©2014, Aaron Elson
Lex OíBrient of Albuquerque, N.M., was a lieutenant in D Company of the 712th Tank Battalion. He was called up during the Korean War, and retired as a colonel in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
We crossed the Atlantic on the S.S. Exchequer. I wondered how that thing was gonna make it, because they had it double loaded. It had troops below and they had troops sleeping out on deck, so when the time came to switch around, the ones that had been out on deck got to go and sleep in a bunk and the others had to come up, I mean, it was loaded. And it was so low in the water I thought we would sink. But anyway, we crossed the ocean in a big convoy, and Iíve got to tell you something funny about Lambert Hiatt [Lt. Lambert Hiatt was the company executive officer]. Heís dead now; I was sure sorry I didnít get to talk to him.
The minute Lambert got on board that ship and he lay in the bunk, he didnít get up again until we got to the other side. He would say, "Lex, bring me something to eat. Bring me something to drink."
I said, "Okay, Lambert." And we hadnít even moved out yet. The water was just sloshing against the side. I thought that was so funny, how somebody could get seasick and the thing isnít even moving yet.
So I used to bring him food. Iíd say, "Well, Lambert, what do you want?"
Heíd say, "Whatever you can get. Just donít bring me any soup."
What I did, I brought him fresh fruit, sandwiches, Iíd stick those things inside of my jacket and get them on down there to him. He didnít leave his bunk the whole trip. He had to get to go to the bathroom, I think somebody helped him there but Iím not sure. He was just bedridden the whole way. But he was a hell of a nice guy, I really enjoyed knowing him.
On the ship going over, I remember one of the warrant officers, named Baker. I wasnít a gambler, but I used to sit and watch these guys. They would sit there with a foot locker with a blanket over it and they would shoot craps and play poker and I donít know what else. Then I remember so well, one time Ė nobody liked our battalion commander, Whitside Miller, because this man didnít have what it really took to lead people. I donít say he was a bad person, he wasnít, but somehow he was lacking in how to get people together and to motivate them into doing things. I remember one time he chewed my butt out something fierce. I was doubletiming with my platoon, just part of the training Ė this was in England Ė and he yelled at me, "Youíre not supposed to be up there! You get to the back! And you stay back there!" And I thought, "Gee whiz? Whatís the matter with this guy?" If I want to run with the men up here instead of back there, whatís the difference? Anyway, I did what he said. Other people were having problems with him too.
But I laughed at Baker. We were in the room, with all the doors closed, this was on board ship, and somebody knocked on the door. They were playing cards, and no one answered. So he waited a little bit, and this time knocked a little louder.
And old Baker says, "Grease your ass and slide under!"
I cracked up. I didnít know who it was. So we got the door open, and there he was. Whitside Miller, our battalion commander. Iíll never forget that. "Grease your ass and slide under." Good old Baker.
And the colonel didnít say a word. I guess he was so startled he didnít know what to say. He turned around and left.