May 20th, 2017
“When the peace treaty is signed, the war isn’t over for veterans, or the families. It’s just starting.” – Karl Marlantes
Hans lives in Anderson, Texas. More accurately, he lives somewhere near Anderson, Texas. Unfortunately, a GPS is not good at locating somebody with no physical address, who lives near a little town in eastern Texas. I tried to get some more precise information from Hans before went we drove down to see him.
“Okay, so where exactly do you live?”
Hans drawled, “Well, the travel trailer is behind the gas station on Highway 30. It’s on the right side of the road as you’re heading toward Bryan. It’s not that far from Yankee’s. You know, that’s the tavern we went to last time you were here.”
“That doesn’t really help, Hans.”
“Well, it’s pretty close to Carlos.”
“That’s a little town close by.”
“How about Mom and I just meet with you at Yankee’s? We can eat supper there.”
“Okay, let me know when you guys are getting close.”
Karin and I spent all of a Saturday driving though southwest Arkansas and northeastern Texas to meet up with Hans. The GPS took us through the hills and backroads of the Ozarks. It was all pretty country. It was to drive. Once we got to Texas, the names of places started to look familiar: Tyler, Palestine, Crockett, and Madisonville. Over the years, we had made so many trips to Texas that it was like driving back home.
Yankee’s is a biker bar. It isn’t really in Anderson either. The truth is that there isn’t much of anything that is actually in Anderson. Anderson is the seat of Grimes County, and it has one main street that ends up at the courthouse. Other than that, the street has an antique shop, a couple offices, a mean dog, and the Confederate Memorial Park. The park has a fine statue of a rebel soldier with the Stars and Bars waving proudly overheard. Welcome to the South.
Yankee’s is a good place. It’s kind of rustic. It’s a Harley hangout. We arrived late in the afternoon. The Toyota Corolla didn’t quite fit it in. At least we weren’t driving a Prius. Inside there is a bar and some rough-hewn wooden tables. Lots of biker paraphernalia on the walls. Fox News on the TV. A few locals were holding down some stools. The girl behind the bar gave us a big smile and a “Hi, y’all” before she asked what we would like.
Karin asked for a water.
I asked for a Shiner Bock and directions to the bathroom.
We texted Hans. He was on his way to meet us. He had stopped at the Harley shop to get a new helmet. The old one had a crack, and wasn’t much good any more. I didn’t bother to find out from Hans how he got a crack in his helmet. Some questions are better left unasked.
Then we heard a Harley roll up, and Hans walked in the door. He was wearing old jeans that were stuffed into his scuffed up boots. He had on a faded jean jacket that had an eagle on the back. He had a fresh haircut. It was high and tight; shaved on the sides and the back, with just a fluff of reddish-blond hair on the top. Hans had a moustache that looked like an orange caterpillar on his upper lip. He had a scruffy beard on his chin and on his upper neck. He wanted to go back outside and light up a smoke.
After Hans burned one, we all ordered something to eat. I think each of us had a hamburger. Hans paid. He got himself a Miller, and he bought drinks for Karin and me. We sat together and ate, and then we all went outside in the evening twilight. Hans wanted to show us his bike, and he wanted to light up again.
Hans was starting to feel good. He talked with us, as he sat on a picnic table in front of the tavern, a cigarette in one hand and a beer in the other.
Hans smiled at me and said, “So, how does it feel now that you’re a felon?”
“Okay.” I smiled back.
Hans laughed to himself, “Well, you’re not really a felon, I guess. You’re not convicted yet. So, tell me again, what was all that nonsense in Nevada? What did you get busted for?”
“Civil disobedience. Disturbing the peace.”
Hans chuckled and shook his head. “My dad…” and then he laughed some more.
Hans talked a bit about the Hells Angels, and then we started talking about the Army. We always wind up talking about the Army. Hans looked at me, and he said with enthusiasm, “
That deployment to Iraq was the high point of my life! I will never again have the feeling and the brotherhood I had there!”
We followed Hans back to his home behind the Shell station about ten minutes down the road from Yankee’s. Hans lives in one of the old travel trailers. He showed it to us. As I looked at the outside, he said,
“Yeah, I know. White trash.”
“I didn’t say anything.”
Hans replied, “You didn’t have to.”
It was getting dark. There was some light coming from the gas station, so we could still see a bit while we were outside. Hans lit up. I could see a few stars. Facing away from the filling station I could make out some trees and fields. It was all country in that direction.
Hans started talking about the Army again.
He shook his head as he blew out some smoke, “Sometimes these young officers really didn’t know what they were doing. Our platoon leader, he didn’t get it. You know how lieutenants are.”
“Yeah, I know. I remember.”
Hans got really serious. “I disobeyed an order form the LT. You know why? If I hadn’t, he would have got us killed.”
Hans told me a story about his unit taking some rounds from guys who were hiding in a line of palm trees. Hans pointed out at a fence line in the distance.
“They weren’t any further away than that fence. The platoon leader didn’t want us to fire back. Fuck that! We went after those guys.”
Hans laughed. “I had a machine gun. I didn’t have time to set it up. I was doing the Rambo thing and firing from the hip.” He laughed again. “I didn’t hit anything. I was shooting all wild. But I managed to provide cover for the other guys, so they could do their jobs and get those fuckers.”
“How many were guys were in the palms?”
Hans took a drag and said, “We found around thirty bodies.”
I watched Hans as he told the story. Hans usually speaks slowly and in monosyllables. But now he was excited. His face was flushed and he spoke quickly. A couple beers probably brought up the emotions. The fact is that, while he told the story, Hans was back there. He was in Iraq again.
Hans calmed down, and got serious. Then he said, “Yeah, I got in trouble for that shit. I had to talk to the battalion commander, with the CO and the First Sergeant there. One of my sergeants talked up for me. My platoon leader wasn’t happy though.
Then Hans laughed again. Hans said, “The colonel, he took my side. He was yelling and carrying on. He was even hollering at the CO! He said, ‘Specialist Pauc did the right thing! We’re supposed to engage the enemy!’ He was all wound up.”
Hans shrugged, shook his head, and said quietly, “Some people didn’t like me much after that. Nobody wanted to help me get promoted. I knew to get out.”
Hans put out the remains of the cigarette. We went inside the trailer.