combat writing badge C O M B A T
the Literary Expression of Battlefield Touchstones
ISSN 1542-1546 Volume 05 Number 02 Spring ©Apr 2007

One Teensie Favor

SPC4 Denny Shimkus twisted his hand into a fist and swung it at his best friend and upper bunkmate, SPC4 Ken Baxter, alias The Kid. The lanky Kid ducked and stumbled back onto Shimkus' lower bunk. Shimkus jumped on him and they both rolled onto the floor, banging into wall lockers, kicking, cursing, trying desperately to land painful, blood-producing or bruise-inducing blows on each other. Neither was having much success.

SPC5 Perry Marachek and I watched the two-man melee for a couple of minutes, and then went back to our reading and writing. "Doctor No," our teenaged Korean houseboy, sat on his haunches by the window eating his kimchi and rice dinner. He watched, grinned and nodded.

"I figured Denny would have known better than to get himself in a deal like that with The Kid," Perry said to me as he opened his notebook.

"Those two guys are like a couple in a bad marriage, staying together for the sake of the children," I said.

"Only there are no children, they're both guys, and they're not married."

I thought for a moment. "Maybe that wasn't a good analogy."

The Kid was about the same age as the rest of us, all thrown together in the crowded two-story barracks of the Headquarters Company, Eighth Army Headquarters, Yongsan Compound, Seoul, Korea. In our room, PFCs, SPC4s, SPC5s, even a couple of KATUSAs – twenty-two uniformed bodies in all – inhabited a space meant for eleven. Even though our quarters were close, they were more comfortable than the quonsets and tents that were home to the majority of the other troops stationed in country.

brick barracks at Yongsan Compound
Yongsan barracks

When the Japanese were driven out of Korea at the end of World War II, they left the brick buildings that became the living quarters of the Americans. We had the luxury of a large indoor latrine with plenty of sinks and stools and a spacious shower room. At the bottom of the staircase to our room stood vending machines with cold soft drinks and a variety of beers.

Other than the KATUSAs, who were sons of important people in Korean society or the ROK government, we'd all been drafted right out of college in the summer of 1969. By chance, we'd been assigned to this relatively safe and comfortable location, far from the jungles and death in Vietnam. As for The Kid, he must have been out to lunch when Mother Nature delivered the puberty package to his front door and he couldn't sign for it. He might have easily passed for a tall, baby-faced, tinny-voiced thirteen-year-old.

The deal between Kid Baxter and Shimkus resulted from a request The Kid had made a week earlier, precipitated by a nasty situation that arose whenever he walked into the EM Club. The Eighth Army Yongsan Compound EM Club was a mere thirty-five miles south of the DMZ, but much farther in terms of creature comforts, with the harsh conditions endured by the troops stationed near it – and the occasional casualty resulting from a skirmish with the North Koreans. After all, Korea was considered a hardship tour, and for most of the 39,000 troops stationed there, it surely was. But the EM Club was situated in an alternate universe more than a million miles away from all that. The recent remodeling job, completed through the benevolence of the American taxpayer, also put it a million dollars away from the other EM clubs in the rest of the country – or those on most of the Army bases stateside. There was no evidence of hardship.

Just inside the double front doors of the club and off the right side of the lobby was a large, modern dining room. Straight ahead was the entrance to the expansive main lounge. The rear of that room was outfitted with an undulating island bar surrounded by leather easy chairs and cocktail tables. The front was graced by a polished dance floor and stage where a live band performed six nights a week. Tables and soft chairs ringed the area. The Yongsan EM Club was nicer than most of the Army's NCO Clubs, and could've passed as a typical Playboy Club back in The World.

Enlisted Men's Club at Yongsan
Yongsan EM Club

Off to the left of the lobby was a smaller, wood-paneled lounge with a padded bar, color television, and a dozen slot machines along two of the walls. Those slots were the root of the nasty situation that plagued The Kid.

It seemed that whenever he entered the EM Club, he couldn't make it past the small lounge without dropping in for a beer, or to use the head, or have a quick look at the color TV – whatever. Once inside, the ravenous coin-swallowing slot sirens would take hold of The Kid, dip their steely arms into his pockets and extract and devour all the currency therein, with The Kid utterly powerless to stop them. At least that was his take on the situation.

The Kid's rotation date was approaching. Before leaving the country, he wanted to buy some deeply discounted stereo equipment to take home to the States, but by the day after each payday he was broke. We were paid in cash in those days and every month the scenario was the same: The Kid would pick up his money, return to the barracks and separate the colorful MPC into different piles on his bunk.

"Now this time, you guys," he'd say, "I'm going to save fifty to get that Pioneer amp, and twenty for some good JBL speakers, and forty for a BSR turntable, and another fifty for a Teac tape deck." His strategy statement was the first step in this ritual and most likely voiced for anyone in earshot who happened to be in the barracks and still paying the least bit of attention to him. "And this," he'd proclaim as he held up a wad of currency, "this I'm going to put in the bank. And this," he'd say holding up another handful of cash, "this sixty dollars is going to last me 'til next payday."

$20 Military Payment Certificate
MPC $20 bill

We'd all heard the same speech month after month, with some variation in the brands of The Kid's planned stereo equipment purchases.

Step number two had The Kid change into civvies, put his first fifteen dollars of spending money in his pocket, divide the rest, and stuff it into the appropriately labeled envelope in his footlocker. Then it was down to the EM Club. Rather than take advantage of the fancy chairs, inexpensive cocktails, live music and mini-skirted young Asian lovelies in the main lounge, The Kid would turn into the small lounge, grab a beer, change his fifteen dollars into coins, park himself in front of a favorite slot machine, and yank the bandit's arm incessantly. By the next day – two days max – he'd been back to his locker half a dozen times, emptying the cash envelopes of their contents. For the remainder of the month, he'd mope, curse at himself, kick lockers, and hit guys up for loans.

One payday while studying the short-timers chart in the barracks, The Kid realized that if he wanted to buy any stereo components to take stateside, he'd have to change his modus operandi. So he appealed to Shimkus that evening after dinner.

short-timer's escape calendar
escape calendar

"Hey, Denny," The Kid called from his top bunk. He hung over the side to where Shimkus lay reading the Stars and Stripes in the lower bunk. "Think you could do me a little favor?"

"Why would I want to do that?" Shimkus said as he turned a page. "I don't even like you all that much."

"That's why I'm asking ... that's why what I'm asking just might work."


"You know, I've been having some bad luck with the slots."

"Oo-ee! There's a news flash for ya!" SPC5 Cass hollered from his bunk across the aisle.

"You're the main reason the Army can afford to remodel the EM club every year," Perry added.

The Kid tossed a disgusted look in his direction.

"And this year when it's done," I said, "they're gonna mount a bronze plaque on the wall. It'll read: 'This beautiful club, provided for your excessive gambling, whoring, drinking and vomiting pleasure, was made possible through the generous largess of Kid Baxter who, having absolutely no self control and even less financial discipline, made large and numerous donations to this edifice ... THANKS Kid!'"

"You guys mind?" He frowned. "Alright! I lose all my money. Happy?"

"Not wildly exuberant, but moderately amused," I said.

The Kid turned back to Shimkus. "Anyway, you know how I want to get some electronic gear to take back home?"

"So who's stopping you?" asked Shimkus. "Get it."

"I can't with no money."

"And whose fault is that?" Shimkus had a grin on his face.

"If I give you my money on payday, could you hold it for me and not give it back no matter what I say or do? That's the only way it'll work."

"What do I get out of it?" Denny asked. "Other than the satisfaction of seeing you squirm through slot withdrawals?"

"You can keep a ten spot each payday for yourself."

"Gee, getting paid to see you sweat? What could be better? You got a deal."

"And remember – no matter what, don't give me any back. Not even if I cry, scream, threaten to kill Doctor No –"

Doctor No looked over from the pile of laundry he was sorting. "Kill Doctor No? You crazy honky? Number ten!"

"– don't give me anything."

"Kid. I get the picture," said Denny. "Now leave me the hell alone."

"This should be interesting," Perry said to me as he buttoned his shirt.

The next payday, The Kid was true to the terms of the agreement. He gave every bill, counted and enveloped, to Shimkus except for his first fifteen dollars, which he kept to tide him over for the week. Shimkus put the envelopes in his wooden footlocker. "Thanks, Denny," said The Kid. "You're doing me a big favor."

"Ten dollars buys a lot of my humanity," replied Denny as he clicked the padlock.

The Kid's determination, and the good feelings between him and Shimkus, only lasted about twenty-six hours. After returning from the mess hall in the twenty-fifth hour The Kid, eyes downcast, sauntered over to Denny, who peered into a small mirror inside his wall locker and combed his sandy brown hair. The Kid cleared his throat and plastered a big smile on his pale face.

"Hey, Denny. I need ten bucks of my money. Before you go out, could you give it to me?"

"Nope." Shimkus stuffed his shirttails in his jeans.

"I know what I told you, but I've got nothing left except some change and I ... uh ... need to buy ... uh ... a new prayer book for church this weekend."

"Yeah, the Church of the Three Cherries."

"Just give me a ten."


$10 Military Payment Certificate
MPC $10 bill

The Kid became more forceful. "Hey, man, this is a special case. I didn't expect this emergency – so give me a ten."

Shimkus pushed past him, heading for the door. "'Bye, Kid."

The Kid took a big step and grabbed Denny's arm. "Look, dammit, it's my goddamn money, so get it."

"Let go of my arm."

The Kid started pulling him back towards his bunk. "Give me the goddamn money!"

"Let go of my arm, you squeaky bean pole!" Shimkus twisted out of The Kid's grasp. "You're gettin' nothing!"

"Yeah? Well, how 'bout I smash the top of your head so hard you'll have to look out your ass to see where you're goin'!"

Denny tightened his jaw and slowly shook his head.

The Kid reared back and swung a fist at him. Denny blocked it and swung back at The Kid. They both ended up kicking, punching, and swearing on the floor.

By now the half dozen or so other guys in the room were mildly interested in the fight. Doctor No looked over at Perry and me as he shoveled rice in his mouth. "Good fight, honky Johnson and honky Marachek? Bang! Bang!"

"Number one," I said.

"Do you think someone should break that up?" asked Perry.

I shrugged. Shimkus got to his feet.

"Sonovabitch," he swore under his breath. "Sonovabitch!" he yelled. Denny pulled his keys out of his pocket, opened his foot locker, ripped the envelopes with The Kid's money inside, and threw the bills down on The Kid, who had just started to right himself. "There's your money, asshole. Don't ever ask me for anything again!" He slammed his locker closed and locked it.

The Kid's expression softened as he sat up and gathered the bills. He looked like a whipped puppy. A thin trickle of blood ran down Denny's upper lip from his nose. He stepped over The Kid and stomped toward the door. "Choke on it!" he hollered back as he stormed out.

The Kid stood, brushed himself off, glanced around the room quickly and cleared his throat. He ran his fingers through his hair, and hurried to the door. Doctor No smiled and nodded when he passed. "Good fight, Kid Baxter. Maybe more pow, pow next time, okay?" The Kid shot him an evil eye and marched down the stairs.

The final nail was hammered in the coffin of the Baxter - Shimkus deal late that night. Perry and I entered the darkened barracks after a midnight showing of M*A*S*H at one of the post theaters. Except for one guy who was reading a comic book in the dim streetlight by the window, everyone in the room was asleep. We quietly made our way over to our bunks.

Suddenly the door opened and banged into the wall. Someone clomped in and flipped the light switch that illuminated half the room. The stomps passed and we saw it was The Kid. He went over to the bunk where Shimkus lay snoring, pulled off his blanket, and grabbed him by the arm. "Denny, you asshole!" he shouted, and dragged Shimkus onto the floor. Shimkus grunted when he thudded on the linoleum and halfway pulled himself up.

"Shuddup!", "Put out those damn lights!", and other assorted obscenities and groans came from the roomful of awakened GIs.

The Kid reached down and grabbed Denny by the T-shirt. "Why the hell did you give me that money? I told you not to, no matter what I said!"

Denny jumped to his feet.

"Now it's all gone! And you were –" The Kid never finished because Shimkus hauled back and smashed him in the mouth. The kid still had hold of Denny's T-shirt and practically pulled it off him as he stumbled back. With his free hand The Kid took a backward swing at Shimkus, and knocked him into a wall locker.

"Quiet, assholes!", "Knock it off!", "Shut off the goddamn lights!", and more calls and shouts filled the room as Shimkus and The Kid battled in the cramped space, banging into wall lockers and knocking loose a garment-loaded clothes pole suspended between two of them. Civilian duds and army uniforms flopped down on top of them.

Perry sat on his bunk and pulled off his shoes. "Doctor No will be sorry he missed this."

"When he sees the mess he has to clean up in the morning, he'll know it was truly something special," I said.

The two combatants struggled to twist themselves free from the fallen articles that had significantly hampered their ability to pummel each other.

"I'll kill you, Kid, if ... you ever say another word ... to me again," Denny puffed from under some khakis.

"You ... won't have to," wheezed The Kid, "because I'd ... kill myself first if I ever ... spoke to you again." The Kid threw off the clothes, got to his knees, then his feet.

"Can it!", "Both of you kill yourselves!", and more cries of outrage.

Denny crawled over to his bunk and rolled in. The Kid rubbed his mouth with the back of his hand.

"One-a-you damn yankees shut off them damn lights!" yelled Cass.

Perry walked over and flipped the switch.

"I hope you're happy, Kid," I said. "Kiss that prayer book you wanted goodbye."

There were a couple of snickers. In the faint light The Kid climbed up and flopped on his bunk. Perry and I got in our bunks, and gradually the other guys drifted back to sleep. Then through the quiet came the Kid's voice.

"Cass ... Cass! You still awake?"


"Think you could do me a little favor?"

by Wayne E. Johnson
... who is a Vietnam-era veteran, a part-time writer and ghostwriter, a children's book illustrator and book designer. His articles and short stories have appeared in The Chicago Tribune, Tooling and Production, The Herald, The Journals of Father Nick Thomas, and Rivulets. He edited and designed the nonfiction hardcover book Making It In Hollywood for Gail O'Donnell and Michele Travolta; and has a screenplay under consideration.

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