Disclaimer: I do not own 'Gomer Pyle, USMC' and all related items. Those rights belong to CBS.

Chapter 1

Five-year-old Vincent Pyle glanced both ways surreptitiously before quietly tiptoeing into his parents' room. He looked over at the alarm clock on the nightstand next to the bed. Five hundred and fifty-nine hours. He pulled himself up onto the foot of the bed and sat there, smiling at his mother and father. The pre-dawn light of the fading moon shone over the bed's occupants, who were still resting peacefully in each other's arms. Unceremoniously, the boy rose to his feet and began hopping up and down on the bed. "Wake up! Wake up!"

At that moment, the clock changed to oh-six hundred. The alarm buzzed loudly from its spot on the nightstand. Gomer and Lou Ann Pyle slowly sat up, moaning groggily. When the effects of sleep had worn off, which only took a matter of moments, Gomer pushed his hair out of his eyes and smiled at his son. "Hey, Vincent."

The boy immediately sat down on the bed and threw his arms wide. "Good mornin', good mornin', good mornin'!"

"Good mornin' to you, too, Vincent." Gomer turned to his wife and gave her a quick kiss. "Good mornin', Lou Ann." He stood up out of bed and jerked a thumb toward their son, grinning. "You know what? We really ought to do somethin' about him gettin' us up ever' mornin'. The early hours cain't be too good for him."

"Never you mind, Major Pyle." Lou Ann laughed, scooping the boy into her arms. Gomer took his uniform and disappeared into the bathroom.

"Is your sister up?" She asked him, kissing his forehead and running her hand through his tangled black locks.

"Ma…" Vincent pushed her hand away, a sour expression on his face. "Millie ain't up yet. She sleeps too much."

"She does, mmm?" Lou Ann smiled lovingly at the boy and patted his back. "Then we better be careful we don't wake her up. Why don't you go pick out what to wear an' I'll be in to help you in a minute." She pushed him toward the door, moving over to her closet as she did so.

"Ma, you don't got to. I cain dress all by myself!" He cried, sprinting for his room. A second later, a loud cry issued from the direction of Millicent Pyle's room. Lou Ann repressed a laugh and shook her head. "So much for bein' quiet."

Vincent bounded into his room and threw a shirt over his head. He got tangled in the sleeves and wrestled with it for a minute. His head got stuck and one arm made it through a very large sleeve while the other was still caught in the shirt's folds. Unabated, he reached for his overalls with his one free hand. He tried stepping into them, but only succeeded in putting one foot through. When he tried pulling them up, he fell to the floor in a muddled heap. "Maaa!"

Lou Ann ran into the room and immediately stooped down to peer at her son. "Vinny, what did I tell you to do? You should have waited for me!" She slowly began helping him put his clothes on the correct way. "You're so impatient!"

"But I got to show Daddy somethin'!" Vincent persisted, hopping up and down anxiously as his mother fastened the buckles of his overalls.

"Well, it's jus' gonna have to wait a minute." She murmured gently, grabbing a comb and swiftly parting his thick black hair to the right.

"But I don't wanna! Ma? Why cain't I wear my clothes when I go to sleep? Then I won't have to put 'em on in the mornin'!"

Lou Ann smiled and patted his back. "Because then there wouldn't be any need for your other clothes. Now, go on downstairs an' eat your breakfast. An' don't you dare slide down that banister again! The last thing I need is for you to go breakin' your neck."

"I won't!" Vincent cried, grabbing his baseball cap and hurtling toward the staircase at the end of the hall. He glanced over his shoulder to see if his mother was still watching, but she had already disappeared into his sister's room. Grinning, he turned around and straddled the banister, sliding all the way down to the bottom.

"You know your ma don't like for you to do that."

Vincent hopped off and barreled into the kitchen. "I know, Daddy. But I's careful. Besides, I got somethin' real important to tell you! You ain't gonna tell, are you?" He stopped short and stared questioningly up at the tall figure of his father.

Gomer tried to appear stern, but a grin forced its way across his face. He winked at the boy knowingly. "How cain I? Far as I'm concerned, I never seen you come down."

Vincent's face lit up. "Thank you, thank you, thank you!" He reached out and hugged Gomer's khaki pant leg.

He turned to see his mother carrying Millie down the stairs. When he looked back again, his father was almost halfway to the door. "Daddy, wait!" He called, running to catch up with him. "Ain't you gonna eat breakfast?"

"I packed it, Vincent." Gomer smiled, holding up a brown paper sack. "I got to get to the office early today. Duke an' I got some reports to run over this mornin'."

"But I got somethin' real important to tell you!" Vincent cried in dismay.

"Cain it wait till tonight?"

The boy shook his head ruefully.

"Come eat your breakfast, Vinny." Lou Ann said gently, helping Millie into her chair at the table.

"Ma, cain't I go with Daddy to the office? I got somethin' real important to tell him!" Vincent protested.

"Actually, I don't know if you should." His mother wiped her hands on her apron and cast a worried glance at her husband. "You might jus' be gettin' underfoot."

"Please, Ma! I promise not to get in any trouble!"

"It's okay, Lou Ann. I'll send the little feller straight home if he gets too out of hand." Gomer laid a hand on her arm reassuringly before giving her a final kiss in parting. "Have a nice day, Lou Ann."

"Bye. Have fun." She smiled, pushing him toward the door.

Gomer paused beside his daughter and leaned down to kiss her forehead. "Goodbye, Princess."

"Bye-bye, Daddy!"

Before Vincent could say anything, Lou Ann pulled him aside and placed an orange and a banana in his hand. "You eat your fruit for breakfast, Vinny. It's very good for you. An' I want to promise me you'll be on your very best behavior for Daddy at the office. Okay?"

Vincent grinned, the earnestness of his expression mirroring that of his father. "Don't worry, Ma. I'll be real good for you. I won't slide down no banisters."

She shook her head and drew him into a brief hug. "I know you won't, Vinny. Oh, you're so much like your daddy."

"Ma…"

She turned him around and pushed him in the direction of his father. "Go!"

She smiled and stood as Vincent ran right out the door and down the short walk toward the rest of the base outside. Gomer turned around and gave her a small wave before following suit, closing the door behind him.

"Come on, Daddy!"

Gomer looked up to see Vincent already halfway up the row, jumping up and down impatiently. "Now, don't get too far ahead, Vincent! I don't want you gettin' lost!"

"I won't! Hurry up!" The boy called, dashing off in the direction of the CO offices.

-

They soon arrived at the complex, walked up one flight of stairs and down some narrow corridors to arrive at the door labeled, 'MAJ. GOMER PYLE.' Gomer had just pulled out the key to unlock it when Lieutenant Colonel Slater ran right up to the pair, panting and out of breath.

"Oh, good, Gomer, you're here! I thought you'd never show up! Listen, we're gonna have to really work fast if we want to get these reports finished up by fourteen hundred hours! I've already found five sections that need to be revised immediately! Say, did you get that statistical datasheet from Captain Nielson the other day? We need that to check the numbers and he said…"

"Sure, I got it, Duke." Gomer smiled and turned the key, opening the door. The trio stepped inside as he flipped on the light switch. "You got to calm down. We'll get them papers finished up in plenty of time." He turned and hung his peaked cap on a nail by the door.

"Glad you can laugh about it. I'm not!" Lieutenant Colonel Gilbert 'Duke' Slater groaned and plopped down in a chair, tiredly running a hand through his thinning brown hair.

"Goll-ly, you sure don't sound too happy this mornin'." Gomer lifted his son up to perch on top of his desk and frowned at his best friend. "Did the baby keep you up again?"

Duke closed his eyes and slowly nodded his head. "Gosh, I wish she'd learn how to sleep at night." His three-month-old daughter, Starr, was known to quietly nap by day and become a wailing monster for her parents to attend to by night. "I stayed up reading over the whole report to her and even that didn't put her to sleep! Morgan's been shoving all this herbal calming stuff in my face just to keep me sane in the morning. You know what sleep deprivation does to a guy?" He moaned.

"Aw, bless her heart." Gomer sat down and slowly pulled several folders out from his desk drawer. "Well, I sure hope she gets better, Duke. You need a good night's rest."

"You're telling me." He mumbled sarcastically.

"Daddy, Daddy, cain I tell you now?" Vincent turned around and expectantly faced his father.

Gomer glanced from his son to Duke, then back again. "Maybe after we get a good start on these here reports…"

"Aw, but Daddy…"

"How about you go ahead an' eat your breakfast first?" Gomer pointed to the fruit Vincent still held in his hand. "By the time you're done, I'll be ready to hear you, I promise."

The boy sighed and turned to picking at his orange peel. He tapped his sneakers against the desk listlessly, humming a tune underneath his breath. He couldn't hardly wait to tell his father the news. He tried amusing himself by listening in on the two men's conversation, but he didn't understand any of what they were saying. He very quickly grew bored. He let his eyes wander around the office, studying each of the items in it closely, thinking a little bit about why they were there.

He'd rarely been in his father's office before; so much of it was unfamiliar to him. The walls were a bland shade of pale gray while the desk and shutters were a dark brown. His metal filing cabinets were covered with pictures and crafts projects his children had made in kindergarten and preschool, noticeably livening up the room. The walls were covered with photos of his family and of friends also stationed at the base. On the window ledge sat pictures of Vincent and Millie that had been taken in school, with a picture of both of them sitting with their father in the middle. A note tucked inside the frame lining it proclaimed, 'No. 1 Dad.' On top of the cabinet closest to the door stood pictures of his father meeting very important dignitaries. Twice he'd gotten to go to Washington and meet the President. On the wall hung a picture taken on his most recent trip, showing the major shaking hands with the current president, Gerald Ford. On his desk sat the scarlet and gold nameplate reading, 'MAJOR GOMER PYLE.' On one side was a glass paperweight in the shape of an automobile perching on top of a pile of papers. On the other side was a large black-and-white photograph of Lou Ann looking very coy. It was turned facing where Gomer now sat.

Vincent turned his attention back to his father, who now was sitting very far back in his chair, a worried frown creasing his face. He rested his chin on one hand while he aimlessly twirled a pencil with the other. "Wait a minute, now, Duke. Let me see if I cain get this straight: you're sayin' we put in these figures, but hold off on these here bigger ones till the end. That right?"

"Yeah, the report will be more effective that way."

"All right. Then that's gonna mean that we have to retype the last page, an' add Captain Neilson's research as one of the sources…" Gomer leaned forward and made some notations on a paper stretched out in front of him.

"Have you re-read section two yet, Gome? It's really weak. I say we completely redo it or throw it out altogether." Duke added, flipping through several typed pages.

"Wait." Gomer massaged his temple, frustrated with the confusion mounting in his mind over the report. "Which one is section two again?"

Vincent hopped down off of the desk and threw his peelings away in the wastebasket. "Okay! I'm ready, Daddy!"

"Could you hang on for jus' a minute, son?" Gomer held up a finger as he scanned back over the troublesome section two.

Vincent huffed angrily. "But Daddy, you promised!"

"I sure did, didn't I?" Gomer sighed and set his pencil on his desk. "All right, Vincent. What do you got to show me?"

"Gomer are you crazy? The report…!" Duke pointed to the clock worriedly.

"A promise is a promise, Duke. Besides, it'll only take about a minute." He glanced at his friend before turning to his son once more.

"Guess what, guess what, guess what?" Vincent cried, excitedly gripping the edge of the desk.

Gomer smiled. "What?"

The boy straightened proudly. "I learned all the words to the Marine's Hymn, all by myself!"

"You did?" Gomer's eyes lit up happily. "Well, goll-ly, Vincent! That's wonderful!"

Duke rolled his eyes. "You put everything on hold for that?"

"You want me to sing it for you?" Vincent grinned, pleased that his father was happy with his monumental accomplishment.

"Of course I do!" Gomer laughed. "Go on ahead!"

But just as the boy opened his mouth to begin, a staff sergeant carrying a manila folder walked into the office. He stopped before the desk and saluted Gomer and Duke. "Lieutenant Colonel Slater, Major Pyle, the Colonel requests your presence in his office at once."

"Thank you, Sergeant." Duke murmured as they both returned the salute. "Dismissed."

The man turned on his heel and had gone just as soon as he had come.

Gomer pushed up his sleeve and glanced at his watch. "That's right, Duke! I jus' plain forgot all about that meetin' we was supposed to have. We're already five minutes late!" He quickly stood and moved toward the door.

"Great. We already got him steamed at us. His mood definitely won't improve when we tell him we won't have this report ready in time." Duke shook his head sadly.

"Wait! What about my song?" Vincent protested.

"I'll jus' have to listen to you sing it later, all right? Daddy's real busy right now." Gomer resignedly patted his son's back before heading outside.

"But what am I supposed to do?" Vincent sat down on the floor and pouted.

Gomer stopped and turned around to face him, an admonishing look on his face. "You ain't supposed to sit on the floor, Vincent. It ain't proper. Remember what your ma done told you about bein' a proper young gentleman?"

Vincent nodded, brushing his pants off as he slowly stood. "I'm sorry, Daddy. But what do I do?"

"Well…" Gomer thought for a minute before answering. "You cain go home an' play with Millie."

"But Millie's a sissy baby!" Vincent crossed his arms, frowning.

Gomer sighed, stooping down to the boy's level. "Vincent, remember what we told you about callin' people names that ain't nice?"

He looked down at the floor. "Yeah. I remember, Daddy."

"You know it ain't nice to call your sister or anyone else mean names." Gomer fought to meet his son's gaze, finally succeeding and holding it. "Now, if I hear you do it again, I'll have to put you in a time-out, you understand?"

The boy nodded, uncomfortably scuffling the floor with his feet. "Yes, Daddy."

"You jus' go on home now an' I promise to listen to you later, all right?" Gomer smiled and waited a moment for an answer before Duke's irritated cry forced him to turn and hurry down the hall for the meeting he was already late for.

Vincent slowly exited the office and began dragging his feet home. He knew he shouldn't have called his sister a sissy baby, but he always got bored when he had to play with his sister. They didn't have much in common. She didn't want to play 'forts and soldiers' and he didn't want to play 'doll house.' The only things they really could do together were play in the sandbox or go for a ride in the wagon. And Vincent did not feel like pulling his sister in the wagon all over the base.

He was mulling over what he could possibly do when a ball suddenly crossed his path. He looked up in the direction it came from to see a small toddler in short pants come running after it. He smiled and waved. "Hey, Will."

Will Slater stopped and gave the boy a gap-toothed smiled. "Hey, Vinny."

"You doin' anythin'?"

"Playing boingy!" The three-year-old answered. "You wanna play boingy?"

Vincent shook his head. "Naw, not really. Thanks for askin', though." Will's game of 'boingy' mainly consisted of bouncing a ball back and forth until you got sick of it or the ball got lost, either one would suffice. Vincent considered it the dullest game ever created, but he still played it for the sake of his friend. Though he hated to admit it, there had been times when he'd played the game and lost the ball on purpose to avoid hurting Will's feelings.

"Okay." The boy shook his head, his light brown hair falling forward over his eyes. Tufts stuck out over his ears and in the back, giving him a silly appearance. A light smattering of freckles covered his nose and dimples. He wore a bright tie-dye shirt over khaki shorts that were fastened with a tiny belt. He had the smile and high cheekbones of his father and the refined nose and laughing green eyes of his mother. Though only two years younger than his friend, it felt like there wasn't even the slightest age difference in the pair. He and Vincent had grown up together from the very beginning, due to the close association of their fathers. Needless to say, it hadn't taken them long at all to form a friendship as strong as that of Gomer and Duke.

"What do we do?" He presently turned and looked for an answer from his older and wiser companion. He had quickly learned that Vincent came up with the best plans for the pair.

Vincent shrugged. "I don't know. I had somethin' real important to tell my daddy, but I got kicked outta his office. He was busy." Suddenly, his countenance brightened. "Hey, I know what we cain do! We cain go see the Sergeant!"

Will smiled. "Yeah!"

Vincent beckoned with his hand and began running off in the direction of the barracks. "Well, let's go, then! Come on!"

'The Sergeant' was what the boys called Gunnery Sergeant Vincent Carter. They knew the route to his office and platoon barracks very well. It was a place they often frequented. On occasion, Carter would even tolerate the boys falling in behind the platoon and drilling with them. Though he always pretended to be upset or indifferent when they unexpectedly dropped in, Vincent knew the man better. Sergeant Carter pretended to be tough, but he was truly a wonderful person.

In a matter of mere minutes, the two had entered through the back door of the duty hut and were sneaking up on Corporal Lester Hummel. He was seated at his desk doing paperwork, his back turned to the children. He was caught completely unaware as they crept up and tackled him, squealing gleefully.

"Say, what sort of hijinks are you two delinquents about?" He cried as they descended upon him.

Vincent laughed and shook his head. "Lester, you's always usin' funny words that I don't know what they mean."

"Where's the Sergeant?" Will asked.

Lester nodded toward the barracks. "Running his customary inspection of the barracks. Though I must say he isn't in the most jovial of spirits this morning." He leaned close and placed a hand at his mouth, murmuring in a stage whisper, "Mrs. Carter is here."

"Godmama Bunny?" Vincent's face lit up excitedly. "Shazaam! What good news!" He turned to Will and explained. "She's the lady what's always makin' cookies for us an' owns that big white dog you like to ride on."

Will's little jaw dropped. "Oh, boy!"

"Yeah." Vincent turned and looked out the window. "The only problem is she likes to pinch my cheeks an' talk to me like I was a three-year-old."

"I resent that!" Will crossed his arms indignantly.

"Well, it would appear someone reaps the benefits of acquisitioning a full and rich vocabulary." Lester smiled at the children before turning back to his paperwork.

At that moment, Sergeant Carter breezed into the duty hut, his wife Bunny right at his heels. He took off his cover and set it on his chair, a pained expression on his face. Bunny's mouth was running nonstop.

"…And that Mrs. Farnsworth is simply detestable! She's getting on my last nerve! Just because she's a lieutenant's wife, she thinks she's better than everyone else. Well, she's got nothing on me! And I know it's her kids that go running through my flower beds on purpose every day! Those brats have ruined ten of my petunias this week alone. Ten! Why, I've half a mind to go out there and…" She stopped, her voice trailing off as she caught sight of the boys. "Hi, Little Vinny!"

The boy gave her a tentative smile. "Hey, Godmama Bunny."

"Aren't you cute this morning, little Vinny Winny Boy!" She stooped down in front of him and pinched his cheeks, making him grimace. "Did Vinny come all the way here to see Godmama? Did you come to see Godmama? That's so sweet!" She gave him a wet kiss and turned to Will. "And look who else is here! Willy Billy Nilly Boy! You're so small! Aren't you just adorable?"

Vincent smiled sympathetically at his friend as Bunny waggled his cheeks.

"Have you eaten yet this morning?" She looked at the two expectantly.

"Yes'm, we did." Vincent nodded.

"What are you doing out here? You two out looking for trouble?" Bunny laughed.

"No'm, we's jus' playin'."

She smiled. "You silly boys." She stood. "Well, I know all that playing is bound to make you hungry really soon. I'll go home right now and fix you up a fresh batch of cookies for later on, all right?" Without waiting for an answer, she turned and left the duty hut in the direction of her house.

Carter breathed a sigh of relief. "I owe you two one."

"Hey, Sergeant!" Vincent smiled, finally getting to acknowledge his godfather for the first time.

Carter rolled his eyes. The boy's voice was a high-pitched carbon copy of his father's. "Hello, Vincent."

"Sergeant Carter! Sergeant Carter, guess what?" He clamored excitedly as Carter sat down at his desk.

"What? What?" He grumbled in exasperation as he picked up his reading glasses, turning to the papers lying on his desk.

"I know all the words to the Marine Hymn! I learned 'em all by myself! Wanna hear 'em?"

"Sure, sure." He muttered distractedly.

Will and Corporal Hummel turned to watch as Vincent climbed up and stood on the chair facing Carter's desk. He cleared his throat and began, straightening his back and squaring his shoulders as he did so.

"From the halls of Mon-ta-zoo-o-mer to the shores of Tri-po-lee.

We-e fight our coun-try's ba-a-tles on the land an' on the sea.

First to fight for right an' free-e-dom, an' to keep our honor clean,

We is proud to claim the ti-itle of United States Marines!"

Vincent grinned and saluted the sergeant when he was through.

Hummel smiled. "Say, considering your age, that was an excellent rendition!"

Carter glanced at the boy slyly, the ghost of a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. "Pretty good, Vincent. But do you know the rest?"

"The rest?" The boy's face fell. "You mean there's more?"

"Sure." He turned and nodded at Lester. "Hummel, sing the second verse."

The corporal slowly pointed at himself, shaking his head. "But Sarge, I…"

"Sing! Sing!"

"If I must." Hummel resignedly cleared his throat and began:

"Our flag's unfurled to every breeze from dawn to setting sun.

We have fought in every clime and place where we could take a gun.

In the snow of far-off Northern lands, and in sunny tropic scenes,

You will find us always on the job, the United States Marines."

"That's good, Hummel. I'll take the last one." Carter gestured for the corporal to sit down, and, much to everyone's chagrin, took up the song in his terrible, off-key whine:

"Here's health to you and to our Corps, which we are proud to serve.

In many a strife we've fought for life and never lost our nerve."

He paused and laughed. "Kids, this is the best part of the whole song!" He exclaimed before continuing:

"If the Army and the Navy ever look on heaven's scenes,

They will find the streets are guarded by United States Marines."

Hummel slowly uncovered his ears. "That was…exemplary, Sergeant."

"Shazaam," Vincent breathed. "I guess I'd better learn the whole song, huh?"

Carter shrugged and was about to reply when Lieutenant Farnsworth entered the duty hut.

"Ten hut!" Hummel cried, rising with alacrity. All occupants of the room stood straight and tall at attention, including the two boys.

"Very good, Sergeant. Thinking about going out for the glee club?" Farnsworth chuckled. "As you were."

The men relaxed. "You wanted to see me, sir?" Carter asked expectantly. As far as personal opinion went, he heartily disliked the young lieutenant and trusted him only as far as he could throw Sergeant Hacker. But seeing as the man lived right next to him on the base, he always gave a very tolerant and cordial appearance toward him, especially when he was on duty.

"Yes, as a matter of fact. I've got a special detail here that your platoon's been selected to complete. You know those war games we're having out in the survival camp tomorrow?"

"Yeah." Carter nodded, encouraging the man to go on.

"The Colonel doesn't want anyone straying off the grounds by accident or getting lost like they did the last time." Farnsworth could hardly suppress his laughter. "He wants your men to go out and set these markers out around the perimeter detailed by this map." He handed him the map and a large handful of bright orange nylon strips. "If you can handle it, that is!"

"Aye, aye, sir. I'll get on it right away, sir." Carter saluted him sharply. "And may I compliment you on your children, sir. They have to be the most well behaved kids on this entire base."

Farnsworth returned it. "Right. Carry on, Sergeant. Make sure you don't get lost out in those big, bad woods, now, you hear?" He laughed, turning and slowly ambling away.

Carter shook his head. "Who does that guy think he is, anyway?" He sat down again at his desk, grumbling under his breath.

"Well, that shall certainly make for a most diverting evening." Hummel stretched lazily.

"Cain we go with you, Sergeant? Cain we?" Vincent cried, his face alight with excitement.

"Please! Please!" Will added.

"I don't know. What if you two goofs just get into trouble?" Carter frowned at them. "Why don't you go home and play with your sisters or something?"

"Because Millie is a…" Vincent's voice trailed off as he remembered the warning his father had given him earlier. "We jus' don't got a lot in common, is all." He finished lamely, scuffling his feet.

"And my sister just sleeps and eats. She's boring." Will spoke up, nodding in agreement with his friend.

"We'll see. And only if you keep out of trouble until then, you hear?" Carter gave them both a warning look as they nodded earnestly.

"You cain count on us, Sergeant! We won't make no trouble." Vincent began hopping up and down impatiently once more. "What's next on the duty roster, Sergeant? Drillin'? A hike? Rifle practice?"

"Tetanus shots." He replied.

"Yuck!" Both boys' hands instinctively went to their arms. They glanced at each other and grimaced. They hated shots!

"Of course, you're welcome to come along with us, if you'd like." Carter smiled smugly.

Vincent, his brown eyes wide with fear, turned to his companion. Each boy knew what the other was thinking. "Um…n-no thank you, Sergeant. Will an' me, uh, we'll jus' go on an' find somethin' else to do."

With that, the two turned tail and darted from the duty hut as fast as they possibly could.

Carter's laugh reverberated throughout the room while Corporal Hummel simply smiled and shook his head. "Sadistic, Sergeant. Facilely sadistic."