McNair joined our Basic Combat Training platoon a couple weeks into the cycle. Most BCT Recycles are flawed; they’re injury victims, have attitude issues, or show other problems. This guy was, just, well, different. McNair was damn near perfect; a wonderful physical specimen, and obviously the best soldier in the company.

Sargeant Solden explained: Ours was McNair’s fourth cycle. Three times he’d gone through Basic at Fort Knox, and three times he’d vanished during the last week of training. Each time Uncle Sam had tracked him down, locked him in the brig for a time, and sent him back to training. This time, Charley Tucker promised, things would be different.

Yeah, sure. On even-numbered days McNair was the best soldier in the camp; on odd-numbered days he was the worst soldier in the camp. It wasn’t an attitude thing, exactly–that was always bad, in a sullen sort of way–but it certainly was predictable. On practice day at the rifle range he missed a couple targets; a week later he hit a couple targets when the scores counted. I had the bad fortune to go up against him in Pugil Stick practice; he beat me to a pulp in 30 seconds. The stronger soldiers who followed me into the circle lasted a bit longer. The next day he failed the PT test.

But boy he looked fine while he failed. Good days and bad, the man was impeccable, in a BCT sort of way. His fatigues were always starched, his boots always had a perfect shine, his comportment was beyond reproach. Everything was done with a flair. Even the failures were stylish.

The point was clear enough. The Army had nothing to teach him, and he really wasn’t interested in this stuff.

A week from cycle’s end he went missing.

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