One thing I discovered in the military was that every once in a while you come across a guy who knows exactly how to handle any situation — sort of a military man’s genius.
Ross McDowell was the most outstanding example of the man-with-the-answers I’ve ever seen. And please don’t misunderstand me. In the military you all too often run across someone who only THINKS he has all the answers. That wasn’t Ross. He was the real article. The other type — the guardhouse lawyers — we stuffed head first in a commode and flushed. Several times.
Ross McDowell was no guardhouse lawyer or know it all. In fact he was the type who rarely volunteered advice without being asked for it. Well over 6 feet tall, he looked shorter. He was definitely not the muscular looking type, but he could lift an amazing amount, and was an incredible anchor man in a tug-of-war.
Ross consistently ignored the heated discussions that took place in the barracks. About what? You name it. A group of GIs with nothing to do except beat their gums can find more useless subjects to jabber about than a pair of Harvard law professors.
I once listened for three hours — three straight hours! — to an argument about the comparative values of three-speed and four-speed transmissions. God knows how long that one would have gone on had there been five-speeds back then. Might still be going on.
“During the first six months our guard outfit spent at Otis Air Force Base in Massachusetts, I heard a running argument over the fire power of 30-caliber versus 50-caliber machine guns. The 30-caliber people argued vehemently that the ease of moving and setting up the faster-firing 30, and the fact that it fired faster, outweighed the heavier punch of the 50. “That might have gone on forever, but one day they took us out to North Truro on Cape Cod and towed a target past the beach which we blasted into splinters with a quad-50 mounted in the back of a six-by-six truck. Five minutes spent handling that hog, getting the teeth rattled out of our heads, and watching the mayhem those four barrels created put that argument to bed forever.
Ross was a cook. At the time I met him I had just transferred from the radio section to food service because we didn’t have any radios and I was getting tired of getting into trouble trying to do what I was told, namely to, “get lost in the squadron area but don’t go in no barracks cause everybody is supposed to be workin’.”
How do you get lost in an area half the size of a football field? Outside? In late November? In New England? Can’t be done.
Although I had volunteered to be a baker, I had to learn some basics, so I was assigned to one of the four rotating shifts of cooks. I worked with Ross and soon learned that although he never seemed to be moving very fast, he got a lot accomplished. It took a while, but eventually I caught on. Ross always went straight to the heart of any job he took on, and did it in his own unique way.
For example, if we were on breakfast shift and one of the other cooks was given the job of making scrambled eggs he would invariably start out by cracking about 10 million eggs, putting them in a 15-gallon pot, and stirring the whole mess until he finally had enough scrambled eggs to fill two big square hundred man ration pans on the serving line, which he then dished out.
But when Ross and I drew the job one day he took a stainless steel pitcher, broke maybe a hundred eggs into it, and stood me at the beginning of the serving line. I asked each man, “Scrambled?” If he said yes, I gave Ross a heads up and by the time the GI reached the far end of the line he had his eggs, fresh fried and delicious. Less work, less to throw away, and much better eggs.
I asked Ross why no one else did it that way. He just laughed and said, “Because that’s not the way it’s done.”
One day Ross got drawn into an argument about why women put perfume on their necks and wrists. The two sides were (a) because you were likely to smell it there while dancing and (b) because they were the spots where the most “neutral” skin was exposed.
“Doggone it, Ross!” one of the arguers asked. “Who’s right?”
He looked up from a magazine he was reading — flat on his back. “You’re both wrong. Pulse points.”
Then both sides took him on, arguing blood flow had nothing to do with it.
Looking disgusted, Ross sat up. “You geniuses got five bucks you want to lose?”
They came up with a fiver. Ross wrapped it tight around his wrist and told them, “Take a lighted cigarette, burn through this five, and I’ll double it.
Otherwise I keep it.”
They tried. Man did they try! Three whole cigarettes! No soap. Didn’t even singe the bill. Finally, Ross unwrapped it, showed a totally unharmed wrist, and said, “Blood carries away the heat. You put perfume here and it evaporates. Wrist is warm.”
One night Ross was driving us back from somewhere on the cape when it started to snow — hard! A regular blizzard. We didn’t know the roads, missed a turn in the white-out, and were lost in 10 minutes. The guys started panicking. We were due to sign in at midnight and it was getting close. And the First Sergeant — ouch! Come in a minute late and you’d draw some crappy punishment.
“Ah-h-h-h!” Ross told us, “Quit worrying.” He pulled over ’til a car passed, then cranked her up and started following it.
“What good’s this going to do us?” someone asked.
“He’s a local. Knows where he’s going.”
We followed the guy right into his driveway, Ross asked to use the phone, got the OD — Officer of the Day — on the phone, asked permission to drive back to the base through the storm, and was told, “Airman McDowell, under no circumstances are you to drive in this storm tonight! You hear me, airman? You stay in town!”
“Yessir! If you say so, sir. That’s what we’ll do, sir.”
Do I need to say any more?
The guy was a genius!