, ,

Operation Torch

Currie awoke to the clatter and clanking of the anchor chain weighing from the cold dark green water of the Irish Sea. Two days earlier they embarked aboard LSD 145, the Ship carried the entire first Battalion and their gear. The regiment was landing in North Africa on D-day the lead elements had sailed a day earlier. Currie was relieved to be finally under way; their wait was finally over, in eight days, his men would be standing on dry land or slogging their way up the beach fighting the French in North Africa. Currie unconsciously stroked the holster of his pistol.

He stood at the rail watching the water slip past the side of the ship, he rode a grey monster, and it held in its belly 1200 fully equipped restless men. They waited; and their anxieties grew with each passing mile, when the last mile passed, and the beach was in sight this behemoth would drive its great bulk upon the shore in one great futile effort. Then on command, it would convulse and expel the men and vehicles through its two huge bow doors onto the beach, into the waiting sights, of enemy. Currie could see those brave noble men falling on the beach, their lifeblood slowly leaking from their bodies, turning the sea and the sand red with their blood. He could see his lifeblood on the beach adding to the darkening crimson tide.

“Captain Currie, are you alright you’re wanted in the wardroom.”

He turned and faced Meyers he shook his head “Yes Mike, I’m ok thanks for asking.”

Currie could not remember how long he had been standing at the railing lost in thought, he stepped into the wardroom all the smells of man were there the smell of fear the smell of sweat and the smell of bile. He looked at the men in the room especially their eyes, he could see the trepidation, the anxiety, and in some men not only could he see the look of death he could smell their deaths.

At the head of the room on the bulkhead, hung a large map of North Africa there’re arrows, symbols and pointers, pointing at the beaches where the landings were to take place. On the Atlantic side of North Africa at the cities and ports arrows pointed to Safi and Rabat and the main thrust would be directed at Casa Blanca. On the Mediterranean Sea more arrows pointed to Oran and Algiers their beaches and docks. Colonel Snow held the pointer and tapped the red rubber end at the port city of Oran and to the beaches to the east and west. Currie’s mind flashed back to his high school history teacher; she was pointing to North Africa’s Barbary Coast. He remembered her blue and white polka dot dress and how it was pulled tightly across, her breast she pointed to the ports the pirates used as safe harbors. Billy saw himself sitting on the front row of seats watching her as she moved back and forth across the room, he could smell her perfume, “Gardenia’s,” he thought. Miss Smith was a voluptuous woman with light blue eyes and dark brown hair. Billy could hear the sounds her hose made as her legs rubbed together when she walked. Billy would often catch a glimpse of her bra when her dress pulled open as she stretched her arm out to point to another city or of something else of importance. Billy felt the arousal in his loins as he had many times before and today was no exception, he left her class with his books covering his hard manhood.

Colonel Snow called for them to gather round the sand table, the sudden movement of the room brought Currie back to the present. He made his way to the table; the sand table had strings pulled from side to side and from front to back making a grid with the lines. The city of Oran was laid out beneath the strings. Currie wondered if the boys at Disney had created this masterpiece. The masterpiece was complete right down to the sunken ships and the bombed-out buildings, tiny people, cars, and trains. Just the sight of Mickey Mouse building these on a production line made him chuckle. Several Officers looked at him and gave him a queer look.

“Private joke,” Currie mused.

He looked at the sand table the 236th was to deploy to the eastern beaches the beach was wide and flat then the terrain turned to ravines and gully’s He thought “you could hide an entire division in those gullies and ravines it had all the makings of a killing field.” He moved around the table and viewed the beach from the town side. He opened his map case; he compared the maps with the table. He searched the gullies for crooks and twist backs, he saw at least 40 positions in three tiers up the slope. All the positions had overlapping fields of fire; he walked back to the ocean side and knelt. He surveyed the elevations of the terrain, the left and right flanks were higher than the center “Shit, a perfect killing field.” If the French positioned their men correctly, the battalion would be ground up and spit out like hamburger. In this invasion only luck or God would intervene.

The table sat in the wardroom and every day he would come in for coffee. He saw it and studied it, he hoped he would see something, he had missed, and every day, he came to the same conclusion. His melancholy grew, he had been trained for war, he had promised to give his life for his country, and he would do so without reservation, but he hoped it wouldn’t be on the beaches of North Africa.

They had been on the boat seven days and underway for five D-Day was 0600 tomorrow morning. Currie looked over the fantail into the phosphorescent wake of the warm Atlantic Ocean. In less than ten hours, men would be fighting and dying for real estate that wasn’t worth one drop of blood. Currie slung his cup into the sea and remembered the line of a Tennyson’s poem “And into the mouth of death rode the 600,” was he riding this behemoth into the mouth of death?

At 0937, the word spread around the ship the French capitulated after brief and token resistance. There were still pockets of resistance but all of Algeria was theirs. Billy breathed a sigh of relief his men would live to fight another day.

“The Captain said after the channel was cleared which shouldn’t take too long, we would disembark in the port city of Oran. Not some god-forsaken beach getting our asses shot off.” Currie nodded his head, “thanks Mike, wake me when we get into port,” he said smiling. He laid down on the rack and was asleep before his head touched the pillow.

Meyers looked at Currie, all he could do was shake his head, shrug his shoulders, and walk away.

Currie awoke to the noise of the engines being reversed and to the clankety-clank of the stern anchor being dropped. He walked to the weather deck and looked at the scuttled and sunken French destroyers they were being moored The Seabees built walkways across the sunken ships, that were being used as piers. The men could be debarked here, but the vehicles had to be unloaded on the piers. Currie gave the order to have his company get all their gear together and prepare to disembark.

Currie went below decks he showered shaved and changed his clothes. He headed to the wardroom a table was being bolted to the deck where the sand table once stood. On the wall was a full-size map of the port City of Oran.

Currie looked at the map instead of beaches that were to be assaulted there were routes that men would take to the assembly areas. In addition, there were other convoy routes for the trucks, some would go to the assembly areas, and others would go to new supply area. The map showed the positions of where each individual company would bivouac; The Regimental Area was shown on the map as a box with diagonal lines and labeled 236TH Regiment. The battalions were in smaller boxes and finally the companies were listed in smaller boxes Able Company was the first unit on the road and next to what looked like the trash dump.

Currie turned and headed for the coffee urn, of course it was empty. He trudged over to the steward’s pantry, knocked on the door; he stood there looking pitifully, the empty coffee cup dangling from his finger. The steward opened the door he chuckled, “Oh Captain I see you are in pretty bad trouble.”

Currie nodded holding his cup and turning it over, “Help save a life a donation of one cup of Joe, just one cup.” He said begging then smiling at the steward.

The steward picked up a pot and poured him a cup of Joe; “there you go Captain just what the doctor ordered.”

He sipped his coffee and headed back on deck, “Private Williams find lieutenant Rawls, Meyers, Copeland, and Evans, and have them meet me here.”

“Yes Sir, Sir where is here? Sir,” Williams said.

“This is the Fantail and deck O-4” He responded.

“Yes, Sir Fantail … deck O-4 thank you sir I will find them and tell them sir.”

Currie looked over the rail and down into the water, schools of fish were swimming around the hull a larger silver fish flashed through the school scattering them. The smaller fish would regroup and form a ball, just to be struck repeatedly and each time the big fish struck the ball the ball grew smaller. “Life is so fragile… so it pays to be the big fish,” he thought.

Meyers and Rawls showed up first the Evens and finally Copeland showed. “You have seen the map, you know where you are going, make sure we take as much with us as we can, if not we may lose it again. As organized as this disembarkation is it is still going to be a snafu, as sergeant Snipes would say Confusion breeds profit the less, we leave the less that will be lost.”

“I sure wish we had our own transportation, like we had at Jackson and in Buxton Meyers expressed loudly.

“Those if you remember, were compliments of Kovac and Snipes.”

“Maybe they will get lucky here if you know what I mean.” Meyers said.

“Mike makes sure Bishop, carries the fifty tell him to not let it out of his sight or out of his hands.”

“I’ll put him with Sawyer and Warren it won’t get lost without one hell of a fight.”

“Charlie, send Kovac up to see me ASAP, I’ll be right here.”

“Yes, Sir,” Rawls said.

Currie stood on deck gazing off into the distance deep in thought when Kovac arrived.

Captain Currie, you sent for me sir,” Kovac saluted.

Currie returned his salute. “Walk with me, Top this is off the record. When we disembark put men with our gear and have them make sure, it is delivered to us. I don’t want anything lost, or delayed, or misplaced, use whatever method you believe to be the most appropriate. Get the gear to the company area then let the trucks go. You will have to find other ways to get some transportation. I was told by the motor pool LT that they were going to Court martial any man for losing a piece of equipment. They won’t be giving them up so easily this time, like they did in England, other than that Top it is now in your ball park.”

“It’s under control Sir there won’t be any trouble, and no one will be roughed up,” Kovac said.

“Good man, Top I know I can count on you.”

Currie pulled a pack of camels from his pocket and tore open the top; he took the last cigarette out, crumpled the pack, and threw it into the water. He heard the distinctive click and whoosh of the Zippo he stuck the end of the camel into the flame and sucked it to life “Thanks, Top, that will be all.”

Currie blew the smoke out in a long stream he turned back to watch the distant skies.

A bosom’s Whistle sounded through the Overhead. “Set the Sea and Anchor detail.” Currie rose, dressed, and walked out on deck.

There were four LSD’s moored to the pier two to the left and two to the right and a space in between. There isn’t any way this tub is going to fit between those other ships Currie thought. The ship slowed to a crawl and nosed its way in between the others he heard the clanging of the ships telegraph, and the rumble of the engines, water boiled up around the stern and the ship stopped dead in its tracks. The bow doors had been opened, and the ramp was lowered it settled with a thump and a grinding noise on the pier.

Currie headed below decks to grab the rest of his gear, along with his weapons. Gleason had made sure that everything else was ready to offload. The trucks began to disembark, the troops marching on either side of the ramp out of the bowels of the ship. The troops followed the snaking convoy of trucks into the city streets.

Currie smelled it for the first-time salt-water oil, sewage, fuel, garbage, rotting fish, and flesh. The reeking odor hung heavy in the air in the harbor Currie had never smelled anything so bad in his life.

Currie sat down in the jeep Kovac revved the little engine and pulled into the line of trucks. The farther from the harbor they were the odors began to change from rotting fish to the smell of Curry, Cumin, peppers, the smell of old wool socks the sweet smell of anise and date palms and the flowers that bloomed in the fall.

He noticed the people women fully covered except for their shining black eyes peering out from underneath their robes. He peeked down some of the side streets to see scantily clothed women exposing themselves to the hordes of soldiers that surrounded them. The women called to the GI’s to come watch them dance and others called out prices for their time. Then there were the children they were all small, dirty, and shoeless running around the soldiers, begging, pleading for food and cigarettes in broken English, French, and Arabic.

When he was close enough for the heard, of vermin to approach the jeep, he dropped his weapon into his lap and pointed it at them and in a loud voice, he said “Alez vous en Comparerez, Allez vous en,” the vermin backed away from the jeep only to them mob someone else.

The jeep crossed the road when they crested the hill there on the right about 200 yards ahead was their destination. He waited until there was a break in the convoy. The battalion crossed over and into their allotted spaces.

There were two rows of trucks, lined up waiting to discharge their cargo. Kovac was standing beside the road waiting for the company to arrive; he had placed a guard with each truck.

“Kovac what the…”

“Captain, as I saw it, I had to procure this crap twice, once at Jackson and once in England. I thought I would make sure I got everything the battalion needed delivered, that way I wouldn’t have to do it again. Now I can concentrate on other things, like the war. Currie smiled. “Excuse me sir, Kovac took his gold trimmed silver whistle from his pocket and blew it twice, all right you bums, let’s get these trucks unloaded.”

Currie stood beside the road leaning on his jeep, when a company arrived, they were directed to their space and told to get the trucks unloaded as soon as possible. By nightfall, First Battalion had all the tents set up, and the mess tents were set up and serving chow, while the second and third battalions were still scrambling to find their gear. Colonel Snow volunteered First battalion to feed the other battalions until their gear was found or they were resupplied.

Currie caught sight of Waite climbing over the mud wall of the building next to their area. A few minutes later Kovac Snipes and several others climbed over the wall. Currie began to walk toward the building. Kovac kicked a door down and he and Snipes emerged from the building. “Captain, I think you should see this, it might be of some value.” Currie followed Kovac through the old garage the building was intact except for a few holes in the roof leading to a larger lot behind it. “We have found our transportation,” he said, swinging his arm in a wide arc.

“All I see here Top is a bunch of junk. What are you talking about?”

“Come over here on the double Corporal Waite. Tell the captain what you told me.”

“Sir, over there are several Opel trucks and there are some Renaults, but on the back row there are six Chevrolet 30cwt trucks, the bodies, beds, and chassis are in excellent shape and over in the corner is a French ½ track.”

“All I see Corporal Waite is junk, they have no wheels, no engines, transmissions, or radiators, Hell man they have been stripped, they don’t have front and rear axles.”

“Plymouth, Fort Jackson, Sir all I had to work with was a body shell the rest was worn out and I replaced the drive train the suspension I rebuilt it.”

“Where would you get parts the local auto parts house is 6000 miles away.”

“Sir, right over the hill on the outskirts of town, is the motor pool and in their yard are several wrecked trucks. The deuce and a half were designed by General Motors, the engine is a Chevrolet 300 cubic inch straight six, and the transmission is a standard GM 3-speed with a granny are Chevrolet truck parts they will drop right in and with a minimal amount of work. We can get all the parts from those wrecked ones and bolt them on, the wiring is easy the gauges all we need are four gauges an oil-pressure, water-temp, generator, and gas-gauge. We really don’t need an odometer or speedometer.”

“What would you need to get started?” and how long

“I have the tools I would need a welder and a cutting torch and the parts the first one about a week maybe two.”

“I can get the wrecks here, and I’m sure Snipes can pick up the welder and the torch,” Kovac said.

Currie shook his head, “Only wrecks no usable vehicles. What would you do with this?”

Sir, the ½ track caught fire and burnt up the front end, the French have used the Ford Flathead in their stuff for years, and I would just swap it out with and engine transmission from something like a staff car.”

“How many?” Currie asked.

“How many, what sir?”

“How many men would you need to make this happen?” Currie asked.

“About eight to ten men would work well.”

Currie looked at Kovac, “Borrow the tools and the welder. I don’t want you cutthroats, stealing anything, you drag it here, if it runs and you drive it here it isn’t a wreck, do you understand, it has to be physically damaged, a wreck and post the property I don’t want the curious gawking about.”

Currie drew a jeep from the motor pool; he almost had to sign over his first-born son to the motor sergeant, only to see Snipes leaving in a command car filled with materials and equipment. “Next time I’ll have Snipes pick up what I need,” Currie mumbled. He saw the wrecks on his way back to the company.

The engine on the jeep hadn’t sputtered to a stop when Kovac came running up “Captain I need to borrow your jeep for a few minutes. I have to get snipes pack to the motor pool.”

Snipes was sitting in the command car; Currie saw the White star on the plates. “Take the jeep, get Snipes back, and damn it, leave the general’s equipment alone. Kovac you hear me.”

“Yes Sir, leave the generals equipment alone, Yes Sir.” He signaled Snipes to go, Kovac pulled out behind him. Currie stood there and just shook his head he turned and slowly walked to his tent.

The Regiment sat idle for the next two weeks. Currie went to staff meetings every day, and every day they were given orders only to have those orders countermanded for one reason or another. However, the two weeks they were idle, Waite and his crew of mechanics rebuilt three of the 30 cwt and two more were nearing completion. The ½-track required more work than was first thought, but Waite would not stop, he was going to Give Currie his very own personal ½-track come hell, the Germans or high water.

The trucks were painted OD Green and made to look like they were issued to the company. They were quite unique the heavy-duty axles and wheels on the lightweight bodies. The oversized engines designed to propel a truck that weighed 3 times as much as these weighed were stuffed under the hood guaranteed them an abundance of power.

Waite was the first to test the ½-track he pulled up to the front of the unit before heading down the road. He saw Captain Currie and pulled the ½ track up beside him. He motioned for Currie to climb in. Currie climbed up on the running board, the noise from the engine drowned out what Waite was saying, but his gestures were clear enough he wanted Currie to go with him for a ride, Currie opened the door and took a seat. Waite sat down double clutched the clutch pulled the gear shift and locked it in low, and let off the clutch he shifted the gears and the/2 track accelerated down the road the speedometer wound up to 40 km and kept going until the needle was bouncing on the peg. The track was in third gear and was at full speed they were doing about 50 miles an hour. He let off the pedal and pressed the brake pedal hard the track slid to a stop on the hard-packed dirt road Waite turned it off jumped out raised the hood looked around then dropped it. He crawled under the track and emerged out the other side; he climbed up on the running board next to Currie. “It’s all yours Captain take us home.”

Currie slid over behind the wheel and fired the ½-track up he pulled it into first gear and roared back to the unit. “Corporal Waite you need to connect the muffler and try to make this as quiet as those Chevy’s are.”

“I can make it quiet, but those tracks will always be noisy.”

“Do your best I’m sure I will be satisfied with what you do to this one.”

Currie watched the ½ track around the corner and back into the garage.

“Captain Currie, Battalion wants you at Regiment ASAP.” Gleason said.

“Damn-it what now,” Currie said grabbing his helmet, “Get my jeep.” Gleason pulled the jeep up in front of Currie’s tent, Meyers was already in the rear seat Currie piled in the front seat.” Let’s go Sergeant.”

After Dropping Meyers and Currie at Battalion Gleason drove to supply, he saw his buddy Crockett “Hey what’s going on are you moving.”

“Gleason, how the hell are you?”

“Crockett what’s going on?”

“You won’t tell, I get my ass chewed good if…”

“Have I ever let you down, you know me better than that, now let’s have it.”

“We are going to move closer to the line Intel has the Italians and Germans moving east and south of us, we are going to cut them off.”

“How long… before we bug out.”

“Maybe 24 hours, maybe less I don’t know I was told to get it packed today.”

Thanks Crockett I owe you; I owe you big time,”

“Yea, yea, yea, say that when I get court martialed “

Gleason jumped in the jeep and headed directly back to the company he pulled up to the garage and blew the horn, Kovac where the hell is Kovac I need him now.”

“Hold your horses Gleason I’ll go get him, he’s out back.”

Gleason jumped out of the truck and bowled over Thompson.

“Hey asshole, watch what you are doing,” Thompson hollered.

“Kovac” Gleason yelled as he ran to the back of the garage.

“Hold your water, Gleason I’m here.”

“Kovac, we are bugging out, heading south to cut off the Italians and Germans.”

“Where did you hear this?”

“I heard it from Crockett he was loading his files and getting ready to head south to set up a new dump closer to the front, Look Top he has never steered us wrong and he’s always been right.”

“You’re right Gleason, he has never steered us wrong. Sergeant Warren pass the word, all NCO’s here, now, hubba-hubba.”

“You get back to battalion now wait for Currie,” Kovac said pointing to Gleason.

The NCO’s assembled in the garage, Kovac told them to pack quietly, try not draw any attention, load the 30cwt’s and get everyone prepared to move out, get the ammo and rations and have it ready to pass out I want to be ready to move out in 2 hours.

“Waite make sure your stuff runs, and make sure you have plenty of spares. Load those water cans on the trailers and make sure the tanker is full.”

“OK, let’s go let’s get it done.”

“Top, the last truck I have maybe a day left to finish what do I do with it?”

“Keep working on it, if you finish it, we’ll take it if not we’ll burn it!”

“Ok Top. Will do.”

“Let get this truck finished, we have worked too hard just to sit and watch it go up in smoke now let’s do it.”

Gleason pulled up under a palm tree at regimental HQ and waited. He thought about what was supposed to happen he sure hoped his bubby Crockett was right, he had never been wrong before. Currie and Meyers walked out of Regimental HQ and Meyers whistled to Gleason. Gleason started the jeep and pulled it over to pick them up Currie gave the sign he would extend his finger, circle it, and then point, and Gleason would go in that direction.

Neither Meyers nor Currie spoke at all until they had arrived back at the company. “Gleason round up Copeland, Rawls, and Evans, briefing my office in 10 minutes and have Top and the senior NCO’s stand by.”

Gleason took off Making the rounds he stopped first at the garage Kovac was there along with several other sergeants Gleason gave them the thumbs up sign. “Stand by the CO wants to see the LT’s first.” Gleason rounded up the LT’s and told them the CO wanted to see them ASAP.

The Engine rumbled to life behind the sergeants. Kovac turned to look Waite held his hands up and smiled and then turned the engine off. “Give me 6 hours Top and you’ll have your fifth. Come on you bums let get it done you men bolt the fenders and radiator cowl on you guys get the doors, then the tires I’ll finish up the wiring. Waite disappeared into the Cab.

“Hey, Top Currie, wants you and the Platoon sergeants ASAP his tent.”

“Come on let’s go find out where we are going.”  Kovac and the others walked into Curries tent spread out on the table was a map and several lines drawn in heavy red and black lines.

“OK, we are in the big show, this is where we are going, and then to these crossroads to block an enemy end run. We will be supported by a tank brigade and Artillery they will follow us up to the Plateau. The trucks will be here to pack us out at 0500 and we will pull out at 1000 hours.”

“Sir we have the fifth 30cwt ready to go, we will have what we need of our equipment loaded in an hour we will break down the company area and load it on the 6X6’s by 0600 and be ready to bug out by 0700 if the transports are here to get us.”

“Kovac how did you know we were going to deploy?”

“Sir, A little bird told me.”

“Those trucks, how are they?”

“Those trucks have almost new heavy-duty suspension, drivelines, engines and the Chassis are in excellent condition the bodies with the new paint look like new trucks. I think they are better than issue and I trust the men who built them and sir they are Chevy’s what more could you want.”

“Ok, Let’s get down to business we are going to head south and cut the road here we’ll  take this camel trail up to the top of the plateau then head across country about 25 miles  to a lovely little spot called Sidi bel Abbe’s where we will spread a little good will then be off to the crossroads. The brass figure if we go across country, we will be less likely to run into enemy patrols. We will secure the crossroads and hold it. Division says there are some reinforced enemy patrols in the area. The Foreign Legion trained the Goumiers they are mercenaries, for the Italians and Germans now and are considered hostile. They know the desert, they would rather hide or runaway during the day, and fight at night. They are considered to very good with their knives.”

The men were busy packing the essentials and spares. The only other companies to have their own transports were the Motor Poole Currie had the advantage of being able to carry more into battle than any of the other companies could.

Sunrise came sooner than anyone wanted. Kovac walked the Company area. He kicked the tent, “drop your cocks grab your socks, we have places to go and people to see.”

Gleason packed his gas stove, the coffee pots, extra water cans and the blue enameled cups from Fort Jackson aboard the truck.

The flooring and the cots were stacked, the tents began to fall the tent pegs pulled and bundled the tent pole disassembled and then tent was folded and tied and stacked on top of the flooring and cots. The last tent to go was the mess tent; the men were fed their last hot meal they would have today and quite possibly for a long time.

Soon the whole area was flattened; all that was left were the slit trench covers and the officer’s latrine.

The 5-ton trucks arrived, the tents were, loaded six men followed the truck, and they would grab a tent, carry it to the tailgate, and throw it on. Three men on the truck would roll it to the front of the bed. The next truck picked up the cot and the last truck picked up the flooring and the coal-burning stoves.

The Company was ready to move out; they had checked their radios and other Comm. Gear. Everything was in order they sat on the trucks and the ground waiting for the word to come to move out. At 1000 hours precisely the word came down to move out Currie stood up on the running board circled his hand, “Mount up, and move out,” he said climbing into the ½ -track. Currie and his men moved out.

The ground began to rise, Currie pulled off the road and followed the camel path, the ground rose 7000 feet in 30 miles and ended on a great plateau that was 150 miles wide and 2000 miles long it stretch from Marrakech in the west to Tunis in the east. The convoy slowly made their way up the path. The camel path was littered with rocks from the size of footballs to boulders some were pushed off the path with the ½ track. The ditches turned into gullies and the gullies turned into ravines, while the camel path twisted around on itself then to switch back and forth. It was a long slow process climbing to the top of the plateau.

Currie was amazed that the ½ track and the 30 cwt’s were so nimble they easily out maneuvered the jeeps. The 6X6’s and deuce and a ½’s were having a terrible time climbing the camel path. When the last truck heaved itself onto the flat-topped plateau it had taken them nearly 5 hours to reach the top.

For the next 150 miles, there was nothing but scrub grass and small clumps of bushes. Currie stood on the edge of the plateau behind him was the sea and Oran, and before him laid the desert and the enemy. He wondered which one would kill them first the Germans or the Sahara.

Currie scanned the horizon about two miles away was a dust trail. He called down to have Jones come up. He showed Jones the dust trail and told to take a squad with him to check out the left flank.

Currie held the company up and had them check out the equipment, while Jones was checking out the flank. The radio crackled, White Rook this is White Pawn 6 do you copy, White Rook, this is White Pawn 6, and do you copy.

White Pawn 6 this is White Rook, Go Ahead.

White Rook, there were 30 to 40 camels and horses and 2 vehicles here not more than an hour ago, over.

Roger, White Pawn 6, Maintain your position we will join you. White Rook, Out. Currie dropped the handset into the radio bag.

“Mount up, move out” Currie yelled, “Let’s go pick up Jones. “Let’s go Corporal.”

Waite started the track and started it moving he ran over the small bushes and clumps of grass and dodged the larger ones. Jones and his men were sitting near the rim of the plateau he was chewing on a piece of grass. He stood up when Currie approached, “Over here Captain,”

Currie walked to where Jones stood, “4 of them laid here watching us they were here the whole time we were climbing up that camel trail.” He took his bayonet and used it to uncover a pile of cigarette butts. “You can see where their knees and toes were two wore boots and the other two wore sandals. Back over there the rest of them were over there, there are the remains of two small camel dung fires, probably used to heat their tea or coffee. When we reached the top, they took off heading south.”

“Ok let’s give them a follow, since they are going the same way we are what could it hurt, besides the Arabs don’t use automobiles so some of them have to be either Italians or Germans. Good job Jones.”

“Move out. “Currie said. “Ok now what would I do, if I were them, hmmm I would send a couple of men to the right flank and two to the left and have them shadow us till we stopped and then send a runner to the main group and tell them where we were.” He thought to himself. Currie began to scan the horizon; he took interest in the larger clumps of bushes and grass and the boulders.

“Yes, you bastards, I know you are out there just show yourselves, just one time, Currie pulled himself up and stood in the seat he could about everywhere and everywhere could see him.

A metallic thud was all the sound the bullet made when it bounced off the ½ tracks armor. Currie dropped to the seat; well we know they are out there let’s get them before they get too many of us. Currie called the Convoy to a halt. “Let’s go Corporal Waite, into the breach, Top, take over the 50cal, “as soon as you see them, open up.”

Kovac climbed out of his seat and took control of the 50 cal he pulled the charging handle back once then, again the metal link fell to the floor with a click. Waite shifted the track into third gear and pressed the accelerator pedal to the floor, the track picked up speed heading for the enemy and leaving a trail of dust in its wake. Kovac kicked Waite in the left shoulder and Waite swung the ½-track sharply to the left avoiding the ravine Kovac began to fire into the ravine, Waite hit the brakes and slowed the track to a crawl, The 50 cal had done its job, and dispatched the three Arabs and their camels.

Waite backed the ½ track up Currie looked down into the ravine, “You don’t think any survived, do you?”

“Sir when you hunt men with a 50 cal you don’t expect to have many survivors.”

“No, I don’t expect you would,” Currie said.

“Join the Column Corporal Waite.”

Currie sat down in the seat and lit a cigarette, “his first action, 3 camels, and 3 Arabs,” he thought.

The ½-track made a sweep up alongside the convoy waking everyone up and telling them to mount up, when they reached the front of the convoy it was already moving the ½-track took its place as the lead vehicle. Kovac hung onto the 50-cal and Currie sat in his seat smoking his cigarettes as the miles passed away. They were making good time the convoy was strung out according to plan; Waite crested to top of a small hummock and stared right into the village of Sidi bel Abbes’ they weren’t 100 yards from the archway into the village.

Within seconds, the ½-track passed through the archway and into the village. Waites stomped on the brakes and brought the Track to a halt in the piazza scattering chickens, goats, and sheep. Men and women headed for their houses, or anyplace to find safety. Kovac madly swung the 50 cal in arcs from side to side ready to fire upon the enemy.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Currie screamed out “Hold your fire. Hold your fire.”

The convoy stopped anyway it could, the trucks and men were scattered, from the archway to the hummock and then others were out in the fields turning around to join back up with the unit. It was lucky that no one was injured or that any damage had been done to the equipment.

While Currie and his men tried to untangle themselves the Arabs and their Keepers the Germans and Italians sneaked out the back door and into the desert.

“Pull it over to the fountain and park it, I don’t think we are going to surprise anyone today. Kovac find a place for the equipment and the men, we will hold up here for the night.”

Currie dismounted from the Track. He looked around, the piazza, the fountain, and a few of the buildings had Roman Architecture. Sir, I’ve checked out the village on one side is one of those Amphitheatre and on the other side is a cistern and to the south is the stockyard it is surrounded by a rock wall, plenty of room and in the center is a shed.” Kovac said.

“Move the company to the stockyard and set out your sentries and I want two men to a post no one out alone, and have my LT’s assemble on me.”

“Yes sir, Kovac said.

Thompson escorted an old Arab and 2 young boys to the stockyard. The old man was wearing a white turban and a Black Aba. A gold adorned sword hung from one side and tucked in his scarlet sash was an ivory and silver-handled knife and an antique flintlock pistol with gold and silver encrusted butt cap. He had a medium length white beard and moustache; his moustache was tinted yellow from the cigarettes he smoked. His eyes were black and cold as ice. “Bonjour ma Capitaine,” the old one said.

“Bonjour monsieur,” Currie said, “Thompson go get Meyers.”

“Yes Sir, right away Sir,” Thompson took off in search of Meyers.

The old man began to rattle off French faster than Currie could comprehend.

Currie, interrupted him, « Pardon moi monsieur parlez vous France’ un pur »

«Qui Monsieur » the Old Chief said. He pointed to an outcropping of palms and bushes and told the two boys to go spread out the carpets on the ground. He gestured to Currie to follow him and then gestured to Currie to sit. Meyers appeared from around the corner and took over the conversation. Bonjour, bonjour monsieur,” Meyers said.

Currie pulled out his cigarettes and took one out of the pack; he lit it up and then popped several cigarettes up and offered them to the old chief.

The old chief nodded and took all three of the cigarettes from the pack and put them in his Aba.

Gleason was cussing and banging around in the pack of a truck Currie called out to him to bring him a carton of Lucky’s or Chesterfields. Gleason stuck his head around the tarp that covered the bed of the truck and tossed a carton of Pall Mall to Thompson who handed them to Currie. The Chieftain stopped talking and looked at Currie and then at the cigarettes.

“There you are you son of a bitch now where is the rest of it”. Currie heard the banging and cursing come to a complete silence. Gleason emerged from the truck with his gas stove a coffee pot and a tin of coffee. “Coffee will be ready in a few minutes Captain.”

The old man stopped talking and looked at Currie “qu’est-ce c’est café?”

“He wants to know if we have coffee,” Meyers said.

“Qui café” Currie said

The old chieftain spoke to the boys they ran to the village and after a while, they came back carrying a silver tray with a bowl of sugar, some cream and three small cups.

The old man started to reach for the cigarettes, but Currie picked them up and moved them out of the old Chieftains reach before he could get them.

The smell of burning gasoline is what Currie first smelled, and that smell slowly changed over to the smell of brewing coffee. Gleason caught Currie’s eye he held up 2 cups. Currie held up three fingers. Gleason poured three cups and brought them over to where they were sitting, the chieftain took his cup and poured it into the demitasse cup and then added the sugar and the goat’s cream. Then slurping the coffee, he slurped it down in one swallow.

Currie told Meyers to ask the old chieftain about the men who left the village when they arrived.  The old chieftain began to talk in circles and talk around the question. Currie set one pack from the carton on the carpet before him. Ask him again, the old chieftain talked around the answer. “I see he wants to horse trade a little,” Currie sweetened the pot. He put another pack on top the pack in front of him. Meyers asked him again. Still the old chieftain talked around the answer, Currie laid the third pack on the other two packs. ‘Ask him again.” the man looked at them, Currie laid his hand on them. The old chieftain looked at Currie then at the cigarettes.

“Ask him again one more time,” Currie said.

Meyers ask him for the last time who left the village as they were coming in.

Again, the old Chieftain began talking in circles.

Currie picked up the packs and started to get up. The Chieftain laid his old gnarled hand on Curries and shook his head.

The chieftain told Meyers that there were 43 men, 10 from this village and the others were Goumiers, with the two Italians and the four Germans. Currie handed the man the three packs and then held up two more packs.

Now ask him if there was anything special about the Germans or the Italians.

The Old chieftain told them that the Germans were wearing black uniforms they had two S’s on their collars Currie drew the SS runes in the sand. The old man nodded and drew a skull in the sand and pointed to his turban to show the location. Nazi SS troops for sure but what did the skull signify. Currie handed the Chief the two packs and rose Meyers sat with the chieftain until all the coffee was gone and about all of Meyers, cigarettes were gone.

Currie went to the ½-track and pulled his map case he unfolded it and laid it on the hood he thought to himself “Here we are at Sidi bel Abbes. They won’t go to Saida they may scout it then either head south or southeast or linger around here and harass the regiment or us. Currie folded up the map and stuffed it back into the case. Ok, ok, where would you be, come out, come out, wherever you are. “You there, Hamilton, go find Rawls and have him report to me.”

“Where are they Charlie, I know those bastards are out there somewhere watching every move we make.”

Charlie laughed, “They aren’t out there Billy, they are right behind us in the village after we bed down, and it gets quiet, one or two will leave the town and go out there beyond that little ridge that runs around this village and meet their friends and tell them all about us.”

“Tonight, Charlie we close the back door, take two squads, and hide them in the shadows, you know the drill no one in or out. Tell our men to use the knife if necessary. No noise, tomorrow we open the door and let them go, but we will be waiting for them”

Rawls nodded, “I’ll take care of it; nothing will leave or enter the village tonight, not man or beast.”

“Walk with me Charlie,” Currie picked up his binoculars they walked to the rock wall Currie rested his elbows on a large stone and panned the horizon about ¼ mile out was a small hummock that encircled the town. “You’re right Charlie they are out there somewhere behind that hummock.”

The double sentries and the roving patrols and the 2 dozen men that were hidden made sure that nothing left or entered the village if they came in, they had to fly in or tunnel their way into the village.

Currie finished his coffee and finished writing the letter to his dad, He wrote in the final line of the letter, “I have the feeling that today will be the last peaceful sunrise I will see for quite some time.” He folded the letter carefully and tucked it in his leather-bound notebook.

To the East the sun appeared as a bright orange ball, just sitting on the horizon.

“Kovac Mount them up” Currie called out, he sat in the seat of the ½-track, Gleason threw his pack, a sack and his gas stove and the coffee pot in the track. “There’s only one man in this outfit that enjoys my coffee as much as I do and that is you, Captain.” Gleason smiled and hunkered down into the seat.

“Wind her up and move her out,” Corporal Waite.

Kovac stood holding onto the 50 cal machine gun. Waite began to move. Kovac circled his arm and then threw it in a forward motion and the company was on the move.

The sun was high in the sky, the temperatures had climbed to the one hundred mark, and the steel of the ½ track must have been 150 degrees fahrenheit. The day was quiet, and the terrain though level became sandier and rockier. The rocks became bigger and the edges sharper as the day wore on, the column slowed down to a crawl they followed the 2 foot wide camel trail the land was dished out the area was known as Chott ech Chergui, a dry lake bed and from here the crossroads were 10 miles away.

The tire-punishing trek took 2 hours; Currie stopped the company about 500 yards away from the roads. He sent two squads out, one squad would head for the north-south road the other would head for the west-east road and check them.

Snipes and his squad covered the ground to the north-south road they worked their way to the road and then using whatever cover they could they worked their way to where the roads crossed, they saw nothing, and nothing seemed out-of-place. Snipes radioed back to the company,

Jones and his squad traveled south to intersect the west east road they arrived in time to see 4 men covering the mines they had laid in the road. Jones had his men take aim and on his count they would all fire at once, he gave the signal the four men on the road fell where they stood. His squad moved out to the road and as they did, they heard a truck heading off into the desert.

Jones called Currie on the radio and told him about the mines and the four dead men they were not wearing German or Italian uniforms.

Currie had the company move up to the road; Rawls took four men with him to dig up the mines. They found them on all the roads leading to the intersection.

Currie set up sentries and dug his men in to seal off the intersection.