Garret Mathews / Lifestyle & Retirement

Half Soldier

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“Hey, Garret, who’s your buddy in the front seat? Doesn’t look human.”  

He’s not. He’s a silhouette target for the military. Stands about three feet, six inches. Name is Half Soldier.  

“Looks all shot up.”  

He is. That’s what happens when troops fire at you.  

“Odd choice of a traveling companion, wouldn’t you say?”  

Not at all. Some people go to Disneyland. I go to Army bases. Actually, not all Army bases. Just Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri where I trained.  

“So Half Soldier is a souvenir.”  


“Did you buy the thing at the PX?”  

Nope. Got him at the firing range. Half Soldier was in a trashcan. Guess you could say I liberated him.  

“What were you doing at the firing range?”  

In the early fall of 1971, some decidedly unpleasant persons marched me out there during basic training.  

“You mean drill sergeants.”  

Exactly. I had enough anxiety to fuel an aircraft carrier. I sincerely believed they were going to kill me.  

“So you decided to return to the scene of the near crime.”  

That’s right. I wanted to stand in the Missouri prairie and reminisce without being yelled at by decidedly unpleasant persons.  

“Were you a good soldier?”  

No. I was particularly woeful at folding my underwear and making my bed, things the Pentagon considered every bit as important as taking out enemy firebases.  

“Could you shoot the M16?”  

As a rifleman, I ranked with the invertebrates. I was to pouring lead as Barney Fife was to Audie Murphy.  

“So when the Army mounted a silhouette target for you to aim at, the thing stood an excellent chance of remaining in pristine condition after you emptied your weapon?”  


“So what happened at the firing range during your visit to Fort Leonard Wood?”  

I was strolling the grounds, recalling the afternoon when I misplaced the bolt assembly and the captain threatened to drop-kick my hind parts all the way to St. Louis.  

“Were you alone?”  

Just me and Half Soldier.  

“So you stole him.”  

I prefer to think of my buddy as a symbol of man’s unceasing struggle to prevail.  

“What do you mean?”  

In the end, I was the ultimate winner. While I couldn’t shoot Half Soldier, I was more than capable of taking him home.  

“Won’t keep you, Garret. Know that you and your friend have a lot to talk about.”  

Thanks for understanding. We’re going out for drinks.  

“What kind?”  

Editor’s Notes:  Garret Mathews, a new AFL “regular” tells us:   I’m retired from writing the metro column for the Evansville, Ind., Courier & Press. In a 39-year career, I penned more than 6,500 pieces on every subject from moonshiners to murderers. You can read some of my work by going to and clicking on the Favorites icon.  For information on other projects, click on Coming Together and FolksAreTalking on the Plugger site.” Also, go to, and, for even MORE great articles from Garret, click here!  Email Garret at He’d love to hear from you!

Garret Mathews is retired from writing the metro column for the Evansville, Ind., Courier & Press. He penned more than 6,500 pieces on every subject from moonshiners to murderers and Appalachian snake handlers to mail-order brides. His legacy website ( contains links to columns – his (“Favorites”) and those mostly written by others (“Columnists: While We’re Still Around”). At “Coming Together,” you can access interviews Mathews conducted with civil rights volunteers who went South in the ‘60s to register voters and desegregate schools and businesses. At “Folks Are Talking,” you can read several dozen feature stories and columns (early United Mine Workers organizers, early coal hand loaders and a female furrier who dissected muskrats while eating peanut butter sandwiches) that Mathews wrote during the ‘70s when he worked in Southern West Virginia. He and his wife MaryAnne moved to Carmel in 2013 to dote on their grandchildren, Gavin and Ben.

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