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Saturday, March 9, 2013

In the Middle of Midnight


The American “Cold War” with Russia was at its peak in the 1980 s. Our misunderstandings of each other compounded by our totally different ideologies and perceptions of democracy, life and liberty were of common worldly knowledge. What was not commonly known by the public now or then was how many times those differences almost threatened to destroy not only ourselves, but the entire World!


     At 2:27 pm Eastern Time, March 30th, 1981, President Reagan walked through the “President’s Walk” of the Washington Hilton Hotel after giving a speech to The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations. Little did he or his Secret Service staff realize that a deranged John Hinckley Jr. was standing in wait to prove his delusional obsessive love to actress Jodie Foster by assassinating the President of the United States. Hinckley was lucky and managed to slip in unnoticed with Reagan fans so he was within fifteen feet of the president when he pulled a .22 caliber revolver and unloaded his weapon at Reagan six times as he went to enter his limousine. The first bullet hit Press Secretary James Brady in the head, the second hit police Officer Thomas Delahanty in the back of the neck as he tried to shield the president. The third bullet overshot the president and the fourth hit Secret Service Agent Timothy McCarthy in the abdomen as he tried to protect the president with his body as well. The fifth and sixth bullets hit the armored limousine, but the sixth ricocheted off and struck the president under his left arm lodging the bullet in Reagan’s lung. Stopping within an inch of the president’s heart. Neither the president nor his security team were wearing bullet proof vests due to the walk  only being 30 feet or so from the hotel to the presidents limo. An Ohio labor official who was standing by Hinckley hit him in the head and took down the maniac while agents, police, and citizen bystanders all pounced on him - violently subduing Hinckley. The President of the United States was rushed to George Washington Memorial Hospital and arrived there within four minutes; the arrival time was so short that no one had time to arrange a waiting emergency team. The president then insisted on walking into the hospital on his own power and immediately collapsed upon entry at the reception desk.

     After only 69 days in office the president had been shot and was is surgery. The Vice President of the United States, George H. W. Bush was away from Washington and returning as fast as he could, while fourth in line to the succession of the presidency in case of the president’s death, Secretary of State Alexander Haig who was in Washington DC at the White House when Reagan was shot, controversially stated he was in charge of the country until the vice president returned; he also stated that there would be no elevation of the nation’s threat level towards Russia. In another controversial move behind Haig’s back, Defense Secretary Casper Weinberger raises the threat level aimed at Russia, setting into motion a little known “Cold War” World Wide brush with global nuclear destruction over an American made nut with a Jodie Foster fetish and a gun.

     I dragged my ass up the front stairs of the 1940’s style old German Nazi barracks by the hand railing, moaning and groaning as I somehow made it to the second floor. I then found my way to my room and my bunk. These Mondays were tough and getting tougher every time I partied too late Sunday nights in Bad Kreuznach’s illicit German brothel night clubs. The booze and the hash, along with the young pretty cheep German women that went along with the party, made that five mile Monday run at six this morning cruel punishment for last nights crazy off base partying.

    The rest of the day after the run went just as bad with a hangover from hell following me around. It was being complicated by Sergeant Gatore’s constant critiques of my abilities, not to mention Gator’s personal remarks towards me all day that were obviously not meant to be constructive on his part; all I wanted to do now was to get into my bunk and fall asleep, trying not to think about tomorrows hell.

     I started to unlace my boots when the outside base alert siren went off. The other soldiers who shared the room with me started waking up asking what was happening. I shrugged and couldn't think of anything to say but “beats me!” The inside barracks shrill ear piercing alarm went off then as I jumped a bit off of my bunk in surprise, “what the fuck!” I looked around at everyone else with a puzzled expression on my face. Some of the guys were half out of bed by now in their underwear, scratching their heads, looking around irritated and blurry eyed.

 Staff Sergeant Leroy Gatore burst into the room and started shouting at everyone.
” git yer gear on,” he said and then threatened to dump anyone he saw still in their bunks on their ears.
     The sergeant’s young black specialist grade four followed him around handing out live M-16 magazines; this guy was as black as coal and very mild mannered and polite compared to his superior, a little to polite for the rest of the troops and there were rumors, but Gator ironically always failed to, or refused to see it. I took the ammo from him in somewhat disbelief, they never trusted us “shit birds” as they liked to call us with live ammunition; they must be really serious about something.
     I called out to the staff sergeant, “hey serge, what the hell is going on.” Sergeant Gatore flew across the distance between us and knuckle punched me in my chest which knocked me back, almost making me drop my magazines of live ammo.
 “That’s what’s going on, and yer gunna get more like it if you don’t shut da fuck up an git your damn combat gear on Private Armstrong!!!” I managed to catch my breath and squeeze out a “Yes Sergeant” without wheezing and turning blue. The sergeant took another irritated look at me, then shrugged his head and walked off muttering, “Fucking Armstrong.”

     My curiosity was put aside after that encounter with the staff sergeant and I frantically put the rest of my combat gear on while hearing more shouting, whistles, and sirens blowing, as upper ranking sergeants shouted and men scrambled to comply. Officers started to pile through the echoing yelling and the sergeants complied - All of them shouting orders at the same time and telling us to line up in formation immediately outside the barracks.

     The night air was a normal cold crisp German winter’s breath that hit me in the face as I stepped out of the barracks I had just minutes ago dragged myself into for some shut eye. I assembled with the rest of the platoon waiting for the other sergeants to arrive that were off duty and off base. My chest still stung from Gator’s knuckle ball and I started thinking back to my first miserable encounter with the staff sergeant when I arrived six months earlier.

     It was just after the last formation of the day and I was getting a little apprehensive the way everyone was asking me if I’d met Staff Sergeant Gatore yet, then smiling in a sinister way when I said that I hadn't. I was in my newly assigned barracks room getting my footlocker in order after being warned by my compatriots of incessant and meaningless surprise inspections that got your locker ransacked if it wasn't up to perfect predefined military specs. Suddenly a tall thin weathered face wiry staff sergeant staggers in the door with a cheap case of German beer. He  proceeds to plop himself down on my up until now perfectly made bed, simultaneously pulling out and opening a beer, then he shouts drunkenly to no one in particular, “who the fuck iz zis kid.” I told him my name was Armstrong. The sergeant shrugged off my polite introduction and said in a slurred southern drawl, “youz better not be another fuck up kid, in “Nam” we learned us how to take care of fuck upz real quick; you fucks up wiz me son and I’ll killz ya.” He then relentlessly tried to make me bet him twenty bucks he couldn't drink the whole case of beer in one hour. Not wanting to see what he was like after drinking a whole case of beer by himself in an hour let alone be near him while he’s doing it, I feigned poverty. I had dealt with a lot of nut ball Vietnam combat still fresh in their minds drill sergeants in basic, but the thought of this guy being in charge of me, along with the not even veiled first greeting death threats; man is this going to suck was all that was going through my mind. There was no doubt by the look in his eyes, the dead look of people who have seen to much to ever take back especially and most likely in some snake infested nightmare of a jungle. I re-assured him that I did not have any money and also did not plan on screwing up. He shrugged his shoulders and gave a sigh like he was bored of me now. He tried to get up out of my now crumpled bed but his legs buckled. He had to grab the bunk side bars and pull himself up. He turned as if to say something then stopped, shrugged his shoulders again, grabbed his beer, and then left stumbling back down the hall to another room of underlings to harass.

     Armstrong! Yo Armstrong. My mind came back to the formation and Sergeant Donny Lovon was standing in front of me asking” where were you boy?” What, I asked?  Where were you boy cause you sure ain’t here at the moment! “Oh yea I’m just tired,” I said. Donny and I had gotten to be fairly close in the past few months after he got to know me and vise verse. He was a carefree buck sergeant who brought his wife over to Germany and lived off base. I was one of the lucky few who got to go to his house and meet / party with his family; no military bullshit. We all called him “Donny Loven” as a company joke . But Donny took it seriously. That off base shit went back to normal on the job when he was my platoon sergeant and superior - but not there at his personal home. You got yourself in the shit now Armstrong, heck were all in the shit. You got your gear right; keep those live rounds secure, you know how they are about that shit. “What are we doing,” I asked? Some big shit cause they ain’t even telling me, I tried to ask top the same question and all I got was an irritated look and a, “when you need to know shit you’ll know shit speech.” Just then they called all the platoon sergeants to the front. After a brief period Sergeant Lovon went running back to us red faced, he then took his place along side the platoon and shouted attention! Forward March!

     They marched the whole company to the motor pool, and then marched us all to our assigned vehicle sections and we halted. Sergeant Lovon shouted “fire em up and wait for the order to move out.” We pulled in our truck and attached the generator trailer to the back. Everything was already in place and the trucks were kept full of gas for entirely just this reason. Donny ran up and tapped on our truck as we were pulling up into position to move out. He jumped inside and said “move out they gave the order.” Where we going serge? Said our teammate and driver Specialist Rodriguez, she was the cool one of the bunch in smarts and proficiency, she was a woman but let you know she was off limits and all business. If you wanted to talk with the boys and not want the Army brass to hear what you were saying, you shut up around her and did what she told you. Other than that she was alright. Donny told her to steer towards Baumholder. “Baumholder!” Me and Rodriguez both said at once. - “That’s where they keep the nukes,” I blurted out. Sergeant Donny Lovon looked at me with a serious expression we seldom shared together, he then simply said “that’s where were going,” and didn't say another word. We all stared straight ahead at the endless line of bug like military vehicles, all assorted according to their specialized operators and all converging on the exit of the military compound at once.

     When we arrived at Baumholder we didn't go in which confused me, “I guess we aren't staying,” I said perplexed. That’s when the long semi trucks with huge missiles on the back of them pulled out of the front gate of the base. Sergeant Lovon said “that’s our escort!” “Now where” Rodriguez said. “Just follow them Rodriguez, and don’t fall behind” Donny said, Specialist Rodriguez complied and there was silence once again. Suspicion and fear started to form a hard rock in the pit of my stomach, then infect my heart and mind – What the hell are we doing escorting nukes?

     The ride to the as yet still secret location was a strange and surreal trip of following an endless convoy of trucks into the mysterious dark German night, the destination a mystery. The situation upgraded itself to scary and not just weird anymore when the Autobahn signs on the freeway started saying were headed towards the East / West German border, otherwise known as the “Iron Curtain.” Crazy stuff was going through my mind - like the only reason to take nukes that close to the border is to use them. Desperate fantasies of hijacking a freighter and surviving nuclear destruction out in the middle of the ocean also ran through my mind and sounded better and better every time I looked at the machine gun in my hand and the stacks of ammunition clips they gave me. Coming to my senses I looked behind us at the endless trial of trucks following us and ahead of us and reality returned with the comic idea of our captain letting us just turn around and go our own marry little way in the middle of a mission. I chuckled to myself.  I've heard they shoot people for that sort of thing in war time – Is this War. In my M.O.S. (Military Occupation Specialty), the estimated time of survival in a war with Russia was five minutes on the battlefield before their equipment tuned in on my equipment, then sent rockets over to my exact address to destroy the area, equipment, and myself, right where I just set up camp. That was a depressing statistic back then as it was now; it always made me wonder why the Army felt the need to be so mentally cruel as to give me those kinds of statistical numbers. Obviously all they cared about was motivation and obedience to bullshit. The moral of the troops barely crossed their minds; not until it was usually too late and the damage was already done.

     I felt alone in the cab of the truck. Both Donny and Specialist Rodriguez had stopped communicating. I also realization this situation was overwhelming all of us. It was like we were separated in our own minds, but stranded together in the gravity and hopelessness of our situation. We were helpless to help each other cope, coping individually the best way we could. The glowing lights of the Iron Curtain were starting to become visible ahead in the darkness. A snaking massive terrible vision across the German landscape. It was bathed in a dark and light nightmare that festered somewhere in the middle of the midnight of our minds, preventing us from doing anything to turn away from it; hypnotized by it’s tragic horrible beauty. The radio crackled our code sign and Sergeant Lovon listened intently to the coded message writing it down on his small notepad, he quickly had me give him the code book, DE-coded the message, and then he sharply said into the microphone “Yes Sir,” followed by a confirmation and an over and out. Donny looked over to Rodriguez and said, “Turn it around specialist; we've been called back to base.” Rodriguez coolly said a “Yes Sergeant” back at him trying not to break into too much of a smile and keeping up her usual composure complied with Donny’s order. “What the fuck are you serious,” I shouted. Then I proceeded to grab Donny and shook him around a little until I realized what I was doing. That was too much for the specialist and she broke out in laughter and swerved a little on the road as the sergeant grabbed the dash and ordered me let go of him. He laughed and said “I know who I can trust now to keep their head.” He then nudged me and quietly said to me so Rodriguez couldn't hear,” one way or another were slipping away and getting a beer.”

     The trip back was a lively one that passed by like time was in hyper-drive. Our minds also reverted back to all the happy hopes and dreams that make and defined our existences, purposely dismissing the fact that we almost helped wipe those same human concepts from the planet by enforcing our government’s insanity. We dropped our nuclear friends off back at the base entrance to Baumholder where we picked them up at. When we reached our own base in Bad Kreuznach we were starving and exhausted after our mutual adrenaline rushes had long since worn off. We endured the long line back into the base and finally parked our rig in the motor pool after unhooking our generators. Now we were off towards the barracks and hopefully food. I shouted at a soldier what the fuck was all that about! He shouted back “President was shot.” What your joking I said. Donny said “Oh Shit!” Patted me on the back. “Sorry Armstrong I think I better get back to my wife in this kind of shit!” Later serge I said. Rodriguez lived off base also and said her quick formal goodbyes to me then left for home, I assumed to meet her boy / girl friend, I could never tell.

     As I entered the barracks I followed the hooting and hollering into the game room and found a melee of happy soldiers. The room was full of tables, piles of steaks in warmers with all the fixings, and a couple of kegs of Ice cold beer. I also found out after guzzling more than a few beers in a row that we were pulled back a little after President Reagan came out of surgery. Given how close we were to the “Iron Curtain,” I could only imagine what could have happened if he died right as we arrived with all our weapons of mass destruction. I looked at my plate of steak and my glass of beer, then looked at the taped Super Bowl on the television screen and thought to myself – This is our reward for giving into human nature and almost destroying it all - I felt a tingle up the back of my neck and turned around in my seat to find Sergeant Leroy Gatore standing behind me. His arm swung and I braced myself once more for an impending blow - The staff sergeant patted me on the back and said “Good Work Soldier,’ then bee lined for the kegs of beer. The ironic nature of the whole nights experience made one thing clear in my mind, a sort of new goal I was intent on fulfilling as soon as I could - Get the hell out of the Army!





In the Middle of Midnight

By Brian Thomas Armstrong


ANNOTATED BIBLIOGRAPHY

Quick Biography
Of Author



     I was born in San Francisco and moved to Washington State as a small child. I grew up a hippie kid in the 60 s and 70 s with very liberal parents. I joined the Army at the age of 17 and went to Germany. I was deployed to the Iron Curtain as an escort for a convoy of nuclear weapons when President Reagan was shot and we were recalled and turned back just in sight of the lights of the border when the President came out of surgery in stable condition. I was married, widowed, and then raised two boys as a single father. I moved on to commercial property maintenance and ran that business for twenty years until the economy wiped out my “Maw and Pop” shop owner clientele and I decided to go back to college.

Reagan Shot!

(First Paragraph, In the Middle of Midnight, Brian Armstrong, © 2 / 2013)

“He was within fifteen feet of the president when he pulled a .22 caliber revolver and unloaded his weapon at Reagan six times “

 (Image, Google Search, Reagan Shot, Web)

Germany – Bad Kreuznach
(Image, Map, Google Search, Bad Kreuznach, Web)

The Old Nazi Barracks

     ”I dragged my ass up the front stairs of the 1940’s style old German Nazi barracks by the hand railing, moaning and groaning to myself as I somehow made it to the second floor. I then found my way to my room and more importantly my bunk.” (Page one third paragraph, In the Middle of Midnight, Brian Armstrong, © 2 / 2013)



(Image, Google Search, Rose Barracks, Web)

Base Sirens!

(Page One Forth Para. In the Middle of Midnight, Brian Armstrong, © 2 / 2013)

     “I started to unlace my boots when the outside base alert siren went off. The other soldiers who shared the room with me started waking up asking what was happening. I shrugged and couldn't think of anything to say but “beats me!” The inside barracks shrill ear piercing alarm went off then as I jumped a bit off of my bunk in surprise, “what the fuck!”

Deployment

“They marched the whole company to the motor pool, and then marched us all to our assigned vehicle sections and we halted.
Paragraph 10, Page one, In The Middle of Midnight – Brian Thomas Armstrong © 2 / 2013


                                     (Image, http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/facility/bad-kreuznach.htm, Web)

Nukes!

“Donny told her to steer towards Baumholder. “Baumholder! ” Me and Rodriguez both said at once - “That’s where they keep the nukes,” I blurted out.”

                            (Middle eleventh paragraph, the Middle of Midnight, Brian Armstrong, © 2 / 2013)


(Image, Associated Press, Tactical Nuclear Weapon, Germany, Circa 1980 s, Web)

Oh what a wicked web we weave; when we believe in anybody but ourselves! -  Quote by Brian Thomas Armstrong ©2013

The Iron Curtain


(Image, Google Search, Iron Curtain, Web)

Escorting our Nukes to Hell!

     “It was bathed in a dark and light nightmare that festered somewhere in the middle of the midnight of our minds, preventing us from doing anything to turn away from it; hypnotized by it’s tragic horrible beauty."

(Para. 13, the Middle of Midnight, Brian Thomas Armstrong, © 2 / 2013)

Called Back To Base

     The radio crackled our code sign and Sergeant Lovon listened intently to the coded message writing it down on his small notepad, he quickly had me give him the code book, DE-coded the message, and then he sharply said into the microphone “Yes Sir” followed by a confirmation and an over and out. Donny looked over to Rodriguez and said, “Turn it around specialist; we've been called back to base.”

(Paragraph 14, Page 2, In the Middle of Midnight, Brian Thomas Armstrong © 2 / 2013)

Back to Normal

“We were starving and exhausted after our mutual adrenaline rushes had long since worn off. We endured the long line back into the base and finally parked our rig in the motor pool after unhooking our generators. Now we were off towards the barracks and hopefully food. I shouted at a soldier what the fuck was all that about! He shouted back “President was shot.”

(Paragraph 16, Page 3, In the Middle of Midnight, Brian Thomas Armstrong ©2013)

Sergeant Gator

     I felt a tingle up the back of my neck and turned around in my seat to find Sergeant Leroy Gatore standing behind me. His arm swung and I braced myself once more for an impending blow - The staff sergeant patted me on the back and said “Good Work Soldier.”

 (16th Para.-Ending of In the Middle of Midnight, Brian Thomas Armstrong © 2 / 2013)

Reflection Letter

     I think about those times in my life when I was young and naive as some of the greatest tests of my soul’s integrity; passed or failed. I strive to pass the story on to at least show some people how other people deal with those terrible predicaments in life that every man or woman faces at one time or another; the choice to do right or wrong or nothing at all, and then forever reflect on it.

Brian Thomas Armstrong
(Author, In the Middle of Midnight, © 2 / 2013)


Interview: Laurie Armstrong, mother of Brian Thomas Armstrong, author of In the Middle of Midnight.

l      Brian Armstrong:  Hi mom how are you feeling today?
l      Laurie Armstrong: I am feeling just fine, thank you dear, I am looking forward to spring and my garden and it feels good to see the sun poke its head out from the clouds.
l      Brian Armstrong: Did you read the ruff draft I sent you of my short story In the Middle of Midnight?
l      Laurie Armstrong: I did read it and I am very proud of you, both in the way your writing is improving and in what you went through and how you made it through it without going to war with a place like Russia, especially in those times.
l      Brian Armstrong: I didn’t have time to think about it really and they didn’t give us any information to think about. They just yell at you and you jump up and do it just like they train you to do and that’s it – the thinking process is taken out of the equation when it comes to enlisted men.
l      Brian Armstrong: Do you remember when I first told you I had enlisted?
l      Laurie Armstrong: Yes I certainly do! I almost wrecked my car- I could have brained you at the time.
l      “Mutual laughter”
l      Brian Armstrong: You hit the brakes so hard you swerved and almost ditched us then started shouting different desperate ways to UN-enlist me, but I told you it was too late and I was going.
l      Laurie Armstrong: I got used to the notion of you being away in the service overseas but I never really liked it; I am so glad you never made a career out of it.
l      Brian Armstrong: That makes two of us mom!
l      “Mutual Laughter”
l      Brian Armstrong: Thanks mom for doing this small interview. Love you mom.
l      Laurie Armstrong: I love you to son, keep up the good work.

l      End of Interview with Laurie Armstrong
mother of Brian Thomas Armstrong.



Websites


                            Global Security.org - http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/facility/bad-kreuznach.htm

                         Britannica.com - http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/294419/Iron-Curtain

                                  BBC.co.uk -  http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/worldwars/coldwar/


In the Middle of Midnight on Yahoo

l      In the Middle of Midnight  2/25/2013

The American “Cold War” with Russia was at its peak in the 1980 s. Our misunderstandings of each other compounded by our totally different ideologies and perceptions of democracy, life and liberty were common worldly knowledge. What was not commonly known was how many times our differences almost destroyed us all.