Corporal Goldberg


by Alfred Scott

This article appeared in the December 1993 Falco Builders Letter.

When I was stationed with the Marine Corps in the late 1960's, our job was to guard a Navy radio transmission station in a cork forest on the coast of Morocco. That was before satellites, and our base was a radio link between the Mediterranean fleet and the Pentagon. While the war in Vietnam raged on, our job was an ordeal in boredom.

I was one of the lucky guys who were part of the guard dog squad. During the day, the antenna field was guarded by a man high up in a radio tower over the central radio compound. If a Moroccan wandered into our area to steal copper wire, he could call the sergeant, who would drive out in a truck.

The Moroccans rarely did this, and never at night because that's when the dog patrols were out. A few years before, one particularly crazy Marine had turned his dog loose on a Moroccan, nearly killing the poor man. It required a personal apology from President Kennedy, but it served our purposes well because the Moroccans thought all of the dog handlers were crazy. We did our best to maintain the image by chasing them with our German shepherds into the forest.

While our receiving station sixty miles away suffered enormous losses from pilferage at night, we had none at all. No Moroccan would ever consider sneaking into our base at night. In fact, the dog handlers were never doing their job. We would pair up and spend the night talking or sleeping. When the sergeant came out for his hourly check, we had a warning system of whistles that would send us scurrying back to our individual posts, each being a pie-slice of the round field.

One of the dog handlers was Corporal Goldberg, a hard-working, energetic man who had just returned from Vietnam. Everyone liked Goldberg, but one morning we woke and the awful news of the night before raced through the barracks. Goldberg had been caught sleeping on post -- the ultimate, worst offense any Marine could commit. You were guaranteed six months in the brig and then a dishonorable discharge.

One of the first things any soldier, sailor or Marine learns is that when your ass is in the crack like this, you lie. You prevaricate, fabricate and dissemble. Only the stupidest and most foolish soldier will fess up to a hanging crime and take the punishment. I had once been caught sitting down in the post high up in the tower reading a book. But the sergeant was never able to find the book (which I hurled over the radio building as he climbed the ladder) and really couldn't tell from directly below if I was sitting or squatting. It was a problem of "leg cramps", I later told the captain, and I was just doing knee-bends to relieve them.

So I went up to see Goldberg, who was just rolling out of the bunk, miserable and frightened. "What happened?" I asked. "They caught me sleeping on post," said Goldberg who recounted the sad tale. He had been posted at midnight, sat down on a rock at the posting station, and fell asleep. He woke up in the headlights of the sergeant's truck. There were two witnesses, the sergeant and the company driver. Not only was Goldberg asleep, but his dog was asleep as well. To make matters worse, the spot where he was found was across the road from his post, so he was also off his post, another serious offense.

It didn't help that the sergeant was one of those sick types who actually liked burning people. In 18 years in the service, he had never risen above E5 sergeant, and was so hated that a few months later one of our bunkmates fixed bayonet and tried to run the sergeant through as he lay in his bed. Two men caught the Marine and grabbed him within three feet of stabbing the sergeant.

"Well, what did you say to them?" I asked. Goldberg exploded at me in frustration. "Are you kidding? They caught me! They had their headlights on me!" I persisted. "Look Goldberg, did you actually admit you were asleep?" After some more arguing about the absurdity of all this, Goldberg finally admitted that no, he had said nothing.

Goldberg was too frightened to think, so I concocted a story for him and coached him on how important it was to keep a straight face and tell the story as if he believed it with all his heart. It was either that or six months in the brig. By the time breakfast was over, Goldberg had developed a religious fervor for the story.

It was then time to appear before the captain, who was a great guy and who had also served in Vietnam. The staff was assembled, and the sergeant made his report, describing in detail all he had seen. The company driver confirmed it all. Then it was Goldberg's turn to stand before the captain's desk. Goldberg said that he had not been feeling well the previous day, and after he was on post he began to feel so sick that he tried to call in to be relieved. His radio didn't work, so he began walking to the central building (to have the Marine at the gate call in for him on the telephone-the standard procedure in the event of a radio failure), and the next thing he knew the headlights were in his face. He had no idea how he had gotten there.

The sergeant came completely unglued and began to sputter all over himself in protest. The captain silenced him, and said that a doctor would have to look at Goldberg before they could proceed. Two minutes later, Goldberg was back in the barracks all excited and telling me about the session in the captain's office when someone said that there was a telephone call for Goldberg. It was the captain calling from his office only 50 feet away, but he didn't identify himself. "Goldberg, that's the best story I've ever heard! You stick with it." Then he hung up.

Before he could see a Navy doctor at mainside, Goldberg had to see the chief petty officer who dispensed pills and tended to minor complaints. The old chief filled out a medical form drenched with disbelief and sent Goldberg on his way.

I told Goldberg he should stick to the story no matter what, and when he got to the hospital, he was shown into the Navy doctor's office. All of the doctors were basically civilians doing their residency in the military, and they had great sympathy for the Marines, who they thought were treated badly. After he was shown in, Goldberg sat as the doctor read the chief's report -- that Goldberg had been caught sleeping on post, claims this, claims that. The doctor, who had not said a word, got out of his chair and quietly closed the door.

"What happened?" he asked.

Goldberg completely broke down. "Doc, they've got me by the balls!"

"It's okay" said the doctor. "What did you tell them?"

Goldberg then told him the whole yarn about feeling bad and waking to find headlights in his face. "That's a good story", said the doctor, and he then sat down and filled out a medical report that this syndrome of dizziness and fainting spells had been noticed several times in the past year in Morocco, that it did not require any medication, and so on. He filled an entire page with medical baloney, signed it and sent Goldberg on his way with a smile.

Two weeks later, Goldberg was promoted to sergeant, same rank as the man who caught him. Except for the sergeant, nobody wanted to burn Goldberg, and everyone on the base knew I had made up the story for Goldberg. From that time on, I noticed that the officers treated me with a very slight sense of humor and appreciation.