Henri Rousseau...1908

Henri Rousseau…1908

“Don’t look back…something might be gaining on you.”

-Satchel Paige

There is something liberating about being in a taxicab…a passenger has several minutes with a captive stranger in an intimate space. I have always lent a willing ear to anyone with a story, but developed an unerring mechanism for detecting bullshit…my mind would suddenly stop listening, as I detected the cracked bell tone of a whopper. But most people like to talk about their lives, as if they have just stepped into the mahogany closeness of a confessional.

I stopped driving over twenty years ago, but I have never forgotten. Many of the stories were worth remembering, and would never be recorded…so I do it here…both to memorialize them and to clear space in a cluttered mind.

On May 7, 1987, a well-dressed passenger got in, bound for the airport…he said,

Take your time, I just lost my job…”

Brief condolences and shaking of my head, brought forth the following admission:

“I’m the campaign manager for Gary Hart.”

Younger readers may not remember, but Gary Hart was on a meteoric rise toward the presidency…until he met a hotter star, Donna Rice…who ended his ascent. The manager was on his way to the last strategy meeting before Hart would announce his departure from the presidential race.

On the same day, I drove a man on his way to a reunion of veterans whom he hadn’t seen for forty-two years. This is what he told me:

“My unit was stationed on an island in the Pacific, and I was part of a reconnaissance team sent out to determine the strength of the Japanese forces which controlled the bulk of the island.

I set out with two islanders, who were friendly with the allied force, which occupied the southern shore. The standard operating procedure…SOP…do you know that term? Were you in the Army?”

I assured him that I had been, and knew the phrase.

“Well, on these patrols, the standard was, if one or more individuals on the team were wounded or injured, they would be left behind rather than risk the success of the mission.”

I have often brooded on the conditions under which a man (or woman) would lay down his life…and for what. It is nearly inconceivable to a normal person, how dire the situation can be in war, and how constantly, the soldier is under threat of death. Often, I think of them dying for their country while I am bemoaning some tiny, insignificant problem in my life.

He continued…

“Two days out, I’m starting to get stomach cramps…and they are getting worse and worse, until I could no longer walk. The natives were trying to tend to me, and, although I was an officer, the SOP applied equally to me.  I insisted they carry out the mission without me.”

Left alone in the jungle, he lay for what he thought were another two days, hidden in the bush, until, he was unable to withstand the bugs and feverish discomfort. Certain that he would die if he stayed there, he began to walk, stumble and crawl back toward friendly forces. He had to avoid any villages and was forced to make his way through the jungle, eating anything he could find.

“Bugs and any crawling thing slow enough to catch…beetles, worms…I even ate mosquitos.”

After four days, he collapsed…and dimly remembered trying to cross a bridge as he was losing consciousness.

He was found by Americans, one hundred yards from the allied lines.


~ by theoxherd on January 6, 2013.

3 Responses to “S.O.P.”

  1. Wow. SOP = Awesome story!

  2. I’m reading Ghost Soldiers. The horrors and the uncertainty of life (or death) were terrible. SOP may not mean anything too much to us, but I believe could be a saving grace to some, then and now.

    • Thank you both for reading. We all have standards that guide us, but the difficult part seems to be the procedure. If only life came with directions.

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