Saturday, March 31, 2012

I'm enthusiastic, not excellent

Once upon a time*, a mixed group of draftees and enlistees were in boot. They were lined up one at a time, handed something that went bang**, and pointed at the derelict hulk of a tank resting beneath the spreading branches of a tree. The tank had a big bullseye painted on the very dented front. One of the men involved nailed the center of the bullseye on the first try, resulting in a bang and flying debris, and was feeling fairly proud of himself as he stepped aside.

After him came a young man who was hobbling slightly, still getting used to wearing shoes. This young man took the weapon and stared thoughtfully at the tank, dappled with sunlight and shifting shadows in the breeze. Just before the sergeant lost his temper, he finally fired. The round rebounded off a swaying tree limb and dropped into the open hatch on top, followed by a curiously muffled whumph. As smoke gently wisped out the hatch, he turned to the sergeant and said in a painfully thick and slow drawl, "Well, you wanted me t' kill the people in the tank, right, sir?"

"You! Out of here!"

"Don' I get the other tries, sir?"

The first young man would go on to qualify as expert marksman in every firearm the army had in use*** (and bayonet, too.) However, he never forgot the lesson he learned that day in basic: never get cocky, because there's always someone who is so much better that they're not even in the same league.

Fortunately, he passed this lesson on to me, and I have tried to remember and live by it. I have met some pilots who were good sticks, who could do things near-impossible on a regular basis. I have met great shooters. I am neither - I really enjoy flying and shooting, but I am not that great at either. Keep that in mind when I talk about my plane, or guns, or reviews of anything, really.

*Not that long ago. The difference between war stories and fairy tales is that one begins "Once upon a time", and the other begins "No sh*t, there I was" - being as this was the Vietnam war era, and definitely not my story, I gave it a fairy tale opening.

**Question for the audience - I first heard this one when I was not quite as tall as a rifle with a bayonet, possibly the same day I got bored, lost, and was finally found sitting on a table in the armory, enchanted and excited while a very, very nice man with lots of chevrons on his sleeves showed off his many, many toys (so cool!). Anyone have an idea what sort of weapon was involved? I think I remember it being described as a 50mm shell, but that's really fuzzy.

***Which took quite a few years. In fact, as he was closing in on the goal, his daughter was getting to dating age. And the qualification targets, with their little tombstones, started to go up on the wall in the hall leading to his daughter's bedroom...


  1. Enthusiasm goes a long way, as long as that enthusiast is willing to accept instruction along the way. :)

    Don't lose the enthusiasm; skills are perishable, but the joy-of-doing can last a lifetime.

  2. Could have been a LAW. They were in common use during the Vietnam era, and by the time I came in, they were still what we used in basic training to teach how to use anti-tank weapons.

  3. I'm guessing that the story is older than Vietnam and the projectile was a rifle grenade.