year was about 1964, and I was on duty.
Cruising down I-30, I soon approached
my exit to downtown Sulphur
Springs. Exiting and looking north, I noticed a young man walking away from
a new vehicle, an unoccupied car parked on the north shoulder. He walked briskly
toward a service station he had just passed about a mile back. In his hand he
carried a small, maybe two gallon, red plastic gasoline jug. He seemed to be in
an unusual hurry.
I said to myself, “This young man needs a lift.” A legitimate
assist is always the order of the day. Very often an “assist the motorist” contact
is simply to check out a person, to see if he/she becomes highly nervous, untruthful,
or perhaps gets fleet footed – to see if they are possibly engaged in something
After taking my exit, I made a U-turn over the overpass and proceeded
back westbound. As I drove slowly along the road shoulder, I pulled up alongside
the young man. Leaning over to roll down my window, I said, “Looks like you’re
out of gas. Hop in; I’ll give you a ride to the station.”
hesitation, hopped in the front seat with his gas jug. But we never continued
to the service station. We sat there, talking – a good get acquainted session.
He and I talked seriously because I had become suspicious. He had a few questions
I said, “I see there are no license plates on your car. What
happened to them?” He said, “They (the dealer) haven’t given’em to me yet.” “Is
it a new car?” “Yes sir.”
He was getting more nervous by the minute. I
said, “Where did you buy it?” “In Hopkinsville, Kentucky.” “What type of work
do you do?” “I’m in the army.” By this time he was hardly able to talk. Some things
weren’t adding up.
I said, “In the US Army and you just bought a new car,
without any license plates? I need to see your driver’s license and some papers
on this car.”
After fumbling through his clothes, he produced his driver’s
license and a military ID. Nowhere on him or from the vehicle could he provide
even a scrap of paper about the car. No auto insurance card; no registration papers
or dealer’s tag; no receipt; no authority to use it.
“Where are you headed?”
I asked. “California,” he replied. “Where are you stationed?” “Ft. Campbell, Kentucky.”
“Why are you driving a new car from Kentucky to California?” “To see my mom,”
and he began to sniffle.
Soon, he completely broke down and began talking
freely as he cried and sobbed uncontrollably, confirming my suspicion the car
was stolen. Sitting there in my state patrol car on the shoulder of I-30 that
cool autumn afternoon, a full confession was forthcoming from this young soldier.
He told me he was AWOL from the US Army at Ft. Campbell. He had stolen
this new Chevrolet Bel-Aire from the sales lot of a nearby new car dealership
very early in the morning two days previously. The car now had less than 1,300
miles on it and this AWOL soldier was boogieing west in it. That is, until he
ran out of gas on I-30 about 80 miles east of Dallas.
And in doing so he now had, much to his surprise and disappointment, encountered
He had become, as thousands upon thousands of soldiers have, miserably
sick and tired of boot camp and the US Army. He was tremendously homesick to see
his mother and family in California and to feel their support and loving arms
around him. He had unwisely, in desperation, chosen this method of escape for
freedom back to his mother.
young AWOL thief was soon placed in the Sulphur
Springs jail and the new car placed in storage. US Army officials were notified
of his arrest. The new car dealership was notified of the car’s location. Both
came to Sulphur
Springs a day or two later to claim their property. The soldier was released
to Military Police Officers and the car was released to the dealer’s representative.
of us (yours truly included) know from this type of experience that what we sometimes
think will set us free actually imprisons us. As shortsighted, impatient, ambitious
youths, we want to get out into the world and be free – get away from all the
discipline, instructions and chores we have at home, naively not realizing what
My parents said it well, although I didn’t appreciate their
wisdom till later. Their description? They called it . . . “jumping out of the
frying pan into the fire.”
© N. Ray Maxie
1, 2009 Column
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