Summary: Tully suffers devastating injuries during battle and Troy fights to keep him with the unit despite Moffit’s urging to send him home.
Category: Rat Patrol
Genre: WWII Drama
Word Count: 8480
Sergeant Troy removed his Australian slouch hat as he entered the Red Cross tent. Its wide headband was stained with sweat giving it the appearance of sepia-colored marble. He wiped his wet brow with his sleeve as he peered down the aisle of the shelter and tried to adjust his vision to the darkness. It took some time after days of bright sunlight.
There were twenty beds in the small, makeshift hospital – a row of ten on each side that allowed a path straight down the center. They were all full except for one. Nurses milled about tending to the wounded. Most were British and their accents drifted sweetly through the parched, desert air.
Troy scouted the tent for Moffitt and Hitchcock. He spotted them on the right at the very end of the row. He walked toward them avoiding eye contact with the injured soldiers as he passed.
Moffitt, a British Sergeant and Hitchcock, an American Private First Class, sat on stools in the dark cool corner. In unison, they looked up as Troy approached. Concern was etched on their faces.
“What’d the doctor say?” Troy inquired.
“He hasn’t been by as yet.” Moffitt answered. “The nurse said he’d be back straight away.”
“So, how’s he doin?” Troy asked as he too pulled up a seat at the side of the narrow cot.
“As well as to be expected I suspect.” Moffitt summarized with a sigh.
“He’ll be OK Sarge.” Hitch piped up as he nodded encouragement. “You’ll see. He’ll be as good as new in no time.”
Tully lay unconscious in the bed his unit mates surrounded. The battle that morning had been devastating to him. As he and Moffitt raced past a German Half-Track, a spray of bullets caught most of his left side. Two lodged in his upper arm, one in his thigh and yet another just below the knee. But the most serious wound was the slug that ripped into his rib cage. It was only Tully’s shear strength and grit that kept him alive thus far.
Hitch witnessed the barrage and quickly sped toward Moffitt who caught Tully before he collapsed out of the stalled Jeep. It seemed to happen in slow motion. Moffitt threw himself on top of the fallen soldier and took cover under the Jeep as the German’s regrouped for another round.
Hitch and Troy pulled along side Tully’s vehicle and Troy jumped out to help Moffitt get him into Hitch’s Jeep. They heaved him like a bale of hay into the space in the back. Then they all crowded on and Hitch made a beeline out of the battle zone, up over a dune and toward the field hospital. He knew there was no time to waste. He didn’t have to assess the damage Tully’s body had taken. He just knew that the faster he got his friend to camp the better his chances for survival.
They arrived within hours of the trauma – Moffitt and Troy both kept pressure on all of his wounds so he wouldn’t bleed to death. As soon as Hitch reached the surgical tent he stopped abruptly and Tully was whisked away by orderlies and nurses.
Troy, Moffitt and Hitch sat in their battered vehicle waiting for Tully to get out of surgery. They kept silent. There was nothing to say. All of them feared that Tully was already dead. He had lost a tremendous amount of blood despite the efforts of his sergeants. Most of it was still pooled in the back of the Jeep.
Troy sat on the spare tire and smoked a cigarette. Hitch sat behind the wheel as he stared into space, battle weary and anxious all at once. He chewed his bubble gum intensely. Moffitt rested in the passenger seat with his lanky legs crossed up on the hood. His hands were placed across his chest with his fingers laced. His eyes were closed.
After several hours, a nurse finally approached the unit to tell them that, indeed, Tully had made it through. She said they could see him, if they wished. Hitch and Moffitt went ahead to sit with Tully and Troy went to radio his CO to give him his report. He was glad he didn’t have to announce a casualty.
He joined his crew about 20 minutes later and there they sat awaiting the surgeon’s prognosis. Tully had yet to stir. Surprisingly, he slept comfortably and did not seem feverish. This, Moffitt deduced, was a good sign.
“Pettigrew.” The doctor uttered as he browsed the private’s medical chart. “Pettigrew.” He said again as if he was trying to jog his memory.
“How is he?” Troy stood and peered at the chart the doctor was holding.
“Well, I can’t say. It’s all up to him now. I’ve done all I can. We’ll keep pumping blood into him and keep his temperature down. The wounds in his arms and legs are fairly superficial. His femur is broken though.”
“What about his other wound?” Moffitt inquired.
“Well, it’s much more severe. The bullet didn’t cause damage to any major organs but it did cause a lot of internal bleeding.” The doctor summed up. “He’s pretty torn up in there.”
“When will he be back on his feet and ready to fight?” Troy asked naively.
“Ready to fight?” The doctor questioned with shock. “I’m sorry sergeant. This boy isn’t going to be doing anymore fighting, except with his little sister if he has one. This boy is going home. I’ve already started the paperwork for his discharge. He’ll get his Purple Heart when he’s safe and sound back in the States.”
Moffitt, Hitch and Troy were speechless. It never occurred to them that one of them could be sent home due to injury.
“But doc…” Troy stammered.
“Yes sergeant?” The doctor turned back to Troy after he’d tried to continue his rounds.
“Tully wouldn’t want to go home. He’s … well he’s not done yet.”
“He’s not a quitter. And… well, we need him, sir.”
“Need him or not, I’m sending him home. And that’s final?”
“We’ll see about that Captain.” Troy flared stubbornly.
“Now listen here.” The doctor barked back. “Most sergeants are happy to send their soldiers home. Especially in one piece. So what’s your problem?”
“I know Tully and he wouldn’t want to go home.”
“Well, the war will be won with or without him sergeant, so let him go. And that’s an order.”
Apparently, the conversation was over and it seemed that Troy had lost. Tully was oblivious to it all and slept soundly.
“What are we going to do Sarge?” Hitch asked desperately.
“I don’t think there’s much Troy can do Hitch.”
Troy’s steely blue eyes locked with Moffitt’s.
“We’ll just see about that.” He replied firmly. “We’ll let Tully decide.”
“How is he going to do that?”
“When he wakes up. In a couple of days he’ll be able to decide for himself.”
“But the administration will be done by then Troy. And, quite frankly, I think it would be wise to send him home.” Moffitt declared. “Can’t you see that…”
“NO!” Troy stated adamantly. “No way.”
“Come on Sarge.” Hitch defended Moffitt’s view. “Even if Tully does want to fight, he’s going to be weeks if not months recovering. The war could be over by then.”
Frustrated by the conversation and unwilling to give in to the fact that he had failed at keeping his unit together, Troy stormed out of the tent. Moffitt and Hitch were left to watch over Tully. At this point they just wanted him to make it through the night.
When he opened his eyes, all he could see was a mass of cerulean blue. A single cloud dangled above him as if placed there by an artist’s brush. He focused on it for a long time and decided it looked like a butterfly.
Tully laid face up in a snow angle position. He blinked his eyes rapidly to try to orient himself. He moved his head from side-to-side and when he did he could hear the crunch of the sand that cradled his head.
Tully struggled to move, as his body felt weighted. His arms had turned to lead – his legs to liquid. He finally managed to bend his elbow so he could use his hand to shield his eyes from the midday, blistering sun.
It took all his strength to raise his head from the desert floor. He sat upright, and then took some time to muster the energy to stand. When he finally did, he stumbled unsteadily, until he got his bearings. He held his arms out as if on a high wire. It was only then that he felt the sting in his face. Heat radiated from it. His skin felt tight – almost charred.
He looked back at the impression his body had made in the sand as he brushed the dust from his khakis. There was nary a sound – just deafening silence. The private looked around for any sign of life.
“TROY?” He called out, but found it difficult to speak – his throat felt as if it were stuffed with cotton.
What voice he did have sent a bolt of pain into the front of his forehead. It felt like a hang over but he could not recall the party. Tully tried to rub it away, but his burnt skin was sensitive to the touch.
HITCH! MOFFITT?…. SARGE!”
He swung himself in every direction but there were only miles of flatness.
“HELLO!” He bellowed again in desperation.
He was alone.
Tully glanced up at the sun and decided, on the spot, to go north. It would lead him to an ocean eventually. South would only take him deeper into the Sahara.
He took his first step of thousands. He searched his clothing for any resource as he walked. The bayonet that usually dangled from his belt was gone. Where was his helmet and his bandana and goggles? He stopped and turned back toward the dent he’d made from lying there, but there were no loose articles anywhere. He continued on, still probing his pockets for something. Anything. All he came up with was two match sticks.
As he popped one in his mouth to generate saliva, he was stopped dead in his tracks by the sound of engines in the distance. The ominous silence had been rudely broken. He threw his glance in the direction of the rumble and then saw two Jeeps drive through the heat waves. They appeared to be driving underwater.
“HEY! I’m over here!” Tully yelled. “WAIT!!.. SARGE! I’m here!”
Tully began to run toward the vehicles, speeding up to a sprint as he went. But, even though he was running at full tilt, he didn’t seem to be gaining any ground. He slowed up reluctantly when his unit just seemed to vanish. He bent over and placed his hands on his knees for support. His head sank in between his shoulders and he gasped for breath. As he peered up to see if the Jeeps had reappeared, a single drop of sweat rolled down the center of his nose and hung there for a moment before falling to the ground. All he could see was bands of whiteness topped by a single, wide streak of brilliant blue. The terrain looked like a giant flag.
Again, he heard the familiar sound of Jeep engines and fifty machine guns blaring. Still stooped over inhaling oxygen like gulps of water, Tully turned toward the noise, only to see them driving away. He flew into motion again, reaching out and shouting; hoping they would see or hear him.
He tripped and landed on his chest. When he looked up, his face wearing a mask of sand, they were gone. He got to his knees and rested his rump on his heels. He picked up a handful of grit and threw it in their direction with frustration.
“Damn it!” He cursed, still struggling to catch his breath. He licked his lips to try to moisten them.
Again, calm fell over the desert. With his choices limited, he had to pick himself up and continue his journey. Again, he checked the sun’s position and headed north. He kept looking back over his shoulder in the hopes of seeing the Jeeps again, sometimes walking backwards. Eventually, he gave up and trudged on.
After what seemed an eternity, Tully could see dunes in the distance. They were a sure sign of the northern part of the Sahara. He was so thirsty and his stomach growled for food. He plodded ahead to the mounds of sand.
Now standing at the bottom of a twenty-foot tall drift, he felt as if he’d been transported there. He decided to sit in the shade of it for a time, trying desperately to avoid sleep. His want of water and food was excruciating. So much so, it hurt.
Then, mysteriously, a burst of energy filled his body and he started to climb as the unstable sand made every step seem useless. Three steps up, two steps back. Five steps up four steps back. The private seethed with frustration. When he finally reached the top he stood there in awe. In the valley below was the most amazing sight. He wondered if his eyes were deceiving him and he blinked rapidly to make sure it was really.
Before him lay fields of green so vibrant it made Tully’s heart flutter. He had forgotten how beautiful and clean the color was. He hadn’t seen it in so long. A river flowed through oak and willow trees. The sound of crystal waters lapping over smoothed stones made Tully’s mouth open in anticipation of its wetness. His Adam’s apple bobbed. There was an orchard and the fragrance of peach blossoms rushed into his nostrils. It was the familiar landscape of Kentucky. Tully was home.
The doctor turned to see Troy jogging up to him. The surgeon rolled his eyes and swore under his breath. He was tired and not up for another confrontation. He stopped and waited impatiently with his hands in his pants pockets making the tail of his lab coat fall behind him like a cape. When Troy was face-to-face, the doctor turned to him squarely, ready for another fight if he was pushed.
“Listen. Captain.” The sergeant began humbly. “I’m real sorry. I guess I went a little overboard back there. This thing with Tully … well it’s got me a little edgy.”
“I understand.” The doctor said cautiously.
“Can I ask you to do just one thing?”
“It depends on what it is sergeant.” The doctor replied still guarded.
“Can you put off your decision until my man comes through. Until he can tell me what he wants to do. I know it’s unconventional but it’s real important. Can you at least hold off your paperwork until then?”
The Captain paused and looked around the camp as Troy waited for his response.
“I will.” He finally said. “I’ll do that for you. But on one condition.”
“What’s that?” Now Troy was guarded. He squinted and cocked his head suspiciously.
“You have to honour whatever your private decides. No talking him out of it – no swaying his decision.”
“Yes Sir.” Troy answered squarely. “I can do that.”
“Look it.” The doctor continued with appeasement. “I know you Long Range guys are a tight bunch. I know you depend on each other more than the average soldier. Finding a replacement for your private would be difficult. I understand that. You and you’re men are a team. And, breaking up a winning team can be devastating – especially out here. So I’m cutting you some slack. But, keep it to yourself – I have a reputation to uphold.”
Troy grinned and let his chin hit his chest in relief. He appreciated the captain’s sentiment. He looked at the ground as he lazily shook his head. He peered up again still smiling.
“Thanks Doc.” He said. “Thanks a lot.”
“Sure thing. I’ll keep my eye on Pettigrew. He IS going to be okay… whether he’s sent home or to a hospital in Benghazi to do his rehab.” He reassured.
As the doctor walked back to the surgical tent, Troy stayed planted and lit another cigarette. He sucked in his first puff as deeply as he could and exhaled with satisfaction through his nose. He turned and sauntered back to the hospital to join his men and continue the vigil.
Moffitt appeared at the opening of the tent. His slight frame was silhouetted against the brightness of morning. It was 0700 hours. He held two cups of coffee and walked down the center aisle periodically peeking at the cups for spillage. He pursed his lips to help his concentration. The sergeant side-skirted a nurse who didn’t see him and an orderly who did. This is more difficult than plodding through a minefield he thought. There was a radio playing Glen Miller’s “String of Pearls” in the background, which seemed to help with Moffitt’s rhythmic gait and balance.
He continued through the obstacle course just avoiding a wounded soldier who had his head down pushing his IV stand. Finally Moffitt made it to Troy at Tully’s bedside. The cups were still filled to the brim and steaming. He’d not lost a drop.
Troy snoozed in a rather precarious looking chair. Moffitt gingerly held the cups out in front of him and sat next to his counterpart looking for a place to set the coffees. There wasn’t one.
“Troy.” Moffitt whispered.
With his hat placed over his face, he looked like he belonged in a Dodge City saloon. He did not hear Moffitt and continued to nap. Tully remained still.
“Troy!” Moffitt nudged.
Spooked, Troy awoke with arms flailing. His hand flew up and under one of the coffee cups sending it flying. Moffitt took cover with shoulders hunched and waited patiently for the black rain to end. He sheltered the other cup that remained unscathed. Troy looked at the Brit dryly after the barrage had finished.
“Sorry old man.” Moffitt chortled. “I’m afraid that was your coffee.”
Moffitt blew on the rim of his cup to cool his beverage, took a sip, swallowed and grinned.
“Thanks.” Troy hissed shaking his hands free of the stuff. “Thanks a lot.”
“Any sign of improvement?” Moffitt inquired casually, as if the spillage had never occurred.
“He’s the same.”
“He looks well.”
“Yeah. He looks great for a wounded soldier.” Troy responded sarcastically.
Moffitt gave him a droll glance.
“He did talk in his sleep last night, though.”
“Oh yes? What did he say? Nothing top secret I hope.” Moffitt smirked.
“Something about Kentucky and peaches. He yelled out a few times too.”
“Oh? Whom was he calling for?”
“You, me… Hitch.” Troy lit another cigarette.
“Hmmm. Interesting.” Moffitt didn’t really sound interested.
The sergeants sat quietly for a moment. They watched the goings on in the hospital. Moffitt drank his coffee and tried to read but he was preoccupied with the previous day’s conversation between Troy and the doctor. It had him quite confused and somewhat miffed. Troy’s odd reaction infringed on Moffitt’s concentration. He looked over at his friend waiting for the right moment to confront him. He hesitated before he began.
“Troy?” Moffitt quarried gingerly.
“Yeah?” Troy’s voice sounded rougher than usual.
“What is this all about?”
“What is what all about?” Troy sounded defensive.
“This nonsense with Tully. Not wanting to send him home. What are you thinking? Can’t you see … well, can’t you see the war is over for him Troy?”
“I have my reasons.”
“Well, what are they because I fear you are thinking of yourself and not of Tully at all. I want an explanation Troy. I deserve one.” Moffitt demanded. “He’s my liegeman after all.”
Troy closed his eyes and gritted his perfect teeth. He looked at his boots and seemed to be organizing his thoughts in his head before speaking them. He avoided eye contact with Moffitt as he began his story.
“Tully and I were the first soldiers recruited for Long Range Patrol. We were the first U.S. unit commissioned. Did you know that?”
“No. I can’t say I did.”
“We brought on Hitch and Cotter… and then you.”
“What are you getting at Troy?”
“Remember a few months back when me and Tully were trapped in that cave near Ishmal? And it took you and Hitch two days to dig us out?”
“Well, we had nothing to do but talk. The subject of Cotter came up and the fact that he was too shot up to fight. He was sent home.”
“Tully told me that if anything like that ever happened to him, he’d want to keep fighting if he could. He said he wanted to go home but only when the war was over.” Troy concluded now eye-to-eye with his colleague.
“I see.” Moffitt peered into the bottom of his coffee cup and swished the dregs around.
“I know he’s in bad shape.” Troy confessed. “But, I just have to hear it from him. He’s gotta tell me what he wants to do. I owe him that, don’t I?”
The Brit smiled broadly and nodded. “Rather unorthodox wouldn’t you say?”
“Everything we do is unorthodox, isn’t it?”
“I talked to the doc and he said he’d stall.” Troy said.
“What about Colonel Quint?”
“He has my report. Our next assignment is being processed. We’ll be briefed in the next couple days. There’s a temporary replacement on the way.”
Both sergeants shifted in their seats. There was an uneasy pause in the conversation before Moffitt confronted Troy again.
“You are prepared to send Tully home if he wants to go, aren’t you Troy?” Moffitt questioned carefully.
Troy did not respond.
“Troy?” Moffitt asked again insistent on an answer.
“I’m prepared for anything.” He said and finally stood. “I’m going to get a cup of coffee.”
He proceeded toward the exit pulling out yet another cigarette and his Zippo. Moffitt watched him until he disappeared into the brilliant light of morning. He was satisfied for the moment with Troy’s explanation.
Moffitt tentatively turned his focus back to his book. He opened it to where he’d left off. He perused the tent one more time and then looked over at Tully. A nurse was taking his temperature and Moffitt smiled at her. She smiled back. The sergeant then buried himself in the pages as Vera Lynn’s voice wafted through the air as if it were part of the desert breeze.
“We’ll meet again,
Don’t know where,
Don’t know when,
But I know we’ll meet again
Some sunny day.”
As Tully made his way down into the valley, he picked up speed and rushed towards the stream. When he reached it he threw himself into it and drank. He laid in it like a bed and looked towards the sky. The butterfly cloud was still there all by itself. He watched it for a while with his ears below the surface of the water making the world around him seem surreal. He relished his surroundings for a short time and then pulled himself to the banks of the river. Tully shook his head like a dog to begin the drying process. He walked toward the fruit trees and ate until he was full. The sweet freshness of the apples sparked his taste buds. It had been a long time since he’d had one.
When he felt satisfied, Tully sat and leaned against a tree for a snooze when he was startled by the presence of the young boy. It was odd, because Tully did not see him approach. He suddenly just appeared in front of him like an apparition. It was angelic.
“Hi kid.” Tully greeted casually.
The blonde haired, brown-eyed child stood still without answering. He looked about nine years old. He seemed a little leery of the man in the strange tan clothing. He looked down at Tully’s boots. He’d never seen boots like that before and crouched down to take a closer look.
“Where’d you come from?” Tully asked. He and the boy were eye-to-eye.
“Over there.” The boy pointed, deciding to interact.
“Oh yeah? Where’s over there?”
“My Ma’s house.”
“You’re Ma’s house huh?” Tully hesitated and looked around again. “Are we in Kentucky?”
“I grew up in Kentucky you know. Before the war broke out.”
“The war?” The child questioned cocking his head curiously.
The boy’s eyes captivated the soldier. They had a familiarity about them that filled Tully with a feeling of security.
“Yeah. World War II. It’s in all the papers.” Tully chuckled at his own wisecrack.
The boy was silent again and began to walk away, seemingly bored with the conversation. As he did, Tully heard a whistle overhead. It was the unmistakable sound of a rocket launched from a German tank. He scrambled after the boy and grabbed him like a bag of groceries. He flung him over his shoulder so it was easier to run. Tully took cover under a large fallen tree that bridged the creek.
The shell dropped and burst into flames in the path they had just made. It would have been a direct hit. Another explosion rippled the water and soaked them. There was yet another. Tully held the child under his arm, covering his head from the blasts.
Tully looked towards the dune he’d stood atop and saw the German Captain. He was characteristically perched on his Half-Track focusing on his target through his field glasses.
“Dietrich.” Tully cursed.
As the enemy reloaded, the Private took the opportunity to move up stream. He stood the kid up like a bottle of beer on a bar top and told him to follow him closely.
“Can you keep up?” Tully asked before he began his sprint.
“I think so mister.”
They ran toward the farm house in the distance, climbing up out of the river and along its banks. Shells fell in their footprints encouraging speed. The boy covered his ears. Tully looked back to make sure the kid was on his tail. He was. The bombing only stopped when they reached the edge of the dirt road that led to the small building. Grabbing the kid’s arm, Tully flung him through the front door and slammed it behind them. They both stood with their backs to the door with the palms of their hands at their sides pressing against it. With their chests rising and falling trying to fill choked lungs, a woman appeared from the parlour. The kid went to spy out the window to see if the coast was clear.
“Who are you?” The woman asked the stranger.
“Tully.” He gasped. “Tully Pettigrew.”
“Pettigrew?” She said bewildered. “That’s my name.”
He looked at the young woman and squinted with curiosity. His heart skipped a beat. She did not have the haunting eyes of her son. Hers were blue – almost navy. She was fair and petit and clad in a long dress that touched the tops of high top laced shoes. Her mousy-coloured hair was pinned up but not neatly. She seemed more afraid than angry at the intrusion.
“Jeremy? Are you alright?” She said anxiously as she ran to the boy who was still at the window. She knelt down and studied him for damage.
Jeremy, Tully thought? That was my father’s name. But, before he could assess the situation any further there was a firm knock on the door that Tully was still glued to.
“Private Pettigrew?” Came the familiar voice. It was gentle but forceful at the same time, with the articulate sound of an upper class German accent.
“Open the door please.” Dietrich asked politely. “I know you are unarmed, so why don’t you make it easy for yourself?”
Tully and the boy and his mother stood perfectly still. Jeremy stared at the soldier while the woman focused on the door. Beads of perspiration appeared on her brow. They held their collective breaths.
“Private? I’m waiting!”
Tully looked up for guidance from somewhere, but there was none. The word surrender had never been part of his vocabulary, but at this point he felt he had no choice. He released the breath he’d stifled and turned to face the door and opened it nonchalantly.
Dietrich’s soldiers rushed Tully so fast it surprised him. Three men jumped him and held him from behind. Jeremy and his mother took a step back and awaited the Hauptmann’s entrance. It seemed to take forever for the Officer to appear. When he finally did, he strolled in with his hands behind his back. He looked Tully straight in the eye from beneath the peak of his cap as if holding him there with them. The look was freezing. Tully did not struggle, but returned the stare with equal coldness.
“Very wise… Private. Very wise.” Dietrich praised quietly.
He looked around the small farmhouse, noticing the wallpaper and furniture and the photos that hung on the wall that lead up the stairs.
“Good afternoon madam.” He said tipping his hat and bowing slightly. “I apologise for the intrusion.”
She did not return the greeting, but rather held onto Jeremy even tighter with her arms crossed over the small boy’s chest. Dietrich turned his attention back to Tully.
“So Private. I guess you know what I am about to ask you?”
Tully did not acknowledge the Captain.
“I AM SPEAKING TO YOU!”
Tully did not flinch at Dietrich’s tone, but rather smirked instead.
“Do you think this is funny, soldier? I can assure you it is not. Now. Where are your cohorts Sergeant’s Troy and Moffitt. And that other little weasel you run around with?”
“Pettigrew. Tully. J. Private First…” Tully recited.
“Oh please.” Dietrich interrupted impatiently. “Please tell me something I don’t know.”
There was silence again as the Hauptmann waited for a response.
Tully did not budge. Jeremy and his mother looked on in terror.
“Very well Private. I’m growing tired of this. You have forced me to do something I do not wish to do.”
Dietrich called in several more soldiers and motioned them toward the boy.
“Take him.” He said calmly.
Tully’s eyes widened and he tried desperately to free himself from the grasp the soldiers had on him. He pleaded with them to leave the boy alone.
“Jeremy!” His mother cried as the boy was ripped from her.
The soldiers removed Jeremy from the house with Tully still fighting to break free. With a simple nod from Dietrich, one of the soldiers that held Tully stepped in front of him and smashed the butt of his rifle into his gut. The two other soldiers let go to allow Tully to crumble to the ground. He rolled into the fetal position to try to ease the pain of the impact. Dietrich took one last look around and walked out the door.
When he opened his eyes all he could see was the ceiling of the farmhouse. The plaster was cracked. There was a wrought iron light fixture that appeared spider-like from his point of view. He was flat on his back. The candles it held were almost spent and were oddly shaped from the dripped wax. He looked around for the woman but no one was there.
As he pulled himself into a sitting position he felt the soreness in his abdomen from the German soldier’s blow. Tully opened his shirt to take a look. There was a bruise but it felt worse than it looked. He held it with one hand as he stood.
The front door was still open and the screen creaked and slammed behind him as he stepped onto the front porch. He stood there and gazed out upon miles of desert sands. He squinted and shaded his eyes with his hand. Confusion was etched on his face and flooded his brain. Where was the green? What happened to the trees and the river? The tenderness in his stomach was now mixed with knots and butterflies. It was all coming back to him. Jeremy? What did that bastard Dietrich do with him?
The sobbing of the woman then distracted Tully. He could hear her but could not see her. He slowly shuffled down the steps and went around the side of the house where he found her crumpled on the ground in a heap. Her face was red from streams of tears.
“My boy… Jeremy. They took my boy.” She whimpered quietly. The woman seemed out of steam. Exhausted and hopeless.
Tully knelt down to comfort her.
“It’s alright ma’am. I’ll get him back.”
The woman looked into Tully’s eyes and began to cry again. She threw her arms around his neck and buried her face in his chest. He, in turn, held her around her shoulder and patted it with reassurance. He helped her up.
“I’m going after him.” Tully announced. “Don’t worry about a thing. I’ll get him back home to you safe and sound before you know it.”
She sniffed and tried to gain control. The soldier’s words and the way he spoke them did calm her. They walked with their arms around each other’s waists back up the stairs and into the foyer of the house.
“Can you get me some water that I can take with me? And maybe some food.” Tully asked bending his knees slightly so he could look her in the eye. His hands were gently placed on her shoulders, subliminally giving her strength.
“Yes.” The woman said simply.
She disappeared into the kitchen to gather some supplies for the Private and returned quickly with a make shift backpack and a leather water pouch. Tully was surprised by the canteen and recognized it as his grandfathers from the Civil War. The initials JJP were stamped into it. Again his heart jumped. Stories of his grandfather’s heroism rushed into Tully’s conscience.
Private Jason Jeremy Pettigrew, 1st Brigade, Army of Kentucky, died on the battlefields of Richmond Kentucky in August 1862. The Rebel cavalry, while moving north from Big Hill, encountered Union troops and a skirmish began. The fray there that day continued to the next and towards Richmond where Jason Pettigrew along with over 5,000 other men perished. He received the Medal of Honor posthumously for saving the lives of three soldiers. He was twenty-six years old the same age that Tully was now.
“It was my husband’s. The pouch was in a package the army sent back to me after he was killed.” She said with melancholy. “Jeremy was just a baby when he died. He never knew his father.”
“I’m sorry ma’am. I’ll take good care of it.”
“Jeremy is all I have.” Tears filled her eyes again.
“I’ll find him. And I’ll bring him home.”
Tully kissed his grandmother on the forehead and she welcomed it. She did not understand why this young man was so special. There was something about him that pulled at her heart. His face was so familiar and his eyes seemed to look right through her. She didn’t know why but he was important in her life.
He walked out the door once more and moved towards the tracks made by the German convoy. They would lead him to the boy. He looked back to give one last wave of assurance, but she was not there to see him off. The butterfly cloud was still there hanging over the roof of the house all alone.
The water in the pouch was sweet. Tully had followed the tracks for several hours now and it was his first ration. He couldn’t remember what day it was. Night did not seem to exist – just the unrelenting noon sun beating down on him. The heat was becoming intolerable.
He had passed over the dunes and was back where he started the day before. The snow angel divot in the ground was still there. The lone cloud had followed him too. It seemed to be looking out for him. He sat to catch his wind. There was no sign of Dietrich. But the tracks were clear and seemed endless.
As he looked into the distance a camp became visible. An oasis. The waves of heat made it jump in and out of view. It glistened on the horizon like the moon reflecting on the sea. Tully shook his head forcing his eyes to work. He took another swig of water and started toward the mirage in the hopes that it wasn’t. That is where Dietrich had Jeremy. It had to be.
As he got closer to the camp the mirage became material and the tracks of three vehicles became thirty. Tully had found it. He slithered up to the edge of it like a snake – his khakis and blondeness blended into the colour of the sand. His camouflage was astounding. He was like a chameleon that changed hue to match its surroundings.
German soldiers milled about unaware of the Private’s presence. There were eleven tents. Five along each side about fifty feet apart. There was a larger tent that stood at the end of the row centered between them. The configuration was that of a horseshoe. The large tent was his best bet and Tully began his crawl toward it. That was where Dietrich was. That was where he was holding the kid. When Tully reached the back of the main shelter, he lifted the sage coloured canvas slowly. He could see Dietrich but could not see if Jeremy was there.
The Private suddenly felt vulnerable and it occurred to him that he was unarmed. He could not continue the rescue without a weapon. Without his Patrol mates he was indefensible and was now dependant on his desert rat training and raw wits. He placed the flap back in position and squirmed his way to the side of the structure.
A German sentry walked slowly back and forth in front of Dietrich’s tent. He carried a standard issue Kar98K rifle and Tully was determined to get it. He crouched down and looked around the camp to see if a fracas would cause alarm. The camp was quiet and the sentry was the only German soldier in close proximity. He waited for the sentry to turn and make his way back to Tully who waited like a lion stocking its prey. Intensely focused, his heart started to rev. So much so, he was afraid the sound of it might give him away.
The soldier passed casually in front of Tully who jumped the man swiftly and held his mouth from behind. The enemy was silenced. The Private pulled the sentries neck back and gave it a swift snap. He heard a loud crack as the neck broke. It filled Tully’s stomach with nausea. He could feel the life drain out of the German soldier and he was dead before Tully gently placed him on the ground.
He dragged the body behind the tent and frantically exchanged his shirt with the Afrika Korp tunic. Tully unhooked the helmet strap and removed it from the German’s head. He was already turning blue. The Private put on the helmet and flung the rifle over his shoulder.
Tully decided to walk the path the sentry had carved in the sand in front of Dietrich’s tent. His brain was in a frenzy and his heart raced. Now what? He was making everything up as he went. It was unnerving. A German soldier called out, startling the preoccupied Private.
“Ist alles in ordnung bei euch?” The sentry shouted.
Tully consciously tried not to look like a deer in the headlights but rather reacted nonchalantly.
“Yavol!” Tully yelled back hoping that the only word he knew in German would satisfy the soldier. It did. He waved casually to the inquiring sentry who returned the gesture with a smile. Puffing his cheeks out like a chipmunk, Tully released all the air in his lungs through his mouth. It sounded like a tire with a slow leak. He continued to pace and scheme.
Dietrich appeared in the entrance of the tent not a moment later. He paid no attention to the guard as he stood in the opening and smoked a cigarette. Deitrich looked around the camp. Everything seemed normal. He glanced at his watch and stepped into the sunlight. Tully stood still and boldly stared at Dietrich, almost daring him to look his way. He did not. The Hauptmann proceeded toward several of his men who worked diligently on the engine of a Half-Track. He mumbled something out of the side of his mouth in the direction of the sentry not noticing that it was Tully. The soldier watched him leave and waited patiently for his chance to search the tent for the boy. He continued to pace not wanting anything to seem out of the ordinary. Finally Dietrich finished his conversation with his men and disappeared into another tent. Tully slyly made his move.
“Jeremy?” He whispered as cautiously entered the tent.
“Yes sir?” Came a small voice from the back corner.
Jeremy was seated in a chair with a high back. His hands and feet were tied. The ropes were inter-twined with the chair. Tully walked over and knelt in front of the boy.
“Are you okay?”
“I’m taking you back to your Ma.”
“No? What do you mean no?” Tully questioned with shock as he untied the ropes.
“We have to fight. These men are your enemy aren’t they?”
“So we have to fight them.” Jeremy stated maturely.
It was as if he knew Tully was his son and he needed to guide him but the Private was having none of it.
“Sorry kid. We are getting out of here and now.”
“No!” Jeremy protested.
Tully was not going to argue and grabbed Jeremy by his waist and carried him out of the tent like a football. The boy faced the ground and his hands and feet dangled doll-like. He was such a small kid and Tully was 6’2” and 200lbs. There was nothing Jeremy could do to free himself.
With the Kar98K rifle in one hand and the boy in the other, Tully gingerly opened the flap of the tent with the barrel of the gun. The coast seemed clear so he began a quiet jog out the front and then to the side of the nearest tent. He peeked around the edge of it to see if it was safe for him to continue. He had to snap is head back as two German soldiers approached. They were oblivious to the escape that was about to unfold. Tully set Jeremy down and the kid stood still beside him.
Within a blink of an eye, Jeremy snatched the rifle from Tully’s grasp. The gun was bigger than he was and he could barely lift it but he wasn’t about to let his size prevent him from fighting. The boy sprang out into the open and began firing on the German soldiers who were startled from the peace of midday. Tully was paralyzed and slow motion took over. He looked down at his feet as they sank into quick sand. He struggled to free himself but could only watch in horror as Jeremy was caught in a barrage of bullets. He looked away.
“NO!!” Tully cried out.
When he found the courage to look up, he saw the boy laying in the sand surrounded by soldiers. Jeremy was dead.
The Rat Patrol had spent the entire week at the field hospital where Tully continued to fight of his life. When Troy awoke that morning, he feared the worst. His man had not improved but rather had slipped into a coma. The doctor didn’t want to disturb Tully during this critical time, afraid the move to the main hospital in Bengazi would surely see his demise. In the next few days, he thought, Tully may be strong enough to make the journey and there he could get the care he needed to complete his recovery… he hoped.
Sitting up in a cot that felt like sleeping on a sidewalk, Troy rubbed his face vigorously to encourage wakefullness. He felt like a failure. The new guy had arrived and today they would go back to work leaving Tully behind.
Troy had yet to ask Tully his wishes on whether he wanted to continue with the unit. Tully was simply unable to communicate. Troy had come to the disappointing conclusion that the doctor was right. Tully was going home. His pondering was interrupted when the flap of his tent opened and Moffitt peered in.
“Are you decent?” He said comically.
“That’s questionable.” Troy quipped.
“Are you ready?”
“Will be. Give me 5 minutes.” Troy said as he finally stood and reached for his shirt. “I want to check in on Tully before we head out.”
Moffitt nodded and pulled back and stood outside Troy’s tent to wait. He folded his bronzed arms and rocked back and forth on his heels and toes. The small camp community was quiet this morning. Few casualties had arrived during the week so the place seemed lethargic.
Moffitt took the time to think about the future without Tully beside him; looking out for him. There were many times Moffitt owed his life to the young Kentuckian. His fondness for Tully was genuine. He would miss Tully’s dry sense of humor and serene demeanor.
He glanced across the camp to see Hitch in deep conversation with their new teammate. So far, Tucker Morrison from Indiana, seemed to fit it well. But, this type of work demanded not only incredible courage, fitness and grit, it also demanded incredible collaboration. To get back to functioning the way they were used to would take time. Moffitt felt far less secure knowing he would have to break in this new fellow. He hoped he would not see the same fate as Tully or worse. Now his thoughts were broken when Troy emerged from the tent and firmly placed his trademark hat on his head.
“Ready?” He asked his counterpart.
With a simple nod Moffitt stepped aside and let Troy lead the way over to Tully’s tent. To their astonishment, when they entered the tiny infirmary, they found Tully propped up in his bed in amorous conversation with a rather pretty nurse. She fawned over him and Tully lapped up all the attention. The sight immediately put broad smiles on both sergeants. They made their way down the main aisle stopping at the foot of Tully’s cot.
“Boy, am I glad to see you!” Troy beamed.
“You’ve had a jolly long week Tully.” Moffitt said. “How do you feel?”
“Hungry.” Came Tully’s quiet reply. The nurse excused herself shyly.
The doctor approached. He too was smiling proudly as he had, yet again, worked tirelessly to save another soldier. He came around the side of Tully’s bed and checked him over briefly.
“Well private. I don’t know how you did it, but it looks like you are going to live a long life.”
Tully just smiled weakly. He still had a long way to go.
“Man of few words I see.” The doctor commented. “Well sergeant. I think you have some unfinished business so I will leave you to it. Remember our agreement.”
“Thanks Doc.” Troy shook the doctor’s hand. “I appreciate all you’ve done for him.”
“You are very welcome. I’ll await his decision.”
“Descision?” Tully said slightly puzzled.
Troy grabbed a stool and placed it at the head of Tully’s bed. Moffitt felt a bit intrusive, but he wanted to be witness to the conversation. He had to hear it too. For the past 8 months, Tully had been the most important person in his life.
“What is it Sarge?” Tully sounded a bit fearful. Like there was something even worse wrong with him. He glanced down at his body to make sure he had all his extremities.
“Listen.” Troy began. “Remember a few months ago when we were trapped in that cave near Ishmal.”
“Vaguely.” Tully still sounded worried.
“Remember we talked about Cotter and that if anything like that happened to you, you would want to stay with the unit?”
“Hmmm…” Tully hesitated.
“So, I’m asking you if you want to stay? If you want to continue on in the war after you fully recover in Benghazi?”
“What Troy isn’t saying Tully is…” Moffitt intervened. “Do you want to go home? You are entitled to. This is your chance to get out of this mess. It’s your choice.”
Troy looked up at Moffitt who was still standing at the foot of Tully’s bed. He was not pleased with Moffitt’s intervention. His cold stare spoke volumes. He turned his attention back to Tully who seemed pensive.
“Well?” Troy asked with anticipation.
Tully took a minute to think. He had just come out of a coma and his brain was a bit foggy to say the least. His body ached. He struggled to move his arms and legs. He was still in quiet a bit of pain.
“You know I had a dream.” Tully began. “I was back home. I met my grandmother and my father. But, Dietrich was there too. I can’t really remember it all but the one thing I do remember is how green it was. Remember green grass? The colour green? It was like Home Sweet Home you know?”
Both Troy and Moffitt had forgotten that friendly hue. It truly defined their homelands and they couldn’t help but smile reflectively.
“Yeah. I want to stay.” Tully announced. “We’re not done yet. Home can wait for now.”
Troy exhaled a sigh of relief. It was exactly what he wanted to hear. He knew that Tully would want to go on. He glanced up at Moffitt once again for his reaction to the declaration. Moffitt grinned broadly at both men. Troy for his leadership and Tully for his pure gumption.
“Great. Just great.” Troy beamed. “I’ll let the doc know and we’ll see you in a month or so.”
“Sounds good Sarge.”
“Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do Private.” Moffitt instructed.
“Do I ever?” Tully smirked.
Troy and Moffitt made their way out of the tent and toward the jeeps to carry out their next mission. Exhilarated that Tully would join them once again and ready to continue their battle to win the war, the jeeps pulled out blaringly into the vastness of the open desert.