Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Harry Confession

My son, the young sage that he is, turn to me one day and said “Dad, you know the guy who plays Ron in the Harry Potter movies?” I said yes and he continued “ He gets uglier in every movie”. The comment in its self may not seem like much but the fact is it relates directly to one of my darkest secrets... I do not like Harry Potter.

Thats right, I have never even read a entire book, I have seen one or two of the movies and they did not suck, but neither did they do anything for me. Its strange, the series is Englishy and Magicy, two things that someone would assume would appeal to me....but it never has. Maybe the blame can be set entirely on my children’s shoulders neither of them have had much interest, though Kevin I believe has seen most of the movies, When I tried to read him the first book it just didnt seem to take.

I’m not a “I hate Harry” kind of guy, Hell I can even name some of the houses and remember some of the stuff from the movie, It just never grabbed me...not like the way “Game of Thrones” did or the first 3 Star Wars films ( to be precise Episodes IV, V, VI). I can’t explain this oddity, I want to be a Harry geek, lining up to see the last movie wearing my Hufflepuff scarf... but I just can’t.

My wifes family is full of Harry fans, I have friends who adore the series and from these people I beg forgiveness for my lack of enthusiasm....but then again, I will probably not see them in line for “Captain America: The first avenger” ( He did not just plug Captain America in a Harry Potter post? ..BAM!!... Oh yes I did) on Thursday at Midnight either.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

It ain't the heat...

I truly believe that, Its the humidity. I go out side and its 96 with a breeze blowing and low humidity... thats ok in my book but when its 96 with the average Delaware Humidity of say 3000%...that gets old quick.

When I was young, it just didnt matter for some reason, we were outside playing no matter what, it never seemed to bother us (plus we could always hop in the creek). I can’t tell you when it began to be noticed but at the grand old age of Fluuffelnuffelflurf It begins to matter.

Why isnt Delaware covered with jungle? I mean It seems we get the heat and humidity but not the bananas and the monkeys...we got jipted. Why aren't there vine covered Ziggurats in Middletown? How about one bit of Delaware folklore about a Claymont boy raised by apes... there has to be some sort of pay off.

People who have moved away or live in other parts of the countries think i am exaggerating but I tell you, people who live in Jungle ridden countries complain about the heat and humidity here in Delaware.

I like to think its a Jersey generated Suck vortex that draws the moisture from the rest of the east coast, but then I blame Jersey for everything.

Part III "Jesus Wept"

It was always the wait that I hated, once you scrambled over the top and into the twisted moonscape that was no-mans land you had to much to think about, but in the minutes before the attack, as you all stood on the duck-boards staring at the ladder leading up to your possible death, your mind had fields of fear to frolic in.

It was in these moments before the attack that I envied the new guys in their ignorance. One guy, Meyer I think his name was, knelt trying to re-tie his puttee while two others cracked wise about who would get the better souvenir. “Souvenir” my inner voice said “Who would want a memory of this place” I promised my self my life would begin the moment I got this uniform off.

The veterans all stood quietly immersed in their own thoughts, some muttered prayers, others smoked one last pre-made like a man going before a firing squad. Hoyt, the BAR gunner from 3rd platoon lovingly wrapped a rag around the breach of his weapon in a bid to keep mud from it while Urbanski, 2nd squads Sergeant, ran his bolo knife over a wet stone a few more times.

Owens stood like a statue, not moving, one foot and one hand on the ladder as the other hand held up his pocket watch up to his scared face, illuminated only by the moon light. He had said all that there was to say, he had beat it into the squad leaders and assistant squad leaders that they were to head towards the “Devil’s Elbow”, a terrain feature at the base of Carrion Hill and from their they would utilize Two of the old communication trenches to get to the top of the hill. He made sure I understood that I was to be on the right flank and make sure that 3rd squad and its new Sergeant, Turner ( My former corporal, and good steady guy from New Hampshire) found their way to the elbow.

My mind raced through every type of death that awaited me, I saw visions of my pop and Mom getting the news but the worstof all was when my mind would take me back to the dream and the grim visage of death hovering over me. My hands shook a little and I grasped my springfield a little tighter to steady them as I tried in vain to look the part of a grizzled marine to inspire the men.

It being november, the night was cold and crisp, The moon broke through the clouds every now and then though I would have preferred no moon at all but hey... I wasn’t calling the shots.

Suddenly, Owens hand shot up into the air, the ready signal, and all fear vanished. I began to whisper reminders, “Follow your NCO’s” “Stick to the assault lanes” (They were paths cut through the wire that were supposed to be known only by us) “make sure your safeties are on” as I climbed part way up the ladder in front of me, just far enough that my head didn't raise above the lip of the trench “and above noise!”

Owen’s up raised hand shot forward and I saw him spring up his ladder but then I was to occupied to notice much else. We emerged like the warriors of hell spewing from a crack in the earth.

The moon lit landscape before us was beyond description, how do you tell a rational man about what a field looks like that has been shelled, gassed and bleed upon for 4 years, It is a surreal visage of shattered equipment, unburied corpses and a cratered landscape where what remained of trees stretched out to the sky like the decaying bones of the earth. Yet it was a fitting canvas to reflect the madness of this war.

It was into this macabre scene that we moved, I tried to keep the pace to a jog in order to keep everyone together as we began exiting through the maze that was our own wire. I saw a Marine get tangled up not far from me and moved to him. He was beginning to panic and the sound of his struggle and cussing started to grow in volume. “Knock it off you Ape!” I whispered harshly as I grabbed the shovel on the back of his pack and used it as a handle, not only to free the man, but to steer him along as he let me know he didnt appreciate me ripping his pants like that.

Once we made it through the wire, we obliqued to the left and moved from shell hole to shell hole towards Carrion hill and the feature at its base known as the Devil’s Elbow. When the clouds parted and the pale fall moon shone through, you could make out the hill, it seemed to be waiting for us.

I began to worry that we were starting to spread out to much, I could see the MG crew that had been assigned to us drifting back and sent a runner to tell them to get the lead out. We were just over halfway there and things seemed to be going our way, some random flares had gone up and bathed the landscape with their redish white glow, but the boys had frozen well and I began to think we had pulled one over the huns... then it happened.

It was a kid from the MG crew, bent over by the weight of the big tripod on his back, that had set the events in motion. While climbing out of a shell hole he had tripped and stumbled. He was new, he wasnt hard yet, he still thought like a civilian and when he came down face first into the rotting carcass of a German who had been killed maybe two weeks ago... it was to much for him, and he began to scream.

The kid wouldn't shut up, he just kept screaming and screaming, Everyone hit the dirt, everyone prayed that the Germans were deaf tonight but with each horrific syllable, as the boy tried to scrape the guts off of him self, drifted towards enemy lines every marine could feel fears icy grip begin to squeeze their stomach. In the moon light I could see the #1 gunner rise up over the kid, raise up a box of ammo and bring it crashing down on the kids head...a moment of silence followed where everyman was afraid to even draw a breath. Did the heines hear us?

Time slowed as I looked over towards the german lines, it was like a lightning storm was busting loss over the horizon, quiet little flashes of light. “Get up you Mugs!!! Move it!!! get the lead out!!!” came a shout from the Lieutenant and at once I was aware, with growing terror, what was happening, it was german Artillery.

You didnt hear the report of the guns, no, as we scrambled towards the devil’s elbow as fast as we could run, it was the the shells slicing through the air that you heard then physics and rational thought stopped to hold sway over the world.

To me, it seemed the barrage lasted a hour, 60 minutes of air and earth mixing with fire and shrapnel. I saw guys simply vaporize, one minute they were there then boom, nothing. Little Marcus Jenkins lay against a tree, missing his legs, his screams unheard by men whose ears had been deafened by the blasts of shells. I think I saw some of second squad moving along together but they didnt look to be moving in the right direction. I became confused, was I even moving in the right direction? All I could do was act as if I had a clue and began to move off, grabbing up a couple of guys as I went, hopefully heading towards the Elbow.

We ran, I would like to say we moved with purpose and determination but the truth is we ran for our lives, when a shell exploding in front of us we moved immediately into its crater, from one to another as fast as our legs could take us through the shaking and erupting landscape. I could feel blood coming out my nose and ears but I still kept going, trying to drag along anyone that was at hand.

At one point I looked over to my left and saw Corporal Madison with a few fellas peering over the lip of a crater, I shouted out to him to follow me, I saw him rise up and put his hand to his ear but before I could shout louder... there was a explosion. I was blown back by the concussion and when I scrambled back up to the lip of the trench to see how Madison was, I saw a Helmet. It was lying right in front of me, a Helmet with its chinstrap still around the head of Corporal Madison, staring right at me. I ran for my life.

Suddenly I was tumbling down into a trench, landing hard on the shattered muddy boards of its floor, some bodies tumbled in behind me through the apocalypse beyond. I was no longer capable of telling one shell from another, it was just one long roar. We pulled our selves against the wall of the trench and huddle together under its illusion of protection and I was oddly comforted by the thought of when the time came...I would not be alone, and there we waited for the end.

Some time passed and I began to be aware that the barrage had ceased. My head began to clear as I looked about me. with me were two other marines, Urbanski and a guy name Gross from 2nd squad who had lost his rifle. Urbanski wiped the dirt from his face and looked over at me, he let out a long shaky breath that sounded as if he had been holding it through the entire barrage while gross shaky hands try to pull a Lucky Strike out of its tin. “Are we it” whispered Gross, his voice quivering with nerves.

Just then a shower of dirt pored down on us as three more men slipped into the trench. I began to raise my rifle, thinking “what if they were Huns” but I could make out our distinct helmets on the figures. Then he was there, his cold dark eyes locked on mine, Lt. Owens.

“You made eh college?” he whispered “Aye Aye sir” I stammered “But I only have Urbanski and Gross with me.” He looked around the trench at the men there, the two that had come with him were breathing like they had just ran a race. “I got Hoyt and Doc Stoltz. Good job getting to the elbow Sergeant”. I nearly laughed, through all the hell and confusion we had moved through fate had delivered us exactly where we were supposed to be. “ Gross!” Owens suddenly snapped “Where the Sam Hill is the Rifle the U.S. Navy was letting you use” he growled, even in the dark his eyes bore holes into the shaking private “I...” he began “I dropped it sir”. Owens seemed to visibly steam “you did what?” he took a breath “If you live Gross, and I highly doubt you will, you and I are going to have a long talk” and he looked towards me. “Ok college we’ll take 5 minutes then start up the hill, Urbanski first then me, Hoyt, Doc, Gross and you”

I was stunned “we’re going up?” I whispered and as it left my lips I wished I could have recalled it as Owens turned slowly on me. I tried to quickly add the missing “Sir” but it was to late. “I am sorry if the whole war is a inconvenience to you your lordship...” he spat “but we plebs here in the Marines got these things called orders see, and we follow them see, because thats what we do, the skipper didnt say nothing about coming back if you got a bloody nose so as long as one of us moves, we climb this hill...” his face got closer and closer to mine as he talked and I swore I could see skulls in his eyes as he finished “You Savoy college?”. I drew a breath “Aye Aye Sir” and Owens withdrew.

I had Hoyt give Gross his .45 ( As I had grown to love mine) so the kid would have a weapon. I had my Rifle and pistol, Urbanski his rifle, Hoyt his BAR and Owens was carrying his pistol and a Shotgun he had picked up during the barrage. These weapons, together with a handful of grenades and knives represented all we had to complete this mission. As we began to move out up the hill, I could hear Dock Stoltz some up my feelings and probably everyone else's as he whispered “Jesus Wept”.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Part II "Bastards in Brassards"

Battalion HQ was like a ant hill of activity, that is, if the ants all wore drab army uniforms and tin hats. Owens and I shouldered our way to the area the MP’s had said the oldman was waiting for us. I should have known something was not quite right then and there as the closer we got to our destination the fewer people we saw till finally, after passing one more Check point, it was just Owens and I.

He stopped right before the curtain which was indicated by the MPs we had to pass through. I was behind the man and couldn't see his face but he seemed to pull himself up straighter (if that was even possible for someone with a ram-rod backbone already) and tilted his head from side to side as if he was trying to get a read on the room beyond... and wasn't succeeding.

“oh well” he grumbled “Damn the torpedo’s, eh College?” I simply muttered “Aye Aye Sir” as he pushed aside the curtain and the dim golden lights beyond filled the dark tunnel we had emerged from.

It took a moment for my eyes to adjust but when they did I felt some what out of place, in the room were about 5 of our Battalion Staff officers, The Major, Our skipper (company commander) and these 5 Limey officers who looked all spit and polish with there red and green brassards on their arms. They stood around the map table on which lay a map, certainly not one of ours (might as well just given us blank sheets of paper instead of those damn French maps) but a amazingly detailed one with some photo’s from airplanes scattered about.

“Lt Owens reporting as ordered with his Platoon sergeant sir!” growled the scarred Owens as he smartly saluted Major Dupree. The Major gave a casual return salute “at ease Lt. hope you and your boys are rested because we got a stunt for you tonight...Mack?” he looked over to our skipper, Captain Curtain, who looked every bit the man who had to break bad news.

Curtain looked across the table at Owens and began “Sorry Joe but this one comes from the gates of heaven itself...” he looked over at the brits then he pointed at the map, when his finger landed on a rise in the middle of no mans land my blood nearly froze in my veins, we hadn’t been in the line long, but we sure as hell knew that hill, like the Brits we called it carrion hill and for almost 4 years it was a place that people went to die. “we need you to take your platoon out and get up to the top of Carrion Hill, The Limey’s lost some people there this summer when the heines launched their big pushes and they are more then a little interested to find out what happened to them. You’ll go over at 10:00 Pip Emma we think surprise is the best bet so.....”.

“Excuse me sir?” said Owen’s, his voice sounding like sand paper being drug across gravel, so ominous did it sound that every noise in the room stopped and even the Brit officer’s seemed to lose their look of boredom. “Yes Lt?” The Major asked, for a moment it looked like the Major was trying to intimidate Lt Owen’s, but when he looked up at the Major with that face and those dark was the Major who blinked. “You want me to take my live men, out looking for their Dead men? I ain’t a college man but Im going to venture to say they are beyond the carrying of modern medicine, why risk our boys on this sir?”

The room seemed to grow colder, not a sound could be heard, our staff officers seemed to be studying their navels as the major and the Captain slowly looked over at the Limey’s in the corner. All of them had mustaches and uniforms that looked like they had come from the finest tailors in London, but one had a slightly grander mustache and it was he who spoke up.

“Fair question old man...” he took a drink from a flask and studied the room, his eyes taking the measure of each person in the room. “Now this is all “Hush-Hush” stuff you understand but we had a chap up on the hill, a Dr Norbert Clive, real Tom Swift kinda fellow, helped design your gasmask. Dr Clive was in the process of developing a new gas, real devils own stuff, supposed to make everything before it look like cheap french cologne. Clive and his team were placed on the hill to give it a go but the day before the test, The hun took us totally by surprise, we never had a chance to get him and his lads off the hill.” he paused and once more looked around the room as he pushed the end of his mustache with his riding crop. “Now this is the sticky part, one day, maybe sooner then we all think, this war will end, and we need to know before then if the Hun has any idea what we were up to on this hill” he indicated Carrion Hill with his Riding Crop “ Thats why you and your chaps are going to climb that hill, ID any British Bodies you find and bring back any “material” that may be related to Clive’s research” again he paused to let it sink in “now... rumor has it that you Marine chaps are good at following orders... well follow them.”

I could feel Owens tense up, like a spring that was about to snap, I could almost smell his desire to pound this limeys face into one to the ceiling braces but all he said was “Aye Aye Sir.”

The Captain continued with the plan, laying out pass words, flare singles and additional personnel to go with us ( 3 extra Corpsmen and a MG crew) and the time table. I wrote in my orderly book like a demon trying to get all the details straight and frankly did a A-OK job at it to but Owens was a distraction, he only ever answered “Aye Aye Sir” or yes and no, he was like a boiler about to explode.

After we were dismissed, and we started back to the Platoon, I had the privilege of listing to one of the longest strings of uninterrupted obscenities ever witnessed on earth up to that time. There were english cusses, french swears, colorful phrases in chinese and spanish, even a brief discourse on why the British made the Navy look like geniuses and when we came to two of our guys Skylarking in one of the communication trenches, he tore into them like a dog into a new bone.

As the afternoon wore on, Owens and I saw to everything needed for the attack, Squad leaders were briefed, extra ammo brought up and the 10%, those men chosen to remain behind so the Platoon was never officially “wiped out” were picked.

I was nervous, I had been Platoon Sergeant for only a matter of hours and now i was going on a Stunt, my hands shook as I secured my gear and cleaned my Rifle and pistol. Before the war I hadn't been very religious, and maybe I still wasn't, but then and there I prayed that I wouldn't let Lt Owens down and I cursed all Bastards in Brassards.