CHAPTER 9 - MAJOR MAJOR MAJOR MAJOR
(AnyBooksFree) CHAPTER 9 - MAJOR MAJOR MAJOR MAJOR
Major Major Major Major had had a difficult time from the start.
Like Minniver Cheevy, he had been born too late - exactly thirty-six hours too late
for the physical well-being of his mother, a gentle, ailing woman who, after a full day
and a half's agony in the rigors of childbirth, was depleted of all resolve to pursue
further the argument over the new child's name. In the hospital corridor, her
husband moved ahead with the unsmiling determination of someone who knew what he
was about. Major Major's father was a towering, gaunt man in heavy shoes and a
black woolen suit. He filled out the birth certificate without faltering, betraying no
emotion at all as he handed the completed form to the floor nurse. The nurse took it
from him without comment and padded out of sight. He watched her go, wondering
what she had on underneath.
Back in the ward, he found his wife lying vanquished beneath the blankets like a
desiccated old vegetable, wrinkled, dry and white, her enfeebled tissues absolutely
still. Her bed was at the very end of the ward, near a cracked window thickened with
grime. Rain splashed from a moiling sky and the day was dreary and cold. In other
parts of the hospital chalky people with aged, blue lips were dying on time. The man
stood erect beside the bed and gazed down at the woman a long time.
'I have named the boy Caleb,' he announced to her finally in a soft voice. 'In
accordance with your wishes.' The woman made no answer, and slowly the man smiled.
He had planned it all perfectly, for his wife was asleep and would never know that he
had lied to her as she lay on her sickbed in the poor ward of the county hospital.
From this meager beginning had sprung the ineffectual squadron commander who was
now spending the better part of each working day in Pianosa forging Washington
Irving's name to official documents. Major Major forged diligently with his left hand
to elude identification, insulated against intrusion by his own undesired authority and
camouflaged in his false mustache and dark glasses as an additional safeguard against
detection by anyone chancing to peer in through the dowdy celluloid window from
which some thief had carved out a slice. In between these two low points of his birth
and his success lay thirty-one dismal years of loneliness and frustration.
Major Major had been born too late and too mediocre. Some men are born mediocre,
some men achieve mediocrity, and some men have mediocrity thrust upon them. With
Major Major it had been all three. Even among men lacking all distinction he
inevitably stood out as a man lacking more distinction than all the rest, and people
who met him were always impressed by how unimpressive he was.
Major Major had three strikes on him from the beginning - his mother, his father
and Henry Fonda, to whom he bore a sickly resemblance almost from the moment of
his birth. Long before he even suspected who Henry Fonda was, he found himself the
subject of unflattering comparisons everywhere he went. Total strangers saw fit to
deprecate him, with the result that he was stricken early with a guilty fear of people
and an obsequious impulse to apologize to society for the fact that he was not Henry
Fonda. It was not an easy task for him to go through life looking something like
Henry Fonda, but he never once thought of quitting, having inherited his
perseverance from his father, a lanky man with a good sense of humor.
Major Major's father was a sober God-fearing man whose idea of a good joke was to
lie about his age. He was a long-limbed farmer, a God-fearing, freedom-loving,
law-abiding rugged individualist who held that federal aid to anyone but farmers was
creeping socialism. He advocated thrift and hard work and disapproved of loose
women who turned him down. His specialty was alfalfa, and he made a good thing out
of not growing any. The government paid him well for every bushel of alfalfa he did
not grow. The more alfalfa he did not grow, the more money the government gave
him, and he spent every penny he didn't earn on new land to increase the amount of
alfalfa he did not produce. Major Major's father worked without rest at not growing
alfalfa. On long winter evenings he remained indoors and did not mend harness, and
he sprang out of bed at the crack of noon every day just to make certain that the
chores would not be done. He invested in land wisely and soon was not growing more
alfalfa than any other man in the county. Neighbors sought him out for advice on all
subjects, for he had made much money and was therefore wise. 'As ye sow, so shall
ye reap,' he counseled one and all, and everyone said, 'Amen.'
Major Major's father was an outspoken champion of economy in government, provided
it did not interfere with the sacred duty of government to pay farmers as much as
they could get for all the alfalfa they produced that no one else wanted or for not
producing any alfalfa at all. He was a proud and independent man who was opposed to
unemployment insurance and never hesitated to whine, whimper, wheedle, and extort
for as much as he could get from whomever he could. He was a devout man whose
pulpit was everywhere.
'The Lord gave us good farmers two strong hands so that we could take as much as
we could grab with both of them,' he preached with ardor on the courthouse steps or
in front of the A&P as he waited for the bad-tempered gum-chewing young cashier he
was after to step outside and give him a nasty look. 'If the Lord didn't want us to
take as much as we could get,' he preached, 'He wouldn't have given us two good
hands to take it with.' And the others murmured, 'Amen.'
Major Major's father had a Calvinist's faith in predestination and could perceive
distinctly how everyone's misfortunes but his own were expressions of God's will. He
smoked cigarettes and drank whiskey, and he thrived on good wit and stimulating
intellectual conversation, particularly his own when he was lying about his age or
telling that good one about God and his wife's difficulties in delivering Major Major.
The good one about God and his wife's difficulties had to do with the fact that it
had taken God only six days to produce the whole world, whereas his wife had spent a
full day and a half in labor just to produce Major Major. A lesser man might have
wavered that day in the hospital corridor, a weaker man might have compromised on
such excellent substitutes as Drum Major, Minor Major, Sergeant Major, or C. Sharp
Major, but Major Major's father had waited fourteen years for just such an
opportunity, and he was not a person to waste it. Major Major's father had a good
joke about opportunity. 'Opportunity only knocks once in this world,' he would say.
Major Major's father repeated this good joke at every opportunity.
Being born with a sickly resemblance to Henry Fonda was the first of along series of
practical jokes of which destiny was to make Major Major the unhappy victim
throughout his joyless life. Being born Major Major Major was the second. The fact
that he had been born Major Major Major was a secret known only to his father. Not
until Major Major was enrolling in kindergarten was the discovery of his real name
made, and then the effects were disastrous. The news killed his mother, who just
lost her will to live and wasted away and died, which was just fine with his father,
who had decided to marry the bad-tempered girl at the A&P if he had to and who had
not been optimistic about his chances of getting his wife off the land without paying
her some money or flogging her.
On Major Major himself the consequences were only slightly less severe. It was a
harsh and stunning realization that was forced upon him at so tender an age, the
realization that he was not, as he had always been led to believe, Caleb Major, but
instead was some total stranger named Major Major Major about whom he knew
absolutely nothing and about whom nobody else had ever heard before. What
playmates he had withdrew from him and never returned, disposed, as they were, to
distrust all strangers, especially one who had already deceived them by pretending to
be someone they had known for years. Nobody would have anything to do with him. He
began to drop things and to trip. He had a shy and hopeful manner in each new
contact, and he was always disappointed. Because he needed a friend so desperately,
he never found one. He grew awkwardly into a tall, strange, dreamy boy with fragile
eyes and a very delicate mouth whose tentative, groping smile collapsed instantly into
hurt disorder at every fresh rebuff.
He was polite to his elders, who disliked him. Whatever his elders told him to do, he
did. They told him to look before he leaped, and he always looked before he leaped.
They told him never to put off until the next day what he could do the day before,
and he never did.
He was told to honor his father and his mother, and he honored his father and his
mother. He was told that he should not kill, and he did not kill, until he got into the
Army. Then he was told to kill, and he killed. He turned the other cheek on every
occasion and always did unto others exactly as he would have had others do unto him.
When he gave to charity, his left hand never knew what his right hand was doing. He
never once took the name of the Lord his God in vain, committed adultery or coveted
his neighbor's ass. In fact, he loved his neighbor and never even bore false witness
against him. Major Major's elders disliked him because he was such a flagrant
Since he had nothing better to do well in, he did well in school. At the state
university he took his studies so seriously that he was suspected by the homosexuals
of being a Communist and suspected by the Communists of being a homosexual. He
majored in English history, which was a mistake.
'*English* history!' roared the silver-maned senior Senator from his state
indignantly. 'What's the matter with American history? American history is as good
as any history in the world!'
Major Major switched immediately to American literature, but not before the F.B.I.
had opened a file on him. There were six people and a Scotch terrier inhabiting the
remote farmhouse Major Major called home, and five of them and the Scotch terrier
turned out to be agents for the F.B.I. Soon they had enough derogatory information
on Major Major to do whatever they wanted to with him. The only thing they could
find to do with him, however, was take him into the Army as a private and make him a
major four days later so that Congressmen with nothing else on their minds could go
trotting back and forth through the streets of Washington, D.C., chanting, 'Who
promoted Major Major? Who promoted Major Major?'
Actually, Major Major had been promoted by an I.B.M. machine with a sense of humor
almost as keen as his father's. When war broke out, he was still docile and compliant.
They told him to enlist, and he enlisted. They told him to apply for aviation cadet
training, and he applied for aviation cadet training, and the very next night found
himself standing barefoot in icy mud at three o'clock in the morning before a tough
and belligerent sergeant from the Southwest who told them he could beat hell out of
any man in his outfit and was ready to prove it. The recruits in his squadron had all
been shaken roughly awake only minutes before by the sergeant's corporals and told
to assemble in front of the administration tent. It was still raining on Major Major.
They fell into ranks in the civilian clothes they had brought into the Army with them
three days before.
Those who had lingered to put shoes and socks on were sent back to their cold, wet,
dark tents to remove them, and they were all barefoot in the mud as the sergeant
ran his stony eyes over their faces and told them he could beat hell out of any man in
his outfit. No one was inclined to dispute him.
Major Major's unexpected promotion to major the next day plunged the belligerent
sergeant into a bottomless gloom, for he was no longer able to boast that he could
beat hell out of any man in his outfit. He brooded for hours in his tent like Saul,
receiving no visitors, while his elite guard of corporals stood discouraged watch
outside. At three o'clock in the morning he found his solution, and Major Major and
the other recruits were again shaken roughly awake and ordered to assemble
barefoot in the drizzly glare at the administration tent, where the sergeant was
already waiting, his fists clenched on his hips cockily, so eager to speak that he could
hardly wait for them to arrive.
'Me and Major Major,' he boasted, in the same tough, clipped tones of the night
before, 'can beat hell out of any man in my outfit.'
The officers on the base took action on the Major Major problem later that same
day. How could they cope with a major like Major Major? To demean him personally
would be to demean all other officers of equal or lesser rank. To treat him with
courtesy, on the other hand, was unthinkable. Fortunately, Major Major had applied
for aviation cadet training. Orders transferring him away were sent to the
mimeograph room late in the afternoon, and at three o'clock in the morning Major
Major was again shaken roughly awake, bidden Godspeed by the sergeant and placed
aboard a plane heading west.
Lieutenant Scheisskopf turned white as a sheet when Major Major reported to him in
California with bare feet and mudcaked toes. Major Major had taken it for granted
that he was being shaken roughly awake again to stand barefoot in the mud and had
left his shoes and socks in the tent. The civilian clothing in which he reported for
duty to Lieutenant Scheisskopf was rumpled and dirty. Lieutenant Scheisskopf, who
had not yet made his reputation as a parader, shuddered violently at the picture
Major Major would make marching barefoot in his squadron that coming Sunday.
'Go to the hospital quickly,' he mumbled, when he had recovered sufficiently to
speak, 'and tell them you're sick. Stay there until your allowance for uniforms
catches up with you and you have some money to buy some clothes. And some shoes.
Buy some shoes.'
'I don't think you have to call me "sir," sir,' Lieutenant Scheisskopf pointed out.
'You outrank me.'
'Yes, sir. I may outrank you, sir, but you're still my commanding officer.'
'Yes, sir, that's right,' Lieutenant Scheisskopf agreed. 'You may outrank me, sir, but
I'm still your commanding officer. So you better do what I tell you, sir, or you'll get
into trouble. Go to the hospital and tell them you're sick, sir.
Stay there until your uniform allowance catches up with you and
you have some money to buy some uniforms.'
'And some shoes, sir. Buy some shoes the first chance you get, sir.'
'Yes, sir. I will, sir.'
'Thank you, sir.'
Life in cadet school for Major Major was no different than life had been for him all
along. Whoever he was with always wanted him to be with someone else. His
instructors gave him preferred treatment at every stage in order to push him along
quickly and be rid of him. In almost no time he had his pilot's wings and found himself
overseas, where things began suddenly to improve. All his life, Major Major had
longed for but one thing, to be absorbed, and in Pianosa, for a while, he finally was.
Rank meant little to the men on combat duty, and relations between officers and
enlisted men were relaxed and informal. Men whose names he didn't even know said
'Hi' and invited him to go swimming or play basketball. His ripest hours were spent in
the day-long basketball games no one gave a damn about winning. Score was never
kept, and the number of players might vary from one to thirty-five. Major Major had
never played basketball or any other game before, but his great, bobbing height and
rapturous enthusiasm helped make up for his innate clumsiness and lack of
experience. Major Major found true happiness there on the lopsided basketball court
with the officers and enlisted men who were almost his friends. If there were no
winners, there were no losers, and Major Major enjoyed every gamboling moment
right up till the day Colonel Cathcart roared up in his jeep after Major Duluth was
killed and made it impossible for him ever to enjoy playing basketball there again.
'You're the new squadron commander,' Colonel Cathcart had shouted rudely across
the railroad ditch to him. 'But don't think it means anything, because it doesn't. All
it means is that you're the new squadron commander.'
Colonel Cathcart had nursed an implacable grudge against Major Major for a long
time. A superfluous major on his rolls meant an untidy table of organization and gave
ammunition to the men at Twenty-seventh Air Force Headquarters who Colonel
Cathcart was positive were his enemies and rivals. Colonel Cathcart had been praying
for just some stroke of good luck like Major Duluth's death. He had been plagued by
one extra major; he now had an opening for one major. He appointed Major Major
squadron commander and roared away in his jeep as abruptly as he had come.
For Major Major, it meant the end of the game. His face flushed with discomfort,
and he was rooted to the spot in disbelief as the rain clouds gathered above him
again. When he turned to his teammates, he encountered a reef of curious, reflective
faces all gazing at him woodenly with morose and inscrutable animosity. He shivered
with shame. When the game resumed, it was not good any longer. When he dribbled,
no one tried to stop him; when he called for a pass, whoever had the ball passed it;
and when he missed a basket, no one raced him for the rebound. The only voice was
his own. The next day was the same, and the day after that he did not come back.
Almost on cue, everyone in the squadron stopped talking to him and started staring at
him. He walked through life self-consciously with downcast eyes and burning cheeks,
the object of contempt, envy, suspicion, resentment and malicious innuendo
everywhere he went. People who had hardly noticed his resemblance to Henry Fonda
before now never ceased discussing it, and there were even those who hinted
sinisterly that Major Major had been elevated to squadron commander *because* he
resembled Henry Fonda. Captain Black, who had aspired to the position himself,
maintained that Major Major really *was* Henry Fonda but was too chickenshit
to admit it.
Major Major floundered bewilderedly from one embarrassing catastrophe to another.
Without consulting him, Sergeant Towser had his belongings moved into the roomy
trailer Major Duluth had occupied alone, and when Major Major came rushing
breathlessly into the orderly room to report the theft of his things, the young
corporal there scared him half out of his wits by leaping to his feet and shouting
*'Attention!'* the moment he appeared. Major Major snapped to attention with all
the rest in the orderly room, wondering what important personage had entered
behind him. Minutes passed in rigid silence, and the whole lot of them might have
stood there at attention till doomsday if Major Danby had not dropped by from
Group to congratulate Major Major twenty minutes later and put them all at ease.
Major Major fared even more lamentably at the mess hall, where Milo, his face
fluttery with smiles, was waiting to usher him proudly to a small table he had set up
in front and decorated with an embroidered tablecloth and a nosegay of posies in a
pink cut-glass vase. Major Major hung back with horror, but he was not bold enough
to resist with all the others watching.
Even Havermeyer had lifted his head from his plate to gape at him with his heavy,
pendulous jaw. Major Major submitted meekly to Milo's tugging and cowered in
disgrace at his private table throughout the whole meal. The food was ashes in his
mouth, but he swallowed every mouthful rather than risk offending any of the men
connected with its preparation. Alone with Milo later, Major Major felt protest stir
for the first time and said he would prefer to continue eating with the other
officers. Milo told him it wouldn't work.
'I don't see what there is to work,' Major Major argued.
'Nothing ever happened before.'
'You were never the squadron commander before.'
'Major Duluth was the squadron commander and he always ate at the
same table with the rest of the men.'
'It was different with Major Duluth, Sir.'
'In what way was it different with Major Duluth?'
'I wish you wouldn't ask me that, sir,' said Milo.
'Is it because I look like Henry Fonda?' Major Major mustered the
courage to demand.
'Some people say you *are* Henry Fonda,' Milo answered.
'Well, I'm not Henry Fonda,' Major Major exclaimed, in a voice quavering with
exasperation. 'And I don't look the least bit like him. And even if I do look like Henry
Fonda, what difference does that make?'
'It doesn't make any difference. That's what I'm trying to tell you, sir. It's just not
the same with you as it was with Major Duluth.'
And it just wasn't the same, for when Major Major, at the next meal, stepped from
the food counter to sit with the others at the regular tables, he was frozen in his
tracks by the impenetrable wall of antagonism thrown up by their faces and stood
petrified with his tray quivering in his hands until Milo glided forward wordlessly to
rescue him, by leading him tamely to his private table. Major Major gave up after
that and always ate at his table alone with his back to the others. He was certain
they resented him because he seemed too good to eat with them now that he was
There was never any conversation in the mess tent when Major Major was present.
He was conscious that other officers tried to avoid eating at the same time, and
everyone was greatly relieved when he stopped coming there altogether and began
taking his meals in his trailer.
Major Major began forging Washington Irving's name to official documents the day
after the first C.I.D. man showed up to interrogate him about somebody at the
hospital who had been doing it and gave him the idea. He had been bored and
dissatisfied in his new position. He had been made squadron commander but had no
idea what he was supposed to do as squadron commander, unless all he was supposed
to do was forge Washington Irving's name to official documents and listen to the
isolated clinks and thumps of Major - de Coverley's horseshoes falling to the ground
outside the window of his small office in the rear of the orderly-room tent. He was
hounded incessantly by an impression of vital duties left unfulfilled and waited in vain
for his responsibilities to overtake him. He seldom went out unless it was absolutely
necessary, for he could not get used to being stared at. Occasionally, the monotony
was broken by some officer or enlisted man Sergeant Towser referred to him on
some matter that Major Major was unable to cope with and referred right back to
Sergeant Towser for sensible disposition. Whatever he was supposed to get done as
squadron commander apparently was getting done without any assistance from him.
He grew moody and depressed. At times he thought seriously of going with all his
sorrows to see the chaplain, but the chaplain seemed so overburdened with miseries
of his own that Major Major shrank from adding to his troubles. Besides, he was not
quite sure if chaplains were for squadron commanders.
He had never been quite sure about Major - de Coverley, either, who, when he was
not away renting apartments or kidnaping foreign laborers, had nothing more pressing
to do than pitch horseshoes. Major Major often paid strict attention to the
horseshoes falling softly against the earth or riding down around the small steel pegs
in the ground. He peeked out at Major - de Coverley for hours and marveled that
someone so august had nothing more important to do. He was often tempted to join
Major - de Coverley, but pitching horseshoes all day long seemed almost as dull as
signing 'Major Major Major' to official documents, and Major - de Coverley's
countenance was so forbidding that Major Major was in awe of approaching him.
Major Major wondered about his relationship to Major - de Coverley and about Major
- de Coverley's relationship to him. He knew that Major - de Coverley was his
executive officer, but he did not know what that meant, and he could not decide
whether in Major - de Coverley he was blessed with a lenient superior or cursed with
a delinquent subordinate. He did not want to ask Sergeant Towser, of whom he was
secretly afraid, and there was no one else he could ask,
least of all Major - de Coverley.
Few people ever dared approach Major - de Coverley about anything and the only
officer foolish enough to pitch one of his horseshoes was stricken the very next day
with the worst case of Pianosan crud that Gus or Wes or even Doc Daneeka had ever
seen or even heard about. Everyone was positive the disease had been inflicted upon
the poor officer in retribution by Major - de Coverley, although no one was sure how.
Most of the official documents that came to Major Major's desk did not concern him
at all. The vast majority consisted of allusions to prior communications which Major
Major had never seen or heard of. There was never any need to look them up, for the
instructions were invariably to disregard. In the space of a single productive minute,
therefore, he might endorse twenty separate documents each advising him to pay
absolutely no attention to any of the others. From General Peckem's office on the
mainland came prolix bulletins each day headed by such cheery homilies as
'Procrastination is the Thief of Time' and 'Cleanliness is Next to Godliness.'
General Peckem's communications about cleanliness and procrastination made Major
Major feel like a filthy procrastinator, and he always got those out of the way as
quickly as he could. The only official documents that interested him were those
occasional ones pertaining to the unfortunate second lieutenant who had been killed
on the mission over Orvieto less than two hours after he arrived on Pianosa and
whose partly unpacked belongings were still in Yossarian's tent
. Since the
unfortunate lieutenant had reported to the operations tent instead of to the orderly
room, Sergeant Towser had decided that it would be safest to report him as never
having reported to the squadron at all, and the occasional documents relating to him
dealt with the fact that he seemed to have vanished into thin air, which, in one way,
was exactly what did happen to him. In the long run, Major Major was grateful for
the official documents that came to his desk, for sitting in his office signing them all
day long was a lot better than sitting in his office all day long not signing them.
They gave him something to do.
Inevitably, every document he signed came back with a fresh page added for a new
signature by him after intervals of from two to ten days. They were always much
thicker than formerly, for in between the sheet bearing his last endorsement and
the sheet added for his new endorsement were the sheets bearing the most recent
endorsements of all the other officers in scattered locations who were also occupied
in signing their names to that same official document. Major Major grew despondent
as he watched simple communications swell prodigiously into huge manuscripts. No
matter how many times he signed one, it always came back for still another signature,
and he began to despair of ever being free of any of them. One day - it was the day
after the C.I.D. man's first visit - Major Major signed Washington Irving's name to
one of the documents instead of his own, just to see how it would feel. He liked it.
He liked it so much that for the rest of that afternoon he did the same with all the
official documents. It was an act of impulsive frivolity and rebellion for which he
knew afterward he would be punished severely. The next morning he entered his
office in trepidation and waited to see what would happen. Nothing happened.
He had sinned, and it was good, for none of the documents to which he had signed
Washington Irving's name ever came back! Here, at last, was progress, and Major
Major threw himself into his new career with uninhibited gusto. Signing Washington
Irving's name to official documents was not much of a career, perhaps, but it was
less monotonous than signing 'Major Major Major.' When Washington Irving did grow
monotonous, he could reverse the order and sign Irving Washington until that grew
monotonous. And he was getting something done, for none of the documents signed
with either of these names ever came back to the squadron.
What did come back, eventually, was a *second* C.I.D. man, masquerading as a pilot.
The men knew he was a C.I.D. man because he confided to them he was and urged
each of them not to reveal his true identity to any of the other men to whom he had
already confided that he was a C.I.D. man.
'You're the only one in the squadron who knows I'm a C.I.D. man,' he confided to
Major Major, 'and it's absolutely essential that it remain a secret so that my
efficiency won't be impaired. Do you understand?'
'Sergeant Towser knows.'
'Yes, I know. I had to tell him in order to get in to see you.
But I know he won't tell a soul under any circumstances.'
'He told me,' said Major Major.
'He told me there was a C.I.D. man outside to see me.'
'That bastard. I'll have to throw a security check on him. I wouldn't leave any topsecret documents lying around here if I were you.
At least not until I make my report.'
'I don't get any top-secret documents,' said Major Major.
'That's the kind I mean. Lock them in your cabinet where
Sergeant Towser can't get his hands on them.'
'Sergeant Towser has the only key to the cabinet.'
'I'm afraid we're wasting time,' said the second C.I.D. man rather stiffly. He was a
brisk, pudgy, high-strung person whose movements were swift and certain. He took a
number of photostats out of a large red expansion envelope he had been hiding
conspicuously beneath a leather flight jacket painted garishly with pictures of
airplanes flying through orange bursts of flak and with orderly rows of little bombs
signifying fifty-five combat missions flown. 'Have you ever seen any of these?'
Major Major looked with a blank expression at copies of personal correspondence
from the hospital on which the censoring officer had written 'Washington Irving'
or 'Irving Washington.'
'How about these?'
Major Major gazed next at copies of official documents addressed to him to which
he had been signing the same signatures.
'Is the man who signed these names in your squadron?'
'Which one? There are two names here.'
'Either one. We figure that Washington Irving and Irving Washington are one man
and that he's using two names just to throw us off the track.
That's done very often you know.'
'I don't think there's a man with either of those names in my squadron.'
A look of disappointment crossed the second C.I.D. man's face. 'He's a lot cleverer
than we thought,' he observed. 'He's using a third name and posing as someone else.
And I think yes, I think I know what that third name is.' With excitement and
inspiration, he held another photostat out for Major Major to study.
'How about this?'
Major Major bent forward slightly and saw a copy of the piece of V mail from which
Yossarian had blacked out everything but the name Mary and on which he had
written, 'I yearn for you tragically. R. O. Shipman, Chaplain, U.S. Army.'
Major Major shook his head.
'I've never seen it before.'
'Do you know who R. O. Shipman is?'
'He's the group chaplain.'
'That locks it up,' said the second C.I.D. man. 'Washington Irving
is the group chaplain.'
Major Major felt a twinge of alarm. 'R. O. Shipman is the group chaplain,'
'Are you sure?'
'Why should the group chaplain write this on a letter?'
'Perhaps somebody else wrote it and forged his name.'
'Why should somebody want to forge the group chaplain's name?'
'To escape detection.'
'You may be right,' the second C.I.D. man decided after an instant's hesitation, and
smacked his lips crisply. 'Maybe we're confronted with a gang, with two men working
together who just happen to have opposite names. Yes, I'm sure that's it. One of
them here in the squadron, one of them up at the hospital and one of them with the
chaplain. That makes three men, doesn't it? Are you absolutely sure you never saw
any of these official documents before?'
'I would have signed them if I had.'
'With whose name?' asked the second C.I.D. man cunningly.
'Yours or Washington Irving's?'
'With my own name,' Major Major told him.
'I don't even know Washington Irving's name.'
The second C.I.D. man broke into a smile.
'Major, I'm glad you're in the clear. It means we'll be able to work together, and I'm
going to need every man I can get. Somewhere in the European theater of operations
is a man who's getting his hands on communications addressed to you. Have you any
idea who it can be?'
'Well, I have a pretty good idea,' said the second C.I.D. man, and leaned forward to
whisper confidentially. 'That bastard Towser. Why else would he go around shooting
his mouth off about me? Now, you keep your eyes open and let me know the minute
you hear anyone even talking about Washington Irving. I'll throw a security check on
the chaplain and everyone else around here.'
The moment he was gone, the first C.I.D. man jumped into Major Major's office
through the window and wanted to know who the second C.I.D. man was. Major Major
barely recognized him.
'He was a C.I.D. man,' Major Major told him.
'Like hell he was,' said the first C.I.D. man. 'I'm the C.I.D. man around here.'
Major Major barely recognized him because he was wearing a faded maroon corduroy
bathrobe with open seams under both arms, linty flannel pajamas, and worn house
slippers with one flapping sole. This was regulation hospital dress, Major Major
recalled. The man had added about twenty pounds and seemed bursting
with good health.
'I'm really a very sick man,' he whined. 'I caught cold in the hospital
from a fighter pilot and came down with a very serious case of pneumonia.'
'I'm very sorry,' Major Major said.
'A lot of good that does me,' the C.I.D. man sniveled. 'I don't want your sympathy. I
just want you to know what I'm going through. I came down to warn you that
Washington Irving seems to have shifted his base of operations from the hospital to
your squadron. You haven't heard anyone around here talking about Washington
Irving, have you?'
'As a matter of fact, I have,' Major Major answered. 'That man who was just in
here. He was talking about Washington Irving.'
'Was he really?' the first C.I.D. man cried with delight. 'This might be just what we
needed to crack the case wide open! You keep him under surveillance twenty-four
hours a day while I rush back to the hospital and write my superiors for further
instructions.' The C.I.D. man jumped out of Major Major's office through the
window and was gone.
A minute later, the flap separating Major Major's office from the orderly room flew
open and the second C.I.D. man was back, puffing frantically in haste. Gasping for
breath, he shouted, 'I just saw a man in red pajamas jumping out of your window and
go running up the road! Didn't you see him?'
'He was here talking to me,' Major Major answered.
'I thought that looked mighty suspicious, a man jumping out the window in red
pajamas.' The man paced about the small office in vigorous circles. 'At first I
thought it was you, hightailing it for Mexico. But now I see it wasn't you. He didn't
say anything about Washington Irving, did he?'
'As a matter of fact,' said Major Major, 'he did.'
'He did?' cried the second C.I.D. man. 'That's fine! This might be just the break we
needed to crack the case wide open. Do you know where we can find him?'
'At the hospital. He's really a very sick man.'
'That's great!' exclaimed the second C.I.D. man. 'I'll go right up there after him. It
would be best if I went incognito. I'll go explain the situation at the medical tent and
have them send me there as a patient.'
'They won't send me to the hospital as a patient unless I'm sick,' he reported back
to Major Major. 'Actually, I am pretty sick. I've been meaning to turn myself in for a
checkup, and this will be a good opportunity. I'll go back to the medical tent and tell
them I'm sick, and I'll get sent to the hospital that way.'
'Look what they did to me,' he reported back to Major Major with purple gums. His
distress was inconsolable. He carried his shoes and socks in his hands, and his toes
had been painted with gentian-violet solution, too. 'Who ever heard of a C.I.D. man
with purple gums?' he moaned.
He walked away from the orderly room with his head down and tumbled into a slit
trench and broke his nose. His temperature was still normal, but Gus and Wes made
an exception of him and sent him to the hospital in an ambulance.
Major Major had lied, and it was good. He was not really surprised that it was good,
for he had observed that people who did lie were, on the whole, more resourceful and
ambitious and successful than people who did not lie. Had he told the truth to the
second C.I.D. man, he would have found himself in trouble. Instead he had lied and he
was free to continue his work.
He became more circumspect in his work as a result of the visit from the second
C.I.D. man. He did all his signing with his left hand and only while wearing the dark
glasses and false mustache he had used unsuccessfully to help him begin playing
basketball again. As an additional precaution, he made a happy switch from
Washington Irving to John Milton. John Milton was supple and concise. Like
Washington Irving, he could be reversed with good effect whenever he grew
monotonous. Furthermore, he enabled Major Major to double his output, for John
Milton was so much shorter than either his own name or Washington Irving's and
took so much less time to write. John Milton proved fruitful in still one more respect.
He was versatile, and Major Major soon found himself incorporating the signature in
fragments of imaginary dialogues. Thus, typical endorsements on the official
documents might read, 'John Milton is a sadist' or 'Have you seen Milton, John?' One
signature of which he was especially proud read, 'Is anybody in the John, Milton?'
John Milton threw open whole new vistas filled with charming, inexhaustible
possibilities that promised to ward off monotony forever. Major Major went back to
Washington Irving when John Milton grew monotonous.
Major Major had bought the dark glasses and false mustache in Rome in a final, futile
attempt to save himself from the swampy degradation into which he was steadily
sinking. First there had been the awful humiliation of the Great Loyalty Oath
Crusade, when not one of the thirty or forty people circulating competitive loyalty
oaths would even allow him to sign. Then, just when that was blowing over, there was
the matter of Clevinger's plane disappearing so mysteriously in thin air with every
member of the crew, and blame for the strange mishap centering balefully on him
because he had never signed any of the loyalty oaths.
The dark glasses had large magenta rims. The false black mustache was a flamboyant
organ-grinder's, and he wore them both to the basketball game one day when he felt
he could endure his loneliness no longer. He affected an air of jaunty familiarity as
he sauntered to the court and prayed silently that he would not be recognized. The
others pretended not to recognize him, and he began to have fun.
Just as he finished congratulating himself on his innocent ruse he was bumped hard
by one of his opponents and knocked to his knees. Soon he was bumped hard again,
and it dawned on him that they did recognize him and that they were using his
disguise as a license to elbow, trip and maul him. They did not want him at all. And
just as he did realize this, the players on his team fused instinctively with the
players on the other team into a single, howling, bloodthirsty mob that descended
upon him from all sides with foul curses and swinging fists. They knocked him to the
ground, kicked him while he was on the ground, attacked him again after he had
struggled blindly to his feet. He covered his face with his hands and could not see.
They swarmed all over each other in their frenzied compulsion to bludgeon him, kick
him, gouge him, trample him.
He was pummeled spinning to the edge of the ditch and sent slithering down on his
head and shoulders. At the bottom he found his footing, clambered up the other wall
and staggered away beneath the hail of hoots and stones with which they pelted him
until he lurched into shelter around a corner of the orderly room tent. His paramount
concern throughout the entire assault was to keep his dark glasses and false
mustache in place so that he might continue pretending he was somebody else and be
spared the dreaded necessity of having to confront them with his authority.
Back in his office, he wept; and when he finished weeping he washed the blood from
his mouth and nose, scrubbed the dirt from the abrasions on his cheek and forehead,
and summoned Sergeant Towser.
'From now on,' he said, 'I don't want anyone to come in to see me while I'm here.
Is that clear?'
'Yes, sir,' said Sergeant Towser. 'Does that include me?'
'I see. Will that be all?'
'What shall I say to the people who do come to see you while you're here?'
'Tell them I'm in and ask them to wait.'
'Yes, sir. For how long?'
'Until I've left.'
'And then what shall I do with them?'
'I don't care.'
'May I send them in to see you after you've left?'
'But you won't be here then, will you?'
'Yes, sir. Will that be all?'
'From now on,' Major Major said to the middle-aged enlisted man who took care of
his trailer, 'I don't want you to come here while I'm here to ask me if there's
anything you can do for me. Is that clear?'
'Yes, sir,' said the orderly. 'When should I come here to find out if there's anything
you want me to do for you?'
'When I'm not here.'
'Yes, sir. And what should I do?'
'Whatever I tell you to.'
'But you won't be here to tell me. Will you?'
'Then what should I do?'
'Whatever has to be done.'
'That will be all,' said Major Major.
'Yes, sir,' said the orderly. 'Will that be all?'
'No,' said Major Major. 'Don't come in to clean, either.
Don't come in for anything unless you're sure I'm not here.'
'Yes, sir. But how can I always be sure?'
'If you're not sure, just assume that I am here and go away until you are sure.
Is that clear?'
'I'm sorry to have to talk to you in this way, but I have to. Goodbye.'
'And thank you. For everything.'
'From now on,' Major Major said to Milo Minderbinder, 'I'm not going to come to the
mess hall any more. I'll have all my meals brought to me in my trailer.'
'I think that's a good idea, sir,' Milo answered. 'Now I'll be able to serve you special
dishes that the others will never know about. I'm sure you'll enjoy them. Colonel
Cathcart always does.'
'I don't want any special dishes. I want exactly what you serve all the other officers.
Just have whoever brings it knock once on my door and leave the tray on the step.
Is that clear?'
'Yes, sir,' said Milo. 'That's very clear. I've got some live Maine lobsters hidden away
that I can serve you tonight with an excellent Roquefort salad and two frozen ‚clairs
that were smuggled out of Paris only yesterday together with an important member
of the French underground. Will that do for a start?'
'Yes, sir. I understand.'
For dinner that night Milo served him broiled Maine lobster with excellent Roquefort
salad and two frozen ‚clairs. Major Major was annoyed. If he sent it back, though, it
would only go to waste or to somebody else, and Major Major had a weakness for
broiled lobster. He ate with a guilty conscience. The next day for lunch there was
terrapin Maryland with a whole quart of Dom Perignon 1937, and Major Major gulped
it down without a thought.
After Milo, there remained only the men in the orderly room, and Major Major
avoided them by entering and leaving every time through the dingy celluloid window
of his office. The window unbuttoned and was low and large and easy to jump through
from either side. He managed the distance between the orderly room and his trailer
by darting around the corner of the tent when the coast was clear, leaping down into
the railroad ditch and dashing along with head bowed until he attained the sanctuary
of the forest. Abreast of his trailer, he left the ditch and wove his way speedily
toward home through the dense underbrush, in which the only person he ever
encountered was Captain Flume, who, drawn and ghostly, frightened him half to death
one twilight by materializing without warning out of a patch of dewberry bushes to
complain that Chief White Halfoat had threatened to slit his throat open from ear to
'If you ever frighten me like that again,' Major Major told him,
'I'll slit your throat open from ear to ear.'
Captain Flume gasped and dissolved right back into the patch of dewberry bushes,
and Major Major never set eyes on him again.
When Major Major looked back on what he had accomplished, he was pleased. In the
midst of a few foreign acres teeming with more than two hundred people, he had
succeeded in becoming a recluse. With a little ingenuity and vision, he had made it all
but impossible for anyone in the squadron to talk to him, which was just fine with
everyone, he noticed, since no one wanted to talk to him anyway. No one, it turned
out, but that madman Yossarian, who brought him down with a flying tackle one day as
he was scooting along the bottom of the ditch to his trailer for lunch.
The last person in the squadron Major Major wanted to be brought down with a flying
tackle by was Yossarian. There was something inherently disreputable about
Yossarian, always carrying on so disgracefully about that dead man in his tent who
wasn't even there and then taking off all his clothes after the Avignon mission and
going around without them right up to the day General Dreedle stepped up to pin a
medal on him for his heroism over Ferrara and found him standing in formation stark
naked. No one in the world had the power to remove the dead man's disorganized
effects from Yossarian's tent.
Major Major had forfeited the authority when he permitted Sergeant Towser to
report the lieutenant who had been killed over Orvieto less than two hours after he
arrived in the squadron as never having arrived in the squadron at all. The only one
with any right to remove his belongings from Yossarian's tent, it seemed to Major
Major, was Yossarian himself, and Yossarian, it seemed to Major Major, had no right.
Major Major groaned after Yossarian brought him down with a flying tackle, and
tried to wiggle to his feet. Yossarian wouldn't let him.
'Captain Yossarian,' Yossarian said, 'requests permission to speak to the major at
once about a matter of life or death.'
'Let me up, please,' Major Major bid him in cranky discomfort.
'I can't return your salute while I'm lying on my arm.'
Yossarian released him. They stood up slowly. Yossarian saluted again and repeated
'Let's go to my office,' Major Major said. 'I don't think this is the best place to
'Yes, sir,' answered Yossarian.
They smacked the gravel from their clothing and walked in constrained silence to the
entrance of the orderly room.
'Give me a minute or two to put some mercurochrome on these cuts.
Then have Sergeant Towser send you in.'
Major Major strode with dignity to the rear of the orderly room without glancing at
any of the clerks and typists working at the desks and filing cabinets. He let the flap
leading to his office fall closed behind him. As soon as he was alone in his office, he
raced across the room to the window and jumped outside to dash away. He found
Yossarian blocking his path. Yossarian was waiting at attention and saluted again.
'Captain Yossarian requests permission to speak to the major at once about a matter
of life or death,' he repeated determinedly.
'Permission denied,' Major Major snapped.
'That won't do it.'
Major Major gave in. 'All right,' he conceded wearily. 'I'll talk to you. Please jump
inside my office.'
They jumped inside the office. Major Major sat down, and Yossarian moved around in
front of his desk and told him that he did not want to fly any more combat missions.
*What could he do?* Major Major asked himself. All he could do was what he had
been instructed to do by Colonel Korn and hope for the best.
'Why not?' he asked.
'That's nothing to be ashamed of,' Major Major counseled him kindly.
'We're all afraid.'
'I'm not ashamed,' Yossarian said. 'I'm just afraid.'
'You wouldn't be normal if you were never afraid. Even the bravest men experience
fear. One of the biggest jobs we all face in combat is to overcome our fear.'
'Oh, come on, Major. Can't we do without that horseshit?'
Major Major lowered his gaze sheepishly and fiddled with his fingers. 'What do you
want me to tell you?'
'That I've flown enough missions and can go home.'
'How many have you flown?'
'You've only got four more to fly.'
'He'll raise them. Every time I get close he raises them.'
'Perhaps he won't this time.'
'He never sends anyone home, anyway. He just keeps them around waiting for
rotation orders until he doesn't have enough men left for the crews, and then raises
the number of missions and throws them all back on combat status. He's been doing
that ever since he got here.'
'You mustn't blame Colonel Cathcart for any delay with the orders,' Major Major
advised. 'It's Twenty-seventh Air Force's responsibility to process the orders
promptly once they get them from us.'
'He could still ask for replacements and send us home when the orders did come
back. Anyway, I've been told that Twenty-seventh Air Force wants only forty
missions and that it's only his own idea to get us to fly fifty-five.'
'I wouldn't know anything about that,' Major Major answered. 'Colonel Cathcart is
our commanding officer and we must obey him. Why don't you fly the four more
missions and see what happens?'
'I don't want to.'
*What could you do?* Major Major asked himself again. What could you do with a
man who looked you squarely in the eye and said he would rather die than be killed in
combat, a man who was at least as mature and intelligent as you were and who you had
to pretend was not? What could you say to him?
'Suppose we let you pick your missions and fly milk runs,' Major Major said. 'That
way you can fly the four missions and not run any risks.'
'I don't want to fly milk runs. I don't want to be in the war any more.'
'Would you like to see our country lose?' Major Major asked.
'We won't lose. We've got more men, more money and more material. There are ten
million men in uniform who could replace me. Some people are getting killed and a lot
more are making money and having fun. Let somebody else get killed.'
'But suppose everybody on our side felt that way.'
'Then I'd certainly be a damned fool to feel any other way. Wouldn't I?'
*What could you possibly say to him?* Major Major wondered forlornly. One thing he
could not say was that there was nothing he could do. To say there was nothing he
could do would suggest he *would* do something if he could and imply the existence
of an error of injustice in Colonel Korn's policy.
Colonel Korn had been most explicit about that.
He must never say there was nothing he could do.
'I'm sorry,' he said. 'But there's nothing I can do.'