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 eyes...it 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.