Pay Day – 1972
One day when I was a Company Commander at Fort Benning, Georgia, in 1972, I was assigned to be the Post Duty Officer.
That meant that I had to stay up all night and then report to the Assistant Commandant of the Infantry School in the morning, a one star general, at his quarters. I had seen this man when he played in the First Army tennis tournament at West Point in the early 60s, when he had been a Tactical Officer for one of the cadet companies, and I reminded him of that fact when I spoke to him. I was a ball boy for several years at that tournament. He knew my name because it is very uncommon, and he assumed correctly that I was a son of the Dean at West Point. We had a very nice conversation. He ultimately became a four star general.
Ordinarily, I should have been able to go home and go to bed. But now it was pay day, the first of the month, so I drove from main post to the Harmony Church area, about ten miles away, to report for duty, get my Class A Agent Orders (allowing me to get my troops their money–everything was in cash back then) and check out my forty five caliber pistol and ammunition from the Weapons Room.
I had my assigned jeep driver bring me back to main post to the Finance Office to get the money to pay my soldiers. Once I was back in my Company area, I paid the soldiers who were there. But ten of my soldiers, one squad, were on an assignment in Atlanta, a hundred miles away.
Off went the jeep driver and me, first on Highway 27, a four lane divided highway, and then northeast on Georgia State Highway 85 (not to be confused with Interstate 85). I fell asleep a few minutes after we got on Highway 85, a two-lane road that wandered through one little town after another.
This is the same highway that I used to go the Army-Georgia Tech football game a few months later, speeding when I could because I only got the game ticket that Saturday morning, even though it had been mailed more than a week before from New York. I had a little over two hours to get to the stadium. I also had New York plates, and several local cops pulled up right on my tail as I went through their towns, daring me to speed up to put a little distance between my car and his. I drove the speed limit in those towns, but made up for it on open road. When it came time for me to renew my registration, I got Georgia plates. I got there for the invocation before the game, when the minister asked God to be just a wee bit on the side of Georgia Tech, who was a 30 point favorite. Army won the game.
Back to pay day. When the jeep driver braked suddenly and came to a screeching stop I was instantly alert.
In front of me I saw a pick-up truck forcing a car onto the shoulder of the two-lane highway. When both stopped, the driver of the pick-up hopped out with a shotgun in hand, ran around to driver’s side of the car, and stuck the shotgun inside.
To my young eyes, he looked to be at least seventy five. I could see that the passenger was a white haired woman, and the driver was a man, much younger. Then he fired. I don’t know exactly why I did it, but I leaped from the jeep, ran over to the pick-up truck driver, and wrested the shotgun from him. I’m not sure what he thought of me, dressed in an Army fatigue uniform and carrying a pistol, but he didn’t protest. I glanced into the car, and saw that neither person appeared to be hit.
I then ran into the middle of the highway, shotgun held high, and saw a sign that said that Waverly Hall was just ahead.
I stopped the first car that came upon us, and asked the driver to go fetch the police from Waverly Hall.
After a few minutes, he came back and said that the policeman wouldn’t come because it wasn’t his jurisdiction. After a few more minutes, that seemed like an eternity, a Georgia State Patrol car arrived, and asked what happened.
Before I could utter a word, the pick-up truck driver said, “You want to know what happened. This is what happened. This woman, who used to be a lady, is my wife. And this here is Jim. He does odd jobs for us from time to time. Well, three days ago the two of them took off, and I just caught up with them.” I then told the patrolman that I witnessed the truck driver firing into the car and that I took the shotgun from him, and that I was on the way to pay my soldiers in Atlanta, still seventy five miles away. I gave him the shotgun and my name and address, and asked if he needed a statement. He said he could handle it from here.
With that, the Waverly Hall policeman, the stereotypical small town Georgia cop—big frame, big sunglasses, bigger belly—drove up and swaggered out of his car. The Patrolman said to him with a sneer, “You! Get out of here.”
He departed, and so did we. We never heard any more about it.