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The Odd Truth, July 13, 2004

The Odd Truth is a collection of strange but factual news stories from around the world compiled by's Brian Bernbaum.

Saving Pvt. Hammer

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - Fort Carson Staff Sgt. Rick Bousfield of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team had a mission: Saving Pvt. Hammer.

Pfc. Hammer is an Iraqi tabby cat the unit adopted after he was born last fall at a base in Balad, 50 miles north of Baghdad.

When Bousfield found out his unit was leaving Iraq in March, he decided he couldn't leave a member of his team behind.

"He has been through mortar attacks," said Bousfield, a 19-year Army veteran. "He'd jump and get scared liked the rest of us. He is kind of like one of our own."

Pfc. Hammer got his name from the unit that adopted him, Team Hammer. Soldiers would tuck Hammer in their body armor during artillery attacks, and in return, Hammer chased mice in the mess hall.

"He was a stress therapist," Bousfield said. "The guys would come back in tired and stressed. Hammer would come back and bug the heck out of you. He wiped away some worries."

The kitten earned his rank after nabbing five mice.

When Bousfield learned his unit was going, he sent an e-mail to Alley Cat Allies, a national clearinghouse of information on stray cats, asking for help bringing Hammer along.

Alley Cat Allies raised $2,500 for Hammer's shots, sterilization, paperwork and a plane ride to the United States.

Hammer left Iraq with his unit in March, then flew from Kuwait to San Francisco in cargo-class. He traveled first class with an Alley Cat Allies volunteer to Denver.

Bousfield met the kitten at the airport.

A Good Idea Gone Wrong ...

ST. PAUL - Erik Hobbie was amazed at his own stupidity.

The St. Paul native and ice fisherman had known for months how he would propose to his girlfriend. Over Thanksgiving weekend last year at his family's cabin near Ely in far northern Minnesota, he had his chance.

Hobbie woke up early that morning to drill holes in the ice on Burntside Lake and erect a tip-up - a spring-loaded device that indicates a fish has taken the bait.

On the end of the line he tied his grandmother's heirloom diamond ring.

Poorly, as it turned out.

When he went to the hole with his girlfriend, Pamala Gahr, and they pulled up the line, the ring was gone.

"When he got to the end, he just looked at it in kind of horror," said Gahr. She didn't believe him until he produced the empty jewelry box.

"There was nothing we could do but laugh," Gahr said. "Then we just stood there staring at the hole for quite some time trying to figure out what to do."

Hobbie, 44, who works as a chemical engineer in Washington, D.C., popped the question on the spot anyway. Gahr, 37, a native of Champlin, said, "Yes."

Merlin Defends Use Of 'Spell-Casting' Sword

PORTSTMOUTH, England - Merlin appeared in court Tuesday, resplendent in his druid robes and defended by King Arthur Pendragon, but without the 3-foot sword that caused alarm in a local shop.

Merlin Michael Williams, 26, of Westbourne, England, was arrested last week after carrying his spell-casting weapon while shopping at a store in Portsmouth. The sword was confiscated as evidence.

Williams presented himself at Portsmouth Magistrates draped in a green robe and blue cloak.

Pendragon, who addressed the court in a white robe with a red lion print, was joined by a dozen other members of the Insular Order of the Druids, who filled the public gallery.

Williams argued precedent, explaining previous cases heard by the court had allowed druids the right to carry ceremonial swords, which are used to cast spells and create circles of safety.

The case was adjourned for a month to give prosecutor Colin Shackel time to examine precedents.

"It is accepted by the crown this was sheathed and there was no offensive action by the defendant," Shackel said. "The issue is whether this is an offensive weapon per se."

Williams remained free on bail.

The Insular Order of the Druids was founded in 1993 at Stonehenge and is one of at least eight self-styled druid groups in the Britain.

Man Shoots Himself In The Testicles

SHEFFIELD, England - A man who accidentally shot himself in the groin after drinking 15 pints of beer and stuffing a sawn-off shotgun down his trousers was jailed for five years Tuesday for illegal possession of a firearm.

David Walker, 28, underwent emergency surgery following the March 6 incident in Dinnington, northern England. Tests were continuing to find out how it would affect his fertility and future sexual relationships, his lawyer Gulzar Syed said.

"He still feels quite severe pain," Syed told Sheffield Crown Court, adding that some pellets remained in Walker's scrotum.

Walker admitted one charge of possession of a prohibited firearm at a previous hearing.

Prosecuting lawyer Andrew Hatton told the court how Walker had gone home to get the shotgun after arguing in the pub with lifelong friend Stuart Simpson about whose turn it was to buy a beer.

As he was returning to the pub, which had closed by this time, he accidentally fired the weapon.

"He had it shoved down his trousers," Hatton said. "After the shotgun had discharged he placed it in a rubbish bin and crawled back to his home address."

Walker told officers he was so drunk he had no idea how he managed to shoot himself and why he went to fetch the weapon.

Judge Robert Moore said recent legislation regarding banned guns meant he had to impose the statutory minimum sentence on Walker of five years in prison.

"The shooting of yourself is plainly an exceptional circumstance which is capable of reducing the sentence," Moore said. "But in this case, I am quite certain, it does not justify reducing it below the statutory minimum."

A Very Expensive Meal

BOGOTA, Colombia - A suspect swallowed nearly $50,000 in cash in a failed attempt to smuggle the funds out of Colombia, officials said Monday.

Bogota airport police said they X-rayed the suspect because he was acting nervous while preparing to board a flight for Lima, Peru.

The photo showed dozens of latex-wrapped packets inside his stomach and police assumed it was drugs, since such a smuggling technique is used by traffickers.

But as the suspect passed the packages from his body, police discovered they were filled with cash - $47,500.

"We find drugs inside the stomachs of smugglers all the time, but this is the first time we've ever found dollars," the head of Bogota's airport police, Col. Jorge Luis Vargas, told The Associated Press.

Passengers leaving Colombia can carry up to $10,000 in cash without having to declare it. Police say new anti-money laundering laws have made it more difficult for drug traffickers to send and receive cash, forcing them to adopt the same methods used to smuggle drugs.

Vargas said interrogations of the suspect indicated the money was probably going to be used to pay for a drug shipment.

Robbery Victim Lets Her Toes Do The Talking

HONG KONG - A Hong Kong robbery victim let her toes do the talking to call for help. The woman and her husband were robbed in a park and tied to trees. A police spokesman says the woman managed to stash a cell phone in her bra during the stick-up. After the crooks were gone, the woman repeatedly jumped up and down, until the cell phone dropped out. The woman used her toes to call the Hong Kong emergency number. But police say the woman and her husband managed to work themselves free by the time officers arrived. Police are still looking for the three robbers, who got away with an ATM card and some cash.

Canadian Govt. Promises Better Weed For Smokers

OTTAWA - The Canadian government is promising better dope for legal pot smokers. The government is under a court order to supply medical marijuana to people authorized to smoke it. But the first batch of pot was panned by users. Now, a second effort could be going up in smoke. User Marco Renda says it's no good, either. He says he took a couple of hits and snuffed out his joint. Renda adds the government pot didn't taste right and had no effect. But a spokeswoman for Health Canada says the new pot is a purer smoke and has less twigs. Health Canada maintains the medical case for marijuana remains unproven. But the agency has been ordered by the courts to make the weed available to certain patients.

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