If you want to create chaos and catapult an entire bar full of Paratroopers into silent confusion, just start your story with the words: “I had an experience with a gay man once…”
You could have heard a mouse fart when a buddy of mine bellied up to the bar at Ft. Bragg and began his story with those words. There was an audible silence, interrupted only by the sound of wind rushing in and out of several dozen gaped mouths, and a hushed chorus of, “Huh? What the fuck did the Sargent Major just say?”
He slapped me on the back. “No, shit! It was traumatic,
the stuff fucking nightmares are made of.”
I immediately tried to figure a graceful way to exit the conversation before I sustained any additional emotional scars.
The Sargent Major, or “Wildman,” as he reverently was known amongst the Special Operations Community, was one of the most respected men I knew.
Three wars, combat jumps in two of them, and a chest full of medals, including a Purple Heart with 2 oakleaf clusters that he never talked about. If this old warrior was about to come out to us, it would likely send half the crowd into a catatonic state, but I somehow couldn’t help but listen.
The grizzled old Green Beret had everyone’s attention. He got quiet as if we were on a hot mission, then stood up and continued. “It was back during the Contra Ops. Nobody but our team knew our PA, Travis was as queer as a nine-dollar bill, and none of us gave a shit.”
“He was our team medic, and he could be a complete dickhead – Doc Travis somehow thought it was his personal responsibility to get everyone home alive. Always asking what color your pee was, or wanting to check your feet for rot and blisters. Stuff like that was Travis’ purpose in life. I say he was a dickhead, but he was our dickhead.”
The Sergeant Major paused for a sip of his beer; “I always stand out of respect, when I speak the name, Dave Travis.” I noticed about half the bar, including me, came to their feet as he continued with his story.
We had a 35-Klik hump and very short window to make it. We were lucky though, the topography was conducive to a swift relocation and we knew the route. Just a brisk two-day walk through relatively gentle terrain with excellent concealment and almost none of that loose ankle breaking stuff we were used to. Ambushes, now they were a different story,” he laughed as he took another long snort of his beer.
“The second morning, we came to this open area that wasn’t an open area the week before. The foliage was still smoldering in some places, and the smell of powder burned the nostrils. There was no concealment and less cover. We knew it was already Zeroed, but to go around would take a half-day that we didn’t have. My Team Commander decided we would risk it.”
There was no other option but to traverse the open slope, and I was tasked with probing it to find a good route across. About two-thirds the way across the 85-meter clearing, almost close enough to sprint to the tree-line, I felt, then heard that distinct WHOOMP – WHOOMP – WHOOMP of some asshole chucking out mortar rounds.
I knew the odds were pretty good I was his rangefinder so I kissed mother earth and tried to get as low as possible. Machine gun and small arms fire opened up from our left flank targeting our main body. I tried to get small.”
“Before the dust and rocks even stopped falling from the third detonation, Doc Travis covered the 70 meters between him and I, under heavy enemy fire. He checked me for wounds then dragged my dazed ass behind a big rock. As soon as he was sure I was just concussed, and not bleeding, he left me where I was and stepped back out into the Dragon’s Mouth to render medical aid to one of the locals who got hit.”
“And, Ya know the funny part?”
He surveyed his audience for effect. “Never once did it cross my mind – Nope; not even once, to ask Doc Travis if he was gay – I was just damn glad he called me brother.”
The Sergeant Major stood at attention as he finished his story:
“SSG Dave Travis gave that last full measure of devotion administering medical aid, under enemy fire, in a place that no one will ever admit we were.” I looked around and the entire bar was silent and standing at the position of attention.
“It doesn’t matter who you love; what matters is – Do You Love?”
Michael Franti – Poet, Musician, Human Rights Activist.