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combat5.jpg (21232 bytes)Big Buddy with a Big Heart

A character sketch of Littlejohn
by Othello

He’ll even share his birthday cake with you!

He’s definitely not little, and his name probably isn’t John, either. So what gives with the Littlejohn moniker? Well, being a Robin Hood buff, I automatically thought of the great Sherwood bandit’s steadfast sidekick when I first saw The Tallest Man in Second Platoon. The original Littlejohn (the English one) was, after all, not exactly vertically deprived either. And he, like our GI friend, also had the same enormous appetite, the sort a man possesses when he’s large enough to bump his head on doorways all the time and wears boots roughly the size of Rhode Island.

But the thing I think about first when I remember the Littlejohn of yore is his absolute loyalty to his friends and leader – an attribute which, happily, our modern-day Littlejohn has in abundance. Littlejohn will patiently bear all sorts of jibes himself, nicknames like "Big Ox" and "Big Moose," for example, none of which makes him wring any necks, which he obviously could, just as easily as he tosses off those deadpan Midwestern wisecracks. But let some Tommy slight Saunders, and this normally gentle giant is provoked to head-crunching indignation – as in, "Love me, love my sergeant." Yes, this man is someone you want on your side, not just because he’s good for carrying your cigarettes during amphibious assaults, but also because he’s a pretty handy weapon for averting fights with your so-called Allies. (The "speak as loudly as you want; just have a really big buddy" policy of foreign relations.)

Littlejohn’s flares of temper come so rarely because he is almost always such a calm and optimistic personality, even – or, better yet, especially – in situations where there is little to be optimistic about. I figure this comes from his farming background. Farmers, you see, have to be optimists, always counting on better things ahead – a better yield next season, a better crop price next month, a better rain next week. Without optimism, no one could sustain such a hand-to-mouth existence. Who better than a farmboy, then, to understand the provisional nature of one’s existence in warfare, the fragile line between life and death, and the hardiness of the human spirit? Littlejohn always wants to make the best of things and see the best in people because that’s how he was raised. Where others see only ditzy and annoying nuns, Littlejohn marvels that they are "wonderful, wonderful ladies." Where others would bemoan a bike investment gone bad (both tires more bent out of shape than an irate sergeant), Littlejohn counts it a good thing that he’s still got the body and fenders.

But such a sunny disposition can be quite rankling to those around him, particularly men with less generous views of humankind. The difference between, say, a suspicious and pessimistic type like Kirby and an optimist like Littlejohn is exemplified in their opposite reactions to the orphan Bijou. Littlejohn is the very first to offer a handout – a whole box of K rations. Only after everyone else has pitched in to the Bijou Fund does Kirby break down and give something (to save face more than anything else, one suspects), but all he actually parts with is a stingy half a chocolate bar. (Hey, Kirby, don’t knock yourself out.)

And let’s face it, only an optimist like our Littlejohn would ever be best friends with Billy Nelson. It’s not that Billy is unpleasant to be around – to the contrary, you can’t dislike him any more than you can dislike those cuddly puppies that seem to be everywhere in wartime France. But like those cuddly puppies, Billy can also get you killed. Poor Billy, he just gets so confused, to the point of losing pins to live grenades and forgetting about German tank columns. It’s a good thing he has Littlejohn to look after him, because you sometimes get the feeling that these two soldiers are not, shall we say, mentally inhabiting the same theater of operations. If Littlejohn is squarely where the action is, then you might say Billy took a wrong turn off the Alaska Highway about 2,000 miles back.

It’s a tribute to Littlejohn’s enormous patience and kindheartedness that he puts up with Billy as faithfully as he does. But I also suspect that Littlejohn, who obviously has horse sense when it comes to people, knows when he’s got a good thing going. After all, if the guys in the squad really got to thinking about just whose helmet would hold the most coffee or boiled chicken .... So you see, Littlejohn wins both ways. Everyone thinks he’s such a nice guy for adopting Billy as a sort of mascot-buddy-baby brother, and in the bargain Littlejohn gets to keep his chinstraps. Now that’s what I call Nebraska clever.

Copyright 1998 by Dorothy Spangler. All rights reserved.
Characters from the television series COMBAT! are the property of ABC-TV.

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