The instructor could over hear the two trainees talking. “Yeah, they call him ‘Mad-Dog’,” the one said to the other. Tommy smiled to himself as he thought back on how he came to end up with the nickname. It was years ago.Tommy was seven years old when he had a peculiar mishap. He was playing in the schoolyard of Margaret Keating Elementary just before the first bell. It was a game of freeze tag. The base was the northeast corner where the water fountain was. Tommy was a pretty good runner and had a good jump on whoever was chasing him.
That morning he was getting ready for school. It was the 2nd grade and his teacher was Mrs. Newquist. She had a love of birds and was teaching them all about them. This included hatching chicken eggs and raising chickens.
Looking back on it, Tommy chuckled and said to himself “It seems pretty funny now, that she should want to hatch chickens in a classroom.” He knew that most of the children could go out in their own barnyards and watch them hatch without some fancy egg-hatching contraption.
But hatching chicken eggs and bird lessons were not the only science experiment she liked to do. She asked that each child bring a paper towel tube with a wrapping of aluminum foil around it. Tommy had that with himself when he caught old number six for school.
It was still recess and school had not started yet and the children were playing tag. Tommy made a fast dash for base. At base the person who was “it” could not tag anyone. It was a free place to catch your breath and get a cool drink of water from the white porcelain fountain.
Tommy started to reach out for the wall with its aluminum sheet splashguard when he tripped on the sidewalk edge. He lunged forward and struck face first into the wall. Tommy had the paper towel tube wrapped in aluminum foil in his mouth.
There was a sudden flash of white light. It lasted only half a second. Then, a burning in his mouth that he could not stand followed it. Tommy spit, thinking that would cool the fire. When he did, he saw it lying on the ground amid the dark, red puddle of blood. It was his tongue.
The young child’s instinct took over from there and he started to run towards the woods. “Fight or flight,” his Dad used to always say. Tommy was flying. Somehow though, he gathered his senses and turned back and started running toward the school.
The corridor was long with red clay linoleum. Tommy looked back behind himself and could not see his blood except where it reflected against the morning sun through the open double doors.
Mrs. Zweirlein was the first to see Tommy. One moment she was wrinkling her nose as she peered into his mouth. The next moment she was a woman of action. She was telling Tommy to put the ice cubes she had handed him into his mouth. He did not want to because it hurt so badly, but Tommy did as he was told.
Things were becoming a blur to Tommy as every teacher at Margaret Keating Elementary had to come down and look in his mouth. They needed to see it for themselves. “Yep, it’s cut off,” said Mr. Biggers, the school’s principal.
Tommy’s dad soon arrived and took him to the hospital. At the hospital, the doctor stretched the two ends together and then ran some wires through the gaps in Tommy’s teeth and into his tongue. Then he wired the boy’s mouth shut.
He stayed that way for several weeks. Tommy drank orange soda pop and ate chicken noodle soup. He did not get to go back to school during this time, though the teachers thoughtfully sent him home a lot of schoolwork.
Tommy shook his head at the memories as they flooded his head. He had been in a number of fights over the years because of the difficulties associated with the injury. He had been called “Tongue Tied” and “Slobber Puss” as a child. He had even been labeled “retarded” by the school district after several unsuccessful years of speech therapy. But the label like the nicknames went away as he grew up.
“I’ve never seen a bull-dog salivate as much as you do!”” the Commander said to Tommy. Then he added, “You’re new call sign is going to be ‘Mad-Dog’, son.” The Commander smiled, and then dismissed the younger man.
“Guess if I have to have a nickname, this one isn’t so bad,” Tommy said to himself. Then he added, “It’s better than Tongue-tied Tommy.”
He stood up from his desk and prepared to face the new trainees.