Meyers knocked on the ornate oak doors and pushed it open wide enough to stick his head in between the doors.
“Come in Captain; is that Currie lad with you?”
“Yes sir,” Meyers opened the door and stepped into the room, Currie followed him in.
Currie thought to himself, “like a lamb to the slaughter,” and stepped through the door and looked around. Damn I’ve never seen so many stars in one place before except in the fucking night sky,” he muttered. Currie instinctively stopped and popped to attention. “Come in, Lad, come in,” General Alexander said waving him in, “come on don’t be shy.”
Currie marched smartly up to the General and saluted. “As you were, as you were. Jolly good show, the whole ambush thing you know, jolly good show and killed how many SS fanatics. What you say, 140 odd, good show, and bagging an SS Colonel and other krauts, Jolly good show.” The General smiled and vigorously shook his hand.
“Congratulations Captain,” General Bradley said shaking his hand.
General Eddy then, General Stroh both shook his hand and congratulated him.
“We tried to get your old man over here to give you this, but he couldn’t make it, he asked me if I would and I told him it would be an honor.” General Doolittle stepped up to Currie and pinned the Silver Star on his blouse. “Congratulations Captain, your old man told me to tell you he is very proud of you.”
Currie looked down and then back at Doolittle, “Thank you General, but I am not the one that deserves this medal, my unit deserves it far more than I do.”
“You keep this one Captain, I am sure that there are more medals for you men, you just happened to be here,” Doolittle said.
Currie endured the pats on the arm and the slaps on the back, it seemed the Generals were trying to outdo each other with the congratulations, and then it was over, he was left standing in the room with Meyers and Major General Eddy and Brigadier General Stroh. “Sit down Captain,” Eddy said. “Meyers get us some drinks.”
“Captain it seems that your little group isn’t totally secret anymore, very few people know about it and it has been classified. General Stroh, Ike, General Marshall, the President, and I know they seem to think that it’s a damned good idea and want you to continue and expand your area of operations. We sat down and tried to lay out an operational plan, but as General Stroh pointed out, we do not know what the hell, you are doing. We do know you have sent us damn good Intel. We thought you should bring us up to speed on what you are doing, and we will write your SOP and operational plans from what you tell us. I can tell you we need units like yours all over the front, we need good Intel. Son we are getting our collective butts kicked.”
Currie pulled his pack of camels from his pocket and lit one. He listened to Eddy and then Stroh talk.
“General Eddy, General Stroh, I have the beginnings of 3 patrols, all my men are solid, as soon as I can get them re-supplied, refitted, I can put them in the field. I haven’t even checked in with the company – I don’t even know their status or if they even still exist.”
“They exist, your Lieutenant Higgins and that Sergeant Snipes; have stolen, swindled, swapped, traded, and bam-foozled everyone within a hundred miles. I wouldn’t put it past them to have swapped crap with the krauts.” Eddy said rising from his chair. “Captain put a leash on those two.”
“Yes sir,” I’ll leash them.
“Captain a short leash,” and Eddy smiled. “Meyers take him to his unit. Staff meeting 0800 hours, bring your staff.”
Currie and Meyers left the Generals office by the back door. Currie pulled the medal from his blouse and threw it in the bushes before walking out front, to Meyers’ jeep. Meyers looked at him and shook his head. “They meant well; I think.”
“A knee jerk reaction, they don’t know the full story, have no idea what went on, except for what they read in radio messages. I kill 140 odd Germans and they throw out a medal like a bone to a dog, good boy, they say and pat his head – good dog.”
“God damn, Billy what do you want?”
“A simple thank you, and then tell my men they did good, damned good, medals be damned, before it is all said and done there will be a lot of good men wearing medals in their graves.”
“I’m not ready; I’m damn sure not ready for metals of a grave.”
Currie slouched down in the rider’s seat, “let’s go Mike.”
Meyers fired up the jeep; he wheeled the jeep through the alleys and streets in Tebessa until they were sitting beside a purple looking building and several very neat and tidy rows of tents, the sign, a newly painted one, hung from a tree limb by two brass chains, Able Co. 1st Battalion, 336 regiment, 9th Division, Captain William D. Currie CO. 1st Lt. Brad, Walsh, XO.
“Ok” this is a good joke, Mike, where is the Company?” Currie said sitting up in the jeep. “This is it, no joke Billy.”
“What the hell happened?”
“Higgins and Snipes happened they are a match made in heaven. Higgins turns out to be one hell of an administrator and Snipes – well Snipes is Snipes. Higgins suggests Snipes makes it happen.”
“Christ almighty who would have ever thought that would be possible, even probable. Currie straightened up and climbed out of the jeep.
Meyers took the lead, leading Currie down through the tents to the Company Commanders tent, situated beside the Command tent, which was in front of the Communications tent and truck. The pathways made from punched metal planking, placed 3 wide, and lay ends to end from one end of the camp to the other.
Currie stuck his head in his tent, everything had a place, and it was all in its place, right down to the carton of camels on his desk and the aluminum ashtray. Currie looked around; hanging from a bracket was a bare light bulb and a pull chain. Currie reached up pulled the chain, the bulb began to glow a mellow yellow color, which lit the tent sufficiently to read and do his paperwork. He pulled the chain again and plunged the tent back to its dark green color. Currie continued his exploration in the command tent; there were three desks some files boxes and chairs. He saw his desk and a desk for Walsh and a clerk’s desk, “where is everybody.” Meyers pointed at the path, “Higgins and Rawls are there, the clerks are there, Com is there, and Supply is everywhere.”
Currie poked his head into the Com tent.
“A-tent hut,” someone called out, the clerks snapped to…
“As you were,” he said, looking around the room, radios, typewriters, logs, safes, and he didn’t recognize one face in the crowded room. “Where did they come from? What the hell, I don’t know any of them.”
“Higgins got them – they are all qualified, some too qualified to be in a company,” Meyers pointed his finger. Currie shook his head.
“Anything I can do for you Captain?”
“No thanks Sergeant, just snooping around.”
“Yes sir,” the sergeant said.
“Meyers, fill me in will you, what the fuck is going one.”
“Mess tent is this way, it is quite a story, we’ll have some coffee, and I’ll tell you about it, all… about it.”
“I could use some coffee right about now. How about you, Captain?”
Meyers threw the tent flap aside, “after you Captain.”
“Aw Captain Meyers, Captain Currie welcome back, I heard all about it. Sir, congratulations Sir.”
“Two Coffees, Sanchez.”
“Oh yes Sir! I just made a fresh pot, yes sir, coffee coming up.” Sanchez was rolling around behind the counter, “Aw there you are coffee coming up sir.” Sanchez walked to the table carrying a well-used aluminum pot and two blue porcelain covered steal cups, “Gleason said, these you would remember sir, Sanchez poured the cups full, will that be all sir?”
Currie nodded, “thank you Sanchez, thank you that will be all.”
“Now Mr. Meyers, let’s hear this sad tale of woe.”
“It is simple, you left Higgins in charge, you told him to get the company into shape, and you said he needed to find some supply and Com people, and some good foot soldiers.”
“Yes, I remember saying that.”
“You also said that you wanted it up and running by the time you got back, that you were testing him, that it would be one of many, he would have to pass to stay here.”
Yes, I remember saying that too,” Currie said between sips of coffee,
“And finally, you told him to come see me to get requisitions forms signed, I signed six, he signed and stamped the other 106, you know he signs my name and the General’s better than I do.”
“You let him get away with it, Mike.”
“He was following your orders, I was helping, you know that’s why I stayed with the General, so I could help you, and I did by helping him.”
“Ok, ok, what’s the damage assessment?”
“He and Snipes started here in Tebessa snagging people, then they went to Oran and all over Algeria, they even raided convoys from Casablanca and Rabat for men, they got the men then filled out the forms.”
“There had to be objections and protests, I can’t believe they got away with it.”
“I handled the protests, but who is going to force the issue with that fucking redheaded giant with a ranger patch on one arm, Lt. Bars on his collar and a whole handful of requisitions signed by both Eddy and Stroh.”
“He got the men, about 86 if I recall correctly, 5 new trucks, 5 new M8 greyhounds, 2 new ½ tracks, 6 jeeps, tents and enough supplies for a battalion, plus what Snipes got.”
“So, that is the leash part, curtail the procurements.”
“No, the procurement is ok; there is paperwork to cover that. It is the blatant theft he wants stopped, they stolen typewriters right out from under the clerks who were typing reports on them.”
“Ok! I’ll stop that, let’s go find Higgins, let’s see what he has to say.”
Currie poured another cup of coffee and then stood up, “hey Sanchez, not bad coffee, not bad at all.”
Currie and Meyers left the tent and headed down through the rows of tents.
The company well all of those not working up front were standing around the trucks listening to Kovac; tell the tale of the mission. Rawls Walsh and Higgins stood to one side listening to the tale and Kovac’s embellishments.
“Hey, it is the Captain,” one of the men said.
“A-ten-hut,” Higgins bellowed.
“As you were men, as you were, ok Kovac just tell me the plain truth.”
“Three cheers for Captain Currie.”
“Hip – Hip!” “Hooray!” “Hip – Hip.” “Hooray!” “Hip – Hip.” “Hooray!”
Currie raised his hand, “that’s enough, come on that is enough.”
“Say a few words, Captain, come on.”
Currie swung up on the runners of the ½ track. “The General said for me to tell you, job well done. And there will be some medals in it for you, but more than that, I am damned proud of all of you and I thank you for a job well done.”
Some men clapped others whistled and hooted; even the new men whooped it up.
“At ease. At ease. It looks like we did too good a job. The Generals want more patrols out, at least three by the end of the week across the whole front, we are going to be damned busy, I’ll know more by noon tomorrow, so let’s get busy. Kovac finish your tale then let’s get down to business, we have a war to win.”
Currie sprang from the runner to the ground, and the crowd of men pushed toward him. Everyone wanted to shake his hand or pat his back.
“A-ten-hut! Make way for the Captain,” Higgins bellowed. The crowd parted in front of Currie as he walked toward his lieutenants and Meyers.
“As you were,” he said and fell into step following Currie. The men followed Currie up the path toward the command tent. After a short distance Currie stopped dead in his tracks, he turned and looked up at Higgins, “Mr. Higgins, what in the hell have you done?”
“Sir, I don’t understand.”
“Well let’s see, for starters the men have leggings on, shined shoes, clean uniforms, their shaved, hell they look like soldiers.”
“Captain, I am just following your orders, you wanted it squared away, and I squared it away.”
“I can see that, tell me, what our status is.”
“We are close to four full platoons, that includes the men you had in the field, I tried to anticipate what you were looking for and what was needed, we have a full complement of communication people with experience and some good devious and discreet supply people, I filled the rest of the ranks with some good soldiers. Snipes picked most of those men, you know Captain, he does have some strange ways about him, but I have to admit the men he chose are damned good men or at least they seem to be.” “We picked up some new 6×6’s and jeeps and a couple of/2 tracks.”
“I heard it was five 6×6’s, five M8 armored cars, two ½ tracks, six jeeps, tents and enough supplies for a battalion. Isn’t that what the General said Meyers?”
“Something like that Captain.”
“Sir I got what I could while the getting was good.”
“You and Snipes did a lot of getting; let’s just hope we don’t get caught before we go into the field.” Sir, about the only negative thing. General Scott and about 20 of the biggest MP’s I’ve ever seen came by; they collected all the German codebooks, those 2 smashed Enigma machines. The general said they were top secret and told us that if we ever repeated to anyone, we even had them; we would all be in Leavenworth forever. He signed for the radios and they left.
“You said he picked up 2 of them, we had 3 enigma machines, if I remember right.”
“The two that were smashed and one that was maybe it would work once we got it figured out, all they got was the broken ones, I have the comm. Guys working on it now, they might be able to make heads or tails of it. As you said sir, in for a penny in for a pound, I am in for the pound.”
Currie stopped at the entrance to a tent, “in here all of you,” he pulled the flap back only to find that the tent was stacked high with boxes with only a narrow path in and out. “What the fuck!”
“Uh, you might want to come this way Captain,” Higgins said leading the way to some place a little more private. Higgins threw back the tent flap, stepped in, “Hey, you two take a hike.”
“Yes sir,” the privates said.
“All right Higgins good job, we are going to have to field 4 patrols our primary job is intelligence and recon and our secondary job is killing Germans.
“Captain, Snipes filled me in on El Bayard and Jenkins and Swayze and I am with you all the way.
“When did the S-O-B tell you all this,” Currie fumed.
Captain, I broken enough rules; procuring men, equipment, and supplies, the only crimes I haven’t committed are striking a General Officer and murder. Higgins straightened up his 6’ 8” frame to tower above the other men; he leaned forward just enough to stare at Currie, eye to eye and if you want me to commit those two crimes. Just say the word.” The whole demeanor of Higgins changed, he was no longer a tall lanky ugly redheaded man, he was truly scary, “Captain, your call, you hold the cards, are we going to play cards, or are we going to sit around and pull our dicks.”
Currie looked up at the man, “hell, let’s play cards, you’re in for a penny, you’re in for a pound. There is no halfway here.”
“How about something cold to drink?” Rawls said trying to defuse the situation. Both Higgins and Currie stood toe to toe, neither giving an inch.
“It’s a deal,” Higgins, said, he straightened up, backed off a few steps, and saluted Currie.
Currie stuck his hand out, Higgins looked down at Curries hand, and he put his hand down, wrapped it around Curries, and shook it.
“How about something cold to drink,” Rawls said again.
“Rather have a whisky,” Higgins said.
“Why not, whisky sounds good, who has some?”
“My treat,” Higgins said, “Scotch bourbon gin, my tent,”
“Lead on McDuff,” Currie said.
Higgins opened the door to his tent and pulled the chain on the light then opened the foot locked that was stacked on top of the table, bottles of whisky were lined up in rows, from one end to the other, each bottle wrapped in cloth and separated from another bottle by a divider. Higgins pointed gin, bourbon, and scotch. Higgins pulled a bottle of bourbon picked up a glass placed it upside down on the neck of the bottle and set it on the table. “What is your poison Captain, no let me guess,” he pulled a bottle of bourbon then slid it back down and plucked the scotch out, “Sorry all I have is black and white, but it is 12 years old,” he handed the bottle and a glass to Currie.
“Gentlemen the bar is open.”
The men stood with their mouths open, “where the hell, look at all the fucking booze, did you get all of that.”
Higgins looked at the men, “are you going to stand there or get drunk?” he handed Meyers a bottle of scotch and pitched a bottle of gin to Walsh.
“I don’t drink Gin; bourbon is my drink.”
“I do,” Rawls said taking the gin from Walsh.
The squeak of the cork the clink of glass on glass and the hushed glug, glug, glug of the amber colored scotch filling Curries glass, drew the attention of the men to Currie. He was sitting on a crate smiling at them, he raised his glass, “salute,” and then he downed the three fingers of scotch in one long continuous drink. Currie lifted the glass from his lips and shivered, “well boys, we going to get drunk or sit here and pull our dicks. I hope you have cigarettes too,” Curries lighter flared. Higgins threw back a tarp exposing 10 cases of cigarettes, “were good for a while.”
“Say where did you,” Meyers pointed at the whiskey and cigarettes “get all of that,” he said more with his hands than the words that came from his mouth.
Higgins took a pull straight from the bottle, then wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, “with all due respect Mr. Meyers, ask me no questions and I will tell you no lies.”
“That’s a good enough answer for me,” Meyers said pouring another glass of scotch. “You wouldn’t mind me taking a bottle for the General, would you?”
Higgins pointed to a tarp in the corner beside Meyers, he flipped his hand, twice more and nodded, Meyers pointed at the tarp, Higgins nodded his head; Meyers pulled the tarp, uncovering 10 or more wooden boxes labeled Black and White. Currie spewed the mouth full of scotch into the air and choked. “Take a couple of cases Mr. Meyers, I can get more, plenty more.” Meyers set his glass down and drank directly from the bottle, “Thank you Mr. Higgins.”
“Mr. Higgins, what else have you got hidden around here, you haven’t told me about.”
“Captain with all due respect…”
“I know, I know,” Currie said, “ask me no question and I’ll tell you no lies.”
“Oh no Captain, I was gonna say, does Macy tell Gimbles,” he said winking and throwing a great big smile,
“No, he doesn’t, but Higgins does tell Currie.”
“What would you like to know Captain?”
“Where is Snipes?”
Higgins looked at his watch, “Snipe’s and his detail, is somewhere between Algiers
An Oran, or Oran and here.”
“Yes sir,” Snipes, five men, two trucks.”
“And his mission Mr. Higgins?”
Higgins looked thoughtfully up and focused on the bare bulb…
“Any particular order sir.”
“Get on with-it man.”
“Yes sir, he was to go; to the replacement depot, the hospitals, the brigs, then the whorehouses, the docks, the troop ships, the supply depots ours and the Brits, the motor pools; and then the frogs.
“And what is his mission.”
“Stockings cloth, brandy, wine, condoms, chocolate, fresh food, meat, vegetables, bread, perfume, tea, medicine, booze, cigarettes, vehicles, personnel, and anything else we can use to trade, barter, swap, exchange or give away for favors – to the Arabs, the Brits, the locals, whoever.”
“Whoa – whoa, slow down stockings, condoms, perfume,”
“We give that stuff to the MP’s to keep them off our asses. They run the houses, or a house doesn’t run without their ok. A whore wearing stocking and perfume cost more than one that doesn’t, 4 times more if they wear stockings, they don’t have to shave the legs, and the perfume covers the body odor.
Currie shook his head and took a long pull from the bottle.
“Why the tea, the Brits have all the tea.”
“Yes they do, and they hoard it, I trade them medicine, condoms and chocolate, brandy and champagne from the French for tea, then I trade the tea back to them for whiskey and cloth and other things, and I trade that to the French for brandy and wine and champagne.”
“Enough, you’re going around in circles.”
“Yes sir, take the tea, the Brits have it, but not all the British units can get enough, so we trade the Brits for it, then trade it back to the Brits who don’t have any tea for double, triple the price in booze and cloth, the cloth I trade to the Arabs for fresh food, vegetables, and meat.”
“Higgins and Snipes, the Sears Roebucks of North Africa.”
“A case of scotch is worth a thousand in script on the black market,” Meyers mused. It cost us 5 pounds of tea, 5 pounds of tea cost us 1000 condoms, one case of morphine, and one case of sulfa or a box of plasma.
“I don’t want to know anymore, my head hurts,” Currie said. Then he tipped the bottle up and finished it off.
“Wake up sir, Captain Currie it is 0600, wake up sir.”
Currie stirred, he squeaked open one eye, the room was dark, dreary, and musty, he blinked, this time both eyes came open. Wake up sir, coffee is on the table sir, and with that, the specter disappeared as it had come.
Currie rolled up into a sitting position, he put his socked feet on the cold floor, “damn” he muttered wiping his tongue around his mouth, and his mouth was dry and tasted like dirty old wool socks, “Yuk!”
Currie leaned over toward the table, “whoa,” jerking himself back up steadying the cot, which he nearly fell off. He stood up took two steps, “god damn,” he winced in pain and jerked his right foot off the floor holding it with both hands. Currie did the one-legged Saint-Vitas dance until he fell over sprawling out on the wood deck floor – “Son-of-a-bitch,” he scowled, and sat there and looked around. He shook his head and became dizzy. “Oh shit – I am still fucking drunk,” he rolled to his hands and knees, crawled over to the table and pulled himself up, he reached out with his trembling hand and grasped the coffee cup, it was hot, thank god for that, he shook so bad he couldn’t have poured it from the pot. Currie put his mouth to the cup and then tilted it, with the bottom still resting on the table and drank the hot coffee. He took the cup with both hands and with the cup to his lips settled back on his haunches. Between sips and gulps of coffee he would say, “I curse thee oh devil, Black and White Scotch, never again” and then he would gulp another mouthful of coffee, “Curse thee oh devil Black and White.” Currie pulled himself up and managed to pour another cup of coffee into his cup, between pouring the coffee and getting it to his mouth; he spilled more than he drank. The third time was a charm; he poured a full cup and got it to his mouth without spilling a drop.
Currie steadied himself with the help of the desk and stood; once he was satisfied, he could stand by himself. He let go of the desk, he looked down, his shirt was balled up around his left wrist the rest hung down to the floor, all he wore was his t-shirt, shorts and one sock, he rubbed his dry eyes and looked around the darkened tent.
Currie stumbled over to the table which held the light, he pulled the chain, “oh Christ almighty,” he shaded his eyes. “I curse thee old devil, Black and White, I curse thee.” He looked around, his pants were thrown in the corner, one boot was there, where was the other boot? “Oh, that is what I stepped on,” his other boot. Stumbling over to his trunk, he thought he was going to die, at least a ½ dozen times with each step his head pounded, the pounding grew louder with each step, “I curse thee old devil, Black and White, and I curse thee.” Currie pulled the hanging shirt from his arm, then grabbed clean shorts, shirt as well, his shaving kit he dropped his home made shower shoes, old cut down jump boots to the floor, the noise they made hitting the deck was like a couple of one thousand pound bombs detonating, all Currie could do was curse.
Currie trudged to the door to his tent, he threw it open; the hinges screamed, their squeaks at him, then he stepped out into the tornado winds that thundered down the path between the tents, he entered the shower tent, the noise of Niagara Falls thundered and roared form each running shower head. His head pounded and roared, his body felt heavy and stiff, he dropped his shaving kit and clothes on the bench, then entered a shower stall, he reached for the lever, a raspy voice from hell said something as he pulled the lever, a blast of arctic water hit him squarely in the face. “Oh shit,” he sputtered, “son-of-a-bitch.” Currie pushed back away from the stream. Currie doubled over and backed into another stream of water, he wretched on the floor. “Oh fuck, I am gonna kill that S-O-B, I curse thee oh devil Black and White.” Then as if it were a vision of clarity, his mind cleared, and all was in focus. The cold had been replace with warmth, his body straightened, the water cascaded over him, he dunked his head under the warm water breathing in and when he breathed out he would blow the stream of water into a mist that was trickling off his upper lip. Currie pulled off his t-shirt and shorts and then his sock. He lathered up the washcloth with the last of his lifebuoy soap, he breathed deeply, and heavily washing himself and letting the water loosen his muscles, while he shaved and brushed his teeth. Currie finally shut the water off, dried off and pulled on his shorts and t-shirt, and headed back to his tent. Currie powdered and rubbed the talc into his skin, especially on his feet, and dressed.
Currie left his tent and headed for the mess tent, he was ready to open the door when the wind changed and the smell of old grease wafted past his nose, which in turn caused his stomach to turn over. Currie let go of the door handle and put his hand to his mouth and turned toward the command tent.
Currie entered the command tent and came face to face with a pimply faced high school boy wearing big framed glasses.
“Morning Captain,” the private said, his voice cracking into four octaves. The pimply faced private tried again he cleared his throat, “Morning Captain, may I get you something.”
Currie croaked out one word, “Gleason.” Yes sir, I’ll get Sergeant Gleason for you.” The private bolted from the tent like a scared rabbit from a thicket.
Gleason trotted into the tent, he was out of breath, “anything wrong Captain, are you ok,” Private Kelly, said you looked something awful.”
“Thank god Gleason come here man.” Currie rose and put his arm over Gleason’s shoulders, “thank god you’re here. I need aspirin and coffee quickly and find that S-O-B
that’s banging on that drum and shoot him.”
“Yes sir,” aspirin and coffee.” Gleason helped Currie to sit down and he left the tent. Gleason walked down to the mess tent. Sergeant Sanchez I need a tray for one drunk, coffee, dry toast or crackers, juice if we have it. I’ll pick it up in about five minutes. Gleason went to see Doc, “Hey Doc, we have one bad drunk Captain. I need one of your cure-alls.”
“I just fixed up Meyers, he should be ok –“
“Not Meyers, Currie.”
Oh! Ok.” Doc began to mix his recipe. Three fingers alcohol, three of water, aspirin, ½ dozen crushed to a powder, three other pills crushed, Doc shook it and set it down, then he made up a fizzy and handed both to Gleason. “The hair of the dog first. Then this, and then the juice and coffee.”
“Thanks Doc.” Gleason headed back to the mess tent, he picked up the tray, he noticed Higgins, Rawls, and Walsh all sitting at a table looking as if their Christmas puppies had just died. Gleason walked over to their table, ”Excuse me Mr. Walsh.”
“Shush, quiet please Gleason; we are trying to live here,”
“Sirs, if you go see Doc, he has a cure for what ails you – or you can sit here and suffer, he is just about ready to start sick-call – so you might…” The three officers rose in unison and headed to the door, Gleason smiled and picked up the tray and headed off to see the Captain.
“Here you go Captain,” Gleason said handing him the hair of the dog; Doc’s orders drink it all. Currie took the glass, drank half of it, and sucked in huge breath, “WHAT ARE YOU TRYING TO DO… KILL ME… DAMN IT Gleason.”
Gleason pushed the glass back to him, “Doc said all of it,” Currie looked at Gleason, through his blood shot eyes. “Drink it sir,” Currie chugged the rest down,
“God I am going to kill that S-O-B, Currie said.
Gleason poured the water in the fizzy, it foamed and oozed over the rim of the glass, “now this Captain,” Gleason said pushing it to Currie across the table.
Currie grudgingly picked up the fizzy and drank it,
“All of it sir,” Currie tilted up the glass and finished it off. Currie laid his head on the table, his stomach rumbled. Currie sat up and burped, Gleason smiled, and handed the Captain the tray of juice and the toast and a large cup of coffee, “welcome back, to the world of the living sir, anything else I can get you,”
“You’re a god send Gleason.”
“No sir, not a god send, just an under paid Sergeant who takes care of his Captain,” Gleason said laughing as he left the tent.
Currie threw glass at the departing Sergeant – “get out of here mother hen,” Currie quipped. Currie drank the coffee and ate the dry toast, he was finishing the coffee when Meyers sauntered into the room, “well good morning Billy, how are you?”
Billy stood up, “Mike I am doing just as well as you are, it seems we both have the same Doc,”
“Oh yeah, you have any more coffee,”
Currie pointed to the pot, Meyers filled his cup, “damn Billy I feel like I have been beat with a stick,” they both sat down, each cradling their heads in their hand,
“Mike I am going to kill that S-O-B that is pounding on that drum.
“I would too if I could find him.”
“Let’s go round up the boys and head on over to HQ. Being drunk is bad enough being drunk and late would be disastrous.” Currie tilted up his cup and finished his coffee, “well, let’s go. Round them up.”
“Private find Rawls, Walsh and Higgins, tell them to come on up to the command tent.”
“They just got there, Captain, Sir; I was coming to find you Sir,
“Thank you private.”
Meyers and Currie in their best, I am not drunk, walk entered the tent to find the three officers smiling. “Good morning Captains how are you this fine day,” Rawls said.
Currie and Meyers looked at each other, said in unison “Doc,” and laughed.
“Let’s go the General waits.” Meyers lead the procession out the door; they all climbed in his jeep. Meyers drove with just enough vibration to have all the men riding with him feel like they were about to wretch, when he pulled up outside HQ.
Currie and his Lieutenants slowly climbed from the jeep. “Damn you Meyers, damn you all to hell,” Currie said through clinched teeth.
Meyers looked at Currie, “just because Higgins gave me a bottle, didn’t mean I had to consume the whole bottle. I will admit, I had a few drinks, but nothing like ya’ll had, hell Billy, I helped you to your tent last night.”
“Oh – I’ll get you, I sure will,” Currie laughed.
“Ok men let’s go see the General,” Meyers said.
The men filed into HQ one behind the other with Meyers leading the pack, the once buoyant officers before the weaving, swerving jeep ride to Headquarters were now queasy and wishing they had walked! Meyers led them to the briefing room. The table along one wall was covered with dishes and the centerpiece was a breakfast buffet. The smell of sausage and bacon and pork began to twist and turn in the men’s stomachs. The soldier in his starched white jacket said, “Would you gentlemen like some breakfast.” Currie croaked out, between the wrenching of his gut, “coffee please.” “Now sir we have some delicious pork chops, some mouthwatering bacon and some spicy southern sausage, and we have some delightful scrambled eggs, fresh eggs, I might add, and some tasty taters grilled with a large white onion, minced up even. Currie looked at Meyers who was laughing, the negro mess steward was doing all he could do to keep from laughing, “and sir, we have a couple of pieces of southern fried chicken left and I don’t want to forget we have fresh hot biscuits with butter and jams.”
Currie felt his stomach turn and twist, he felt the bile in his mouth. Currie swallowed once then twice, he straightened up sucked in a deep breath and held it. Then slowly letting it out, he said, “coffee black,” and held out his hand. The mess steward swallowed once then poured Currie a big mug of coffee.
Currie head the clinking of serving ware and a plate, he turned to see Higgins smiling joyously and serving himself a plate full of food, he turned to find Walsh and Rawls sitting at a table, their heads hung low – he looked at the mess steward, “take them coffee.”
Currie turned his attention to Meyers, he walked over to where Meyers sat, and “you must have a damn good reason for this.”
“Oh, come on, Billy, I haven’t had this much fun since Jackson, I just couldn’t help it.”
Currie gulped his coffee down, “ok Mike ok.”
The room slowly began to fill with officers. Currie recognized many of them, General Ward and Robinett, General Eddy and Stroh and the staffs of the 1st Division, 1st Armored Division, and the 9th Division. The Generals paraded around like strutting peacocks, others went through the motions though they looked altogether shattered, some had the dashing swagger of un-blooded men, the battled blooded men had that far – faraway look in their eyes the 1000-mile stare. Currie looked through the crowd searching for other men wearing the silver tracks of Captains, or the single silver or gold bars of the lieutenants. Meyers, Currie, Rawls, and Walsh and Higgins were the only ones and they were together, when the officers began to move into the briefing room. Stroh waved his hand as to say, come on Currie, Meyers and the others headed off to the briefing room
Currie grabbed chains at the back of the room, for himself and his party, but Stroh seeing the four or five empty rows between the staff and Currie called them forward and as he did, he introduced each one to the Generals and their staffs.
With everyone seated, Major General Eddy stood, and then flipped back the cover on a large-scale map of Tunisia. A jagged line ran roughly down through the middle of Tunisia, from North to South; a second jagged line ran east to West at the Southern end of Tunisia. The Western side of the line is allied hands; the southern line is in Monty’s hands. Then Major General Eddy began to recount in detail the raid led by Currie, deep in enemy territory and the results, 140 SS dead, 1 Colonel, 1 Captain, a Doctor and a Lieutenant; various code books and maps, a treasure trove of valuable Intel. Ike seems to think that we should use this resource to its maximum.
Captain Currie how many patrols can you put in the field? Currie stood, looked around, and back at General Eddy. “Sir I can have three ready to go in 24 hours. I’ll lead one, Lieutenant Rawls and Walsh will lead the other two, and Lieutenant Higgins will be in support.”
I want a patrol here close to Teboursouk, Another here around Kasserine and Fondouk and your third patrol down here Sidi bouzid; we need Intel Captain good Intel.
“Yes sir,” Currie said, “we’ll do our best.”
The rest of the day or so it seemed was taken up with meetings with G-2 staff and Generals. Currie was relieved when he finally put his butt on the front seat of the jeep and headed back to his unit. He read his orders, to say the least they were convoluted and contradicting; however, if he read them right, he was ordered to get Intel, anyway he could, and at the same time harass and destroy any enemy confronted.
The brakes squealed the jeep slid to a stop in front of the unit. Currie hopped out and walked briskly to his command tent. He turned on the light and pushed the papers that lay upon the desk out of the way before spreading a map of Tunisia on the table.
Currie tapped the end of his black grease pencil on the lower edge of the map. They didn’t have to probe too deep, just deep enough to get some prisoners and the poke their sticks into the mouth of the hornets’ nest to see what swarmed. Currie pulled the string on the pencil and pulled the spiral curl of paper off the pencil exposing more of the greasy black lead. Currie marked ?’ Marks and X’s on the map, South and West of Sidi bouzid. The second a spot on the map was between Pichon and Fondouk, and the third mark at Medjez-el-bab.
Rawls would tackle the Sidi bouzid area, Walsh would go north to Teboursouk then onto Medjez-el-bab, and he would take the center Pichon Fondouk Kairovan.
Currie ripped up paper to represent jeeps, ½ tracks and then new M8 armored cars, which he had only heard about, he hadn’t seen one of them.
Currie folded up the map and tucked it into the map case and ventured from the tent, he headed down through the tents toward an area that was supposed to be the motor pool area. Currie stopped and talked to Jones and then to Kovac who showed him the M8’s. The greyhound was a 6 wheeled armored car, it had a coaxially mounted 30 cal MG protruding from the front right front side of the vehicle, a turret mounted 37 mm gun, and a 50 cal M2 mounted on the top of the turret. Currie crawled in the car, looked around, “kind of skimpy on the steel plate huh Top.” Currie said gauging the thickness of the metal with his fingers.
“It isn’t supposed to stop the bullets Captain, just slow them down a little, so we can catch them in a car.” Kovac said laughing.
“Ok we will try them out. I like the ½’tracks better more places to mount guns and it can carry and move more supplies, and people.” Currie climbed out and slammed the hatch. Break out three and load them up, 3 tracks, 3 jeeps and trailers, two – three days.”
“Yes sir, Captain.”
“You ride with me, Jones and Doc, Macy, you finish it up, bring baby with us,”
“Yes sir,” I’ll get right on it.”
Currie walked back to the command tent thinking about what lie ahead for him and his men. He fixated on some distant vision; a vision too blurred to be realized, but still very much a part of his future.
Currie entered his tent, unfolded the map, and studied it. The hills and mountains through none over 4000 feet high afforded his enemy with the upper hand. The hillocks would provide ample places to hide their PK 38 and PK 50 antitank guns, the wadis, and ravines around each would give the German troops abundant cover.
Down the center of Tunisia running Northeast by Southwest the Central Dorsal of the Atlas Mountains cut the country in two. There were four passes and each was in German hands, and to the East of the Central Dorsal, a smaller but equally formidable East Dorsal mountain range. Another barrier, to the North and the northwest from Kasserine to Bizetz were scalable mountain clusters with broad flat plains lying between them.
Everywhere Currie looked, he became more aware of the possibilities that existed for failure. He sat down at the desk; he drew a red line from Faid Pass through Sidi bou Zid to Kasserine to Tebessa to Bonea on the coast of Algeria. Rommel could devastate us if he played his cards right. But, thank god he was only thinking of scenarios. Currie pulled a smaller map, a Michelin tour guide map printed in 1937 showing in detail roads and trails and the mountains and hills and their heights. Currie made notes on ways to approach the enemy dug into the mountains and the hillsides.
He tapped the map with his fingers; I can come up through the backside of this hill, which will put me 5 miles from their front lines. Currie looked again here is the enemy’s line, here we are, and he smiled. Currie drew two lines and made a few notes that will do it, when I see it I’ll know it… He folded his map… sat back down, he sat there and thought, the scenarios running amuck in his head, he remembered all the classes he had taken at the point, stationary lines, trenches, armor to break through, air power; none of what he had been trained for was appropriate for their situation, one point did stick out in his head. Five to 1 the ratio of attacking troops to those troop are trenched.
Currie folded up the map, slid it into the map case, and tied it closed.
“Excuse me Captain, you wanted to see me.”
“Come in Snipes, have a seat,” Ok, let’s have it, and don’t hold anything back.”
“Well sir, he is a bigger thief than I am, he is shrewd and can con a con out of his last dime.”
“How do the rest of the men feel about him?”
“The new men are scared of him, us old timers like him, but we don’t know how he would be under fire.”
I know all of that, Meyers told me all that and the General told me to leash you two, I know you have robbed the army blind, you have more armor than the 1st Armored Division, more supplies than the depot here has, and have been raiding other units for replacements. Speaking of which how many did you bring back this time and what else did you bring back?”
“14 men sir, good foot soldiers, got them from the 1st Armored Division and the depot’s, we also got a truck load of a new antitank rocket thing, they call it a Bazooka, it shoots a 3-1/2 inch rocket powered antitank shell, I got 20 launchers and 400 rockets.
“Does anyone know how to fire these Bazooka’s?”
“I have 4 men that were with the trucks, 2 men that shoot them and the other two load the things, they were supposed to teach the boys of the 1st division to use them – I have the bazooka’s, the trucks and the men. Good deal huh.”
“Only if they work, I am not familiar with them, maybe Walsh might have heard of them. Check with him and see.”
“Now Sergeant, one last question, would you be his platoon Sergeant and risk your life for him.”
Snipes sat there, he looked down then raised his head, and fixed Currie in his eyes, “Captain, I’d follow you to hell in gas soaked drawers if you wanted me too, you know that,” Snipes paused “and my gut tells me,” Snipes paused again. “Yes sir, I would, my gut told me you would be a good man and I have the same feeling about him.”
“Thank you Sergeant,” Currie said rising from his seat, he then extended his hand, Snipes took it and shook it, “you’re a good man Ben, look after him, like you looked after me.”
“I will Captain and thanks,” Snipes put his helmet on his head, “thanks Captain,” and walked out of the tent.
Currie sat down, he lit a cigarette, leaned back in his chair, he took a deep breath and slowly exhaled and then he closed his eyes; he mechanically smoked his cigarette. The word HOW kept haunting him, he knew that when he sat down with his lieutenants tomorrow morning, he would be guessing at how to breach the enemies lines; he couldn’t tell them how, this would be new to them all. They had experience going behind the enemies’ lines, but they had flanked them and come up on their blind side, and this was a direct frontal attack he had to slip through their lines. Capture someone who knew something, then harass them and get out or get out and then harass them.
Currie got up, he started to the door, his stomach gurgled, he looked at his watch, 20 hundred hours, damn where had the time gone, it had been hours since he had spoken with Snipes and he hadn’t eaten all day. He stretched and ambled out the door and headed to the mess tent.
Currie pulled the tent flap open and stepped into the tent; there were a few men scattered around at several different tables. Sanchez was wiping down the line and emitting a steady stream of profanity all of it in Spanish, “Hey Sarge,” Currie said as he approached him.
“Uh yes Captain, can I help you.”
“Have you got anything that I can get to eat, a sandwich maybe.”
“Why hell yeah Captain,” Snipes brought me some of them pro, pro… cutta, dam that Italian ham, I can make some sandwiches out of that and fix you something to drink. Would you like some buttermilk, I have some cold back there in the kitchen.”
“Make me some sandwiches and some coffee that would fill the bill just right.”
“Right you are sir, mustard, or maybe a little oleo.”
“Both thanks Sarge.”
Sanchez left and headed to the kitchen. Currie sat down at the table closest to him and waited. Sanchez returned with a plate with 2 sandwiches, thick sliced Arab bread, thick sliced ham, and a pot of coffee; he set the pot on the table and was placing the plate in front of Currie when he knocked over the saltshaker, the shaker top was loose and came off spilling the salt out on the table. Sanchez pulled the plate back, “Damn Captain I am sorry, let me clean that up.”
Currie looked at the salt. “NO, leave it Sarge, don’t touch it.” Currie reached up took the plate and set it to one side of him, then looked where the salt had spilled; there were scattered grains out from a mound where the shaker had originally fallen. As the eight-sided saltshaker rolled on the table, it left a little mound where each side stopped the table.
“There is my mountain range,” Currie poured another small mound perpendicular to the range about 2 inches away and “here I am,” Currie looked at the scattered grains of salt and here are bushes, rocks and other places that a man could conceal himself behind. Currie picked up a sandwich, and crushed it together and took a bite, “Mmmm, good sandwich Sarge.” Currie looked around and he was alone, the coffee was tepid and half-gone, there were only crumbs on the plate, and not much left of the sandwich, he was holding in his hand. There on the table was his battlefield, the hills and the mountains, the ravines and wadis. Currie stood, brushed the salt off the table onto the plate with his hand erasing all the strategies he had formulated.
It was 0100 hours when he returned to his tent, Currie laid down on his cot and slept “Captain, wake up, Captain it is 0600, coffee is on your table.”
Currie stirred, rolled up out of his prone position, and planted both feet firmly on the floor. He reached out, grabbed the canteen cup by the handle, and then steered it towards his lips. Currie smelled it first, whew! Then tasted the thick black mud that was in his cup, he set it back down on the table and he forced himself to swallow the sour burnt liquid, “that is not coffee,” Currie shivered. Currie dressed and headed to the command tent where he met with Walsh and Rawls.
Someone get me some coffee, not that road tar coffee, but a real cup of coffee.
“Like this Captain,” Gleason handed Currie a porcelain steel cup, Currie smile, “thanks Sarge.”
Ok, Brad – Charlie look here, Currie unfolded his map. We aren’t going to be able to waltz through the line this time, the front is too consolidated, and they are too well dug in, so a frontal attack is out of the questions. We would be ground up and spit out, so let’s do this, harass the line, move in harass and fall back, but when you fall back, expect some type of counter attack and prepare a trap, suck them in to your web, get them to chase you and bag a few prisoners and get out. If you can slip behind their lines, do as much damage as you can, get the information anyway you can and get it back to Higgins. Do not I repeat, do not send anything to HQ, it all goes to Higgins; he will carry it to HQ and G2.
Rawls looked at Currie with a questioning look –
“If we send our Intel directly to G2, they will try and call the shots to control us individually and if they can do that they will chop us up and we will no longer be an independent force.”
“Mr. Higgins, you will notify me directly if there is any change in plans from GHQ.”
“Let’s get mounted up, you have the farthest to go, so let’s get going; good luck men, let’s do it.”
Currie folded up the map, stuffed it into the map pouch, and slapped his thigh with it, he turned and picked up his helmet and made his way out of the tent into the bright morning sun, “turn them over Top.”
Kovac raised his arm straight up and over his head circled his index finger the engines of the ½ track, the armored car and the 6×6’s started, the men standing around began to climb aboard the trucks. Kovac walked by each vehicle making sure he had all the men, he walked back to the jeep, “we are already Captain,” Kovac climbed in the jeep started it and slowly eased out of the area onto the highway headed north, to Pinchon.