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Flagpoles are for monkeys -War Stories Ain't All Alike – # 5

Updated on December 27, 2012

Get your liver checked here

Once upon a time, when I was trying to act like a serious student of military matters, I was assigned to the Navy’s top-of-the-line medical facility near Washington, D.C. This was the National Naval Medical Center (NNMC), the place where they send presidents to have their livers checked, congress people to be cured of alcoholism and just plain ignorance, and both Navy admirals and the lowest-ranking seamen in need of real medical care. There I was in the middle of all of this stuff, purposed to study the art and science of what was going on in the technical world of nuclear medicine.

You would think that the seriousness of purpose would overtake me. Instead, my powers of observation and delight in dealing with the Navy folks seemed to rise to the top of the cup on an "as not needed" basis. Maybe it was that learning how to deal with molecules that were here one moment and exploded into other kinds of molecules the next moment needed an abundance of fun and relaxation. I don’t know if that happened to be so, but I can assure you the Navy folks supplied both fun and relaxation in large measure.


Party time at the Admiral's place

Let’s do the flagpole thing first. In front of the 10-story tall main tower of the NNMC stood a very large metal flagpole. Atop the flagpole flew two flags, one the red, white, and blue flag of our country. As it flapped away in the breeze, it could look over at its companion, the two-star blue and white admiral’s flag. Together, the two flags let the world know that here was a place to do the country proud, and here was where the Admiral did his stuff to insure that his NNMC would accomplish that important mission.

As everyone watched the pages of the calendar changing, to no one’s great surprise it became December 31st, the eve of the new year to be. Snowflakes fell from the cold sky, carpeting the ground with a fluffy blanket of frozen white stuff.

Celebrations were afoot and bottles were emptied as a duty to both past and future. At one such party, two friends put their heads together to arrange for completion of their idea of properly greeting the new year and the Admiral. The two had spent many hours altering a size-90 lady’s bloomer pants into a flag for their two-star admiral.

Pre-double stars bloomers - the largest size made
Pre-double stars bloomers - the largest size made | Source

Size 90's

With most of the other celebrating officers reasonably anesthetized, the two friends, one an ensign and the other a warrant officer, scruffled through the newly laid snow to the giant flagpole. Up went their new two-star admiral’s flag.

On came the cold dawn on New Year’s Day. When the regular flag-raising detail showed up, they saw an admiral’s flag up and flying already, so all they raised that morning was the U.S. flag. Together the two flags flapped in the breeze. It was a beautiful sight; sufficiently patriotic to inspire smiles to all who saw them flying there.

The Admiral did not smile much when he saw the flags on January 2nd.

Actually, the Admiral had things easy. Some of us, inspired by the fine work done by the ensign and the warrant officer, considered that the flag-raising detail needed some wake-up. We felt it our personal obligation to give it to them. Conditions were right for what we were about to do, for it had continued snowing all this time.


Four of us "grunts" walked, side by side, through the snow and right up to the giant flagpole. Our footprints were deep and sharp. Then we jumped sideways and, with out feet still pointing directly at the flagpole, we stepped backward to our starting point. We alternated in this way, all around the flagpole, forward and then back again. All of our clearly defined footprints led to the flagpole – but none led away. It was as though a large group of men had surrounded the flagpole, walked up to it through the snow, and had then disappeared into the thin, cold air.

We all waited to watch the flag-raising crew the following morning. It was fun watching them talk back and forth as they scratched their heads and looked about somewhat fearfully. (Even brave Navy troops don’t like messing around with ghosts and the like.)

The Admiral did not get involved in trying to figure out how people could disappear at the big flagpole. He was still too busy trying to find out who had made that blooming admiral’s flag and had flown it on "his" flagpole.

Just us monkeys, Brain surgery, anyone?
Just us monkeys, Brain surgery, anyone?

Monkeying around - hoping for a cure

Monkeys! Someone should try to figure out how it was that, with so many monkeys living and working at this major military medical place, anyone would want to go there with the hope of a cure.


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