Sunday, April 7, 2013

Running from Abaddon (Part I)

Ken made it out of Saigon just before that city fell to the North Vietnamese in 1975. In 1979, Ken flew out of Tehran a couple weeks before Iranians climbed the walls at the US Embassy and held 52 Americans hostage for more than a year. He always seemed one step ahead of the bad news. 

In the spring of 1984, Ken reported for duty as a Defense Intelligence officer in Beirut. Somewhere in between, Chief Warrant Officer Ken Welch was our friend.

On a Monday morning in Yaoundé, Cameroon, I was standing Post One, the main guard post inside the doors of the US Embassy on Rue Nachtigal. I was a sergeant, a freshly graduated Marine Embassy Guard, and therefore a newbie. My coach for the morning was Corporal Steve Moye. Together we monitored the closed-circuit cameras that gave us an exterior view of the embassy. Moye pointed to a tall, husky white guy striding up the street toward the embassy’s main doors.

“That’s Warrant Officer Welch. Defense Attache,” Cpl. Moye said.  “He’s a hard-ass, so make sure you give him a good, crisp salute.”

His advice seemed reasonable, his tone serious. My first day on post, you’re damn right I’m wanting to make a good impression. I straightened my dress blues. Cpl Moye seemed to be stifling a giggle. 

Ken strode into the foyer and I hit the button to release the magnetic lock on the heavy oak door. He entered and I snapped to attention and gave him my best Marine Corps salute, lowering my tone an octave for effect: “’Morning, sir.”

Ken stutter-stepped to a halt and turned on me. Not turned toward me, he turned on me, his eyes narrowing as if I’d just given him the finger.

“Listen, fuckstick…  you ever salute me again, I will break that dick-skinner clean off your arm and jam it up your ass. You got me?”

With that, he turned and stalked up the stairs to his second-floor office, trailing cigarette smoke from an ever-present Kool menthol.

The blood drained from my face and I turned to Cpl. Moye to say, “What the FUCK just happened?!?” I found him not just laughing, but doubled over laughing, unable to catch a breath in his uncontrolled glee. Clearly, this Army officer did not care much for standard military protocol, and in fact the formality seemed to really piss him off. At least that’s how he was playing it.

It wasn’t until years later that the idiom “you’ve been punked” entered common usage.

(to be continued...)


     Part II
     Part III
     Part IV
     Part V
     Part VI


Hank Nuwer said...

great character sketch

Joe said...

Thanks, Hanker. Quite a guy. More to follow.

Joe said...

Steve... perhaps you couldn't leave a comment because I had an edit window open. Try again?