant
that the fellow who took the entire day off got so far behind in his paperwork that he had to put in a
lot of overtime to catch up. If business at the office was especially pressing and suspenses were short,
the officer often took only enough time to go home, clean up, change uniforms, and go to the office without
Such was the case one day in 1973. I had just finished a twenty-four hour stint as Staff Duty Officer. In those days the Army was in the midst of a massive reorganization. As a Personnel Staff Officer, I was busy trying to keep up with rapid-fire changes, and trying to determine how to distribute officers throughout a fifteen-state area. Any time lost from the workday became an almost insurmountable setback. With this in mind, I took no time off after my Sunday duty, and plunged headlong into the stack of papers on my desk.
As was usually the case around mid-morning, I found it necessary to visit the latrine for a few minutes of somber meditation. Some of my best thinking is done in that posture. I made myself comfortable, lit a reasonably good cigar, and relaxed. I’m not sure how much time elapsed, but my exhaustion caught up with me and I dozed off. I awoke as suddenly and thoroughly as I ever did in Vietnam when rockets and mortar rounds interrupted my sleep. The source of my instant revival was my cigar. When I nodded off, a lit Dutch Masters Corona Deluxe fell from my mouth with a degree of accuracy that would have made a master artilleryman proud. Not only did I lose my last cigar, I gained instantly, and quite painfully, about a quarter-inch diameter blister -- right where no man needs a blister! I let out a howl that caused my friend Richard Holmes, who was standing at a urinal, to shower his left shoe and trouser leg. I already was in enough pain, and I sure didn’t want Holmes to beat me up. I had to admit what caused me to startle him to the point of uncharacteristic inaccuracy.
Dick Holmes came very close to becoming my ex-friend until I told him what happened. He wasted no time in gleefully spreading the story throughout the office and beyond. I even received a note from a two-star general, saying he was sorry to hear about my accident, and expressing hope that it wouldn’t affect my golf game. After a few days of unrelenting discomfort, accompanied by silly grins from secretaries and endless wisecracks from my fellow officers and gentlemen, attention to the event began to wane, and I thought I had heard the last of it. Wrong! My boss, a full colonel who was regarded in some circles as a man with a sense of humor, returned from a trip to the east coast where he had been when the incident occurred. Some blabber mouth told him about the cigar incident, and he directed me to fill out an accident report. I was pretty sure he wouldn’t have it processed, but just to be certain I went into great detail and used terms that ensured the report would never find its way into any kind of official file. It never was processed, but the colonel kept it handy so he could show it to visitors who came to his office from far and wide. Just about the time I made up my mind to burgle his office, I learned of my impending transfer. I don’t know how long the story lingered after my departure, but hopefully it retired when the colonel did shortly after I left.
Looking back on my tour of duty at the Presidio, I find it difficult to remember many significant accomplishments on my part. I was just the proverbial “small frog in a big pond." Whenever I think about those times in my Army career, my first memory of duty at Sixth Army Headquarters is the "dozing off" incident. While I personally got very little pleasure out of the episode, hindsight tells me that a lot of hard-working, weary people were given something to laugh about during some pretty stress-filled times.
Maybe I accomplished something after all!
Proud Honorary LRRP
We need some Vietnam War Stories!