The piece of paper said “Discharged.” Doc had an awful pit in his stomach. This was the day he had fought so hard to avoid. But he had lost.
The fight started months before just after Captain Coville arrived at Warren Air Force Base. He was a career reservist and navigator specializing in B-52 bombers. He took and immediate dislike to Doc because of his independence.
For over a year Doc had no direct supervisor. He was running the office of Environmental Health all by himself. Doc used the regulations to maintain the administrative aspect of the job. His job performance rating was an over all seven. And in Air Force terms that was pretty good considering he was not technically in charge of his work area.
Captain Coville had not completed his training in Environmental Health. Everyone in the specialization had to attend the eleven-week course at Brooks Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. He came in and started directing Doc to do things that were not within the regulations. They ended up butting heads over this. And it was obvious Doc was going to lose.
“I don’t care what the Air Force says,” Captain Coville stated.
Doc just shook my head. They were at a missile silo. Doc had his hazardous materials suit on and was checking the regulator of the self contained breathing apparatus strapped to his back.
“So, let me get this straight,” he said looking at Captain Coville, “You want me to pour this jug of bleach in the sump?”
Captain Coville was red in the face as he replied to the question, “That’s what I just said to do!” He was angry with Doc for asking.
Earlier in the week their office had detected algae in the sump. According to Regulations the algae should not be there and it could clog up the pump during general use. Their job from there was to determine how algae were getting in the sumps water and then have civil engineering fix the problem.
Instead Captain Coville felt the most expedient way to deal with it was to go down below the rocket thrusters of the missile housed in the silo and pour a gallon of chlorine bleach into the sump. His theory was that the bleach would kill the algae and the problem would be solved.
He verbally reprimanded Doc on the day he proposed this solution. But Doc stood his ground and said, “That’s nothing more than a band aid.”
Captain Coville’s response was quick and loud, “You are this close to insubordination, mister!” Doc shut his mouth at that point.
Their next confrontation was over a stethoscope. For over a year Doc had been single handedly monitoring the various work environments of the base. This involved spot inspections and physical examinations for the personnel of those work areas.
During physical examinations he did a complete hearing, coordination and lung capacity test. That meant he spent a lot of time taking not only blood pressures but also listening to the breath sounds of patients. He had his stethoscope with him throughout the day.
The customary practice of all medics was to either put their stethoscope in their back pocket or to drape it over their neck when not in use. Doc did not like to fold his up and stuff it in his rear pocket. He preferred to drape it.
One day he was on his way to the flight surgeons office when he heard his name being called. It was Captain Coville.
Doc turned around, “Yes, sir.” He walked back towards him
“You’re out of uniform,” he said.
Doc stopped and looked down the front of his body. His nametag was on the correct side above the pocket. His gig line was straight. He looked to be in perfect order.
“Excuse me, sir?” Doc replied.
“You …are…out…of…uniform,” Captain Coville repeated. He spoke at a much slower pace.
“Where, sir?” Doc asked.
He pointed at Doc’s neck.
“That,” he as he pointed at the stethoscope Doc had draped over his neck. Doc immediately lifted the device from my neck. “I don’t want to see that on your neck again,” Captain Coville said, “Do you understand me?”
“Yes, sir,” Doc replied, “Where do you want to see it?” I could not help but antagonize him.
“You’re to carry it, not wear it understand?” He said.
“Carry it, not wear it,” Doc responded, “I understand, sir.”
With that he turned and headed back down the hallway towards his office. Doc continued down to the flight surgeons office
A couple of days later, Doc was coming out of the office when Captain Coville shouted his name again. “Come here!” he yelled.
Doc turned and walked up to him. “Yes-sir?” he asked. He could tell by the tone of the Captains voice that he had done something to displease him.
“Your out of uniform again, damn it!” he said in an angry voice. Again Doc checked himself over and found nothing.
“Where, sir?” he asked.
“That goddamned stethoscope!” the Captain responded.
Doc reached back to his right hip pocket and pulled it out. He looked at the officer with a puzzled expression. “I thought you said I could carry it?” he asked.
Captain Coville grew red in the face. “Right! Carry it. That means in your hand not in your pocket!”
“I’m sorry, sir, I misunderstood your instructions. “Doc replied.
Captain Coville turned away and marched down the hallway towards his office. Doc continued down to the flight surgeons office to complete the physical examination he was in process of doing.
A few minutes later Dave called Doc, “Make yourself scarce, Captain Coville’s got a letter of counseling for you to sign.” Doc hung up the telephone and sat there.
The next telephone call to the office was from the Captain. “I want you here, pronto. You’ve got two minutes.” He hung up the phone.
Doc grabbed his office keys and headed directly to the Captains office. When he got there, he stopped at this door and adjusted his uniform. Doc looked at his watch. He had a minute to go as he knocked on the office door.
He called out, “Enter.”
Doc opened the door and found Captain Coville standing behind his desk. It was cleared off except for one piece of paper. “When I say two minutes, I mean two minutes,” he yelled at him.
Doc did not reply. He just closed the door and stepped briskly to the front of his desk.
“Reporting as ordered,” Doc said as he came to attention and saluted.
Captain Coville did not acknowledge his salute so Doc held it. The Captain stood there and stared at Doc. He knew Doc would not speak until he acknowledged the salute. That is the custom within all branches of the military.
The enlisted person reporting to an officer always salutes and the officer responds by saluting back. Then the enlisted person comes to attention and is then able to answer questions.
After half a minute of glaring at him the Captain saluted Doc. He tossed his right hand up to his forehead and Doc dropped my salute.
“Yes, sir!” Doc shouted out.
“Yes, sir, what?” Captain Coville shouted back.
“Yes, sir, Captain” Doc responded.
“Yes, sir what?” he asked again.
“Sir, you asked if you had told me about wearing the stethoscope around my neck and in my back pocket,” Doc said. Then he added, “Yes, sir, you did.”
“Then you knowingly and directly disobeyed a lawful order,” he commented. Doc did not say a thing. Captain Coville reached down and pushed the piece of paper across the desk. “I want you to sign this,” he said.
Doc picked up the single page and read it. He being was counseled for wearing his stethoscope improperly and for listening to his supervisor.” Doc signed the document with out an argument.
About a week later Staff Sergeant Ross asked Doc, “Why don’t you take leave and go home for a while?”
Doc shook his head and said, “I don’t have enough time saved up.”
“Well I can call the Red Cross and arrange leave through them,” Sergeant Ross replied back.
“Okay,” Doc responded.
He just got off the telephone with his Dad. His father told him that he had begun treatment for cancer of the colon. Doc was floored by the idea that his Dad had cancer.
Then he laid a bombshell on the young man. He told Doc that he and his Mom were separated. Suddenly Doc’s family was falling apart and his Dad was deadly sick. All he could do was sit there at his desk and reel from the shock.
“This is all I need,” he thought.
Doc recounted the incidents of the past few weeks where he had received several letters of counseling as well as letters of reprimand. He had a new non-commissioned officer in the office named Sergeant Mitchell and Captain Coville was still riding him at every turn.
Everyone around Doc could see the way things were going. He found himself eating lunch and dinner alone. Others would get up and leave if when he sat down with them. They were afraid to associate themselves with Doc. They feared that he would take them down with him. Doc felt increasingly isolated and depressed.
The topper, before the news about his Dads illness and the family problems had been being forced to move back onto base. Dave and Doc had tried to live off base but because of a series of financial set backs they had to move back to the dorms.
Staff Sergeant Ross worked directly for Captain Coville so Doc should have suspected something. However he offered to get leave for the desperate young man through the Red Cross and at that moment in his life Doc would have accepted help from anyone who offered.
Within days Doc found himself on a C-130 aircraft on the way home. He had two weeks of emergency leave and was planning to use it all. Doc sat and reflected on the events of the past two weeks.
“I’m glad I caught you, Doc,” It was Sergeant Cheryl Crady.
She worked in the doctors’ office across the hallway from him and asked, “I want to know if you can watch our house while were on leave?”
“Yeah, I can do that,” Doc answered. Then he asked, “When are you and Robert leaving?”
“Next week,” she said.
Two days later she came across the hallway and let Doc know her house keys were missing. She told him that she believed Airmen Blair had taken them. “We’re going to get the locks changed,” she said. “Are you still going to watch the house for us?” Again, Doc told her yes.
Two days later she came back across the hallway to Doc’s office to let him know that she had found her keys. “I’m going to give you mine, now” she said. She handed me the key. “We’ll be gone tomorrow through next Friday.”
By this time Doc’s emergency leave had been arranged. “Cheryl, I won’t be here when you get back, I’m going on leave too.” Doc told her.
She frowned at him and asked; “You can’t watch the house then?”
“Yeah, I can,” Doc answered, “But only until Wednesday evening.”
“Oh,” she commented, “Well, I tell you what then, before you leave give the key to Sergeant Reich.”
Reich worked with Cheryl’s husband. In fact Staff Sergeant Crady was Sergeant Reich’s supervisor. It seemed natural that he should get the key.
The Crady’s left on schedule and so did Doc. And just as planned he gave the Mann’s house key to Sergeant Tanner.
After a week of leave Doc decided to go to Requa Air Force Station and call Dave. He wanted to see how Dave was doing and what was going on. Doc used the closed circuit telephone system that inter-links all bases together.
He dialed Dave’s extension. Dave picked up the phone on the second ring. “Hi, Dave,” Doc said.
There was a long pause before he answered. “Hello Doc,” he stuttered. Then he added, “You’re in big trouble, Doc.”
Doc hesitated to ask him why.
Finally Doc did and Dave informed him that First Sergeant Fife and First Lieutenant had found some stolen property belonging to Staff Sergeant Mann in his dorm room.
“You need to get back here quickly and clear this up,” Dave said finally.
Things had just gotten worse.
Now Doc stood accused of theft according to Dave. His mind was swimming with the picture of his being arrested and led away to the brig.
The last seven days of his emergency leave were long and drawn out. Doc decided not to tell anyone about his problems. There were enough difficulties at home already.
He boarded the commercial airliner filled with dread. Doc did not know what to expect upon his return to the base.
Doc had secretly called Dave three more times that week to find out further developments. He had even called Master Sergeant Fife to talk to him.
He just said, “We’ll talk when you get back.”
Doc met with Captain Olsen soon after he arrived back to Warren Air Force. He was assigned as Military Legal Counsel for the case. One of the first things Captain Olsen asked Doc was, “Why did you steal the stuff?”
Doc responded with,” I didn’t steal anything!”
“Don’t give me any of that crap,” he replied, “And don’t tell me you’ve been set up!”
Doc’s eyes widened and his jaw went slack because that is exactly what he had been thinking. His heart sank as he sat there and realized he had been assigned to a lawyer who had obviously been through this before. Doc was just another soldier caught up in a bad pattern.
“So what do you want me to do?” Doc asked after a long silence.
“I want you to tell me the truth,” he shot back.
“Well, sir, I guess I have nothing to say to you since you’ve already convicted me,” Doc finally said.
There was another long silence between the Captain and his client.
“If you have nothing to say then you’re dismissed,” he said.
Doc stood and saluted him, The Captain responded with a salute. Doc turned and left his office.
Once in his room, Doc just sat on the edge of his bed. The sun was down and the room was dark before he moved. He was severely depressed and he had no one to talk too about what was happening.
The following day, Doc was called in to the First Sergeant’s office to look at the evidence that had been collected.
“Is this yours?” Sergeant Drum asked as he held up a plastic bag containing a small instrument bag.
It was a black bag no bigger than a woman’s hand purse.
Doc shook his head, no. Then he spoke,”I’ve never seen it before.”
“Okay,” the Master Sergeant continued.
Then he lifted up another plastic bag. In it was a black square shaped pouch. Doc recognized it immediately. It was the otoscope his Dad had given him nearly two years previously.
Again he asked, “Is this yours?”
“Yes, it is,” Doc quickly responded.
The Master Sergeant raised his eyebrows in surprise.
“Oh?” he questioned, “How do you know it’s yours?”
“Because it looks exactly like the one my Dad gave me,” Doc answered.
“Can you prove it’s yours?” he continued to press.
“Yes, sir, I think I can, if you’ll open the case,” Doc responded.
He opened the plastic bag and removed the black case and laid it on the desk in front of Doc.
Then he said, “Prove it.”
Doc opened the case by flipping the lid up exposing the silver instrument it contained. He lifted the scope out of its molded holder and exposed the writing underneath it. It was his name and address from his home in California.
The First Sergeants eyes widened at Doc’s proof. He reached over and took the scope out of his hand and placed it back in the case. Fife sealed the case and put it back it to the plastic bag.
Finally he picked the last bag he had on the right hand corner of his desk. In it Doc could tell it was a piece of cloth that had been folded multiple times.
“Do you know what this is?” he asked.
“No, sir, no idea,” Doc answered.
“This is a tapestry that I found in the dresser in your room,” he said. Then he added, “How did it get there, any ideas?”
Doc nodded his head slowly up and down.
“Well, tell me,” he demanded.
“You or somebody who works for you,” Doc said.
The First Sergeant turned red in the face, “Why you little son of a bitch! Are you calling me a thief?”
“No, sir,” Doc shot back, then he added,” I never, said you stole anything. I said you or somebody who works for you put it there.”
“Don’t get smart assed with me mister,” he stated.
Doc cut him off, “Or what, I’ll get kicked out of the Air Force?”
Then the young man grew indignant, “and further more Sergeant Fife, my mother is a decent person, not a bitch. You make another nasty remark about her and I’ll jump your ass right here. Do you understand me?”
Doc stared straight into the blue eyes of the older man.
“Christ, son I wish you would,” he growled at Doc. However he never made another comment about Doc’s family.
By this time Doc had pretty well figured he was in a no-win situation. He was going to be kicked out and that he had nothing else to lose at this point. He decided it was time to go for broke.
“Sarge, tell you this. I live in Senior Airman Walters’s old room. He’s your tittless WAF and has access to the entire dorm. He’s buddy-buddy with Tanner who works with Mann. He’s also a pal with Pool who was accused of stealing the Mann’s key before they went on leave. Finally I know that you, Frasier, Berman and Mann are all hunting buddies. Can I make it any clearer for you?” Doc finished.
Master Sergeant Drum sat and listened. He was pale looking
Then Doc added, “Another thing, I read what Tanner had to say in his letter. He says that he saw the tapestry. It was in the bag but never removed yet he was able to identify that it had lions on it. How is that?” Doc was mad and on a roll. “Plus he had a key—that I handed over to him—to the Mann’s’ pig sty.” Doc leaned back on his heels momentarily and stared back at the First Sergeant.
Finally the First Sergeant said, “Get the hell out of my office. The next time I see you it’ll be at your court martial.” Without bothering to say anything or use any facing moves or even come to attention, Doc left the orderly room immediately.
Once in the hospital corridors he felt suddenly ill to his stomach. His legs became weak and grew shaky. Doc had just played his hand and now it was their turn.
“You’re relieved of your duties,” Captain Coville said as Doc stood in front of his desk. “You’re to report to First Sergeant Drum. He’ll assign you to your detail.”
Doc’s stomach turned sour as he thought about the implications of this move. He was being removed from his job and the office and he had no idea where he might be working from day to day.
Worse yet, Doc was now in the hands of First Sergeant Drum. He could assign Doc to wash vehicles or cut grass or even clean urinals. He realized that they were now going to attempt to break what was left of his stubborn spirit.
It had been fighting back that had sustained his spirit. Doc had a typewriter and a telephone. The combination was his allies. Now they were going to take them away from him.
That change left Doc emotionally unbalanced. He felt even more unbalanced by the very idea that he would have little idea where he might be working from day to day let alone what I would be doing on a daily basis.
He slowly walked down the long hallway from Captain Coville’s office. His path took him passed the hospital wards where he had spent many of his off duty hours helping the nursing staff with the little stuff like getting extra pillows or assisting with bed pans for patients.
Sometimes Doc just stopped to talk to the patients. He felt sad, wishing that he could have someone to talk with at that very moment.
Continuing down the hallway and after making the right hand turn past the wards, Doc walked by the Mental Health Office. He reflected back to the week before when he had his appointment with Major Gavaskar.
“So you here because you steal stuff?” he asked in a thick East Indian accent.
“I have no idea why I am here, “Doc replied back. Their interview lasted for only five minutes. He asked a series of questions regarding Doc’s childhood then dismissed the beleaguered young man.
The following day Doc was told he had an appointment with Captain Anthony Ledbetter. His first question was, “So you know your getting kicked out of the service, right?”
Doc answered, “It looks that way.”
Then he surprised Doc by asking, “So can I have your uniforms?”
Doc was not polite when he told him that he could not. That interview did not last long either. Again Doc was asked more questions about his family life. He left that meeting angry.
Doc turned the doorknob to the Orderly Room. First Sergeant Drum was in the middle of the room. He was talking to Sergeant Berman. They stopped and both looked at him. “Good,” Sergeant Drum said. The tone of his voice was mischievous.
Within minutes Doc was standing in front of the building’s operation supervisor. He was a civilian and he was telling Doc what he expected him to do for the next seven hours. He asked, “Do you know how to push a lawn mower?”
“Yes, sir, I do,” Doc answered.
“Good, let’s get out to the ambulance bay and get busy,” he concluded.
For the next three weeks Doc worked at whatever task needed completion. He painted dorm rooms, mowed the lawn, scrubbed pots and pans, cleaned toilets and washed vehicles.
The time alone gave him an opportunity to think.
Some days were clear as he realized what he needed to do next. Other days were filled with anger and bitter hatred. They had set this up to break him, to force him to swallow his pride and possibly cause him to admit to something Doc had not done.
Several times Lt. Frasier and Captain Coville reminded Doc that all he needed to do was admit that he had stolen the things from the Mann’s. But his time working alone gave him a chance to think this over. It would be so easy to do and then he might be able to salvage what was left of his military career.
But Doc’s conclusion was always the same; he would never admit to something he had not done.
None of the pieces fit in Doc’s way of thinking. And it seemed that he was the only thinking about that. He had gone from having an over all performance rating of seven to a three.
He was a member of the Base Ceremonial and Honor Teams. He had supervised himself for over a year in an office that needed more than one person working in it.
Doc volunteered for extra duty in the emergency room and on the nursing wards. He was trusted to conduct sensitive interviews with regard to sexually transmitted diseases.
And now he was being made out to be a thief. None of it made sense.
Finally, Doc received the official paperwork that concluded that he had misappropriated the Mann’s’ personal items. That’s what the piece of paper read: misappropriation.
“What does that mean?” he asked Captain Olsen.
“It means they have investigated you and have concluded that they don’t have enough to charge you out right with theft,” he answered.
The last two times Doc had met with the attorney he had listened and given him advice. The first piece was to keep his mouth shut. “You’ve already said too much,” he commented. Then he added, “Don’t let them know what you’re up to or what you are thinking.”
“What if I’m asked a direct question?” Doc started to ask.
Captain Olsen cut him off, “Then tell them this—say it exactly—“On the advice of my legal counsel I cannot answer that question.”
The second piece of advice was to reply to the charges. Doc wanted to stay in the service and he needed to tell why.
At first, Lt. Frasier had pressed for a full court martial. Doc told him to bring it on. Now he was going for a discharge. Captain Olsen concluded that the emotional out burst towards the First Sergeant had caused them to rethink their position.
“A court martial can be fought,” the lawyer said. “And everything is on the record. A discharge can be handled more quietly. It’s off the record and harder to fight,” he finished.
It took Doc three days to finish writing his formal reply to the discharge being brought against him. He had locked it up in the top drawer of his desk to which he had been reassigned after it was decided that he was not being demoralized by doing physical labor.
The next day Doc was called into Staff Sergeant Berman’ office, where Lt. Frasier, Captain Coville and Master Sergeant Drum each held a copy of his reply in their hand.
“This is nothing but lies,” Staff Sergeant Berman said as he waved the document in Doc’s face. For the next two hours his reply was torn apart point by point by each of these men.
Immediately following this meeting Doc telephoned Captain Olsen. “You get down here, ASAP,” he practically shouted over the receiver.
As soon as Doc hung up the phone he called Captain Coville and told him that his attorney wanted to see me immediately. “Over my dead body,” he said and he slammed the phone in Doc’s ear.
Doc called Captain Olsen back and told him he could not leave because Captain Coville forbids it. He said he would take care of it.
Doc hung up the phone and sat there with the knowledge Captain Coville would be in the office at his desk in a few moments. “Your ass isn’t going any where,” he shouted as he stepped in the doorway. Just as he completed the statement the telephone rang.
“Is Captain Coville there yet?” the voice calmly asked. It was Colonel Hu.
“Yes, sir,” Doc said. He handed the telephone to Captain Coville, saying, “It’s for you Captain.”
He took in and brusquely said,” Yeah, what is it?”
Then his tone of voice changed. He grew more polite and civilized as he answered Colonel Hu’s questions.
He hung up the telephone and looked at Doc, “Get your ass out of my office, now!” The force of his yelling caused him to fall against Doc and he physically pushed the young man away and out the door into the hallway.
Doc walked across the base as quickly as he could. He fought back the tears that flowed freely as he entered and sat down in front of Captain Olsen. It had finally happened, they had broken him.
His ability to control his emotions had finally reached the point that he could no longer hold them in check. It had taken all Doc could do to keep from striking out at Captain Coville.
After Doc settled down and had gained control of his emotional out burst, Captain Olsen directed a question at him “Would you like me to engineer an Honorable Discharge for you?”
He was asking Doc his opinion. He wanted to know what Doc felt about this.
He went on to explain, “This stress isn’t going to let up and you’ll never get off this base. They’ll ride you till you do something stupid. Let me put a stop to it right now,” he said.
His voice was soft and gentle. There was no business in his tones. He was leaning forward with head cocked to one side as if listening intently for Doc’s answer. He made direct eye contact.
Doc’s head was hurting and his nose was running. His eyes burned and he knew they were blood shot and swollen. He sat there and thought about his question and the reasoning behind it. The Captain sat there and waited patiently for Doc to come to his decision.
The younger man blew out a large breath and nodded his head up and down. Finally, he mustered the courage to say, “Yes, if it can be Honorable”
Suddenly Doc felt a great weight lift. The burden he had been carrying around was gone. He sat there in this leather seat and contemplated the gravity of that final decision. Finally Captain Olsen said, “Go wash up and straighten your uniform.”
Doc left his office and headed to the men’s room. He looked at himself in the mirror as he splashed water in his face to relieve the burning eyes. “It’s going to be alright now,” he told himself.
Within 48-hours Doc was on a commercial flight heading home. In his bag, he had a cream and brown colored piece of paper that said, “Discharged.” This was the day that he had fought so hard to avoid. And he had lost.