In ancient days when I was a young lieutenant in the Air Force JAG, I arrived at my first duty station — a now-defunct base in northern Texas. Out of my car window, I saw a man in an orange flight suit. I thought he was a prisoner, serving his court-martial sentence . He was cutting grass….but not working too hard at it.
After getting settled on base, I asked Major Churchill, our squadron commander, who the man in the flight suit might be. The major replied that this was an old-timer named Ajax Baumler– that he was world-famous — and that I should read all about him in General Claire Chennault’s book, GOD IS MY COPILOT.
I got the book out of the library and read about Baumler. He was a true war hero. An intrepid fighter pilot, he fought in some interesting arenas leading up to World War II. He’d been a mercenary in the Ethiopian campaign against Mussolini. He had served with the Republican forces in Spain. And he’d flown with Chennault’s famous Flying Tigers in the China theater at the beginning of World War II.
When the Japanese attacked his unit in China, Baumler proved his impressive pilot skills; he managed to get airborne in a dilapidated old plane to score kills against three Japanese Zeroes.
Now, he was a broken down alcoholic. Major Churchill would spend many a weekend sweet-talking local authorities in North Texas and nearby Oklahoma, getting the drunk, brawling Ajax Baumler out of jail.
The major’s goal was to get Baumler to 20 “good years” and a military pension. So Baumler was left to cut grass when he felt like it…just let him be….
The base quietly carried Ajax Baumler until he successfully won his 20 year retirement. He stayed in the area and died a few years later.
True story — you can look it up on Wikipedia.
In this new, modern age of computerized records and high-level efficiency, there is no way a kindly command could “hide” an individual like Ajax Baumler to let him win retirement.
The question worthy of reflection during the Christmas season, is this: Are we a better military, where there is no room for a little compassion to heroes like Ajax Baumler?
See, it’s not just an old war story. How come? I do a lot of work in the MEB/PEB community….I see tragic cases of Iraq/Afghanistan returnees clearly suffering from true PTSD. They get into fights, just like Baumler – they try “medical marijuana” – to chase away the heebie-jeebies. They lose their tempers on duty or in the evenings with their families. So we threaten them with court-martial and dangle a discharge ‘in lieu of” at them as the way out. It’s only a UOTHC, many are told, and everyone knows – it’s automatically upgraded after six months, right?
I do not see how any of the services would today allow Baumler to win retirement, given his weekend drunkenness and constant picking of fights with the good ol’ boys in the bars of Texas and Oklahoma.
So……….. I wonder: Consider Ajax Baumler and consider today’s returning warriors.
Are we really a better military?