I Soldiered With Charlie

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By the third day our chins began to look like today’s hippies’. Coca-Cola, the ubiquitous, was plentiful, so we did not thirst, but, oh, for the comfort of a shave. Charlie, more resourceful than most of us, attempted, without too much success, to work up a lather using the Coke. At least it wet his beard and enabled him to hack his way through it with his straight razor. The bubbles tickled, and the stickiness persisted afterward; still, we all followed his suggestion and once again looked more like officers.

Jitney service to Petersburg was somewhat less than satisfactory, so one day Charlie appeared with a Hudson touring car, the use of which he shared freely with anyone off duty. The mysterious workings of the military mind again showed shortly after Thanksgiving. Camp Lee was assuming some semblance of order when Charlie was suddenly transferred to the Air Corps. He left the key in his car with the quiet remark “Somebody will want to use it.”

I did not see him at all during the hostilities. It was not until a reunion of the surviving officers of the 31Qth was held in Washington about ten years later that we met again. It was at that banquet that each of us was called upon to relate an incident under the heading “Do you remember when. …”

With Charlie sitting at my side, I told of the time in the Fort Myer gymnasium when he had told his inquisitor he owned a bank. One of those present, unfamiliar with the story and not knowing anything about the man involved, naively asked him, “Did you? What was the bank?”

“Well, it wasn’t just exactly a bank,” Charlie explained. “It was a financial institution, though. It is called Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner and Beane. You may have heard of it.”

Although from time to time we exchanged letters recalling the days when we soldiered together, I never saw him again. Charles Edward Merrill, my friend Charlie, died on October 6, 1956.