Some Duty Assignments Are Just A Bit Different

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I had to quit last week because I ran out of space telling how different life is for military people who are stationed in an embassy instead of on a military base. I had gotten to the part where three days after I arrived in Pakistan I had to show up in a dinner jacket at a round of wild parties held at a half dozen staff houses. The occasion? The 184th anniversary of the founding of the United States Marines on Nov. 10, 1775. Semper fi!

That was one wild night! One thing I vaguely remembered the next day at work in the embassy was seeing some nut I didn’t know dragging some other nut I didn’t know down a set of spiral stone steps by his ankles. “Ouch!” I thought as I watched the poor guy’s head bouncing on each step. “That’s gotta hurt.”

I was at work for just 15 minutes the next day when word was passed for men with Jeeps assigned to them to report to the parking lot. I was too new to have a Jeep, but out of curiosity I went with Ted Murphy, the man I was replacing, who did. But when we got to the parking lot, we were told we weren’t needed.

“Why not?” Murphy asked.

“Wasn’t a blue Jeep. Was an Army Jeep.”

Curious, we stayed to watch. A few minutes later, after the dozen or so Army Jeeps were lined up in a row, and the motor sergeant had verified they were all there, a poor beat-up looking Pakistani was walked down the row by five Pakistani policemen and some bigwigs from the ambassador’s office.

I didn’t understand a word of Urdu, and neither did Murphy, but Sam McNutt did. Sam was an NCO from my staff house who was soon to become my best friend by introducing me to my future wife by asking, “Hey, Tom. How’d you like to meet a couple of nice British girls?” I hope you don’t think I said no.

What I did say was, “I do.” Seven months later in a little Catholic church in Karachi. The two best words I’ve ever spoken.

Anyway, Sam told us that the Pakistani was a bicycle rickshaw wallah looking for the Jeep that ran over him the night before.

“Can you see what’s in his hand?” Sam asked me.

It was the C off a CD plate from one of our Jeeps. CD stood for Corps of Diplomats and meant that anyone driving the vehicle had diplomatic immunity.

“Uh-oh!” I thought.

But when they couldn’t find a Jeep with a missing C, the Pakistani police began yelling and the poor old rickshaw wallah began cringing and whining.

Then the police began beating the poor guy. I had never seen — or heard — anyone beaten before. It wasn’t pleasant. Take the meaty part of your fist and pound on a desk and you’ll have an idea of what it sounds like. Man, those cops just rained blows on that poor little guy.

Murphy, who was always in on everything, later told me, “The little Pakistani was right. Remember Paul Johnson being dragged down those stairs last night? Well, he woke up half an hour later, found out which of those crazy Marines had given him the headache of a lifetime, and took off chasing him, the Marine in one Jeep and Paul in another, both of them smashed out of their minds. Naturally, being drunk, they forgot they were supposed to drive on the left side of the road. All of sudden the Marine saw a bicycle rickshaw and swerved to miss it. Paul didn’t see it until he hit it. Then he heard someone yelling and saw a Pakistani on his hood, so he hit the brakes.

Didn’t sound funny to me. But I found out a few days later it kinda sorta had a happy ending. Paul Johnson looked up the poor little Pakistani and gave him a sheaf of hundred rupee notes, more money than he’d earned in his entire life.

I told you all that to give you an idea of what life was like living with a bunch of military apes who were waited on hand and foot by servants, ate like kings, and drove vehicles which gave them diplomatic immunity. It was one crazy assignment.

I won’t bore you with any more of the same except for one that’s really worth hearing. I still laugh every time I think of it. In fact, I’m grinning right now as I type this.

In case you missed the column on him, Chota Sahib (it means “Little Sahib”) was an Army corporal who took it in mind to ram the Russian ambassador’s limousine one day, which he did with a six-by-six mail truck. For that, he lost his driver’s license.

As a result, during the third week of my assignment, before I had a personal vehicle, Chota Sahib and I went to the movie being shown on the roof of a staff house across town. On the way there, we took a motorcycle rickshaw, which was one wild ride. So on the way back, we hailed down a cab — believe it or not, a 1948 Buick. As we got in, I poked Chota Sahib and pointed to the meter, which already showed a hefty fare that the driver didn’t reset to zero. I whispered, “Don’t say anything. It’s a three rupee fare. Let’s have some fun with this crooked so-and-so.”

When we got to the staff house I asked how much. The driver waved a hand at 12 rupees on the meter. I handed him three rupees, opened my door, got out, and waited for the explosion.

At first he started yelling in Urdu, but then, for some odd reason he began yelling in English. “I hate you Russians. You are the worst people in the world! You should be sewed up in the skin of a pig and buried alive!”

Obviously, he had mistaken us for someone from the Russian staff house located right across the street. On and on he went, adding more and more choice remarks.

Chota Sahib and I slipped quietly into our own staff house as the taxi driver kept yelling. The lights came on across the street in the Russian staff house. Out onto their balconies poured a herd of sleepy Russians, all scratching their heads as Chota Sahib and I rolled around on the floor of our place laughing.

Yeah, that was rough duty. Don’t know how I made it.

Someday I’ll have to tell you why that C wasn’t missing off that CD plate.

That’s quite a tale in and of itself.

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