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Old Guy

Scouts of the Airborne

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(This is a prelude to the previous story)

“I don't remember volunteering for this,” grumbled Old Guy. He had to shout in Donnie's ear, wedged as he was between a strapped-down Harley-Davidson motorcycle, a burly paratrooper sergeant, and Donnie, his fellow dispatch rider/scout.

“You didn't,” cried Donnie. “I volunteered us both. The alternative was going across in a landing craft. You know I get seasick.”

The glider lurched and shuddered. Nobody breathed for several seconds. As the craft steadied the men huddling on troop seats relaxed ever so slightly. Somewhere below lay the English Channel. Normandy was yet twenty minutes or so ahead. At that moment every man aboard (save for Old Guy and Donnie) wished to be riding in a C-47 preparing to jump out over occupied France. Going to war in a damned glider wasn't in keeping with the glory of the paratroops.

All things considered, Old Guy preferred to be in a glider. Jumping out of perfectly good airplanes seemed like a reasonable description of insanity. He wasn't exactly thrilled to be there at all. Further discussion with Donnie was called for. The last thing Old Guy remembered was attending a party thrown by some casual acquaintances in the 82nd Airborne. Security being tight, there were no women present, but he vaguely recalled an amazing quantity of booze, some brewed by the paratroops and quite good in spite of that. The next memory was of being dragged from a dingy tent and pushed into a group of troopers standing beside a smallish glider. Some helpful soul wheeled his Harley into the fuselage through the open front end of the beast, then swanned off, waving a cheery goodbye. If Old Guy could find out who the smiling sonofabitch was, he'd kill him.

What the hell are you clowns gonna do with these here motorcycles?” bellowed the paratrooper sergeant seated to Old Guy's right.

Ride 'em,” he shouted back. “Carry messages. Scout ahead of troops – sometimes.”

The sergeant nodded and shrugged. “The 319th is a field artillery battalion. We don't have no scouts. You'll get yer ass blown away ridin' around on them noisy bastards.”

Old Guy shook his head. “Some damn general thought otherwise.” No sense blaming his predicament on Donnie. That would involve a good deal of explanation complete with historical examples. Every soldier already knew the Army was screwed up.

Stupid bastards,” agreed the sergeant.

Time seemed to speed up as they approached the drop zone. Over the drone of engines Old Guy could make out the sporadic crack of exploding antiaircraft shells. For the hundredth time he resolved to kill Donnie – provided the Germans didn't finish them both off first. “What's the landing zone like?”

The sergeant produced a map sealed in acetate. “Open fields mostly. An east/west road on the north. Trees to the south. Scattered trees north of the road. Not many houses.” He placed the map in his left trouser leg bellows pocket. “Expect anything. We might wind up in Norway or Africa.”

I been in Africa,” said Old Guy. “Don't wanna go back.”

Further conversation was cut off as a series of sharp blasts tossed the glider up and to the right. Steel bits ripped through the thin walls. Men cried out. Curses filled the cabin. Donnie shouted in Old Guy's ear. “We must have crossed the coast!” He was smiling like a chimp.

Old Guy grabbed Donnie's field jacket and snarled, “If you get me killed I'll haunt your ass forever!”

Jeez. I was just tryna get us here in one piece. I coulda just left you lying under that table where them paratroopers was partying. We're getting to France with dry shoes and no seasickness. A guy could be grateful, y'know.”

Grateful?” An explosion rocked the glider. Old Guy grabbed his Harley. The paratrooper sergeant slumped against him, head lolling. Gently, Old Guy pushed him away. The body swayed for a moment as the glider bounced around, then flopped forward. Blood drizzled to the cabin floor.

Donnie tugged on Old Guy's arm. “Hey! The guy next to me is dead.”

Everybody seems to be dead – except us – and I don't give us good odds.”

Just to give a lie to his statement, a dumb bastard wearing lieutenant's bars stood up. “We've been cut loose! Brace yourselves!” Men stirred, grabbing for supports. Tightening restraints.

The glider's motion was definitely different. Nose down, it swooped left then right, as if the pilot were seeking something familiar below.

Hell, Donnie,” cried Old Guy. “We might make it after all.” A sudden thought pushed his fear aside. “You got a map? Where are we supposed to go after we land?”

I ain't got no map. They tole me to find 82nd Division HQ and have them direct us to wherever.”

Christ. We can't just wander around the countryside. It's crawling with Krauts.” Old Guy gingerly retrieved the paratrooper sergeant's map. There was no blood on it, for which he was very grateful.

The pilot evidently never found what he was looking for. At the last moment the glider leveled off over a field sprouting a veritable forest of poles. Anti-glider obstructions. He missed the poles but couldn't avoid the trees lining the edge of the field.

Plunging through the trees, the glider shed its wings and landing gear, then slid forward a hundred feet or more before glancing off a timber obstruction. The tail section ripped away, vanishing into the night. Dust filled the air. Groaning, the wrecked glider coasted to a stop. Someone cursed. Another man moaned with pain. Slowly, men began to move. In the distance a cannon fired. One machine gun stuttered, joined by another – and another.

Everybody out!” It was the lieutenant. Still alive, still giving orders.

We need a medic here,” shouted a trooper.

If you can move, get out,” ordered the officer. “The medic's dead. I'll detail someone to care for the wounded. Move it!” He glanced around the dark cabin. “Sergeant Wheeler?”

No one replied. Old Guy dragged himself to his feet. “If the man next to me is Wheeler, he's dead.”

The lieutenant didn't hesitate. “Corporal Keller! Get the men out.”

In an instant the cabin emptied, save for the wounded who couldn't walk and those who would never move of their own accord again. Old Guy pulled Donnie to his feet. “That lieutenant has his shit together. We need to unload our Harleys and make sure they still work.”

Getting the motorcycles out was as simple as removing the straps and wheeling them out the gaping hole in the aft fuselage, which was resting on the ground. The last of the light faded as they shoved the cycles under a tree. The lieutenant arrived and tossed Donnie a blood-soaked first aid bag. “Those motorcycles won't be of any use until daylight, if then. For now you're medics. I can't leave any men for security, so be careful. When we make contact with Regiment, I'll send someone to collect the wounded – and the dead.”

Can't you call someone, sir?” asked Old Guy. “I don't mind playing medic, but . . .”

I know.” The officer sighed and shrugged. “Both radios are blown to shit. I'll get some help.” He turned as a burst of firing erupted not too far away. “Just do what you can.” With that, he vanished into the dark.

I don't know nothin' about medic stuff,” said Donnie.

You don't know nothin' about nothin',” replied Old Guy. “But you got us into this mess. Now bring that aid kit and help me with the wounded.”

Oh, man. I don't like blood. I might pass out.”

Pass out and I'll shoot you,” promised Old Guy. He knelt beside a paratrooper lying on the fuselage floor. “Help me get this one outside. Get your flashlight. Mine too.”

Donnie didn't think Old Guy would really shoot him, but the old bastard was pretty pissed at Donnie's arrangements for getting them to France. Besides, he was from Montana. All that open country and blue sky seemed to have driven him partly insane. Donnie went to get the flashlights.

They rifled packs for shelter halves and arranged them on the ground a few feet from the glider, then carried the wounded out and laid them side by side on the canvas. One had a head wound and never regained consciousness during the long night. His dog tags named him R. Jones, Protestant.

The other man had shrapnel wounds in the body, but nothing had penetrated deeply. Old Guy applied field dressings, gave him a shot of morphine and hoped for the best. The guy lay propped against his pack, smoking. He hadn't said much during the whole process, but when Old Guy finished with him, he spoke up.

Rhodes. Walter Rhodes. Thanks for patching me up.”

Rhodes, eh? They call you Dusty?”

Naw. My mother wouldn't allow it. After I joined the Army it just seemed right not to let people call me 'Dusty'. That make any sense?”

Probably not,” admitted Old Guy. “But your mom will be pleased.”

Yeah. That's what I thought.”

Two dead were carried out, laid on shelter halves, and covered with a tarp Donnie found in a storage compartment inside the glider. The two men in the cockpit were both dead, but the crumpled wreckage made it impossible to remove them.

“What the hell is that?” asked Donnie.

Old Guy looked up from the man with the head wound. “What?”

“That noise. Sounds like some big damn crickets. Or something.”

“Um – didn't I hear something about noisemakers everybody was supposed to be carrying?”

“I dunno. Nobody gave me one.”

“We all got them,” said Rhodes. “We were supposed to use them to identify ourselves to friendly forces.” He listened as the cricket sounded again. “Yeah, that's sounds like one.” He produced a small metal object and clicked it several times.

Old Guy picked up his Garand and moved away from the wounded men. “Get your weapon,” he hissed. “Lets move over by the motorcycles, by the tree.”

“What for?” whispered Donnie as he complied. “Those are our guys.”

“Or Germans with clickers they captured or took off dead GIs. If it's Germans, we shoot 'em.”

“What if they want to surrender?”

“Just shoot 'em, Donnie. We can't handle any prisoners.” Old Guy thought for a moment. “Unless it's a medic. He'll be carrying an aid bag, marked with a red cross. Like our guys have.”

“Right. How am I supposed to identify a medic? It's blacker than your conscience out there.”

“I don't have one. Just be careful. Let's try not to shoot any friendlies.”

Two men crept out of the night and stood looking down at the men on the ground. Old Guy and Donnie quit whispering and knelt on opposite sides of the tree. Rhodes looked up and saw the intruders. “What the hell are you guys doing here?”

“Don't ask me,” replied one of the men. “You with the 82nd?”

“Yeah.” Rhodes called out. “Old Guy. These clowns are from the 101st.”

The men decided to stay at the glider. “No sense wandering around trying to get shot,” said one, a Tech Sergeant armed with a Thompson. “Come daylight we can try to find our unit – or some kind of unit. The guys that dropped last night are scattered all over hell. I been lost all day.” He introduced himself as Phillip Grainger. His companion, a thin PFC packing an M-1 carbine, sagged to the ground and took off his boots.

“I been wantin' ta do that all day. Paratroopers ain't s'posed ta hafta walk all over creation just ta find a few Krauts ta kill.” He started changing his socks. “I dint find nobody but Sar'nt Grainger.”

“That's Slim Baker,” said Grainger. “Don't listen to his complaining. He's a hillbilly from Tennessee. I figger he's been walking those hills down there since he was hatched.”

“I wasn't carryin' no dad-burn pack in Tennessee,” returned Slim. 'Always packed a raffle, tho.”

“In the morning somebody should be here to pick up Rhodes and the other guy,” said Old Guy. “I reckon we can all get some rest. One of us should stand guard.”

“I'll take first watch,” offered Grainger. “There any food in that glider?”

“Check it out,” said Old Guy. “The dead guys packs should have something. Donnie and I carry rations on our motorcycles. We'll be good for a couple days, if need be.”

“Medics better get here in the morning,” said Rhodes. “Jones ain't gonna make much beyond that.”

Old Guy didn't think Jones would see the sun rise, but he kept that to himself.

Jones almost made it. About an hour before dawn he coughed, took a deep breath, and exhaled it slowly. Old Guy knelt down and checked for a pulse. “He's gone.”

“Y'all sure?” asked Slim. “I dint hear no rattlin' sound. Ain't dyin' folks supposed ta rattle a bit just afore kickin' off?”

Old Guy covered Jones with a shelter half. “I guess he decided to go quietly.”

“He was married,” murmured Rhodes. “Got letters two – three times a week from her and their little boy. The wife and his mother both work in an airplane factory in Florida. Near Tampa Bay, I think. Only brother was killed in the Philippines – early on. He didn't have to be here.”

Nobody else wanted to talk about Jones and why he was in a glider assault on occupied France instead of safe at home.

Donnie loomed out of the dark, mincing along as if walking through a mine field. “Germans!” he hissed. “Three or four. Headed this way.”

Old Guy grabbed his rifle. Grainger rolled up from where he'd been trying to sleep. He woke Slim, holding a hand over his mouth to keep him from making a sound. Rhodes ground out his cigarette.

“Slim and I will be over by the glider,” whispered Grainger.

“Donnie,” called Old Guy. “Come on.” He posted Donnie behind the tree sheltering their Harleys and found good cover for himself behind a fallen log a few feet away. Rhodes lay quiet.

The Germans came out of the east, moving without noise in single file. Behind them the horizon blushed with the first light of dawn. Old Guy identified the distinctive profile of Kraut helmets. The dark figures were distorted by their packs and jutting weapons. Their leader halted about fifty feet from the glider. He went to one knee, evidently having spotted the angular shapes of the damaged wings and fuselage. The others followed suit. A long minute crawled by.

Old Guy blinked in the semi-dark, trying to focus on his target – the last man in the file. He nearly fired when the leader stood and motioned the others forward. The men spread out, stepping carefully.

Grainger fired first – a carefully controlled burst. Old Guy saw the lead German go down even as he squeezed off a round. His target was flung backwards, legs visible as he went over.

“God damn!” Old Guy rose slightly and scanned for more targets. He knew men didn't go down that hard unless they were hit by more than one bullet. One of the others must have fired at the same man. Shadowed ground hid the other two Germans. Sullen echoes faded out across the field to the east.

A single shot rang out. Wood chips showered Old Guy. He slid backwards and crawled to his right. He heard the snap of a spoon flying off a grenade. Five seconds later the morning erupted with a sharp explosion. An animal-like scream rose up then died away. As he slid into a shallow depression a voice called out words he didn't understand.

Grainger answered. “Hande hoch! Schnell!”

The German replied in a questioning tone. Grainger fired a burst in the air and repeated the command. As the German slowly stood up, hands raised, Old Guy noticed that he could see the man clearly. He glanced at the sky. Morning had arrived.

“Y'all see that Kraut go down ass over teakettle when I tagged him?” Slim sat next to Rhodes cleaning his carbine. Their German prisoner knelt in the middle of the clearing, hands on his head. The skinny PFC spat to one side and looked up at Old Guy. “Sar'nt Grainger put the hurt on that there front guy. How come y'all didn't far? Or did y'all miss?”

Old Guy shrugged. “I reckon we both hit the same man. Donnie too. It happens.” Donnie's ability with a Garand was legendary. In four attempts he'd failed to qualify on that rifle or on any other weapon. Finally, his drill sergeant sent another trainee to fire in his place. Otherwise Donnie would probably be peeling potatoes in a mess hall someplace in the States. Old Guy didn't see any sense in complicating things by explaining his partner's history. Especially to a tobacco-chewing hillbilly who could probably shoot the eyes out of a squirrel.

Because of the more or less constant drone of aircraft, they didn't hear the rumble of approaching vehicles until they were about five hundred yards away.

“We got company,” said Grainger. He pulled the German to his feet and steered him over by the glider.

The sound echoed across the field lying to the west. Old Guy walked to the edge of the trees. North of the field lay a sunken road lined with brush. He couldn't see any vehicles until a small scout car rolled past a break in the vegetation. The soldiers riding in the car wore British-style helmets. He trotted back to the others. “Looks like relief has arrived. Limeys.”

“Could be Canadians,” suggested Grainger.

“I hope it is,” said Old Guy. “I can usually understand Canadians. If it's Aussies, forget it.”

The small column proved to be scouting ahead of a British armored unit. Their medical staff took care of Rhodes. He was soon in an ambulance, heading for a rear area hospital. Grainger and Slim went along, reasoning that someone closer to the beach should know where the 101st hung out. A nattily dressed lieutenant glared at the Americans as if they had just crawled out of a sewer. He said nothing, though, apparently determined not to criticize allied troops, even if they were bloody colonials.

A sergeant suggested Old Guy and Donnie follow the same road back to the beach. “Watch yourself, lads. The sodding Krauts are just as disorganized as we are. You might run into a whole damn division of the bastards where there ain't supposed to be none.”

They made good time and the only Germans they saw were walking toward the beachhead, prisoners of war. At a major crossroad a harried MP told them he didn't know where the god damn 101st was and he didn't give a good god damn if the division still existed. He also didn't like jerks riding around on motorcycles like they was on a god damn vacation and wished they would get the hell out of his god damn road before he had them arrested.

“I didn't like that MP,” said Donnie when they stopped at a sprawling supply dump to take on some rations and fuel.

“I'm sure he doesn't care what you think of him,” said Old Guy. “The poor guy has probably been answering dumb questions all morning.”

“Asking the location of a unit ain't dumb – is it?”

“We're officially not supposed to be lost in the first place. On the other hand, people do get misplaced and seeking information from a responsible official is not, by definition, dumb.”

“So he was just being an ass, right?”

“Like I said, he's heard a lot of stupid questions. It can be tough to sort out the good from the bad, the wheat from the chaff, so to speak. In that situation a man can be forgiven for being a surly bastard.”

Donnie looked thoughtful, which is always a bad sign. Old Guy stepped back, expecting a blast of swamp gas. Instead of gas, Donnie produced PHILOSOPHY.

“It's like women. Some are good, some are bad, and some have big boobs so it don't make no never mind except that you hope they're bad so you can get your mitts on those boobs. Right?”

End

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Keep it up, OG! Didn't realize I'd missed your scribblings until now! Are they on the way to Cherbourg, or what?

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The lads are on their way to a bar in a small town in Belgium. Exactly how that will be accomplished is somewhat of a mystery at the present.

I'll be out of town for maybe two weeks. When I return I'll try and figure out what OG and Donster (among others?) have been up to.

Sadly, I fear they are more interested in unearthing vast quantities of booze and tumbling a few grateful maidens (if any woman in Europe can still be called a 'maiden' after years of German occupation). OG and Donster don't seem to think freeing Europe from the yoke of the oppressor is of primary importance.

OG

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Sadly, I fear they are more interested in unearthing vast quantities of booze and tumbling a few grateful maidens (if any woman in Europe can still be called a 'maiden' after years of German occupation). OG and Donster don't seem to think freeing Europe from the yoke of the oppressor is of primary importance.

OG

Would we expect Simians to do something else? :lol:

Looking forward to the next installment. :thumbsup:

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Sadly, I fear they are more interested in unearthing vast quantities of booze and tumbling a few grateful maidens (if any woman in Europe can still be called a 'maiden' after years of German occupation). OG and Donster don't seem to think freeing Europe from the yoke of the oppressor is of primary importance.

Makes sense to me. Now if they went to southern France, the Germans didn't "spoil the maidens" as much as they did in the rest of France. They could go down to the Med, hop over to Italy. Head north. Plot to kidnap Mussolini. Or assassinate Mussolini and Hitler during a meeting with El Duce.

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