Norman McTague spent World War II as an Army artillery officer on the battlefields of the Pacific.
Today, McTague, 57, spend his days as operations officer of the Virginia Office of Emergency and Energy Services, working in an office appropriately located in an underground bunker behind State Police headquarters near here.
He deals with inscrutable oil companies, impatient politicians and harried consumers, all of whom have only one subject in mind: gasoline. There are times when McTague would prefer fighting the Japanese.
"You might say we've been a little busy," says the leader of the staff whose job it is to allocate gasoline from the state's emergency supply.
"Some of the people have been nice and some have been abusive, and sometimes I wish the telephone system was less efficient so we could get our work done."
Wish as he might, McTague's phone won't stop ringing. His office, which decides who gets state set-aside gasoline each month and who doesn't, receives 200 phone calls a day. Many of them are from Northern Virginians who feel their area - the only part of the state continually plagued by gas lines - has been shortschanged by the allocation system.
McTague's own statistics bear them out. The data shows the Richmond area, which has less population and no lines at the pumps, was given nearly twice as much gas in May as Northern Virginia. Last month, Northern Virginia got more fuel than in May, though the figures still indicate that a disproportionate amount went to other parts of the state.
Under orders from Gov. John N. Dalton to do more for the Washington suburbs, McTague and other officials say they expect to send more gas to the area in July. But they concede they are operating largely in the dark because they don't know how many stations there are in Northern Virginia or how much gas the state's suppliers plan to channel to the area.
"There's a lot of data that should have been available that we don't have," said McTague, who adds that previous state energy planners simply didn't do the job of compiling necessary data in the five-year lull between the 1973-74 gas crisis and the present one.
That isn't all. The energy office was merged with emergency services in March 1978 when Dalton fired energy director Louis Lawson who was under investigation by state police for alleged financial irregularities at the agency. Lawson was later cleared of any criminal violations, but McTague says state police held onto all of the agency's records for nearly a year.
"When we wanted a file, we had to go ask a sergent for it," says McTague, an emergency services official who suddenly found himself handling fuel allocations as well.
New federal rules for state gas allocations took effect late in April - just one month after the office hired June Kopald as a full-time fuel allocations officer.
"That was when the first wave of requests hit," recalls Kopald, who previously served as an accountant with the state Commission for the Visually Handicapped, where staff members' blood pressures seldom rose above normal.
Kopald, who had one temporary assistant when the crunch began, has hired 16 more in the last two months. All are crammed into four small offices where last month they received, evaluated and ruled on nearly 2,000 written requests for state fuel. They expect to get an equal number in July.
The staff attempts to verify information in the requests by phone, but McTague concedes, "at times we're probably accepting people's word for things that may not be true."
Officials say they've heard from dozens of congressmen, state senators and delegates who have suggested their constituents deserve emergency supplies. But they deny there has been my undue pressure.
"Some people say they're going to call the governor," says McTague. "I give them his phone number."
Some politicians expect more. McTague's boss, energy office coordinator George Jones, recalls being awakened at 7 o'clock last Saturday morning by a delegate from western Virginia who wanted to know why a local gas station hadn't opened as usual.
"A lot of people have been looking over my shoulder," says Jones, "and I guess that's the way it should be."
Even more troublesome have been jobbers - middlemen who transport fuel from oil company terminals to customers. Unlike Maryland, Virginia has refused to consider applications from jobbers because the state says it can't be sure the gas will ultimately reach intended users.
"The jobbers don't accept this and they can be very abusive," says Kopald, who is toying with the idea of getting an unlisted home telephone number.
Meanwhile, life in the bunker goes on. Officials expect gas lines to disappear within a month or two - but they're also predicting a long, cold winter.
"Home heating oil is next," says Kopald. "I expect the shortage will descend by the middle or end of October."