By John-Paul Marciano
As Sgt. Jim Hanson crawled away he heard Mordecai warn H.B., “I’ll be joining you in a few minutes. Don’t get jumpy on me.”
Jim made his way to his own hole. Exhausted, he took his helmet off and used it as a headrest while lying on his back. He looked up at the stars and briefly thought of home. He missed teasing his mother and his kid sister, Ann. He missed bumming around with his pals. He missed his father’s rebukes. He missed the sounds of the city. Then he caught himself before the “what ifs” came calling.
Get it together, Hanson, he chastised himself while rubbing his eyes hard with the palms of his hands.
He rolled onto his stomach and put his helmet back on. His stomach gave up a deep audible growl while the acidic taste of bile simultaneously crept into the back of his throat. He swallowed hard and took a couple deep breaths.
“Bird Dog,” Jim uttered barely above a whisper.
“Yeah,” Sam quietly answered back.
“I’m coming over. See you in a few.”
Jim took another deep breath as he made the sign of the cross. He crept out the right side of his hole and began to work his way over to Sam. He got most of the way there but stopped when he heard a buzzing noise. He reached out and placed his hand in a wet gelatinous goo. As his eyes fixated on the form in front of him, he realized what he thought was a boulder was the trunk of a man with half an arm, no head or legs. He dry-heaved when it dawned on him the goo was someone’s entrails. As he quickly pulled his hand away, gorged flies followed the fresh meat.
“Ugh,” he groaned as he wiped his hand on his trousers.
Jim swatted at the flies then scooted around the remains and worked his way over to Sam’s hole. His heart raced as he squeezed in alongside Sam and breathed deeply to gather himself.
“Y’alright there, Sarge? Ya look like ya saw a ghost.”
“I’ll be fine, just give me a sec.”
“Sorry it’s so cramped. Aah wasn’t ‘spectin no visitors,” Sam said as Jim continued to take deep breaths. His heart continued hammering the inside of his chest.
Jim patted Sam’s arm and gasped, “That’s alright, Sam. I didn’t come to socialize.”
Sam waited patiently for Jim’s breathing to normalize, staring at him with dark brown eyes like a dog waiting for a treat. It took a few minutes before Jim got his breathing under control.
“How’s your night been?” Jim asked.
Sam snorted and said, “Had better.”
Jim gave Sam a sideways glance but the understated Arkansan offered nothing more. “So what’s Wolf Creek like in July?”
“Hot,” Sam replied. “Ain’t much ta do ‘sept hunt.”
“You care to do some shooting now?”
“Aah’m listnin’,” Sam said and spat a wad of tobacco juice through his teeth.
“I want to draw that sniper out,” Jim said. “Think you can nail him?”
“If ya git em ta poke his head up Aah’ll git em,” Sam said confidently. “Ain’t no wind ta speak a. Shun’t be too hard. What’s yer plan?”
“I was thinking I can get his attention by taking a shot in his general direction. I’ll give him a target by scooting over to Hank’s hole. I figure between you and H.B. we can take him out before he can make our day miserable.”
Hank (Honker) Lewis was one of more than 1,600 men who transferred into the 1st Infantry Division from the 41st in June to fill the ranks after Cantigny. An accountant from Eugene, Oregon, Hank probably could have better served the army with a pencil in a supply depot than with a rifle in the infantry. But this was the army and, right wrong or otherwise, Hank was in the infantry. Mordecai started calling him Honker the first time he heard him laugh, saying Hank sounded like a flock of geese flying south for the winter.
“Ain’t ya kinda hangin’ it all out there? Maybe y’oughta rethink that one.”
“You got a better idea?”
“I dunno, but sposin’ yerself’ll jus git ya dead.” Sam snorted and spat some tobacco juice out the side of his hole. “Ya kin tra smokin’ em out,” he said.
“How do you propose I do that?”
“Got anymore a dem flares fer dat Very pistol ya been carryin’ ‘round?”
“I got a couple,” Jim said. “Why?”
“Ya know where he at?”
“Sort of but he might have moved.”
“Ain’t likely,” Sam stated. “Snipers ain’t much fer movin’ ‘round.”
“Ok, I’ll take your word for it.”
“Strap yer tin hat t’yer shovel. Give em a target ta shoot at. Shoot da flare ta where ya think he’s at. That should git his tention nuff ta tra n shoot ya. Aah’ll put one in his ear from over yonder,” Sam said pointing with his thumb toward Jim’s hole.
“There’s a body about 10 yards straight out,” Jim warned.
“Yeah, Aah saw em,” Sam said as he started to crawl out of the hole. He turned toward Jim and said, “Use da spade end. It’ll look more lak a head at first light.”
“Thanks for the advice,” Jim said as Sam crawled away. ”Let me know when you’re in position.”
“Aah’ll jus whistle lak a bird.”