My Arizona friend, Jerry Fuller, was in the Military Police in Fort Davis and told me that additional men were needed in his unit. Would I be interested in making the switch? It would only be a TDY (Temporary Duty) assignment, but who knew how long “temporary” might be? The company was always short of men because so many of them had been caught sleeping on guard duty, court-martialled and sent to the Fort Clayton Stockade, a military jail. One of the local jokes had it that half of the men incarcerated in the stockade were Military Police men. Replacements for the on-duty contingent were always needed. So, I became a military policeman.
Military Police duty was, by-and-large, just guard duty, except for occasional traffic control and controlling the entrances to the base, which involved waving all vehicles in or out of the place. There was no war going on here, and there was no fear of terrorists in those days. Military Police duty was fairly relaxed. You were on duty for eight hours and off for twenty-four. The only problem with it was that it was deadly boring, and since we had so much time between tours of duty, we did a fair amount of partying in the city of Colon instead of resting. Interestingly enough in retrospect, while we certainly consumed our share of alcohol, Panama Red, or marijuana, or any other drug was never mentioned. Could be that I was unusually naïve, but I don’t think so. All of that came later. We always made it back on base on time, sometimes with help, and managed to get into uniforms to do our duty in a military manner.
The midnight shift was especially pleasant as we generally met in the dining room late in the evening and made ourselves some grilled cheese sandwiches, or some eggs. We talked, and basically quietly enjoyed ourselves until it was time to go to our posts. This was not an exciting life, but it also had its small pleasures.
After our midnight snack, a jeep would take each of us to his assigned post and leave us there. Each day or night, there was a duty officer assigned to us, and it was his job to be driven around in a Jeep to the various posts we were guarding and make sure that all was as it should be, and mostly it was. Each of the posts had a telephone, and as the officer left one post, a phone call would go out to the next post to wake up the next sentinel to be inspected, and tell him the OD was on his way. This was a system that worked fairly well.
I had a regular assignment at a dock. My guard post was a small hut, with a chair, a table, and an electric light, behind a chain-link fence. It was here that I discovered the, classics—Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Melville, Mann—and a phone call would always warn me of the arrival of the duty officer and give me time to put my book away. It was also here that I began to ponder my future, as I was now only some six months away from my discharge from the military. I thought that I might want to become a teacher, to pass on some of the stuff I knew, but what did I really know? The answer was not a happy one. Then my post changed, and I had different problems.