Military Police Drama
by John Davis Collins.....© 2001 by John F. Clennan, All Rights Reserved
If you call Fitzgerald Army Hospital, and ask for 4W, you'll be told there's no such ward and there never has been. Yet there you might find Plato and Aristotle and even a prophet or two. In the summer of 1977, and well into the fall beyond, I spent four months there, a guest of the United States Army. Maybe I'd still be there, if Dr. Broom hadn't intervened.
"Why am I here?" I looked around Dr. Broom's stark office, littler bigger than two telephone booths put together. I struggled to gather together the loose pair of pajama bottoms and the grey robe to keep them from sliding off as I sat on the plastic green coated chair.
Military Police Blotter was published by the legendary Bill Loepkey's Inditer Dot Com of Canada.
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I remembered the morning of my arrest. I had gone out near the University to a newsstand. There was news about an Army Colonel I had known. I hadn't caught the details and the news item wasn't repeated on TV. Maybe the newspapers had more specifics. "I don't belong here." I looked straight at Dr. Broom, whose starched white lab coat covered a rumpled tan army uniform. "I don't."
I had been walking down a street near the university where I taught when I was accosted by two plain-clothes policemen, MP's. "Conway," one said, "you belong to us." Shoved into a dark green sedan, one of those old fashioned bubble shaped ones, the kind you see in old war movies, and delivered to the airport to join other prisoners waiting in the hold of a C-140 transport, I was jetted to the stockade. "Welcome back," declared the towering guard, "this is where you belong."
I was afraid I had lost the medical officer's attention, but the gleam of a smile, which formed on Dr. Brooms lips, almost cresting the ends of his scraggly mustache told me I had had an impact.
Dr. Broom was the first person who listened to me, since the stern looking men in business suits and sunglasses from Army CID visited me in the stockade to ask about Colonel Herkmer.
I told the CID agents my story. After all I was in jail by mistake. "Colonel Herkmer promised to clear the way for my discharge. Can't you check with Colonel Herkmer?"
The CID men grunted like apes to each other and left never to return.
As Dr. Broom declared progress, at last, I silently critiqued Dr. Broom's unmilitary appearance, wrinkled tan uniform, nameplate at an oblique angle, hair protruding from under his circular garrison cap, which he forgot to remove indoors. Why should I do that?
When I approached Colonel Herkmer about my plans to study the Cult of Discipline, he had suggested to study discipline I'd have to become disciplined. With the magic of Herkmer's connections, I went through a shortened basic training course; that they provide the legal and medical officers. Muscles hurt but I learned how to wear a uniform, salute and stand erect. Dr. Broom could use some lessons.
"Before we explore greater issues," Dr. Broom said in his soft voice, "the question of why you're here. Let me ask you, do you know where here is?"
"Fitzgerald Army Hospital, 4W, the ward that doesn't exist and never did," I snapped a reply.
I pled with anyone in the stockade who'd listen, the guards, the corrections counselor, the chaplain. Finally they sent me this moo-cow of a Judge Advocate who listened to my tale with wide eyes, but took no notes. After she whispered to the Commandant of the stockade, the guards came with leg shackles. "Where are you taking me," I demanded to know.
"To join your comrades - - Plato, Aristotle and Socrates in the loony bin," I was told.
"Okay," said Dr. Broom with an expanding smile, "you do know where 'here' is; let's go to the next question. 'Do you know 'how' you got here?" Broom smiled. "It's a little less threatening than the 'why.'"
"The MP's arrested me for AWOL, yes, but I've never been a soldier." I looked toward the ceiling in an appeal to heaven. "No, you don't really want to hear the story. You'll think it crazy. You'll think I belong here."
I looked at Dr. Broom, the longish hair the unshined shoes.
After I completed my mini-basic training course, I reported to Colonel Herkmer in crisp uniform and saluted. "You do look like you belong." Colonel Herkmer complemented me. "I had some friends create a personnel file. Your name Conway, is common enough, 'Joe' instead of 'Joseph' and you're a regular dog face."
Yet in spite of the lack of military bearing, could Dr. Broom be trusted?
I had come to the Post Staff Judge Advocate well recommended. I had a government grant to study the cult of discipline. I needed to be inserted in a position to see the machinery of government exposed. After minimal explanation of some of the lingo, I was made NCOIC, sergeant-in-charge, of the trial defence office. The Army didn't care how badly I could mess up that office.
"Captain Philips, the chief defense counsel," Dr. Broom prodded me, "knew nothing of this arrangement. As your supervisor, Philips believes you burnt out from pressure, over-achieving. It's a difficult job assisting the defense - in a place like the Army."
Oh yes, Captain Philips'and the jolly defense counsel, isolated and alternatively ignored and despised. Breaking in was tough. I had to learn nuances of army-speak, but Philips was gentle and had no high expectations. "Defense Department, not Defence Department. Why do you think we celebrate the 4th of July? Certainly not to drink tea tax free." Too bad Philips sent that moo-cow to the stockade, instead of coming himself.
Dr. Broom shifted in his chair. "Philips was too distraught to visit you in the - - stockade."
I chuckled. Wasn't it Captain Philips who had taught me the hidden lesson in the Cult of Discipline? What lay underneath the mask of discipline and order? "But I'm sure," Dr. Broom continued, "Captain Philips would be cheered to hear that instead of breaking under pressure, you merely were spying on him, the defense counsel and their clients. Don't you think?"
As much as I admired Dr. Broom's attempt at confronting me with 'reality,' my technique was better. "Nothing like that - - I had a government grant to study the defense function in a closed society: I called the book I would write 'The Cult of Discipline.'"
Dr. Broom sighed. I knew how disappointed he must be. He had not shocked me back to the real world. "That's all the time I have reserved," Dr. Broom glanced at a Mickey Mouse watch hidden under the sleeves of his lab coat. "You're a professor - - writing a book - - Cult of Discipline - - then write y our book - - during the days this office is not in use - - I'll instruct the nurses to let you in here. No writer since Martin Luther has had such solicitude - - and you get paid for your trouble - - the Army continues your pay in hospital status."
Dr. Broom rose to signal the end of the interview. I remained in my chair. I tried to remain composed. I knew one signal from the doc would bring two gorillas called orderlies, crashing through the door. "Question, Conway?" Broom asked.
"Yes sir, I mean, doc," I hesitated, "wouldn't it be easier just to ask Colonel Herkmer?"
I didn't know how this cluster f___ occurred or why it continued. I had visited Colonel Herkmer in his office right before I left post, I thought for good. Herkmer was to have gotten all the discharge papers together for me and processed them so that I'd be clear of the books and no one came looking for me.
Heck, hadn't Captain Philips once told me the Army didn't look for deserters unless they were traitors? Why had they looked for me?
A sad look came across Broom's face. "Of course, you couldn't know, Colonel Herkmer was kidnapped by an extremist group - - right around the time - - you wouldn't remember. You were no doubt - - eh teaching in the university."
I was trapped. I had only one option to write that book that might never have been otherwise written. I would have spent the grant wasting away on the French Riviera instead of here.
What were my other options? I could write a letter to one of my colleagues in the university. We used to toss nut letters in the trash.
Could I send for Captain Philips? What would I tell him? If he got over the shock and accepted the truth, he'd tell me that legally there was no recourse. I had an apparently valid enlistment contract and the government was paying me to be where I was. "The Army is a simple society," Philips might have said, "Being where you're suppose to be and doing what you're supposed to be doing is all it requires."
Besides, I knew from my dealings in the defense office, the Army had no plan for long term confinement of mentally disabled soldiers. If a soldier couldn't be cured, they received a discharge.
The very next day after reveille, I was separated from the usual inmates in the psychiatric wing - - Plato, Shakespeare, Patton and some Roman pontiff and escorted to Dr. Broom's office where papers and pens had been left out for me.
"Major Broom's instructions," a nurse told me with an expressive face, "stay as long as you like. Just tell the orderly when you're finished, Dr. Conway." Periodically through the first few days as I feverishly wrote and thought, a nurse or orderly would come by to check on me. After a few seconds of idle chat, the observer would go about their duties. Within several days, my work at a frantic pace went unnoticed, as if it were normal for a mental patient to toil in the psychiatrist's office on a psychological treatise.
It was weeks before I next saw Dr. Broom. One afternoon, Dr. Broom came in apologetically. "Conway, mind if I interrupt your work?"
"It's your office," I looked up from sheaths of paper.
"I hope you don't mind. I have been sneaking in here," Dr. Broom looked over some pages and politely replaced them on the desk, "to read your book and I'm impressed. I like the free flowing narrative . . . very different from Professor Conway's - - I mean your prior writings which tend toward that experimental, empirical approach."
"I decided to break with academic writing, not to be an inert observer who measures and quantifies, but an active participant in the moment and to write introspectively like some of the classical writers, Freud and Jung in the vernacular of the moment."
"Ah yes the," Broom observed, "icons of psychiatry." A wistful look came over his face. "When I was younger, I thought of myself as a young Freud. I spoke in such circumlocution I couldn't understand myself." Broom's confident smile returned. "I did enjoy reading your Cult of Discipline. It was refreshing."
I returned to my work. Was it a week or so later, that Dr. Broom visited me at work in his office. "A moment of your time Professor Conway," Dr. Broom woke me from my writing. "Stay right there behind the desk. A short role playing exercise. You do train your students in role-playing don't you? Good! Okay, I'm a patient; you are the doctor. Alright be the doctor."
"Good afternoon," I shrugged my shoulders. "Ah - - I'm sorry, they didn't tell me your name."
"Professor Joe Conway. I teach at the university. They say I'm an AWOL GI but heck I've never been in the Army. Do you think you can help me doc?"
"How," I shrugged my shoulders, "did you come to be sitting in front of me?"
"I was arrested by the MP's. I tried to tell the stockade people about the mistake, they brought in the legal JAG people; the JAG people declared me nuts and sent me here."
"Is there anyone who can verify my story?" "No." Broom shook his curls, "the JAG Colonel who knows was kidnapped. There's an Army 201, personnel file that shows a valid enlistment. The university where I work believes me to be on a long sabbatical in the South of France. No one there or anyone else know I masqueraded as a Army legal specialist."
I laughed. "I guess you would have to join me writing a book." I continued with my book. I knew that eventually the Army would discharge me. They had no plan for long term psychiatric care of the mentally disabled soldiers; they didn't even acknowledge such disabilities existed.
As I continued my writing, I may have suspected I was deluding myself. One afternoon Dr. Broom wrinkled in tan, as usual, came in with a Colonel in a crisp dress green uniform with medical Corp tabs, the Commandant of the hospital.
"Colonel," Dr. Broom made the introduction, "this is my colleague Dr. Conway, who has been writing a fascinating study of the Cult of Discipline."
The Colonel's face was expressionless. "Conway - -" The Colonel looked to Dr. Broom. "Dr. Conway, would you excuse us for a second?"
I may never have overheard what was said, except that an orderly interrupted the discussion to give the Colonel a message and accidentally left the door open a crack.
"Why is this Conway still here?" The Colonel demanded.
"Originally Army CID asked me to hold him here. CID thought Conway might have been involved in that - - eh - -kidnapping. A likely suspect, Conway took up French leave just about the time."
"CID forgot about Conway." There was a pause. I hard sheaths of paper drop to the desk. "A fascinating tale, Conway tells. I almost believe Conway could be the professor he claims to be. Certainly excellent writing and insight."
"Persuasive schizophrenic. Isn't that what you psychiatrists call it?"
"I think Conway is capable of returning to reality, with my help."
So, my book was keeping me in the loony bin. I knew I now had to persuade Dr. Broom that I believed myself to be Conway the soldier legal assistant specialist, not a psychiatrist lecturer. And I had to do it gradually.
"The discharge," Captain Philips used to philosophize about the military's microcosm of society. "Every soldier's dream. Many don't care what hidden burdens may attach to less than honorable discharges!"
"Do soldiers," I asked, "carry over the burden of bad discharges into civilian life?"
"Not my worry." Philips would joke. "Once discharged, they're not my concern anymore."
My concern increased when Colonel Herkmer was released by his abductors - - in a comatose condition. Was it drugs, fatigue or stress? No one knew. It was hush-hush; everyone talked about it.
I had only one way out left open to me.
I tapered off my writing. When Dr. Broom inquired, I claimed not to have as much interest in it as before. Some mornings I declined the invitation to take my seat in Dr. Broom's office. "The days," I told Dr. Broom, "seem to pass much slower. It ain't much fun to sit and talk to Plato and Aristotle all day anymore." I added with a chuckle.
There was a silence, as quiet as the defense office after a grueling day of trials and appointments. "The pause," Captain Philips use to say, "the opportunity to plot direction."
I had determined my direction carefully I had to be sure Dr. Broom was in full agreement.
"How do you take this?" I asked Dr. Broom.
"So are you ready to admit, you're a legal clerk who took a long vacation from the burden of other people's problems?" Broom inquired with interest. "Just another dog face GI," I described myself, "High School Drop-Out, Enlisted one step ahead of the law, Educated in the School of Hard Knocks."
"So you'll let me trash this manuscript?" Hope glowed in Dr. Broom's eyes.
Horror must have shown in my face. My manuscript. My work product of so many months. I had to control myself. "I'd like to keep it - - just for a few laughs when I get bored - - something to remind me about my days as a promising psychiatrist." I tried to smile.
Dr. Broom looked disappointed. "I'd like to restore you to duty, but, if you can't see the danger of that manuscript, you still cling to the illusion. I'm afraid I'll have to recommend you for a psychiatric discharge."
I tried to conceal my glee. I had gotten over at last. I listened empathetically to Dr. Broom's apology that he had been given an ultimatum: cure or discharge and that no more time to give me.
"Can I take my manuscript with me?" I asked. "Sure. Why not?" Dr. Broom signaled two burly orderlies to enter the room. When I turned in confusion to protest that I was being discharged, Dr. Broom added, "go quietly with these gentlemen. They'll take you to the Veterans Administration wing at 4E."
If you call Fitzgerald Veterans Hospital and ask for ward 4E, they'll tell you there is no 4E and never was. Yet you can find Plato, Aristotle, Generals Grant and Patton and an occasional President or prelate there. And which they orate, philosophize and theorize, you might find Professor Conway still writing his book, near Colonel Herkmer gazing off into oblivion.
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