To know him means you “got” his colloquialisms, his dry, sometimes sarcastic wit (I was a quick study). To know him means you understood what it was like to run away towards something good. And if it wasn’t “up to snuff,” you’d take advantage of the situation to make it so. He used to say, “If I tell you a rooster wears a pistol, look under it’s wing.” It meant, just like his grandfather intended, that he was truth-telling.
It’s 1946 and he’s telling you a piece of his story:
I was standing in my flight section of fifty-four men. All the ranking men had gone except for the second lieutenant, who was greener than a gourd. He was the squadron commander over everything, and he walked straight over to me and asked, “Soldier, you’ve done previous service, haven’t you?”
“No sir,” I said, standing in rigid attention and trying to figure out why he asked me that question.
“But you’ve had previous training, haven’t you?”
I thought real quick. Hell, I’d had previous training alright—previous training in ranching and sandwich making, not to mention in bank robbing conversations, fighting, and escaping. So I said, “Yes sir, I’ve had previous trainin’.”
I knew what he was thinking, so again I lied through my teeth and said, “ROTC, sir.” Every officer likes to hear that.
“Can you drill men?”
Shoot, I’d seen enough picture shows to know how to drill men. Any idiot can drill men. I’d been drilled all my life—told what to do, what not to do, when to do it to boot.
“Yes sir!” I said.
He called over the little corporal, pointed to me, and said, “This is your new assistant.”
I had no inkling of an idea of what it meant to be an assistant to a corporal, but I learned quickly enough. An “assistant” meant wearing a piss pot, a little blue helmet that identified you as an assistant just like a piece of tape with your name on it identified you as the newcomer at a Baptist revival.
Little Corporal put that piss pot on my head, and I marched those soldiers straight to the classroom. Then I went to the PX to drink some more coffee.
Cono Dennis (12-18-1928 – 6-24-2009)
My father. I knew him well.
(new logo for my children’s books)
Excerpt from No Hill for a Stepper by C. Dennis-Willingham