Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Angels On Our Shoulders


   The sergeant had moved swiftly up the dusty Okinawa road half at a jog and half at a sprint as the ominous black clouds drew nearer. Hearing nearby gunshots, he lowered his head and advanced toward the American infantry line, his M1 carbine in hand and his pack, recently lightened by the loss of a few Hershey’s chocolate bars, bouncing rhythmically on his back. His platoon was pinned down by heavy mortar and machine gun fire to their front and had been pushed back from their previous position. Now on his belly, the sergeant crawled forward until he drew close to one of his men, the metallic ping of the soldier’s empty magazine ejecting from the Garand rifle echoing just as the sergeant arrived. Raising his carbine to his shoulder, the sergeant squeezed off a few rounds before leaning over to get a status report. 
  “It ain’t good sir,” the private yelled over the melee. “There’s tons of ‘em out there right in front of us and they’re lettin’ us have it.”

   A mortar round screamed over their heads and exploded behind them sending dirt and rocks ricocheting off their helmets.

   “I think we’re too close to them for our artillery,” the private continued to scream. “They’ll probably hit as many of us as them and in any case…”

   The private motioned to their front. 

   “Jackson is out there.”

   The sergeant followed the pointing finger to where he could see Jackson’s prostrate body and the radio equipment on his back.

  “And we can’t radio anything in without that.”

  The sergeant could not see any movement from Jackson but he was not willing to leave his man behind to fall into enemy hands. Removing his backpack to lighten his load, he tightened his grip on his carbine and prepared to sprint. Just as his legs prepared to spring forward, the entire line to his front burst open with the shouts of enemy soldiers screaming as they charged the line at a full run. The American soldiers  opened up with everything they had as the sergeant emptied the clip from his carbine. Even if they all fired as fast as humanly possible, there was simply no way to stem the human tide swarming toward them. The sergeant slapped a replacement clip in place and chambered a round as he resolved himself to the fate of being overrun. But, he wasn’t going without a fight. 

   Suddenly, above the chaos, another sound reached the sergeant’s ears. It was high pitched and rising rapidly in intensity. Looking to his right for the source of the disturbance, the sergeant was greeted by the blur of a blue Corsair diving in for a bombing run. Something detached from underneath the fighter and in only a moment the entire attacking line erupted in flame. 


   Emory Tucker had seen the firefight through the canopy of his Corsair fighter not long after he had spotted the new billowing column of black smoke. Banking to the left, he could see the massing enemy forces and the painfully thin American line facing it; and those two lines were awfully close.

  “Hold your line, fellas,” Emory whispered as he remembered his crop dusting days and lined his fighter up for an attack run.  

  “Just dust the row, Emory, just dust the row,” he repeated to himself as he leveled out, the island terrain streaking beneath him in a blur. Small arms fire pinged on the skin of the Corsair but he was already on top of the attacking Japanese line before releasing his payload. It skipped briefly along the line before erupting and blooming into an orange inferno. Emory pulled up on the stick, gained altitude, and swung around for another pass. 


   The sergeant shielded his face from the heat with his hand and arm as the fireball rose heavenward. The placement of the ordinance had been precise and the attacking line fell back. Jackson still lay exactly where he had been previously. Realizing that the reprieve would not last, the sergeant quickly sprinted to where Jackson lay, the heat from the flames increasing incrementally as he did so. Squinting against the heat, he placed his hand on Jackson’s shoulder. The wounded man responded with a moan as the sergeant rolled him over and grabbed the front of his uniform to lift him over his shoulder to carry him back across the American line. Just as the sergeant planted his feet for the lift, several Japanese soldiers broke through the far left side of the flames and leveled their rifles at the sergeant. They opened fire but shot wide with one bullet passing through Jackson’s radio equipment. The sergeant knew they wouldn’t miss again. 

   At no more than treetop height, the Corsair suddenly reappeared from behind the American line. The sergeant heard the characteristic whistle as the plane with its distinctive bent wings hugged the ground at so low an altitude that even the Americans ducked their heads. The fighter opened up its .50 caliber guns and swept away the enemy soldiers with impressive precision before climbing away in a deafening roar. 

   Taking advantage of the opening, the sergeant quickly hoisted Jackson into his shoulders and began to lumber awkwardly back toward the American line, his fellow soldiers providing covering fire. Foreign voices began to emerge behind him as his comrades yelled and motioned for him to hurry back to the relative safety of the American line as the enemy closed the distance behind him. His shoulders ached and his legs and lungs burned as he struggled over the uneven terrain, short though the overall distance was. Almost to point of collapse, the sergeant’s gaze returned to the horizon ahead where, once again, the Corsair appeared over the ridge and dove straight toward him. Appearing even lower than before, the Corsair raked the field with its guns, the tracers seeming to fly just over his head to fall heavily on an unseen enemy close behind him.  The fighter swooped over the line, pulling up at the last moment to roar into the blackened sky above. 

   The sergeant collapsed across the line and was immediately surrounded by his comrades who assisted with Jackson. Easing the wounded man to the ground, the sergeant grabbed the nearest medical kit and canteen before lifting the soldier’s head. The young man’s eyes fluttered open and stared at the sergeant, appearing for a moment not to recognize him. A smile then weakly crossed his face. 

  “Well, hey, Sarge,” he rasped weakly. “You came for me…I didn’t even think you liked me.”

   The Corsair roared overhead once more, repeatedly beating back the enemy line with its relentless attacks.

   “That guy is crazy, Sarge,” one of the privates observed as his gaze followed the fighter plane. “And he ain’t leaving us either. Not ‘till he’s out of fuel or bullets I suppose, whichever comes first.”

   Jackson was fading quickly, in spite of his comrades’ efforts to stabilize him. His breathing became more labored and he waxed in and out of consciousness. During periods when he was able, he would ask for his family, thousands of miles away basking in the freedom that he and his companions had purchased at so great a cost. 

  “Sarge?” Jackson asked, his voice barely audible. 

   The sergeant leaned closer so as to not miss a word.

   “Tell mamma…tell her when you see her on Sunday…that angels really are all around us…just like she said…and I finally got to see one…”

   The sergeant remained motionless as he studied the still features of the young man before him. The unmistakeable sounds of a powerful piston engine soon captured his attention and his gaze slowly lifted to the heavens where a metallic angel soared above their heads and wagged its wings in salute. 

Independence Day

                                            Drawing by Martin-Lyn     An olive-toned hand, the right third finger adorned by her grandmother...