Why is it giggle fits come at the worst possible time? And why is it when you try to stop them you end-up sputtering and choking like a car running out of gas?
You feel like your head’s going to explode. Tears flood your eyes. Something makes you want to roll on the floor and laugh out loud, but you daren’t move or even let out a peep … which of course only makes things worse and adds to that infinite stream of giggles bubbling up inside of you and about to explode like bottle of warm champagne!
Hold on! Steady! Don’t shiver, don’t quake, don’t shout! You’ve got to be tough, endure, last it out! Bite your tongue or your cheek or your lip till it bleeds! Maybe the pain will help to exorcise those damned giggles!
And just when you think you’ve got things calmed down and under control, you notice your buddy Barney is fighting the same fight against a giggle fit and you know you’re probably doomed!
You’re doomed because you’re part of a three man military honor guard at a funeral for an old soldier … because you’re standing at parade rest next to his American flag covered coffin … definitely not a laughing matter, especially for the mourners filling the sanctuary looking at the coffin and you!
It all began when one Herr Schmidt emigrated from Germany to New York not long before World War I. He arrived just in time for Uncle Sam to greet him … right into the army and send him back to Europe as a doughboy.
He fought well and served honorably during that long-ago war, after which he returned to the states and lived out most of his life. When he retired he decided to move back to Koblenz to be close to his family. Then, as he was dying, he requested to have a US Army honor guard at his funeral, to which he, like all GIs, was entitled.
That’s where Barney and I came into Herr Schmidt’s afterlife.
When Seventh Army received his request, they turned to us, the 16th Signal Battalion’s Koblenz Detachment, to provide a couple of volunteers to assist a master sergeant from army HQ with the various honor guard funeral protocols.
I jumped at the opportunity. I’d not only get to experience something really different, but I’d also get a full day off work! Sounded like a deal to me!
Barney felt pretty much the same way, although with perhaps a bit more reflection and maturity. He questioned how we, so far removed from the real army, would ever be able to properly perform the requisite ceremonies.
“Not to worry! It’s a cinch, Barn!” I responded. “7th army’s sending a guy who knows all about this stuff. We just have to do whatever he tells us to do. What could possibly go wrong?”
Barney acquiesced. After all, it was a day off work, and the free-spirited Barn was always ready for time off, or for a party. He’d usually hang-out ’round the barracks and loved to spend time b.s.ing up in the bar, after which he’d would invariably haul-out his banjo!
He was a terrific musician! Everyone loved him! An affable fellow, he’d play and sing Kingston Trio, Limelighters and Peter, Paul and Mary songs, fun hits we’d all heard growing-up. We’d try to sing along, but frankly we were absolutely pathetic as chorister … where the Germans and the Brits could sing for hours non-stop, the only complete song we knew was Disney’s “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah” and some of the Star Spangled Banner… like I said, pathetic.
Barney we the kind of fellow who wore his heart on his sleeve … and that called for a pretty big sleeve. A handsome fellow, he was born a century too late. I could see him dueling to redeem a maiden’s honor, or fighting legions of villains to save her from a “fate worse than death.” In short, Barn was a hopeless romantic, the sort who saw the good in others and had a soft spot for those who displayed compassion for others.
So when a good looking young lady compassionately helping all the elderly mourners to their seats and looking after them, I knew in a flash … Barney had to be falling in love.
I really didn’t need to look at him to know, she was just his type … and in actual fact I really couldn’t look straight at him while standing at parade rest and facing forward. But for whatever reason I did steal a sideways glance at him at precisely the same moment he was stealing a sideways glance at me. When we saw each other, we both knew immediately what the other guy was thinking, “Barney’s in love!”
Considering the setting, our attire and our obligatory solemn countenances, this seemed somehow so out of place that we found it was irresistibly hilarious … kink of like a Three Stooges shtick!
And that triggered what was probably the longest giggle fit in military honor guard history! OMG! The giggles bubbled up like Old Faithful in Yellowstone waiting to explode … and they wouldn’t stop bubbling! When I realized how much trouble we’d find ourselves in if even one giggle escaped, it scared the hell out of me … which only made it seem funnier still!
No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t stop those damned giggles! I thought at any second they’d burst out of me in one long, endless Bronx cheer! I fought back with all I had in me to suppress them, but then I’d sneak a peak to see how Barney was doing just when he’d be sneaking a peak at me, which only doubled the giggle bubbles!
I don’t know how long the fit lasted. It seemed like a lifetime. I thought my stomach would bust, but somehow managed to make it through!
Like all a tsunamis this giggle tsunami eventually receded. Afterwards we acquitted ourselves honorably escorting Herr Schmidt to his final resting place. And thank God for that, for falling in love is no defense in a court martial, which would have been no laughing matter … no laughing matter at all!
Coming next! How I Won The Cold War, Part 22 … HOW I EARNED MY STRIPES
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