At last General Dreedle spoke. “Get back in the car,” he snapped over his shoulder to his nurse, who had followed him down the line. The nurse toddled away with a smile toward his brown staff car, parked about twenty yards away at the edge of the rectangular clearing. General Dreedle waited in austere silence until the car door slammed and then demanded, “Which one is this?”
Colonel Moodus checked his roster. “This one is Yossarian, Dad. He gets a Distinguished Flying Cross.”
“Well, I’ll be damned,” mumbled General Dreedle, and his ruddy monolithic face softened with amusement. “Why aren’t you wearing clothes, Yossarian?”
“I don’t want to.”
“What do you mean you don’t want to? Why the hell don’t you want to?”
“I just don’t want to, sir.”
“Why isn’t he wearing clothes?” General Dreedle demanded over his shoulder of Colonel Cathcart.
“He’s talking to you,” Colonel Korn whispered over Colonel Cathcart’s shoulder from behind, jabbing his elbow sharply into Colonel Cathcart’s back.
“Why isn’t he wearing clothes?” Colonel Cathcart demanded of Colonel Korn with a look of acute pain, tenderly nursing the spot where Colonel Korn had just jabbed him.
“Why isn’t he wearing clothes?” Colonel Korn demanded of Captain Piltchard and Captain Wren.
“A man was killed in his plane over Avignon last week and bled all over him,” Captain Wren replied. “He swears he’s never going to wear a uniform again.”
“A man was killed in his plane over Avignon last week and bled all over him,” Colonel Korn reported directly to General Dreedle. “His uniform hasn’t come back from the laundry yet.”
“Where are his other uniforms?”
“They’re in the laundry, too.”
“What about his underwear?” General Dreedle demanded.
“All his underwear’s in the laundry, too,” answered Colonel Korn.
“That sounds like a lot of crap to me,” General Dreedle declared.
“It is a lot of crap, sir,” Yossarian said.
“Don’t you worry, sir,” Colonel Cathcart promised General Dreedle with a threatening look at Yossarian. “You have my personal word for it that this man will be severely punished.”
“What the hell do I care if he’s punished or not?” General Dreedle replied with surprise and irritation. “He’s just won a medal. If he wants to receive it without any clothes on, what the hell business is it of yours?”
“Those are my sentiments exactly, sir!” Colonel Cathcart echoed with resounding enthusiasm and mopped his brow with a damp white handkerchief. “But would you say that, sir, even in the light of General Peckem’s recent memorandum on the subject of appropriate military attire in combat areas?”
“Peckem?” General Dreedle’s face clouded.
“Yes, sir, sir,” said Colonel Cathcart obsequiously. “General Peckem even recommends that we send our men into combat in full-dress uniform so they’ll make a good impression on the enemy when they’re shot down.”
“Peckem?” repeated General Dreedle, still squinting with bewilderment. “Just what the hell does Peckem have to do with it?”
Colonel Korn jabbed Colonel Cathcart sharply again in the back with his elbow.
“Absolutely nothing, sir!” Colonel Cathcart responded sprucely, wincing in extreme pain and gingerly rubbing the spot where Colonel Korn had just jabbed him again. “And that’s exactly why I decided to take absolutely no action at all until I first had an opportunity to discuss it with you.