(The following is an excerpt from the best selling novel, Boot: A Sorta Novel of Vietnam. The boxing match, and the subsequent Captain's Mast (disciplinary action) in this chapter take place aboard the USS Iwo Jima in the Summer of 1969. This chapter was selected because one of its themes deals with the problem of Justice and Compassion being compatible. Which is a concept our Justice System is being forced to reexamine today.)
The hangar deck on the Iwo was packed. All of the U.S. and ROK Marines had been offloaded earlier in the week, and the Iwo was on a zig-zag course to Subic Bay. Still, the hangar deck was packed. There were even Marines and sailors standing on the elevator that ferried helicopters from the hangar deck to the flight deck. The sailors in attendance outnumbered the Ma-rines about three to one and so far had won every bout in each weight division. A smokey, blue cigarette haze hung over the makeshift boxing arena erected by the Navy. The final Heavyweight bout featured a Navy First Class Petty Officer, Raul ‘The Butcher’ Carrera and HMM - Two - Six-ty-Five’s own Hakim ‘The Hammer of Allah’ El-Hashim. The five-foot-ten-inch Butcher weighed in at 283 overweight pounds and was currently the fleet champion. The six-foot-two-inch Hammer weighed in at a sleek 203 pounds.
The referee, who was also a Navy Chaplain, walked to the center of the ring, wear-ing his Naval Academy sweatshirt, with a megaphone in his right hand, to introduce the combat-ants. “In the Blue Corner, we have the current fleet champion, weighing in at two hundred eighty-three pounds, Raul ‘The Butcher’ Carrera!” The cheers were deafening. “In the Red Corner, repre-senting the United States Marine Corps, weighing in at two hundred and three pounds, we have Hakim ‘The Hammer of Allah’ El-Hashem.” The boos were deafening.
Shit, Hill thought, This must be how Davy Crockett felt at the Alamo.
The two boxers made their way to the center of the ring for final instructions from the ref. G.O. stayed in the corner with Pogo and Locker. Hakim came back to his corner, “You got any sage advice for me, Hill?”
“As a matter of fact, I do…stay away from that big motherfucker!”
“How ‘bout you, Locker?”
“Stick and move, stick and move and for crying out loud…stay away from that big motherfucker!”
“You got somethin’ you wanna say, Frenchman?”
Pogo, eyes wide with amazement, looked at Hill then Locker, and finally Hakim. “Do not let these beeg mothairefuckaire mare-der you.”
Hakim smiled at the three of them then turned at the bell to approach the center of the ring and begin the bout that would become known in Marine folklore as the Slaughter in the South China Sea.
During round one, Hakim danced away from most of Raul’s punches and was only able to land the occasional jab. The most limp-wristed of all of Hakim’s punches. A jab that would have sent King Kong to the land of Nod, just a little bit east of Eden. A jab that would drive a ten-penny nail through a brick wall. That would stop a freight train. And this was his weakest punch.
Toward the end of the round, Raul was finally able to trap Hakim against the ropes and deliver a series of powerful roundhouse punches to Hakim’s ribs. G.O. could see Hakim visi-bly wince every time one the punches landed.
G.O., Pogo, and Locker kept yelling for him to move off the ropes and tie him up until the bell mercifully rang and the relieved seconds scurried about focusing their attention on Hakim. Pogo placed the stool in their corner while Locker jumped into the ring. G.O. handed the water bottle to Hakim, who washed his mouth out and spit the blood and filth into a bucket.
“You okay?” Locker prodded.
“Do I look okay? That big squid can punch, brother Gallo. My jaw hurts, my ears hurt, and you don’t even wanna know ‘bout my ribs. I let him get me on the ropes, but that ain’t gonna happen again…I got this! We only gone one round and he tired. He about to experience the wrath of the Hammer.”
The bell rang. Round two. Hakim strode from his corner and began his dance. His feet rhythmically dancing on the canvas, while the ‘Butcher’ came on like a wounded bull ready to land a knockout punch. Hakim would dance in and land a combination of punches then waltz away before Raul could counterpunch. Raul could only pursue then cover up when Hakim would bob and weave his way in close and land a flurry of devastating punches. The hangar deck had grown quiet as Hakim continued to hammer away at the Butcher. Raul’s face was a piece of raw meat. Both eyes nearly swollen shut. Right eye bleeding. Cut lip. Barely standing toward the end of the round. Hakim was playing with him, like a cat with a mouse.
G.O., Locker, and Pogo were all yelling at Hakim to finish him. Hakim, with a sa-distic smile on his face, shuffled towards Raul. Raul brought both arms up in a defensive position then stepped back and delivered a desperate underhanded Bolo punch to Hakim’s groin as the bell sounded ending the round. Hakim screamed in agony, “Ah-h-h-h-h-h!” and dropped to the canvas in a fetal position. Both gloved hands grasping his crotch as he rolled on the floor groaning in his pain. The referee was telling the judges to take points away from the Butcher as the sailors on the hangar deck went wild. They were glad to see the favorite finally land a punch. Even if it was be-low the belt. Pogo and Locker helped Hakim back to his corner.
Hakim was taking deep breaths through his nose and breathing out through his mouth. The referee walked to Hakim’s corner. “I should remind you that if you retaliate against Chief Carrera, you will be disqualified. Do you understand?”
Hakim said not a word, just nodded approvingly.
“Damnit, Hakim, quit playing around, just finish the big bastard.” Locker intoned.
“He is wounded and he’s dangerous, you need to be careful, Hakim, but like Locker said, finish that big motherfucker!” G.O. prodded.
David looked at the giant before him.
“Anyone have a hand grenade?”
Daniel handed David a rock.
“We’re out of hand grenades.”
“But a fucken rock? Your mother should have thrown you to the lions, you fucken schlemiel!”
“Well, ya gotta do something, Dave, you’re our Champion.”
“Champion? Right, like they’re going to put a nice Jewish boy on a box of Wheat-ies? Schmuck!”
“Davy, look! There’s Bathsheba!”
“What are ya gonna do, Dave?”
“Hand me that sling, I think I’m going to need it!”
As the bell sounded to begin the third and final round, Hakim sprang across the canvas and unleashed a flurry of powerful jackhammer blows against the Butcher. When Hakim finally took a step back, Raul ‘The Butcher’ Carrera fell forward like a mighty Oak and crashed upon the mat. Raul was down. The hangar deck grew still once more as the referee ushered Hakim to the nearest corner.
The ref came back to Raul and began his count. Raul managed to get to his knees by the count of six. Out of nowhere Hakim appeared and landed a roundhouse punch against the side of Raul’s head. He went down for good. Lights out. Goodnight sweet Butcher. The ref grabbed Hakim and drug him to where the judges sat and disqualified him. Hakim jerked away from the ref and landed another roundhouse punch against the Chaplain’s glass jaw. The ref was down.
Hakim danced around the ring screaming at the crowd as they bombarded him with trash and insults. Pogo and Locker had jumped into the ring and were attempting to bring him un-der control. The Navy Chiefs and Marine NCOs were trying to break up sporadic outbreaks of violence and remove the sailors and Marines from the hangar deck.
G.O. stood at ringside and shook his head and thought, You fucking fuck, Hakim!
Lomax, the one-eyed cockroach, peered over the spit bucket, glanced around the ring, and had an entirely different thought, I’m glad that Hakim’s not fightin’ for the North Viet-namese!
The fo’c’s'le had been cleared and the room set up for a Captain’s Mast. Hakim had been given the choice of a Court Martial or a non-judicial hearing, called Captain’s Mast through-out the Corps. On the advice of the Gunny, Hakim chose the latter.
G.O. sat in the back of the makeshift courtroom with Gunny Peabody and a few other members of the squadron.
“Gunny, what do think is gonna happen?” Hill whispered.
“Goddamnit, son, I don’t know. It all depends on how bad the Navy wants its pound of flesh.”
“What does that mean, Gunny? The Navy doesn’t get to tell the Marine Corps what to do … do they?”
“Hell, no! But goddamnit, Hill, there comes a time where you have to handle things skillfully, if you know what I mean. You have to compromise on contentious matters. ‘Specially when a Holy man gets knocked out.”
“So, what’s the best and worst that could happen?”
“The worst? That goddamn ill-tempered idiot could be burning body parts that fall off of diseased Marines on the Island with No Name for the rest of his miserable life. The best? Burning body parts on the Island with No Name. Hell, son, I don’t know, you’re the one with more questions than a goddamn Rabbi in a whorehouse, what would you do to Hakim?”
Before G.O. could respond, the Judges Tribunal entered the fo'c's'le through the starboard hatch. They were composed of Captain D’Amato, and Lieutenants Radley and Master-son.
“All Rise!” snapped a Sergeant attached to the Marine Detachment aboard the Iwo.
“Seats.” Captain D’Amato said after taking his seat at the center of the judges’ ta-ble.
“Will the accused please rise while Lieutenant Masterson reads the charges.”
Hakim and his Advocate, Lieutenant Bandini, both stood to attention.
“Corporal Hakim El-Hashem, you are accused of Conduct Unbecoming a member of the United States Marine Corps during a boxing exhibition on 20 July 1969 and for assaulting a superior officer.”
“Thank you, Lieutenant Masterson. How does the defendant plead?”
“The defendant pleads not guilty to the first count of Conduct Unbecoming to the United States Marine Corps and not guilty to the second count, assaulting a superior officer.”
“Damn, Bandini, you may be the dumbest lawyer I have ever laid eyes on,” Captain D’Amato quipped. “Hell, son, there were close to six-hundred sailors and Marines on that hangar deck, and we all saw the same thing…Hakim punched that sailor when he was down on his knees and when the Padre grabbed him by the arm…he decided to knock him out too!
“But the law demands,” Captain D’Amato sighed, “that I ask you to present your evidence no matter how crazy the court thinks it is, so proceed Bandini.”
“Yes, Sir! We have witnesses who will testify that Corporal El-Hashem entered in-to a state of non compos mentis after he was struck below the belt by Chief Carrera …”
“Oh, hell, Bandini, we don’t have time to listen to all your witnesses. Especially the ship’s psychiatrist who thinks we all want to kill our daddies and fuck our mothers. No, what we want is to hear what Hakim has to say for himself before we send him off to the Island with No Name.”
“But, Sir …”
“But, Bandini, but? Is your cornbread cooked all the way through Bandini? This court has ruled, now put a sock in it, we want to hear from the accused.”
“So,” Captain D’Amato continued, “Corporal El-Hashem, are you batshit crazy?”
“Sir, No Sir!”
“So why did you punch the Butcher when he was down?”
“Sir, after he hit me in the balls …”
Sniggers and guffaws erupted in the courtroom.
“Quiet in the courtroom!” Captain D’Amato yelled as he banged his gavel. “If there are any more outbursts like that, I will have this courtroom cleared.
“Now continue Corporal El-Hashem, what happened after Chief Carrera punched you in your… er…ah…testicles?”
Hakim glared at the gathering in the courtroom before he turned again to face the tribunal.
“I was about to say, Sir, after the Chief punched me in my er…ah…testamentals, everything just went black…I don’t remember a lot after that until Pogo and Locker started trying to get me out of the ring.”
“So, has this uncontrolled rage and anger surfaced at other times?”
“Only one time that I know of, Sir. When I was out with the Recovery Team to bring back Pandora’s Box and the Vietnamese opened up on us from a tree line. I lost it then. The Gunny said I emptied five magazines into that tree line, but I don’t remember any of it, Sir.”
Captain D’Amato and Hakim stared at each other for a long moment.
“Very well, Lieutenant Bandini, that concludes the testimony. The tribunal will now retire to discuss our findings. We will return to render our judgment after doing so.”
The courtroom stood to attention, as the tribunal made its way back to their seats.
“Seats.” Captain D’Amato declared. “The tribunal has met, and we are ready to render our findings. The accused will stand and face the tribunal.
“Corporal El-Hashem, this tribunal finds you partially not guilty on both counts.”
“Partially not guilty?” Bandini blurted out.
“Goddamn it, Bandini, this is a Captain’s Mast, not a fucken Court Martial, and this tribunal can come to any goddamn conclusion it wants, we clear?”
“It was our decision that anyone who climbs into a boxing ring has to be a wee bit crazy and that a punch to the gonads could cause a temporary mental blackout. However, you are still a Marine and will always be a Marine, so there is an expectation of conduct that is conducive to good order. Which means, in effect, Corporal El-Hashim, that even when you’re nuttier than a fucken fruitcake, you will still act like a Marine!
“As a result of this finding, it is the decision of this tribunal that you will remain confined to quarters until the Iwo docks in Subic Bay at which time you will be transferred HMM-364 operating out of Marble Mountain Air Field in the Republic of Vietnam. You are also fined one week of your base pay, and a letter of reprimand will be placed in your personnel file.
“It is the sincere hope of this tribunal that you get your anger under control, Cor-poral El-Hashim. You are one hell of a Marine, son, but you need to know that if the Ship’s Chap-lain didn’t have a forgiving heart, you would be on your way to the Island with No Name.”
Captain D’Amato rapped his gavel on the table, “This tribunal is now adjourned.”
Lomax, the one-eyed-cockroach, looked at the Gunny from his vantage point at the rim of the trash receptacle placed by tribunal’s table. He could not believe his eye, under the Gun-ny’s nose, that looked like it had been hammered by a blind blacksmith, there was the semblance of a smile.