He Actually Giggled

by Joe Holt

Sgt. Hailey was our Right Guide. Second Platoon, India Company. It wasn’t so much that he was a private kind of fella, but he’d joined the outfit after we’d left the States so I’d never had any dealings with him. I just didn’t know him all that well. He was a Sergeant and I was a Private. It ain’t like we could be pals. I got to know my own Platoon Sergeant, and I’d seen the other Platoon Sergeants, but I wasn’t ever really sure what the Right Guides did. It was another case of Private Holt’s ignorance. On our troopship, the USS Pickaway, I finally got my first real impression of Sergeant Hailey.

We were packed in our troop compartments. Racks were five or six high. The only open space in the whole compartment was not more than ten feet square up against the forward bulkhead. Our boredom aboard this old tub was eased somewhat by occasional classes. Our NCOs or Platoon Commanders would somehow come up with ideas for what classes to give, and every day or so we’d all have to hunker around this open area and listen to instructions on various military subjects. We’d be hangin’ on the racks or crammed together on the deck. I remember one class on Mortars by Corporal Asagar. Lieutenant Woodburn lectured us on various diseases and critters we might encounter in the field. The most memorable, though, was a class given by our Sergeant Hailey. He got the honor of instructing us on the intricacies of forced marches.

Since the compartment was warm, and the air so still, we all had our utility jackets off. Only skivvy shirts. here was Sergeant Hailey sittin’ perched on a small box of some sort, in his skivvy shirt, absolutely erect, hands on his knees, waiting for us to come to some sort of order so he could start his class. Straight faced. No smile. He didn’t look all that happy that he had to be doing this at all, and he sure as hell wasn’t happy about our lack of attention. After a few seconds we all realized we were gettin’ the eyeball from Hailey. He was scanning the whole crowd, eyes moving from fella to fella, until he at last had our attention. We got real quiet.

He started off by announcing the object of the class, and then he recalled that all Marine Corps instructors were supposed to start a class off with a joke, and he told us so. As he sat there, all somber lookin’, he didn’t look like he had a joke in’m, but all at once he got the silliest smirk on his face. Almost yelling, he started,

"There’s this little girl named Susie. She’s about five or six. The cutest little girl you ever saw. She’s walkin’ down the street with this little pudgy dog on a leash. Prettiest little girl she was. Little checkered dress. Bow in her hair. Smiling. Happy. She comes up to this crosswalk and is standing there waiting for the sign to say ‘Walk’, when this fella happens to walk up to the same corner. He notices what a cute little gal she is just then she turns to him and says, ‘Good morning sir.’

He was sorta surprised by this but says, ‘Good morning little girl.’

She says, ‘Isn’t it a beautiful day, sir?’, and then he just has to say,

Why yes it is little girl. You’re such a pretty, delightful, little girl on such a sunny beautiful day. It is a very beautiful day.

Now you gotta imagine Sergeant Hailey sittin’ on this little box, talking in this little girl voice and then in this fellas voice. He was really gettin’ into it, with the smirk on his face slowly turning into a rosie cheeked smile. He was having too good at time tellin’ this joke, let me tell ya. We’d never seen him this animated.

So then this guy says, ‘You’re such a cute little girl with such a cute little dog. What’s your little dog’s name, little girl?’

She says, ‘My little dog’s name is Porky, sir.’

He says, ‘Why what a cute little name for such a cute little dog. I bet you call him Porky because he’s so cute and fat, isn’t that right little girl?"

Hailey sits up staighter, if that’s possible, and looks at the whole bunch of us like he was gonna explode.

"She says, ‘No, sir, we call him Porky because he Fucks Pigs!!!"

We all sat there like we’d been hit in the head with a board, all the while I thought Sergeant Hailey was gonna pee himself. He was laughing so hard, but he was still sitting on that damn box, all straight, just hopping up and down as he laughed. We all started laughing too, but it was at Hailey, not so much the lame joke. He actually giggled, with this huge wide rosie cheeked grin. I’ve never seen anybody have so much fun telling a joke, before or since.

A couple of weeks later Sergeant Hailey was killed on Hill 362. In the first heartbeat of an ambush.

We lost too many good men that day. I will remember my friends forever. The liberty we pulled. The miserable days of training. The good and the bad. But the one memory I cherish of Sergeant Hailey is the grin on his face the moment after he told that joke. He’s grinning at me now.