The men sat back one by one away from the table. The clatter of knives and forks had ended, Currie slid his plate forward on the table pulled the napkin from his lap, wiped his mouth and hand and laid the napkin over the picked clean remains of 2 one-inch thick T-bone steaks and the hulled out skins of baked potatoes. “Damn fine meal. Do I want to know how we came upon the T-Bone steaks and potatoes like these?”
Rawls set his glass down, “I am afraid they sort of fell into one of our trucks by mistake and if we would have found out where to return them, we would have, but we couldn’t. “We just had to eat them before they went bad; so, the company bit the bullet and pitched in, we wouldn’t want to have let them go to waste.”
Currie looked around, so about how much of this meat was lying around Walsh said. Well sir, we figure about a ton sir, give, or take a few pounds.
“Would I be off base if I said we owe this great fortune to a pair of Sergeants,” Currie smiled. Well sir, it just so happened that Sergeant Shapiro and Sergeant Snipes were in the truck said Rawls. “Funny,” Currie said. Somehow, I thought they might be associated with this in some way, you did lecture them on keeping a better watch over their vehicle, and we wouldn’t want just anything being thrown in our trucks. Currie began laughing. “So, you guys have been eating well. What else is new?” said Currie.
A buck Sergeant came through the door carrying a pot of coffee and several cups on a tray, he sat the tray down, poured, and served the men. Currie looked at him; you’re new here, “yes sir, Sergeant Sanchez, cook sir.” Currie sipped the coffee, “Good coffee Sanchez,” Sanchez smile, “yes sir, thank you sir.” Tastes like Gleason’s coffee. Rawls said, “it should Gleason told him how to make it, told him if he varied it one iota, he would take him out and shoot him, then and only then did he give me the pot and told him to use it. Currie laughed again, “good old Gleason.”
“Now let’s get to it, bring me up to date.” Currie looked at them and then at Meyers.
Meyers started it off telling him all he could about the situation at headquarters, who was what and who was who.
“I wanted you guys to know first, Stroh put me in for promotion and it came through, next week, Monday, I am being promoted to Major.”
“Goddamn good deal,” Currie said, “Congratulations; if anyone deserves it, you do.” Rawls and Walsh slapped his back. Currie sat back down, “well boys now we have a Major and General on our side; what could be better. Currie finished his coffee and poured another cup.
“On that note gentlemen I am going to retire, Billy, I will pick you up tomorrow at 0730 hours; we will see the General at 0800 hours.”
“I’ll be ready, goodnight Mike.”
“Good night gentlemen,” Mike said.
Currie leaned forward resting his elbow on the table, “report,”
Walsh reached up and pulled at the knot on his tie, Rawls shifted and sat back in his chair. Sanchez cleared the table and left the tent, leaving a full pot of coffee on a warmer. Walsh and Rawls reported everything that they had done and everything anyone else had done.
Rawls told Currie how he, Shapiro, and Snipes would comb; the replacement depot and the hospitals looking for likely candidates to fill the ranks, they had 84 people, two complete platoons. They could field three fully manned patrols if necessary.
The coffee was gone, the ashtray had been emptied too many times to count, and Rawls and Walsh were still giving details of what had been accomplished in the three weeks Currie had been in the field.
Currie nodded, wadded up the empty pack of Camels, and rolled the package across the table, “thank you,” Currie said. “You have done a great job,” he stood, “and now gentlemen I am going to hit the sack.”
Rawls and Walsh followed Currie to the door; Rawls stepped out of the tent into the twilight.
“Good night gentlemen,” Currie said, and he turned and walked to his tent.
Currie sat on the chair next to his cot he untied and loosened the laces to his boots and pulled them off, he pulled off his tie and threw it on the table. Currie stood stretched and then lay down on his cot; he was asleep by the time he had pulled the blanket over himself.
Currie awoke at 0600, by the smell of coffee and the clunk and squeak of combat boots on the wooden floor. Currie sat up, a pot of coffee was on the table, and he picked up the coffee cup took a sip and slumped back on his cot. After he drank 2 cups, he moved about the tent trying to loosen up. Currie dressed, drank coffee, and smoked cigarettes until Meyers knocked on his tent flap. Currie and Meyers walked the short way to his jeep and then left the Company area and headed to the General’s office.
The meeting with the General was brief. Currie had been given new marching orders; in three days, he would proceed to the Gafsa area to collect Intel and harass the enemy. Currie returned to the Company from the General’s office where he found Rawls and Walsh talking to a tall redheaded second Lieutenant. Currie walked up, “gentlemen, how goes it?”
“Just fine Captain, just fine,” Walsh said rising from the chair behind a desk.
“Captain, may I have a word with you.”
Currie nodded, he and Walsh left the tent and went to the mess tent that was empty. “What goes on Brad,” he said.
“That is Higgins, he’s been in the hospital and now at the replacement depot; he has ranger training and he is interested in the outfit,” Walsh said enthusiastically.
“Ask yourself this question, Currie started out,” why Darby doesn’t take him back, or why he hasn’t been reassigned already,”
“Drunk, fighting, piss poor attitude, he is of Irish extraction and 6’ 8” inches tall, uglier than homemade sin, the poor bastard needs a home like the rest of us bastards do.”
Currie pulled out a cigarette, Walsh’s lighter flared; Currie sucked in a lung full of smoke then blew it out in a jet. “Ok Walsh you’re a pretty good judge of men, we will see; he is your bailiwick, he stays here until we know him a lot better and assign Shapiro no Snipes to him. Send Snipes to me. Get Gleason to do the paperwork and get it to Meyers for signatures. We will have a briefing later today.”
Walsh and Currie walked back to the command tent. “As you were,” Currie said as he entered. Lieutenant Higgins welcome to Able Co; you will be 3rd platoon leader; however, we don’t have the men for a 3rd platoon, you’ll assist Rawls here for now,” Currie said looking up at Higgins.
Snipes came in the door to the tent.
“Gentlemen excuse me a minute,” he passed Snipes, “let’s walk.” Snipes fell in behind Currie, “ok this is the deal, new lieutenant, and I am going to assign you as his platoon Sergeant. Watch him, you will be his guardian angel, I want to know everything he does, where he goes, who he talks too, if he is a plant, I want to know it, he is a Ranger, so watch yourself.”
Snipes looked at him, “how far can I go?”
“You can’t kill him,” Currie said, “come on.”
Snipes followed Currie back to the tent. “Higgins,” Currie said. Higgins stood up.
Snipes looked at him, “god damn Captain, he is ugly, look at that S-O-B would you,” Snipes said under his breath.
“Higgins, this is Snipes; he will be your platoon Sergeant, he is a lifer, a good man, pay attention to what he says; I learned a lot from the man, you will too. The Sergeant will show you around.”
“Yes, sir Captain,” Snipes said, “after you LT.”
“Come on Sergeant,” Higgins said.
Currie motioned Rawls over to where he and Walsh stood. He moved behind his desk and sat, “you told me last night that we could field 3 patrols, all made up of original men except the 2-gun crews.”
“One gun, crew sir,” Charlie broke in, “there were men in Walsh’s platoon that took right to it, so that’s only 4 new men, they will do ok, they all hate the Nazi’s as much as we do, there whole company was wiped out, those four are the only survivors.”
“You trust them?”
“I do,” Rawls said.
“I’ll lead First platoon. Brad, you lead second. Rawls lead third. Higgins stays here to mind the store.”
“We are going out in force; we will split up when we get to our area of operation, and set up a base, then venture out. We won’t do any daytime operations. Jeeps, three deuce and a ½’s with two-ton trailers, the 30cwt Chevy, supplies for 54 men and fuel for 500 miles, we will take one of the Kubelwagens with us; let’s get to it. We will pull out 2 days from now at 0600, remember double check everything. No Screw Ups!” Rawls and Walsh filed out of the tent. “Gleason!” Currie bellowed,
Gleason came trotting in the door, “you call sir,
“Coffee a full pot and a carton of butts.”
I’ll tell Sanchez, coffee I’ll get you Camels.”
“NO! Gleason, I want you to fix the coffee, I want good coffee!”
“Yes sir,” Gleason said smiling, “yes sir, right away sir,” Gleason trotted out the door.
Currie picked up a stack of papers off his desk; he straightened the pile, then settled back in his chair and began reading them. AAR’s requisition forms, personnel forms allotment forms he read, he initialed, he signed he made a few corrections and when he was done, he would place the papers in the right pile, file copy, headquarters and the file he liked the best, the trash file. The army thrived, breathed, and lived and died on paperwork, it has been said, if a soldier had the right forms and paperwork, he could requisition the world, and supply would deliver it, and in the case the forms weren’t available, supply would have someone like Kovac and Snipes deliver it anyway.
Currie slashed and hacked his way through the paperwork, cigarettes butts and empty packs began to pile up on one side of his desk; the pots of coffee was replaced as quickly as they were emptied. Currie was convinced that the caffeine in the coffee drove the nicotine out of his body, and he had to replenish both as often as necessary to keep it all balanced and his system in good working order.
Currie had finished the second foot high pile of papers. Higgins came in the tent. “John” Currie said, and motioned him over. “Have a seat,” Currie pointed to a seat next to his desk. Currie was looking up at the man even though he was seated at his desk. Currie leaned back in his chair to lessen the strain on his neck.
Higgins chuckled; “Captain Sir, Colonel Darby had the same problem, neck strain anytime I was around.”
Currie smiled, “I am either going to get a neck brace or cut you off at the knees. Now I don’t have your jacket, tell me what it would say; what did your superiors say about you.”
“Oh that,” Higgins said, “Captain, I drink, I get drunk, I get sort of surly, I fight, and I don’t take any crap. I had excellent marks in Ranger school I’m an expert marksman. I like to be on the edge, maybe too much on the edge, but that is where I like it.” Higgins told Currie about College, USC Basketball, and R.O.T.C. and then he stopped and looked at Currie, “I will make you a promise you shoot square with me, I’ll shoot square with you.”
Currie sat up at his desk he was kind of smiling, well grinning at him.
“If you wish, I will go pack my gear and head back to the depot.”
“Why would I want that,” Currie asked, “I haven’t fully made up my mind, but I haven’t given you a shot at it either. Just wouldn’t be sporting now would it, Mr. Higgins. The proof will be in your actions and deeds, not what is written in your jacket.”
“You will be in charge when we go out in a few days, your first test, and by the way one of many to come; you know Meyers at headquarters, he will sign any necessary requisitions needed or give you any help you need. Sergeant Snipes is a very experienced and competent man, value his advice, he knows the men here, he knows my likes and dislikes, he will help you if you let him and he will not steer you wrong. He is smart, devious, and shrewd; he can be a damn good asset to you or one hell of a liability. I will tell you this; he is a damned good asset to the company. He is especially good at procurement and other things.”
Now Higgins was smiling, “a man after my own heart,” he said to himself.
The field phone beside Currie’s desk rang. Currie reached in the canvas bag and pulled the handset out, “Currie nonchalantly dismissed Higgins. Currie waited till Higgins had left, “yeah Gleason, yeah, tell him I’ll be right out,” Currie walked to the front of the unit, Meyers was ready “no time to lose ole boy, no time to lose, the general awaits,”
The general, what gives?”
“The general told me to come get you, so here I am, and I got you.” Meyers whipped the jeep through the traffic like a madman.
Currie waited in the conference room until General Stroh and his staff came in. He shook each man’s hand and gathered around a large canvas covered board on an easel. Meyers flipped the canvas cover back, revealing a map. Currie saw it was southern Tunisia to the coast. “Captain,” Stroh said. “We briefed you the other day, those orders have not changed, we need you to go as deep as you can,” he pointed to Gafsa and El Hama. “We need to know what Rommel is planning and we need to know in a hurry.” General Stroh turned the meeting over to his S2 then he concluded, “I want you rolling through the desert by tomorrow morning.”
Currie looked at his watch 16 hours he thought. “Yes sir, we will be on our way by 0600,” he said.
“Good man, good luck Currie.”
“Thank you General.” Currie saluted and excused himself. Currie picked up the maps, S-2 had brought for him and headed to the door.
Meyers caught Currie on his way down the steps to where the jeep was parked. Meyers jumped in the jeep behind the steering wheel, “anything you need I can help with.”
“Yeah, keep a watch on Higgins while we’re out; don’t let him give the store away.”
“No problem there, what I meant was, in the next 16 hours.”
“We have that covered, but thanks anyway, what you can do is start the jeep.”
” Oh, yeah,” Meyers started the jeep and drove Currie back to the Company area.
Currie stepped out of the jeep, thanked Meyers, and trotted off to disappearing between the tents. “Kovac, company briefing in 10 minutes in the mess tent round everybody up.”
“Yes sir,” Kovac said. Kovac walked from one end of the unit to the other checking each tent, each truck, each hiding place, rousting the troops, “assembly in 5 minutes in the mess tent. Now move it.” Kovac trotted into the tent, he was the last one to arrive.
“Our timetable has been advanced by 24 hours, we pull out at 0600 tomorrow morning, I want to be ready to pull out, no excuses, I want three weeks rations, and 750 miles worth of fuel our area has been expanded. Let’s get to it, shake a leg.”
Rawls came forward; he had his clipboard. “Captain Currie,” he waited until Currie gave him his attention and held up the board to show Currie the figures he had jotted down.
“Three weeks rations, water, fuel, about 24 tons of supplies. It will be tight for the first week or so, but we will be ok after that,” Rawls spoke quietly.
“Pile it high, lash it down tight, and tell the men to hang on, it might be a roller coaster ride, but we will do it.”
“Yes Sir,” Rawls said taking his clipboard back into his hand. Rawls flipped the page up and began to add the additional supplies to this list.
Currie walked around until late watching the progress of the load. Currie smoked his last cigarette at 2300 hours. Within a few minutes after lying down, he was deep asleep.
0400 hours came too early. Currie rolled out of the cot, dressed, and made his way to the mess tent, Sanchez had just set a plate piled high with steaks on the counter, Currie picked up a tray, fork, and a knife; and then he stabbed one of the steaks.
“Eggs Captain, how many and how fixed,
“Over easy” Currie heard himself say.
Sanchez took his tray and piled a ½ dozen eggs with runny yolk on it and a whopping spoonful of grits, then he handed it back to Currie, “there you go Captain, eat hearty.” Currie looked down at his tray, the eggs with their runny yolks covered the steak, and all of that seemed to float in a sea of grits colored yellow with butter. Thanks, Sanchez he said as he walked to the table. He slid the tray on the table then sat down. On the table sat a bowl of bread, a stack of cups and a pot of coffee. Currie grabbed a cup, poured the coffee, and began eating, despite the looks of the food all piled together. The food was good, well, – damned good and it was hot. Before Currie knew it, he was sopping the last bit of grits, yolks, and steak juice from his tray.
Currie sat back in his chair, he could not remember what he had eaten so much and still felt good, and He rubbed his belly.
“You want another steak Captain,” Sanchez yelled across the tent. Currie waved his hand, “I am full, thanks Sanchez.” Rawls, Walsh, and Higgins walked through the door gathered up their tray and utensils. Currie watched Sanchez fill their trays, steak, eggs, grits; the three of them walked towards Currie’s table.
“Morning Captain,” Rawls said grabbing a chair pushing it to the table and sitting down. Currie filled his coffee cup. Rawls, Walsh, and Higgins settled in around him at the table. There was clamor of utensils against the metal tray, he listened to the men eat, the smacks, the slurps and the gulps among the little clicks and clacks of the forks and knives.
“How do we stand,” Currie asked quietly.
“Were ready Captain, Kovac and Shapiro are making the final checks, checking the knots,” Brad said, between bites of food.
“Good job men, I’ll be outside, finish your breakfast and enjoy it.” Currie got up took his tray to the slop sink and dropped it in.
Outside the tent, Currie lit a Camel and walked over two rows of tents to where the men were loading the trucks. Currie walked pass the three jeeps all loaded and squared away. Next were the three ½ tracks. The first had its powerful 37mm gun that was covered with a fitted tarp. Currie climbed up on the side, he looked in, all the gear was tied to the sides and stuffed under the benches, the back area was cleared for action, holding in the side top rail and walking back on the track checking shaking wiggling items, he found them all tied down, strapped tightly into place.
Each ½ track pulled a large two ton, 2-wheel trailer; the trailers were covered by a tarp. The hood on the last ½ track was open. Shapiro pulled his upper body out of the hole, he wiped the grease on his hands on a rag, “ok son, button her up,” Shapiro said to a private.
“Problem here Shapiro,” Currie said peering into the engine compartment.
“No sir, double checking oil, water levels, and belts before we pull out.”
“Good man,” Currie said.
“Thank you, sir.”
Currie saw the white chalk marks on the tires and on the door of the trucks, which Shapiro had checked.
Next in line were the four Chevy 30-cwts. Currie walked around the two tons they were loaded to the gills, boxes, crates, Gerry cans, sacks all stacked in and tied down; he saw Kovac jump; down from the last truck, then he crawled under it, ½ his body lay outside the wheel base, the rest of him under the truck. Currie waited for Kovac to crawl out. What is the word Top? Trucks loaded, inspected twice, 3 weeks for 50 men, 750 miles and a little extra, the men are at chow. You say the word we’re ready to jump off when you are.
“Thanks Top.” Currie turned to the sound of a hood slamming. Shapiro appeared at the front of the truck; he gave them the thumbs up. Currie nodded to him.
“Top, we pull out at 0600 hours, have the men mounted up by 0545.” “
Yes sir,” come on Bernie, there are a couple of steaks waiting for us,” Kovac said.
Shapiro grinned, “Yeah let’s go, I could eat the whole damned cow about now.”
Currie walked slowly along the line of vehicles, he lit his cigarette and listened to the men laughing and talking eating their breakfast. For some he thought it might be their last good meal, he shook his head; his thought drowned out the voices of his men. He returned to his tent, packed his ditty bag and his pack, strapped on his web gear the he picked up the scoped 1903A4 Springfield, loosed the sling and hung the rifle over his shoulder. He stuffed a few extra cartons of cigarettes and matches in his pack, and then looked around the tent. He picked up his ditty bag and pack, walked out of the tent, and headed to his jeep to stow his gear.
Currie heard the rattle of the German Kubelwagen as Petry pulled it up to the head of the convoy. The German car had been painted army Olive Drab Green with the white star on the hood and doors. The Kubelwagen was now official U.S. Army property; he wished it was still in German colors and insignias. Currie sat down in the lead jeep after stowing his gear. He looked at his watch 0530 he turned from time to time to look down the column lines of vehicles, men began to form up and by 0545, and the men were mounted in their vehicles. Rawls appeared from one side of the convoy line with Kovac behind him and Walsh was on the other side followed by Shapiro. The four men congregated around Currie. “All present and accounted for.”
“Let’s move out then,” Currie said.
Currie and Kovac took the lead Jeep, followed by Rawls and Bishop and Walsh and Shapiro would bring up the tail end. Currie gave the sign, the engines began starting, a light haze of blue smoke rose from the area, Currie gave the engines a few minutes to warm up, “let’s go Top,” Kovac pulled out on the road.
The column followed Currie’s jeep. Walsh pulled to the side and waited for all the vehicles to leave the compound before falling in behind them. Kovac headed south on the road toward Feriana and Lepta, from there the desert and to the north lie Kasserine and to the south lie Gafsa, Maknassy, El Guetar, and Semed Station. Currie headed to a position to the northeast of Gafsa on the Gafsa Sidi bou Zid road. S-2 told him the German front lines were a few miles east of the road and running in a curving wide arc to the south and east down toward El Hama and Gabes on the coast.
Currie’s unit passed through Marist’s Combat Command D a reinforced armored brigade before heading out into the desert, a veritable no man’s land. After an hour in the desert he stopped the column, he sent Petry, Savoy, and Richter out in front of the column in the Kubelwagen to scout the area. Currie would follow them in one half hour.
For two hours, Currie’s unit had crawled its way across the desert, clawing itself up one side of the sand dune only to slide uncontrollably down the other side of the sand dune. The column would reform itself then claw its way up another dune. The Kubelwagen appeared on the dune ahead and came charging at them… they met up as the last Chevy came sliding down the dune to the valley, Richter told Currie they had cut a trail of Arab horses, camels and tire tracks they had followed the tracks to an Oasis about 10 miles south and 3 dunes over. About 30 to 40 Arabs and 12 or so German’s were camped there.
Currie got out his map, Richter pointed to the approximate position. “Lead on, Richter take us to there.” Richter and Petry headed out to the south staying behind the dunes to cover the noise and the dust of the convoy, and they only crossed the dune when it was flat or had gradual slopes.
After an hour, Richter dismounted his jeep, and climbed up the dune, crawling the last 30 feet until he could look over the crest. He motioned the others to follow him. Richter stopped at the top of the third dune, he signaled Currie to come up, Currie climbed the dune and looked over the crest of the dune, below about 500 yards away were 10 Arab tents and 3 German army tents, there were about 40 to 50 camels and horses, 2 Kubelwagens and 1 Horsch medium cross country car. Currie called Rawls and Walsh up after they saw the layout. Currie left Richter on the crest and he and Rawls and Walsh slid back down the dune.
Currie split his column into three parts; Walsh would drive north and cross the dunes and head south to cut off any escape to the north and east. Rawls would drive south and cross the dunes and go up on the far side; when they were in position Currie would appear on the crest of the dune.
Currie lay on the dune, his binoculars glued to his eyes; he swept the areas to the right and left waiting for Walsh and Rawls to appear; he studied the Arabs camp and a couple of Germans could be seen and a few of the Arabs were out taking care of the camels and horses.
The oasis was maybe a hundred yards long by 50 yards wide; there were 62 date palms and other assorted bushes and grasses around a small pool of water, the pool itself was maybe 20 feet long and ½ as wide.
Richter tapped Curries shoulder and pointed to the left; Currie swung his field glasses that way and nodded. Walsh was in position. Currie slid back down the dune, “wind them up, let’s go,” Currie pulled the pin on the 30 cal machine gun; he moved it up and down and around, he pulled the charge lever back loading it.
In front of him the ½ track was slowly making its way up the dune, the ½ track reached the crest and began to sink, the sand gave way; the track plowed a path down the dune to the bottom.
Arabs and Germans appeared from their tents and as soon as they saw the Americans, they began to fire at them, the 50-caliber in the ½ track fired, the hail of fire destroyed the German vehicles and killing several Germans. The Arabs began firing, taking cover, “Rawls and Walsh began moving in and firing.”
It was over just as quick as it started. The Germans stood with their hands over their heads. The Arabs stood milling around, not believing that they too had been captured. Walsh yelled out in French demanding, the Arabs lay down their weapons, or be shot. Snotky yelled to the Germans to put their hands on their heads and come forward.
The Germans filed forward, there were six of them alive, and they were searched and led away from the Arabs.
Several shots were fired at the Arabs until they all put down their weapons. The Arabs were searched one by one and each Arab had as many as four knives hidden in their clothing.
A search of the Germans was quite easy, they stood still while being patted down and searched; however, the Arab was a different story. A simple solution was soon figured out; four men to search one Arab, two men held a wrist of the Arab. Another man held a pistol to the Arabs forehead, and the fourth man searched him. If he moved, the soldier shot him.
Captain you should see this Rawls called out waving Currie over; behind the smoking and burning cars were the bodies of three men, each man was naked, he was staked spread eagle to the ground, what the Germans and Arabs had not done to them, the sun had cooked what was left.
Curries attention was turned as he heard the screams of women. The women were dragged from the tents, there were eight of them, and they tried to run to where the men were held, but were stopped in their tracks, with a burst of machine gun fire. Walsh told the Arabs to tell the women to throw down all their weapons they carried, or they would be stripped, and their naked bodies would be seen by all men. One Arab spoke in staccato bursts of Arabic; the women began to drop knives, pistols, and hand grenades on the ground. Walsh told the Arab, all of it, the Arab yelled out more Arabic, one woman pulled a gold-handed dagger from her crotch and dropped it. The women were moved away from the men.
Search the tents, leave no stone unturned; I want the saddles and the horses and camels searched. Curries men searched the area and searched it again; they pulled back the rugs in the tents and prodded the sand with their bayonets.
The men emerged from the biggest tent carrying four decorated wooden boxes, each a little larger than a breadbox. The men set the boxes on the table; the Germans had set up at their tent. Currie opened the first box, in it was two scrolls wrapped in a red embroidered cloth, the other boxes were locked. “Open them” Kovac pulled out his bayonet slid the blade through the lock hasp, twisted; the clasp on the box twisted, and broke. Kovac flipped the hasp up and opened the box top.
The box was filled with gold sovereigns and silver coins. Currie picked up a hand full, he looked at them as they fell through his fingers, English, Spanish, and some old Roman coins.
Kovac opened the third box, Currie stirred his hand through the pile of watches and rings, Bulova, Elgin, and Rolex, but what caught his attention was a big gold class ring. Currie picked it up; it was an identical copy to the one, he wore on his finger, United States Military Academy 1934. Currie could not read the initials. “Oh Jesus Christ,” Currie heard Kovac say. Curries blood was boiling from the box of watches and rings, but the next box, a box full of ID tags both English and American along with wallets, gold teeth, scripts, and paper money. “Count them” Currie dropped the ring back in the box. Currie turned and left the table, he stepped into the Germans tent, he wanted to scream, and cry, but he couldn’t, he took a deep breath and turned stone cold.
Currie left the tent; he walked to where the three men had been staked out to die. “Macy what do you think,” he said.
“It’s simple, they were tortured then they were emasculated and were left for the sun to bake them to death, took 2 maybe 3 days – those poor S-O-B’s.” Macy said shoveling sand onto one of the dead men. “American, English or could you tell?”
“American. One had a tattoo, a heart with mom written across it.”
“Yes, I am sure.”
Currie turned to go back to the table; Rawls and Walsh were standing beside the tree next to the tent. Rawls had two ID tags in his hand, he handed them to Currie as he approached. Currie looked at Perkins and Snyder’s tags, His blood ran cold.
“It’s Payback time.”
“Kovac pass the word, these are the Arabs that skinned Perkins and Snyder,” Currie said.
Within minutes, all the men knew, and all wanted blood.
“Mr. Walsh, find out who the leader of the Arabs is and bring him to me.”
Walsh walked over to the group of Arabs and in French he asked, “Who was the leader,” a short plump Arab stood and moved to the front of the group, he spoke in English.
“I am Al Ben Muhammad Abass. I am the tribal chief of these Bedouin.
“Come with me.” Walsh led the Arab to where Currie was sitting.
Currie had the men spread out a rug, he sat on a chair, and on either side, he had arranged the four boxes, so the box with the scrolls was the first box to his right.
“Captain Currie, this is the leader of this group, Ali Ben Mohammed Abass, he speaks excellent English,” Walsh said.
“Sit Mr. Abass.”
“My pleasure, thank you Captain.” The Arab’s eyes darted to each box, then back to look Currie straight in the eye.
“My brothers and I want to thank you Captain for delivering us from the hands of these terrible men, you don’t know how much we have suffered and how many of us they have killed.”
“So, these 8 Germans have kept all 50 of you men, who were armed and shooting at us, captive and were making you do their bidding.”
“Oh, there are more than just these 8, Captain, these Germans have our families and loved ones locked up under guard, and if we fail or do not comply, they will kill them.”
“And where is this camp they are held at Mr. Abass?”
“Tozeur, really, how long has that camp been there Mr. Abass?”
“Over a year Captain, long before you Americans ever came to our homeland.”
“And you swear this to me as the truth.”
“Oh yes – Captain, a thousand truths I swear.”
Currie reached down and opened the box with the scrolls, “swear to Allah on the Koran Mr. Abass?”
“But those scrolls, are my family’s history of my family, Captain please I swear on my honor.”
“Swear on the Koran a thousand truths, this Koran,” Currie pointed to the box and scrolls.
“Captain Sir, as I said, those scrolls are just the history of my family, it is not the Koran, but I will be happy to swear on the Koran maybe you have.”
“Kovac, take those scrolls have the men urinate on them.”
“Infidel, a thousand curses upon you and all of you,” Abass screamed at Currie.
“I’ll tell you what I think Mr. Abass; the Germans here paid you with gold and silver,” Currie flipped open another box “and you and your assassins captured killed and tortured men, both the English and Americans, including two of my men.” Currie threw down Perkins and Snyder’s dog tags on the rug and kicked over the box with the tags and teeth and rings in it.
“Captain, we can do for you what we did for the Germans, we are very good at it, every man has his breaking point and all men talk; let us work for you.” We will start on those bastards, Abass pointing at the Germans. “You will know in 2 days all they know.”
Currie leaned back in his seat, “No Mr. Abass not in 2 days, 2 years; 2 million years; will you work with us. Mr. Abass you forget about the 140 Americans and English men you butchered for the Germans; this you will pay for Mr. Abass.”
“This is war Captain; we are prisoners of war; you will have to treat us as such.”
“Mr. Abass, I don’t ever recall the Bedouins of North Africa declaring war on the English or the Americans.”
“Captain, we were paid by the Germans, we fight for their side; therefore, we are Germans.”
“Mr. Abass, if that is the case, then you all are spies; you do not wear a German uniform and you will be treated as spies and murders and will be executed.”
“This is not so, we are…” cried out Abass.
“Shut up Mr. Abass, take him back to the others.”
“I protest! The Germans assured me.”
“Who is in charge of the Germans?”
“An Einrich Berzwulf, SS SturmbahnFuhrer, Toten Kopf,“ Walsh said.
“Toten Kopf, what is a Toten Kopf?”
A skull and cross bones, a deaths head, G2 says they are death squad soldiers. “It fits using these psychos to hire Arabs assassins,” Currie said shaking his head.
“Bring him here,” and get Snotky…here I am sir, Snotky said. Every word Snotky, “yes sir.”
The German stopped in front of Currie and waited for Currie to salute.
Currie looked at the Major, he was wearing his black desert tunic and pants, the collars sported the SS runes and his rank; his cap a dusty black floppy bill hat, the high front held the German eagle and below it, the ominous silver skull.
“Sit down Major,” Snotky translated the Captain’s word in German.
The major looked at Snotky with a look of contempt. “Now Major Benzwulf, let me see if I have all of this correct. You paid the Arabs to capture and interrogate British and American soldiers, and then you allowed the Arabs to torture maim and murder them.” Snotky translated.
The German major sat there like a statue, he neither spoke nor gave any indication of emotions.
“Nein Herr Captain,” Snotky began to translate, “No sir Captain, neither the German Army nor I, ever told Abass, to torture, maim, or murder anyone. We paid the Arabs like the British and the Jews for the information; how they gathered the information was up to them.”
“Then you were not here when the Arabs tortured, emasculated the three men who were staked to the ground over there and left to cook in the sun?”
“Nein Captain, we arrived too late to save them and it would have been a grave insult to the Arabs to mettle in their affairs.”
The German smiled, reached in his tunic, and pulled a pack of Lucky’s out; he lit one and blew the smoke at Currie.
“You. Smug bastard. I should shoot you right here and now.”
“Captain, the American sense of fair play and you hold the Geneva Convention so high; it would be doubtful that you would do that.”
“You are right, that is why I believe in an eye for an eye. Take the major over and strip him and stake him to the ground.”
The major stood, “you cannot do this. It is against all established acts of warfare.”
The major struggled as six soldier’s drug him off. God curse you was the last thing he yelled before someone gagged him.
Kovac came back over to Currie, “it’s done, how long, do we leave him?”
Currie looked at Kovac, Curries look told Kovac what he wanted to know. File the other Germans past their major; tell them if they do not co-operate, they will join him.
A burst of machine gun fire startled Currie, then another burst, there was screaming and yelling, then there was another burst a longer one. The machine gun stopped, all Currie could hear was the bawling of Camels and neighing of horses, men moaned, and women screamed.
“Hold your fire, hold your fire,” all clear someone yelled.
Currie scrambled to the area where the Arabs were held. Wisecarver was bent over one soldier, one other soldier was being treated by another medic, 10 or more Arabs lay dead on the sand and several camels, horses lay dying or dead, and several others were wounded.
Kovac kill those wounded animals, Currie yelled – “what happened?” They jumped Grossman and Smith and made for the horses, I had to shoot,” Jones said. Kovac shot two camels and four horses that were wounded. The Arabs were milling around. “Walsh tell them the next one that moves is a dead man, Jones if they move shoot them.” Jones put a fresh box of 30 cal on the bracket and loaded the browning.
“Walsh, order them to sit the fuck down now.” Ali Ben Mohammed Abass stood with his hands on his hips staring defiantly at Currie. Control your people or you all will die. “It is in Gods hand,” Ali called out to Currie, and then Ali yelled something in Arabic. The Arabs charged toward the horses, Jones opened fire, Kovac brought his Tommie-gun up and fired a sustained burst into the Arabs charging him, and other soldiers opened fire and the Arabs fell one after another like bowling pins until none stood. “Cease fire, cease fire,” but bullets still ripped through the Arabs bodies lying on the sand, some bodies jumping as the bullets passed through them.
“Cease fire,” Currie yelled, “Cease fire.”
Ali Ben Mohammed was kneeling; two red flowers of blood were blooming on his chest. Currie walked up to him, “Captain when you staked the German major out to die, we knew we were next, better for us to die this way, then to die a thousand deaths.” The Arab coughed up a mouthful of blood and collapsed on his face in the desert sand. Currie bolstered his pistol.
Currie looked around not one Arab was standing even the women who were segregated from the men ran to them as the shooting started, they too were among the dead and dying.
Doc shook his head, “what do I do Captain?”
“Nothing Doc, they chose death and we won’t cheat them out of it, give the ones in the most pain some morphine.”
“But Captain, for god’s sake, I can’t just do anything.” “Go take care of our wounded then,” Currie said.
The remaining Germans were paraded past the Arabs then past their major.
The spirit of the Germans was broken; the once proud men were reduced to pitiful sobbing humans.
The Germans were questioned, they answered all the questions they were asked, they even helped them to decode messages and reports. Currie listened to the Germans as they talked.
In 2 days, they were to meet a German SS Colonel, make their report and get supplies and the go back out.
Currie began to form a plan; they would meet up with the Colonel and kill him or take him prisoner.
Currie leaned up against a palm, his hand trembled as he tried to light a cigarette, a lighter flared, and Currie sucked his cigarette to life and blew out the lung full of smoke he had inhaled. Walsh lit a cigarette, they stood in the quiet, the orange sun was dropping below the dunes, and the sky looked pink against the yellow gold color of the dunes.
Walsh sniffed the air. “It has been a very unusual day, and wouldn’t you say, Captain?”
Currie said nothing; the glow from his cigarette lit the dark sockets of his eyes, the pallor of his skin that was drawn tight across his face.
“If you need me Captain, I’ll be over at the tent, I’ll have someone bring you some coffee.”
Currie stood there, transfixed watching the sun drop behind the dunes; his hand didn’t tremble as much when he lit the next cigarette. He was standing there when the chill of the night made him shiver, only then did he walk to the tent and join Rawls and Walsh as they poured over the papers they had found and the interrogations of the men.
The burial detail finished burying the Arabs where they lay, the dead animals were drug away from the oasis, the living animals were unsaddled and un-hobbled and set free. By morning, only one or two animals would be seen around the oasis. The rest would have wandered off. Currie pulled his blanket around him and nodded off to sleep.
The sun rose upon a clear morning, only a few white clouds dotted the blue sky. Currie shrugged off the blanket and stood. He stretched and twisted loosening the muscles and sinews of his body, working out the cramps and tightness that had settled over him during the night. The smell of coffee wafted past his nose, Currie turned and headed in the direction of the smell and the men’s voices. The men sat around the remains of a fire drinking coffee, he picked up a cup and held it down close to the pot, a hand by reflex poured his cup full. Thanks soldier he said standing straight and taking a sip of the strong dark brew.
“The son-of-a-bitch broke his fucking arm – can you believe it.”
Currie looked at them, “who broke his arm.”
“That fucking kraut major did, sir.”
Currie turned and headed off to where the major was staked down. The major laying in the sand, his arm twisted and broken swollen and bruised, and his body rippled with shivers every few minutes. The German rolled, and shook helplessly against the bonds that held him to the stakes. Currie squatted near his head and pulled the gag from his bloody mouth, the German screamed as Currie pulled it free. “Mien Gott, bitter, bitter,” the German cried but no tears fell from his bloodshot eyes. “Bitter, bitter he mumbled. The once proud poster boy for the Arian race, tall square jawed, light skinned, Nordic nosed, blue eyed, blond haired pride of the Germans lay naked in the sand freezing slowly to death in the 50-degree weather.
“Go get Snotky,” Currie said as he slowly drank his coffee. “Snotky front and center,” a soldier sang out. Snotky up front another soldier repeated.
Snotky trotted up to Currie, “yes sir,”
“Yes sir,” Snotky said. “Major do you understand what I am saying to you?” The German turned to look at Currie he shook his head. “I am going to give you one chance and one chance only, you have 2 choices, the German looked at him, you tell me what I want to know and you live or I’ll leave you here until you die. The Arabs say you will die a thousand times, you answer all my questions and live, or you will – die.”
The German closed his eyes and nodded his head then he said, “Ya,” in a voice that was hollow and defeated.
“Doc cut him loose, patch him up.”
Currie stood and turned his back on the sniveling crying German and walked away.
The German major wrapped in a blanket was sitting on a wooden box opposite Currie and flanked by Snotky and Walsh. The Major’s splinted and bandaged broken arm rested in his lap, which was clearly giving the major a lot of pain and it showed on his face.
“Now major, one more time; your unit is at Maknassy and your commander is one Colonel Helmet Schmetz and you’re supposed to meet up with him in Gafsa next Tuesday.
“Is that correct?”
The Major had a cigarette clutched between his two yellowed fingers, he wiped his mouth with the back of his trembling hand, and he looked at Currie through his bloodshot red eyes, which were sunken in his haggard face. “Ya Herr Hauptman,” he took a drag of his cigarette and dropped the butt into the sand at his naked feet – ya.”
No sooner than the major answered Currie’s question then Walsh would ask a question of the major. The only delay was by Snotky who translated both the questions and the answers. “Major, the code you are using is the Sichenheitsdienst code. Romeo Victor and today’s setting are Able, Able, Dog.” Walsh pointed to the codebook, he held in front of the major’s face. The major closed his eyes and nodded his head, “ya Herr Lieutenant.”
“Major you were the officer in charge in El Bayadh in late November, early December.”
“Nein, nein Herr Hauptman, Nein,” the major said.
“Who was in charge major, answer me Currie said demandingly. Snotky translated the major’s frail words,
“Captain Runditz Snelling was in command before I took over; he was promoted to Major and became commander of Einsatz Gruppen Company in Sicily.”
“What is Einsatz Gruppen?” Currie asked.
The major swallowed, he shook his head as he mumbled.
“What did he say Snotky,” Currie asked.
“As best as I can make out, a termination group.”
Currie sat back in his chair, he looked at Snotky then to Walsh and finally looked straight at the major; “you mean a death squad, don’t you, you son-of-a-bitch.”
Currie stood up took two steps and backhanded the major off the box, the major went sprawling into the sand, Walsh stood up.
“Easy Captain, take it easy he has a lot more questions to answer.”
“Your right Brad,” Currie turned and kicked his chair to one side as he stormed off. The major sat up, he pulled at the blanket, Snotky extended his hand to help the major up, and the major pulled himself up and with much distress, pulled the blanket around him. “Coffee un Cigaretten, bitter Herr Snotky,” the major squeaked out between his bloody lips.
Snotky handed the major a pack of cigarettes and some matches, “private get me a cup of coffee.”
“Yeah, for him,” Snotky said, “and don’t spit in it.” The private looked back over his shoulder at Snotky as he walked away.
The major had wasted four matches trying to light his cigarette one handed. Snotky flicked open his Zippo and thumbed the wheel, the Zippo flared up, the major covered Snotky hand to light his cigarette, the major blew out a plume of light blue smoke up into the air, “Danka, Herr sergeant, Danka.”
Snotky sat back down in his chair and lit a cigarette for himself.
“Here you go Sarge,” the private said, handing the cup to Snotky, “thanks Ben.”
Snotky handed the coffee to the major, the major fumbled his cigarette around and took the cup, he took a long slow sip, the major shivered and sloshed the hot coffee on his hand, and the German endured this added pain with only a slight grimace on his face.
“Okay major lets us begin again, you said, you were meeting Colonel Helmet Schmetz, what is the meeting to be about? Where in Gafsa is the meeting to be held, who else will be there?”
The major began answering Curries questions. On the 4th day of interrogation major Benzwulf suddenly reached up grabbed his head, he yelled, “Mein Gott, Mein Gott, before collapsing dead in a heap on the sand.
“Doc, damn-it Doc, get over here.”
Doc came running; he knelt over the German and checked for a pulse. “No pulse Captain, he is not breathing, he is dead. What happened before he collapsed?
“He grabbed his head and said my god the pain must have been intense he like had a seizure got all stiff then fell over.”
Doc looked at him, his eyes, ears, “could have been a massive stroke, blood clot from his arm maybe, I don’t know Captain, I just don’t know.”
Get him buried and mark the grave; Currie closed his notebook and put the cap on his pen.