I’ll never forget the night the naked woman was in our barracks. Our first sergeant rolled in through the back door all out of breath. He’s a fat unhealthy young man with black mustache and a small mouth and very prominent front teeth. Some of the boys call him the Gopher.

“I want a dee-tail!” he puffed.

If it had been duty hours we might have kidded him a little, but since it was after hours we just ignored him. The card game continued and the rest of us kept on with what we were doing—Danny cleaning his rifle, Fletcher staring off into space, and me trying to sew a bath towel inside the shoulders of my shirt because we were going hiking the next day with full field packs.

“I want a dee-tail to help hunt for a naked woman!” the sergeant said, his little eyes glittering at us.

Some of the new men picked up their ears a little, but nobody said anything.

“I want three volunteers—you, you and you!”

The sergeant always said that. He thought it was pretty cute.

Danny, one of the volunteers named, held up his rifle and squinted through the barrel at the sergeant.

“Dirty bore,” Danny observed.

“You guys heard me! I’ll throw every last one of you on KP if you get snotty. Now get on your feet!”

The sergeant is a nice guy, but he still gets excited easily. He’s always threatening extra duty, but he never does anything about it. If the outfit still is together by Christmas we plan to get him a pen-and-pencil set, with his name engraved on it in gold.

“If there really was a naked woman around, you wouldn’t tell us about it,” yawned Fletcher.

“I can’t catch her by myself!” snapped the sergeant. “I saw her looking in the orderly room window and I ran outside but she hid somewhere.”

“You wouldn’t want any of us wolves out chasing her tonight,” sighed Fletcher, still starring off into space. “It wouldn’t be—“

“He sat up straight and let his feet drop slowly down off the bunk.

“Sergeant,” he said softly, “let’s get going on that dee-tail!” Fletcher took off out the front door, with the sergeant right behind him.

In about five minutes Fletcher was back, alone. He just grinned at the boys and didn’t say anything, but after a while he came over and sat on my bunk. “I think,” he said, very low, “that I saw something white go past that window when the sergeant was here a while ago!”

“Let’s not arouse the mob,” he added and strolled down towards the back door. In a few minutes I followed, carrying a magazine as if I were going to the latrine.

We looked around outside and under the building and all around the mess hall next door, but we didn’t find anything.  Over behind the day room we ran into the first sergeant, hiding out in the shadows.

“Take cover, you meat-heads!” he snapped at us. “She’ll never come out with you guys strolling around!”

The card game was still going when Fletcher and I got back. Danny was shining his shoes. He was on one of his bucking sprees, and he probably would scrub, shine, sandpaper and polish everything he and the Government owned before he was through. Then he wouldn’t touch a thing again for three weeks.

Maddox, one of the new men, started yelling that someone had stolen his wallet. Once about every two weeks Maddox decides his wallet was been stolen, and he starts jigging up and down the aisles and back and forth to the latrine, jabbering and cursing. Finally he always finds it in his barracks bag or shoeshine kit or somewhere. This time it was in his raincoat pocket. After he found it he sat on his bunk counting his money and muttering to himself.

“Lights out!” it was the sergeant’s voice over the intercommunication box from the orderly room. The card game continued. I was already in bed and fletcher was taking a shower. Danny was sandpapering his tent poles, his tongue stuck out between his teeth. I nearly fell asleep.

“Get those lights out, second platoon!” the box yelled at us, and we heard it popping while it waited for an answer.

“Blow it!” replied one of the card players, but in about two minutes the game broke up and one of the new men switched off the lights.

In a little while the box said, “Bed check in four minutes!”

Don’t worry, the beds will all be here!” someone yelled. I had to think for a minute before I recognized the voice. One of the new men; none of us liked the guy. New men, guys who haven’t been in the outfit even a year yet, shouldn’t talk back to the sergeant like that.

I remember the first sergeant coming through for bed check. Before he left the barracks he stood just inside the front door for a long time, looking out. Then I fell asleep.

Next thing I remember was the big noise. A loud clatter of metal and then a thud, and someone yelling, “Dammit to hell!” at the top of his voice. I didn’t hear any slap of bare feet on the floor, like some of the men said they did. When we got the lights on we saw Danny getting up from the floor in the aisle. His foot locker was turned over and everything spilled out. He slept in an upper bunk, and the mattress and covers were hanging halfway down off the bed.

“I saw her!” Danny yelled. “She took my blanket!”

The first sergeant came running in the back door all out of the wind. “Have you got her, boys?” he screamed?

“She stood there in the dark and pulled off my blanket real gently,” Danny explained for the fifth time.

“I made a dive for her,” he added. He reached down to right his foot locker. “I got hold of her but she got away and ran out the front door with one of my blankets!”

I never did see the naked woman myself, so I’m not sure she really existed. Still, what became of Danny’s blanket that he had to sign a statement of charges for? And the sergeant must have seen something startling to keep him out of his sack that late at night. I can see a lot of reasons why it could have happened. It could happen in any barracks, in yours for instance, tonight. Anyhow, I’ll never forget the night it happened in ours.

—Sgt. Ray Duncan

-Camp Davis, N.C.

sad sack sergeant

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