She loves an automaton in a uniform

In November 1943, Bing Crosby’s “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” hit the charts and hearts of World War II-mired America. It stayed in the Top 20 for two years and became the most requested song at Christmas U.S.O. shows in both Europe and the Pacific. The military magazine Yank claimed that Crosby and “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” accomplished more for military morale than anything else of that era.

That era. When “war” was a might-for-right endeavor and not a specious concept requiring quotes for context. But the human animal is not that much different from when the Binger crooned for lonely soldiers. Sixty-five years later, our red-blooded troops still need a warm place, a sense of purpose, and some tactile reassurance that the cause they’ve dedicated their lives to is not in vain. They need inspiration. They need us.

They need to get laid.

Which is what “Minnesota Mary” sought to provide one of our servicemen in July. Mary is not her real name. She doesn’t want her real name used, and understandably so, but if she did it’s a safe bet she’d be on the speed dial of most every fighting man in the land and overseas, not to mention a consultant to Walter Reed Hospital shrinks who are already up to their clipboards in collateral damage. Here’s some more.

In July, Mary flew to her home in Kenwood from her home in New York, where she works most of the year as a professional media maven. She settled into the middle seat of the three-seat row for the three-hour flight. She stuck her nose in a book, giving off all the “don’t bug me” signals a beautiful 40-something Swedish-American bombshell-who-doesn’t-really-know-it perfects over the years.

Her alone time didn’t last. Taking the window seat next to her was “a really hot guy; a Tom Cruise in Top Gun lookalike in fatigues,” which tripped Mary’s internal iPod and got her humming Gang Of Four’s “I Love A Man In A Uniform.” He was polite, she was attentive. He was coming from Fort Bragg, she was coming off two Wilco shows. He was a captain, she was a cougar. He told her about his tours of Iraq, the fourth of which he was heading back to. She held his hand. He showed her his war scars. It was on.

He told her about how the military doesn’t allow any physical contact between the troops.  “They don’t even let you hold hands in the theater,” he said, which momentarily confused the civilian pop-culture junkie in Mary, but he explained the theater means the battlefield, which in Iraq means everywhere. He talked about how low morale is, how few believe in the president, how lonely it gets, and how any affection must be expressed on the sly, in secret, and that affairs between soldiers — born of the prospect of getting your ass blown to kingdom come at any moment — are abundant.   

“Where would you need intimacy more?” she asked. “You’re out there, scared s***less, and the only thing that will bring you comfort is the thing they won’t let you have.”

It was then that Minnesota Mary decided to “do my civic duty” and service the serviceman. The plane landed and they took a cab to her apartment and started making out. As “we were ‘rounding second base,’” the captain halted the action and said, “Tell me a secret. Tell me something no one knows about you.”

She had nothing. No secrets. He insisted. She is not a chatty lover, and she wanted to get on with the getting it on, so she made one up. “I used to be a man,” she said, which, given her feminine fabulousness, is about as far-fetched a notion as anyone could muster.

Silence. Beat. Beat. “Just kidding.” Resume action.

Twenty minutes went by, and “the vibe was fine,” but then the captain got up abruptly to leave. “No one leaves this bedroom without complete satisfaction,” she said, and she finished her duty. “He left happy,” she said. “But it was weird. So weird. He changed instantly. He was so mad. He said I lied. The whole mood changed, and I had no idea why.”

He left and called her from the road as he drove home to say goodbye to his extended family. “You lied to me,” he said, then he screamed it. She didn’t know what he was talking about, so she pressed him. “You should have told me (on the airplane) you used to be a man. You lied to me. You lied to me. Were you kidding? Were you really kidding?”

She talked him down, but the distrust was so unsettling, it got Minnesota Mary thinking about its roots and how far gone the captain is: “These guys are being lied to from the top down, and they don’t trust anyone. How could you? Just to survive, they have to distance themselves from intimacy, and even in this intimate moment they don’t know who or what to believe.

“These guys and women in a different way from the rest of us get f***ed up in matters of trust and what is the truth and what is not. He got really mad at me, and the issue was lying. And based on what he said to me earlier about George Bush and the war and the reasons they’ve been told for the war and they’re over there doing the dirty work… It’s got to f*** them up. It does. It’s documented.

“We know this, how it affects relationships, but in other ways, too: In the way they interact with other human beings outside their purview. He was so polite, because they’re trained that way, and it struck me that because of the things they go through, they spend their whole lives keeping it together, keep this shiny image, and they’re like these automatons.”

Cue “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” here. And as we listen I would like to take this opportunity to wish the troops a Merry Christmas. I would also like to say bring them home, but if the captain’s tip-of-the-iceberg freak-out is any indication, that home doesn’t exist anymore, and so I would simply like to say God help us all, everyone.

As for Mary and the captain? “I haven’t heard from him since that night,” she said. “But I check the casualties every day.”  

Jim Walsh lives and grew up in East Harriet.