The scene: a sultry Friday evening during the summer of 1990 (early July, if I recall correctly) at Camp Lejeune in coastal North Carolina.
The players: five Marine corporals—Kruger (the guest of honor), Holst, Craig, Bob and, yours truly, the Foggy Dew.
The situation: a lot of beer, some bad judgment and an exceptionally poor sense of direction.
The event: Kruger’s farewell as he bids the Corps goodbye after four years of faithful service. He’s heading home to Wisconsin for some well-earned fishing and not being in the Marine Corps.
Don’t get me wrong, we all loved being Marines but, like all Marines everywhere on their first enlistment, we also loved the idea of getting out of the Marine Corps. When you hit the six-months-to-go mark, tradition allowed you to put up a calendar and begin marking off the days, and Kruger’s was down to his last weekend at Lejeune.
To celebrate Kruger’s gettin’ out the decision was made, and this is going to sound pretty stupid and lame but it wasn’t, to head up to the bowling alley on base to roll a couple frames while partaking $1.50 22-ounce beers.
Many. Many. $1.50 22-ounce beers. In fact, we were doing more drinkin’ than rollin’. When you’re a Marine corporal, well, that’s a pretty good Friday night. Beer, bowling and buddies.
About halfway through the evening the best, truest and most prophetic line my ears have ever heard was spoken.
“Hey Kruger, ya know what? Ya know what’s gonna happen now?”
Slurp some beer and add silly/nasty grin.
“You’re gonna be home in Wisconsin gettin’ ready to celebrate your last day of terminal and somebody, somewhere in some Godforsaken place is gonna throw a war.”
More beer. More taunting:
“You’re gonna wake up on your last day of terminal to the phone ringing and it’s gonna be Capt. Whathisnuts telling you to come on back ‘cause we’re deploying some fuckin’ place.”
“Go fuck yer’selves [Dew/Holst/Bob/Craig]," Kruger said with a terrified look, "If that shit happens, Whathisnuts is gonna get my answering machine telling him I’m in Canada fishing.”
Well, we all know how this story ends. About three weeks later, on Aug. 2, 1990, the late Saddam Hussein decides he really needs Kuwait’s oil more than the Kuwaitis do and invades. A massive coalition is built and Saddam is asked nicely several times to leave Kuwait. He refuses all of these polite requests. He and his “elite” army then get their collective asses kicked out of Kuwait and southern Iraq and the guys leaving Kuwait City then have the shit bombed out of them on the “Highway of Death” heading back to Baghdad.
Kruger did, in fact, get called back from his terminal leave, but he didn’t deploy with the rest of us. He ended up staying at Lejeune to nurse maid a whole bunch of FNGs who joined our unit, but didn’t get there in time to share in the glory of our great victory over the Iraqi army.
[Note: They say if you have to explain a joke it’s not funny, but really, this is. Why? Well, a little background on enlisting in the American military: When you hear about folks joining up for three, four or five years, it’s all a lie. They’ve all joined for eight years whether they know it or not. Part of it’s active (the three, four or five years), and part of it’s inactive (the five, four or three years remaining to equal eight). It’s this inactive time that scares the shit out of you because, until it's all over, they still own your ass. You’re the first poor sonofabitch they’re calling back when they need extra bodies. To hell with the Reserve and National Guard, the inactive ready reserve guys have all been on active duty and all, generally, know what they’re doing. This is what’s happened and is happening to a lot of guys today (stop loss), and this is exactly what happened to Kruger. And, being Marines who are deploying to a war zone, well, we all laughed and laughed at Kruger’s plight. Just like Animal Mother said in Full Metal Jacket, “Better you than me.”]
So, on to the TMI part of our evening’s entertainment.
The five of us staggered back to our barracks and hit the rack. Tomorrow was Saturday and we had some more drinkin' to do.
I fall into my rack (nautical terminology for bed) and the world promptly starts spinning like a 33 LP at 78 rpm. “Jane, stop this crazy thing…”
Then the little elf in the control room in my brain is hitting the emergency release button for every pressure relief valve between my lower intestine and my sinuses.
A lightning fast decision loop is started and completed and the answer’s not good: I’ll never make it to the head (nautical terminology for bathroom) in time…but hey, the floor’s tile, I’m already facing the open floor in the middle of my room and I've got a mop in the corner and I can just clean it up in the morning.
In retrospect this was a good, logical solution to my dire situation. Unfortunately, the decision was based on one badly flawed premise: That I was facing the open side of my rack and toward the center of my room…but like the clock on the nuke in any Bond movie, my time was running out.
The decision had been made. The switch closed. The flow reversed.
Yep, I gloriously puked up $10 worth of $1.50 beers at point blank range toward a cinder block wall. Six 22-ounce beers = more than a gallon of cold, golden goodness, in case yer interested. It’s one of those moments you now briefly wish you had on video, and are then immediately glad you don’t because your kids will never be able to find it while digging around the attic of your hard drive.
The amazing thing was when I cracked my eyes open the next morning I looked out into my room expecting to see a pool of slowly cooling and congealing vomit. But I saw nothing.
I was confused. Very. Very confused.
“Maybe the puke elves visited in the night and cleaned up for me,” I thought. “Or, maybe…wait a minute, what the hell is that smell? Why’s the wall covered in…awwww, crap, it’s all coming back now.”
I made myself get up right then to clean up the mess. Aside from cheeseburgers, lots of water and a handful of Motrin, there ain’t much on God's green earth that’ll kill a hangover faster than having to clean up your own puke at 8 a.m.
Thankfully it’s pretty easy to clean still-damp puke from painted cinder block and linoleum tile. While I still would have like to have aimed 180 degrees in the other direction, at least in aiming at the wall I kinda contained the mess and it was a lot easier to clean up.
Still wasn't no fun, though.