The Reconversion of Sgt. McDougall
By S/Sgt. Gordon Crowe
When the Air Forces reorganized last year, streamlining squadrons and consolidating others into base units, a lot of first sergeants found themselves out of jobs. That’s exactly what happened to my old first sergeant, Sam McDougall, as fine a gentleman as any enlisted man could ask for a three-day pass. And McDougall never quite got over it.
McDougall was a veteran of the last war, pushing 50 when he got the urge to enlist right after Pearl Harbor. He went down to the induction center, got a waiver on his age and enlisted as a private.
He wore his ribbons from the last war, including the Croix de Guerre, at all formations during basic training, and it wasn’t long before the second lieutenant who was acting as drill sergeant pulled Mac out of the ranks and made him an acting drill sergeant. Not long after that, Mac made staff and tech and acting first and finally first sergeant.
He was a kindly, fatherly type. He’d listen to any guy’s bitches, never interrupting or making the guy feel like he was wasting his time. He felt very happy and well set in being a first sergeant, since in 33 months' service in the last war all he ever got to be was pfc. He never played favorites, always referred to his charges as “my boys” and said, “We got the best goddam bunch of soldiers in the whole Air Corps.”
We were a noncombatant outfit. We gave basic training to pre-aviation cadets and were a small group—160 permanent party in all. We had a squadron fund and every few months we’d pitch a whale of a party in a downtown hotel. Mac would get drunk and interrupt the girls doing a strip tease and make somewhat of an ass of himself, but almost everybody else was pretty high so nothing would ever be said of it after the party was over.
Things were coasting swell. It looked like Mac was set in his job for the duration. Then along came this “reorganization,” and Mac found himself a casual along with a lot of the rest of us. He tried to be good-hearted about it for awhile, and when a pfc was assigned to our barracks to see that we kept the place clean and policed the area regularly, Mac just used to laugh and say: “Well, that’s the Army for you. Democratic as all hell. Even a first sergeant has got to help police up the place.”
But he didn’t feel so good when they started posting KP lists and he found his name on them with monotonous regularity. The first time wasn’t bad. He pulled it. But after four straight days of KP, he began to get a little irrational and went in to see the new CO. He didn’t get anywhere with the new CO. The CO told him he’d have to take his turn on KP, just like the rest of the first- three-graders in the outfit, until he was shipped out or a suitable assignment was found for him.
The CO did give him permission, however, to scout around the post and try to find himself a job. “If you can find a job, then you’re out of my hands,” the new CO told Mac. “And while you’re at it, see what you can do for the nine other first sergeants they’ve unloaded on me.”
Mac went up to the Service Club, where he knew the lady in charge. She was sympathetic and out of pure kindness she gave Mac a job on the cash register, ringing up tabs as you came through with your tray. Mac acted pretty happy ovei this, and it had its good points. The hours were regular and it kept him off KP. And he could see his friends in his old outfit" and he’d always say, “There goes one of my boys—he’s a good soldier,” or something like that.
But Mac wasn’t really happy. You could tell that whenever you’d see him in town. He hung out at the Red Dog saloon nearly every night. He’d get drunk on beer and pick on some civilian and tell him about his “best goddam outfit in the Army.” “Yessir,” Mac would say nostalgically but making it a point to put in the present tense, “my boys give me a little trouble once in a while, but you know how that is. Boys will be boys.”
One night he was pretty stewed when I saw him. (I had a temporary assignment with a crew firing furnaces.) He’d come in with Moraglia, a rather insignificant corporal who used to be a combination runner and file clerk in our orderly room. Moraglia, being aggressive too, had got the same job in one of the base units, and he knew Mac was only a cash-register puncher in the Service Club, so he felt a little lordly at that time, with the help of about 15 beers. They got to arguing about some inane subject, and before anyone could stop them Moraglia was riding Mac about being a cash-register puncher. I believe it hurt Mac’s feelings more than any- , thing else.
“Is that the way to talk to your first sergeant?” Mac demanded.
“Aw g’wan, you ain’t no first sergeant any more,” Moraglia said. “Why the hell don’t you take off them stripes?”
“I’ll put you on KP for 15 days,” Mac shouted, “and you’ll never get another recommendation for promotion out of me!” Moraglia just stood and laughed sardonically: then Mac took a poke at him, and before we could stop them they were rolling on the floor.
We took them outside and talked to them, but it was pretty hard to calm Mac down. The old man was crying and it was a pitiful sight to see. The owner of the establishment, not wanting to get put off limits, called the MPs, and before we could hustle Mac and Moraglia back to camp' they showed up and hauled them in.
I understand Mac got quite a dressing-down from the provost marshal ^ind that he tried to get a discharge three times on account of his age but was turned down every time. Then he tried to get them to send him overseas, but they vetoed that on account of his age.
Iran into him yesterday for the first time in almost a month. He looked much older than his 52 years, and for the first timf I noticed his ribbons were soiled and his pants needed pressing. He forced a smile and said “Hello,” but it was false and empty, and the old fire and geniality that were so much a part of McDougall were gone.
“I got a new job,” he said, “and it’s a pretty good one. I’m in charge of three fellows, and they’re going to make the outfit bigger and into a separate squadron. Then I’ll get my old first- -sergeancy back.”
“Gee, that’s swell,” I said. “What are you doing now, Mac?”
He looked off into the distance and said, “I’m head ticket-taker at the post theater.”