Cookoff

As mentioned in “War Games”, us overseas Army brats were hard put in coming up with creative diversions to entertain ourselves. We played war with ourselves and the G.I.’s, rode bikes, explored abandoned World War II bunkers, wandered about aimlessly getting into things, and sometimes getting out of them. We also engaged in dangerous games, one of which should of gotten some unsuspecting bystander killed.

That was one thing about living on an overseas Army post in the early 70’s – us kids had open access to almost everything (forbidden or not). I recall riding out on the airfield one foggy morning, and finding an unlocked communications / radar van – I went in, playfully flipping switches and turning knobs. I knew I wasn’t supposed to be there – that instinctive kid’s knowledge that what you are doing is wrong – but I couldn’t resist all those nifty dials and switches with their red and green indicator lights, their mysterious acronyms and numbers. Had I been caught I have no doubt that I and my family may have been deported – messing with sensitive military equipment is a serious crime in the military’s mind – and my father’s career would have been adversely affected. But if you leave a door open on a piece of military equipment . . . and a kid happens by, well . . . I’m surprised there was no airplane or helicopter crash that day, and I suppose somewhere someone got his butt thoroughly chewed for leaving that van wide open.

Now there were other things on the posts to entertain us kids, and we took advantage of them. There were the huge stretches of woods that the G.I.’s trained in, the unfenced supply depots, and then there was the forbidden zone – the ammo dump. Going to – and through – the first two items on that list were always interesting and fun – you never knew what you would find. I recall spending a lot of time digging through piles of tank periscopes, marveling at the thick layers of plate glass, and us kids “sword fighting” with Jeep antenna (until I accidentally hurt my best and only true friend). But the third item – the ammo dump – was spoken about in hushed tones.

The ammo dump sat on the edge of the base, nestled in the woods. It was surrounded by tall fences and loops of concertena wire. Armed soldiers patrolled its perimeter, and there were signs posted every ten meters or so. “No Entry”, they said, and warned: “Use of Deadly Force Is Permitted”. These bunkers were serious business, for they contained the weapons of war. Riding through the woods, us kids would find ourselves unconsciously speaking in whispers and sneaking through the brush, maintaining a discrete distance from the forbidden zone. Sometimes we would ‘snoop and poop’ – creep through the nettles and bushes to catch a glimpse of the guards, the silvery metal separating us from them. Knowing that they had authorization to shoot anyone who intruded on “their” land, we kept away – for the most part. I know I did. But one kid didn’t.

I don’t know how he did it, except that he said it was at night. How he managed to evade capture or getting shot – again, I don’t know. What I do know is that he came back the next day bearing a long belt of .30 caliber ammunition. And then the game was on.

Now I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a belt of ammunition. It’s a series of metal clips, bound together in a flexible link, which holds bullets. These cartridges – .30 caliber – are a little over three inches long with a bullet that measures almost an inch and a quarter and is a third of an inch thick. You can “strip” bullets off of a belt by simply grabbing them and prying them loose – which we did. And then we’d play the “game”.

I guess it was a good thing we lived in old WWII German Army quarters, for the concrete walls were almost a foot thick. Had they been regular walls, such as you find in a house – well, I shudder to think of what might have happened. As it was we knew we were playing a deadly game with chance – and again, it’s a wonder we didn’t get someone killed.

We usually played “the game” in the evening – twilight, by some standards – after most folks had already cooked their meals and gone inside. We would start by scouting the apartment complex, looking for people who were cooking outside. Finding a grill full of coals, we’d strip off a dozen or so bullets, then throw them into the grill. Then we would beat a hasty retreat around the building’s corner and wait for the fun to begin.

“BANG! BANG-BANG!” Sometimes the shots would come all together, just like a machine gun as the bullets cooked off in the grill’s hot innards. Had someone – a cook who’d decided his steak was too rare, a child released for play – come by, they would have been in deadly danger. We’d wait for a few minutes after what we guessed (guessed, mind you!) was the last round, then we’d go back to survey the damage. The grill would be ruined – shot full of holes as big around as my finger – and there’d be pockmarks on the concrete walls. Where the actual rounds ended up – I don’t know, and we didn’t care. It was just “something to do”, something for fun.

Just another example of how us bored military kids sometimes spent our time – engaging in dangerous games.

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