“Sergeant, are the men ready?” asked Lt. Garibaldi. “And I mean good and ready. This isn’t some light colonel, we got coming by, it’s General Patton, himself.”
“Yessir, Old Blood and Guts, right?” the sergeant confirmed.
“Yeah, him, but I better not hear anyone calling him anything but ‘sir’ or General Patton.”
“Don’t worry, sir, my guys know what to do.”
“Yeah?” the lieutenant quizzed him, “what about that idiot you got, what’s his name, Thompson?”
“All taken care of, sir,” the sergeant explained. “I posted him on guard duty at the front gate.”
“You what?” stormed the officer. “Hell, that means he’s the first guy the General’s gonna see when he gets here!”
The sergeant calmed Garibaldi down and patiently briefed him on the situation. Thompson, fool that he was, at least knew the rudiments of guard duty. He also knew, from Sarge telling him over and over again, that, as soon as General Patton passed the checkpoint, he was to get on the walkie-talkie and let them know back at headquarters, and he meant, the very instant.
“Even a dope like Thompson can figure that out,” the sergeant explained to the battalion commander’s liaison officer. “We’ll have plenty of time to get the men ready, plus, with Thompson out of the way, back at the gate, he won’t have to stand inspection. Pretty smart, huh?”
“Yeah, if your guy doesn’t somehow find a way to louse things up.”
“He won’t, sir” the sergeant sighed. “If I drilled him once on this deal, I drilled him a thousand times.”
The team had been told to expect the General at 1900 hours. It was now 2000 hours, and he had not showed up yet. A horrible thought ran through Garibaldi’s head. Had Private Thompson been asleep when General Patton’s jeep drove up? Or worse yet, was he idling angrily outside the gate, waiting for the idiot guard to wake up?
The lieutenant could not stand the tension any longer. He called for his own jeep and went out to the checkpoint. There was Pvt. Thompson, happily sitting at his post, staring out into space without a care in the world.
“You, Thompson!” the officer yelled.
“Atten HUT!” Thompson commanded himself.
“Never mind that, Private. Has General Patton arrived yet?”
“No, sir, and I been lookin'” the soldier explained.
“Hell, they must be tearing out their hair at battalion,” Garibaldi muttered. “Okay, fine, Thompson, keep an eye out and for God sakes, you get on that walkie-talkie and tell me the second after you clear General Patton through the gate. You got that?”
Now it was 2030 hours. Garibaldi had just gotten off the phone to battalion HQ, and they were plenty steamed. Christ, it wasn’t like he was holding the General in a locked closet or nothing. If for no other reason than to get the colonel off his back, Lt. Garibaldi made another trip out to the front gate.
“Atten HUT!” Thompson again yelled to himself as the lieutenant’s jeep approached.
The two of them pretty much repeated their earlier conversation, Garibaldi stressing even more strongly the need to let him know as soon as General Patton came through the gate.
2100 hours came and went, and so did 2130. There was still no sign of General Patton. Lt. Garibaldi had occupied a good chunk of that time going out to the front gate to brief and re-brief and re-brief Private Thompson again on the nature and importance of his duties.
After the last of those three visits, Thompson had heard the lieutenant grumble, “When the hell is he coming? This is really gettin’ on my nerves!”
To the surprise of no one, except Private Thompson, Lieutenant Garibaldi made another trip to the guard post at 2215 hrs.
“Atten HUT!” Thompson dutifully ordered himself, as he sprang to his feet.
“Do you mean to tell me, Private, that General Patton has not arrived yet, after all this time?”
“No sir. Matter of fact, no one’s arrived yet after all this time, exceptin’ for you, of course, but I guess that don’t count.”
God dammit to hell, I’ve just about had it!” the lieutenant screeched. Then, calming himself down with a mighty effort, he turned to Thompson and told him, “Continue to keep an eye out, Private. When General Patton finally gets here, you know what to do, right?”
Yes sir. I know exactly what to do.”
At 2240 hours, the unmistakable noise of a jeep broke the silence around the guard post. An instant later, Pvt. Thompson saw a pair of headlights come over the ridge.
“Halt, halt halt! Who goes there?” the guard shouted, as per standard operating procedure.”
“General George S. Patton, that’s who!” came the loud and clear reply.
“General Patton?” Thompson called out to the jeep. “Boy, are you gonna get it from the lieutenant!”