Careful, You Just Might Want to Salute Him

A character sketch of Lt. Gil Hanley
by Othello

It’s guys like this who almost give officers a good name


Bill Mauldin has a phrase for officers who compel enlisted men to always take notice of superior ranks with a quick flip of the arm – Mauldin calls such officers "salutin’ demons." The implication being, of course, that if you have to force a poor battle-weary EM to salute you, you don’t deserve the gesture. Only prigs and glory-mongers go in for such chicken when other things, like resting, eating, or airing out a painful foot blister, are far more important to a grunt in the large scheme of things, and obviously do him much more good than springing to attention every time some supposedly valuable person in officer’s garb walks by. Very often even a hastily executed 45-degree arm-crunch takes more energy than the ever-fatigued infantryman can muster. Fortunately, for the men in King Company’s Second Platoon, no such gymnastics are required of them. They could easily have ended up with some stuffed-shirt, know-nothing ninety-day wonder in command, but lucky for them, they got Lt. Hanley instead.

One of my favorite scenes with Hanley, and one that typifies his relationship with his men, is in "The Party," when Kirby and the gang, in a bid to wheedle a favor out of Hanley, start saluting him like crazy when he shows up among them. From the expression on his face, you know what he must be thinking in response to this sudden, utterly surreal and unprecedented outbreak of military protocol: "What the hell ...?"

Because, you see, this looie, while he may sport a pinky ring, a college degree and a Robert Taylor ‘do, is definitely no salutin’ demon. It must have something to do with the fact that he himself is a mustang, a guy who came up through the ranks and received a battlefield commission. Having seen Army life through the eyes of the low-level grunt, he has a certain tolerance, if not outright sympathy (well, maybe a bit of the latter too, though he never actually lets on), for the complaints of put-upon soldiers, even professional buckers like Kirby. And officer-dom, for him, holds little mystique. So he gets to ride around a lot in jeeps – big deal. That stripe on the back of his helmet doesn’t come in very handy in Kraut territory – he knows it only means he’ll get shot at before anyone else does. Such stark battlefield realities might account for the demeanor he’s observed in fellow platoon leaders, namely, that "a lot of second lieutenants are strange."

His style of leadership combines the attributes of approachability and authoritativeness. Got an annoying "Superman" in the outfit? Sarge acting kinda moody after bad news from home? Need a pass so you can finish your honeymoon with your Army-nurse wife? Hanley’s definitely the kind of officer you want around to deal with such problems. He’ll always listen with a sympathetic ear, even if he doesn’t agree with you in the end. Which is to say, the man is approachable, but the man is no pushover, either. Rumor has it that he once thoroughly chewed out the toughest of NCO’s (no names, please) ... and lived.

Perhaps Hanley’s greatest asset is the faith he has in his men. They, of course, are lucky to have him, but I think he knows he’s luckier still to have them, especially Saunders. Where would he be without this ultra-reliable, battle-savvy veteran sergeant of his? Probably lying kaput with the whole platoon back in that apple orchard off Omaha Beach. Hanley, in that case, had the great sense to listen to his subordinate and not his ego. This humility and lack of affectation have characterized him ever since, proving that his officer’s status, far from going to his head, has not changed him one bit. (Although, if he ever again chooses to pull rank on Saunders over some dame, he now at least has more rank to pull.)

So, it turns out, there really are two kinds of officers – the kind that wear their commission quietly (sometimes along with mud all over their face), and the kind that wear it for everyone else to see. Bill Mauldin, in addition to lampooning stuffy brass, has given us at least one vivid portrait of the kind of officer the Army should have more of. Mauldin’s cartoon shows a lieutenant sitting in a foxhole with Willie and Joe – only, if it weren’t for the looie’s bar on the helmet, you’d never know the difference among them. This officer, not unlike how we often see Hanley, has the same slovenly beard stubble, the same slouched shoulders, and the same dark circles under his eyes as the men he commands. And command them he does, I’ll bet. Would the men of Second Platoon repeatedly go up those murderous hills with their damnable bunkers, do you suppose, for a mere officer? Not likely. But they do go up those hills for Lt. Hanley.

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


Other Combat! character pieces:

A Sergeant Scorned
Have Beret, Will Travel

The Real Rebel in the Outfit
Boy-Next-Door Goes to War
Big Buddy With a Big Heart

Also on this level of the website:

About Rick Jason
Eulogy for Rick Jason
Rick as author
About Hanley
You Might Salute
Letter from Rick
Hanley:episodes he appears in
Rick Jason shop
Wounded in Action - Hanley
Woundings: Hanley


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