Note and Disclaimer: I still don't see my name as the owner of M*A*S*H. Welcome to part twelve of "By the Graveside" though. Enjoy!
He had been proud to reach the rank of staff sergeant by the time the war in Korea began. It meant that he was in charge of many things most enlisted men were not (supplies mostly) and that earned him some respect from the officers. It was a huge responsibility for someone people thought of as a pest. Some task, he knew – powerful and wonderful and also annoying all at once. And he had to thank and curse Henry Blake for keeping that position for him.
As the pest stood before the graveside, he had to wonder why he was here. Sure, Brooklyn was far away from Illinois. He had never really heard of it until coming to Korea and he had been all over the world, from Germany to Japan and even England. But he had to somehow say something to this CO of his, who died before the war ended. This was his big chance to speak his mind. He had not been able to do that before.
So, the best way to begin was to go back to the starting line. The race was on then – Pusan was the place to be. The pest was flown in from California and dumped in some M*A*S*H unit near the front lines. It was full of military officers barking orders, draftees trying to find a way to bypass the Army regulations and the unusual in between man they called Lieutenant Colonel Henry Blake. It was easy to blend in and find people like him. Enlisted personnel always stuck together.
This wasn't his opening rodeo though. The pest had been though the last war, that time in Germany, and had seen combat firsthand. While he wasn't much of a ground troop, he still was able to wheel and deal, scrounging up supplies. That was why the Army promoted him three ranks to staff sergeant. Not only did he prevent the cook from getting killed, but he also managed to provide food for the unit so that they could take down the enemy. That was the kind of stuff he longed for in Korea.
But it wasn't the same. Blake was an indecisive commander, giving orders nobody followed and hiding behind a nurse's skirt to keep the headaches at bay. In the meantime, the pest took up anything he could to prove himself, since the Regular Army idiots at the 4077th did not think him laudable as staff sergeant. He fulfilled every order he had and all within regulation timing. He bribed people to give the company clerk whatever he wanted and provided items for trade. He also cleaned the camp enough that the enemy did not see them from above at night.
And that was not all. The pest was a champion fighter, mostly at the gambling table or the movies and everywhere in between. He had learned to keep himself safe in Brooklyn growing up and he brought that with him to the Army. While he kept that fuse pretty dry, it was lit time and again by one man dressed in women's clothing – Corporal Klinger.
There was something about that orderly that the pest did not like. It could have been their rival teams or their hometowns. Whatever it was, the pest did not care. All he recalled were moments of blind rage and standing before Blake without apologies and with scratches and bruises. Usually, he had been reprimanded by Majors Houlihan and Burns. Both of them always demanded that it be put on his permanent record and that charges be filed.
Blake always denied it. That was the strange part. Any officer worth their salt would have written a million and one things in an enlisted man's record and made their lives a hell. Not Henry Blake! The pest was amazed to have Blake give verbal warnings, nothing more. While Klinger was given the same breaks, the pest did not have to have escaping on his record. He was thankful for that and for what Blake did for him. Fighting Klinger would have damaged his Army career forever.
Staff Sergeant Zelmo Zale was no fool though. He recognized that Blake was only doing him a favor by being fair. He also was trying to obtain the upper hand over Majors Houlihan and Burns. While it would have cost him everything, Blake pulled him out of trouble each and every instance. Even if Klinger was being a dodo, Blake always listened to Zale. But he also called his supply sergeant a pest and waved him away too.
Zale ran his fingers through his grey hair. Yes, it had been satisfactory to spit out this ungracious gratitude to Henry Blake. But it was also another thankless task. Who was going to give him a pat on the back when it was finished? Who was going to award him something for being brave enough to risk his family and career to visit this dead man? He wasn't AWOL from his post or anything. He did not feel it worth his while except to show a little grudging respect. That was what Blake deserved.
The Army never did him any favors, although Blake made it worthwhile to remain in. That was why Zale went back for more. He was always a glutton for punishment.