The Man With No Belly Button

A True War Story

You may think that the movie “Forest Gump” was unbelievable because you can’t believe anyone that dim could ever be accepted by the military, but I wasn’t in the Air Force long before I found that if you have a mental disability, you’re fine. Maybe intelligence is a detriment, although there are some stupid stunts that they won’t stand for.
One was possessing marijuana, a felony in 1972, outlawed on the basis of lies.
It was my day for clean-up duty in the barracks, as well as the duty sergeant’s. I can’t remember the fellow’s name, but Private Gump was a lot smarter than him. As we were cleaning the day room, where there were couches and a TV, the sergeant found a doobie. A big fat one, a real hog’s leg. He asked me if I knew what it was.
I took it and looked at it. “It’s a hand-rolled cigarette.”
“Could that be... marijuana?”
“One way to find out,” I said, and broke it in half. “I never saw green tobacco before,” I said, handing it back to him.
“What should I do with it?”
I shrugged. “Throw it in the dumpster.”
“You don’t think I should turn it in to the SPs?” The SPs were the Security Police, what other branches call the MPs.
“Hell, no! If you do, you’re going to be there all damned day filling out paperwork.”
He did. I saw him in the hall the day after next.
“You were right, I should have thrown it in the dumpster. I spent all damned day yesterday at the SP’s filling out paperwork!”
Two friends I was stationed with there were Stan Rogers and Chuck Woods. Chuck hated the tongue twister “How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck would chuck wood?”
Late one afternoon as I was reading, Stan dropped by my room to show off a gun he had gotten, from God only knows where. It was a snub nosed .38 pistol.
My dad was a hunter, so I was brought up around dogs and guns. I was taught dog safety and gun safety at an early age. It was obvious that Stan had never seen a gun of any kind except on TV and movies, and the two days during basic training.
I ran him off, despite his protestations that it wasn’t loaded. I was sure someone was going to get killed and I didn’t want to be around when it happened, especially if it happened to me.
Later in the evening a fellow whose name I don’t remember, the company clerk, a practical joker and doobie toker who hung with and smoked with the guys I hung around with, knocked on my door. I put down my book again and answered it.
“Stan shot Chuck!” He seemed really excited. Nice acting, I thought.
I frowned. “Peddle your sick joke somewhere else.”
“No! Really!”
I slammed the door and picked my book back up, a truly evil book I had checked out from the base library. It was Aleister Crowley’s “autohagiography”, the book that Ozzy Osbourne obviously named his album “Diary of a Madman” for, and sang about in the song “Mister Crowley”. It’s a book of black magic with instructions on how to perform it, drug abuse, murder (he claimed the King of England was Jack the Ripper), rape, sodomy, bestiality, suicide, ocean voyages, and mountain climbing. Four thousand evil pages. I read the whole damned thing, Delaware was the most boring place I’ve ever been in my life.
But real life was just as ghastly that night. The fellow wasn’t joking, Stan really did shoot Chuck! But it wasn’t on purpose.
I don’t know why I didn’t hear the gunshot or hear the sirens. I never thought about that until now that I’m writing it down. Maybe I had dozed off? A C-5 took off at the same time? Those things are really loud, although an SR-71 is a hell of a lot louder. Or maybe I was so absorbed in the batshit crazy book that I was just oblivious.
At any rate, Stan had visited Chuck after I had run him off. They took turns playing with the gun that Stan had insisted was unloaded.
I learned gun safety at a young age, as I said, and rule one is to never treat a gun as if it’s unloaded, even if you just unloaded it yourself. My dad always said that more people are killed by unloaded guns than loaded ones; I don’t know how accurate that was. But Stan and Chuck sadly didn’t know the rules.
Chuck later told me what happened.
He was leaning against a wall. Stan, a tall thin fellow, was twirling it like the “cowboys” (the word “cowboy” was an insult in the 1800s, referring to a drover, who held America’s worst job) do on TV and in the movies.
His unloaded gun went off. The slug hit Chuck square in the belly button and exited from his left buttock. He told me as he recounted the tale, “When I die, I want it to be from getting shot. The only way I knew I was shot was my leg started twitching.”
He slumped down the wall.
“Oh, shit!” Roger exclaimed. “Shit! Shit! Oh, fuck! Are you okay?”
“No, God damn it! You fucking SHOT me!”
I imagine a lot of blood was pooling, but he didn’t mention the blood, but said he wasn’t freaking out. I imagine it was like the car wreck I had in 1976; I was calm, but the ambulance guys were freaking out.
Stan was frantic. “Oh shit! Oh Shit! What should I do? What should I...”
“Get the God damned duty sergeant you fucking moron!” Chuck yelled. Stan ran down for help, and came back with the sergeant, of whom, as I said, Terry Pratchett might have said wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer, and might even be a spoon.
“Holy fuck! What do I do?”
“Get an ambulance! Jesus, what the fuck is wrong with you?!”
Yes, unlike TV and the movies, in real life military men freak out and panic sometimes, just like civilians. The ambulance came and took him to the hospital and the doctors started surgery.
The hospital lost power halfway through the operation, and they had to get a generator from the flight line.
Before they started sewing him up, the generator went out. In my 3½ years on the flight line towing AGE (Aerospace Ground Equipment), that was the only time I ever heard of those things failing; the military keeps a sharp eye on their equipment. Most of the vehicles I drove were older than I was.
Someone on the internet said that my science fiction story “But Sir, I’m Just a Robot” was unbelievable because of the string of bad luck that befell the robot’s owner, but Chuck’s story is actually true; all of this happened to the best of my memory. Mark Twain said “truth is stranger than fiction, because fiction has to be believable” (Terry Pratchett disagreed).
I never saw poor Stan again. He was immediately incarcerated, and stayed in jail until he was court-martialled on the charge of bringing a prohibited weapon on base; the only firearms are supposed to be owned by the government, and Chuck’s injury illustrates why.
Stanley was found guilty, and spent the next six months in Leavenworth, before receiving a dishonorable discharge. Nixon was in office, and the nation would be in a recession until Clinton’s administration, so life must have been really rough for Stan after the Air Force.
Chuck was in the hospital for a long time, but bore no ill will towards Stan. It was an accident, and it could have been just as easily Chuck shooting Stan. But he was pissed off at the hospital; they had incinerated his shirt and jeans because of the blood. He wanted them for souvenirs, I guess the big scar wasn’t enough.
He did recover from his injuries, but lost his belly button.
If you’re thinking about buying a firearm, please take a safety course. More gunshot wounds are accidental than murderous.

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