SUDLERSVILLE, Maryland — Just to keep in shape while they waited for their boss to make up his mind about making war on Syria, the United States Air National Guard warmed up by bombing a bar called Darlene’s.
It was 17 minutes after nine on a Thursday evening in late August when an A-10 Warthog from the 104th Fighter Squadron, cruising over the Queen Anne’s County cornfields on its way back to base from a training mission, pooped out a finny little blockbuster, hollow, inert, and bluish-green, possibly by mistake.
If the bombardier’s purpose was to scare witless everyone drinking on the backyard patio at Darlene’s, mission accomplished. If it was to rally support for yet another American incursion into the flaming Levant, epic fail.
"We had enough war already, ain’t we?" said a woman named Green when I showed up at the tavern, summing up the mood in Sudlersville.
This was a few afternoons following the one-bomb bombardment. Shirley Green and her husband David had ridden their Harleys from nearby Delaware to this village of fewer than five hundred people to imbibe the alcohol and atmosphere of the now-famous Darlene’s.
"This time, why don’t we let someone else take the lead and we’ll support THEM?" reasoned David Green, who works at a factory that makes automotive batteries.
"I don’t think we ought to start up nothing," said Shirley, who deals drugs at a pharmacy.
I didn’t meet anyone at Darlene’s Tavern who thought that going to war against Bashar Assad would be a good idea. Truth be told, I didn’t meet anyone at Darlene’s Tavern who knew who Bashar Assad was. Nationally, about sixty per cent of Americans say they want no part of another conflict, no matter how heinous Assad’s deeds have been.
The saloon escaped annihilation in the daring night-time raid. It was a low-ceilinged rectangle, half a century old, festooned with Miller Lite banners, just big enough for billiards, barstools, and a pre-war shuffleboard table, planted a couple of miles west of metropolitan Sudlersville at a crossroads of soybean and maize plantations and well-kept Amish fields. Certainly, this was the biggest news out of this tiny village since a slugging farm boy named Jimmie Foxx left here in 1925 on his way to 534 big-league home runs and the Baseball Hall of Fame.
"I was in tears the other day," Lena Hartlove confessed as I caressed a low-octane brew and a chicken sandwich inside Darlene’s. She is the manager of the watering hole and was present when the Warthog warbird laid its hollow egg. "It could have come through the roof of the bar. It could have hit the propane tank. I sat down and thought about what might have happened, and I broke down."
Ms. Hartlove, a mother of four, invited me into the stockroom to watch a surveillance video of the incident. We couldn’t see the impact, only a cloud of dust rising from the corner of the screen. A half-dozen revellers were on the patio during the sortie. All survived, by a matter of inches.
"Some people said they heard something," Lena Hartlove said. "Some people said they heard nothing. It depends on how much alcohol they’d had."
Inside Darlene’s, that Thursday night, nobody heard a sound. Then tipplers came toppling in from the patio to report that they reckoned that somebody’s Buick had caught fire.
The county police showed up and told Lena Hartlove that it had to have been a meteor, just like over in Russia.
Then they suspected it might be a pipe bomb and ordered everybody outside and Lena remembered thinking that "whoever did that would come and do it again."
It took the bomb squad eight hours to dig the dud out of the dirt and haul it away. By the time I showed up in Sudlersville, Ms. Hartlove still was waiting for the Air Force to apologize. In the meantime, someone had brought over a rusty old projectile labelled U.S. NAVY PRACTICE BOMB and placed it behind the bar.
Lena Hartlove said she was going to print up souvenir T-shirts that said I GOT BOMBED AT DARLENE’S.
"Should America go to war in Syria?" I asked her.
"I think we’ve had enough," the barkeep said.
Allen Abel is a Brooklyn-born Canadian journalist based in Washington, D.C.