Part 5: A military superior writes Bum Phillips up four times in one day

Aug. 28, 2010 at 3:28 a.m.

Editor's note: This is part five of a seven-part series.

My Daddy whipped me several nights in a row for playing high school football. Those lashings served as a prelude to military downtime.

I was in the South Pacific to fight, and if I wasn't fighting, I seemed to find myself in a mess. Superiors wrote me up four times in one day. That might explain why I entered the war as a private and left with the same rank. I've always been a bit of a rebel, but you can only go so far before you should join them.

Awaiting orders one morning to invade New Georgia, we were anchored aboard a destroyer that floated between two islands. We weren't regularly fed like other units. During one stretch, I lived off chocolate bars for almost 10 days. Hungry, I grabbed a fellow Raider and we jumped overboard, splashing into the water 30 feet below. We swam 100 yards and toward the shoreline, carrying with us rucksacks and a taste for coconuts.

Despite my gift as a swimmer, I underestimated the strong current and missed by 50 yards the landing spot near the coconut grove. When we finally reached the sand, we slinked into the jungle to collect the fruit, filled our rucksacks and returned to the water.

This time, we walked 50 yards up the beach to account for the current. We waded into the water until the small waves slapped our chests. The coconuts bobbed beside us. Once our chins touched the water, we swam.

The water was cool, refreshing. The sun shined bright. The coconuts, though, slowed our progress. The current seemed to salivate at the thought of tossing us farther out to sea. It swallowed us again and pushed us away from the destroyer.

Realizing we couldn't swim against the water, we yelled and waved. Suddenly, we'd drifted 50 yards downstream of our ship, which taunted us from its anchored position. Finally, a topside crewman spotted us and sent a rubber boat.

"We wanted to get some coconuts," I told the man. "So, we jumped over the ship and grabbed some."

When we reached the ship, my superior found my reasoning unacceptable. The captain scolded me and then filed a formal reprimand, my first of the day.

As part of the punishment, the captain ordered me to head below deck and to sweep the cramped bunk rooms. I hated sweeping rooms as much as I hated mowing grass.

After cleaning the floors around a few bunks, I walked to a room where I found a man sleeping. I was upset because he wasn't supposed to be in there. So I asked him to move. When he wouldn't, I swept dust into a pile and then flipped the mound onto the man.

The corporal, infuriated, forced me to join him in a visit with the captain. Fresh off a speech about why he disapproved of men who jump ship, the captain scolded me again and filed his second formal reprimand of the day.

The captain looked up, asked me to acknowledge the significance of his signature and said I should find better ways to spend my downtime.

The sleepy-eyed corporal, though, still angered me. I turned to him and called him a tattletale in rougher terms and said I'd whip his butt as soon as we left.

Before the ink dried on my second formal reprimand, I received another. It was barely noon, and the captain had already written me up three times.

The fourth reprimand of that lazy day should have come as no surprise. After finishing my janitorial punishment below deck, I wiped my brow, returned topside and squinted against the hot sun.

I was off duty and yearning to cool myself. Instead of showering, I looked around. With no officers in sight, I removed my shirt, flipped my chain so that my dog tags dangled against my back and jumped over the ship's railing. I landed in the water and cooled instantly.

I floated on my back, soaked in the diluted heat and kicked my feet. A man on deck, though, heard the splash.

"Hey, get back on here," he yelled.

I refused and the Raider onboard then pointed to his collar. He, like the man who'd signed three documents that day, was a captain.

I found myself in an office facing a superior once more.

The captain said, "Bum, that's four times in one day. Go find Van Fleet and your friends and stay out of trouble, wouldya?"

MONDAY: Bum endures the most dangerous battle of his life.



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