Sergeant Duke Hock was a legend in the Army while I was still in grade school. He was Jack Reacher before Lee Child was born

There are so many stories about Duke that, even though I’ve forgotten 90% of them, I can remember dozens. The two I’m about to relate happened to involve me.

To best appreciate these stories it’s useful to know two things about Duke. First, being an Army lifer, Duke was a stickler for Army regulations, and God help you if you screwed them up. On the other hand, Duke’s understanding of those rules was often beyond bizarre.

Second, while most MPs carried a .45 caliber pistol, Sergeant Hock preferred a revolver, a Smith and Wesson .38 caliber Chief Special. His gun had a custom-made, hand-tooled walnut grip that had grown dark with age and use. Despite its short barrel, Duke claimed that he could “shoot th’ ass off a butterfly at fifty paces,” and no one doubted it for a second.

Sergeant Duke Hock Story #1. At the end of every shift, Sergeant Hock would stop by my office at the traffic division to review that day’s Incident Report. Every time, without fail, he would perform the same ceremony. He would pull his .38 out of its holster, flip open the cylinder, unload the gun, then spin the cylinder while frowning at it like he was sure it was trying to trick him. He would then reload the gun, flip the cylinder shut, twirl the .38 around his finger like a dime-store cowboy and slip it back into its holster.

One day, after I’d observed this ceremony maybe 500 times, I said, “Duke, what the hell are you doing?” He looked up at me, surprised. “Don’t you know,” he said, “Army regs say you got to unload your weapon before returnin’ t’ your quarters.”

And that’s just what Duke was doing, unloading his weapon. Of course, he was immediately reloading it, but as far as Duke was concerned the regs didn’t cover that angle.

Sergeant Duke Hock Story #2. It was near the end of my shift at the traffic division, late in the evening. Since it was my sixth day in a row of 12-hour shifts, I could barely keep my eyes open. Then my intercom squawked and the desk sergeant hollered, “Shots fired over t’ th’ NCO quarters!” That woke me up.

I jumped in my Jeep and raced over there, lights flashing and siren screaming. When I arrived I found two of my patrolmen standing out in the street looking nervous. “What’s going on?” I shouted. The two men exchanged a look and then one of them said, “Sarge, them shots what was called in? They come from Sarge Hock’s place!”

I stared at them in disbelief for a second and then raced up to Duke’s door and began pounding on it, shouting, “Police! Open up!”

The door was yanked open and for one fantastical moment I thought I was looking at Cary Grant. I’d never seen Sergeant Hock in mufti, but there he was, wearing pinstriped silk pajamas and a gorgeous silk robe he’d picked up in Bangkok one time on R&R.

Recovering myself, I said, “We got a call saying shots were fired in here, Duke!”

“Oh,” he said, unconcerned, “is that what all the ruckus is about? Come on in.”

We entered Duke’s living room and I could see that he’d been watching television. The set was turned on and there was a large tumbler of bourbon sitting on the table beside Duke’s favorite chair. “There’s your trouble,” he said, pointing.

I followed his finger but didn’t see anything. Then I did – a bloody mess in the far corner down by the floor. “You shot a rat?” I exclaimed.

Duke nodded. “Sumbitch walked across th’ floor like ‘e owned th’ place. So I plugged ‘im.”

Duke was patting the bulge on his hip where his .38 was holstered. He might have been in his pajamas, but Sergeant Duke Hock was armed and ready for action.

Now that we know something about Duke Hock, let’s return to those five soldiers sitting on a bench outside the Provost Marshal’s office in late 1970. Reading from left to right, as Duke Hock would have seen them, they were Duncan, Johnson, Curtis, Canavan, Murphy. Duncan, Johnson and Murphy were eighteen years old. Canavan was nineteen. I was almost twenty-four.

Three of those five had been in Basic Training together and all of us had gone through MP School and Correctional Specialist Academy together. We had now been sitting around doing “nothing” together for weeks.

I, of course, had walked off with Sergeant Hock, leaving the other four behind. But I hadn’t been running the traffic division long before I realized that I needed a better deputy. So I pulled some strings – technically, Duke Hock pulled some strings – and Canavan moved over to the traffic division with me.

That left Duncan, Johnson and Murphy to be attached to the infantry battalion. Next week we’ll learn the fate of those three soldiers and, in the process bring this series of posts to a close.

Next up: How Shined Shoes Can Save Your Life, Part 4

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