They Did Not All Die At The Little Bighorn

       The men of the Seventh Cavalry, under Custer, were killed off to the last man by Indians, but not their outfit. It survived to fight the pesky redskins again some eighty years later. Well, at least the insignia patch of the Eighteenth Bomb Squadron was a half-naked red savage riding a bomb down to glory. The Seventh patrolled the Mexican border and the perimeter of Davis Monthan Field on horseback in the spring of 1942. We of the Air Corps did not hate these horseborne types. It was not their fault that they were ugly, smelled of manure, horse pee and had skin like old bacon. They were meaner than a mad rattlesnake after eight hours sitting in a McClellan saddle. This device was designed to protect the horse; the wide crack in the center protected the backbone of the animal, and not the trooper's butt. This duty did not make them like the clean well dressed poster boys of the Air Corps any better.

       The fight I like to call the revenge of "Little Big Horn" took place on a Saturday night in April of '42. It was quit warm in Tucson as I found myself drawn to the cool environs of the old town pool hall. The poolroom was occupied by well-behaved flyboys enjoying friendly games of eight ball, nine ball and just plain pool. After I circulated around the room my friends invited me to join them in the next game. Wagering was small so winning or losing would cause no pain. Cue hitting cue ball and the click of cue ball striking the object ball mixed with laughter; chatter with an occasional oath was like pleasant background music, and not an overture to the carnage that was soon to erupt.

       We never noticed, as the first pair of yellow legs drifted in, and they soon filled the entrance. Then they were beginning to bulge out into the hall. There must have been two squads standing shoulder to shoulder. If the fight had started at that moment we would have carried the day. The Air Corps had all the cues, pool balls and the tables to stand behind to defend against the intruders. It was not to be. The cavalry stood in formation waiting for the bugle to sound the charge. Then the smelly ones broke formation and began to take over the tables without opposition.

       A good old boy from Mississippi broke a pool cue over the head of an invader. The home run sound of bat to ball, the cry of pain, rage and the crimson flow of blood as it coursed down the trooper's ugly face signaled the start of an unforgettable battle Royal. A multicolored rain of missiles began striking friend and foe alike. In a very few minutes the tide of conflict shifted as the desert hardened troops began to knock heads with a vengeance and fury born in another century.

       I had never ducked a fight in my life and getting whipped was no novel experience, but this brawl had all the earmarks of a disaster; of a broken head along with a good chance of becoming a yard bird in the base stockade. Discretion being the better part of valor the problem was not when to retreat but how. Spotting the rear EXIT sign and doing a damn good imitation of a Red Indian creeping up on the wagon train; I used tables as cover until the rear door was mine. I went out into the alley on all fours as the MPs arrived in force to round up all the miscreants. Once separated into the proper service arm they would be hauled in six by sixes and handed over to an ungrateful officer of the day. After their wounds were treated, they would, without ceremony, be dumped into the stockade to await the punishment to be awarded by the just on the unjust.

       While all this was going on Corporal Kilby found an ice cream parlor and enjoyed a coke and a cone while contemplating the virtue of retaining one's two stripes on his sleeves along with one yellow stripe down his back. As dawn broke Sunday morning a warm shower washed most of the yellow off and a nice breakfast in an empty mess hall erased the rest of it. The chap who invited me to join the game, upon release from bondage, said, "Boy, you were smart to get the hell out when you did!" And so I was!

       This is a true story, well, let's put it this way; it's the way I remember it. After all it took place some 56 years ago. Truth and recall may not always be the same, but in this case it's close enough for government work.

------- Robert J. Kilby, Jr.

           April 1998


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