A couple weeks ago, we were in the mountains in Utah having a fun family reunion. Every evening after the young kids were down for the night the boys built a huge fire in the fire pit and the adults and older kids pulled folding chairs around it for a gab session. On the last evening, we were all relaxed and let some of the not-quite-old-enough kids sit in. My granddaughter, Winnie, came and sat on my lap and asked me a few questions about small things. She is turning into a young lady and I was aware it may well be the last time she would crawl into my lap to talk to me.
After a bit, she asked me to tell her about the worst thing that happened to me when I was a marine. I don't have to think very hard to identify the worst thing. The experience is difficult for me so I wasn't very comfortable with her request, but since she asked so nicely I decided to do it. The other people around the fire were chatting about this and that, so it was just her and me involved in our conversation. This is the story I told her:
I almost killed a man one day.
When I was in the marines, every low ranking marine had to serve 30 days on mess duty every year. Shortly before I got married to Liz, my turn came up and I was assigned to work in the salad room. We started early in the morning and worked until late at night, cutting up vegetables, shredding, mixing and doing whatever the day's menu called for.
There was a particular cook who took a dislike for me, and he harassed me every chance he got. He'd pinch me, call me names, accuse me of being homosexual, or try to start a fight with me. I just walked away from him each time and that seemed to make him mad. I didn't worry about him too much, but I avoided him whenever I could. TROUBLE was written all over him.
One day, we were especially busy in the salad room, with a lot of vegetables to be cut into small pieces. We often had recruits who were going to be discharged from boot camp, working wherever they were needed and that day a lot of them were in the salad room with me. They were using all the paring knives and other small knives, and when I got out a sack of carrots to cut them up, the only knife left was a huge, thick-bladed knife with a curved blade about 20-25 inches long. I have no idea what the knife was intended for. It was too big for normal cooking chores, and was really more like a sword than a knife, except that it had a plain, wooden handle. But because it was the only knife left, I was using it to cut the carrots into thin discs. The curved blade actually worked nicely as I rolled it over a bunch of carrots. The salad room was square, with counters all around the walls and we were standing shoulder to shoulder around the room, working steadily.
As we worked, that troubled cook came into the room for something. He was carrying a steak knife in his hand, which was odd, but I really didn't give him any thought. He got whatever it was he was looking for and as he passed behind me he stabbed me in the small of the back. It wasn't a bad stab, not very deep, but it hurt a lot! I yelled and lifted both hands above my head, turning to see what was hurting me. As I turned to my right, I saw him grinning at how clever he had been and my mind instantly realized that I had the perfect weapon in the perfect position to cut him in half. I focused on the point where his neck met his right shoulder and I knew I could hit him squarely and take his head off. I pivoted on my feet and started to swing at him, but then pulled back. All the young marines in the room had seen what happened and they gasped as I started to lunge at him. He saw me too, and we both knew that if I'd swung at him he'd have been dead. That cook's eyes were big, wide open, and full of fear!
Instead, I turned back around and went back to cutting carrots. He came back at me and stuck his knife in my butt, leaning on me and pushing it in. Ignored him for a couple seconds then growled at him to, "Get the *@!* out of here!" He leaned on his knife a bit more before hustling out. I was surprised, I expected more trouble from him, but I just didn't care what he did at that point.
Some of the young guys ran out during this time and brought back a senior cook, who questioned them about it. He had the whole story before he got to me. When he asked me about it, I was still cutting carrots and still mad and all I could say was that he better keep that guy away from me because I didn't want to kill him. He took care of it, too, because I never saw that guy again. My time on mess duty was almost over, (I think I had one more day left) so maybe it's just that I went back to my normal duties after that, and then I went home to get married. I didn't eat at the mess hall much after Liz and I got married.
Winnie was pretty wide eyed by my story, but she didn't understand it all. I didn't want to go into it too much, especially the part about the cook being a repressed homosexual making trouble in his frustration. Then she asked me, "But why was he like that?" I was pretty tense, so all I could say was, "Because he was an asshole!" I might have been a little loud.
All of a sudden, everybody around the fire burst out laughing. That was the first I realized they were all listening. Winnie buried her head in my shoulder, shaking. Laughing, or crying? I don't know.
The laughter lasted quite a long time. Somebody said Winnie just learned that her perfect Grandpa was human after all. I was pretty embarassed. As the laughter continued, it actually became quite helpful for me. I unwound a bit and laughed, too. I've always hated remembering that episode, so I haven't shared it much. I didn't like that he'd put me in that situation, and I didn't like that I came so close to killing him, nor that I really wanted to. In hind sight, I wish I hadn't shared it with Winnie, but I have to admit that I feel a lot better having gotten it off my chest. Now that all my kids and some of my grandkids know about it, maybe it won't haunt my dreams anymore
BTW, it isn't like I've had PTSD or anything over it. I think about it occasionally, maybe 3 or 4 times a year, and then I will lie awake at night until I get up and read or something to take my mind off it.
Moral: Be sure you really want to know before you ask a marine about the WORST thing that happened to him. Lots of us have much worse stories than I do.