Ah, St. Patrick’s Day, a day for the celebration of all things Irish, “What’s the craic laddie?” even for those of us who aren’t from there…I used to tell my neighbors from Ireland that my family was from the southern part of Ireland…Sicily.
And there is arguably no place better to spend St. Patrick’s Day in the United States than in Savannah, “the Hostess City of the South.” Savannah is a great place any time of the year, but for St. Patrick’s Day, there is arguably no better place to be. They host one of the largest parades anywhere with at times as many as 300 marching bands, Clydesdale horses and of course the military.
One of the time-honored traditions has been women wearing bright red lipstick rushing out and kissing a Ranger from the 1st Bn as they march past. It wouldn’t uncommon for a baby faced Ranger to have a face full of lipstick by parade’s end. But the Army has no sense of humor and they have asked security people to prevent the women from kissing soldiers in the parade.
Back in the day, when I was in the 7th Special Forces Group, we used to do a big exercise with the Ranger Regiment at Hunter Army Airfield regularly right there in Savannah. We were working out of Saber Hall in a “working isolation” planning the missions, prior to our exercise while the Rangers from the 3rd Battalion were busy practicing their airfield seizures both day and night.
Cold Beer on the Drop Zone? You Betcha:
The trip down there was always an event. Once we flew down in a tanker and got to watch an in-flight refueling of F-16s that look like their coming right in the rear of the aircraft. But for this particular trip, we left Ft. Bragg early on a Saturday morning. While nearly everyone would be airlanded at Hunter, we’d have six people jump into Ft. Stewart so the Air Force would pick up the tab for the plane.
Conditions were perfect, six of us jumped out and we had two vans on the drop zone who whisked out to pick us up right beside the turn-in area, where we landed. We must have had a spot-on jumpmaster (wink). But the best part was, no sooner than you rolled up your chute, the van was there and two young guys, truck drivers from the 7th SFG Support Battalion, grabbed it, and threw it in the van. Then another guy handed you a cold beer and into the van we’d go. We cleared the drop zone in record time.
The best part was there was an Engineer unit from Ft. Stewart waiting to use the DZ for some road grading stuff once we cleared it. Having witnessed many drops I’m sure, they weren’t expecting to see a C-141 drop just six guys and have them get picked up with cold beer right at the landing spot. If all jumps were just like that, my how recruitment would have soared…
An Uneventful St. Patrick’s Day …Until:
Being in working isolation meant that during our time at Hunter AAF, we were able to partake in some of the wonderful nightlife that Savannah has to offer and a good time was had by all. My buddy Tim H. was a platoon sergeant in 1st Bn and after going over and meeting him and some of the guys who worked for him, they informed me of all the good places to go. We ran into some of them later, all great dudes.
Another good bud, Bob F. was a platoon sergeant in the 3rd Ranger Bn. the guys we were working with. They were locked down in tents at Saber Hall, but I made sure that I’d make a pogey run for his boys.
Anyway, St. Patrick’s Day arrives and despite our train up for the exercise, we were excited to partake in fine Irish revelry. I had the duty at Saber Hall that night until 11. There were two of us, a good guy Bill and myself were stuck until 11 but figured there would still be plenty of good times still to be had by then. Our relief, who we’ll call SSG A and SSG J. who was a Support Bn NCO were both with a group of guys who were renting a car, heading down to the beach and then back in Savannah before relieving us.
The day was boring, nothing was really going on, the commander basically shut everything down because of St. Patrick’s Day and was allowing as many guys out as possible. So we made busy work, watched local television and tried to stay awake.
Our Support Bn. had a mess section there and they would make a bunch of hamburgers and hotdogs around 8-9 p.m. for the guys working in isolation to give them an evening snack. They made the usual amount but since no one was really there, most were going to waste. So I asked the mess sergeant for a bunch of buns and he and I made a slew of burgers and dogs and wrapped them in tin foil but my buddy Bob’s Rangers. Fresh off a practice airfield seizure, they attacked those with reckless abandon. They were appreciative, but their company commander was not. He gave me a double ration of shit for interfering with his training…” yeah, yeah, Okay…we’ll never do it again.”
So as the clock is winding down, Bill and I are deciding where we want to go first. It is about 10:30 and we’re waiting for our two guys to be waltzing in at any minute and getting ready to take over. The old man joined us and we put the local news on and of course everything was about St. Patrick’s Day.
Bill and I are looking at each other, not saying a thing, but now we know we’re fucked. Because it is 11 and there is no sign of anyone. The old man turned to us and asked, “Hey aren’t guys supposed to be gone by now?” Not wanting to throw the other guys under the bus, we said that we were, but believed that they’d be along any minute.
The end of the newscast was just before 11:30 and the host said, “We’re going to go live down on River St. with Amy who is taking all of this in.” And they cut to a live shot of absolute chaos with this young woman yelling to be heard over the raucous partying going on…. And they showed two drunk guys, cavorting, dancing and making faces at the camera, right behind “Amy”.
“Isn’t that SSG A. and SSG J.” the old man asked? He started laughing, “Those two are going to have big heads in the morning,” he added. We just nodded, not saying a word. Then reality hit, the old man walked over to the duty sheet and looked at who was supposed to be our relief and came back and sat down.
“Well, let’s have some coffee and wait for them together,” he said. Uh oh… the old man wasn’t happy about that. So we sat and waited… and waited. Finally just before 2 a.m. a rental car full of inebriated 7th SFG guys, whips in the parking lot. Thankfully they had a designated driver, I say thankfully because they were an unsteady lot. When you’ve been drinking all day, you only THINK you’re being quiet as they made their way back to the area.
Here come our two guys, our relief, only about three hours late. When they saw the commander sitting with us they had a “go to Jesus” moment. You had to hand it to the old man, he was cool as a cucumber. “Hey guys, what happened, why are you so late?”
They had this elaborate BS story about driving the rental car on the beach at dusk and getting stuck and spending all night trying to dig it out. It was an awful story as BS stories go but at least they had their details down. The old man was sympathetic and asking all the questions and giving them the impression that he was feeling sorry for them.
When they were finished, he said, “Guys get changed and into uniform and don’t worry about it, those things can happen to anyone… but I have one more question.”
“It was going great and I believed your story 100 percent until I watched you both dancing on River St. and mugging for the t.v. cameras. So, don’t you think if you’re going to elaborate lengths to BS, everyone, you should make sure the next time, you DON’T allow yourselves to get filmed on television?…just asking.”
SSG J. looked at him and said, “Ah …sir, we…. Well I… Shit sir, we fucked up.”
The old man looked at them and said was mad that they screwed us out of having a little bit of fun that he worked into our schedule but more than that, he expected much better from them by not showing up on time and ready to work, which to him was inexcusable. With a wave of dismissal, he told them to get dressed. As they hurried off, the old man turned to us and apologized for us having to stay well beyond our time, like it was his fault. He put on another pot of coffee and told us to take off, he was going to stay with them the rest of the night and make sure that neither one got a minute of sleep until the morning shift came on.
He wasn’t going to hammer them, they were both good guys who just screwed up royally. That’s why he was such a good commander, he could have put the screws to them, which would have easily been within his rights to do so. But he was such a respected officer, just by him telling them he was disappointed in them, hit them much harder than any punishment would have.
Although we were pretty pissed at the time, we quickly got over it but ensured we reminded them of them mugging on television whenever it suited our purpose. In today’s world of Facebook Live, Instagram and whatever else, that crap would have been everywhere. But the lesson remains, everyone will screw up at one time or another. Just don’t be on camera.
“St. Patrick… one of the few saints whose feast day presents the opportunity to get determinedly whacked and make a fool of oneself all under the guise of acting Irish.” – Charles M. Madigan
Photo: Savannah River St. on St. Patrick’s Day – YouTube.com