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SCARED BY A STIFF

Story ID:9825
Written by:Frederick William Wickert (bio, link, contact, other stories)
Story type:Story
Location:Orlando Florida USA
Year:1960
Person:New Man
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SCARED BY A STIFF
By Fred Wickert


In 1960 I was stationed at Orlando Air Force Base at Orlando, Florida. I was in the Base Air Police there. It was right around the time the title Provost Marshall was officially changed in the Air Force to Chief of Security and Law Enforcement. We were fortunate to have one of the best in that position. He had been a lieutenant in a big city police department before going in the Air Force during the Korean War. His name was Major Harvey J. Hartley.

One night I came to work on the midnight shift. We were a little shorthanded that night but we were to have a new man report for duty with us that night. Unfortunately we also had an extra special post that night we had not counted on. The OSI (Office of Special Investigations) had a request for a guard on a corpse at the morgue in the Base Hospital area. We never knew any of the particulars, but only that there was a manís dead body there and the OSI needed a guard on it for the time being. The only instructions were that it was to be guarded until the OSI took it over in the morning.

The new man was really new. It was his first shift on duty as an Air Policeman, ever. He had no experience at all. He was fresh out of school. That meant we could not use him on any of the other jobs without someone with him and we were already shorthanded as it was. We were shy one patrol for the night because of it. The only choice was that the new man was going to have to be assigned the special post at the morgue.

Before I go any further with this story I must describe the layout of the base at that time. As the base was entered, there was a large sprawling area of streets and buildings . As one entered the Main Gate which was located at an intersection of two streets outside the gate, there was a main street that went straight through the base. To the right of the main gate there were several streets to the right and the streets were lined with buildings. There were other streets intersecting those streets and running parallel to the main street. For a few blocks there were also streets to the left of the Main Gate. Our Air Police office was located as the first building on the right after turning left at the first street inside the gate. Across the street from our office was a large crushed stone parking lot. There was a Missile training school farther down that street and at the end of the street was the base trailer park.

As one traveled straight through on Main Street after a few blocks, buildings were only on the right and there was a lake on the left. Finally as the road veered to the right away from the lake you passed the officers club. This was the last building encountered. For the next mile there was nothing. Both sides of the road was nothing but swamp that was infested with poisonous snakes, fish, turtles, mosquitos and alligators. At night when there was no moon it was really dark. After a mile of this you entered a large circle. The road continued straight through to a gate leaving the base. To the right was a road that circled a large number of wood framed single story buildings up off the ground a few feet, and connected together with a boardwalk. This was the base hospital area. The morgue where the body had to be guarded was a part of this complex.

When Guard Mount was over the process of post relief began. The special post being unknown, the Flight Chief or shift Commander took the relief for the hospital gate and for the special post with him. He took the new man to the morgue and went in the building with him to relieve the man from the swing shift. There was a stainless steel table about waist high there. Stretched out on the table was the dead body of a man with a tag attached to his big toe and covered with a sheet. The head and face were covered but the feet stuck out from under the sheet. The body was naked.

Beside the head of the table was a chair parallel to the table and behind it was a goose neck type floor lamp which was adjusted to give light for the guard to read if he wished. All he had to do was sit there in the chair beside the body until someone showed up from the OSI to take over. There was a bathroom door in the room and the guard could use it if needed and then return to the chair. The new man was left there and the off going guard was picked up. Then they proceeded to the hospital gate and changed the guard there and the Flight Chief returned to the office.

At about 2:45 A.M. the Flight Chief, desk Sgt and one of the men on patrol was in the Air Police office. The patrol was in there to get a cup of coffee. Suddenly the door burst open and a breathless new man came in the room. He was visibly upset and shouted, ďYou can court martial me if you want. I donít care. I ainít going back there for nobody! No I ainít!Ē The flight Chief started talking to him to get hold of himself and got him calmed down a little. Then, as he slowly began to get his breath the Flight Chief asked him why he was not on his post at the Morgue.

The new man when he could, began to relate what had happened. There were a number of magazines in the room and he had been sitting in the chair beside the corpse, reading a story in one of the magazines. Suddenly the leg of the corpse on the side of the table where he was sitting slid over the side of the table. No sooner than that happened, the corpse sat up in a sitting position. That was enough for him. He thought the corpse was coming alive and maybe was going to be a zombie and come after him. He hit the door running and never stopped until he got back to the office.

This was a very unusual circumstance, but a man had deserted his post and it was a special post requested by the OSI. It must be important. Major Hartley had to be notified. The Flight Chief called Major Hartley and woke him up at home. He explained the situation to Major Hartley and asked what to do. Major Hartley told him to send the new man home with the rest of the night off and have him report for duty the next night. He told the Flight Chief not to make up a report and not to worry about it. He said he will call OSI and take care of it.

The next night at Guard Mount the Flight Chief explained to us all that the gases in a dead body resulting from bacteria will sometimes cause a body to do what that one did, so if any of us ever encountered anything like that in the future we should understand what it is and not panic. The new man, thanks to the understanding and kindness of Major Hartley, was never punished in any way that night. He was forgiven but he was the butt of many jokes in the weeks to come. It was all in good natured fun of course.


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