Summary: The war in the desert is coming to a close. As the Rats embark on their final mission, all must ponder life after the conflict. The soldiers enter the adventure casually, but it proves to be anything but–heroics for Hitch, injury for Moffitt and Troy, and tragedy for Tully.
Category: Rat Patrol
Genre: WWII Drama
Word Count: 11,908
Private Pettigrew looked pensive. He sat cross-legged atop a white dune of fine sand. It was high noon. His rifle rested lazily across his chest and over his right shoulder. The butt of the gun was dug into the grit between his khaki-clad legs. He chewed a dried up piece of grass as he gazed out over the Sahara Desert – his desert.
It was a beautiful day. Somewhere out there, men were fighting what was left of the war. But, from where Tully sat, it couldn’t have been more peaceful. The sky was the colour of a south pacific lagoon; the soldier had to take the time to soak it in. It was the spring of 1943.
Tully often took his rare down time to segregate himself from his patrol mates. He was a spiritual fellow and this place brought out the best in him. Kentucky was his home, but North Africa was fast becoming where he wanted to be. And, the place he wanted to stay. Despite the months of fatiguing combat – he loved it. Even though war ragged, he found peace here.
In the shallow valley below, the other members of Tully’s unit milled about. Troy, the definite leader of his pack of desert rats, was a tough but fair sergeant that Tully respected and cared about. Moffitt, a well-educated British gent, was Tully’s wingman. He had been suspicious of the Englishman at first, but several missions into their tour together; Moffitt had proved himself a brave and indispensable member of the crew. Tully was very fond of him as well. Hitch, Tully’s best friend, was a streetwise, oversexed imp. But, those traits only made the young private more likeable.
As the twenty-four year old soldier looked around his world, he twirled the four silver rings he wore: two on his left little finger and two on his right. He sub-consciously played with them while pondering his future. All of his buddies had noticed the jewelry and asked where they came from. Tully never divulged their meaning, keeping his secret until he felt it was time to tell. They did have special significance and he felt revealing it would jinx the whole thing. No, that time would come. He knew the war in this neck of the woods was all but won – the end was near.
Moffitt appeared suddenly at Tully’s side. He’d taken a seat before Tully even noticed him. His grace was physical as well as intellectual.
“Only mad dogs and Englishman go out in the midday sun Tully. Didn’t you not know that?”
“Ahuh. So what’s your excuse?” The sandy-haired private inquired whimsically.
“Well,” Moffitt thought, “I haven’t quite figured you Americans out quite yet. But, someday it will all become clear to me.” He paused after a brief chuckle. “Anything on your mind?”
“Nah. Just thinkin.”
“About what?” Moffitt asked with sincere interest.
“How big this place is. How much I like it here. I know that sounds funny cause of the war and all, but…”
“No, no…” Moffitt interrupted. “I understand completely. I’ve always loved the desert, war or not. It’s beautiful. You know… it’s like a lady…”
“…it puts on a new face everyday.” Tully took the words out of Moffitt’s mouth. “Yeah, I know.”
“How could I forget? I thought you were pretty uppity that first day.”
Another pause dangled in mid-air as the two men continued to scan the bleached-out terrain.
“Have you thought about what you are going to do after the war? It’s almost over isn’t it?” Tully sounded almost saddened by the prospect.
“Yes… quite. Rommel’s on the run. The Eighth has crossed the border into Tunisia. Yes, I’d say our work here is almost done. Disappointed?”
“Kinda. So… have you thought about it? About what you’re going to do?”
“Yes, I have actually.” Moffitt replied.
“I think I shall return to England and after many weeks rest and several bacon butties with brown sauce, I think I shall teach.”
“You’ll be a great teacher!”
“I think so. If I do say so myself.” Moffitt boasted.
Tully put his tongue in his cheek then smiled broadly at Moffitt’s gloat. When he did the wrinkles from the sides of his eyes ran all the way down beside the curves of his mouth and ended at the top of his chin. It was the months of sun that made his skin so textured. It looked good on him.
“And you?” Moffitt inquired.
“Not sure yet. I’m still think’in on it.”
Another pause wafted between them though not an uncomfortable one.
“What’s a bacon buttie?”
Moffitt laughed at the question and was somewhat caught off guard at the change in atmosphere. But Tully didn’t see the humour in it. And the fact that Tully did not see the humour made Moffitt laugh even harder. His lack of sleep had made him punchy. It was such a long time since he’d laughed this heartily and the sergeant seemed to be making up for lost time. He sort of fell to the side in fits, laying on the sand in the fetal position. Tully stared at Moffitt stone-faced. He scowled slightly.
“No really.” Tully repeated with mild disdain. “What is it?”
Moffitt continued to howled.
“Hey!” Troy shouted up at them. “Let’s go!”
“It’s not that funny.” The private sneered as he stood up and stepped over the collapsed Englishman.
He picked up his rifle and began his descent down the dune looking back over his shoulder with an embarrassed smirk. He shook his head trying to stave off the mockery. Moffitt uncharacteristically began to roll his way off the plateau. Still laughing he over took Tully who was somewhat peeved now. An avalanche of sand and dust followed them. Troy waited at the bottom with his hands on his hips as he watched Moffitt tumble.
“What’s so funny?” Troy asked Tully as they watched Moffitt finally get to his feet.
The Brit removed his beret and used it to slap off all the sand he had gathered. He concentrated on collecting himself both bodily and mindfully. It was far more his style to be composed.
“Well?” Troy asked again.
“Just asked him what a ‘bacon buttie’ was Sarge. That’s all.” Tully answered dryly and Moffitt again went into yuks of laughter at Tully’s aggravated expense.
Troy cocked his head and pondered.
“What the hell is a bacon buttie?”
This was the first mission the Rat Patrol had had in two weeks. Their reconn and demolition duties were now few and far between. The war in North Africa was winding down and the men were not relishing what lay ahead for each of them. The subject was taboo and was skirted by all four soldiers as they tried to focus on what was left to do.
Their territory too, was narrowing as British, American and Australian troops pushed what was left of the German Army and their Italian friends out of the Sahara.
On this assignment, the Rat Patrol was ordered to blow one of Rommel’s few remaining fuel lines. It was near a small village called Ada Elmir. It was forty kilometers east of the Tunisian border and Troy and his boys were now in unfamiliar territory. The Germans had occupied it for years and the allies had never been able to penetrate that far. Not even the Long Range Desert Groups that worked in enemy territory. At least not until now.
The land was much more rocky and mountainous then the parts of the desert they were used to. It was a nice change and each man took in the new surroundings. The small convoy of Jeeps came to a lazy halt as Troy leisurely raised his right hand. Tully pulled parallel with Hitch for the impromptu pow wow.
“What is it Troy?” Moffitt asked.
“I don’t like the look of those cliffs up ahead. It’s easy cover. We could be driving into a trap.”
“Hmmm.” Moffitt murmured doubtfully while scanning the canyon. “I should think there wouldn’t be much enemy left in this part of the desert”
Hitch blew a bright pink balloon with his bubble gum as he picked at a hangnail. He seemed bored. Tully took the opportunity to relieve himself.
“So what’s up?” Tully asked his sergeants as he returned to the Jeep zipping up along the way.
“Troy’s fearful there could be snipers in those rocks up ahead.”
“Yep. Could be.” Tully shrugged unconcerned as he slid into the driver seat beside the Englishman.
“You don’t seem too worried about it.” Troy grinned at Tully as he spoke.
“Well. The way I see it Sarge, we’ve come this far and now there’s hardly anyone left, so odds are we’ll be OK.”
“Yeah. I guess you’re right. Let’s shake it.” Troy ordered calmly, understanding Tully’s point.
They moved on. There was no other way to get to Ada Elmir anyway. They would have to take their chances. As they approached the cliffs it seemed like an ocean of sand had divided in front of them. Like Moses and the Red Sea. Both Hitch and Tully instinctively slowed down as they entered the deep rocky valley. Its mouth was large and seemed to gap open ready to swallow them whole. Once they had entered it, it did feel ominous.
Troy went on guard. He rose from his passenger seat and poised himself at the trigger of the ever-faithful fifty machine gun. Moffitt did the same. The two sergeants eyed the walls of the precipice wary of what may lurk on every ledge and behind every boulder. As if entering a vacuum, the desert turned an eerie tranquil. Only the crackling of the stones beneath the tires chipped the air. Clouds of dust caught up with the quartet as a breeze behind them picked up. Tully’s heart started to race as uneasiness fell over him. Movement out of the corner of his left eye made him snap his head around.
“Sarge!!” He shouted as a single gunshot rang out.
Moffitt hit the ground like a bag of dirty laundry. He rolled and grabbed his hand in agony. He struggled to get to his feet but his legs wouldn’t cooperate. He tried again but only made it to one knee.
“Moffitt!” Troy yelled back to his comrade.
Tully and Hitch wheeled the Jeeps around when more shots echoed through the canyon. Tully pulled up beside Moffitt and the sergeant was able to throw himself into the passenger seat. His left hand was bloody and he held on to it like he was afraid he’d loss it.
Troy motioned the privates to a cave that had conveniently presented itself right in front of them. Bullets ricochet off the side of Troy’s Jeep, making the metal ring. More shots showered them like a mist of fog. Dust sprayed the sides of the tires until the men finally reached the cover of the cave. Then silence again. Only the heavy breathing of the soldiers penetrated the air after their hectic scramble from their vehicles to shelter. Sweat ran down their faces. Moffitt winced and fell to his knees in pain.
“Sarge!” Tully ran to him tearing the bandana from his neck. “Sarge. You okay?”
When he got to Moffitt he pulled his hand from the Englishman’s grasp and tied the bandana around the sticky, red mess.
“No! I’m not okay! It bloody well hurts!!” He protested Tully’s obtuse comment.
“Sorry Sarge.” He couldn’t help but smirk at Moffitt’s reaction. He found it oddly amusing. “Hold still so I can tend to it.”
“Hitch, get a canteen and the first aid kit?” Troy asked calmly.
“Sure thing Sarge.”
Hitch carefully crawled to the Jeep that stood several feet outside the opening of the cave. He did not want to alarm the sniper so he stayed as low and as quiet as possible.
“How’s it look Tully?” Troy inquired as he leaned over the pair.
“It’s not as bad as it looks.”
“Very easy for you to say, private.” Moffitt hissed as he watched the operation.
“I don’t think any bones are broken.” Tully summarized.
“I can’t seem to move my thumb or forefinger.” Moffitt informed them.
“I take that back.” Tully corrected himself.
Hitch returned without incident. He carried the canteen over to Moffitt and poured some of the water over his wound. As Hitch soaked the bullet hole, Tully wiped the wound clean and wrapped it in gauze from the first aid kit that Hitch had also secured. Then he helped Moffitt to his feet and walked him over to the side of the cave, sat him down and placed the canteen next to him in case he needed it. Troy, Hitch and Tully formed a football huddle to discuss the situation as Moffitt collected his wits.
“Did anyone see where the fire came from?” Troy asked as he peered through the bright opening of the dugout.
“Yep. I saw him just before the first shot.” Tully answered pulling a matchstick from his shirt pocket and sticking it between his teeth. He looked back at Moffitt to make sure he was alright.
“Do you think there’s just one?”
“Pretty sure. Only saw one.” Tully said. “If there were more we’d be dead.”
“Well, at least we know he’s a bad shot.” Hitch pronounced.
“Yeah.” Troy replied investigating the rocks again.
“Unless he was aiming for Moffitt’s hand.” Tully quipped.
Hitch smirked briefly at his friend’s acerbic crack and Troy appreciated it too.
“This cave is good cover for now, but we’re going to have to flush him out.” Troy reasoned as he devised a plan as he spoke.
“How?” Hitch asked.
“Well. I’m thinking decoy.”
“No, you’re thinking sitting duck.” Tully poked.
“Let’s hope this guy is as bad a shot as we think.”
“I don’t know Sarge.”
“Got a better idea Hitch?” Troy asked squarely.
Both privates looked at one another searching for just that – a better idea. But they had none. Tully looked over at Moffitt. He sat in a heap with his eyes closed tightly and his injured hand resting in his good one trying without much success to keep a stiff upper lip. He was wet with perspiration and sucked in air as if it might cease to exist. Tully could almost see Moffitt’s hand throb from where he stood. He knew that a shot to the fingers hurt like a son-of-a-bitch. He felt kind of guilty that he’d taken the situation so lightly before they’d entered the canyon. Tully looked down at his boots and shuffled the dirt around a bit. He toyed with his four rings before he returned to the huddle with Troy and Hitch.
“Who’s playing the duck?” Tully inquired.
“Me.” Troy pointed to himself with his thumb like he was hitchhiking. “When I’m out there dodging, I want you and Hitch to see where he is. Then tonight, Tully, you’re going to set yourself up with that dead aim of yours for the next round tomorrow when I do the same thing.”
“Do you think he’ll stay put?” Hitch wondered.
“Most snipers do. They’re patient bastards. Once they have a spot they like, they usually stay where they are.” Troy continued. “You ready?”
Both privates nodded and the three men shimmied up to the edge of the cave. The men shielded themselves behind the shadowy black curtain the brilliant sun provided. The contrast was as sharp as the blade of a sword.
“I’m heading to that scrub over there and I’m com’in right back. Cover me.”
Tully and Hitch already had their weapons cocked before Troy gave the order. Then like a hare being chased by a fox, Troy took off toward his target.
He had only taken three steps before the sniper started firing. Troy ran with his hands above his shoulders, using them as a shield from the fragments that splashed up at him. He moved masterfully from side-to-side, outmaneuvering the gunman. He reached his goal and began his run back to the cave taking a completely different route. Tully and Hitch sprayed the opposite wall of the valley with bullets and they both marked the spot where the shots came from.
Troy’s hat was shot off his head during the Malay. He flinched and then stumbled from the close call. Then Troy felt a sharp pain. It felt like something had bitten him. He hit the sand. His chin ploughed into the grit, digging a narrow trench. Without a moment’s hesitation, Hitch ran out to gather his sergeant from the cloud of ammunition.
“HITCH! Hitch no!!” Tully yelled after the young soldier but wasted no time in restarting his cover gunfire.
When Hitchcock reached Troy, he threw him over his shoulder as if he were a sack of grain. He swung around and made a beeline for the cave without any concern for his own safety. The sniper continued his terror but Hitch ignored it and focused on getting Troy back to the cavern. He reached the edge of the cave to find Moffitt shooting his rifle with his one good hand. Hitch threw himself and Troy into the shelter and rolled out of the way of more incoming bullets.
Moffitt slumped back against the rock wall as Tully and Hitch investigated Troy’s injuries. They turned him over to find a fully conscious Troy with a clean hole through his side. So clean in fact, there was barely any blood. But the cut to his chin bleed profusely drenching the front of his sun-bleached shirt. Again the first aid kit made itself useful as the privates’ played nursemaid.
“It’s okay. I’m okay.” Troy insisted as he got to his feet as pure adrenaline flooded his body.
“Take it easy Sarge. You’ve been shot”
“No I haven’t.” Troy replied in a daze.
“Oh yeah you have.” Tully pointed out the hole. “Look right here.”
“Oh shit… I’ve been …” Troy failed to finish his sentence as he crumbled to the ground out cold.
Hitch and Tully picked up Troy. One took his feet and one held him under his arms. They hauled him over beside Moffitt who watched the drama unfold.
“Two down. Two to go?” The Brit joked sarcastically, once more, inspecting his now swollen and bloody hand. “We’re quite a battered crew aren’t we?”
“We know where the sniper is now at least.” Hitch said quietly.
“That was a heroic thing you did Hitch. They give medals to men like you for such actions. You should be commended.” Moffitt complimented.
“It’s nothing. Troy would have done the same for me.”
“You’re right of course.”
“So. What now?” Hitch looked at Tully.
He just raised his shoulders in casual unison.
Hitch knelt down to bandage Troy and reported that the wound was superficial. If they kept it clean, it shouldn’t cause much of a problem. Troy would be sore and stiff but the wound was not life threatening. Just as Hitch finished his masterful taping of Troy’s torso, the sergeant started to come out of his shock-induced sleep.
“Aaargh…” he growled, “What hit me?”
“A bullet.” Tully answered.
“Oh yeah… how could I forget.” Troy grunted.
Sam Troy was renowned for his resilience. It wasn’t that he didn’t feel the pain – he did. It was that he somehow didn’t mind. It gave him a super-human aura at times. He never ceased to amaze his superiors or his subordinates. The enemy too, was constantly disconcerted by Troy’s gumption. Hauptmann Dietrich had experienced it on many occasions. This lapse was uncharacteristic but his almost instant recovery was true to form.
Tully looked anxious. It wasn’t like him to feel nervous. His emotions were usually in check. He stared out of the cave and watched the hot white circle slowly turn to mauve. It was like God had dimmed the lights. As darkness fell over the gorge, calmness blanketed Tully’s uneasiness as well. The feeling was strange. A lizard scampered over the toe of his boot.
The private looked over at Moffitt who slept uncomfortably. His temperature did not come down as the desert’s had. He had lost a lot of blood. Hitch crouched like a baseball catcher and wiped Moffitt’s brow of sweat. Fever meant infection and infection could mean amputation. They all knew that.
It wasn’t until the edge of the opening and the valley itself melted into the same hue, that Tully got the order from Troy. He walked over to Tully and whispered, careful not to break the silence of the night. The lowland acted like a megaphone, and even the slightest sound could be heard for miles.
“Well find yourself a nest and settle til morning.” Troy looked at his watch. “I’ll be flying out of here at 0600.”
“Right Sarge.” Tully murmured as he too checked his timepiece – a watch he wore with the face on the inside of his wrist.
Tully crawled out of the cave determined not to make a sound. Troy and Hitch watched him as he slithered away like the lizard had just moments before. Tully stopped momentarily to try to get his eyes used to the limited light. There was no moon. He looked back over his right shoulder and spotted a ledge that would be perfect for his own sniper skills. He hopped to his feet athletically. He flung his rifle over his neck and it landed squarely on his back. He began his ascent. As he climbed up to his nesting place, rubble began to fall and it echoed through the canyon. He stopped and hugged the rocks and waited for silence again. He continued even more gingerly upwards until he reached his perch. He settled into a cross-legged position and rested his helmeted head against the wall of the cliff. His gun rested between his legs and up over his shoulder. He held it like a child.
It was cold. Bloody cold. He hugged himself trying to retain his body heat as he glanced across the valley and picked out the spot he had marked earlier that day. He was weary, so he recited Shakespeare in his head to keep himself awake. Hamlet.
He could not fail. Troy and Hitch were depending on him and Moffitt – Moffitt needed him more than ever. The war was almost over and all of them were getting out alive. He twirled his four rings… to be or not to be.
Tully awoke with a jolt. He looked from side-to-side as he tried to orient himself. Then he remembered where he was and the job at hand; to pick off the sniper that had the Rat Patrol trapped. It was a rude awakening.
The sun had not risen yet but the indigo richness of night had been replaced by the cobalt blue of dawn. Tully sighed heavily as he reset himself for the target and the kill. He could see his breath in the crisp morning air as he exhaled. He glanced down at his watch. It was 05:57. He prepared for Troy’s rush and flipped up the scope of his rifle.
His breathing calmed and his heart steadied. He rested the barrel of his rifle on a rock to stabilize it. He couldn’t miss. Troy could be killed if he did. He relaxed and concentrated on the target. His respiration became deliberate because even the beat of his heart could compromise his aim. Focus engulfed him. In and out, in and out – breathe.
Troy’s dash made Tully’s heart skip. Even though he was prepared for it, it spooked him, but only for an instant. Seven steps into Troy’s scramble the sniper began shooting. Tully could only make out the top of the gunman’s head. He squeezed the trigger and the bullet missiled toward its mark. A cloud of red flew up and the body flopped into the open and toppled down the hillside where it rested on a ledge. It looked like the enemy had turned to liquid. The lifeless body laid still with its arms dangling over its head into midair. The whole exercise took only seconds to accomplish. It was swift, accurate and merciful.
Troy’s dash came to an abrupt halt as once again the valley became serene. Tully stood slowly. He looked across at the gunman with a powerful stance beaming with satisfaction. After admiring his work he began his descent down into the flats. He watched Troy make his way up to what was left of the sniper. When he got to it, he turned back toward Tully who was on his way up to meet his sergeant. He was curious as to who was behind the terror.
“Don’t come up here Tully.” Troy shouted down at him.
Hitch had emerged from the cave like a prairie dog from its hole as Tully continued up the hill. Hitch could hear Troy warning him to stay away.
“Tully! I said don’t come up here!” Troy yelled again. But Tully ignored the warning.
“Why?” He quarried with a puzzled squint. “Who is it?”
“Just trust me.” Troy warned one last time holding his hand out for effect.
But Tully would have none of it. It was his hunt and his kill and he was going to see who it was.
When he reached the body he was taken aback. He felt as if he’d been kicked in the gut. He looked at Troy wishing he’d taken his advice.
“He must have gotten separated from his unit.” Troy stated quietly.
The boy couldn’t have been more than 14 years old. His nazi uniform was miles too big for him. The sleeves were rolled up so they wouldn’t get in his way. The waist of his oversized pants, were pulled in tight by a belt that had a foot of leather left over. This boy had not seen food in quiet some time. His gaunt face was the colour of eggplant from the blood and his eyes, blue as sapphires, stared up at his assailant. The top of his head was gone. Tully looked away but all he saw was the waterfall of gore that fell down the cliff and pooled in the sand below.
He started down the rock face in disgust but half way down he had to stop to vomit. Troy followed the private down and tried to console him, but Tully pushed Troy away and walked to the opening of the valley away from his unit. Troy decided to leave him be for now. Tully needed time to digest what had happened. He knew that Tully would have to come to terms with it and that nothing anyone could say would help right now. He was willing to wait for him but he knew Moffitt needed a doctor and time was ticking.
Tully was sick to his stomach again and after he gained control he found a rock to hide behind. He crumbled to the ground and pulled his knees to his chest with his forearms. He threw his helmet in the dirt and his chin fell to his chest. Then he rested his forehead on his knees and cried like he never had before.
After watching Tully disappear into his private hell, Troy turned back to the cave. He held his side and favoured his injury with a slight limp. He collected his hat the he had lost in the fracas the day before. Hitch was already guiding Moffitt into a Jeep. He gingerly placed him in the makeshift bunk he had rigged up during the cover of night.
Moffitt was still feverish and in and out of consciousness. His hand had doubled in size – his sun kissed skin stretched to its limit.
“Where’s Tully?” Hitch asked Troy as he approached.
“He needs some time”
“Well, we don’t have any Sarge, Moffitt’s getting worse. He’s …”
“Just a few more minutes Hitch.” Troy interrupted crossly.
The platinum-haired soldier looked confused. His expression begged an explanation. Troy realized he deserved one.
“The shooter was just a kid. Couldn’t have been more than 14 years old. Tully’s pretty shaken up.”
“Oh.” Hitch muttered as his head fell forward. When he raised it again he saw Tully slowly walking toward them. “Here he comes.” He said pointing with his chin.
Tully looked like a warrior. He was wearing his helmet again. They could only see the top of it as he attempted to hide under it to shield his anguish. He carried his rifle in his right hand like it was an extension of it. He walked straight to Troy but said nothing. He didn’t have to. His eyes were red from floods of tears. Troy just put his hand on the private’s shoulder in solemn understanding. Tully took his seat behind the wheel of his Jeep and holstered his rifle. He waited for Troy to join him.
As the convoy drove by the body, Hitch glanced up at it. Even from that distance, he could see how young the sniper was. A mere child. He looked ahead at Tully who was focused on the desert in front of him. He made no effort to look at the body again. He couldn’t bare it. The killing of that boy would haunt him all his life. They drove off into open desert without looking back.
Moffitt slept comfortably. Troy lay wide awake in the cot next to his friend in a small army hospital several hours from where the sniper incident had occurred. He’d been tightly bandaged by a rather attractive nurse. He felt perfectly fine and ready to continue the mission, but the doctor insisted he rest. Troy sat up slightly when he saw the doctor enter the tent.
“How’s he doin Doc?” He asked as he pulled himself to the edge of the cot.
The hospital was not filled to capacity like it would have been six weeks ago. There were twenty cots but less than half of them were occupied. The beds that Aussie, Brit and American soldiers once occupied now held wounded German and Italian prisoners.
“He’s going to be just fine.” The doctor replied with a thick Australian accent. “And so will you be, mate. Your private – the one who was in here earlier took good care of both of you. Sergeant Moffitt’s temperature is coming down now. We’ve set the bones in his hand and drained the infection. He’s going to be okay.”
“Good… good.” Troy breathed a sigh of relief. “Can I go?”
“You are an impatient one aren’t you.” The doctor chuckled at Troy’s anxiousness to get up and go. “Yes, if you insist, you are free to go. But…” the doctor continued, “you must take it easy. You may think you are feeling well, but you have been shot sergeant. No need to rush things. The war is all but over.”
Troy smiled cautiously while putting on his shirt, and then took a final check of the sedated Moffitt before he put his hat on and walked out of the coolness of the tent. He knew Moffitt was in good hands and they would be back for him. As he exited, it felt like he was walking into a sauna. His shirt clung to him like another layer of soggy skin.
Troy scanned the quiet camp and remembered a time when it bustled. He too, was aware of the war in the desert winding down. He was glad. He was tired. He was ready to move on.
He saw Hitch having lunch with a pretty nurse and then looked around for Tully but did not see him. He walked down to the end of camp, casually saluting Hitch who grinned widely back at Troy as he passed. He sauntered toward the motor pool where they had parked the Jeeps and where Tully usually ended up. He liked to tinker. But, to Troy’s surprise, he was not there. Troy stood with his hands on his hips and scanned the area again. He looked out at the desert and the rock formations that carved a silhouette out of the cloudless sky.
There was Tully sitting atop a large boulder. He stared at the horizon and smoked a cigarette. He was bare-headed – his hair so bleached by the sun it glowed like torch. The cut off sleeves of his shirt blew like rags in the relentless breeze. Troy rested his stubbled chin on his chest and exhaled heavily. He realized that it was time to talk to his man. He headed over to the rocks still favouring his side with a slight limp. The wound was itchy now and he found it hard to ignore.
Troy was leaning against the boulder before Tully even noticed the sergeant approach.
“Only mad dogs and Englishman go out in the midday sun you know, Tully.”
The young private sniffed a chuckle.
“That’s exactly what Moffitt said to me three days ago.”
“So… how you doin?”
“Not so good, Sarge.” Tully admitted tentatively.
Troy didn’t say anything. There was a long pause.
“I killed a kid.” Tully said sorrowfully. “I can’t believe I killed a kid.”
“War is hell Tully. You know that. Sometimes, we have no choice but to kill or be killed. That sniper may have been just a kid but he was still deadly.”
Tully didn’t say anything. Troy continued.
“You were just doing your job.”
Tully blew a puff of smoke and continued to scan the skyline. He then lowered his head shaking it slowly.
“How’s Moffitt?” Tully finally asked. He had to change the subject.
“He’s fine. Doc saved the hand. He’s going to be okay.”
Tully nodded. He played with his rings, taking them on and off and rearranging them as he continued to stare over the land without really looking at anything.
“Listen, Tully…” Troy said soberly. “We’ve still got a line to blow. Let’s get it done and go home.”
“Home.” The sandy-haired private murmured. “I can barely remember it Sarge.”
“You’ll remember soon enough.”
“I’ve decided to stay for a while when it’s over.” Tully divulged. “Does that sound crazy?”
“Nope.” Troy reassured. “No, it doesn’t.”
Tully stood and climbed down the rock with the agility of cougar over its mountainous terrain. Troy gave him a firm pat on the back. Dust rose from Tully’s clothes like puffs of baby powder.
“We’re almost done here Tully. Then you can see Africa the way it was meant to be seen – in peace.”
Tully simply grinned with melancholia. He and his unit had shared so much. He’d miss them.
“Hitch!” Troy yelled and followed his bark with a sharp whistle flung from between his teeth. “Let’s go!”
The elfin private’s head popped out from behind a tent flap like he’d been caught in the shower. He looked somewhat peeved by the rude interruption, but whatever Troy said went. His face disappeared briefly before he came running out of the tent. Hitch’s shirt was unbutton and flapped behind him as he ran. He carried his red kepi under his arm and fumbled with glasses as he tried to put them on as he jogged.
“What were you up to?” Troy asked whimsically as Hitch flew by him and into the driver’s seat.
“Nothing Sarge. Nothing.”
“Nothing…my ass.” Troy mumbled shaking his head. If Hitch was anything Troy thought, he was predictable.
Tully sat behind the wheel of his Jeep ready to go. He had lit himself a fresh cigarette and it dangled loosely from his bottom lip. His trip to Ada Elmir would be quiet without his wingman Moffitt. But he didn’t mind; he didn’t feel like talking.
Hitch finally had his ducks in a row and sat attentively with his hands perched firmly on the stirring wheel. Out of the corner of his eye, he watched Troy limp slowly toward the passenger side of his Jeep. He too, lit a cigarette and inhaled the tobacco pleasurably. Hitch felt like a child waiting to be lectured by a parent and pretended he’d done nothing wrong. Troy never lectured him though, but slid into the dust-covered seat. He looked over at Hitch and smirked. The remaining Rats and their vehicles moved out. A cloud of dust engulfed them.
Ada Elmir was a ghost town. Troy, Tully and Hitch drove through the main street of the rubble and smoldering ruins. Hitch was reminded of the Saturday afternoon matinées he frequented as a kid. The old western movies depicted towns in this condition all the time.
It was obvious the German army was destroying everything in its path during its hasty retreat out of Libya. Some of the stone buildings held up well to the barrage but there were other structures that only had a doorframe as its only survivor.
The three men came to a halt with the timid squeak of tired brake systems. No one spoke. They just took in their surroundings with quiet disappointment.
“Sarge.” Tully said after removing his helmet and lighting yet another cigarette.
His Zippo lighter clapped shut. He sucked the sweet taste of nicotine into his lungs. The scent of butane slipped into Hitch’s nose. Troy gave Tully his attention and waited patiently for the private to speak again. Tully didn’t say a word but rather pointed into the distance with a lazy finger. Troy looked in the direction of Tully’s focus and saw it. It was hard to see through the wafts of smoke that spewed from the burning village. A black cloud rose from the Sahara about forty miles away. It filled the sky and blocked out the sun.
The three men realized that it was the fuel line they had been sent to demolish. The German’s had decided to blow it themselves on their way out. If they couldn’t use it then no one else could either.
Troy looked at Hitch who tried to squint the image into view. He coughed a little but never took his attention away from the fire. Tully’s mind was somewhere else as if he didn’t care. It was at that moment Troy realized the war in Africa was over. There was no declaration or parade. It was simply and unceremoniously – done.
They would return to the hospital and pick up Moffitt and then on to Head Quarters. There they would each either be rewarded with a ticket home or be re-assigned.
“Tully. You stay here.” Troy ordered. “Me and Hitch are going to check it out.”
It didn’t take Hitch an instant to put the Jeep in gear and peel out of the village at full throttle. Tully finished his cigarette as he watched his comrades disappear into the gray haze. He flicked the butt into the dirt and then sat motionless. He was still reeling from the shock of that previous day’s episode.
His world spun around and he felt almost suspended in space. The cherub face of the sniper kept leaping into Tully’s conscience. It haunted him. He let his head fall back and it bounced gently on the back of the seat. Tully stared up into the blueness and watched the billows of smoke pass in front of the sun. He desperately tried to erase the images that plagued him. He gripped the stirring wheel to get his bearings and his four rings dug into his skin. Tully had killed dozens of men over the past nineteen months, but he just couldn’t seem to come to terms with the last one.
He released his grasp and sighed deeply trying to control his anxiety. He employed the breathing excercises of a marksman and the respiratory control he was trained to use. He could feel calm vail over him like a blanket and then finally fell into the artificial comfort of sleep.
He was aware of the crackling and snapping that whispered to him from every corner of the town. He was still in the same position with the back of his head resting atop the back of the seat. His face was burning and tight from the sun. Tully cranked his head forward with a groan and peered down at his watch. He looked around for Troy and Hitch but he was alone. He sat up and grabbed the canteen to quench his dry throat. He stopped abruptly. He thought he heard something. He sat up straight – his senses pricked. There it was again.
Tully rose from the driver seat and started walking toward the noise. He stopped several times as the stones beneath his boots drowned out the sound as he walked. He was getting closer. He pulled his knife from its sheath and leaned against the crumpled walls as he made his way down the main street. Was the enemy still about? Were there yet more snipers at the ready to shoot him down? When he came to a corner he peered around it. He always exercised caution. Again the sound resonated.
As Tully turned to go down an alleyway, he cocked his head to try to tune into where the sound was coming from. What was it? He came upon a doorway and the noise became clearer. Tully entered a small dark room where soot and ash clung to the stone walls. He squinted to try and bring what was ahead in focus and tripped over something. As he looked back he saw the body. It was a woman. A young woman. He knelt down to see if she was alive. That is when he discovered it.
The infant held on to Tully’s ringed finger in innocent gratitude. As young as he was, he sensed he’d been saved. It made Tully smile. He cradled the baby as he slowly walked back to the Jeep. The little one had stopped crying and seemed to nestle into the comfort of the soldier. Secure in the arms of a stranger. Tully couldn’t take his eyes off the child who was two months old at the most.
Tully sat in the driver seat again and sheltered the baby from the sun. He’d bathed the ash and grit off him in the warm water of the basin that stood in the middle of the town. He made a make shift diaper from the cleanest cloth he could find and then wrapped him in one of his spare shirts.
Tully barely noticed Troy and Hitch reentering the town. It wasn’t until the Jeep screeched to a stop that Tully finally took his attention away from the child.
“What’s that?” Hitch questioned as he took his glasses off to clean them with the tail of his shirt.
“It’s a baby.”
“Well, I know it’s a baby. Where’d it come from?”
“I found him.”
“Where?” Troy said.
“Over there. His mother’s dead… everyone is dead.” Tully returned his gaze to the infant. The baby grinned up at the private – his wide, Arab eyes as black as coffee. The baby reached for the leather strap that dangled from Tully’s helmet. It hung like a mobile over the newborn’s head. He pulled on it.
“So… I guess we take it with us?” Hitch wondered as he looked up at Troy as he put his glasses back on. Troy was leaning on the fifty machine gun.
The sergeant jumped to the ground and sauntered over to Tully.
“The fuel line is gone. That was the easiest assignment I ever had.” He said as he peeked at the baby and smiled at how cute he was. “I guess we should get this little guy to the field hospital.” Troy uttered as he waited for a response from Tully. There was none. “Push over. I’ll drive.”
Moffitt sat leisurely outside the red cross tent. He’d tilted his chair onto its back legs and crossed his feet against a pole. He read a three-month old London Times that he’d found under one of the hospital beds. The groan of the Jeep’s was unmistakable and his attention averted to the on-coming vehicles. Moffitt stood to greet his unit mates.
His hand was bandaged right up to the elbow and in a sling. He looked well and refreshed. He immediately noticed the bundle Tully cradled.
“Well, who do we have here?” He said as he sidled up to the passenger seat where Tully sat motionless.
“It’s a kid!” Hitch shouted over to him as if he was miles away.
“Where did it come from?”
“Ada Elmir.” Troy interjected. “The Krauts destroyed the town and the fuel line before we even got the chance.”
Hitch and Troy had already joined Moffitt and were glad to see him up and about. Tully had yet to move. The child still clutched his finger with all its might.
“What’s the matter with him?” Moffitt inquired of Tully’s unresponsiveness.
“It’s a long story. I’ll fill you in later.” Troy said as he looked over at the private.
“I’ll get a nurse.” Hitch reported as he entered the tent.
“I hope he means for the child.” Moffitt quipped.
Troy forced a smile and then placed his hand on Tully’s shoulder.
“Hey.” He said gingerly.
“The nurse will take the baby now.”
Tully stood and reluctantly handed over the infant to the woman. As the nurse took the baby away from Tully, the infant began to cry. Tully watched in silence as she carried him into the tent. His head dropped to his chest and he placed his hands in his pockets. He turned and walked to the mess tent without uttering a word. He felt somewhat vindicated after saving the little one. But he knew that killing the sniper would never leave his conscience. His head ached with emotion.
“What’s the matter with him?” Moffitt asked.
“He’s had a bad week.” Troy answered. “That sniper that shot you… just a kid.”
“Oh…I see. I had no idea. How unfortunate.”
“Just give him some space. He’ll come around.” Troy said as he patted Moffitt on the back and steered him to the mess tent all in one motion. Hitch followed.
“We’ve been ordered back to HQ for reassignment.” Moffitt explained as they walked. “The war in the desert is over Troy.”
“Oh yeah? Who won?” He chuckled.
“The British Empire has yet again prevailed, of course.”
Now it was Moffitt’s turn to smirk.
“When I saw that the German’s had blown their own line…” Troy suddenly became serious. “I knew it was over.”
“You know, we’ll probably be split up.” Moffitt continued.
“Disappointed?” Troy asked.
“A little. I was just getting used to you Yanks. Now I’ll never get to taste a grit.”
“And I’ll never have the pleasure of eating a bacon buttie.” Troy joked. “What is a bacon buttie anyway?”
The two privates chatted by their faithful Jeeps. Both of them leaned against the hood facing the stone staircase that lead up to the HQ building in Alamein, Egypt. The streets bustled with natives and soldiers alike. The atmosphere was electric. Freedom had taken hold. The future finally looked bright.
It had taken them three days to get there from the remote field hospital near Benghazi. The dust and debris that covered the GIs, gave them a ghostly appearance.
Hitch and Tully were waiting for Moffitt and Troy. They couldn’t help but wonder what was in store next. Hitch was hoping to go home. Tully wanted to stay in Africa, but that he feared, was unlikely. After a fifty-minute wait, the front door of the building finally opened and both men snapped around to see if it was the sergeants. It was. They straightened up – anticipation etched on their faces as they watched their leaders approach.
“Well…” Hitch asked anxiously before they were face-to-face.
“Well what?” Troy mocked.
“Cut it out Sarge. Where are we going?”
“WE are not going anywhere.” Moffitt interrupted. “We are all going different places.”
“Well, I figured that.” Hitch said.
“Moffitt is going to France.” Troy began to detail. “I’m going to Belgium. And Hitch… you’re go’in home.”
Tully gave his friend a playful punch in the shoulder. He was happy for him.
“And Tully?” Hitch asked. “What about Tully?”
“He’s staying put. They were going to send him to France too, but I talked them into letting him stick around here and clean out. They can use a good man like him.”
Tully smiled and shook Troy’s hand with gratitude. “Thanks Sarge.”
“Well, I guess that’s it then. It’s finally over – the four of us.” Moffitt digressed.
There was a long, uneasy hesitation, as none of the men knew what to do. They’d been together day and night for the last nineteen months. They had come to know each other as they knew themselves. They were one – a well-oiled machine. Besides the unit’s obvious ease in which they worked they had all grown very fond of one another – their chemistry undeniable. They were now and forever, brothers. Troy felt he had to say something and he broke the silence awkwardly.
“Well, ah…it’s been great to have you men with me through all this. I couldn’t have made it without your support and friendship. I’ll never forget you. And, I hope, when it’s all over we’ll meet again someday. Maybe rehash the good times… and the bad.” He looked at Tully specifically knowing the young private still struggled with killing the young sniper.
“That’s awfully serious stuff Troy… but you’re right.” Moffitt said trying to ease the moment. “I must say… I feel much the same way about you chaps. I will surly miss the lot of you.” He concluded squarely. “I hope you’ll come to England. You’ll be most welcome in my home. And, you may have as many bacon butties as you please.”
The three men looked at Moffitt begging the question yet again.
“It’s a bacon sandwich actually. I prefer mine with brown sauce.”
Troy, Tully and Hitch scowled in unison. It was hard to image such a concoction.
“It is really quite good with mushy peas and a pint of Guinness.”
Again, the American threesome looked puzzled. They shook their heads doubtfully.
“Sounds delightful.” Troy jabbed. “I can’t think of anything better than hot beer.”
After their brief chortle, a clumsy pause filled the air yet again. Hitch wanted to say something, but couldn’t. He choked back a tear. Tully grabbed Hitch’s neck and shook it gently. He clucked his cheek in preparation for his own little speech. He rarely said much, but when he did decide to orate it was always worth waiting for. He never pulled punches.
“I have something to say.”
His cronies turned to give him their full attention.
“I got these rings in Alexandria when I was shipped over here. When I volunteered for the LRDG, I was told it would just be three other guys and me. So I bought these four rings as a kind of good luck charm. One for each of us. It’s seemed to work so far.”
Troy, Hitch and Moffitt smiled and nodded with agreement. They had always noticed the rings but were unaware of their significance. Their adventures flooded their minds. Dietrich immediately entered Troy’s brain. Moffitt looked down at his hand and Hitch was taken back to an ammo dump where he was shot by an arrow of all things. They had had many close calls, but there they all stood – battered, weary and bruised yes, but alive to tell about it.
“So, we’ll each take a ring away with us to keep us safe from now on.” Tully continued. “We won’t have each other to look out for us anymore. Hopefully, when you look at your ring you’ll remember what we accomplished together. Maybe, you’ll even think of me.”
Tully pulled the rings off his fingers and passed them out as if they were service medals. Each one bore its own battle scars from months of whipping sand, shrapnel and blazing sun.
“Thanks Tully.” Hitch said quietly. He admired the silver piece after pushing it onto his grimy finger.
“So these are the reason we’ve managed through it all eh?” Moffitt smirked.
He too, put on the ring.
“Thank you Tully.” Troy said. “I’ll treasure it.”
“As shall I.” Moffitt agreed.
Troy took a deep breath and then handed each man his papers. Moffitt held out his hand to Tully, and to his surprise, pulled him into an embrace instead. Hitch and Troy did the same and around they went. Finally there were no more good-byes to say.
After a casual salute, Tully turned and headed to the nearest cafe, but not before tapping the hood of his Jeep. He had to say farewell to his mount. It had been his lifeline and his nemesis. He was sure going to miss the old girl. The threesome watched Tully until he disappeared into the throng. He never looked back.
Hitch shook Troy’s hand one more time for good measure. The sergeant had become his mentor. He cared for him deeply. Besides his own father, Hitch held no one with higher regard.
“For everything.” Hitch winked.
He proceeded to his Jeep, hopping into the driver’s seat. He sped off to an awaiting troop truck. It would take him to Cairo. Hitch would then board a boat bound for the States.
And then there were two. Moffitt and Troy faced each other but there was no attempt to make any more small talk. They knew what each other were thinking. Troy never wanted Moffitt as part of his unit in the first place. As a matter of fact, he tried to prevent it. But, he would come to regret his first impression. Moffitt proved to be an integral member of the patrol and was in most part responsible for their success. His knowledge of the desert; his friendships with the Arab tribes and his German language skills had been vital.
“Good-bye Sam.” Moffitt finally said. “I hadn’t anticipating saying farewell would be this difficult. I’ve enjoyed working with you. You’re a splendid chap – for an American.”
“Good luck Jack.” Troy replied simply.
Moffitt stood at attention and saluted Troy. It was returned respectfully. Then, the tall, elegant Englishman walked back into the Head Quarters building.
Troy stood in the middle of the street for a long while. He suddenly felt vulnerable. He took off the ring that Tully had given him and studied it. He shook his head and couldn’t hold back a poignant grin. He put it back on firmly, and lit a cigarette. Then, unceremoniously, Troy got in the remaining Jeep and sped off wildly toward what was left of the war in Europe.
D-Day 50th Anniversary – Normandy, FRANCE June 6th, 1995
Moffitt’s lanky frame was unmistakable. His hair, once like sable, was now snowy white and thin. Troy spotted him through a crowd of hundreds who had gathered for the D-Day celebrations. He’d looked for all his men that whole week but had yet to meet any thus far. Time was quickly running out. This was the last festivity on the agenda.
Troy had struggled with the decision to go back to Europe. After his year and a half stint in North Africa, he’d spent the rest of the war in the muddy fields of Belgium and survived the Battle of the Bulge. He rarely talked about the war with his family. Memories of combat still haunted him.
But, Troy’s wife Dana insisted they go overseas to attend the ceremonies. She told him he’d regret it if he didn’t. Troy was now seventy-nine, and in good health. It would be his last chance. It was time for him to revisit his past. She was right. As hard as it was to return, Troy was glad to be present at such a prestigious event.
He hoped to be reunited with Hitch, Tully and Moffitt on his excursion. They had lost touch soon after they left Africa in 1943. Troy desperately wanted his wife and sons to meet his associates. He’d spent the last week riding in parades, visiting graveyards and reminiscing with the other veterans who had made the trip. But, alas, there had been no sign of his rat pack.
Then finally, on the last day, Moffitt seemingly appeared amid the horde. Troy only saw him from the back, but he knew it was him. He excused himself from his family, and made his way toward his old friend. As he waded through the crowds, Troy stopped momentarily to light a cigarette to calm his anticipation. He wondered if Moffitt would recognize him after all these years.
“SAM – TROY!” Moffitt barked loudly into the blue. “Where the hell have you been old man?” He’d felt Troy’s presence without even turning around.
“How did you know it was me?” Troy asked with astonishment.
“Your cigarette. They say one’s sense of smell is the most powerful in bringing back one’s memory. I’d recognized that… aroma anywhere.”
The two men finally faced each other and embraced. When they parted, they gave each other the once over. Moffitt’s wife and daughter stood next to the pair awaiting introductions.
“You look good Troy. A little gray around the edges and a few pounds heavier, but good nonetheless.”
“Oh. I can’t complain.” Troy said, “You’re a little gray yourself. But, I can’t say you’ve gained an ounce.”
“I can still fit into my desert fatigues.” Moffitt grinned proudly – patting his abs. “How have you been, Sam?”
“Fine. Just fine.”
“I was afraid, you might not come.”
“Wouldn’t miss it.” Troy retorted – his voice still as rough as gravel.
“Have you seen any sign of Hitch or Tully?” Moffitt asked hopefully.
“No…no I haven’t.” Troy looked around the crowd yet again.
“Have you been in touch with them at all over the years?”
“No. I was hoping they’d be here. I got a letter from Hitch when I finally got home in ’46, but I haven’t heard from anybody since. Not even you… old buddy.” Troy gave Moffitt a sideways smirk.
“Yes. I’m afraid I’m guilty of not writing myself. But, I suppose we all wanted to leave that mess behind… even though it was exciting at times.”
Troy kept smiling.
“Well, I’m so glad you’re here now.” Moffitt continued.
The two men stood eyeing each other until Moffitt’s wife nudged her husband slightly.
“Oh dear, where are my manners. Troy, this is my wife Francis and my daughter Jenna. Ladies, this is the infamous Sam Troy.”
“Infamous?” Troy gave Moffitt an amazed looked. “Nice to meet you too ma’am. But, don’t believe a word he says.” Troy winked.
“I’m so glad to meet you Sam. Jack has told me so much about you. And, we’ll have none of this ma’am business. Please call me Francis.”
“Francis it is. Come on. I’ll introduce you to my wife and sons.”
The foursome ploughed back through the crowd to where Troy’s family waited.
“Moffitt?” Troy gleamed. “This is my wife Dana. And, my oldest son David and my youngest boy – Mark.”
“Mark is it? Did you name him after Hitch?” Moffitt shook hands with each young man – both in their thirties.
“Yep. None other.”
“I’m very glad to meet you Dana.” Moffitt kissed her hand.
“So you’re Jack Moffitt.” She blushed. “Sam has a photo of all of you on our mantel at home. You’re as handsome as ever.”
“Why. Thank you so much Dana. And, just where IS home then?”
“Chicago.” Troy piped up. “Are you in London?”
“No actually. We’ve settled just north. We live in Cambridge. I’ve been a professor there for thirty years now.”
“Don’t tell me.” Troy squinted quizzically. “Teaching archeology, sand conditions … odds and ends?”
“Mostly… odds and ends.”
“Naturally.” Troy said coyly.
“And, what have you been up to then?” Moffitt inquired with honest intrigue.
“Boys, boys.” Dana said. “Let’s find a nice place for all of us to talk. Besides, my feet are killing me.”
“That’s a fine idea. Shall we have dinner together? My treat.” Moffitt offered.
“Absolutely. But, it’s on me… and that’s an order.” Troy quipped.
“You no longer out rank me Troy. This is my side of the pond and it is I who shall pay the tab. When I visit you in Chicago, I’ll be more than happy to allow you the same courtesy.”
“It’s a deal.”
The Moffitt and Troy families gathered at a local café for a long over due supper. They had little time to reminisce as Troy and his entourage would return to the states the next day. The men entertained everyone with their escapades while roaming the Sahara. All that was missing was Hitch and Tully. Before they knew it, time had slipped passed midnight.
“Well, I suppose our evening has to end.” Moffitt announced as he noticed the waiters and barkeeps starting to clean up. Their hint was not subtle.
“Yeah. I guess you’re right.” Troy said as he perused the place. He peered at his watch.
“Why don’t you and Jack go get a beer somewhere dear?” Dana suggested. “Just the two of you. The boys and I will go to the hotel and pack.”
“That’s a brilliant idea. What do you say Troy? Shall we paint the town?”
The party split after many hugs and good wishes and then Troy and Moffitt went onto the next watering hole. They found a small pub that had curtained booths, a very long bar and a few scattered tables. The place was full. But, Moffitt and Troy managed to find two vacant stools at the end. They ordered their usual – a beer with a pinch of salt for Troy and a Key lee for Moffitt.
“I sure wish Hitch and Tully were here.” Troy uttered with melancholia after taking his first sip. “Our flight leaves tomorrow. Maybe they didn’t come to France after all.”
“Do you think they are still alive Troy?”
“I don’t know. I sure hope so. They’re younger then we are.”
“All of us are old men now Troy. No matter what the mileage.”
“Yeah. I guess if you’ve made it this far… a few years doesn’t make much difference.”
There was a momentary pause of sentiment. Being in the company of each other, couldn’t help but bring back memories of wartime. It was the best of times and yet the worst. Both men felt it. Then, their thoughts were split in two by a man’s voice that wafted over the heads of the rest of the patrons. It was a familiar one.
Troy knew it was Hitch right away. He’d know that voice anywhere. He sat up straight immediately and looked over the place to try to get a glimpse of him. Then, like an apparition he appeared from a dark corner of the tavern. At age seventy-one, Hitch was as blond and boyish as ever. His eyes still shone like pale sapphires behind his trademark wire-rimmed glasses. His smile – nothing less than charming. His body – still fit and lean.
Hitch picked up his pace when he knew for sure it was Moffitt and Troy. When they met they grabbed each other in a three-way embrace.
“Sarge. I thought I’d leave without seeing you. I wasn’t even sure if you’d be here. Or if you were still alive! Boy, am I glad I stopped in here for a night cap.” Hitch rambled. “How are you?”
“Old.” Troy quipped.
“Nah. You look great, just great. So do you Sarge.” He said turning to Moffitt.
“How many times do I have to tell you private…” The Brit mocked, “…stop calling me Sarge!”
It had been fifty-two year’s since they’d heard that warning. It sounded good.
“You know Hitch… you haven’t changed a bit.” Moffitt said as he gave his friend the once over. “What is your secret?”
“Clean living and a pure heart Sarge. That’s all.”
Hitch’s quote of Moffitt made all of them laugh.
“So? Tell us what you’ve done with your life then?” Moffitt interrogated.
“You’re not going to believe it Sarge.”
“I’m a lawyer.”
“Nope. I have been for about forty-years now. I’m pretty good too. Got my own firm and everything.”
“Brilliant!” Moffitt gushed.
“Good for you kid.” Troy tipped.
“Have you a wife?” Moffitt continued. “Any children?”.
“You’ll never believe this either.”
“I never married. There are just too many chicks out there to enjoy. I couldn’t settle on just one.”
“Of course not.” Troy smirked wickedly.
They ordered another round.
“Have you seen or heard from Tully?” Troy questioned after another hearty swig.
“Not a word Sarge. I tried to look him up when I was in Kentucky on business years back. But, I never found him.”
“I hope he’s okay.” Troy said.
And, then out of the blue came the answer.
“Couldn’t be better Sarge.”
Tully leaned against the entrance doorway of the tavern. He’d entered the bar just in time to watch the reunion of his three comrades. He couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw them. To his surprise, seeing his fellow rats sent waves of anxiety through his body. Floods of emotions good and bad rushed his body. He had to take some time to organize them.
“TULLY!” Moffitt, Troy and Hitch yelled together.
“Yep. It’s me.”
The former private managed to retain the rugged good looks he possessed while in the desert. He too had gained weight. His face was carved with the lines of age, but his hair was still as thick and unkempt as ever. Again the men threw their arms around each other. The team of so long ago was now reunited.
“Let’s get a table shall we?” Moffitt urged. He seemed to beam with joy.
The foursome took seats at a table that had just been vacated.
“How’ve you been Tully?”
“Still a man of few words I see.” Troy grinned.
“Are you here with your family?”
“No. Just me.”
“So, tell us what you’ve been up to in the last 4 or 5 decades wouldja?” Hitch probed.
“Where do I start?”
“Well, when did you get home? You stayed in Africa after we were reassigned.”
“Yeah, I stayed there for a year or so after. Then I traveled around to get my bearings. I finally got back to Kentucky around ‘47.”
“What did you do when you got home?”
“I got into horses. Bred some pretty fine Thoroughbreds. Even got one to the Kentucky Derby in ‘63.”
“Wow!” Hitch said wide-eyed. “Did you win?”
“Hell no. Lost my shirt on that little colt.”
“Did you get married? Do you have any children?” Moffitt inquired.
“I married Jill in ’51. We had a son in ’53.”
“Well, where are they? I’d love to meet them.”
“I lost Jill two years ago to cancer. Sam couldn’t come. He couldn’t get the time off work, so I came by myself. I was hoping you’d all be here.”
“I’m so sorry about your wife Tully.” Moffitt offered.
“Thanks. I have no regrets. We had a good life together.”
“You named your son Sam?” Troy said after a moment of reflection.
“Yes. I did. I named him after you Sarge.”
“Thanks Tully. I appreciate that.”
They took a few moments to regroup. All of their throats burned with emotion.
“I sure have missed you guys.” Was all Troy could force. “I wasn’t going to make this trip but I’m sure glad I did.” He held up his glass. “To us.”
With all of their hands raised in a toast, Tully couldn’t help but notice that each man still wore the silver ring he’d given them fifty-two years ago in Alamein.
“I’ve never taken it off Tully.” Troy said, noticing Tully’s glance. “It’s brought me good luck.”
Troy rested his elbow in the middle of the table and the others grabbed his fist. They shook in unison. The four rings were now one again.
The conversation continued on without pause. Each man seemed to rejoice in their little reunion. They recalled their adventures in the North African campaign – the raids, the demolitions and the reconns. They kidded each other about each man’s quarks – Tully’s joy in blowing up enemy trucks with his handy bazooka; Troy’s seriousness; Hitch’s way with the native women and Moffitt’s properness.
“I often wonder what ever happened to Dietrich?” Moffitt quarried thoughtfully.
“Oh yeah…I was going to tell you…” Troy posed as he ordered another round of drinks.
“Dietrich. I talked to him.”
“When?” Moffitt replied with astonishment.
“I saw him at a conference in Bonn a year before I retired. Turns out we ended up in the same business.”
“No kiddin’.” Hitch sounded amazed.
“And what business was that Troy?”
“Printing. He worked for Heidelberg. I couldn’t believe it when I saw him.”
“Well, what did you do?” Tully asked with intrigue.
“We had dinner together. You know, even though we tried to kill each other back then, I always kind of liked Dietrich. I always thought he was a descent man. Just caught in a bad circumstance y’know? Even though he was the enemy, he was… honourable.”
“I must admit,” Moffitt divulged. “I felt the same way actually.”
“It was good to get to know him.”
“Have you spoken to him since?” Hitch asked.
“Last time I talked to him was on the phone two years ago. But, he ah…”
“He what Sarge?”
“He died a few months ago.”
“Bloody hell.” Moffitt shook his head.
“Yeah. It’s strange. It sort of shook me up too. I still don’t understand why.”
“Dietrich was a good man.” Tully said simply.
“We were all good men.” Troy replied squarely.
After their impromptu get-together in France, the men once again went their separate ways. Only this time, they did keep their promise to correspond. They talked to one another often.
Moffitt continued to teach at Cambridge until his death at age eighty-three. Hitch and Tully attended his funeral.
Troy went home to Chicago where he and Dana spent their days fawning over their six grandchildren. Troy died at the ripe old age of ninety. Again, Hitch and Tully made their way to Illinois for his memorial. It was the least they could do to honor someone they admired so much.
Upon Tully’s return to the states he went on to finally win the Kentucky Derby. His new Philly “Benghazi’s Girl” even went on to win The Preakness. She narrowly missed the triple-crown title that year, placing second in The Belmont Stakes.
He and Hitch often met to vacation and they emailed each other just about every day. When Tully died, Hitch was there to bid his buddy farewell. Hitch was the only one left. He continued to practice law in Boston until the age of eighty-seven when he too passed away. His last will and testament was very specific. It outlined that he be buried with a photo of his unit. And, just like Moffitt, Troy and Tully before him… wearing his silver ring.