Yep, I write hardnosed thrillers and crime caper stories and get a big kick out of them but I am not a tough guy or a Mickey Spillane wannabe, no siree.
It’s true I first learned to shoot when my Dad set up a paper target and put a Colt .22 Woodsman in my hand. I was eight or nine years old. That was great and I wish I still had that gun for all the good memories.
He also taught me to use a shotgun, but just for pheasant hunting, and a .30-30 Winchester which he and I and my brother took into abandoned mountain country to hold off the bears while we fished in a crater lake.
I flunked out of my high school rifle team, though, and don’t feel like talking about it.
But some other folks taught me to fire a Colt .45 semi-automatic pistol and I was pretty decent with it. Something of a natural shot. They also taught me to use an M14 rifle and later an M16 rifle. I won the Sharpshooter badge for each but just had to have an Expert badge on my khakis for something.
So I cheated on my M60 machinegun test. It’s easy to cheat with a machinegun when there’s all that noise around you from everyone else desperately trying to cheat, too. I made Expert.
Which was pretty stupid since I also wanted to become a paratrooper. The life expectancy of a parachuting machinegunner is 30 seconds after he hits the ground. If his gun doesn’t pancake him first. Because the first target of any enemy soldier is the machinegunner.
I got the Expert badge but never went to Jump School. Had a bit of a problem with the top sergeant. My punishment was to be left behind when everyone else went.
But I did better. I got into the artillery. I was a battery executive officer for 105mm howitzers and a forward observer and aerial observer – that’s the guy who hikes out in front of the infantry or flies there first – for the 155mm and 8-inch howitzers and the 175mm cannon. (Oh, baby, can those things tear up a lot of territory!)
Tough guys do those kinds of things but I’m not a tough guy. I was pretty damned scared while I was shooting the big guns because there was an enemy out there, a damned good enemy, shooting back at me. There were a couple of times when I thought he was going home from that war alive and I wasn’t.
I don’t suppose Mickey Spillane was ever afraid in a gunfight. Or James Bond or Dirty Harry. They were tough guys. Real tough guys. I wasn’t. That’s why I like to read about them and write stories about guys like them.
Because sometimes it’s fun to imagine yourself a tough guy when you know you’re just an ordinary guy like everyone else.
PS: If I were a real tough guy, I’d confess I write romantic comedies under another name and get a lot of fun out of it, but who’s that tough?
© 2016 Steven Hardesty