THE PENTAGON is asking Congress to end the ban on women going into combat. It wants permission for women in the armed forces to be allowed to fly planes, man battleships and live in the trenches next to "our boys."
The problem seems to be that the "baby boom" in the U.S. is over, and by the 1980s the military says it won't have enough men to man all the battle stations.
I must admit I have mixed feelings about American women serving in combat, particularly in the trenches with men. Part of me says, "Women earned it." But another voice says, "Remember how it was with Brinkerhoff."
Let me explain. During World War II, I served in a U.S. Marine Corps fighter squadron in the Pacific with a fellow named Brinkerhoff. We shared the same foxhole together, which was used in case of an air raid or when someone in our outfit went berserk and decided to open fire on the rest of us.
When you share a foxhole with another person you learn to know him quite intimately and you really get to hate him.
The trouble with Brinkerhoff was he was never in a hurry to get into the foxhole, and I always wound up there first - on the bottom. He'd come diving in at the last moment with helmet, rifle, canteen and field boots, and he used me to break his fall.
"Brinkerhoff," I finally said, "why don't you just once get to the foxhole first, so I can use you as a mattress for a change."
"I got claustrophogia," he said. "I don't like to be in the foxhole at the bottom."
"Why don't we dig a larger foxhole so we can lie side by side, as they do in John Wayne's movies?"
Brinkerhoff's eyes filled with tears. "You don't like me anymore."
"I do like you," I retorted, "but I'm getting tired of you jumping on my bones."
"I'll bet you wouldn't say that if I was a girl," Brinkerhoff said.
"That's the most stupid thing I ever heard," I shouted. "What would a girl be doing out here in a foxhole?"
"Someday American women will be sharing foxholes with men," Brinkerhoff said.
"Not in the U.S. armed forces, they won't," I told him, trying to get his canteen out of my kidney.
"Because one of the reasons we're out here fighting the Japs (during World War II we were allowed to use ethnic slurs when discussing the enemy) is to protect the girl next door. How could we protect her if she was out here in a foxhole fighting beside us?"
"I'd rather be in a foxhole with the girl next door than you," Brinkerhoff said.
"You're just saying that because I'm here," I said. "How would you feel if 'the girl was a better shot than you were and killed more Japs?"
"You have to be kidding," Brinkderhoff said. "You don't think if I was sharing a foxhole with a girl we'd be shooting at anybody?"
"That's my point, Brinkerhoff. You can't have a war if you have men and women in the same foxhole. An officer would yell, 'CHARGE,' and nobody would leave their cover. They'd have to do away with the Good Conduct Medal."
"I still say we'll see women in foxholes some day. You ain't going to get Marines to go into the trenches a few wars from now if they have to share them with people like you."
It's a hard thing for me to admit, even now, but damned if Brinkerhoff didn't know what he was talking about.