THE CONDUCTOR AND THE GENERAL
By: Jack Serig, Sr.
During a permanent tour at Ft. Riley, Kansas, early 60’s,
with the 18th Otters* as a first lieutenant, I was ordered to the Pentagon
for temporary duty, to serve as escort for the Deputy Chief of Staff, Intelligence,
Army of Bolivia. During my Pentagon briefings the importance of this
VIP’s visit was repeatedly emphasized. Our government was trying to
improve seriously strained relations with the Bolivian government.
My charge, (DCSINTEL-BOLIVIA) would be the first senior
official from Bolivia to accept our government’s invitation in several years.
My duties to the DCSINTEL-BOLIVIA were similar to that of aide-de-camp, translating
for him, insuring we met our local briefing schedules and getting him to
and from the many far-flung military installations on our itinerary, on time.
The DCSINTEL Bolivia, was considered important enough to be hosted, personally,
by the DCSINTEL, U.S. ARMY, and his lovely wife.
A semi-formal cocktail party and dinner were held at the
Army-Navy Club the night before we departed Washington for our next installation
visit, which was to be accomplished by train. Much to our surprise, especially
after the many goblets of fine wine served with the seven-course dinner the
night before, the DCSINTEL, U.S. Army, a two-star general, personally showed
up at the train station to bid adieu to DCSINTEL, Bolivia.
The general accompanied us on to our car and engaged us
in conversation. The “All aboard!” sounded. The DCSINTEL, U.S. Army
didn’t debark. The train began lurching slowly forward. The general
made no attempt to leave. The train gained momentum. A conductor
appeared. The DCSINTEL, U.S. Army, said to the conductor, “Stop the
train!” The conductor said, “No!” A heated argument ensued.
Neither side would give in. The train was picking up speed. The DCSINTEL
Bolivia, and I, were having the rare privilege of seeing a American two-star
general, no less than the DCSINTEL U.S. Army, being dressed down and stood-up-to
by a stubborn civilian train conductor. The general reached up and
pulled the “emergency stop” cord. The conductor soundly berated the general—who
was in Class A uniform with two shining stars attached to each epaulet—in
a furious verbal barrage. The train screeched to a slowing halt. The
general shook hands with the Army of Bolivia’s DCSINTEL a final time, said
Goodbye!” with a warm smile, as if nothing had happened, and left our passenger
car, which was the final car of the train.
The last we saw, through our car’s rear observation window,
of the United States Army’s 2-star DCSINTEL, he was walking along the tracks
toward the train station about four blocks away, head proudly held high.
*Otter, an Army STOL (Short takeoff/landing) 11-place aircraft.
This article was published in the LOGBOOK, a tri-annual publication of
the Army Otter-Caribou Association, November, 1997 edition.