Thin strip of aluminum caused a life crisis (of sorts)
It was just a thin strip of malleable aluminum, about five inches long and about three-quarters of an inch wide.
But, that little piece of aluminum caused more than its share of problems for me.
It all began when I agreed to play on the company softball team, while stationed at Fort Gordon, just outside Augusta, Ga., 50 years ago. I’d been sent to Fort Gordon in 1966 and attached to Headquarters, Civil Affairs Group. I was sports editor of the CA Spotlight, an 8-1/2-by-14 inch mimeographed “rag” that I assume was only read by the company brass. I can’t imagine any of the actual soldiers reading such a piece of junk.
Still, the “Spotlight” was far better than most of the other positions available in a group that had both an A and B company undergoing training in preparation for being sent to Vietnam. Yup, being attached to the headquarters of that company, and writing sports stories on an old manual typewriter every day was far better than going to class learning the basics of the Vietnamese language.
I was a pitcher on the Fort Gordon post baseball team. Myself, like other players on the team, had regular day military jobs in addition to our baseball “job” on the post, although we spent about as much time on the baseball diamond every day as we did at our regular military occupations.
Headquarters, Civil Affairs Group had a company softball team and had trouble filling its roster because of the company’s small size. So, I was asked to play and I agreed. They needed a catcher and I was so assigned – a position that would soon cause me grief.
In just our third game of the season, a foul tip smacked the ring finger of my right hand. No big deal, I thought, because what had been immediate pain was soon gone.
But, the pain returned in a completely unforeseen manner when I sat down at my desk the following day to write my sports column. I quickly found that applying downward pressure on that particular finger caused greater pain than I’d felt the night before when the finger was hit by a softball.
I couldn’t type, couldn’t put any kind of downward pressure on the tip of my right hand ring finger. Naturally, I was sent to the infirmary where an X-ray showed that I’d suffered a hairline fracture of the finger. It was strange, I could use the finger for everything else, but I couldn’t type.
The fix was an aluminum strip “cast” which was bent in the shape of my finger and held in place by a strip of tape. I was on “light” duty, which was far worse than being a sports writer. The first night, the company “C.O.” put me on overnight guard duty at the company’s motor pool.
I thought it was stupid. Nobody was going to steal a military jeep!
My undoing came the next night when we had a scheduled baseball game, at home, against another post team from across Georgia.
I was scheduled to pitch. I tried throwing a baseball. No pain. So, I assured the manager that I was ready to go and began my pre-game tosses from the mound. The opposing team’s manager rushed to the umpire muttering that I couldn’t pitch with that aluminum on my right hand. My protests that I didn’t use that finger in throwing the ball was to no avail.
Either take the thing off, or don’t play that night.
The solution was easy. At least, it was easy for me. I took the aluminum cast off my finger, put it safely on a shelf in our dugout and proceeded to pitch the game. We won (I’m sure of that because we won nearly all our games), but when I went to retrieve the cast after the game, it was gone. I looked all over the dugout, but it was gone.
I blamed one of my teammates for playing a trick, but they all denied taking the cast. It was gone forever.
Dutifully, the next morning I went back to the infirmary and explained to the soldier/nurse that, somehow the thing must have slipped off my finger and I had no idea how it had happened and could I please get another?
He looked at me, slyly. Again, he asked how I’d lost the cast and again I told him that I didn’t know and that it really must have simply slipped from my hand, perhaps when I showered, perhaps when I slept, or perhaps when I was just walking around the day before.
Calmly, he asked: “You don’t think you might have lost it at the baseball game last night, do you?”
I knew, then, that I’d been had. He’d been at the game the night before and had seen what had gone on before I was allowed to pitch.
I shuddered to think what might be coming. He could have reported my transgression to the company commander, or even worse.
Instead, he smiled and fixed me up with a new aluminum cast, lecturing me never to try a stunt like that again. There would be no third cast. This was the last one.
I wore that thing on my finger for the next five days as my finger healed. It was ready to go and I was back to my regular Army duty before our next baseball game, anyway. And, I never did figure out who took my original cast.