Oct 22 2013 12:30pm

Pass the F**king Potatoes, or Foul Things Soldiers Say

Frankly, these potatoes do look pretty f***ing great.There’s a scene in the movie Hamburger Hill that rings so true, I can’t help but remember it every time I hear someone say pass the potatoes. Usually at Thanksgiving or Christmas, someone will say it and I’ll smile privately, remembering the actor Michael Boatman who played the part of Private Ray Motown telling a story about how he went home and couldn’t keep from acting like a jerk.

To set up the scene, Motown is trying to convince one of the other men who is a short timer that he isn’t ready to go home. Motown is trying to explain that the military changes you, it indoctrinates you, it makes you do things for a reason that have no place at home… and sometimes there’s no reason at all. So he’s talking to the man and telling about how he went home on leave:

I smile at my Mamma. Great meal, Ma. Would you please pass the f**king potatoes? The ham is f**king A, Ma. You don't know how... how f**king great it is to be home. How you going to act, huh?

The scene is silent for a few long moments as each one of the men imagines how they’d act. You can almost see it in their eyes as they all realize that they’d probably act the same. And it embarrasses them. In fact, they’d rather be at war.

I remember this scene so well because I did the same thing. It was 1986 and I had just returned from my first duty assignment and a year in Korea. I hadn’t been home for more than 14 months and I was on leave between duty stations. I can see it in complete and utter horrifying clarity in my mind’s eye as if it were yesterday. There I was, sitting at the dining room table at our (then) home in Ooltewah, Tennessee, with my little brother, my mom and my dad.

I don’t know what I’m eating. Hell, even then I’m not sure I knew what I was eating. It was probably potatoes. I was so delirious to be in the Land of the Big PX and home and with family that I forgot absolutely everything about decorum and the way a person should act. I was telling a story which revolved around several Korean hookers, a drunk soldier and a Kimchi House. I was dropping A-bombs and F-bombs like a cellblock of felons doing life without parole. I can picture my mother and father glancing at each other several times as I was talking and shoveling in the food. I can also picture my little brother staring at me as if I was the greatest, bestest, foulest mouth he had ever seen and he wanted to grow up and be just like me.

It’s one of the most embarrassing moments I’ve ever been cursed to remember.

Would you please pass the blanking potatoes, ma?

I’m of the impression that soldiers should come with warning labels. One should be WARNING- WORDS COMING OF THIS MOUTH WILL BE OFFENSIVE AND INAPPROPRIATE.

Production Still from Hamburger Hill, Pvt. Ray Motown (Michael Boatman) second from left.

On my way into Kabul for the first time, my friend, a sergeant major, was giving me a tour. “They’re building a Hilton there,” he says.

Channeling Nostradamus and Bobcat Gothwait, our driver shouts, “S**t’s going to get blowed the f**k up.”

We were in Afghanistan and we laughed and nodded like it was Solomon himself levying prophecy, but anywhere else the words wouldn’t be even remotely hilarious. Hell, even re-reading them, they’re funny to me, but then I’m an old soldier. The absolutely profane idea that a building getting blown up is funny is clearly a coping mechanism. What makes it okay to laugh is that the builders should have known better than to give the insurgents such a tasty target.

But is it really okay? Not in real life. But then war isn’t real life either.

Here’s a statistic. According to the New York Times, at any given time during the last decade less than one percent of Americans served on active duty in the military

So we’re just a sliver of the population. Real life isn’t us. We’ve separated ourselves from real live and joined a reality known as the military.

Understand, we have to make war not real life, or else it totally messes with our head. But why do we talk like that?

I’m not going to pretend to know the answer, but it has always seemed to me as a some sort of coping mechanism. The indoctrination begins at the beginning. Although things have changed and become more politically correct since I joined the military, I can remember how the desensitization campaign began my first day in Basic Training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. After the drill sergeant was done cursing and fuming, and we got our heads shaved and a complete new suite of new camouflaged color clothes, we went on our first run. It was then I learned of the thing called cadence.

Cadence is not only a tactic used by drill sergeants to help us forget we were running, but also to keep us in step. A third unspoken reason for cadence is to desensitize and prepare our young minds for things we’d never believed we’d do.

Was it/is it on purpose? Is there a room in the basement of the Pentagon called the Global Military Desensitization Office? Or is it merely custom, maybe something we do as a measure of intellectual protection without even thinking about it? I’m sure this can be answered by someone with many more academic letters after their name.

But for now, read these snippets of cadence. If you’re alone, say them out loud and imagine soldiers responding to these call-response cadences, shouting them as loud as they can:

I think a version of this one was in An Officer and A Gentleman:

Flying low across the trees,
Pilots doing what they please,
Dropping frags on refugees,
Napalm sticks to kids.


A yellow bird with a yellow bill
landed on my window sill
I lured it in with a crust of bread


Up jumped the monkey from the coconut grove
he was a mean motherf**ker, you could tell by his clothes.
He wore a two button ditty, and a three button stitch
he was a loud
motherf**ker and a son of a b***h!
He lined a hundred women, up against the wall
and bet anyone, he could f**k them all.
He f**ked 98 till his balls turn blue,
Then he backed off, jacked off, and f**ked the other two!!!

Whew! That was a bad one. I’ve sung all of these and more. Now, looking back at it, I have to admit, I’m pretty shocked at some of the things which came out of my mouth. Knowing my mother is probably going to read this, I’m very happy she never heard me actually sing it as part of cadence, which I did, up and down the streets of Fort Jackson, Fort Gordon, Fort Carson, Fort Huachua, Fort Ord, Fort Hood and a dozen other places to include the Land of the Morning Calm.

Before I ate that dinner at my parent’s house, my first unit in the military was a nuclear artillery unit in Korea. We wore t-shirts, hats and jackets with the words Nuke ‘em til they Glow scrawled artfully for all to see, along with whatever graphic representations the Korean workers could stitch. We were proud young men. We loved the fact we could rain down radiation on our enemy. We were lean, mean fighting machines, ready to do everything and anything to keep our way of life… anything and everything so that other people’s sons and daughters could stay at home safe.

There’s a reason fighting men and women talk like this. There’s a reason we think like this. It helps us focus. It helps us deal with the idea of killing someone. It’s a coping mechanism.

We should just make sure we don’t do it in f**king public or else the world might find out how absolutely bloodthirsty we really aren’t.

Potato image via YumScrumptious. Cadence photo and more lyrics via Fearless Men.


This Sweepstakes has ended.

Age of Blood: A SEAL Team 666 Novel by Weston OchseTo enter for a chance to win a hardcover copy of  Age of Blood: A SEAL Team 666 Novel by Weston Ochse, make sure you're a registered member of the site and simply leave a comment below.

TIP: Since only comments from registered users will be tabulated, if your user name appears in red above your comment—STOP—go log in, then try commenting again. If your user name appears in black above your comment, You’re In!

Age of Blood Comment Sweepstakes: NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN.  A purchase does not improve your chances of winning.  Sweepstakes open to legal residents of 50 United States, D.C., and Canada (excluding Quebec), who are 18 years or older as of the date of entry.  To enter, complete the “Post a Comment” entry  at https://www.criminalelement.com/blogs/2013/10/pass-the-blanking-potatoes-foul-language-soldiers-cadence-weston-ochse-seal-team-666-age-of-blood beginning at 1:30 p.m. Eastern Time (ET) October 22, 2013. Sweepstakes ends at 1:29 a.m. ET October 29, 2013. Void outside the United States and Canada and where prohibited by law.  Please see full details and official rules here. Sponsor: Macmillan, 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010.


Weston Ochse is the author of ten novels, most recently SEAL Team 666, which the New York Post called “required reading” and USA Today placed on their “New and Notable List of 2012.” His first novel, Scarecrow Gods, won the Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in First Novel and his short fiction has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. His work has appeared in comic books, and magazines such as Cemetery Dance and Soldier of Fortune. He lives in the Arizona desert within rock throwing distance of Mexico. He is a military veteran with 29 years of military service and is currently stationed in Afghanistan.

Subscribe to this conversation (must be logged in):
Lynn Jarrett
8. OkieReader
This sounds like an interesting read. I look forward to receiving it and reading it soon.
11. Joepowers
I need to read this f*****g book!
vickie dailey
14. kidcurry
wow - I guess war is hell and does change a person - sounds like a great book -
Janice Ford
15. JazzyTJan
Appears to be an interesting read. Would love to win it.
Jackie Wisherd
18. JackieW
Enjoyed the blog so I know I would really like reading this book.
Laurence Coven
19. Holmes
How long has it been? about sixty years since Lenny Bruce taught us we don't need the ***** anymore. And George Carlin re-emphasized it. Just use the words you want.
Cindi Hoppes
22. CindiHoppes
I love a great review...
Thanks for this fabulous book giveaway opportunity!
LeAnn Knott
23. knottlady
What a book! I can see it may be hard to read, but I would like the chance! After working with Vets for many years they are their own people. Great!!!
Jhonne Jones
24. Peregrin
I notice in my kids working emergency (fire and ambulance), the language went south with more experience. I agree it's a coping mechanism to help them deal with some of the horror they see on a daily basis.
Beth Talmage
25. wordygirl
I expected a book review, but what I got was an effing brilliant essay.

My brother is a cop in a big city, and I think he must feel the same way sometimes--the stuff of his daily life is a world away from my quiet, rural life.
Gordon Bingham
26. gordonbingham
After 20+ years of having to be politically correct to people calling me worse names than the above, I look forward to real language!
Jeffrey Malis
27. bravejam
Insightful post... Thanks for the chance!
Anita Yancey
28. rosewood780
Sounds interesting and I would love to read it. Thanks for this chance.
Heather Martin
29. CrystalMirror
I think most people understand the desentizatin and language used by most soldiers, and even cops. It is when that behavior spills into family and other social life that most of us have a problem. Talk all you want, just don't act.
Robin Weatherington
30. rawfish
I'm a veteran, and I love a good boots on the ground book.
Robin Weatherington
30. rawfish
I'm a veteran, and I love a good boots on the ground book.
susan beamon
31. susanbeamon
none of those lyrics were on the marching cd my daughter brought back from Camp LeJiune (forgive the spelling please) when she went on a trip there back when she was in high school. But I wouldn't be surprised that there were worse ones.
John Maline
33. jpmaline
I remember the monkee jodie, but could only remember the "punch line"! Thanks for the memories!
Florry M. D.
34. florryalyna
Pass me the f**king potatoes, would like to read it!
Marie-Louise Molloy
35. Wezzie
#34 you stole part of my line...."pass the f**king book so I can read it!"
Barbara Fish
36. Barb Fish
I hope I'm old enough to read this f**king book!
judy oliver
37. jjudyfl
...so I was having dinner, & my dad walked by and showed me the contents of my 90 year old formerly constipated mother's diaper. I think I can handle this book...
38. Tim
Love the blog and I will be humming along with you.
Tim Martin
39. copefiend2
Love the blog and I will be humming along with you.
40. MonicaJ.
Fascinating stuff you've been blogging.
Allison Moyer
42. The Loopy Librarian
My husband is retired Army and would enjoy this book. He sang many cadences in his day (and still does).
Lisa Richardson
43. keizerfire
I'd like to win this for my dad, a Vietnam vet, and my brother and nephew, vets from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Susan Pertierra
44. orchidlady01
I enjoyed your first Seal Team 666 novel and this one sounds like a winner! Your blog posts are great!
Karen Koziczkowski
45. zoom38
This would be an interesting read. Enlightening too!
shawn manning
46. shawnmanning
Liked the first book, despite some silliness.
48. ronframpton
yes it does take time to adjust when you come back to the civilian world no matter when you served .
Jack William Finley
50. JackWilliamFinley
On the flip side, this reminds me of a time a friend and I where at a huge Society of Creative Anachronism event and there where a bunch of kids running around cursing. We jumped their asses and told them to stop and then relized we'd be talking the same way if we hadn't just spent a week and a half in this isolated Renaissance Faire atmosphere.
William Fee
51. WTBFee
Why does this sound like my day to day life?
Kelley Tackett
52. tackettfamilyky
I would read anything that includes a group known as Followers of the Flayed One.
Benita Glickman
53. Benita
War is hell, but reading is informative. Thanks for the review. I'd love to read the book.
55. Shannon Baas
I'd like this.
paul sproul
56. sproulzy
Debut was great. Looking 4ward to this one
Kate Thornton
57. Kate-T
Weston, I follow your exploits on FB - can't wait to read this book!
CW3 Kate-T, US Army (ret.)
58. Eric Grizzle
I enjoyed reading this blog entry! Insightful and thought-provoking. The idea of a coping mechanism for the harsh realities/possibilities of war correlates with the extremes in horror books. Thanks.
60. Tina Rooker USMC
Holy F*ck, I chant you some cadence that would make you blush and never speak to me again! Then again all you'd have to do is read one FB post and it would be the same result. :P
62. galena penrod
looks like twould be a fantastic read!
george ashmore
67. gtashmore
The language returns to reasonable soon--just wait
Roger Simmons
72. truckerofbc
Thanks for thee chance. Looks like a great book to read.
73. C. Berg
I would love this book.
Donna Bruno
75. dlbawiles
This appears both intense and humorous. I'd love to win a copy!
76. Tony Parsons
luv 2 win/read this book
Suzanne Gonneville
80. Thumbs
As far as your bird cadence, for years I've known nearly the same and still laugh today when I recite it. I learned it from a Marine friend of my husband's in the late 60s, right after they returned from Viet Nam. It has a different twist--
I saw a little birdie lying in the snow.
Its wing was broke; it could not go.
So I fed the little birdie a crust of bread, and then I crushed its f**cking head!
Crystal Smith
83. csmith54751
This looks like a good read- I have a friend who I know would really appreciate this book :)
philip halter
90. brownbear121954
i have alots of friends was in wars and my father was too luv to win
Cheryl Greenleaf
91. cgreenleaf
Lots of entries for this one. My Dad would love this.
David Kidle
95. airforceguy82
I've pretty much heard it all in my military career, so this is right up my alley!
Wayne Lecoy
96. hotrodguy
I am entering your giveaway.
It would be great to win a hardcover copy of
Age of Blood: A SEAL Team 666 Novel by Weston Ochse.
I enjoy reading and discovering new authors.
This looks like a book i think i would enjoy reading.
Thank you for having this giveaway!!!!!!!!
Sue Johnston
97. SandySue210
Well, that certainly woke me up - I was starting to drowse off and then__________!!
kathy pease
99. klp1965
Thank you for the great giveaway please count me in :)
allan fredericks
106. allanf573
I have a son in the Navy, so this would be a perfect book for me read.
Post a comment