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The Only Lieutenant

The Only Lieutenant

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The Only Lieutenant

274 pages
4 heures
Apr 19, 2014


A young physician Jesse Jamison enters his obligated service in the U.S. Army as a First Lieutenant during the peacetime lull between the Korean and Vietnam Wars. Working in a poorly-heated antiquated dispensary building, he tries to improve working conditions by alterations to the building. His corpsman and a military carpenter achieve the change, but in so doing incur multiple minor catastrophes such as a small electrical fire and an allergic reaction to fire ant stings. Repeated surreptitious alterations of the dispensary sign to read a vulgar epithet nag the staff constantly. Jamison's work load is relieved by the addition of another medical officer to the dispensary staff. But this also produces additional complications since the new officer is a female, and jealous suspicions on the part of Jamison's wife escalate to the point of her departure to visit her mother. The chief corpsman in the dispensary along with his poker-playing buddies from the motor pool succeed in obtaining scrapped army vehicles including a jeep, truck and finally a tank. Their ingenuity parlays the vehicles into a real business, i.e. "Tank, Inc." by getting army contracts to remove condemned buildings, involving the public with a fund drive to benefit the local hospital and finally to demolish a downtown building using explosives. Jamison fishes with his buddies, frets over the antics of his enlisted men at a local strip joint, and goes on field duty to fight a flood. He manages to save his marriage, and survives his tour of duty by truly serving, but leaves a minor legacy of mischief.

Apr 19, 2014

À propos de l'auteur

A third generation Mississippian, John Fenwick Jackson is a retired University teaching physician and is author or co-author of over 100 scientific medical journal articles, book chapters and a medical genetics book. He grew up hunting and fishing the Yockanookany River, swam in creeks and played cornet in the school band. He attended Ole Miss and Tulane School of Medicine, had a residency in Internal Medicine and a postdoctoral cancer research fellowship at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. He joined the faculty of Tulane, did a postdoctoral fellowship year in medical genetics at Uppsala University in Sweden. Returning to the UMMC faculty, he established the first cytogenetics laboratory in Mississippi. John is a founding fellow of the American College of Medical Genetics, and retired as Professor and Chairman of the Department of Preventive Medicine. He and his wife Mary have two daughters, Karen and Jean, a son Marshall, four grandchildren and one great grandson. He and Mary live in Jackson, MS, where he tends to a tree farm a couple of miles from the Pearl River. He paints, builds gourd banjos and banjolas in his backyard workshop, and occasionally writes. Pearl River is his first novel.

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The Only Lieutenant - John Jackson

The Only Lieutenant

A novel by

John F. Jackson

Smashwords Edition

This book is fiction. Characters, events, places, and public persons are either from the author’s imagination or used fictitiously.

Copyright 2014 John F Jackson

Chapter 1

PEACETIME U.S.A. The Korean War was long gone and Viet Nam had yet to blossom. But war raged - a private war between First Lieutenant Jesse Jamison and the U.S. Army system. The Army at Fort Clarkson had guns, tanks and cannon. Jamison had intellect, guile and cunning. If copiers and word-processors had existed, Jamison would have won the war hands down.

In his mind, Jamison had made a careful distinction. He himself was part of the Army. Married to the Medical Corps in a shotgun wedding, he was an obligated volunteer, a euphemism for doctor draftee. As promised, his acceptance of a commission had not interrupted medical school or internship (the carrot). In return, the Army had a contract (the stick) that Jamison would serve two years - whenever. He felt lucky to have avoided Korea where a friend from college ROTC had been a prisoner of war. Jamison was merely a prisoner of the Army system.

The Army itself was good. The Army operating system was evil. Jamison had taken a pledge to fight disease.

And evil.

Evil raised its ugly head. From his far-most office in the 402nd medical dispensary, Jamison heard a distant command out in the waiting room:


Jamison recognized the voice of Sergeant Swoboda bellowing out his best impression of a drill sergeant. Knowing that corpsman Swoboda only called attention when a visiting officer entered the dispensary, Jamison thought:

New trouble.

The call to attention was hardly necessary. For only one soldier sat in the dispensary waiting room. He was slouched far down in his chair way over in the corner sound asleep. At the HUT! he tried to stand at attention. But his boot heels pinned the tail of his GI overcoat to the floor. The soldier’s sudden leap upward jerked short, ending in a sloppy back-dive. The resulting crash noisily demolished three military-straight pews of folding chairs. The poor guy made one unsuccessful attempt to disentangle himself, then simply eased back into his metal nest.

Jamison’s perceived territorial invasion was reinforced by hearing the loud crash. Noise that sounded like chairs being thrown about the waiting room.

Double trouble.

Jamison jammed a tin ashtray into a C-file to mark his place. He was thinking how he hated to move his feet off the desk. Cold as a polar bear down on the floor. But have to go see what disaster lurks up front. Before he could move, Jamison heard Major Twofoot answer Swoboda’s call to attention.

At ease. Twofoot answered command for command.

Swoboda relaxed his straight-back, chin-on-chest posture. His stance had been A-okay. Everything except for a slight paunch overlapping his shiny, brass belt buckle. What brings the executive officer for Fort Clarkson’s Medical Corps over to our humble abode? Addressing Major Twofoot, Swoboda quickly sneaked a side-long glance at the downed soldier. Am I to assume this is a formal inspection?

You know me better than that, Swoboda.

Yes, sir. We been together quite a while. Swoboda pointed to the re-enlistment hash-marks parading down his left sleeve. Docs come and go. Troops ship out. But corpsmen are forever.

Yeah, yeah. Forever full of bullshit. Twofoot switched off Swoboda’s blarney. Lieutenant in his office?

Good morning, Major Twofoot. Jamison answered for himself as he emerged into the waiting room and saluted. Twofoot, an administrator, wore Medical Service Corps lapel insignia. MSC guys take the paperwork load off us docs, Jamison thought. Twofoot respects us, though. Even docs he outranks by several grades - like me.

Lieutenant Jamison. Twofoot returned a casual salute. Came over to chat about a few things. Wanted to warn you about the Colonel’s surprise formal inspection Monday. Keeping the Colonel happy keeps us all happy. He gave the soldier on the floor a cursory glance. Looks like you need warning.

Right. Swoboda jerked a thumb toward the soldier in the pile of chairs. He won’t be here Monday.

He looks a little young - and a little dirty - for your usual patient. Twofoot gave a longer look. One of the new recruits in basic training?

Right again, sir. Don’t mind a little ass-kissing in the right places, Swoboda thought as he watched the boy untangle his legs from the chairs. He was on duty last night to shovel coal for the 402nd furnaces. Took pity on him and let him have a little nap after sick call was over.

Glad you’re not sending him overseas quite yet. Twofoot rubbed his chin. You think he shaves?

Don’t need to shave. But his drill sergeant makes him shave every day - need it or not.

Think he’s hurt? Jamison pointed to the soldier.

Guess not, Doc, Swoboda observed. He’s movin’ all his arms and legs.

Twofoot ignored Jamison’s concerned look and began again. Back to the Colonel’s surprise inspection for Monday. Now, don’t go getting worried. He never uses white gloves in a dirty old left-over WWII wooden building like this. You need to know about it is all. His words blessed Swoboda, who was thinking that he knew which side of his bread to butter.

That and a couple of other things, Twofoot continued. Have you been looking out your window this morning?

How’d he know I’d been staring out the window? Jamison thought. Yes, sir.

What did you see? Twofoot’s smile faded.

Same as usual. Basic trainees drilling. Jamison could hear distant sounds of hup, twoop, threep, fourp and a platoon of boot-steps confirming his answer. What else?

Not on that side of the building. The major pointed away from sounds of marching and walked in the direction his finger indicated. On the other side.

All three men walked to the window and looked out as Twofoot continued his inquisition. What do you see now?

Nothing new. Jamison peered out the window hoping for some revelation. But there was only the same old sign advertising the 402nd dispensary. And a street beyond. The trainee in the oversized overcoat finally extricated himself from the tangle of chairs. Giving in to his curiosity, he eased quietly over to join the group. Four pairs of eyes stared out the window.

Swoboda, what do you see? Twofoot was going to grill Swoboda first.

The coal-dust kid raised a finger as if to point. Not you, soldier. Twofoot cut him off and turned back to the sergeant. Swoboda! U.S.Army general orders. If it moves...?

Salute it. Swoboda stared even harder.

If it doesn’t move?

Move it.

If you can’t move it?

Paint it. Swoboda frowned and paused. ...I don’t get what you’re driving at, sir. You talkin’ about the sign? Ain’t nothin’ else out there except some white-washed rocks.

People never really look at what they see day in and day out. Twofoot kept looking out the window. Look good at the sign.

Top line reads 402nd Overseas Replacement Station. Swoboda continued reading aloud. ... Medical Dispensary.

The kid was holding back a snicker when Jamison finally saw it. A black squiggle had been added to the bottom of the zero in 402nd. Jamison was trying to suppress a laugh because the major looked so serious. He gave the next clue. Read the numbers aloud Swoboda.

Four, zero, two, Swoboda replied. No. The zero looks like a Q. It reads 4... Q... 2.

Faster, Jamison prompted.

Four-Q-Two. Swoboda ran it all together, then paused in anger. ...Some ungrateful sonovabitch vandalized our sign. If I find him, he’ll be on KP for the duration.

Your sign change was already reported to us over at main post dispensary, Twofoot advised. Thought you’d want to fix it before inspection.

Right. Gotta keep the Colonel happy. Jamison scratched his head. Smart-ass may already be overseas. We didn’t start him on his way, though. His original unit did. Not our fault.

What do you know about this, soldier? Swoboda caught a half-smile on the kid’s face.

Nothin’ sarge. The kid’s eyes widened to white cue-balls with blue irises. And his smile evaporated. Absolutely nothin’. Never even noticed it ‘till the major made us look. He further insisted on his innocence. It was after dark - midnight - when I got the furnace detail.

I believe you, soldier. Jamison quickly sided with the kid, thinking: The kid was the first of us to spot the meaning of the change. But no raw recruit would have the guts to do it. Had to be some disgruntled guy about to ship out. Now we know none of us really look at the damn sign. Just how long do you think it’s been that way? Jamison asked.

Dunno. Major Twofoot still stared at the little curlicue. Corporal on mail duty told me about it. Dropped his letters under the sign when he slipped on some ice this morning. Saw it when he picked them up. He thought it was pretty funny. Stopped laughing when I reminded him about penalties for defacing government property.

Fix it right now myself. Sergeant Swoboda walked over to his desk. From the middle drawer, he retrieved a box of rough, GI-low-bidder, white paper masquerading as facial tissues.

The remaining trio inside watched Swoboda walk outside and over to the sign. He wiped the spot and inspected his tissue for wet paint. Shrugged. Pulling a red-handled knife from his pocket, he opened a blade and scraped the squiggle vigorously. The Q magically reverted to zero. Swoboda returned proudly to the waiting room. Been there a while. Wouldn’t rub off. Scraped off easy.

You better go tend furnaces, Jamison advised the kid. Jamison’s feet were getting colder by the minute. Be a shame to have one of the fires go out after you kept them going all night. As the soldier started to walk away, Jamison saw a slight limp. Wait a minute. Go back to my office and wait for me. Need to look at your leg. Second office on the left.

It ain’t nothin’, doc.

Do it anyway. Jamison pointed to the hallway, then reached down and pulled up his socks.

Jamison! Looking at Jamison’s socks, Twofoot vocalized a rising tone. "You are out of uniform. Red socks?"

You’re first to notice, major. Jamison let his trousers sag off his waist to hide the socks. My wife knitted them and they’re warmer than any black ones I can find.

Just don’t wear ‘em Monday. The major put a hand to his forehead. Oh, almost forgot. Some good news... and bad news.

Give us the first part. Good news I like, Jamison replied.

The good news is we’re getting another doc for that front office you’ve been saving.

Hallelujah! Jamison exclaimed, making his hands into a prayer temple. He looked briefly skyward, then at Twofoot, What’s the bad news?

She won’t be here until after basic training.

How long? I need help like last month, Jamison was thinking.

Don’t know exactly.

Wait! It had finally hit Jamison. Wait a minute! Did you say ‘SHE’?


But I remember... All that hoopla down at Fort Sam... first female Medical Corps doctor... She can’t be coming here... Can she? Jamison was trying to remember facts and frame an intelligent question at the same time.

Nope. This is another one. No big news splash this time. You do want her, don’t you? I could assign her somewhere else.

No! Yes! I mean I need her... Unless.

Make up your mind. Thought I was doing you a big favor.

You are... You are. Jamison was thinking fast but talking slow. ... She’s not some trouble-maker set to invade a man’s Army, is she?

Don’t know. Haven’t talked to her. Rather have her here in your dispensary if she is, though. That could be a more of a problem in an infantry outfit. Twofoot pushed his advantage. Of course, infantry need doctors, too.

I want her. We got sick call... Jamison held his hand in Twofoot’s face counting off fingers. Then exams for the guys with physical profiles that don’t match their MOS’s; the shot line; and then main dispensary dependent clinic. Jamison could see Swoboda nodding agreement, then added, We’re busier than a pack of dogs scratching fleas. Yes, I damn sure want her.

Glad to hear it. Twofoot opened the outside door to leave. His action let in a cyclone of frigid air that ruffled the papers on Swoboda’s desk and blasted down the hall. As he walked out, the major looked straight through the building from front to rear door. Here come your troops to the ‘shot line’ through the back door.

Thanks, Jamison really meant it. In spite of a faint hint of sarcasm in his reply. Thanks for everything.

Chapter 2

SWOBODA FOLLOWED Jamison into the office where the kid sat on the examining table. The three looked at each other and burst out laughing.

Holding his belly with both hands, Swoboda asked, How’d you like my act, doc?

Academy award material. Jamison could hardly talk for laughing. Fooled me. Thought you really were angry about it. Twofoot was.

He’s a good officer. Got a ramrod up his ass sometimes, though. Swoboda turned to the kid. If any of this gets back to me, you’re dead meat. And just between us men, did you do it?

No way, sarge. I told the truth. Don’t know who did it. And I didn’t hear nothin’ in this room, either. ...You want to know if I find out who did it?

You wouldn’t rat on your buddies, would you? Swoboda stopped laughing.

Never, Sarge. But I know some guys who ain’t my buddies.

You know where to find me. Don’t forget I know where to find you, too. Swoboda was looking at the kid, then at Jamison. I’m gonna go help Corporal Long take care of the shot line. He’s back from pharmacy.

Jamison nodded to Swoboda, then pointed to the kid’s left leg. Now let’s have a look at your leg, soldier. Left one you were favoring.

Right. Left. The kid grinned sheepishly. I mean yes, sir, it’s the left one.

Where does it hurt?

Right here. He pointed to the outside of his left knee.

Okay. Jamison patted the examining table. Take off your trousers and sit right here.

Boots, too?

If your pants won’t go over them. Mine won’t, Jamison thought.

Yes, sir. He dutifully unlaced and removed his boots, then his trousers. Hopping back onto the table, he said, Don’t think it’s hurt bad.

Umm. Jamison checked the cruciate and collateral ligaments trying not to press too hard on an egg-sized lump. You’re right. Ligaments okay. Looks like a pretty good bruise coming up. Ice pack for a while would help.

Think I hit it on a chair when I fell.

Plenty of chairs to hit it on. Hit anything else?

Nothing important. Pride, maybe.

Pride is pretty important. Jamison thought the kid could stand a little cheering up. At least none of your buddies saw it.

Yeah. Uh, yes, sir.

You don’t have to ‘sir’ me when you’re my patient. Just when I’m playing Army officer. Any cross-country march or obstacle course today?

No, sir. Just firing range. I can handle that.

Restrict you to quarters today if you like.

Please don’t. I don’t want to fall behind training, or have anybody think I’m a goof-off. I’ll be okay.

This should help keep the swelling down some. Jamison was already wrapping an elastic bandage over the rising lump. Looking up at his coal-dusted face, Jamison asked, What’s your name, anyway?

The soldier retracted his right overcoat lapel to reveal SMITH stenciled in black letters above the pocket of his fatigue shirt. And first name?


Jamison thought back to the hazing when he was a college freshman. A few paddle licks on my butt. Missed the worst event. Find your way home naked covered with molasses and chopped corn. Thank God. Army’s gotta be lots worse. How many Pocahontas jokes you heard?

All of ‘em, I reckon, Smith replied. At least my mom came from Switzerland, so my middle name is Zollicoffer. Buddies at home call me Zolly. But I don’t advertise it. Prob’ly come up with something worse than Pocahontas from the few jerks in my outfit."

Well, we’re kind of fellow-sufferers. Jamison pointed to a name tag above his right jacket pocket. Last name Jamison; first name Jesse.

How many Jesse James jokes you heard? Smith smiled and pointed a forefinger with his thumb cocked like a pistol.

Maybe even more than you’ve heard Pocahontas jokes. I’m older. Hang in there, John Smith--Zolly. And remember you’ve got friends at ‘4-Q-2'.

Swoboda was back in the doorway. We need you at the shot line, lieutenant.

Right with you. Jamison patted Smith on the shoulder and followed Swoboda.

Another fainter, doc. Swoboda explained as we walked down the hall. Flopped down after his first shot. Other guys kept him from hitting the floor.

The room was heavy with the scent of alcohol swabs. A PFC lay supine on the floor. Jamison felt the man’s pulse and then checked his blood pressure. He’s okay. Put him up on the table before he freezes to death on the floor. Full body frostbite’s worse than fainting.

Willing hands wafted the soldier onto an examining table. Swoboda started to wave some spirits of ammonia under the man’s nose. Jamison held up a hand to Swoboda. Wait a sec. He need more shots?

Two more, doc. Corporal Long replied, looking at an immunization record.

Well, pop him before we wake him up. Don’t want to do this again.

Swoboda and Long each grabbed a loaded syringe from a tray. They lifted green t-shirt sleeves and expertly stabbed both upper arms. Jamison waved the ammonia under his nose. The PFC reflexly turned his head away even before he wakened. Jamison fingered his pulse and reassured him. It’s okay, soldier. Happens all the time. You have any breakfast?

Didn’t know... where the mess hall was, The man replied, groggily.

Get something in him. Jamison looked at one of the other stickees. Coke, cookies, something sweet.

Another frosty gale whipped through the hall as both back and front doors opened simultaneously. Actually, it was only the front door that opened momentarily. The back door was already open because the shot line trailed outside. And the shot recipients were filing back out the same way. Damn door is open all the time once sick call’s over, Jamison was thinking. My head is burning up, hips to shoulders about right, and knees to toes freezing. "We have got to do something about keeping the cold wind out of here," Jamison said to no one in particular.

Swoboda and Long kept bayoneting arms with needles while the line of troops slowly advanced to receive their injections. Jamison pointed to the outer wall of the room. If we had another door here, we could let the men out after their shots. Keep that door shut most of the time. Then, we could have the line come in the back door and double around the hall. That way, two doors would be less likely to be open at the same time.

That’d help for sure. Swoboda never looked away from giving injections.

Army must have carpenters. There’s an MOS for it.

Right, doc, carpentry is a military occupation specialty, Swoboda agreed. But they don’t let ‘em work on real stuff here. They just frame up temporary rooms for electrician trainees to wire. Then tear the whole thing down.

Well, who repairs these falling-down WWII buildings? Jamison continued venting his frustration. They barely managed to make it through the Korean War.

You don’t understand, doc. Army can’t do nothin’ for itself. Can’t compete with local business. All repairs have to be by lowest bidder from outside contractors. Got any idea how long it takes to get three bids for a piddling job like putting in a door? Much less actually getting it approved and done?

I’m afraid to guess. Jamison held his arms apart to measure the width of a hall door, and transferred its size to a blank space on the outer wall between two windows. We could put it right here. I can go see Twofoot today when I go to dependent clinic and get the ball rolling.

Don’t count on it, doc. Swoboda never missed a lick as he alternately swabbed and jabbed arms. "I already heard Twofoot moaning that he ain’t got no money to keep up this outfit in peace-time. During Korea, yeah, but not now. He says some of the 3nd cavalry barracks are really falling down. All we do in 402nd is send troops to Japan, Korea, and other parts of Far East Command. Nobody cares how we do it."

"Doesn’t have any money, not ain’t got no money. Jamison mumbled to himself, then spoke aloud. Swoboda, you teach me ‘Army’ and I’ll teach you English. Then we’ll set up a clinic when I get out. Seriously, how can we get us a door?"

Way you’re talkin’ about - through channels - take maybe nine months or so. Into next winter. Swoboda’s eyes shot Jamison a quick glance.

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