I do, Sergeant. I say it quickly so I don’t lose my nerve.
The strutting sergeant had asked “Anybody want to quit?” I had volunteered for Force Recon, the special forces of the Marine Corps, the elite of the elite—or so they wanted all of us to believe. I had had a life-affirming moment of lucidity, a not-to-be-doubted vision. Now I had to speak out. His strutting stopped. He turns and glares at me.
I do, Sergeant. I say it louder.
“Come up here, Marine!” Sergeant Strut commands.
I walk smartly to the stage. Yes, Sergeant, I shout. It doesn’t hurt that I am 6-foot-3 and arrow thin, more fit than I have ever been. The only eccentricity to my classic Marine-persona was the black, thick eyeglasses on my face—nearsighted, badly, since birth. The stage he stands on is about shoulder high to me. He approaches its edge, his spit-shined boots glisten, inches from my face.
“What’s wrong with my recon, son?” he asks quietly, squatting down and speaking a venomous imitation of slithering fatherliness. My desire to quit had grabbed him: He sounded hurt, his bluster busted. He doesn’t want my behavior to spread, an un-scared influenza, devastating his authoritarian world of bossing kids around.
Sergeant, I don’t think this is for me. I didn’t mention that my moment of lucidity had shown me that were I to go to Vietnam as a recon Marine, I would die there, absolutely—beyond any doubt whatsoever. I knew that such a confession of clarity would just confuse the poor man.
He rears to full height and screams, like I have bashed him in the balls. “Get the fuck out of here, you flaming asshole. Who let you in my goddamn Marine Corps, anyway?”
I spin around and walk out quickly, trying not to smile. It was the first of many battles, most of which I lose.