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Remembering PT-927

Remembering PT-927

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Remembering PT-927

Lunghezza:
532 pagine
12 ore
Editore:
Pubblicato:
Sep 11, 2014
ISBN:
9781310531286
Formato:
Libro

Descrizione

During WW II, a farm boy from Oklahoma is assigned to the Torpedo Boats in the Pacific. Circumstances confront him to face the enemy on a more personal level than he could have ever imagined. Can enemies learn to help each other to survive? Jordan faces the great puzzle of his time, the path an individual decides on when his country is locked in a deadly struggle with another nation.

Editore:
Pubblicato:
Sep 11, 2014
ISBN:
9781310531286
Formato:
Libro

Informazioni sull'autore

BIO: Nearing retirement, I now have more time to devote to writing (and if I don’t, I squeeze the day until there is a space/time to crawl into). Over the past 15 years, I have worked on 15 books, three of which (of the Dreamcast series) are self-published.My website, http://www.PaulTelegdi.ca gives a full account of my life and accomplishments, which I shall not repeat here.The thumbnail version: I was born in Hungary; when young immigrated to Canada with my family, attended University of Waterloo, Ontario, where I met my wife. Spent years in West Germany where my wife was studying music while I was learning German. Returning to Canada, we ended up on a farm in Ontario with pets. Long-time married, I boast of three sons with talent and personality.Presently I am office manager of my wife’s private practice of psychology. I like kayaking and windsurfing. I belong to a number of writers’ groups, and often choose writing over sleeping. eBooks are an exciting new chapter in my life and I’m looking forward to the wider exposure.My motto: Want a better life? Then write it!

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Remembering PT-927 - Paul Telegdi

Remembering PT-927

War in the Pacific

by Paul Telegdi

Dedicated to my wife, Melanie Telegdi, my strength and support.

Written: March-September 2014

Copyright © 2014, Paul Telegdi

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever

Although historical events were used to anchor this story, in all other aspects it is pure fiction

Published by Paul Telegdi at CreateSpace in September 2014

To enjoy other books by Paul Telegdi please visit www.seeWordFactory.com

Dreamcast 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 (paranormal)

The Call at 3:18 am (paranormal)

14-, 15-, 16-, 17- and 18 Stones (prehistoric)

Seize the Day (Roman)

Strike the Red Hammer (Norman)

The Locksmith’s Dilemma (medieval)

Where Arrows Fly (medieval)

Dark Fires (medieval)

Learning Berserk (Viking)

Unlearning Berserk (Viking)

Chance Encounters (a life in progress)

On the Razor’s Edge (prison novel)

Remembering PT-927 (WWII)

The Lady Bug (WWII)

At the Point of a Quarrel (the 100 years war)

Peoples’ Spring 1848

Insula (cataclysm)

Shamrock (western)

Foreword

To a certain extent all my books deal with solving problems to do with life and death. In Remembering PT-927 it is the impact of war on an individual. How does one face the new algorithm of war, a cold mechanized warfare where people, military or civilians become fully expendable?

My books are also a vehicle for me to get inside history and try to imagine what it was like. Again, as with most of my books, it’s not really historically accurate, but a synthesis of known and imagined facts. For instance, in this book I have made assumptions about the Japanese culture I really had no right to make as I have not studied their way of life, yet I projected a presumptive image of it in order to show an American soldier trying to make sense of it through his cultural filters. It is thus given that he is often wrong (as is the author who begs the reader’s indulgence in this regard).

Growing up I was most interested in the land war that swept through Europe. The tide of conflict destroyed country after country on the continent and left them in ruins. For me the war in Asia and the Pacific was a faraway concept. Certainly Pearl Harbor the movie opened my eyes to that corner of the world and even more so the Vietnam War focused my interest there.

So, as I always do, I write to get a real sense of what the time was like. I read and researched what I needed for my book and wove a story around it. Remembering PT-927 followed this recipe faithfully. It was intriguing and fascinating to put myself aboard a PT boat and to imagine what the real veterans experienced.

However, what would my novel be without a strong infusion of romance? Not something rosy and sentimental but something gritty and troublesome with its share of losses and gains. Had to find my way through twists and turns and come up with a climax and a resolution.

I welcome you to my book and hope you have as much fun reading it as I had writing it.

Chapter 1

Jordan sat listlessly on the rear ammunition box of the Bofors 40 that loomed threateningly over him. From beneath came the rumble of the three Packards propelling the PT boat at speed through the light swell somewhere in the South Pacific. He felt nauseous, partially from the motion of the boat he still wasn’t quite used to and the heavy fuel fumes mixing with the exhaust bubbling up from eject ports below the water line. He leaned against the cage of the Bofors, trying to shut out the view of their wake which drew a foamy white line through the green of the surf the boat was trying to leave behind. He closed his eyes but had to open them immediately to rid himself of his increasing sense of vertigo.

Jordan looked around, trying to find something to focus on but all he saw was greenish blue water, the sun sparkling off the odd wave, and the blur of the horizon obscured by the rising heat. The boat’s speed produced substantial wind that buffeted him as he sought shelter in the shadow of the Bofors.

A figure suddenly loomed over him and alarmed, Jordan tried to remember what he was supposed to do: salute and snap to attention or what? However he soon relaxed when the shadow materialized into the gunner of the rear 50 caliber, a young man his age, 19 or even younger.

Ollie... Jordan muttered.

Olson to you, the other snapped out. Damn if I’m going to let a virgin recruit call me that.

I’m not a virgin, Jordan protested.

Have you been shot at? Olson demanded.

No, but—

Then you’re a virgin, Olson asserted. Move over.

Jordan moved to the side of the box and Olson squeezed in beside him. Shit. They should have a couple of deck chairs up here so a guy can relax for a moment properly. He fished a crumpled cigarette pack from his shirt pocket, then expertly flicked a match alight with his thumbnail and sucked the first taste of smoke deep into his lungs. Yeah, that’s good, he exhaled luxuriously.

Jordan looked around concerned: navy regulations prohibited smoking on a small vessel loaded with thousands of gallons of high octane fuel.

That’s all right. The Skipper lets me and Jackson get away with it, but we can’t smoke in front of him. That’s why we come here to the back end. He reached the pack toward Jordan, who just shook his head. You look sick, Olson said disapprovingly.

Not used to the sea, Jordan muttered apologetically.

What are you doing in the Navy then?

I don’t know. I told the selection board that I liked to fish and I ended up in the Navy.

Olson laughed. That’s how it is. Tell them you want to join the Air Force and they send you to artillery. The boards have quotas to fill. So much to the Army and so much to the Navy. Olson pinched the stub of his cigarette between his fingers and took a long drag. Jordan admired the accomplished ease and nonchalance as Olson let out twin trails of smoke through his nose. In spite of his youth Olson looked every inch a veteran.

Not that it matters but where’re you from? Olson asked, pitching the cigarette over the side.

Oklahoma. And you?

Jersey.

City or state?

Hell, the city’s pretty much the whole state, Olson said dismissively.

And how did you end up here?

Me and my friend Todd took the neighbor’s car for a joyride and we got pinched. The cops claimed we were stealing it and the judge believed them. He gave us eight months each, but seeing that was right after Pearl Harbor, he offered to let us go free if we signed up. Like a fool I did, and now here I am on this tub no larger than a sardine can, while Todd, after serving his sentence, is out, probably fucking my ex-girlfriend. Obviously the thought bothered him and he lit up another cigarette.

So then they assigned you to PT-boats?

Hell no. I served on an auxiliary cruiser for three months, but I got into trouble with the bosun and had to get away, so I volunteered for the PT’s… if you can call that volunteering. He blew streams of smoke into the air and squinted at Jordan through the cloud. But you didn’t, did you? Jordan shook his head. Figures. We lost a lot of boats and crews in the Philippines and they had to make up the losses with conscripts. The labeling sounded derogatory. The thing I like about PT’s is that there’s none of that spit-and-polish bullshit. Look at what we wear, just shorts and T-shirts or often go around bare-chested. And our officers are regular Joe’s like us. On a big ship you have to salute until your arms fall off. You’re lucky to be with us.

Where are we? Jordan finally asked what really concerned him at the moment.

You don’t need to know. What does it matter anyway? The Skipper goes where the Admiral tells him to, and we go where the Skipper goes. That’s how it works in the Navy.

But surely we have a mission...?

You really want to know? There’re thousands of islands out there, a few we own but some belong to the Japs. They’re leapfrogging down the chain toward the Aussies and overnight try to sneak in and take another island. We were sent to keep an eye on their infiltration and harass them any way we can. Kapish? He threw the second stub overboard.

Jordan bristled at the other’s obvious demeaning tone, but stifled himself. He knew no one on board and had to make alliances in a hurry. They were about the same age so Olson couldn’t have a much higher rating than himself.

Olson threw a quick look toward the bridge, rose with a sour face and headed back to climb into the turret of the rear twin 50’s.

From where Jordan sat, he saw little of the 77 foot Elco Boat. He looked to the back, keeping his face out of the wind of their speed. He glanced up at the single barrel 40 mm Bofors and the loading tray he was to fill with ammo. Gus the gunner was below deck, having an early lunch. When he returned it would be Jordan’s turn to get some food. Not that he was hungry, but he looked forward to getting out of the wind, feeling the safety of the walls and bulkheads instead of the dizzying vista of blue-green water rushing by.

Three months after getting his eligibility notification, Jordan had been summoned to the district selection board. His uncle, who had lost an arm in the trenches of WWI, warned him that on no account should he sign up for the Army, so Jordan elected for the Navy and after six months of boot camp, here he was on the other side of the world, churning through an endless sea. The first week on board PT-927 had been hell, he’d been sick all the time, couldn’t keep any of the food down. Even on shore he felt queasy afterward. It was better now, but he still didn’t feel comfortable with the often erratic motion of the boat as it plowed through the water.

He was startled by Jake patting him on the shoulder and motioning with his thumb. Jordan rose stiffly and stumbled forward, not feeling secure until he had the 21 inch Mark VIII torpedo tube between him and the sea. He stepped onto the bridge, squeezed by the helmsman and awkwardly clambered down the steps into the chart room. The navigator, hunched over a map and the radio operator, fumbling with a squawking radio, glanced up as he passed. They both had the look of veterans who had fought the Japs maybe even back in the early days in the Philippines.

Jordan negotiated the next steps down into the claustrophobic confines of the wardroom. There were two others around the table, the rear 50 gunner Olson, and judging by the oil and grease stains on his dungarees, the junior mechanic, whom he only knew as Ricco. Jordan had no idea where he was from apart from a hint of a Southern drawl.

Reluctantly they made room for him. Jordan sat down, trying not to get too close to the mechanic. Finished with his plate, Olson was sipping coffee and chewing furiously on a wad of gum. When he wasn’t smoking, he was chewing all the time.

The cook stepped in and placed a tin plate loaded with some sort of hash in front of Jordan. Taking up a spoon Jordan tried to rescue some of the mush from the encroaching gravy. He ate because he was expected to, to justify his presence below. It was a relief to be out of the blow; he envied the navigator and the radio man their snug little chart room. The 40 mm Bofors was fully exposed on the aft deck. The wind often picked up the spray coming off the prow, and often he had to change out of his wet clothes.

Number 3 engine needs a complete overhaul. The valves are rattling and the return springs are old and fatigued, Ricco said, wiping his hands on a rag.

Everything’s falling apart. We’re too far from the States to get all the parts we need. My front sight has been bent since a Zero pounced on us in Catfish Bay. But I put a few rounds into the bastard. But no one saw the hits, so I get no credit.

You gun jockeys are all the same. You think it’s a game and somebody keeps score, Ricco said.

You bet. I shot down one over Subic Bay and the goon blew up in midair and it rained bits and pieces all over. The squadron bought me drinks for a week in the cantina. Of course, I keep score. Harrison on the 904 got two and by God, I want to beat him and I will, Olson countered, squeezing the words past the chewing gum.

Maybe Jordan here will beat you with the 40 mm.

He’s the loader not the gunner and Gus can’t hit the barn even if it was thrown at him. Besides I pump out 10 bullets for every one the Bofors fires off. Olson talked as if Jordan weren’t there. If anybody’s going to beat me, it’s Jeff on the front 20. He can fire at twice my range and has nothing in his way. I’ve got a rail all around me, boxing me in.

To keep you from shooting up the boat and sinking us. Want to be talked about? Saw off the radio mast with an extended burst.

Sometimes I want to. The damn thing squeaks horribly, like a cat being murdered when it’s extended. Can’t you oil it?

The bearing’s worn and no matter how much grease I pack in it, in two days it’s gone.

Yeah, all over the deck. I saw CO slip and he’ll be on your tail for it.

There’s nothing I can do. It needs a new gasket around the collar and a new bearing. One of these days it’ll seize up... probably when we need it most. You can bet on it.

Jordan itched to get into the conversation even though he didn’t have anything to say about the boat, its physical condition or any of its crew. For the most part the veterans ignored him. They heard the navigator in the chartroom above yell up to the bridge, Go easy. We’re coming up on the reef. Look for the entrance about 23 degrees off starboard.

Olson made a face. Why’s he yelling?

Why? Because the com isn’t working... like most things on this boat. Ricco wiped up the last of the gravy on his plate with a piece of bread, stuffing it into his mouth. Jordan winced, imagining the oily taste of that mouthful. He started on the rice pudding.

Christ, what a boat. Olson stood up, wiped his face with his sleeve, launched himself up the companion ladder into the chart room then three more rungs up onto the deck. Jordan heard his footsteps as the gunner returned to his fifty.

Are things really that bad on the boat? Jordan asked.

Worse. Nothing’s in apple pie order. We’re overdue for everything. At least they got rid of the back torpedo tubes, we rarely used them anyway, and got us better guns. We’re more of a gunboat now and it fits us better. We patrol the island chains and I never heard of a torpedo sinking one, palms and all. He guffawed as he rose and disappeared aft, toward the engine room. Jordan looked at the wall clock as it ticked off another minute, and calculated that he had a little time before he had to return to his station.

The outside wall was covered with pinups and now that he was alone, Jordan gazed at them freely. He decided he liked Jane Russell in that sexy pose the best. But it was a close call as there were blondes, brunettes and redheads to compete for any male’s attention with plenty of exposed flesh. As last, his eyes settled on a letter and he squinted to make out the script. Crew 19 of the third assembly line at Elco Prime in Bayonne New Jersey, worked hard to build a rugged boat to keep you safe and pray earnestly to God that you prevail in your fight against the enemy... It was dated November 28, 1942. Jordan was still in the last days of school when Elco PT-927 was first launched. He wondered if he had made the right choice in choosing the Navy over the Army. The ocean surrounding the boat was intimidating, flat as Oklahoma. Unconsciously he tightened the strap of the regulation lifejacket.

Unexpectedly the engine noise quieted and the boat immediately settled deeper into the water. A guilty glance at the clock told Jordan that it was time to go. He stepped through the chart room and up onto the bridge. The Exo moved aside to let him by but then called after him, Hold on a moment. At the base I was too busy to properly look at you. The Exo lowered the binoculars and gave Jordan a penetrating look. All I know of you is that you are Jordan Joshua Pierce Walker from Oklahoma. The eyebrows went up and Jordan felt compelled to nod. Where did you get your training?

Melville, Sir.

The Exo smiled. Like most of us. Tell me, is the Cracked Jug still open?

It is, notorious as ever. The MP’s regularly shake down the place.

And is Donna Rosa still tending bar?

She does and rails at the MP’s for carting off her best customers.

Yes, war or no war, some things do not change. He lifted his binoculars and scanned to starboard. Jordan noticed that the boat was approaching an atoll. Easy right five degrees, the Exo calmly ordered and the helmsman made the slight alteration.

Did you get any special training?

Not that I’m aware of, Sir. Six months of tying knots, rowing, some rifle training, but mostly how to recognize officers and ratings. And, of course, how to salute.

The Exo frowned and Jordan hastened to add, They took us on boat rides and made sure we got sick.

Any practice with a 50 caliber? The Bofors or the Oerlikon?

A little, mostly doing dry shoots. Practice with the gun to track a target. Ammo is expensive, we were told, and needed for the real war. We spent more time on learning how to make up bunks and peel potatoes on KP duty.

How the hell did you end up in PT-boats anyway? the Exo frowned.

I don’t know. I didn’t ask for special service.

Well you’re here and we’ll have to make the most of it. Keep your eyes open and learn all you can and do it in a hurry. We’re a small crew and each of us must be able to do two, three things at once. The Exo watched tensely as they passed near a coral head. First off, learn to handle the Bofors. Tell Gus that I said to let you practice dry shooting.

Aye, aye Sir.

The navigator stuck his head out of the forward hatch. It quickly gets shallow, bear more left then after a hundred yards cut back.

You heard him, the Exo said and the helmsman made the necessary adjustment to their heading. A minute later the officer added, Drop speed to slow, things are getting tight. The waves were more active here as the depth decreased. In the troughs Jordan noted the heads of coral breaking the surface. The Exo leaned out over the edge to see better. A shade more right.

Aye, aye Sir, more right, the helmsman confirmed the change. The boat seemed hemmed in as the surf broke over rocks on either side.

Easy does it, turn to 2:30... Make that 2:35, he corrected. Abruptly the wide shoulders of the Skipper emerged from the hatch. He quickly scanned the scene.

Why didn’t you call me? Lt. Stillwell demanded.

Saw no reason to, Sir. We’re almost in now.

The Skipper looked ahead then stepping to the edge, looked into the shallow water. Damned to hell, don’t run us aground.

We’ve got a couple of feet to spare, the Exo returned nonchalantly. At least the map says so. He nodded toward the plastic covered map that was clipped to the chart house roof.

OK, OK, but you know you can’t trust them. It’s Navy issue and the soundings are mostly garbage. If you clip my props, I’ll have your balls, I swear. I don’t fancy going up against the Japs with damaged props.

Neither do I, the Exo muttered, lifting the binoculars to hide his irritation. Jordan stood there, not knowing what to do. The boat scraped by something lightly and the Exo sucked in his breath. Three degrees right, he ordered, his voice tight with the Skipper looking over his shoulder so closely.

Damn, the Skipper muttered in an undertone. It’s tighter here than a whore’s ass.

We’re almost through the reef, Sir. Inside the atoll, the water’s eight to ten deep.

It’d better be. The Skipper suddenly discovered Jordan and growled, What’re you doing here? Get to your post! Jordan hurried off, trying to keep his feet under him as the boat made a radical turn to the right. The engines roared and the boat’s speed increased again: Jordan was nearly pitched over the side, saving himself by grabbing the stanchion of the rear .50. Olson spread himself across the cage on top and leered down at him.

Hang on boy, unless you want a bath. He was chewing on a cigarette, spitting tobacco juice over the side. There were stains on deck where the wind had blown it back. Jordan hoped he was better at shooting.

Jordan wedged himself into the angle of the engine room roof and the rail of the Bofors. He felt safe there. Beside him on the shallow gun platform Gus was clearing the breech, loading the gun. He then swung the heavy barrel around to bear on the approaching beach.

Where’ve you been? We’re making landfall and it’s standard procedure to get the gun ready.

And... what do I do?

You? You open the ammunition box behind you and get a clip of 40 mm ammo and stand ready to drop it into the hopper. Didn’t they teach you anything at basics?

Yeah they taught me... Jordan muttered. The son-of-a-bitch trainer had yelled at him without a pause, regardless of what Jordan did, so he never learned what was right and what was wrong. Gus noted his confusion.

Just be ready, Gus said in a kinder tone. If things happen they’ll happen fast. He swung the barrel from left to right sighting on the unfolding beach.

They were angling into a cove that looked inviting with a clean stretch of sand, backed by palms and lush greenery. They slowed down to drifting as the engines cut back. In the quiet Jordan heard the Exo direct the helmsman toward the shore.

Don’t go near the trees, they’re infested with bugs, we’ll nose onto the sand and spread the camouflage net over us. The prow of the boat slid onto sand and rested there. Someone deployed the anchor and hooked it on a group of rocks sticking out of the sand. The engines were shut off, yet the ears still buzzed with their sound in the ensuing quiet. Next the net was extracted from its box and spread over the boat. Everyone helped and soon PT-927 disappeared under this mantle, becoming a part of the landscape.

From the bridge the Exo called out to the crew, We’ll spend the rest of the day here in hiding. Come darkness we’ll head two hours east where Intel thinks the Japs are trying to set up a base on one of the islands. We are to shoot at everything that moves, but of course the best would be if we could bag a barge or two. The Skipper said something which the Exo passed on. Eat, get some sleep if you can, we’ll have a busy night ahead of us.

Olson immediately took possession of the ammo box and lit up. Gus frowned at him. Don’t set the tarp on fire, or the Skipper will skin you alive.

Jeez... You think I’m that stupid? The smoke roiled from his mouth.

I’m just saying...

Well, don’t! Indignant, Gus moved forward.

A little later the Skipper showed up with the Exo, poking their noses into everything.

Shit! Olson ditched the stub but hadn’t had the time to exhale and had to hold his breath as the two officers approached.

The Skipper paused at one spot, where the paint on the outer layer of the deck was peeling away. Damn it to hell, this boat really needs a complete overhaul. The engines need work, you have to baby the radio to get anything through, and the refrigerator isn’t working at capacity. I’m afraid the food will end up poisoning us... The two officers looked at the rack of six depth charges, and the smoke generator. I think we should get rid of the charges to lighten our load. We’ve never had to use them yet. Then he peered at the smoke generator and asked, Is this still working?

Yes, at 60 percent I’d say.

The Skipper’s face was troubled as he looked from one need to the next. His gaze settled on Jordan and it was obvious that the presence of the new man surprised him.

Jordan Walker. Just out of basics, fresh as they come. The Skipper just nodded, staring at Olson who was still leaking smoke.

The two of you go on the beach and see if you can find some fruit or coconuts, the Skipper said in a harsh tone.

Aye, aye, Sir, Olson said smartly and led the way to the front of the boat. They climbed down the forward rope ladder and splashed through 10 inches of water. The sand had a rough grainy texture, not what Jordan expected on an island paradise. They were halfway to the line of trees when the Exo called after them, Get some palm fronds and erase your footprints. I don’t want a Jap pilot spotting them, leading him to us.

Right away, Sir, Olson said, then muttered in an undertone, Asshole.

The Exo is all right. Jordan felt compelled to defend.

No officer is all right. And you’d best remember that.

The Captain is ... kinda rough.

He’s only a lieutenant and he’s a real bastard. But that’s because he’s on the wagon. Get him a drink and he’s your best friend. He can toss down a whiskey and chase it with a beer, before you can take two sips. However, they warned him if he keeps drinking, he’ll lose his command. So he’s a little raw at the moment. But if it comes to a fight, you want him leading. The hotter it gets, the cooler he becomes. I’d rather have him than most anybody else. They collected some castoff fronds and wiped out their footprints. Then they were under the trees looking for coconuts. There were old husks on the ground, but Olson walked past them. He found a tree with a cluster of coconuts above, and taking his shoes and socks off he grabbed hold of the trunk. Watch how it’s done. He shimmied up the tree, plucked the coconuts and threw four of them down. Carefully he backed down, and put his socks and shoes back on. Jordan started picking up the coconuts but Olson stopped him.

Leave them, we’ll get them on the way back. They pressed further into the fringe of bushes that bordered the beach and immediately were assaulted by a swarm of insects. Olson swore, swiping at the cloud pestering him. We won’t stay long. Look for something that looks like an orange.

And what does an orange look like?

Are you telling me you’ve never seen an orange?

They don’t grow in Oklahoma.

Look for something orange... the color ... and anything else that looks edible.

Ten steps further in, Jordan found a bush full of tiny black berries but Olson waved him off. That’s too bitter to do anything with. They discovered another bush with small yellow fruit and they picked a bagful. A little sour, but taste quite nice with sugar. On a long trip, anything fresh is welcome. You quickly get tired of tinned food.

On the way back Jordan stopped by a bush that was full of pulpy black berries. When Olson noticed, he struck them out of Jordan’s hands. Those are poisonous!

What are they?

Who knows? The locals call them tao-li or something. Causes stomach bleeding and serious cramps. Jordan scooped up some sand and scoured his hands.

They returned to the boat, loaded down with all they had gathered. The cook took their offering, promising to make jelly from some of the fruit.

Olson climbed into his nest on the .50 and pretended to clean the twin barrels. Gus sat Jordan on the Bofors and had him cranking the gun right then left, and changing elevation. Jordan was soon sweating as he peeped through the spider sight, trying to keep up with the commands.

Surface targets are relatively easy. Looking from behind you can track the shell and see where they strike. In the daytime that is. Planes are really tricky. Because of their speed you have to anticipate where they’ll be, and that’s difficult. The .50’s have tracer bullets to help them, and we have a much slower rate of fire. Gus scanned the sky through the camouflage netting. See that cormorant flying there? He pointed. Try to keep it in the center of your sight. And when you get good at that, try leading it a little. Tense with concentration, Jordan tried to follow the bird that wheeled, then suddenly dove splashing into the surf to reappear with something silver glinting in its beak. Jordan swore each time the bird escaped his sights.

If you think that’s hard, wait until you meet one of the Zeros. The Japanese pilots are well trained, so don’t believe the crap they told you back in basics.

What crap?

That they’re stupid monkeys, who shit themselves at the first gunshot. They been kicking our asses and drove us out of the Philippines.

But we’re winning the war, aren’t we?

That hasn’t been decided yet. I know back home they’re pumping people full of propaganda but that’s public relations for you. They think the war is going fine and we’ll be in Tokyo in no time, but out here, we’re still running the wrong way. The papers call it retrenchment and regrouping for the big push. But the fact is we’re still retreating. A Japanese soldier is brave and not afraid of self-sacrifice. The sooner you realize that, the better. Certainly the war looked different here, alone in the vast reaches of the Pacific.

When the sun was just inches above the horizon, they took down the camouflage net and retrieved the anchor as the engines roared to life. Foaming, the water churned at the back as the boat backed off the sand. Changing its tone the boat lurched forward and carefully picked its way through the gap in the reef. In open water, the engines opened up and the boat rose to plane, skimming over the water. Soon the island shrank behind them.

The Exo yelled from the bridge, Gus! Let him have a few live rounds.

Gus loaded 5 shells into the hopper. OK then. See what you can do with these. He then took a yellow marker buoy and threw it in the boat’s wake. Try to hit it without hitting us.

Jordan opened the breach and loaded a round. He focused on the buoy and lined up his sight on it. He pressed the trigger and the gun roared, rocking back at the same time. The shot was wide, but not by much. Jordan fired again and got a little closer. By now the buoy was quite far away, but the next shot got it right on.

Mary and Jesus! Gus rejoiced. We got us a natural. He picked up another buoy and pitched it in the water. Wait, not yet. Let it get away. They watched as the buoy fell back. Now!

Jordan fired and missed by a hair. But his last shot shredded the target.

You are a fucking wonder! Gus had a wide grin on his face. Maybe we should have you shooting and me loading from now on. Jordan felt good. As a country boy he had a good eye for distance and knew instinctively how to adjust for it. A glow of success filled him as he secured the 40, feeling that he and the piece of steel had become friends.

Well done, Jordan, the Exo yelled and even the Skipper nodded in acknowledgment.

That night they met up with a tanker and replenished their fuel. High octane vapors wafted through the boat and the ventilators worked overtime to clear the air. Everyone held their breath and walked on eggshells; one spark could set off an explosion that could tear the boat to pieces.

The next day Olson introduced Jordan to the 50’s. We all got to learn each others’ functions. If I go down, you might have to take over here. Jordan climbed into the nest and practiced moving the twin barrels around, sighting on a cormorant that was flying a parallel course.

Straddling the gun rail, Olson reached over and pulled the loading levers back. So now we are live and dangerous. Go take the fucking bird out.

Shoot the bird?

No, my fucking grandmother. Of course the bird. Jordan still hesitated. Don’t be a pussy, go, take your shot!

Reluctantly, Jordan squeezed the trigger. The 50’s fired, the recoil rattling through Jordan. He missed, but did it on purpose.

Come on, Jordan. You’re supposed to be a natural, prove it to me… Still Jordan was loath to kill the bird, and missed again with a short burst. The bird veered off, desperately flapping its wings. The Skipper is watching. Jordan felt he had no choice, aimed and pressed the trigger. A stream of bullets caught the bird and it disappeared into an explosion of blood and feathers. Jordan felt sick to his stomach.

That’s more like it. If that were a Jap, you wouldn’t hesitate… would you? Jordan just made a face.

With the lesson over, Jordan went below. After the tangy freshness of the sea air, the close confines of the crew’s quarters was overpowering with the sweaty smell of socks mingling with cheap after shave and the indefinable odor of compressed humanity. He tried not to breathe as he squeezed into his bunk. There wasn’t much room and he was constantly bumping into his few possessions that didn’t fit into the recesses of the side bulkhead. Saunders, the torpedo man, was snoring loudly above him.

Two others were talking quietly and Jordan was soon drifting off. He was roused by a loud voice demanding, Who ripped down my Betty Grable page? Dewar was brandishing a girlie magazine.

Ask Rory. I think he borrowed it for a visit to the latrines, the forward 20 mm gunner Jeff said on the verge of laughter.

Yeah. I think he wanted Betty to kiss his ass... They all roared, rousing more of the sleepers.

I will kiss his ass with my boots...

Jordan tried to block out the sounds from the others but they were too loud and he gave up. Jeff pulled a bottle from his pack and took a long pull from it.

Hey, pass me some of that. Dewar reached out a hand and Jeff gave him the bottle.

What’s that? Jordan asked, his curiosity aroused by the strange faces the others made after swallowing a mouthful.

That my boy, is Torpedo Juice. 100 percent alcohol from torpedo fuel. Of course we dilute it some, but it still has a good kick. Dewar reached the bottle to Jordan. Here, have a go.

Before he knew it, Jordan had the bottle in hand, peering at it suspiciously. In basics, we were warned about this. Don’t they put some poison into it to discourage people from drinking it?

That they do, but you can filter out the poison. Charcoal does the trick, but since we don’t have any, we use day old bread.

Bread??!

You cut both ends of the loaf, and pour the juice through the length of it. It goes in as torpedo fuel and comes out as potent alcohol.

Is that safe?

Sure. We’re living proof of that. Do we look sick or poisoned to you? Hell, it’s Navy vitamin juice, good for you. Even the Exo takes a nip once in the while, but not the Skipper, not since he went on the wagon.

Jordan took a cautious sip, grimacing as the liquid burned its way down his throat then coughed and retched as the fire reached his stomach. The other two just laughed. Now you’re a full-fledged sailor. Welcome to the breed, Jeff said, grabbing the bottle back and taking another sip. He shuddered at the bite, but said, Man, that’s good. The best thing this side of Pearl.

After a couple more sips, Jordan started to appreciate the quality of the drink. He became lightheaded, a feeling of well-being radiating through him. The bright sun coming through the porthole notwithstanding, he slept especially well for once, not bothered by the constant vibration and the roar of the engines or the smell of high octane fuel that permeated the whole boat with no escaping it.

Often it was hard to sleep as the crew quarters was hot and stuffy… yet in the Navy it was advisable to catch some sleep whenever one could. Jordan quickly learned to turn his back on the noises, to close his eyes and force himself to sleep.

At around nineteen hundred the crew was roused and had supper in shifts in the small wardroom. Jordan couldn’t recall what he had, except for the jellied fruit tasting like candy. He was told to go ashore and shit in the bushes.

We don’t have a big holding tank for waste and we aren’t supposed to flush directly into the sea. The locals have been complaining, hence we have new directives.

Didn’t anyone tell them there’s a war on? someone asked.

I think they know, the Exo continued calmly. The Japs erased two villages and killed a lot of people. So have some respect. When we can, we do our business ashore.

Yeah, that’s the way to show respect, take a dump on their islands, someone snickered.

The sun was still up when the crew collected on deck to be briefed for the proposed action.

It’s a standard approach in the dark; slow on one engine, fully muffled. We’ll track on the east side of the island quiet like. Gunners be ready. Have extra ammo on hand. When shooting starts it’ll be quick and vicious. I’d like to hit their transports, but as you know, the water’s too shallow for torpedoes. So aim true, and sink whatever we find. If you see anything piled up on shore, shoot the hell out of it. Jimmy, at the first shot, you start the smoke generator to give us cover if we need to disappear in a hurry. I don’t know what else to tell you except to be sharp and be ready for anything.

Sir, what’re we likely to run into?

"Two days ago a recon plane spotted two barges on the beach and a group of infantry disembarking. Intel thinks that they’re settling in to control the north-south access to the island chain to the south... I needn’t tell you we don’t

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