By JIM PURCELL
When two young men get drunk on too much beer, some real stupid stuff can happen after that. Perhaps this is doubly true when the two young men in question are soldiers serving in an infantry battalion.
Such was the case in mid-1987, when then-Specialist Mike Harsh and I got into a marathon beer drinking event in the living-room of my off-kaserne apartment in Osterholz-Scharmbeck one Friday night. Harsh was the M577 Command Post Carrier driver for the S-2 Section, as well as the Battalion Map NCO, where I was an intelligence analyst at the S-2. We were both assigned to HHC, 4th Battalion, 41st Infantry Regiment. And, even though we were good friends, we were competitive, as well.
“Heck, show me a young soldier who isn’t competitive and I’ll show you a sailor,” Scout Platoon Sergeant SFC David Rose would later joke after the event.
|Infantryman Mike Harsh|
That night Harsh and I purchased a large quantity of beer after work. My ex-wife, who had endured too many of these nights for her liking, shook her head but had long ago accepted the inevitability that some stupid stuff might be said and done that night. And, we did not disappoint.
It started out as so many nights did, with Lynyrd Skinner and Alabama playing on my home CD player (which was state-of-the-art back then). We griped for awhile about what was going bad for us in the unit, then celebrated what was going good. All soldiers complain. Soldiers have been whining about things since the Sumerian Army probably came up with the idea of Charge of Quarters duty back in the 4th millennium B.C.
Maybe if serious videogames had been invented back then the conversation would not have turned to physical prowess. Around our tenth or twentieth brown bottle of Haack Beck (who keeps count?), a little matter of a party a few weeks before came up. At that gathering of sophisticated and enlightened grunts, Harsh and I had gotten into a dust up. We were both contaminated with alcohol, but through the haze he still managed to give me ‘what for’ in some street somewhere. For the life of me, I cannot remember who had thrown the party.
‘Well, you might have gotten a lucky shot in here or there,’ I said.
With his grinning manner, Mike looked down into his beer and muttered, “Yeah, there were a couple of them lucky shots…oh, yeah.” He laughed to himself then.
|Intel Analyst Jim Purcell and ex-wife Pat|
Disgruntled by the other soldier’s remark, I said, “You know, Mike, while getting into another fight might be a bad idea, I will make the assertion right here and right now that I could run your butt into the ground in a foot race.” It was a sure declarative statement.
Mike laughed in between smoking his cigarette and drinking his beer. With the cigarette held between his fingers, he pointed at me and said, “I am going to have to disagree with that statement there. Without saying too much about it, I have to admit that I am fast.”
From her seat on the opposite side of the room, I could see my ex-wife roll her eyes in anticipation of what was next.
‘In that case, I am going to have to propose a race. I am afraid I am going to have to prove that I am so fast that it will appear as if you are standing still while I am speeding to a finish line. So…I dare you to a race,’ I said.
“We don’t need to do that,” Mike said.
‘Okay, I double-dare you!’ I responded.
My ex-wife busted in and said, “As a supposed adult, you did not just double-dare someone to a race, did you?”
‘Mike, the challenge is on the table, right here and right now,’ I said.
Mike thought for a minute and said, “With that being the case and all, I guess we’re going to have to have ourselves a race: yes, indeedy. The only questions now are where and when.”
My ex-wife was just laughing in her chair, “You guys are idiots!” she said in between guffaws.
So as not to prolong this challenge, I knew exactly what I wanted to propose: ‘From here to the front gate of the kaserne, tomorrow (which would be Sunday) at 10 a.m. And, you should prepare a speech of some kind celebrating my win at the end of the course.’
|Lucius D. Clay Kaserne, Garlstedt, FRG|
“If it’s okay with you, I will put the speech on hold until we see who gets to the font gate first,” Mike said.
The course was, as I checked on Google before I wrote this, about 12.7 kilometers, which is almost 8 miles. It was the route that I usually drove when going back and forth to work. For some reason I thought it was a lot closer than it was. So, my plan was to basically take it easy for a mile or so and then go full out. In hindsight, I admit I should have measured the course. But, it was a fair race. Neither one of us trained for it and we had both been drinking about the same, so no one had an advantage.
I noted that, since there was more beer left, it was only right that we finish it and then turn in at a respectable hour for tomorrows event. He left afterward to return to the barracks with the sun already coming up on Saturday.
My ex-wife, at one point, said, “At least it is better than you and your friends sitting around getting drunk all the time.” At that, I agreed and was off to bed.
The following morning, it was about 9:30 a.m. when Mike came to the apartment. He was dressed in sweats, so I took it that he hadn’t forgotten the previous day’s plan. “Alright, time to dance,” he told me as I opened the door.
‘I do hope that speech of yours, celebrating my win, is written – so I can send it to the newspapers after the race,’ I chided.
Mike laughed and said, “I am afraid I am going to have to disappoint you there.”
We talked about the route one more time, when my ex-wife showed up with our car in front of the house where our apartment was. She parked it alongside the driveway and said, “I’m just going to follow you two, in case I have to scrape up one or both of you.”
Without anything left to do, we were off.
Despite the fact this challenge was issued in a light-hearted way, I really wanted to beat Harsh to the front gate. I was encouraged because, by and large, I was pretty fast. I usually beat people in foot races back then and, for as long as I was in the Army, I was a cadence caller in PT formations. So, I was in pretty good shape. Then again, so was Harsh.
|The front gate display at LDCK, Garlstedt, FRG|
I actually thought the distance to the first turn-off was about two or three miles away. Now, there was a mistake.
After two miles and change, we both made the first turn-off at about the same pace. My plan was to make my big move on this one-car wide road, which was bounded by a dairy farm. Cows were the only audience we had as we labored the course. At the very least, we broke up their day.
I pulled ahead and knew I had to get a lead before we came out to the main road toward the kaserne, which was this long straight-away. The weather was chilly, a little foggy and gray, but that was every day in Northern Germany. There was no chance of being cold in a race, though.
I didn’t look behind me as I put on the gas and stepped it up past Mike. I started to feel it in my lungs but pushed it, sure I had left him in the dust. Toward the entrance to the straight-away, I figured I would look back to see how far back he was.
I took that look and there he was – less than ten feet away! ‘At least he’s breathing hard, he had that much courtesy,’ I thought to myself.
|The 41st Infantry Regiment|
We made the turn onto the straight-away and it began to drizzle rain. The temperature dropped too. But, that didn’t matter a bit. Mike stepped up then, about halfway through the straight-away. I didn’t quite keep pace but I was in shooting range for most of the last leg. Then, out of nowhere, this guy comes up with a whole new speed and I was cooked.
Mike hit the front gate about a quarter-mile ahead of me. At that point, my lungs were blowing up, my legs were complaining, and puking wasn’t out of the question either. Meanwhile, Mike was bent over getting his wind.
It was about this time that I started walking and my ex pulled ahead of me and I got in her black Dodge Charger. She encouraged, “You guys were great!” Anytime you run a race against someone else and come in second, it isn’t ‘great’ But, it was a good way to spend a day.
She picked up Mike too and we headed back to our apartment. There was no smack talking on the way. I was beat, though, and said, ‘In case you didn’t notice, you won and I lost.’
“Yeah, I saw,” he said laughing.
We got back and drank water. He had somewhere to go and had brought civilian clothes. While my ex-wife was chiding me about the race, Mike got changed and was off to his next stop in Osterholz.
That was about it. I was dog tired and fell to sleep on the couch and didn’t wake up for a few hours. We told our section sergeant, SFC Craig Fisher, about the race the next day and he laughed.
I walk with a cane now and, as I write this, am awaiting a knee replacement procedure. I think I will hold off on trying for a rematch until they put in that new knee.