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A Wing and a Prayer:

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A Wing and a Prayer:

597 pagine
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May 8, 2015


The action, suspense and emotions that surround the bomber crew of the Full House and the Eighth Air Force doesn’t let up in this fourth book of the series. Cheryl continues to create the feeling that we are there with these brave WWII bomber crews. The vivid descriptions of combat and the emotions that go with it are riveting. It is hard to remember that the average age of a crew member was under 24 years of age, and that the average life expectancy of a B-17 bomber crew was no more than six missions. And yet, knowing this, these brave young men flew daylight missions, knowing that the odds were against them, but they knew what their duty was, and they did it. Readers come to love these characters and root for their survival.
BOOK REVIEW: A WING AND A PRAYER is the fourth book in Cheryl Pula's Eighth Air Force Series and I found it just as enjoyable as previous three volumes. For those unfamiliar with the series, Pula's focus is on the very real and very young American heroes of the Eighth Air Force, 91st Bombardment Group (Heavy) based at Bassingbourn England.

While the English pulled off night time bombing during WWII, Pula's series looks at the Americans who flew the iconic B-17 Heavy Bombers on regular suicidal DAYLIGHT bombing missions right into the heart of Axis territory during WWII. Missions where the odds were often doubtful that the men would ever make it back home. Yes, they often dealt the Germans a good shellacking but always at a deadly cost. Pula did YEARS of thorough research and was fortunate enough to be able to interview surviving airmen who performed those amazing missions on the B-17s so long ago. Yes. Pula's characters may be fictional but the missions and what happened most certainly AREN'T.

Book Four of Pula's series continues the lives and missions of the airmen of the B-17, "Full House". She keeps with the tradition of her earlier books by resolving the previous volume's cliffhanger. A WING AND A PRAYER picks up the action in September 1943 as First Lieutenant Matthew Moore, the half Native-American co-pilot of the B-17 bomber , "Full House" struggles in a US Military Hospital in London to recover from near fatal wounds he suffered in July while on a deadly mission bombing ordnance factories in Ocherslaben, Germany.

The early part of this book details Matt's battle to recover from wounds he feared would cripple him. His commander and best friend on FULL HOUSE, Major Jack Harrington, manages to rebuild his crew and get his plane air worthy again. As expected, the war continues and the death toll climbs. Does Matt recover? Who gets to command a new crew and a new B-17 called SECOND CHANCE? Read this book and find out!

While Pula begins her books by resolving a cliffhanger, she also ends the books with a cliffhanger as the FULL HOUSE endures a brutal mission and tries to return home with its tail section nearly blown off. Yes, the crew makes it home but it's a fantastic piece of battle writing and it's all TRUE as such an incident really did happen to a B-17. The book ends with FULL HOUSE's young bombardier, Jesse Nowakowski, a Medal of Honor recipient, trying to save a child while the Germans bomb London. Yes, I plan to start reading book five soon!

The heroes who flew bombing missions on B-17s have been a neglected part of WWII history and Pula does a fine job saluting the brave men who were there. While I found the battle sequences gripping and I've learned more about B-17s in these four books than I ever thought possible, the romantic/dramatic portions come across as a little "forced" hence my four star only rating. This is still a great book and I recommend it to all looking for a good piece of historical fiction. Check it out!
By Dennis
First, my apologies for the delay in posting a review of this fine was a combination of laziness and being really busy. However, as it is a new year, I wanted to start it off by catching up on my book reviewin

May 8, 2015

Informazioni sull'autore

Biography: A native of New York Mills, New York, Cheryl Pula is a retired Reference Librarian with a B.A. degree in Russian Language and a minor in German. Though officially retired in August 2011, she now works part-time at the New York Mills Public Library in New York Mills, NY. Cheryl also does extensive speaking engagements throughout New York and is available to speak at your next event. For more information, e-mail or visit her website at She has taught courses on unsolved historical mysteries; the American Civil War; World War II; The Titanic and several other topics. A founding member of the New York Mills Historical Society. She is also the founder, current secretary and newsletter editor of the General Daniel Butterfield Civil War Round Table in New York Mills. She is an honorary member of the Memphis Belle Memorial Association of Memphis, Tennessee. Cheryl is also a charter member of the Writer’s Club of Bridgeport, New York. She is known around central New York for presenting a number of historical lectures (90 to be exact!) on topics from the Titanic to the first moon landing in July 1969. Cheryl was elected “Historian of the Year” by the Oneida County Historian’s Association in 2006. In 2010, she was listed in Who’s Who In America. She is also the author of the series of novels about Eighth Air Force B-17 bomber crews in World War II England. The first book in the series is, The Children’s Crusade, published by Whitehall Publishing. This is the seventh in the series. She has also compiled a series of books that bring together some of the most compelling and interesting mysteries in our history. The series is called, It’s A Mystery with the first and second volumes already published and more to follow. Cheryl is also a national speaker. To learn more about Cheryl Pula or to schedule her to speak at your next event, we invite you to visit her website at: http://8thmilitary.comTo arrange to have Cheryl at your next event as a Keynote Speaker, e-mail or visit her website at:

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A Wing and a Prayer: - Cheryl Pula

A Wing And A Prayer:

The Eighth Air Force Series,

Book Four

Written By:

Cheryl Pula


I read Cheryl’s book to once again ride with a B-17 crew on a WWII mission. What I witnessed was much more than just Bombs Away. These young Americans gave their all. Though frightened, they responded by saving lives, though in some cases wounded themselves. They b0nded with each other and ultimately saved us. We started with young boys and watched them mature before our eyes in a couple of short years. What more could a reader possibly ask for? Here are some of the Heroes of a victorious nation. Bob Hynes, Grosse Point Farms, MI – Director, Yankee Air Museum, Ypsilanti, MI.

"The action, suspense and emotions that surround the bomber crew of Full House and the Eighth Air Force doesn’t let up in this fourth book of the series. Cheryl continues to create the feeling that we are there with these brave WWII bomber crews. The vivid descriptions of combat and the emotions that go with it are riveting." Gerald Horton, Bridgeport, NY – Retired U.S. Army, Vietnam veteran.

The flying scenes make you feel as though you're up there with them and experiencing what they went through. The battles make this book 'unputdownable'. Adrien M. Synnott, SSG, retired, ARNG.

I couldn’t believe Cheryl could top her last book, but she did. Her characters are real and heartwarming. Her stories are intense and moving. You just can’t wait until you get your hand on her next book. Steve Rowlands. U.S.A.F., 1973-1977.

A Wing And A Prayer:

Cheryl Pula

Copyright Cheryl Pula 2015

Published by Whitehall Publishing at Smashwords

For More Information Contact:

Whitehall Publishing

P.O. Box 548

Yellville, Arkansas 72687

Cheryl Pula

Cover Design:

Ascender Graphix

Table of Contents



Sunday, 19 September 1943

United States Military Hospital

Thursday, 25 November 1943

91st Bombardment Group (Heavy)

Saturday, 4 December 1943

Over France 1200 Hours (12:00 PM)

Sunday, 5 December 1943

Michael Davenport Residence

Friday, 24 December 1943

United States Military Hospital

Saturday, 25 December 1943

Christmas Day

Sunday, 26 December 1943

0900 Hours (9:00 AM)

Friday, 31 December 1943

Cambridge, England

Thursday, 13 January 1944


Sunday, 23 January 1944

1000 Hours (10:00 AM)

Monday, 24 January 1944

0500 (5:00 AM)


1500 Hours (3:00 PM)

Tuesday, 25 January 1944

1100 hours (11:00 AM)

Wednesday, 26 January 1944

0200 hours (2:00 AM)

Saturday, 29 January 1944

London, England

Author’s Note

Other Books by Cheryl Pula


To Marcia, Matt, Haley and Mikey

One of our planes was missing, two hours overdue.

One of our planes was missing, with all its gallant crew.

The radio sets were humming, they waited for the word;

Then a voice broke thru the humming and this is what they heard:

"Comin’ in on a wing and a prayer,

Comin’ in on a wing and a prayer,

Tho’ there’s one motor gone, we can still carry on,

Comin’ in on a wing and a prayer.

What a show, what a fight

Yes, we really hit our target for tonight!

How we sing as we limp thru the air,

Look below, there’s our field over there.

With our full crew aboard and our trust in the Lord,

We’re comin’ in on a wing and a prayer.

Lyrics by Harold Adamson

Music by Jimmy McHugh

Copyright 1943


A Wing And A Prayer is the fourth book in

The Eighth Air Force series.

All events in this series are based on actual occurrences

experienced by people I personally interviewed

while conducting my research.

It was my privilege to spend time with these

Veterans and my honor to share their stories

in this fictional work.

On 15 July 1943, twenty-two-year-old First Lieutenant Matthew Moore, copilot of a B-17 Flying Fortress bomber named Full House, was critically wounded on a raid to the aircraft ordnance factories at Ocherslaben, Germany. Shot in the left chest and abdomen, he nearly died, but managed to hold on, defying all the odds. One bullet lodged against his spine. It was feared there would be permanent damage, and he would be paralyzed. Matt was flown to an American military hospital in London. Additional surgery was performed to remove the bullet. After several days passed there was no improvement. He was informed that the paralysis was more than likely permanent and he would not walk again, condemned to spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair.

Though Matt normally presented an outward picture of calm and composure to everyone who knew him, inside he was endowed with a warrior’s ferocity, mental strength, determination and a tenacious spirit inherited from his grandfather Gray Wolf, a Cheyenne Dog Soldier who fought against George Armstrong Custer and the 7th Cavalry at the Battle of the Little Bighorn on June 25, 1876. Upon hearing the bleak verdict, Matt determined that the experts were wrong and silently vowed he would walk again. Now, two months later, he was still in the hospital recuperating, undergoing therapy to keep his body in shape and to learn to cope with his handicap. But, like his Cheyenne ancestors who never quit in the face of adversity, Matt was about to discover whether or not the vow he made to himself was to become reality, or was simply a forlorn hope…

Sunday, 19 September 1943

United States Military Hospital

London, England

First Lieutenant Lauren Henderson glanced at her watch as she sat in the cafeteria. 1215 hours. She had forty minutes before reporting back on duty. A nurse trained in physical therapy, she used to take her time and linger over her meal, but since July she often finished lunch and returned to her patients early. Lauren took a drink of coffee, then a bite of the toasted cheese sandwich on her tray along with a small bowl of tomato soup. Many on the staff accused her of never growing up, as a toasted cheese and tomato soup were things one ate as a child. She had to grudgingly admit, they were a holdover from her childhood, and though simple, they were two of her favorite foods, especially together. She was also a big fan of the All-American traditional peanut butter and jelly. In that respect, perhaps she never did grow up, but the simple lunch brought back many fond childhood memories.

Mind some company? a voice asked.

Lauren looked up. No, I don’t mind. Have a seat.

Second Lieutenant Barbara Brown put her tray down and sat opposite. So, how are you today?

Same as usual. Overworked and underpaid, Lauren said with a twinkle in her blue eyes.

Barbara laughed. Ditto.

How was your leave? Lauren asked.

Great. Too short though, Barbara commented. She’d just returned from a two week holiday in Scotland. She took a tentative sip of coffee, making sure it wasn’t too hot to drink. Barbara added a little sugar and stirred it in with her spoon. I got a letter from Gary. It was in my mail when I came back yesterday.

How is he? Lauren asked with concern.

Barbara was referring to her husband, a Navy fighter pilot serving in the Pacific aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise. It was a while since she’d heard from him. He’s fine, or he was when the letter was written.

Lauren nodded knowingly. It took time for mail to arrive, especially if it traveled halfway around the world in the middle of a war. She regularly received letters from her parents and a sister in the States, and it usually took a couple weeks if not a month to reach her, so letters from the faraway Pacific were in transit quite a while.

He can’t write about what they’re doing or where they are, but he says they’ve seen a lot of action, and so far he’s all right, Barbara related.

That’s good to hear, Lauren said. It must be a great relief to know he’s okay.

Believe me, it is. I wish he’d write more often, but I know it’s hard. He can’t mail a letter until they’re in port, which isn’t too often, Barbara explained.

That’s one good thing about being on land. You can mail your letter without having to wait to dock somewhere.

Barbara grinned. I never thought of that, but you’re right.

Lauren finished the remainder of her soup. Any problems this morning?

Barbara shook her head. No. Corporal Hale’s cold is better, and Sergeant Garcia is happy as can be because Dr. Clarke told him the cast is coming off his arm this afternoon.

You said no major problems. Does that mean there’s something else? Lauren asked in concern.

Barbara hesitated. One of the guys got on Sergeant Wentzel again.

Lauren did not need an explanation. Sergeant Kurt Wentzel was a tail gunner with the 100th Bombardment Group (Heavy) at Thorpe-Abbotts, nicknamed the Bloody Hundredth. He was wounded on a mission to Hamburg a month before. The base infirmary was not able to do much to help him, because he took a bullet fragment to the brain. He survived, but the wound required delicate, specialized surgery. He was sent to London, and the metal was removed successfully, though the doctors thought there might be permanent neurological damage. Much to their delight, Wentzel showed few signs of such damage, and was recuperating very well. It wasn’t the head wound that was creating the problem, but the fact that he was born in Stuttgart, Germany. His family fled to the United States when Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933. The Sergeant was thirteen years old at the time, but was now a naturalized American citizen. He’d spent ten years in the States, and lost some of his German accent, but not all of it. There was enough remaining to be easily noticeable, and it sometimes caused Wentzel problems with other soldiers, though the majority didn’t hold it against him. He was a Sergeant in the U.S. Army flying bombing missions over the Reich, shooting down German planes.

It was the same old thing, Barbara related. One of the patients called him a Kraut, Hitler Youth, all that.

Kurt’s a nice boy. He doesn’t deserve to be called names, or be the target of comments like that. What happened? Lauren asked.

Your favorite patient overheard what the guy said and dressed him down. Barbara took a bite of her ham sandwich. She hesitated, not certain she should proceed with her question. How is your favorite patient today?

I have several patients, Lauren pointed out. Who…?

Come on. You know who I mean. I’m only asking how he’s doing.

If you’re referring to Lieutenant Moore, he’s doing just fine.

Why are you being so evasive?

I’m not, Lauren protested.

I know you, remember? I can tell when you’re being evasive…and you’re blushing.

Unconsciously, Lauren put her hand up, felt her cheeks, and they were warm, confirming what Barbara was saying.

I take your reaction to mean things haven’t changed.

Lauren could not meet her gaze. Finally she admitted, almost inaudibly, No, they haven’t.

In July, First Lieutenant Matt Moore from the 91st Bombardment Group (Heavy) at Bassingbourn arrived for surgery to remove a bullet near his spine. While the operation was a success and he survived, he was unable to walk, paralyzed from the waist down, a condition the doctors declared was permanent. Only twenty-two-years-old, he was condemned to spend the remainder of his life confined to a wheelchair. Lauren was assigned as his nurse, to train him to cope with his handicap. She felt badly for him, as she did for all her patients with such grievous injuries, facing a bleak future. In his case, it was worse because prior to the war, he’d been an athlete, an All-American football player, and was used to being in top physical condition.

When they met, she became friendly with him. Once he was well enough to carry on a normal daily routine of physical therapy and the psychological adjustment and acceptance of what the future held, they were soon on a first name basis. They talked about home, about growing up, and their families. Lauren discovered he was very knowledgeable about history, literature, science, and many other subjects, which she found fascinating, because he had a Bachelor’s degree in aeronautical engineering, and she never suspected someone with that background to know so much about literature. After only a few weeks, Lauren began to stay after her shift and engage him in a game of chess. When anyone asked her about it, she said it was part of his therapy. That may have been the case when she originally began playing chess with him, but it didn’t take long before she was playing because she enjoyed being with him, especially after a long, hard day of work. Matt had a great sense of humor, and she was gratified that he was not allowing himself to wallow in self-pity and become depressed over his condition and its implications. She looked forward eagerly to the evening chess matches. Matt was a superlative player and she found the games not only kept his mental acuity on a heightened level, but hers, too.

Lauren was intrigued and fascinated by his Cheyenne background. Sometimes she would stay for dinner at the hospital so she could eat with him in the cafeteria. They had long discussions about Indian history and culture, which wasn’t taught in American high schools. She was from Montana and found that his grandparents lived on the Cheyenne reservation there, while Matt was from Colorado. She asked him many questions about the Cheyenne, what it was like growing up half white, half Indian. She learned a great deal about his family, its history. And she learned a lot, too much it turned out, about him.

It wasn’t long after his arrival that she realized she was falling in love with him. At first, it was a physical attraction. Matt was remarkably handsome, with an athletic physique, black hair, brown eyes and copper hued skin from his Cheyenne ancestors. He was the epitome of the phrase, tall, dark and handsome. It wasn’t his matinee idol looks that won her over, but his intelligence, personality, and character. They had several things in common, other than the obvious that they were both Westerners. He played chess, he was a voracious reader and a classical music aficionado as was she. They could talk about anything. He’d put his absolute, unquestioning trust in her, and she repaid that trust by falling in love with him. She hadn’t planned it, but it happened.

She didn’t tell Matt she was head over heels in love with him. Only two people knew. Lauren and Barbara Brown. Lauren didn’t say anything to Barbara either, but the other nurse deduced it on her own, just by observing Lauren’s expressions, things she said, the way she looked at him, little nuances that were different than those she displayed with her other patients.

Most people would be put off by the fact that Matt was paralyzed, confined to a wheelchair. She wasn’t. Lauren worked with such cases every day. They were courageous men, boys really, who were there to fight for their country and were wounded in combat. They didn’t ask to end up paralyzed, or with legs and arms shot off, or bullets to the brain. They were human beings, who deserved respect and admiration, not pity. She did not pity them, but tried to help them adjust physically and psychologically. She met many fine young men over last eight months, and admired them all. But there was only one with whom she’d fallen in love. So they continued to work together each day, Matt doing whatever she told him, and Lauren harboring her feelings and emotions secretly, trying to keep them hidden.

You’re still in love with him, Barbara stated, hoping things might have changed in some way while she was on leave.

Why wouldn’t I be? Lauren asked defensively.

He’s your patient, Barbara countered. You’re supposed to help him, not fall in love with him.

I didn’t plan it…I didn’t intend to, she protested, her cheeks feeling warmer than ever.

Barbara studied her. But you did. It isn’t right.

Don’t tell me you haven’t had thoughts or feelings about him. All the nurses have, Lauren stated.

Barbara said nothing for a moment. Yes, I will admit, I’m attracted to him, but not to that extreme…

He’s intelligent, considerate, courageous, selfless, has a great personality and sense of humor, and in case you haven’t noticed, he also has a fantastic body and is absolutely gorgeous…

…And he’s married, Barbara said seriously.

Lauren stopped short.

He’s married, Barbara reiterated for emphasis.

Lauren did not need to be reminded. While many married men did not wear a wedding ring, Matt did. She saw it every time she met with him, a vivid reminder that he was unavailable. It was the source of amusement among the nursing staff whenever a new nurse remarked about the hunk in room 107. No one needed to ask who she was referring to, and the newbie was quickly informed he was taken, so there was no use pursuing the matter any further.

Finally, Lauren said, It isn’t necessary to remind me.

Obviously, it is necessary.

It isn’t your business, Lauren said, attempting to end the conversation.

It is my business. It’s the business of everyone on the staff, and the patients. So far, no one has noticed how you look at him, the special attention he gets…

He doesn’t get special attention, Lauren replied hurriedly in self-defense.

How many other patients play chess with you? Barbara asked bluntly.

Lauren had to admit, that was true. None.

Barbara hesitated over what to say next. Lauren, not only is he married…he’s paralyzed.


Even if he wasn’t married, what kind of life could you have with…

I can’t believe I’m hearing you say that, Lauren said in genuine shock. You’re a nurse. You’re here to help these men, just like I am. They’re people. They deserve a life like everyone else. She paused, formulating her thoughts. Matt’s still paralyzed. It doesn’t matter to me whether he has use of his legs or not.

That’s not what I’m referring to, and you know it, Barbara said evenly.

I know what you mean. If I had any qualms about that having any influence on our future…

You don’t have a future, not with him, Barbara reminded her.

You don’t know that, she countered.

Lauren, listen to me. I know you, better than you think. This isn’t you. You aren’t the type to consciously try and take another woman’s husband. To use your own phrase, in case you haven’t noticed, Matt is completely in love with his wife. You can see it when he talks about her, when he looks at her picture.

Lauren did not respond. The other nurse was right. It was obvious to anyone who had eyes that Matt Moore loved his wife. Just his expression when he looked at her photo or talked about her was enough to convince anyone of the depth of his feelings. But Lauren also knew when men were away from home for a while, those feelings sometimes waned. Through her conversations with him, she knew he and his wife, Evelyn, had been married for a little over a year. In that time, he’d only been with her eleven days, the weekend they were married in August 1942 and during a short leave he had before coming overseas. Less than two weeks out of thirteen months of marriage. Some men had longer than that and still strayed. Lauren was not a husband stealer, a home wrecker. She did not want to be. But she was never in love like this before, and it was causing a tremendous and incredibly painful emotional conflict inside of her.

Take a word of advice. Tell him. It isn’t fair to you, or to him, to keep it bottled up. When he leaves, it will only be that much harder, and he will leave eventually, Barbara said.

Lauren did not know what to say in answer, so she glanced at her watch. Barbara was right, he would be leaving sometime, and she didn’t want to contemplate that. I have to get back on duty.

Barbara watched as she rose. I see by the schedule that your afternoon session with him is in a half hour.

Yes, but I want to check on Sergeant Wentzel first. Without further discussion, she headed for the door.

Lauren turned down the hallway and went down the flight of stairs to the bottom floor, where the therapy room was located. As she went, she tried to push the thought from her mind that Matt would be leaving eventually, and that was something she did not want to think about at all. She was running a few minutes late, so she knew Matt was probably already there. If she stopped and checked on Wentzel, she’d be even later, but she wanted to make sure he was okay.

Lauren reached his room. He wasn’t there. She looked around and saw another nurse, Melanie Connors. Where’s Sergeant Wentzel?

He went down to therapy just a couple minutes ago, Connors said.

Thanks, Lauren acknowledged and continued toward Therapy. She reached the room, took a stabilizing breath, then entered. Lauren was correct. Matt was sitting in his wheelchair. Standing next to him was Lieutenant Colonel Owen Clarke, his orthopedic surgeon. She was slightly surprised to see the doctor, though he sometimes liked to drop in on his patients to see how they were faring and to offer a helping hand or some encouraging conversation. Jack was also there.

Jack was Major Jack Harrington, the 91st Bomb Group’s twenty-four-year-old Air Exec, and until July, Matt was his copilot aboard a B-17 bomber named Full House. Both he and Jack were wounded on the same mission on July 15th, but Jack was not injured as badly, and was back on duty by late August. Lauren knew Matt worried about him continually, as well as the rest of the crew aboard Full House. Matt told her once about his concern for them, and she told him he should be concerned about himself. He replied that he was out of the line of fire, and added that’s why he had Lauren. She was the one who worried about him. He was the one who had to worry about his crew. As she watched, it was evident Jack had been there a while, as it appeared he and Matt were deep in conversation.

She saw Sergeant Wentzel sitting in a wheelchair to the right, and went to him. Hi Kurt. How are you today.

He looked up at her. …Fine…Getting better…every day…

She smiled. While he hadn’t suffered any major or permanent neurological damage from his head wound, he was having problems with his speech. But he improved a great deal since arriving. When he first came, he couldn’t speak at all, but as the wound healed, he progressed. He also had problems with strength in his limbs. She picked up a small rubber ball and handed it to him.

Can you squeeze that for me?

Wentzel took it in his right hand, and squeezed. Again, when he arrived a few weeks before, he could not do it. Now he could. It wasn’t a great deal, but certainly an improvement.

That’s fine, she encouraged. Try it with your left now.

He did as instructed, then looked up at her, like a child who was seeking approval from his mother. At nineteen, he could still be considered a child. Is that…good?

It’s wonderful, she said truthfully. Absolutely wonderful.

Lauren, she heard her name called, and glanced over to see Dr. Clarke summoning her. She looked back to Wentzel. You just keep up the good work and you’ll be fine in no time.

Wentzel gave her a grin, something else he could not do when he first arrived.

Lauren smiled as she walked over. Good morning, Major.

Jack returned the smile. Hi Lauren. You look ravishing this morning.

She blushed slightly. Thank you, though I know I don’t.

The pilot shrugged. Say what you want, but I know what I see.

Clarke grinned at their banter. We’re going to try what we discussed this morning.

Lauren nodded. Yes sir.

Jack was familiar with the routine. Clarke and the nurse would wheel Matt to the parallel bars and help him up far enough that he could grab hold of the bars. He would hand walk to the end, turn around, go back, and repeat it several times. Then they would help him into the chair, assuring that he would not fall.

Jack was encouraged when Jesse Nowakowski, his bombardier, visited Matt and returned to the base to report the copilot had some feeling in his legs, and could actually move two of his toes slightly. But since then, there hadn’t been much additional progress, so Jack concluded that was as good as it was going to get as far as Matt’s recovery was concerned.

It pained Jack deeply to see his friend like this. In addition to possessing movie star good looks, Matt was also a fantastic physical specimen, six-feet six inches and 225 pounds of solid muscle. He played football in college, an All-American and All-Big Ten linebacker. Just prior to graduating, Matt was approached by the Chicago Bears. They wanted him to play for them, but he declined and enlisted in the Army instead, his sights set on becoming a pilot, not a professional football player. He was, or had been, the best all-around athlete at the base, and Jack knew how devastating it was for Matt to hear the verdict that he would not walk again. It was not only a blow to Matt, but to Jack and the entire crew that flew with him for seven months, who were not just fellow fliers, but as close to him as his family.

Now Matt was in the wheelchair, preparing for the usual routine. But he had something else in mind, what he termed an experiment. He discussed it with Dr. Clarke before Jack arrived, and the surgeon was leery about what Matt proposed, but agreed to it with the stipulation that he, the doctor, could end the experiment if he felt it necessary.

Are you ready? Clarke asked.

Matt nodded. He did not say anything, but silently thought, This is it. The Moment of Truth. The Chinese philosopher Lao-tze once said, ‘Even the longest journey of a thousand miles begins with but a single step.’….I’m about to find out….

Clarke and Lauren stepped close to him and each took one of his arms, just as they did every day. Using all their strength, they held on as Matt took hold of the wheelchair and began to push himself up. Halfway across the room, Jack watched as he tentatively rose, but rose nonetheless. Though a bit unsteady, and taking several moments, Matt finally rose to his full height, Lauren and Clarke still holding him.

Jack was so intent on watching that it took him a few seconds to realize Matt was standing, not with the assistance of the parallel bars, but actually standing without leaning on the bars. Granted, he did have the nurse and the doctor helping him, keeping him on his feet, but he was standing. Jack sat with his mouth open, watching something he never thought he would see again.

Taking a moment to breathe, Matt concentrated, dredging up all the strength he could muster. To himself, he said, All right. You can do this. With that, he held onto Clarke and Lauren, and with almost agonizing slowness, he willed his left leg forward. It only moved a few inches, a sliding, shuffling motion, but it moved forward. He stopped and very carefully shifted his weight onto the left leg. With another concentrated effort, he willed his right foot forward, parallel to the left.

Jack could not move, unable to believe what he was seeing. He was told Matt would not walk again, yet here he was, not just standing, but actually taking steps. They were tiny, not even baby steps, but they were steps nonetheless. Jack dared not breathe as he took it in.

Matt shuffled his left foot forward again, this time a little further, then pulled the right forward, in front of the left, so he was now actually stepping forward with the right, not just bringing it parallel. He paused then took another step with the left, this one a little more sure, a little more certain.

Jack thought he was dreaming. He fought down the urge to pinch himself.

Matt took a couple more steps, then stopped to take a breath. He made certain of his balance. After a second, he looked at Clarke. Now.

Are you absolutely sure? Clarke asked seriously.

Yes sir, Matt said, taking another gulp of air.

With that, Clarke nodded and motioned to Lauren. At the same time, they both let go of Matt’s arms and took a small step back, though they hovered within easy reach.

Standing on his own now, Matt felt more than a little wobbly, but he was also determined, and when the Moore Determination came into play, nothing was impossible.

Unable to believe what he was witnessing, Jack slowly rose from his chair, his gray eyes wide, seeing his friend standing on his own, without help from Clarke or the nurse. Jack took a step forward.

No, Matt said quickly. Stay there…I’ll come to you.

But… Jack began to protest.

Stay there…

Summoning up all the determination and strength he had, Matt looked down and slowly took a step forward, his arms out slightly for balance. It felt awkward after being off his feet for two months, and his legs were uncertain, weak, but he forced them to work, to bear his weight. He took another step, then another. He concentrated, taking a couple more steps. With each, he became more confident, every step a little longer, a little more certain, sure. As Jack noted, they weren’t the length of a normal walking stride, but they were getting better with each one he took. Matt looked up. He still had about five or six feet to go to reach Jack, but the expression on his friend’s face convinced him he had the strength to keep going.

Clarke and Lauren were watching intently, ready to grab hold of him at the first sign of a misstep or any type of problem. Much to the doctor’s gratification, there was none. Matt was very tentative and unsure at first, but he seemed to be gathering strength and confidence as he went. Clarke could see the sheer and utter determination on his face, in his brown eyes, and for the first time, he knew Matt was going to make it.

Make it he did. Matt took two or three more steps and found himself face to face with Jack.

The pilot tried to say something, but he was so overwhelmed, that for one of the few times in his life, he was speechless.

Clarke came forward and took Matt’s left arm while Lauren retrieved the wheelchair. She made a move to take Matt’s right, but Jack went to his friend’s side, taking his arm while she held the chair. Making sure they had a solid grip, Clarke and Jack helped him to sit.

Jack knelt down in front of him, and when he could finally speak, it was only one word. When..?

Four…days ago, Matt answered. He was panting with the effort, the perspiration glistening on his face, his body. Walking those few feet took a lot out of him, but it was more than worth it.

Jack looked up at Clarke.

You know he began to have slight sensation in his legs in August, but there wasn’t much after that, Clarke said.

Jack nodded. I know.

We’ve been doing the normal exercises, not just for his arms, but the legs too, to try and keep the muscles from atrophying. Four days ago, in the middle of therapy, he told Lauren his legs felt stronger and he thought he might be able to actually stand with help from the bars. I didn’t want to let him try, I was afraid he’d fall again, Clarke explained.

Jack knew all about the event he mentioned, because Jesse, his bombardier, witnessed it. In August, Matt had one of his few off days when he wasn’t doing well. He was sick with a stomach virus, and nothing seemed to be going right. Added to that, it was his first wedding anniversary, and he was missing his wife, wishing he was home in Colorado with her. He was so depressed, that he refused to do the exercises until Lauren shamed him into getting on the bars. Once he did, his concentration broke, he missed his grip and fell, giving himself a bloody nose when his face hit the floor. But that led to the discovery that he’d regained minute feeling in his legs, and gave Matt hope that it might get better. Evidently it did.

As they talked, Lauren knelt down next to Matt, who was still attempting to catch his breath from the exertion of walking. Just take your time. Take a few deep breaths.

Matt did as she instructed, trying to get his breathing back to normal. It was not easy, as just the effort of walking those few feet winded him.

She rose and went into the hallway to a water cooler that was near the nurse’s station. She filled a glass, then hurried back into the therapy room. She held it out. Here. Drink some of this.

Matt took the glass, and after another deep breath, drank some of the water. With his free hand, he wiped some of the perspiration from his face with the towel that hung over the back of the chair.

Okay? she asked with concern.

Matt nodded. Thanks…that helped.

Though I was leery, I let him try, Clarke was saying to Jack a few feet away. "He put some weight on his legs, and leaning on the bars, he actually could shuffle from one end to the other. The next morning, when he went on the bars, he could do it for a longer period of time. By yesterday, he could shuffle along pretty well, as long as he was leaning on the bars. He did it again today. Just before you arrived, he told us he thought he might be able to do it on his own, without help. I think you were the incentive he needed to actually try it."

My God, Jack breathed. "You mean…All this happened in just four days…and now was the first time he tried to walk on his own?"

Clarke nodded and smiled. When he told me, I thought he was crazy. I wasn’t going to let him try. But he can be very persuasive.

That’s…the greatest thing I’ve ever seen, Jack said, still unable to believe what he saw with his own eyes. He glanced at Matt, who was still breathing a little heavily. Seeing Jack looking at him, Matt grinned and gave an encouraging ‘thumbs up."

I’ve had patients with a more positive prognosis who just gave up and said to hell with it. They wouldn’t even try, Clarke admitted.

But…How…? Jack was still stunned. He realized he was sounding completely incoherent, but he wasn’t terribly concerned with how he sounded. He had so many questions he wanted to ask.

The best we can determine is that because we had to wait several days to remove the bullet, there was a great deal of inflammation and irritation of the muscles, tissues and nerves around the spine, a lot more than normal. We expected if there was going to be any noticeable return of feeling, it would occur within the first few days after surgery. Since there wasn’t, the team came to the conclusion there would be no further improvement. But…right after he fell in August, he began to have sensation. Don’t ask me how or why it happened. But it did. …..Believe me, I have never been so happy to be wrong.

Still kneeling next to Matt, Lauren was gratified to note his breathing was back to near normal. How do you feel? Any dizziness? Vertigo? She knew he might be feeling a little dizzy or lightheaded having been off his feet for so long.

Matt shook his head. No. I’m okay. It was worth the effort.

Lauren smiled. It certainly was. She watched as he used the towel to wipe more perspiration from his face, his body. He had several scars now. There was one on his abdomen, two more on his left chest. But even so, she silently thought he was still absolutely wonderful to look at.

Clarke gestured to Matt. When he told me he thought he might be able to negotiate a few steps on his own, I thought there was no possibility. But he did.

If all this happened in just four days, will he be able to…? Jack began.

Walk normally again?

Jack nodded, a hopeful look in his eyes.

I wouldn’t put anything past this guy, Clarke said, then looked at Matt. If you keep making progress as quickly as you have in the last four days and there are no setbacks, I predict not only will you be walking normally again, but people will never know anything happened to you.

Matt studied him, a hopeful expression in his eyes. So…are you saying I’ll fly again?

Clarke smiled. I dare them to try and keep you on the ground.


Well, that remains to be seen. We don’t want to rush anything. There’s still a lot of work to do. You basically have to learn to walk all over again, but I already know what you’re capable of, and I’m sure you’ll be back in the cockpit before the end of the year. I know that sounds like a long time, but remember, it took two months to get this far, and the end of the year is less than three months away.

Slow and steady wins the race as Aesop said, Jack commented with a smile.

Exactly, Clarke agreed. We don’t want to let him go back before he’s ready. I want to make sure he’s one hundred percent before we discharge him. We don’t want any relapses.

Jack felt better than he had in a long time. He looked back to Matt. I should have known nothing would keep you down.

I have great doctors and nurses, Matt admitted, now able to talk after the physical exertion.

Lauren shook her head. We had a hand in it, but you did the rest. If anything, it was ten percent us, ninety percent you and your stubbornness.

Not stubbornness. Motivation, Matt corrected.

Motivation? Jack echoed.

Matt nodded. I thought about Evy. She married a guy who could walk. I wasn’t about to condemn her to taking care of a cripple for the rest of her life. That left only two options. I had to leave her, which I would never do, or I had to walk. I opted to walk. My other motivation was purely selfish. The night before I was wounded, when we went to the pub, you told everyone that once I finished my first tour, I was going to get my own plane, my own crew. I worked long and hard for that, and no one…no one…is going to take that away from me.

Lauren shrugged as if to say, What can I possibly add?

Jack eyed him. "You know something? You are one stubborn and determined son of a bitch."

More than you’ll ever know, Matt said, but grinned slightly. I’ve even planned ahead.

What do you mean? Jack asked quizzically.

I’ve had a lot of time to think while I’ve been here, so after due consideration, I’ve already picked a name for my plane.

I might have known. And what would that be?

"Second Chance."

Jack smiled. It was entirely appropriate. In July, no one gave Matt any chance in hell of surviving. He lost sixty percent of his blood volume, and was more dead than alive. His condition was so tenuous, that Dr. Henry Fletcher, the 91st’s Flight Surgeon, gave Matt blood transfusions and performed surgery right on the plane as it sat on the tarmac. Even then the medical staff was only willing to give him single digit odds of living until the following day. Fletcher was so dubious about Matt’s chance of survival, that he had the base’s Catholic chaplain administer Last Rites. But he held on. After being sent to London for additional surgery, Matt had another very close call. Three days after the operation, his left lung collapsed, he was unable to breathe and might have suffocated but for the quick work of the hospital staff, Lauren and Clarke in particular. After that, he did so well, that Doc Fletcher called Matt his Miracle Patient. By choosing Second Chance as the name of his future aircraft, Matt was acknowledging to everyone how incredibly lucky and truly appreciative he was. He was being given a Second Chance, unlike most people, who had only one crack at life.

Seeing the pilot’s expression, Matt said, You look amused. I take it the name is okay with you?

It’s fine and totally appropriate. But if it wasn’t, it wouldn’t matter. It’s your plane, or it will be. The pilot picks her name, not me, Jack said logically.

When you get back to base, tell the Colonel to call Boeing. I’m getting out of here as quickly as I can, and I want a plane to go to.

Jack nodded, then chuckled slightly as a thought occurred to him.

What’s so funny? Matt asked.

Oh, it just occurred to me that the Colonel owes me one.

Explain, Matt instructed.

Jack grinned. After you were wounded, I told him you would fly again, but he was doubtful. I was so sure, I convinced him to place a bet on it. If he was right and you didn’t fly, I owed him my pay for a year. But if I was right, he only had to buy me a beer at the O Club. That’s one beer that I’m really going to enjoy.

I’m not flying yet. Far from it, Matt observed.

You will be. After what I just saw, I have every confidence, Jack stated assertively.

Normally, Lauren would be happy listening to them discussing the ever more real possibility of Matt returning to Bassingbourn and flying. It was the way she felt with all her patients when they began to recover from their wounds, especially someone like Matt, whose prognosis was so bleak, but now seemed to be considerably brighter. But her emotions were terribly conflicted within her. She was delighted that he was turning the corner, and all their hard work, all his hard work, seemed to be paying off. Yet at the same time, she was very unhappy, because she knew in her heart that if he made a full recovery, the Army would send him back to his base to fly more missions. The same thing could happen. He could be badly wounded and end up back at the hospital, and the next time, the prognosis could be permanent. Or he might be killed.

Over the last few weeks, she made a concerted effort to hide her feelings about Matt, which was not easy, considering the way she felt about him. She always looked forward to working with her patients each day, especially with the knowledge that she was helping them to heal. But since getting to know Matt, she could not wait to get to work each morning. Lauren lived only a few blocks from the hospital and normally walked to work, but she found herself traveling those few blocks faster than before, and hated to go back to her quarters at night.

Lauren prayed Matt would not detect her feelings for him. She was a professional and it was completely against her code of ethics to become personally involved with a patient, not to mention the fact that she knew Matt loved his wife more than life itself. She learned early on that Matt was very observant and not much got by him. She surmised it was inherent in his job as a pilot. One had to be observant, to spot approaching enemy planes, to dodge flak barrages, to stay alive. If he did know of her feelings for him, he didn’t show any signs, never said anything, or gave any indication that he knew how much she loved him.

During their talks, the first thing she learned about Matt was how hopelessly in love he was with his wife Evelyn, or Evy as he called her. On his wedding anniversary in August, he was having one of his few bad days not only because he was sick, but he hadn’t received a letter from her for a week. He did not even have her photograph. His only photo of Evy, the one he carried with him everywhere, was destroyed when he was wounded. Then Jesse Nowakowski arrived, bearing an anniversary card from Evy. Inside was a new photograph. If Lauren had any doubts about Matt’s devotion to his wife, they were immediately dispelled when she saw his expression upon receiving the new picture. His demeanor immediately changed, and everyone could plainly see the pure adoration and love in his eyes as he looked at the photograph. It did more to inspire determination in him than anything else, because from that day on, no one heard a single, solitary word of complaint. There were no more bad days for Matt, no matter how much pain or disappointment he felt.

Lauren? What’s wrong? Jack asked seriously. Over the last two months, he visited the hospital several times and came to know her expressions, and she seemed preoccupied.

Oh, nothing, she said, forcing a smile. I just wish all my patients had days that turned out as well as this one.

Well. I have to check in on the patients who really need me, Clarke said with a grin. Lauren, I need your assistance for just a minute.

Yes sir, she said. Lauren didn’t really want to leave, but she had no choice. The good thing was, the doctor said it would only be for a minute, then she could return.

Jack watched them leave. For a moment he didn’t say anything, still attempting to absorb the enormity of what he witnessed just a few moments before. He looked back to Matt. I know one thing. Evy would be proud of you, proud of what you’ve accomplished, he remarked truthfully.

Matt’s expression changed ever so slightly, but he did not say anything.

What’s wrong? Jack asked in concern.

Matt shook his head.

What are you thinking about? he prompted.

He did not respond for a moment. When he finally did answer, his voice was subdued. I didn’t want to say anything when Dr. Clarke and Lauren were here….

About what? Jack asked curiously.

My motivation for getting out of this chair. When I was wounded, I was lying on the deck, and I was sure I was dying. I thought about how short life was. I didn’t want to die, but I wasn’t afraid of it. The last thought I had…was about Evy…and…that the only thing I regretted about dying was….I wouldn’t see her again…to say good-bye. He stopped and turned his head slightly, so Jack would not see the tears forming in his brown eyes.

Jack could tell by his voice that he was having a great deal of difficulty speaking without becoming emotional. He knew the most important things in his ex-copilot’s life were his wife, his family, and flying. Matt lived to fly. It was his dream ever since he was a boy. But Jack also knew if there was one thing Matt loved even more than flying, it was Evelyn.

Still looking away slightly, Matt said, "When I visited my grandparents on the reservation…the Indian agent would look at me, and he wouldn’t see a person…I was an animal…That’s the way he saw everyone who lived there….It didn’t matter that I didn’t…I was still one of them…an animal

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