In the course of a conversation with a friend. I idly used the phrase short round. My friend frowned and said:
” What does that mean? I’ve heard that term a dozen times. What does it mean”?
Because I’ve been asked that question several times by other people, I will try to explain what might be meant when someone uses the term short round.
A search around the web will bring you definitions of short round that range from a womans hairstyle, nick names, descriptions of drinks, and a sidekick for Indiana Jones. None of these convey the two military meanings of the term, one frustrating, the other terrifying.
A flaw in cartridge ammunition production can force the bullet too far into the cartridge case, resulting in a round that is shorter than the others. This difference in length can lead to a jam in an automatic weapon or a stoppage. Depending on the circumstances either event can be frustrating or, under fire, dangerous. Short rounds of this type are relatively rare. Quality control in the U.S. military’s ammunition production is such that in three years of service, handling millions of rounds, I never came across a single short round of this kind.
I became acquainted with the other meaning of the phrase in a little place called Soc Trang, RVN.
Soc Trang was a base camp in the southern part of Viet Nam, below the Mekong river. It was a mile long and about two hundred yards wide, because its main feature was a runway for Air Force cargo planes to land and take off from. On one side of the base was a 4.2 inch [Four – Deuce] mortar battery.
The Four – Deuce was an awesome weapon. It consisted of a barrel five feet long and 4.2 inches in diameter sitting on a round base plate and throwing a high explosive shell weighing almost thirty pounds over six thousand yards.
The mortar round was near to two feet long and had its propellant charge wrapped around its base before being dropped down the tube. The propellant charge came in white sheets that were perforated in one inch squares: the number of squares of propellant necessary to reach the target would be torn off the sheet, wrapped around the base of the shell, and the shell dropped down the top of the tube. A detonator on the shells base would strike the bottom of the tube and ignite the charge, throwing the projectile out of the barrel with a deep, bass THUUUMMMPP that would shake the ground and resonate in your guts.
The mortars fired mostly at night, in support of infantry that would execute ambushes against the enemy in the fields and jungle surrounding the camp. Sometimes all through the night you would hear that deep basso profundo
THUUUMMMPP , THUUUMMMPP . Then once in a great while there would come, in the middle of the barrage, a THIP. That was a Short Round.
For whatever reason all of the propellant charge on the shells base did not explode and the shell has come out of the tube, with an unknown amount of force, and is in the air somewhere over your head and God alone knows where it is going to land, and He’s not talking. Or perhaps you’re not listening because you’re straining every sense to catch even the faintest clue as to where that shell is going to come down.
Do you run?
You might be in the one safe spot on the base already.
You might be exactly where the shell will land.
Which way do you run?
What if you run to the bullseye?
WHAT DO YOU DO????????
The U.S.Army, in its omniscience, has provided the answer;
[ from AR 75-1, MALFUNCTIONS INVOLVING AMMUNITION AND
FOLLOWING PROCEDURES APPLY TO SHORT ROUNDS:
A. GUN CREWS EXPERIENCING SHORT ROUNDS DESCRIBED IN PARA 4
MUST EVACUATE FIRING POSITION DUE TO REMOTE POSSIBILITY FOR
FUZE ARMING. EOD MUST ACCOMPLISH DISPOSAL OF DUDS.
B. REQUEST THAT FIRING UNIT SUBMIT AN AMMUNITION MALFUNCTION
REPORT, DA FORM 4379.
If that doesn’t put your mind at ease perhaps you should try the Coast Guard.
I’m with your friend. How do you drop the phrase “short round” into a conversation? What is it a metaphor for? I don’t know why Indiana Jones calls that kid “Short Round” but I’m watching Sam Fuller’s “Steel Helmet” on TCM. It starts with a white American soldier being helped by a young South Korean boy. First the soldier calls him a “gook”. The boy replies he is no “gook. Then the soldier calls him “Short Round”! Later, that soldier supplies another soldier with some ammo, warning him to be careful because it’s a short round. That, I get. But why did both Sam Fuller and George Lucas have their characters call Asian boys “Short Round”?
I wouldn’t hazard to guess at the working of another writers mind, but, it could mean;
1. He’s Short – small in stature
2. There’s no telling where he might come down
More likely that the name was chosen because it gave the character the flavor the writer – director was looking for.
Words can be chosen because they convey a profound meaning or simply because they Rhyme.
I guess I was surprised to see that it happened first in Sam Fuller’s movie. Lucas probably put it in as an homage when writing Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
In my unit in RVN, for the only time in my life, I was called “Tex”. If you grew up in the 50s and 60s on Hollywood war movies and Television dramas you had it instilled in you that in a war your buddies were – Tex, Bootleg, Gunner, Casanova, Willie Pete (white phosphorus)
No one is known by their real name otherwise it wouldn’t be a proper war.
I’m sure that there is a long, scholarly dissertation somewhere on the psychology and manipulation and power struggle of such things. Bull!
You do it because your daddy did it and it makes you sound cool.
One of my fellow troopers was called The Detroit Snowman, or Detroit for short.
Why? Because he was always trying to run a Snow job on somebody.
Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.
Lucas and Fuller’s motivation for using the phrase?
I suspect they felt it added a depth to the character by hinting at a shared past.
You can replace whole pages of backstory with a simple hint.
Or perhaps the “Occipy Wall Street” people….I’m sure they are a bunch of brave souls!