When I was in the Navy, I kept hearing an urban legend about a guy who hated the service so much, he refused to leave his bunk until he was discharged. Like all good urban legends, it was always relayed second-hand and took place at some base I was never at. So I never knew anyone who actually witnessed such a thing until summer 1971, when the witness was me.
It involved a guy in my outfit named Bronco Burnett. I never knew his first name, but it didn't matter since he came by his nickname honestly. He was from a Wyoming ranch family and was a genuine cowboy who'd even been in rodeos. He was a big, strapping guy who was extremely bright and, having just come from a year in Vietnam, was extremely cynical as well.
His rebellion unfolded in stages, the first taking place at a formal inspection.
To be generous, we were a pretty loose outfit. More accurately, we were a bunch of slobs. But since we worked 24-hour shifts in a secure building, no one cared what we looked like as long as we did our jobs.
Inspections, however, were the polar opposite. We had to fall out in spotless, creased dress uniforms, with spit-shined shoes, polished brass - the whole shmeer. And since it was smarter to fit in than stick out, that's what we all did - all of us except Bronco.
When he showed up, his uniform was a God-awful mess. It was wrinkled, stained, lint-covered and minus his medals. His shoes looked like he'd worn them pouring cement, and his white hat was dingy gray. Plus, for the piece de resistance he'd shaved his head and his eyebrows. While men with shaved heads are common today, back then the only man who had one was the only man who should have - Yul Brenner.
So there we all were, in formation and at attention, waiting to see what'd happen when the captain got to Bronco.
A note about the captain: He was an excellent officer. He was easy-going but didn't miss a thing or broach any disrespect. He knew all the low-ranking enlisted men by name, and he and his wife showed up at all our activities. He was one of those rare birds who could keep both productivity and morale high.
The new captain was also a cool character. When he came to Bronc, he stood before him, looked him up, looked him down, and then, betraying no emotion whatsoever, said, "Well, son, those shoes could use some work but that haircut more than makes up for it." Then he moved on, putting the whole incident behind him, which was more than Bronco did.
Upping the ante
Bronco's next move was a work slowdown. Essentially, he showed up at work but didn't do anything.
We were Morse code intercept operators, and our work space was divided into two sections: the line and the bin (short for the Loony Bin). Guys on the line worked at least 50 minutes out of every hour; guys in the bin probably didn't work 50 minutes in an entire shift. The bin covered the highest-priority targets; the only problem was the targets almost never had any activity, so the duty was unendurably boring. But it was perfect for guys who didn't want to do any work. So Bronco sitting there, shooting the breeze but doing no work, had no effect on productivity. As a result, he was just ignored.
Being ignored was exactly what he didn't want, so he decided to force a showdown: Like the mythical serviceman of the urban legend, he stayed in his room and sent out word he wouldn't budge till he'd been discharged.
The master-at-arms was told to go to his room and order him to return to work. Bronco ordered the master-at-arms out of his room before he kicked his butt. Wisely, the M-A-A left.
Next was a Captain's Mast, the last step before court martial.
The captain, being the guy he was, tried to cut Bronco a break. He said he knew Bronco hated the Navy but was a good guy who'd put a year in Vietnam and had a stellar record till now, so he only asked one thing - that Bronco would promise to just try to keep it together for the rest of his enlistment. He didn't even have to keep it together, just to try.
But Bronco, being the guy he was, refused to speak. Not yea, not nay, not nuttin'.
The captain had no choice but to set the date for a court martial, which he did.
Meanwhile, Bronco was chillin' in his room, being supplied with food and magazines by the other guys in the barracks.
Sealing the deal
The standoff continued till a week before the court martial, when Bronco had a late-night visitor. It was the Baby Ensign Jorik. Just out of OCS, Jorik was all of 22, looked 13 and obviously got assigned this task because no one else wanted it.
"As you know, Burnett," Jorik said, "The Navy has instituted a very liberal drug rehabilitation program. If you sign up for it, you'll be sent to Naples for some kinda school for two weeks. After that, you'll be sent back Stateside, where you'll be given an honorable discharge with full benefits."
"Hey," said Bronco, "I've never done a drug in my life. I don't even drink beer or smoke cigarettes."
"Yes," said Jorik, "I know that. The whole command knows that. And guess what? They don't care. All they care is you get out of their hair, once and for all."
"I gotta think about it," said Bronco.
"Sure," said Jorik, "but don't take too long."
And he didn't. He signed the papers the next day and was scheduled to leave at the week's end.
I stopped in his room to say good-bye, and while I was there, Benz, the chaplain's assistant, came in. He was a self-righteous poop who was loathed by everyone, including the chaplain, since he spent all his time telling everyone they were doomed to perdition. His farewell to Bronco was no exception.
"Well," said Benz, "looks like you got your way. You got a year off your hitch, an honorable discharge and all your benefits."
Bronco only nodded, waiting for the sermon. It followed immediately.
"But in order to do it, you had to commit the sin of bearing false witness." Then, aflame with righteous fury, he shook his fist at Bronco and said, "So I think you're crazy."
"Oh, you're right," said Bronco, breezily.
"I am?" said Benz, completely shocked that someone had actually agreed with him.
"Yep," said Bronco. "I'm completely crazy."
"You are?" said Benz, still in shock.
"Crazy as a bedbug," said Bronco. Then a sly smile spread across his face and he added, "But I'm not the least bit stupid."