The Corps 03 - Counterattack
The Corps is respectfully dedicated to the memories of
Second Lieutenant Drew James Barrett III, USMC
Company K, 3rdBattalion, 26thMarines
Born Denver, Colorado, 3 January 1945
Died Quang Nam Province, Republic of Vietnam,
27 February 1969;
Major Alfred Lee Butler III, USMC
Headquarters 22ndMarine Amphibious Unit
Born Washington, D.C., 4 September 1950
Died Beirut, Lebanon, 8 February 1984.
And to the memory of Donald L. Schomp
A Marine Fighter Pilot who became a legendary
U.S. Army Master Aviator
RIP 9 April 1989.
Oahu Island, Territory of Hawaii
7 December 1941
The Japanese Carrier Task Force charged with the destruction of the United States Pacific Fleet began launching aircraft approximately 305 nautical miles north of Pearl Harbor.
These aircraft proceeded in a single stream until they were about 12S miles from Pearl Harbor, where the stream split in two. Fifty miles from Oahu, the left column of the attacking force divided again into three more streams.
The first two streams of the left column turned right and headed for Pearl Harbor, across the island. The third stream continued on course until it had flown beyond the tip of Oahu, then turned toward the center of the island and made its approach to Pearl Harbor from the sea. It began its attack at 0755 hours.
Meanwhile, the right stream of Japanese aircraft had divided in two as it approached Oahu. One stream crossed the coastline and made for Pearl Harbor, on the other side of the island. The second continued on course past the island, and then turned back to attack Pearl Harbor from the open sea. Its attack began at 0900.
All of these attacks went off smoothly and as planned. And at 1030, the Task Force radioed a coded message to Imperial Japanese Naval Headquarters. The code was "Tora, Tora, Tora. " It signified success.
Fortunately for the Americans, the Japanese success was not unqualified. The surprise attack had found all of the battleships of the United States Pacific Fleet at anchor, and had sunk or severely damaged most of them. But two U.S. aircraft carriers, seven cruisers, and their screening vessels were at sea, in three task forces, and were not harmed.
When the first Japanese bombs fell at Pearl Harbor, Staff Sergeant Joseph L. Howard, USMC, of Headquarters Company, 1stMarine Defense Battalion, was asleep. He shared a room with a mess sergeant, who was on duty, and who could be counted on to bring a thermos of coffee and some doughnuts back to their room when the mess had finished serving breakfast.
Staff Sergeant Howard was twenty-four, young for his rank. He was six feet one inches tall, weighed 185 pounds, and was broad-shouldered and slim-waisted. He had sharp features, intelligent eyes, and wore his light brown hair just long enough to part. At one time it had been seriously proposed that Staff Sergeant Howard be used as a model for the photographs in a new edition of the Handbook for Marines.
The Handbook for Marines was issued to every enlisted Marine; many officers-including most company-grade officers- also had copies. Among its many illustrations were photographs of a Marine modeling the various service uniforms. A Good Marine was supposed to look like that. Similarly, there were photographs showing the correct way to execute the manual of arms and the various movements in close-order drill.
Staff Sergeant Joe Howard in one of his perfectly fitting uniforms, with his erect carriage and broad shoulders, looked exactly like the Perfect Marine.
Joe Howard had been a Marine for seven years and six months.
He had enlisted right out of high school, on what was called a "baby cruise," a term of enlistment which extended to his twenty-first birthday; the regular term of enlistment was four years. At that point (he turned twenty-one on August 14,1937), he was given the choice of being transferred to the Fleet Reserve-in effect discharged-or shipping over for a regular, four-year enlistment.
For most of his "baby cruise," Howard served with the Marine detachment on board the battleship Arizona, and he won promotion to private first class at the recommendation of her captain, who had been impressed with his bearing and appearance when Howard had served as his orderly. After leaving Arizona, he was assigned to the Philadelphia Navy Yard.
At the Navy Yard, a salty old gunnery sergeant took a liking to him, had him assigned to the arms locker as an armorer, and taught him how to shoot. Really shoot. Not only well enough to qualify for the extra pay that went with the Expert Rifleman qualification badge, but well enough to shoot competitively. He almost made it onto the East Coast Rifle Team (one step down from the U.S. Marine Corps Rifle Team), and he was fairly confident that he could make it the next time around.
Gunny MacFarland also got him a job as an off-duty bartender in the officers’ club, working Friday and Saturday nights and for the luncheon buffet on Sunday. That thirty cents an hour added enough to his PFC’s thirty dollars a month, supplemented by his five-dollar-a-month Expert Rifleman’s pay, to permit him to buy a Ford Model A.
In August of 1937 he had to choose between getting out of the Corps and taking his chances on civvy street, where jobs were hard to come by, particularly if you didn’t have a trade, or shipping over, which meant a dollar and a dime a day, plus uniforms, three square meals a day, and a place to sleep out of the rain. That’s what Joe had told his mother.
But there was more to it than that. Not only were there other material advantages, like being paid to do something you liked to do-shooting, and the opportunities for travel that went with being a competitive rifle shooter, and things like that-but there was also the chance to make something of himself. And just being a Marine.
Gunny MacFarland told him that with his record, and providing he kept his nose clean, it was almost a sure thing that he would make corporal before his second hitch was up, maybe even sooner than that, say in two years.
Joe Howard knew that Gunny MacFarland was bullshitting him to get him to ship over. In two years he would be twenty-three. There were very few twenty-three-year-old corporals in the Marines. In 1937 the Corps had an authorized strength of only twenty-five thousand officers and men, which meant that nobody moved up in rank very fast. His chances of making corporal on his second hitch were almost nonexistent.
But it was more than a little flattering to have MacFarland bullshit him in order to get him to ship over and stay in the Corps. MacFarland was one hell of a Marine, and to know that MacFarland wanted him to stay in the Corps meant that MacFarland thought he had at least the potential to be a good Marine.
Besides, if Howard shipped over, there was nothing in it for MacFarland, either. He wasn’t a recruiting sergeant. And nothing made MacFarland ask Joe over to his quarters for Sunday-night supper, sort of taking him into the family. Mrs. MacFarland even made him a birthday cake with candles when Joe turned twenty.
There really had not been much of a choice between going back to Birmingham, Alabama, and maybe getting lucky and getting a job in a steel mill, or shipping over in the Corps, even if MacFarland was bullshitting him about making corporal.
The same month he shipped over, PFC Howard met the Major General Commandant of the Marine Corps, Thomas Holcomb. More or less for the hell of it, thinking that it was at least practice, Joe Howard got into his civilian clothes one Sunday, drove his Model A across New Jersey to a place called Sea Girt, and entered a civilian rifle match run by the National Rifle Association on the New Jersey National Guard’s rifle range.
You had to pay three dollars and fifty cents to enter, plus, he found out when he got there, another five dollars to join the NRA if you were competing as a civilian, as he was. So he was out eight-fifty, plus the cost of gas and wear and tear on the Model A, plus the loss of the dollar and a half he would have made working the Sunday brunch at the officers’ club.
He’d just about decided that coming to Sea Girt was one of the dumber things he’d done lately, when he checked the score-board and saw that he was leading in the one-hundred- and three-hundred-yard matches. All that was left was the twenty-round timed fire at five hundred yards. If he took that, they’d give him a loving cup. He wasn’t sure if it was silver, or just silver-plated, but he could probably get at least five dollars for it in a hockshop. And if it really was silver, he might even make a couple of bucks over his expenses.
When he fired the five-hundred-yard timed fire, Joe Howard tried very hard. It was some of the best shooting he had ever done, and luck was with him. The wind was light, and right down the range. He took the match by fifteen points, and he put eleven of the twenty rounds in the X-ring.
The only picture he had ever seen of Thomas Holcomb, Major General Commandant of the Marine Corps, was the photograph of the General in full uniform, medals and all, which hung at various places in every Marine Corps installation. He hadn’t paid much attention to it.
So Joe did not recognize the civilian big shot who handed him the loving cup, a more or less chubby guy, sweating in his vested cord suit and flat-brimmed straw hat. For that matter, he didn’t even look closely at the man until he made an odd remark:
"That was fine shooting, son. Congratulations. If you don’t have any other plans, the Marine Corps always has a place for someone who can shoot like that."
The comment brought laughter from the other big shots.
The confusion on Joe Howard’s face as Major General Commandant Holcomb shook his hand and simultaneously handed him the loving cup was evident. One of the big shots thought an explanation was in order.
"General Holcomb is Commandant of the Marine Corps, son. He was kind enough to come down here from Spring Lake to make the presentation of the awards."
For three years, Joe Howard, as a Pavlovian reflex, had come to attention when greeting any officer, from second lieutenant up. At that instant he popped to attention. Because the handle of the eighteen-inch-tall silver loving cup was in his left hand, however, this proved a little difficult.
His movement caught Commandant Holcomb’s eye, and he turned to look at the young man.
"Sir," PFC Howard boomed in the manner he had been taught, "PFC Howard, Joseph L., Marine Barracks, Philadelphia."
"Carry on," General Holcomb said, and then added, with a smile, to the other big shots, "Why am I not surprised?"
He then walked off with the other big shots, but Joe Howard saw him say something behind his hand to a young man with him, who was also in civilian clothing. The young man nodded, took a notebook from his pocket, and wrote in it.
There was no doubt whatever in Joe’s mind that his name had been taken down. He had had his name taken down before-always in connection with something he had done wrong, or for something he had omitted. So he decided that it was probably against some regulation for him to enter a civilian NRA match.
When he thought more about it, he decided his particular sin had been to go to the armory and take his rifle, a 1903 Springfield .30-06 with a Star Gauge barrel, and use it to compete in a civilian match.
Star Gauge Springfields were capable of extraordinary accuracy, far beyond that of standard-issue Springfields. They were so called because the Army’s Frankford Arsenal, after checking their dimensions ("gauging them") and determining that they met a set of very strict standards, had stamped their barrels near the muzzle with a star.
With a sinking feeling in his stomach, Joe realized that if some other Marine came to his armory and asked to check out one of the Star Gauge Springfields so he could fire it in a civilian match, there was no way he would let him do it without written permission from some officer.
And he hadn’t been caught using a Star Gauge Springfield in a civilian match by just some officer, but by the Major General Commandant of the Marine Corps!
On the way back to Philadelphia, Joe considered confessing his sins right off to Gunny MacFarland, but chickened out. The Gunny would really be pissed; the one thing he could not stand was stupidity. And it was also likely that the Gunny, being the Gunny, would try to accept the responsibility for his stupidity himself.
That wouldn’t be right. Taking the Star Gauge Springfield had been his idea, Joe decided, and he would take whatever came his way because of it.
Nothing happened on Monday. Or on Tuesday, or Wednesday. And by Thursday Joe began to think that just maybe nothing would happen. Maybe he would get away with it, even though the officer in civvies had taken down his name.
On Friday, just before lunch, he was summoned by the Sergeant Major and told to report to the Commanding Officer.
"Sir, PFC Howard reporting as ordered to the commanding officer!"
"Stand at ease, Howard," said the Commanding Officer, a paunchy, middle-aged major, and then handed him a sheet of teletype machine paper.
Headquarters US Marine Corps Wash DC 27 August 1937
To: Commanding Officer
US Marine Barracks
US Navy Yard Phila Penna
Info: Commanding Officer
US Marine Corps Recruit Depot
Parris Island SC
1. The following is to be relayed to PFC Joseph L. Howard, and suitable notation made in his service record: "Reference your winning 1937 New Jersey State Rifle Match. Well Done. Thomas Holcomb Major General Commandant.
2. You are directed to issue necessary orders transferring PFC Howard to US Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island SC for duty as rifle instructor. PFC Howard is to be encouraged to try out for USMC Rifle Team.
By direction of the Major General Commandant:
S. T. Kralik, Lt Col USMC
When he had graduated from Boot Camp at Parris Island, Joe Howard had devoutly hoped he would never again see the place. While he was willing to grant that he had come to Parris Island a candy-ass civilian and had left at least looking and thinking vaguely like a Marine, he had painful and bitter memories of the place and of his drill instructors.
It was different, of course, when he went back, but he still didn’t like the place.
He ran into one of his drill sergeants at the gas station, and was surprisingly disappointed when the sergeant told him that he didn’t remember him at all. And he was equally surprised to realize that not only did the drill sergeant not look as mean and salty as he had in his memory, but that he was in fact not nearly as sharp looking as some Marines Joe had come to know later. He was just an average Marine, doing his job.
Howard didn’t get along too well, at least at first, with the other guys teaching basic marksmanship or the ones on the rifle team. He came to understand that was because he hadn’t followed the established route to the Weapons Committee. They were supposed to select you; he had been thrust upon them by the Major General Commandant.
It got better after he qualified for the Marine Corps Rifle Team, and even better when he shot third overall at the National Matches at Camp Perry, Ohio, in the summer of 1938. And in September of 1938, he came out number three on the list for promotion to corporal. He had made it less than a year after shipping over, and a year before Gunny MacFarland had bullshitted him he might make it.
Almost as soon as he’d sewed his chevrons on, he started trying to think of some way to get out of Parris Island. He applied for transfer to the 4thMarines in China, and was turned down. He could, they said, enlist for the 4thMarines the next time he shipped over, but right now the Corps wanted him at Parris Island, teaching recruits how to shoot.
Then, out of the blue, he found himself at the U.S. Army Infantry Center at Fort Benning, Georgia. The Army Ordnance Corps had come up with a new rifle, the M-l, known as the Garand after the man who had invented it. It was self-loading, which meant that it was almost automatic. It used the forces of recoil to extract the fired cartridge from the chamber and then to load a fresh one from the magazine. The magazine held eight rounds. The Marines were invited to participate in the service test of the weapon, and they sent a provisional platoon to Fort Benning in charge of a master gunnery sergeant named Jack NMI (No Middle Initial) Stecker from the U.S. Marine Corps Schools base at Quantico.
A third of the platoon were taken from regular Marine units; a third came right out of boot camp; and the final third were people recognized to be outstanding marksmen. Corporal Joe Howard had been assigned to this last group.
Master Gunnery Sergeant Jack NMI Stecker had won the Medal of Honor in France in 1918, and was something of a legend in the Corps. Joe figured that probably had something to do with his being put in charge of the Fort Benning detail; it looked like a good detail, the sort of detail a man would be given who was entitled to wear the blue ribbon with the silver stars sprinkled on it.
When Corporal Joe Howard reported to Gunny Stecker, he was surprised to see that Stecker was not wearing his Medal of Honor ribbon. The only things pinned to his blouse were his marksmanship medals. Not surprisingly, he was Expert in every small-arms weapon used by the Corps. Joe later found out, not from Stecker, that Stecker had taken High Overall at Camp Perry in 1933 and 1936; he was a world-class rifleman.
But Master Gunnery Sergeant Stecker was more than just impressive. Best of all, he got Corporal Howard out of Parris Island. A couple of days before they left Fort Benning, Stecker called him in and asked him what he thought of the M-l Garand.
It was almost holy writ in the Corps that the finest, most accurate rifle ever made was the ‘03 Springfield. Even among the expert riflemen who had fired the Garand at Benning, the weapon was known as a Mickey Mouse piece the Army had dreamed up; it would never come close to being as good a rifle as the ‘03.
But Joe Howard had come to believe that the Garand was a fine weapon even off the shelf, and that with some fine-tuning by an armorer it would be capable of greater accuracy than the ‘03. He told Gunny Stecker just that.
"That makes it you and me against the Marine Corps, son," Gunny Stecker replied. "You happy at Parris Island?"
Joe told him the truth about that, too: he didn’t like what was generally considered to be a great berth for a brand-new, very young corporal-as opposed, say, to being in a Marine detachment on a man-of-war, or in a line company in a regiment somewhere-and he had been trying to get out of it.
"Would you be interested in coming to Quantico and working on the Garand? The basic detail would be teaching riflery to kids in the Basic Officer Course, and college kids who come for training in the summer. But when you’re not doing that, there would be time to work on the Garand."
"I’d love it, Gunny," Joe replied. "But they won’t let me go from Parris Island."
Joe told him about his getting sent there by the Major General Commandant.
"I’ll see what I can do," Stecker said.
Two weeks after he reported back into Parris Island, Joe was put on orders to U.S. Marine Corps Schools, Quantico, Virginia.
The next year was good duty. Aside from maybe once a month catching Corporal of the Guard, and maybe once every I other month catching Junior Charge of Quarters at Headquarters, Marine Corps Schools, Joe Howard was subject to no other details.
He was either teaching brand-new officers how to fire the ‘03, which he liked, or running people through the Annual Rifle Firing; but that didn’t take all that much time. There was plenty of time to see what could be done with the Garand.
Putting several thousand rounds through M-1s taught him what was basically wrong with the weapon, and how to fix it.
The primary problem was the barrel. When it was heated up by firing, it expanded and jammed into the stock. The result was that in rapid fire the later rounds through it (the twentieth, say) would strike a couple of inches-sometimes much more-from where the first round had struck.
The fix for that was to make the barrel free-floating. You had to carefully whittle wood away from the inside of the stock so that the barrel didn’t get bent by the stock when it heated up.
The sights left a little to be desired, too. Joe learned to fix that by machining from scratch a new rear sight aperture, or "peep sight hole," that was smaller than the original, and by taking a couple of thousandths of an inch off the front sight. He also did some work on the gears that moved the rear sight horizontally and vertically, smoothing them out, making them more precise. And he tinkered with the trigger group, smoothing the sear so the let-off could be better controlled, and with the action itself, smoothing it to improve functioning. In the process, he learned where and how much lubricant was required. Finally, he mated barrels which had demonstrated unusual accuracy to his specially worked-over actions and trigger groups.
There were soon a half-dozen M-1s in the Arms Room just as accurate as any Star Gauge Springfield. One of these was informally reserved for Corporal Howard, and one other for Master Gunnery Sergeant Jack NMI Stecker.
Joe Howard made a nice little piece of change that year proving to visiting riflemen during informal sessions on the range that the M-l Garand wasn’t really the Mickey Mouse Army piece of shit everybody said it was.
And three times Gunny Stecker had handed him money- once ninety dollars-which the Gunny said was his fair share of what he had taken away from visiting master gunnery sergeants and sergeants major who also had an unfounded faith in the all-around superiority of the Springfield, and who were foolish enough to put their money where their mouths were. A Garand fine-tuned by Corporal Joe Howard, in the hands of a marksman like Gunny Stecker, was hard to beat.
In the late summer of 1940, after France had fallen to the Germans and Congress had authorized the first of what were to be many expansions of the Corps, there were a flock of promotions-promotions that came to many men long before they thought they had any chance of getting them. Joe Howard became a sergeant then. Six months later, a veteran ordnance sergeant assigned to the just-formed 1stDefense Battalion at the Navy Base at Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii, became terminally ill. Soon afterward, someone in personnel remembered that Master Gunnery Sergeant Jack NMI Stecker at Quantico had a really bright and competent ordnance buck sergeant working for him.
That the kid had worked for Gunny Stecker for two years, and been promoted during that time, was all-around recommendation enough; people who didn’t measure up to Gunny Stecker’s high standards didn’t get promoted, they got themselves shipped someplace else. On the same order that Headquarters U.S. Marine Corps ordered Sergeant Joseph L. Howard to the 1stDefense Battalion at Pearl, it promoted him to staff sergeant.
When the Japanese attack began, even as he listened to the sound of exploding bombs and the roar of low-flying aircraft, it was very difficult for Joe Howard to accept that what was happening actually was happening.
He had been conditioned to regard Pearl Harbor as America’s mighty-and impregnable-fortress in the Pacific. In his view, if war came, the Japanese would probably attack Wake Island and Guam, and some of the other islands, and maybe even (Joe thought this highly unlikely) the Philippines. But Hawaii? Never. Not with Pearl Harbor and its row of dreadnought battleships, and its cruisers and aircraft carriers. And with the Army Air Corps fighters and bombers, not to mention the Navy and Marine Corps fighters and torpedo bombers afloat and ashore.
No goddamn way!
If the Japs were really stupid enough to try, say, invading Guam, Pearl would be the fortress from which the mightiest naval force the world had ever known would sail (carrying a Marine landing force aboard, of course) to bloody the Japs’ noses and send the little bastards back to their rice paddies and raw fish with a lesson they wouldn’t soon forget.
But, incredibly, when he looked out his barracks window, there was smoke rising from Battleship Row, and the sound of heavy explosions, and the same thing over at the seaplane base. And finally, when he saw a dozen Japanese aircraft in perfect formation-four three-plane vees-making low-level torpedo and strafing runs against Battleship Row, he realized that the impossible was indeed happening.
He couldn’t do a goddamned thing to help the battleships, but he damned sure could do something at the seaplane hangars, where there were Marine-manned .50-caliber water-cooled Browning machine guns on antiaircraft mounts.
Because access to ammunition and the fully automatic weapons was limited to commissioned officers, he wasn’t supposed to have a key to the arms locker, but he did; he was a good Marine Sergeant and knew which regulations should be violated. He went to the ammo locker and opened it up. By the time the first Marines came for ammo for the .50s, and to draw Browning Automatic Rifles and air-cooled .30-caliber Browning machine guns, and ammo for them, he was ready for them-long before the first officer showed up.
When an officer finally came and saw that most of the weapons and ammo had already been issued, he didn’t ask any questions about how come the locker was open. Joe Howard didn’t think that he would.
With nothing to do at the ammo locker, the officer went off to make himself useful somewhere else. That left Joe there alone with nothing to do either. After thinking about it a moment, he decided he couldn’t just sit this goddamned attack out in an ammo bunker; so he took the last BAR and eight twenty-round magazines for it and ran outside.
A Ford ton-and-a-half truck came racing up with a buck sergeant driving and a PFC in the cab beside him.
"Have you got any belted fifty?" the buck sergeant demanded. "I can’t get in our goddamned locker!"
"Come on!" Joe said, turning back toward the locker to show him where it was.
And then he looked over his shoulder to see if the sergeant was following him.
The sergeant was still sitting behind the wheel, but the top of his head was gone, and the windshield and the inside of the truck were smeared with a mass of blood and brain tissue.
Staff Sergeant Howard threw up.
Then he ran to the truck, grabbed the handle, pulled the door open, and dragged the buck sergeant’s body out onto the ground. Blood spurted from somewhere and soaked Joe Howard’s T-shirt and trousers.
After that he looked into the truck cab. The PFC was slumped in the seat, his head wedged back against the cushion, his eyes wide open but unseeing, his chest ripped open, blood streaming from the wound.
Joe Howard leaned against the truck fender and threw up again and again, until there was nothing in his stomach and all that came was a foul green bile.
And then he went back into the arms locker and huddled behind the counter, shaking, curled up, with his arms around his knees. He stayed there for he didn’t know how long, except that when he finally came out, the attack was over, and the Ford ton-and-a-half had somehow caught on fire and burned, and the PFC inside was nothing but a charred lump of dead meat.
Oahu Island, Territory of Hawaii
0845 Hours 7 December 1941
Technical Sergeant Charles M. Galloway, USMC, a good-looking, sum, deeply tanned, and brown-haired young man of twenty-five, lay naked on his back, his head propped up with pillows, in a somewhat battered but sturdy and comfortable bed in one of the two bedrooms of a hunting lodge in the mountains.
He had a Chesterfield cigarette in one hand. The other hand was wrapped around a large glass of pineapple juice, liberally laced with Gordon’s London Dry Gin.
Ensign Mary Agnes O’Malley, Nurse Corps, USN, a slim, five-foot-four-inch, red-haired, pert-breasted woman, similarly undressed, knelt on the bed, about to begin another game of what she called "ice cream cone." This involved the dribbling of creme de cacao on certain portions of the body, and then removing it with the tongue. Until the previous day, Charley Galloway had never heard of-or even, in his sometimes wild fantasies, thought about-the kind of thing she was doing; but he was learning to like it.
The other bedroom of the hunting lodge, which was actually a simple, tin-roofed frame cabin, was occupied by Technical Sergeant Stefan "Big Steve" Oblensky, USMC, and Lieutenant Florence Kocharski, Nurse Corps, USN.
Big Steve, who was Polish and in his forties, was a great bull of a man. But Lieutenant Kocharski was big enough to be a match for him, which is to say that she was Valkyrie-like, in her late thirties, and also Polish. Several months before, she’d been attracted to Big Steve when she’d met him at the Naval Hospital at Pearl Harbor. He’d come in for his annual physical examination, and the examination had kind of expanded and become more physical.
And vice versa. So strongly that the two of them had chosen to ignore the cultural and, more important, the legal prohibition against socialization between commissioned and enlisted members of the Naval Service.
Florence Kocharski was a full lieutenant, about to make lieutenant commander; Big Steve expected to make master sergeant any day. Both of them had been around the service long enough to know about keeping indiscretions a hundred miles from the flagpole. A hundred miles was an impossibility on Oahu, but a hunting cabin in the hills was a reasonable approximation. (It was owned by an old pal of Big Steve’s who had retired and gone to work for Dole.)
But to get to the cabin required an automobile. Lieutenant Florence Kocharski didn’t have one, and Big Steve Oblensky was six months away from getting his driver’s license back, after having been caught driving drunk. But not to worry: T/Sgt. Charley Galloway had a lovingly maintained yellow 1933 Ford V-8 convertible. Big Steve had been able to borrow Charley’s car without any trouble the first time. He and Charley both knew that Big Steve would return the favor somewhere down the pike.
But the second weekend Big Steve asked to borrow the Ford,
he had to tell Charley why he wanted it. And Charley Galloway asked if Big Steve’s nurse had a friend.
"Jesus Christ, Charley! I can’t ask her nothing like that! Be a pal."
"You ask her, she says no, then I’ll be a pal. But you ask her."
To Big Steve’s surprise, Flo Kocharski was neither outraged nor astonished when, with remarkable delicacy, Big Steve brought the subject up.
Ensign Mary Agnes O’Malley, Lieutenant Kocharski’s roommate, had already noticed T/Sgt. Charles Galloway at the wheel of his yellow Ford convertible and asked her about him. She’d asked specifically about how he came to have pilot’s wings. Ensign O’Malley had just recently entered the Navy and had not known that enlisted men could be pilots.
There was a small corps of enlisted pilots, Lieutenant Kocharski explained to her. These were officially called Naval Aviation Pilots, but more commonly "flying sergeants." T/Sgt. Charles Galloway was one of them. He was a fighter pilot of VMF-211, where her Stefan was the NCO in charge of Aircraft Maintenance.
"He’s darling," Ensign O’Malley replied.
Lieutenant Kocharski didn’t think "darling" was the right word, but Charley Galloway was a good-looking kid, and she was not surprised that Mary Agnes O’Malley found him attractive.
Lieutenant Kocharski ended the conversation on that particular note-to protect young Sergeant Galloway from Ensign O’Malley. Ensign O’Malley was not a bright-eyed innocent. She had entered the Navy late, at thirty-three, rather than right out of nursing school, which was usually the case. Florence, naturally curious, had in time wormed her history out of her.
Before she joined the Navy, Ensign Mary Agnes O’Malley had been a nun, a nursing sister of the Sisters of Mercy. She had become a postulant in the order at sixteen. And she had served faithfully and well for many years after that. First she became a registered nurse, and later she qualified as both an operating-room nurse and a nurse anesthesiologist. Later still, she was seduced by a married anesthesiologist, an M.D., while taking an advanced course at Massachusetts General Hospital.
She didn’t blame the doctor, Mary Agnes told Florence. She had not been wearing her Sisters of Mercy habit at Mass General, and she had not told the doctor, ever, that she was a nun.
But once she had tasted the forbidden fruit, she realized that she could no longer adhere to a vow of chastity, and petitioned the Vatican for release from her vows.
The Navy was then actively recruiting nurses, and she was highly qualified, so she signed on.
In the four months she had known her, Flo had come to understand that beneath Mary Agnes O’Malley’s demure and modest facade, there lurked a predator with the morals of an alley cat. Mary Agnes frankly admitted, in confidence, that she was making up for lost time.
So when Big Steve came to her about Charley Galloway, Flo Kocharski felt a certain uneasiness about turning Mary Agnes loose on him. Charley was a really nice kid. On the other hand, if he hadn’t leaned on Stefan to get himself fixed up as the price of borrowing his car, she wouldn’t have had to.
What neither Flo nor Big Steve knew, or even remotely suspected, was that Charley Galloway was far less experienced in relations between the sexes than anyone who knew him would have suspected. During their first night together in the cabin, Mary Alice quickly and delightfully learned that Charley was the antithesis of jaded. Yet not even she suspected that the first time in his twenty-five years Charley had spent the whole night with a woman was that very same night.
Charley’s sexual drives-and sometimes he thought he was cursed with an overgenerous issue of them-were flagrantly heterosexual. Neither was he troubled with any religious or moral restraints. His fantasies were about equally divided between the normal-meeting a well-stacked nymphomaniac whose father owned a liquor store-and meeting a nice, respectable girl and getting married.
He had encountered neither in his eight years in the Corps.
And there was something else: he didn’t want to fuck up. The price would be too high. The most important thing in the world, during his first few years in the Corps, had been to work his way up to the point where the Corps would send him to Pensacola and teach him how to fly.
Catching a dose of the clap, or maybe just getting hauled in by the military police in one of their random raids on a whorehouse, would have kept him from getting promoted and getting sent to flight school. And once he’d made staff sergeant and won a berth at Pensacola and then his wings, just about the same restrictions had applied.
Naval Aviation Pilots were noncommissioned officers, in other words, enlisted men. Since Aviation was set up with a general understanding that pilots would be commissioned officers and gentlemen, the Marine Corps had never really figured out how to deal with noncom fliers.
Enlisted pilots had crept into the system back in the 1920s. The three originals had been aircraft mechanics who had learned how to fly on the job during the Marine intervention in Santo Domingo. The criterion for selection of pilots then, as Charley had heard it, and as he believed, was "anyone who was demonstrably unlikely to crash a nonreplaceable airplane."
The Marine commander in Santo Domingo had looked at his brand-new, fresh-from-flight-school commissioned pilots and then at his experienced sergeants, and had decided that the very, very nonreplaceable airplanes at his disposal were better off being flown by the sergeants, whether they were officially rated or not.
The second reason for the existence of "flying sergeants" was money. In the years between the wars, Congress had been parsimonious toward the armed services, and especially toward the Corps. Officer manning levels were cast in concrete. This meant that every enlisted Naval Aviation Pilot freed up an officer billet for use elsewhere. And, of course, flying sergeants were paid less than officers.
Charley Galloway had started out as an aviation mechanic, right out of Parris Island, when he was seventeen. Three years later, a space for an NAP had unexpectedly opened at Pensacola, and he was the only qualified body around to fill it. On the other hand, he was an enlisted man. Most Naval Aviators (Marine pilots were all Naval Aviators) were commissioned officers and gentlemen, and many of them were graduates of the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis.
There was an enormous social chasm between commissioned officers and gentlemen and noncommissioned officers, who were, under law, men, and not gentlemen. There was also resentment from the other direction toward flying sergeants from sergeants who didn’t fly and who thus didn’t get extra pay for what looked to them like a cushy berth.
Charley Galloway soon learned that about the only people who didn’t think Naval Aviation Pilots were an all-around pain in the ass were fellow pilots, who judged NAPs by their flying ability. As a rule of thumb, NAPs were, if anything, slightly more proficient than their commissioned counterparts. In the first place, most of them were older and more experienced than Charley. And most of them had large blocks of bootleg time before they went to Pensacola to learn how to fly officially.
Charley had developed a good relationship with the pilots of VMF-211 (Marine Fighter Squadron 211), based on his reputation both as a pilot and a responsible noncom. That would go down the toilet in an instant if he came down with a dose of the clap, or got caught visiting a whorehouse or screwing somebody’s willing wife. They would take his wings away and he wouldn’t fly anymore. It looked to him like a choice between flying and fucking, and flying won hands down.
But since Friday night, when they’d picked up Big Steve’s nurse and her roommate in Honolulu, there seemed to be convincing evidence that he could accomplish both.
"Ouch!" Technical Sergeant Charles M. Galloway yelped. "Jesus Christ!"
"Sorry," Ensign Mary Agnes O’Malley said contritely. "The last thing in the world I want to do is hurt it." She looked up at him and smiled. She kissed it. "All better!" she said.
She straddled him.
The door burst open.
Big Steve stood there in his skivvy shorts, a strange look on his face.
"Get the hell out of here!" Charley flared.
"Well, really! Don’t people knock where you come from, for Christ’s sake?" Mary Agnes O’Malley snapped.
"The Japs are bombing Pearl Harbor," Big Steve said. "It just come over the radio."
"I heard the engines," Charley said. "I thought it was those Air Corps B-17s."
Charley Galloway sat up, and dislodged Mary Agnes.
How the hell am I going to fly?he thought. I’ve been drinking all night.
And then he had another thought.
I’ll be a sonofabitch! I should have known that the first time I ever got to have a steady piece of ass, something would come along to fuck it up.
Ewa, Oahu Island, Territory of Hawaii
7 December 1941
While everybody else on December 7 was running around Ewa-and for that matter, the Hawaiian Islands-like chickens with their heads cut off, Technical Sergeants Charley Galloway and Stefan "Big Steve" Oblensky had gone to Captain Leonard J. Martin, the ranking officer on the scene, and asked for permission to take a half-dozen men and try to salvage what they could from the carnage of the flight line and the mess in the hangars.
The reason they had to ask permission, rather than just doing what Captain Martin thought was the logical thing to do in the circumstances, was that some moron in CINCPAC (Commander-in-Chief, Pacific Fleet) at Pearl Harbor had issued an order that aviation units that had lost their aircraft would immediately re-form and prepare to fight as infantry.
Captain Martin had no doubt that the order applied to VMF-211. After the Japanese had bombed and strafed Ewa, VMF-211 had zero flyable aircraft. And it was possible, if not very likely, that the Japanese would invade Oahu, in which case every man who could carry a rifle would indeed be needed as an infantryman.
But it was unlikely, in Captain Martin’s judgment, that infantrymen would be needed that afternoon. In the meantime, it just made good sense to salvage anything that could be salvaged. Captain Martin had been a Marine long enough to believe that replacement aircraft and spare parts-or, for that matter, replacement mess-kit spoons-would be issued to VMF-211 only after the Navy was sure that aircraft, spare parts, and mess-kit spoons were not needed anywhere else in the Navy.
It made much more sense to have Galloway and Big Steve try to salvage what they could than to have them forming as infantry. Even if he was absolutely wrong, and Japanese infantry were suddenly to appear, there was nothing Galloway and Oblensky could be taught about infantry in the next couple of days that they already didn’t know. They were technical sergeants, the second-highest enlisted grade in the Corps, and you didn’t get to be a tech sergeant in the Corps unless you knew all about small arms and small-unit infantry tactics.
And there was a question of morale, too. Big Steve, and especially Charley Galloway, felt guilty-more than guilty, ashamed-about what had happened to VMF-211. Their guilt was unreasonable, but Martin understood their feelings. For one thing, they hadn’t been at Ewa when it happened. And by the time they got to Ewa, it was all over. Really all over; even the fires were out and the wounded evacuated.
Captain Martin knew, unofficially, where Big Steve and Galloway were when the Japanese struck. So he didn’t have much trouble reading what was behind their eyes when they finally got back to Ewa, still accompanied by their nurse "friends," and saw the destroyed aircraft and the blanket-wrapped bodies of their buddies on the stretchers.
If we had been here, we could have done something!
Captain Martin agreed with them. And, he further reasoned, they had to do something that had meaning. Practicing to repel boarders as infantrymen would be pure bullshit to good, experienced Marine tech sergeants.
So Captain Martin told them to go ahead, and to take as many men as they could reasonably use. If they ran into any static, they were to shoot the problem up to him.
What Technical Sergeants Galloway and Oblensky had not told Captain Martin was that they had already examined the carnage and decided that they could make at least one flyable F4F-4 by salvaging the necessary parts from partially destroyed aircraft and mating them with other not completely destroyed machines.
It was a practical, professional judgment. T/Sgt. Big Steve Oblensky bid been an aircraft mechanic as far back as Santo Domingo and Nicaragua, and T/Sgt. Charley Galloway had been a mechanic before he’d gone to flight school.
By sunset, Captain Martin saw that they had found tenting somewhere, erected a makeshift, reasonably lightproof work bay, and moved one of the least damaged F4F-4s into it. Over the next week they cannibalized parts from other wrecks. Then there was the sound of air compressors and the bright flame of welding torches; and finally the sound of the twelve hundred horses of a Pratt and Whitney R-1830 Twin Wasp being run up.
But Captain Martin was surprised to discover what Big Steve and Charley had salvaged. By December 15, the engine he had heard run up was attached to a patched-together but complete and flyable F4F-4 Wildcat fuselage.
"That doesn’t exist, you know," Captain Martin said. "All the aircraft on the station have been surveyed and found to be destroyed."
"I want to take it out to the Saratoga, " Charley Galloway said.
"Sara’s in ‘Dago, Galloway," Captain Martin said. "What are you talking about?"
"Sara’s in Pearl. Sometime today, she’s going to put out to reinforce Wake. Sara, and the Astoria and the Minneapolis and the San Francisco. And the 4thDefense Battalion, on board the Tangier. They’re calling it Task Force 14."
Martin hadn’t heard about that, at least in such detail, but there was no doubt that Galloway and Oblensky knew what they were talking about. Old-time sergeants had their own channels of information.
"That airplane can’t be flown until it’s been surveyed again and taken through an inspection."
"Skipper, if we did that, the Navy would take it away from us," Oblensky argued. "The squadron is down to two planes on Wake. They need that airplane."
"If Sara is sailing today, there’s just no time to get permission for something like that."
"So we do it without permission," Galloway said. "What are they going to do if I show up over her? Order me home?"
"And what if you can’t find her?"
"I’ll find her," Galloway said flatly.
"If you can’t?" Martin repeated.
"If I have to sit her down in the ocean, the squadron’s no worse off than it is now," Galloway said, with a quiet passion. "Captain, we’ve got to do something."
"I can’t give you permission to do something like that," Martin said. "Christ, I would wind up in Portsmouth. It’s crazy, and you know it."
"Yes, Sir," Oblensky said, and a moment later Galloway parroted him.
"But, just as a matter of general information," Captain Martin added, "I’ve got business at Pearl in the morning, and I won’t be able to get back here before 0930 or so."
He had seen in their eyes that both had realized further argument was useless. And, more important, that they had just dismissed his objections as irrelevant. Charles Galloway was going to take that F4F-4 Wildcat off from Ewa in the morning, come hell or high water.
"Thank you, Sir."
"Good luck, Galloway," Captain Martin said, and walked away.
Above USS Saratoga (CV.3)
Task Force 14
0620 Hours 16 December 1941
A moment after Charley Galloway spotted the Saratoga five thousand feet below him, she began to turn into the wind. They had spotted the Wildcat, and her captain had issued the order, "Prepare to recover aircraft."
By that time Sara knew he was coming. Ten minutes after Galloway took off from Ewa, the Navy was informed he was on the way, and was asked to relay that information to the Saratoga. A Navy captain, reflecting that a week before, such idiocy, such blatant disregard for standing orders and flight safety, would have seen those involved thrown out of the service-most likely via the Navy prison at Portsmouth-decided that this wasn’t a week ago, it was now, after the Pacific Fleet had suffered a disaster, and he ordered a coded message sent to the Saratoga to be on the lookout for a Marine F4F-4 believed attempting a rendezvous.
As the Saratoga turned, so did her screening force, the other ships of Task Force 14. They were the cruisers Minneapolis, Astoria, and San Francisco; nine destroyers; the Neches, a fleet oiler; and the USS Tangier, a seaplane tender pressed into service as a transport. They had put out from Pearl Harbor at 1600 the previous day.
Charley retarded his throttle, banked slightly, and pushed the nose of the Wildcat down.
He thought, That’s a bunch of ships and a lot of people making all that effort to recover just one man and one airplane.
He dropped his eyes to the fuel quantity gauge mounted on the left of the control panel and did the mental arithmetic. He had thirty-five minutes of fuel remaining, give or take a couple of minutes. It was now academic, of course, because he had found Task Force 14 on time and where he believed it would be, but he could not completely dismiss the thought that if he hadn’t found it, thirty minutes from now, give or take a few, he would have been floating around on a rubber raft all alone on the wide Pacific. Presuming he could have set it down on the water without killing himself.
By the time he was down to fifteen hundred feet over the smooth, dark blue Pacific, and headed straight for the Saratoga ’s bow, she had completed her turn into the wind. Galloway looked down at her deck and saw that she was indeed ready to receive him. He could see faces looking up at him, and he could see that the cables had been raised. And when he glanced at her stern, he could see the Landing Control Officer, his paddles already in hand, waiting to guide him aboard.
He started to lower his landing gear.
He did not do so in strict accordance with Paragraph 19.a.(l) of AN 01-190FB-1, which was the U.S. Navy Bureau of Aeronautics Pilot’s Handbook of Flight Operating Instructions for F4F-Series Aircraft. Paragraph 19.a.(l), which Charley Galloway knew by heart, said, "Crank down the landing gear." Then came a CAUTION: "Be sure the landing gear is fully down."
The landing gear on the Wildcat, the newest and hottest and most modern fighter aircraft in the Navy’s (and thus the Marine Corps’) arsenal, had to be cranked up and down by hand. There was a crank on the right side of the cockpit. It had to be turned no less than twenty-nine times either to release or retract the gear. The mechanical advantage was not great, and to turn it at all, the pilot had to take his right hand from the stick and fly with his left hand while he cranked hard, twenty-nine times, with his right hand.
Charley Galloway had learned early on-he had become a Naval Aviator three days after he turned twenty-one-that there wasn’t room in the cockpit for anyone to come along and see how closely you followed regulations.
The records of VMF-211 indicated that Charles M. Galloway was currently qualified in F2A-3, F4F-4, R4D, and PBY-5 and PBY-5A aircraft.
The R4D was the Navy version of the Douglas DC-3, a twin-engined, twenty-one passenger transport, and the PBY-5 was the Consolidated Catalina, a twin-engined seaplane that had started out as sort of a bomber and was now primarily used as a long-range observation and antisubmarine aircraft. The PBY-5 A was the amphibian version of the PBY-5; retractable gear had been fitted to it.
The Marine Corps had no R4D and PBY-5 aircraft assigned to it; Charley Galloway had learned to fly them when he and some other Marine pilots had been borrowed from the Corps to help the Navy test them, get them ready for service, and ferry them from the factories to their squadrons. He had picked up a lot of time in the R4D, even going through an Army Air Corps course on how to use it to drop parachutists.
He was therefore, in his judgment, a good and experienced aviator, with close to two thousand hours total time, ten times as much as some of the second lieutenants who had just joined VMF-211 as replacements. He was also, in his own somewhat immodest and so far untested opinion, one hell of a fighter pilot, who had figured out a way to get the goddamned gear down without cranking the goddamned handle until you were blue in the face.
It involved the physical principle that an object in motion tends to remain in motion, absent restricting forces.
Charley had learned that if he unlocked the landing gear, then put the Wildcat in a sharp turn, the gear would attempt to continue in the direction it had been going. Phrased simply, when he put the Wildcat in a sharp turn, the landing-gear crank would spin madly of its own volition, and when it was finished spinning, the gear would be down. All you had to do was lock it down. And, of course, remember to keep your hand and arm out of the way of the spinning crank.
He did so now. The crank spun, the gear went down, and he locked it in place.
Then, from memory, he went through the landing check-off list: he unlocked the tail wheel; he lowered and locked the arresting hook, which, if things went well, would catch one of several cables stretched across the deck of the Saratoga and bring him to a safe but abrupt halt
He pulled his goggles down from where they had been resting on the leather helmet, and then slid open and locked the over-the-cockpit canopy.
He pushed the carburetor air control all the way in to the Direct position, retarded the throttle, and set the propeller governor for 2100 rpm. He set the mixture control into Auto Rich, opened the cowl flaps, and lowered the wing flaps.
All the time he was doing this, he was turning on his final approach, that is to say, lining himself up with the deck of the Saratoga.
The Landing Control Officer was ready for him. Using his paddles, he signaled to Charley Galloway that he was just a hair to the right of a desirable landing path. Then, at the last moment, he made his decision, and signaled Charley to bring it in and set it down.
Charley’s arresting hook caught the first cable, and the Wildcat was jerked to a sudden halt with a force that was always astonishing. Whenever he made a carrier landing, Charley Galloway felt an enormous sense of relief, and then, despite a genuine effort to restrain it, a feeling of smug accomplishment. Ships and airplanes were different creatures. They were not intended to mate on the high seas. But he had just done exactly that. Again. This made Carrier Landing Number Two Hundred and Six.
And there weren’t very many people in the whole wide world who could do that even once.
As the white hats rushed up to disengage the cable, he quickly went through the "Stopping the Engine" checklist, again from memory.
By the time the propeller stopped turning and he had shut off the ignition, battery, and fuel selector switches, a plane captain was there to help him get out of the cockpit. And he saw Major Verne J. McCaul, USMC, Commanding Officer of VMF-221, standing on the deck, smiling at him. VMF-221, equipped with fourteen F2A-3 Brewster Buffalos, was stationed aboard the Saratoga. Galloway had known him for some time, liked him, and was glad to see him.
Charley jumped off the wing root and walked to him. "I am delighted," said Major McCaul, who was thirty-five and looked younger, "nay, overjoyed to see you."
Galloway looked at him suspiciously.
"The odds were four to one you’d never make it out here," McCaul said. "I took a hundred bucks’ worth at those odds, twenty-five of them for you."
"You knew I was coming?"
"There was a radio from Pearl about an hour ago," McCaul said.
Apparently it didn’t say "arrest on sight," or there would be a Marine with irons waiting for me.
"Well, that certainly was very nice of you, Sir," Galloway said, not absolutely sure that McCaul wasn’t pulling his leg.
Proof that he was not came when McCaul handed him five twenty-dollar bills.
It then occurred to him that he had, literally, jumped from the frying pan into the fire. He had made it this far. But the next stop was Wake Island. The odds, bullshit aside, that Wake could be held against the Japanese seemed pretty remote. He had no good reason to presume that he would be any better a pilot, or any luckier, than the pilots of VFM-211 on Wake who had already been shot down.
Then he remembered what Big Steve Oblensky had once told him. The function of Marines was to stop bullets for civilians; that’s what they were really paying you for.
"The Captain wants to see you after you’re cleaned up," Major McCaul said. "In the meantime, I’m sorry to have to tell you, you’re to consider yourself under arrest."
"Am I in trouble that deep, Major?"
"I’m afraid so, Charley. The Navy’s really pissed," Major McCaul said. "I’ll do what I can for you, but ... they’re really pissed."
"Oh, hell," Charley said. And then, not too convincingly, he smiled. "Well, what the hell, Major. What can they do to me? Send me to Wake Island?"
19 December 1941
As his taxi drove past the White House, Fleming Pickering, a tall, handsome, superbly tailored man in his early forties, noticed steel-helmeted soldiers, armed with rifles, bayonets fixed, guarding the gates.
He wondered if they were really necessary. Was there a real threat to the security of either the President or the building itself? Or were these guards being used for a little domestic propaganda, a symbol that the nation had been at war for not quite two weeks, and that the White House was now the headquarters of the Commander in Chief?
Certainly, he reasoned, even before what the President had so eloquently dubbed "a day that will live in infamy," the Secret Service and the White House police must have had contingency plans to protect the President in case of war. These would have called for more sophisticated measures than the posting of a corporal’s guard of riflemen at the White House gates.
Fleming Pickering, Chairman of the Board of the Pacific and Far Eastern Shipping Corporation, was not an admirer of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, President of the United States. This was not to say that he did not respect him. Roosevelt was, he acknowledged, both a brilliant man and a consummate master of the art of molding public opinion.
Roosevelt had managed to garner public support for policies-Lend-Lease in particular-that were, in Pickering’s judgment, not only disastrous and probably illegal, but which had, in the end, on the day of infamy, brought the United States into a war it probably could have stayed out of, and which it was pathetically ill-prepared to fight.
Fleming Pickering was considerably more aware than most Americans of what an absolute disaster Pearl Harbor had been. He and his wife had been in Honolulu when the Japanese struck. They had witnessed the burning and sinking battleships at the Navy Base, and the twisted, smoldering carnage at Hickam Field.
Despite his personal misgivings about Roosevelt, less than an hour after the last Japanese aircraft had left, as he watched the rescue and salvage operations, he had understood that the time to protest and oppose the President had passed, that it was clearly his-and everyone’s-duty to rally around the Commander in Chief and make what contribution he could to the war effort.
Fleming Pickering had come to Washington to offer his services.
He had two additional thoughts as the taxi drove down Pennsylvania Avenue past the White House.
First, a feeling of sympathy for the soldiers standing there in the freezing cold in their steel helmets. A tin pot is a miserable sonofabitch to have to wear when it’s cold and snowing and the wind is blowing. He knew that from experience. Corporal Fleming Pickering, USMC, had worn one in the trenches in France in 1918.
And second, that with a little bit of luck, when the American people learned the hard way what that sonofabitch in the White House had gotten them into, he could be voted out of office in 1944. If there was still something called the United States of America in 1944.
The taxi, a DeSoto sedan painted yellow, turned off Pennsylvania Avenue, made a sharp U-turn, and pulled to the curb before the marquee of the Foster Lafayette Hotel. A doorman in a heavy overcoat liberally adorned with golden cords trotted out from the protection of his glass-walled guard post and pulled open the door.
"Well, hello, Mr. Pickering," he said, with a genuine smile. "It’s nice to see you, Sir."
"Hello, Ken," Pickering said, offering his hand. "What do you think of the weather?"
Once out of the cab, he turned and handed the driver several dollar bills, indicating with his hand that he didn’t want any change, and then walked quickly into the hotel and across the lobby to the reception desk.
There was a line, and he took his place in it. Four people were ahead of him. Finally it was his turn.
"May I help you, Sir?" the desk clerk asked, making it immediately plain to Fleming Pickering that the clerk had no idea who he was.
"My name is Fleming Pickering," he said. "I need a place to stay for a couple of days, maybe a week."
"Have you a reservation, Sir?"
Pickering shook his head. The desk clerk raised his hands in a gesture of helplessness.
"Without a reservation, Sir . . ."
"Is Mr. Telford in the house?"
"Why, yes, Sir, I believe he is."
"I wonder if you could tell him I’m here, please?"
Max Telford, resident manager of the Foster Lafayette Hotel, a short, pudgy, balding man wearing a frock coat, striped trousers, and a wing collar, appeared a moment later.
"We didn’t expect you, Mr. Pickering," he said, offering his hand. "But you’re very welcome, nonetheless."
"How are you, Max?" Pickering said, smiling. "I gather the house is full."
"What am I to do?" Pickering said. "I need a place to stay. Is there some Democrat we can evict?"
Telford chuckled. "I don’t think we’ll have to go that far. There’s always room for you here, Mr. Pickering."
"Is Mrs. Fowler in town?"
"No, Sir. I believe she’s in Florida."
"Then why don’t I impose on the Senator?"
"I’m sure the Senator would be delighted," Telford said. He turned and took a key from the rack of cubbyholes. "I’ll take you up."
"I know how to find it. Come up in a while, and we’ll have a little liquid cheer."
"Why don’t I send up a tray of hors d’oeuvres?"
"That would be nice. Give me fifteen minutes to take a shower. Thank you, Max."
Pickering took the key and walked to the bank of elevators.
Max Telford turned to the desk clerk.
"I know you haven’t been with us long, Mr. Denny, but you do know, don’t you, who owns this inn?"
"Yes, Sir. Mr. Foster. Mr. Andrew Foster."
"And you know that there are forty-one other Foster Hotels?"
"Well, for your general information, as you begin what we both hope will be a long and happy career with Foster Hotels, I think I should tell you that Mr. Andrew Foster has one child, a daughter, and that she is married to the chairman of the board of the Pacific and Far Eastern Shipping Corporation."
"The gentleman to whom you just gave the key to Senator Fowler’s suite?" Mr. Denny asked, but it was more of a pained realization than a question.
"Correct. Mr. Fleming Pickering. Mr. Pickering and Senator Fowler are very close."
"I’m sorry, Mr. Telford, I just didn’t know."
"That’s why I’m telling you. There is one more thing. Until last week, we had a young Marine officer, a second lieutenant, in the house. His name is Malcolm Pickering. If he should ever appear at the desk here, looking for a room, which is a good possibility, I suggest that it would behoove you to treat him with the same consideration with which you would treat Mr. Foster himself; he is Mr. Foster’s grandson, his only grandchild, and the heir apparent to the throne."
"I take your point, Sir," Mr. Denny said.
"Don’t look so stricken," Telford said. "They’re all very nice people. The boy, they call him ‘Pick,’ worked two summers for me. Once as a sous-chef at the Foster Park in New York, and the other time as the bell captain at the Andrew Foster in San Francisco."
1735 Hours 19 December 1941
When Senator Richardson S. Fowler walked in, Fleming Pickering was sitting on the wide, leather-upholstered sill of a window in the Senator’s sitting room. A glass of whiskey was in Pickering’s hand.
Senator Fowler’s suite was six rooms on the corner of the eighth floor of the Foster Lafayette, overlooking the White House, which was almost directly across Pennsylvania Avenue from the hotel.
"I had them let me in," Fleming Pickering said. "I hope you don’t mind. The house is full."
"Oh, don’t be silly," Senator Fowler said automatically, and then, with real feeling, "Jesus, Flem, it’s good to see you!"
Senator Fowler was more than a decade older than Fleming Pickering. He was getting portly, and his jowls were starting to grow rosy and to sag.
He looks more and more like a politician,Flem Pickering thought, aware that it was unkind. Years ago, as a very young man, Pickering had heard and immediately adopted as part of his personal philosophy an old and probably banal observation that to have friends, one must permit them to have one serious flaw. So far as Pickering was concerned, Richardson Fowler’s flaw was that he was a politician, the Junior Senator from the Great State of California.
Flem Pickering had a habit of picking up trite and banal phrases and adopting them as his own, ofttimes verbatim, sometimes revising them. So far as he was concerned, Richardson Fowler was the exception to a phrase he had lifted from Will Rogers and altered. Will Rogers said he had never met a man he didn’t like. Pickering’s version was that-Richardson Fowler excepted-he had never met a politician he had liked.
He had tried and failed to understand what drove Fowler to seek public office. It certainly wasn’t that he needed the work. Richardson Fowler had inherited from his father the San Francisco Courier-Herald, nine smaller newspapers, and six radio stations. His wife and her brother owned, it was said, more or less accurately, two square blocks of downtown San Francisco, plus several million acres of timberland in Washington and Oregon.
If Fowler was consumed by some desire to do good, to lead people in this direction or that, it seemed to Pickering that the newspapers and the radio stations gave Fowler the means to accomplish it. He didn’t have to run for office-with all that meant-for the privilege of coming east to the hot, muggy, provincial, small Southern town that was the nation’s capital, to consort with a depressing collection of failed lawyers and other scoundrels.
But, oh, Flem Pickering,he thought, what a hypocrite you are! Right now you are delighted to have access to a man with the political clout you pretend to scorn.
Senator Fowler dropped his heavy, battered, well-filled briefcase at his feet and crossed the room to Pickering. They shook hands, and then the Senator put his arm around the younger man’s shoulders and hugged him.
"I was worried about you, you bastard," he said. "You and Patricia. She here with you?"
"She’s in San Francisco," Pickering said. "She’s fine."
"He’s at Pensacola, learning how to fly," Pickering said. "I thought you knew."
"I knew he was going down there," the Senator said. "I had dinner with him, oh, six days, a week ago. But he never came to say good-bye to me."
There was disappointment, perhaps even a little resentment, in his voice. Senator Fowler had known Pick Pickering from the day he was born.
"If you were a second lieutenant and they gave you two days off, would you spend them seeing an aging uncle-politician, or trying to get laid?" Pickering asked with a smile.
The Senator snorted a laugh. "Well, he could have tried to squeeze in fifteen minutes for me between jumps," he said. He turned and walked to an antique sideboard loaded with whiskey bottles. "I have been thinking about having one of these for the last two hours. You all right?"
Flem Pickering raised his nearly full glass to show that he was.
Senator Fowler half-filled a glass with Johnnie Walker Black Label Scotch, added one ice cube, and then sprayed soda into it from a wire-wrapped soda bottle.
"This stuff," the Senator said, raising his glass, "is already getting in short supply. Goddamn German submarines."
"I have four hundred and eleven cases," Fleming Pickering said. "If you treat me right, I might put a case or two aside for you."
Fowler, smiling, looked at him curiously.
"Off the Princess, the Destiny, and the Enterprise, " Pickering explained.
The Pacific Princess, 51,000 tons, a sleek, fast passenger liner, was the flagship of the Pacific and Far Eastern Shipping Corporation. The Pacific Destiny and the Pacific Enterprise, 44,500 tons each, were sister ships, slightly smaller and slower, but, some said, more luxurious.
"Is that why you’re here?" Senator Fowler asked. "The Navy after them again? Flem ..."
Pickering held up his hand to shut him off. "I sold them," he said.
"When rape is inevitable, etcetera, etcetera?" Fowler asked.
"No," Pickering said. "I think I could have won that one in the courts. The Navy could have commandeered them, but they couldn’t have forced me to sell them."
Senator Fowler did not agree, but he didn’t say so. "And it wasn’t patriotism, either," Pickering said. "More like enlightened self-interest."
"Or a vision of the future," Pickering said.
"Now you’ve lost me," Senator Fowler confessed.
"We came home from Hawaii via Seattle," Pickering said, pausing to sip at his drink. "On the Destiny. We averaged twenty-seven knots for the trip. It took us one hundred twenty hours-"
"Fast crossing," Fowler interrupted, doing some quick, rough arithmetic. "Five and a half days."
"Uh-huh," Pickering said, "testing the notion that a fast passenger liner can run away from submarines."
"Not proving the theory? You made it."
"The theory presumes that submarines are not sitting ahead of you, waiting for you to come into range," Pickering said. "And there may not have been any Japanese submarines around."
"OK," Senator Fowler agreed. "Theory."
"While we were in Seattle, I drove past the Boeing plant. Long lines of huge, four-engine airplanes, B-17s, capable of making it nonstop to Hawaii in eleven, twelve hours."
"Uh-huh," Fowler agreed. He had flown in the B-17 and was impressed with it. "That airplane may just get our chestnuts out of the fire in this war."
Pickering went off at a tangent.
"You heard, Dick, that some military moron had all the B-17s in Hawaii lined up in rows for the convenience of the Japanese?"
Fowler shook his head in disbelief or disgust or both. "There, and in the Philippines," he said. "Christ, they really caught us with our pants down."
"I talked to an Army Air Corps pilot in the bar of the hotel," Pickering said. "He said a flight of B-17s from the States arrived while the raid was going on. And with no ammunition for their machine guns."
"I heard that, too."
"Anyway," Pickering said, "looking at those B-17s in Seattle, it occurred to me that they could more or less easily be modified to carry passengers, and that, presuming we win this war, that’s the way the public is going to want to cross oceans in the future. Twelve hours to Hawaii beats five or six days all to hell."
"Out of school-this is classified-Howard Hughes proposes to build an airplane-out of plywood, no less-that will carry four hundred soldiers across the Atlantic."
"Then you understand what I’m saying. The day of the passenger liner, I’m afraid, is over. And since the Navy was making a decent offer for my ships, I decided to take it."
"A decent offer?"
"They’re spending the taxpayers’ money, not their own. A very decent offer."
"All of them?"
"Just the liners. I’m keeping the cargo ships, and I will not sell them to the Navy. If the Navy tries to make me sell them, I’ll take them to the Supreme Court, and win. Anyway, that’s where I got all the Scotch. I can also make you a very good deal on some monogrammed sterling silver flatware from the first-class dining rooms."
Fowler chuckled. "I’m surprised the Navy let you keep that."
"So am I," Pickering said.
"What are you going to do with all that money?" Fowler asked.
"Get rid of it, quickly, before that sonofabitch across the street thinks of some way to tax me out of it," Pickering said.
"You are speaking, Sir," Fowler said, mockingly sonorous, "of your President and the Commander in Chief."
"You bet I am," Pickering said. "I told my broker to buy into Boeing, Douglas, and whatever airlines he can find. I think I’d like to own an airline."
"And when Pick comes home from the war, he can run it?"
Pickering met his eyes. "Sure. Why not? I don’t intend to dwell on the other possibility."
"I don’t know why I feel awkward saying this," Senator Fowler said, "but I pray for him, Flem."
"Thank you," Pickering said. "So do I."
"So what are you doing in Washington?" Fowler said, to change the subject.
"You know a lawyer named Bill Donovan? Wall Street?"
"You know what he’s doing these days?"
"Where did you think he’s getting the money to do it?" He examined his now-empty glass. "I’m going to build another one of these. You want one?"
"You think you’d make a good spy?" Senator Fowler asked.
"Then why are you going to see Donovan?"
"He called me. Once before December seventh, and twice since. Once when Patricia and I were still in Honolulu, and the second the day before yesterday, in Frisco. He got me the priority to fly in here."
"Do you know what he’s doing?"
"I figured you would."
Fowler grunted as he refilled their glasses. He handed Pickering his drink, and then went on, "Right now, he’s the Coordinator of Information. For a dollar a year. It was Franklin Roosevelt’s idea."
"That sounds like a propaganda outfit."
"I think maybe it’s supposed to. He’s got Robert Sherwood, the playwright, and some other people like that, who will do propaganda. They’ve moved into the National Institutes of Health building. But there’s another angle to it, an intelligence angle. He’s gathered together a group of experts-he’s got nine or ten, and he’s shooting for a dozen, and this is probably what he has in mind for you-who are going to collect all the information generated by all the intelligence services, you know, the Army’s G-2, the Office of Naval Intelligence, the FBI, the State Department, everybody, and try to make some overall, global sense out of it. For presentation to the President."
"I don’t think I understand," Pickering confessed.
"Donovan makes the point, and I think he’s right, that the service intelligence operations are too parochial, that they have blinders on them like a carriage horse. They see the war only from the viewpoint of the Navy or the Army or whatever."
The Senator looked at Pickering to see if he was getting through. Pickering made a "come on, tell me more" gesture with his hand.
"OK. Let’s say the Navy finds out, as they did, that the Germans had established a weather station and aerial navigation facilities in Greenland. The Navy solution to the problem would be to send a battleship to blow it up-"
"Where would they get one? The Navy’s fresh out of battleships. The Japanese used them for target practice."
"You want to hear this or not?"
"You’re going to have to learn to curb your lip, Flem, if you’re going to go to work for Bill Donovan. Or anywhere else in the government."
"What happened to free speech?"
"It went out the same window with Franklin Roosevelt’s pledge that our boys would never fight on foreign soil," the Senator said.
"I’m not working for him yet," Pickering said.
Smiling, Senator Fowler shook his head, and then went on, "As I was saying, if Navy Intelligence finds something, they propose a Navy solution. If the Army Air Corps had found out about the Germans on Greenland, they would have proposed sending bombers to eliminate them. Am I getting through to you?"
"The idea is that Donovan’s people-his ‘twelve disciples,’ as they’re called-will get intelligence information from every source, evaluate it, and make a strategic recommendation. In other words, after the Navy found the Greenland Germans, Donovan’s people might have recommended sending Army Air Corps bombers."
"That sounds like a good idea."
"It is, but I don’t think it will work."
"Interservice rivalry, primarily. And that now includes J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI. Until Bill Donovan showed up, Edgar thought that if war came, the FBI would be in charge of intelligence, period. Edgar is a very dangerous man if crossed."
"The story I got was that Donovan got Hoover his job, running the FBI."
"That was yesterday. In Washington, the question is, ‘What have you done for me today, and what can you do for me tomorrow?’ Anyway, the facts are that everybody has drawn their knives to cut Donovan’s throat. I’m betting on Donovan, but I’ve been wrong before."
"Really?" Pickering teased.
"That’s what you’d be getting into if you went to work for him, Flem. When do you see him?"
"He wanted me to have dinner with him tonight, but I wasn’t in the mood. I told him I would come to his office in the morning."
"Boy, have you got a lot to learn!" Fowler said.
"Meaning I should have shown up, grateful for the privilege of a free meal from the great man?"
"Fuck him," Fleming Pickering said. "So far as I’m concerned, Bill Donovan is just one more overpaid ambulance chaser."
"You’d better hope he doesn’t know you think that."
"He already does. I already told him."
"You did?" Senator Fowler asked, deciding as he spoke that it was probably true.
"He represented us before the International Maritime Court when a Pacific and Orient tanker rammed our Hawaiian Trader. You wouldn’t believe the bill that sonofabitch sent me."
"I hope you paid it," Fowler said wryly.
"I did," Pickering said, "but not before I called him up and told him what I thought of it. And him."
"Oh, Christ, Flem, you’re something!" Fowler said, laughing.
"I couldn’t get near the club car, much less the dining car, on the train from New York," Pickering said. "All I’ve had to eat all day is a roll on the airplane and some hors d’oeuvres. I’m starving. You have any plans for dinner?"
Fowler shook his head no.
"Until you graced me with your presence, I was going to take my shoes off, collapse on the couch, and get something from room service."
There was a knock at the door. It was Max Telford.
"Come on in, Max," Pickering called. "The Senator was just extolling the virtues of your room service."
"I’ve got someone with me," Telford said, and a very large, very black man, in the traditional chefs uniform of starched white hat and jacket and striped gray trousers, pushed a rolling cart loaded with silver food warmers into the room.
"Hello, Jefferson," Pickering said, as he crossed the room to him and offered his hand. "How the hell are you? I thought you were in New York."
"No, Sir. I’ve been here about three months," the chef said. "I heard you were in the house, and thought maybe you’d like something more than crackers and cheese to munch on."
"Great, I’m starving. Do you know the Senator?"
"I know who the Senator is," Jefferson Dittler said.
"Dick, Jefferson Dittler. Jefferson succeeded where Patricia failed; he got Pick to wash dishes."
"Lots of dishes," Dittler laughed. "Then I taught him a little about cooking."
"Oh, I’ve heard about you," Senator Fowler said, shaking hands. "You’re the fellow who taught Pick how to make hollandaise in a Waring Blender."
"That was supposed to be a professional secret," Dittler said.
"Well, Pick betrayed your confidence," Fowler said. "He taught that trick to my wife."
"He’s a nice boy," Dittler said.
Pickering turned from the array of bottles and handed Dittler a glass dark with whiskey. "That’s that awful fermented corn you like, distilled in a moldy old barrel in some Kentucky holler."
"That’s why it’s so good," Dittler said. "The moldy old barrel’s the secret." He raised his glass. ‘To Pick. May God be with him."
"Here, here," Senator Fowler said.
Fleming Pickering started lifting the silver food covers.
"Very nice," he said. "One more proof that someone of my superior intelligence knows how to raise children for fun and profit. Jefferson never did this sort of thing for me before Pick worked for him."
"He’s a nice boy," Jefferson Dittler repeated, and then, his tone suggesting it was something he desperately wanted to believe, "Smart as a whip. He’ll be all right in the Marines."
Anacostia Naval Air Station
20 December 1941
The interview between Mr. Fleming Pickering, Chairman of the Board of the Pacific and Far Eastern Shipping Corporation, and Colonel William J. Donovan, the Coordinator of Information to the President of the United States, did not go well.
For one thing, when Mr. Pickering was not in Colonel Donovan’s outer office at the agreed-upon time, 9:45a.m., Colonel Donovan went to his next appointment. This required Mr. Pickering, who arrived at 9:51 A.M., to cool his heels for more than an hour with an old copy of Time magazine. Mr. Pickering was not used to cooling his heels in anyone’s office, and he was more than a little annoyed.
More importantly, Mr. Pickering quickly learned that Colonel Donovan did not intend for him to become one of the twelve disciples that Senator Fowler had mentioned, but rather that he would be an adviser to one of the disciples-should he "come aboard."
That disciple was named. Mr. Pickering knew him, both personally and professionally. He was a banker, and Pickering was willing to acknowledge that Donovan’s man had a certain degree of expertise in international finance, which was certainly closely connected with international maritime commerce.
But the United States was not about to consider opening new and profitable shipping channels. Victory, in Fleming Pickering’s judgment, was going to go to whichever of the warring powers could transport previously undreamed of tonnages of military equipment, damn the cost, to any number of obscure ports, under the most difficult conditions. In that connection there were two problems, as Pickering saw the situation.
First, there was the actual safe passage of the vessels-getting them past enemy surface and submersible warships. That was obviously going to be the Navy’s problem. The second problem, equally important to the execution of a war, was cargo handling and refueling facilities at the destination ports. A ship’s cargo was useless unless it could be unloaded. A ship itself was useless if its fuel bunkers were dry.
Carrying the war to the enemy, Pickering knew, meant the interdiction of the enemy’s sea passages, and denying to him ports through which his land and air forces had to be supplied.
If the President was going to get evaluations of the maritime situation, it seemed perfectly clear to Fleming Pickering that it should come from someone expert in the nuts and bolts, someone who could make judgments based on his own experience with ships and ports, not someone whose experience was limited to the bottom line on a profit-and-loss statement, or whose sea experience was limited to crossing the Atlantic in a first-class cabin on the Queen Mary or some other luxury liner.
Someone like him, for example.
This was not overwhelmingly modest, he realized, but neither was it a manifestation of a runaway ego. When Fleming Pickering stepped aboard a PandFE ship-or, for that matter, ships of a dozen other lines-he was addressed as "Captain" and given the privilege of the bridge.
It was not simply a courtesy given to a wealthy ship owner. When Fleming Pickering had come home from France in 1918, he had almost immediately married. Then, to the horror of his new in-laws, he’d shipped out as an apprentice seaman aboard a PandFE freighter. As his father and grandfather had done before him, he had worked his way up in the deck department, ultimately sitting for his master’s ticket, any tonnage, any ocean, a week before his twenty-sixth birthday.
He had been relief master on board the Pacific Vagabond, five days out of Auckland for Manila, when the radio operator had brought to the bridge the message that his father had suffered a coronary thrombosis and that in a special session of the stockholders (that is to say, his mother), he had been elected Chairman of the Board of the Pacific and Far Eastern Shipping Corporation.
Pickering tried to make this point to Colonel Donovan and failed. He was not particularly surprised when Donovan politely told him, in effect, to take the offer of a job as adviser to the disciple or go fuck himself. The disciple was one of Donovan’s Wall Street cronies; Pickering would have been surprised if Donovan had accepted the wisdom of his arguments.
And, he was honest enough to admit, he would have been disappointed if he had. He didn’t want to fight the war from behind a goddamned desk in Sodom on Potomac.
"General Mclnerney will see you now, Mr. Pickering," the impeccably shorn, shined, and erect Marine lieutenant said. "Will you come with me, please, Sir?"
Brigadier General D. G. Mclnerney, USMC, got to his feet and came around from behind his desk as Fleming Pickering was shown into his office. He was a stocky, barrel-chested man wearing Naval Aviator’s wings on the breast of his heavily berib-boned uniform tunic.
"Why, Corporal Pickering," he said. "My, how you’ve aged!"
"Hello, you baldheaded old bastard," Pickering replied. "How the hell are you?"
General Mclnemey’s intended handshake degenerated into an affectionate hug. The two men, who had become friends in their teens, beamed happily at each other.
"It’s a little early, but what the hell," General Mclnerney said. "Charlie, get a bottle of the good booze and a couple of glasses."
"Aye, aye, Sir," his aide-de-camp replied. Although he was a little taken aback by the unaccustomed display of affection, and it was the first time he had ever heard anyone refer to General Mclnerney as a "baldheaded old bastard," he was not totally surprised. Until a week ago, General Mclnerney’s "temporary junior aide" had been a second lieutenant fresh from Quantico, whom General Mclnerney had arranged to get in the flight-training program at Pensacola.
His name was Malcolm Pickering, and this was obviously his father. The General had told him that they had served together in France in the First World War.
"Pick’s a nice boy, Flem," General Mclnerney said, as he waved Pickering into one end of a rather- battered couch and sat down on the other end. "I was tempted to keep him."
"I’m grateful to you for all you did for him, Doc," Pickering said.
"Hell," Mclnerney said, depreciatingly, "the Corps needs pilots more than it needs club officers, and that’s what those paper pushers in personnel were going to do with him."
"Well, I’m grateful nonetheless," Pickering said.
"I got one for you," Mclnerney said. "I called down there to make sure they weren’t going to make him a club officer down there, and you know who his roommate is? Jack Stecker’s boy. He just graduated from West Point."
Fleming Pickering had no idea what Mclnerney was talking about, and it showed on his face.
"Jack Stecker?" Mclnerney went on. "Buck sergeant? Got the Medal at Belleau Wood?"
The Medal was the Medal of Honor, often erroneously called the Congressional Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest award for valor in action.
"Oh, yeah, the skinny guy. Pennsylvania Dutchman. No middle name," Pickering remembered.
"Right," Mclnerney chuckled, "Jack NMI Stecker."
"I always wondered what had happened to him," Pickering said. "He was one hard-nosed sonofabitch."
The description was a compliment.
The aide handed each of them a glass of whiskey.
"Mud in your eye," Mclnerney said, raising his glass and then draining it.
"Belleau Wood," Pickering said dryly, before he emptied his glass.
"Jack stayed in the Corps," Mclnerney went on. "They wanted to send him to Annapolis. Christ, he wasn’t any older than we were, he could have graduated with a regular commission when he was twenty-three or twenty-four, but he wanted to get married, so he turned it down. Until last summer he was a master gunnery sergeant at Quantico."
"They made him a captain; he’s at Diego."
"And now our kids are second lieutenants! Christ, we’re getting old, Doc."
"Jack had two boys. The older one went to Annapolis. He was an ensign on the Arizona. He was KIA on December 7."
The two men looked at each other a moment, eyes locked, and then Mclnerney shrugged and Pickering threw up his hands helplessly.
"So what brings you to Washington, Flem?" Mclnerney asked, changing the subject. "I thought you hated the place."
"I do. And with rare exceptions, everyone in it. I’m looking for a job."
"I just saw Colonel William J. Donovan," Pickering said. "He sent for me."
"Then I guess you know what he’s up to."
"I’ve got a pretty good idea."
"Out of school, he’s giving the Commandant a fit."
"Oh? How so?"
"The scuttlebutt going around is that Roosevelt wants to commission Donovan a brigadier general in the Corps."
"But he was in the Army," Pickering protested.
"Yeah, I know. The President is very impressed, or so I hear, with the British commandos. You know, hit-and-run raids. He wants American commandos, and he thinks they belong in the Corps. I hope to hell it’s not true."
"It sounds idiotic to me," Pickering said.
"Tell your important friends. Senator Fowler, for example."
"Just don’t quote me."
"Don’t be silly, Doc."
"You were about to tell me, I think, what you’re going to do for Donovan."
"Nothing. I decided I didn’t want to work for him. Or maybe vice versa. Anyway, I’m not going to work for him."
"Won’t you have enough to do running your company? Hell, transportation is going to win-or lose-this war."
"I sold the passenger ships, at least the larger ones, to the Navy," Pickering replied. "And the freighters and tankers will probably go on long-term charter to either the Navy or the Maritime Administration-the ones that aren’t already, that is. There’s not a hell of a lot for me to do."
"So what are you going to do?"
"Strange, General, that you should ask that question," Pickering said.
"What’s on your mind, Flem?" Mclnerney asked, a hint of suspicion in his voice.
"How about ‘Once a Marine, always a Marine’?"
Mclnerney looked at him with disbelief and uneasiness in his eyes.
"Flem, you’re not talking about you coming back in the Corps, are you? Are you serious?"
"Yes, I am, and yes, I am," Pickering said. "Why is that so- to judge from the look in your eyes and your tone of voice-incredible?"
"Come on, Flem," Mclnerney said. "You’ve been out of the Corps since 1919-and then, forgive me, you were a corporal."
"There should be some job where I could be useful," Pickering said. "Christ, I’ve been running eighty-one ships. And their crews. And all the shore facilities."
"I’m sure the Navy would love to commission someone with your kind of experience. Or, for that matter, the Transportation Corps of the Army."
"I don’t want to be a goddamn sailor."
"Think it through," Mclnerney said. "Flem, I’m telling you the way it is."
"So tell me. I’m apparently a little dense."
"Your experience, your shipping business experience, is in what I think of as Base Logistics. Moving large amounts of heavy cargo by sea from one place to another. The Navy does that for the Marine Corps."
"It occurred to me that I could be one hell of a division supply officer, division quartermaster, whatever they call it."
"That calls for a lieutenant colonel, maybe a full colonel. If there was strong resistance among the palace guard to commissioning people-Marines, like Jack Stecker, a master gunnery sergeant-as captains, what makes you think they’d commission a civilian, a former corporal, as a lieutenant colonel?"
"I’m willing to start at the bottom. I don’t have to be a lieutenant colonel."
Mclnerney laughed. "I think you really believe that."
"Yes, I do."
"As a major? A captain? That your idea of starting at the bottom?"
"Flem, when was the last time someone told you what to do, gave you an order?"
"Well, just for the sake of argument, I think I can still take orders, but I have the feeling that I’m just wasting my breath."
"You want the truth from me, old buddy, or bullshit from some paper pusher?"
"That would depend on what the bullshit was."
" ‘Why, we would love to have you, Mr. Pickering,’ followed by an assignment as, say, a major, and deputy assistant maintenance officer for mess-kit rehabilitation at Barstow, or some other supply depot. Where you would do a hell of a job rehabilitating mess kits, and be an all-around pain in the ass the rest of the time. You want to march off to war again, Flem, and that’s just not going to happen. Unless, of course, you go to the Navy. They really would love to have you."
"Fuck the Navy," Fleming Pickering said.
He stood up. General Mclnerney eyed him warily.
"I suppose I’ve made a real fool of myself, haven’t I, Doc?" Pickering said calmly.
"No, not at all. I’m just sorry things are ... the way things are."
"Well, I’ve kept my master’s ticket up. And I still own some ships. Taking a ship to sea is better than being ... what did you say, ‘a deputy assistant mess-kit-repair officer’?"
"Yes, of course it is. But I keep saying, and you keep ignoring, that the Navy would love to have you."
"And I keep saying, and you keep ignoring, Fuck the Navy.’"
"Have it your way, Flem. But they are on our side in this war."
"Well, then, God help us. I was at Pearl Harbor."
"Is it fair to blame Pearl Harbor on the Navy?"
"On who, then?" Fleming Pickering said, and put out his hand. "Thank you for seeing me, Doc. And for doing what you did for Pick."
"If you were twenty-one, I’d get you in flight school, too. No thanks required. Keep in touch, Flem."
The Foster Lafayette Hotel
20 December 1941
"Thank you very much," Fleming Pickering said politely, then took the receiver from his ear and placed it, with elaborate care, in its base. It was one of two telephones on the coffee table in the sitting room of Senator Richardson Fowler’s suite. Then he said, quite clearly, "Well, I’ll be a sonofabitch!" Transcontinental and Western Airlines had just told him that even though he already had his ticket for a flight between New York and San Francisco, with intermediate stops at Chicago and Denver, he could not be boarded without a priority. He had explained to them that he had come from San Francisco with a priority and was simply trying to get home, and that he had presumed that the priority which had brought him to Washington also applied to his return trip. TWA had told him that was not the case; he would need another priority to do so.
Fleming Pickering considered his predicament and swore again.
"That goddamned sonofabitch!"
He was referring to Colonel William J. Donovan, Coordinator of Information to the President of the United States. This was his fault. Donovan should have arranged for him to get home, gotten him a priority to do so. While he didn’t think it was likely the ambulance-chasing sonofabitch was vindictive enough to have canceled his return-trip priority after their unpleasant encounter that morning, it was possible. And whether he had canceled the priority or simply neglected to arrange for one, what this meant for Fleming Pickering was that unless he wanted to spend four days crossing the country by train-and they probably passed out compartments on the train to people with priorities, which might well mean sitting up in a coach all the way across the country-he was going to have to call the bastard up and politely beg him to get him a priority to go home.
There was no question in Pickering’s mind that Donovan would get him a priority, and no question either that Donovan would take the opportunity to remind Pickering that priorities were intended for people who were making a contribution to the war effort, not for people who placed their own desires and ambitions above the common good, by, for example, declining to serve with the Office of the Coordinator of Information.
Then Fleming Pickering had another thought: Richardson Fowler could probably get him a priority. Dick was a politician. Whatever law the politicians wrote, or whatever they authorized some agency of the government to implement-such as setting up an air-travel priority system-those bastards would take care of themselves first.
The thought passed through his mind, and was quickly dismissed, that perhaps he was being a horse’s ass, that he was not working for the government and therefore had no right to a priority, and that getting one through Fowler’s political influence would deprive of a seat some brave soldier en route to battle the Treacherous Jap. He was not going to California to lie on the beach. He still had a shipping company to run; coming here had taken him away from that.
There came a knock at the door. Pickering looked at it, and then at his watch. It was probably Dick Fowler. But why would Fowler knock?
It was Max Telford.
"Hello, Max, what’s up?"
"I have a somewhat delicate matter I thought I should bring to your attention," Telford said.
"Will it wait until I pour us a drink? I’ve had a bad day and desperately need one."
"I could use a little taste myself," Telford said. "Thank you."
When Pickering handed him his drink, Telford handed him a woman’s red leather wallet.
"It belongs to Miss Ernestine Sage," Telford said.
Ernestine "Ernie" Sage was the daughter of Patricia Pickering’s college roommate.
"Where’d you get it?" Pickering asked.
"Miss Sage left it behind when she left the inn. The wallet and some other things."
"I don’t quite follow you."
"She was not registered, Mr. Pickering," Telford said carefully.
"She was here with Pick?" Fleming Pickering’s eyes lit up. He liked Ernie Sage, and there had been more than a tiny seed of hope in the jokes over the years, as Ernie and Pick had been growing up, that they could be paired off permanently. Still, it was a dumb thing for Pick to do. Ernest Sage, Ernie’s father, was Chairman of the Board of American Personal Pharmaceuticals. And he routinely stayed in the Foster Lafayette. Pick should have known she would be recognized.
"With Pick’s friend," Telford said. "Lieutenant McCoy."
"I know him," Pickering said, without thinking. "He’s a nice kid."
Pick and McCoy had gone through the Officer Candidate School at the Marine base at Quantico together. They had nothing in common. McCoy had been a corporal in the peacetime Marine Corps, and what he had, he had earned himself. But Pickering had not been surprised when he’d met McCoy and seen the affection between him and his son. Doc Mclnerney and Flem Pickering had become lifelong friends in the Corps in France, despite a wide disparity in backgrounds.
"Then you know he was wounded," Telford said.
"No. I hadn’t heard about that."
"I don’t have all the details," Telford said. "I didn’t want to pry, but McCoy is apparently some sort of officer courier. He was in the Pacific when the war started, and Pick got one of those ‘missing and presumed dead’ telegrams. He was pretty shook up about it. And then McCoy called from the West Coast and said he was back. Anyway, Pick came to me and said that McCoy was on his way to Washington, and if there was ever a time a Foster hotel should offer its very best, it was now, to McCoy. And his lady friend. And that all charges should be put on his account."
"And the lady friend turned out to be Ernestine Sage?"
"Yes, Sir. I recognized her immediately, but I don’t know if she knows I knew who she is."
"And they were here for a while? Lots of room service?"
"Yes. That’s a nice way to put it."
"Andrew Foster once told me that so far as he’s concerned, he’s prepared to offer accommodations to two female elephants in heat, plus a bull elephant, just as long as they pay the bill and don’t soil the carpets," Pickering said. "So what’s the problem?"
Telford laughed. "He told me a variant of that philosophy. It was two swans in heat, so long as they paid the bill and didn’t flap their wings and lay eggs in the elevators."
Pickering chuckled, and then repeated, "So what’s the problem? I’d rather my wife didn’t hear about this, but so far as I’m concerned, whatever Ernie Sage did in here with Lieutenant McCoy is their business and no one else’s."
"The problem is how to return Miss Sage’s property to her," Telford said. "The only address I have for either of them is the one on her driver’s license. That’s in Bernardsville, New Jersey. Her parents’ home, I think."
"Telford, your discretion is in keeping with the highest traditions of the innkeeping trade," Pickering said, meaning it. "If Ernest Sage found out-or even suspected-that his only child, his precious little Ernie, was shacked up with a Marine officer in a hotel in Washington, there would be hell to pay. Let me think."
He did just that, as he took a deep pull at his drink. "Ernie works for an advertising agency in New York," he said, after a moment. "J. Walter Thompson. It’s on Madison Avenue. Check the phone book. Send it to her there, special delivery, and put Pick’s address on it as the return address."
"All I have for that would be ‘Pensacola, Florida.’ "
"Add ‘Student, Flight Training Program, U.S. Navy Air Station,’ " Pickering said.
"I’m glad I brought this to your attention," Telford said.
"So am I. You about ready for another of these?"
"No, thank you."
The door opened and Senator Richardson Fowler walked in. There was someone with him, a stocky, well-dressed man in his sixties. He stopped inside the door, took gold-rimmed pince-nez from a vest pocket, polished them quickly with a handkerchief, and then put them on his nose.
"Good evening, Mr. Secretary," Telford said. "It’s nice to see you, Sir."
"Hello, Telford, how are you?" said Secretary of the Navy Frank W. Knox.
"Fine, and on my out, Sir," Telford said. "Is there anything I can send up?"
"All we want right now is a drink, Max, thanks," Fowler said. He waited until Telford had left, closing the door behind him, and then went on, "Frank told me at lunch, to my surprise, that you two don’t know each other."
"Only by reputation," Pickering said, crossing the room to Knox and giving him his hand.
"I was about to say just that," Knox said. "How do you do, Pickering?"
The two examined each other with unabashed curiosity. "Scotch for you, Frank?" Senator Fowler asked, looking over his shoulder from the array of bottles.
"Please," Knox said absently, and then, "Dick tells me you’re going to work for Bill Donovan."
"That didn’t work out," Pickering said.
"I’m sorry to hear that," Knox said.
"Why should you be sorry?"
"It takes away an argument I was going to use on you."
"What argument was that?"
Senator Fowler knew Frank Knox almost as well as he knew Fleming Pickering. Sensing that their first meeting already showed signs of becoming confrontational, he hurried over with the drinks.
"You all right, Flem?"
"Oh, I think I might have another. You can’t fly on six or seven wings, you know." He walked to the array of liquor.
"I gather your meeting with Bill Donovan was not entirely successful?" Fowler asked.
"No, it wasn’t," Pickering replied.
"You want to tell me why?"
"Well, aside from the fact that we don’t like each other, which is always a problem if you’re going to work for somebody, you were wrong about his wanting to make me one of his twelve disciples. What he had in mind was my being a minor saint-Saint Fleming the Humble-to one of his Wall Street moneymen."
"You have been at the sauce, haven’t you?"
"It is a blow to the masculine ego, especially in these times of near-hysterical patriotism, for an ex-Marine to be told, ‘No, thanks, the Corps can’t use you.’ I have had a drink or five. Guilty, Your Senatorship."
"I don’t think I understand you," Fowler said.
"After I saw Donovan, I tried to enlist, and was turned down."
"You were a Marine?" Knox asked.
"I was," Pickering said, "but, as the General reminded me, only a corporal."
"Both Napoleon and Hitler were only corporals," said Frank Knox. "I, on the other hand, was a sergeant."
Pickering looked at the dignified Secretary of the Navy, saw the twinkle in his eyes, and smiled.
"Were you really?"
"First United States Volunteer Cavalry, Sir," Knox said. "I charged up Kettle Hill with Lieutenant Colonel Theodore Roosevelt."
"The good cousin," Pickering said.
"Oh, I wouldn’t put it quite that way," Knox said. "Franklin grows on you."
"I will refrain from saying, Mr. Secretary, how that man grows on me."
Knox chuckled. "The Marine Corps turned you down, did they?"
"Politely, but firmly."
"The Marine Corps is part of the Navy. I’m Secretary of the Navy. Are you a bartering man, Pickering?"
"I’ll always listen to an offer."
Knox nodded, and paused thoughtfully before going on. "The reason I was sorry to hear that you’re not going to be working for Bill Donovan, Pickering, is that I came here with the intention of making this argument to you: Since you will be working for Donovan, you will not be able to run the Pacific and Far Eastern Shipping fleet, so you might as well sell it to the Navy."
"Since Fowler apparently has been doing a lot of talking about me," Pickering replied, not pleasantly, "I’m surprised he didn’t tell you I told him I have no intention of selling any more of my ships. To the Navy, or anyone else."
"Oh, he told me that," Knox said. "I came here to try to get you to change your mind." "Then I’m afraid you’re on a wild-goose chase."
"You haven’t even heard my arguments." Pickering shrugged.
"We’re desperate for shipping," Knox said.
"My ships will haul anything the Navy wants hauled, anywhere the Navy wants it hauled."
"There are those who believe the maritime unions may cause trouble when there are inevitable losses to submarines and surface raiders."
"My crews will sail my ships anywhere I tell them to sail them," Pickering said.
"There are those who believe the solution to that problem, which I consider more real than you do, is to send them to sea with Navy crews."
"Then they’re fools," Pickering said.
"Indeed?" Knox asked icily.
"Pacific and Far Eastern doesn’t have a third mate, or a second assistant engineer, who is not qualified to sail as master, or chief engineer," Pickering said. "Which is good for the country. My junior officers are going to be the masters and chief engineers of the ships-the vast fleets of cargo ships-we’re going to have to build for this war, and my ordinary and able-bodied seamen and my engine room wipers are going to be the junior officers and assistant engineers. You can’t teach real, as opposed to Navy, seamanship in ten or twelve weeks at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center. If somebody is telling you that you can, you had better get a new adviser."
"What’s the difference between Navy seamanship, Flem, and ‘real’ seamanship?" Fowler asked.
"It takes three or four Navy sailors to do what one able-bodied seaman is expected to do on a merchantman," Pickering replied. "A merchant seaman does what he sees has to be done, based on a good deal of time at sea. A Navy sailor is trained not to blow his nose until someone tells him to. And then they send a chief petty officer to make sure he blows it in the prescribed manner."
"You don’t seem to have a very high opinion of the U.S. Navy," Knox said sharply.
"Not if what happened at Pearl Harbor is any indication of the way they think. I was there, Mr. Knox."
Knox glowered at him; Fowler saw the Secretary’s jowls working.
"There are those," Knox said after a long pause, "who advise me that the Navy should stop trying to reason with you and simply seize your vessels under the President’s emergency powers."
"I’ll take you to the Supreme Court and win. You can force me-not that you would have to-to have my ships carry what you want, wherever you want it carried, but you can not seize them."
"A couple of minutes ago, the thought entered my head that I might be able to resolve this difference reasonably by offering you a commission in the Marine Corps, say, as a colonel. That now seems rather silly, doesn’t it?"
"I don’t think silly is the word," Pickering said nastily. "Insulting would seem to fit. To both the Corps and me."
"Flem!" Senator Fowler protested.
"It’s all right, Dick," Knox said, waving his hand to shut him off. "And I don’t suppose saying to you, Pickering, that your country needs your vessels would have much effect on you, would it?"
"My ships are at my country’s disposal," Pickering said evenly. "But what I am not going to do is turn them over to the Navy so the Navy can do to them what it did to the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor."
"That’san insult," Knox said, "to the courageous men at Pearl Harbor, many of whom gave their lives."
"No, it’s not," Pickering said. "I’m not talking about courage. I’m talking about stupidity. If I had your job, Mr. Secretary, I would fire every admiral who was anywhere near Pearl Harbor. Fire them, hell, stand them in front of a firing squad for gross dereliction of duty. Pearl Harbor should not have happened. That’s a fact, and you can’t hide it behind a chorus of patriotic outrage that someone would dare sink our fleet."
"I’m ultimately responsible for whatever happens to the Navy," Knox said.
"If you really believe that, then maybe you should consider resigning to set an example."
"Now goddamn it, Flem!" Senator Fowler exploded. "That’s going too goddamned far. You owe Frank an apology!"
"Not if he really believes that, he doesn’t," Knox said. He leaned over and set his glass on the coffee table. "Thank you for the drink, Dick. And for the chance to meet Mr. Pickering."
"It’s been very interesting," the Secretary of the Navy said. "If not very fruitful."
"Frank, Hem’s had a couple too many," Senator Fowler said.
"He looks like the kind of man who can handle his liquor," Knox said. "Anyway, in vino veritas. " He walked to the door and opened it, and then half-turned around. "Mr. Pickering, I offered my resignation to the President on December seventh. He put it to me that his accepting it would not be in the best interests of the country, and he therefore declined to do so."
And then he went through the door and closed it after him.
Fleming Pickering and Richardson Fowler looked at each other. Pickering saw anger in his old friend’s eyes.
There was a momentary urge to apologize, but then Fleming Pickering decided against it. He had, he realized, said nothing that he had not meant.
On Board USSTangier
Task Force 14
1820 Hours 22 December 1941
"Now hear this," the loudspeakers throughout the ship blared, harshly and metallically. "The smoking lamp is out. The smoking lamp is out."
Staff Sergeant Joseph L. Howard, USMC, was on the bow of the Tangier when the announcement came. He was smoking a cigarette, looking out across the wide, gentle swells of the Pacific at the other ships of Task Force 14.
The USS Tangier, a seaplane tender pressed into duty as a troop transport, with the 4thMarine Defense Battalion on board, was in line behind the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga, which flew the flag of Rear Admiral Frank Fletcher, Commander of Task Force 14.
Behind the Tangier was the Neches, a fleet oiler, riding low in the water. The three ships considered most vulnerable to attack formed the center of Task Force 14. Sailing ahead of the Saratoga were the cruisers USS Astoria and USS Minneapolis.
The cruiser USS San Francisco brought up the rear. The cruisers themselves were screened by nine destroyers.
Task Force 14 had put out from Pearl Harbor five days before, six days after the Japanese had attacked Pearl, under orders from Admiral Husband E. Kimmel, the U.S. Pacific Fleet Commander, to reinforce Wake Island.
Wake Island desperately needed reinforcement. Already there were what the Corps euphemistically referred to as "elements" of the 1stMarine Defense Battalion. These amounted to less than four hundred Marines, commanded by Major James P. S. Devereux. Devereux had two five-inch naval cannon, obsolete weapons removed from men-of-war; four three-inch antiaircraft cannon, only one of which had the necessary fire-control gear; twenty-four .SO-caliber Browning machine guns; and maybe a hundred .30-caliber Brownings, mixed air- and water-cooled. That, plus individual small arms, was it.
Staff Sergeant Joe Howard knew what weaponry had been given to Major Devereux’s "elements" because he’d talked to the battalion’s ordnance sergeant. It had been decided, literally at the last minute, that the ordnance sergeant would be of more value to the Corps left behind at Pearl, doing what he could to get the newly formed 4thDefense Battalion’s weaponry up and running.
And he knew what Task Force 14 was carrying to reinforce Wake Island. In addition to the 4thDefense Battalion, at near full strength, and the Brewster Buffalos of VMF-211 that would fly off Saratoga and join what was left of the dozen Wildcats already on Wake, there were, aboard Tangier and in the holds of other ships, nine thousand rounds of five-inch ammunition; twelve thousand rounds of three-inch shells for the antiaircraft cannon; and three million rounds of .50-caliber machine-gun ammunition.
After the devastating, humiliating whipping they had taken at Pearl on December 7, the Navy and the Marine Corps were finally coming out to fight.
Howard took a final, deep drag on his Camel, then flicked the glowing coal from its end with his thumbnail. He carefully tore the cigarette paper down its length and let the wind scatter the tobacco away. Then he crumbled the paper into a tiny ball between his thumb and index fingers and let the wind take that away, too.
Howard was "under arms." That is, he was wearing his steel helmet and a web belt from whose eyelets hung a canteen, a first-aid pouch, a magazine pouch for two pistol magazines, and a Model 1911A1 .45-caliber Colt pistol in a leather holster. The canteen was empty, as were the magazine pouch and the magazine in the .45. Ammunition had not been authorized for issue to the guard, much less to the troops, although there was a metal box in the guardroom with a couple of dozen five-round stripper clips of .30-06 ammunition for Springfield ‘03 rifles and a half-dozen loaded seven-round .45 magazines.
Joe Howard had seen the Officer of the Guard slip one of the loaded magazines into his .45 just before guard mount. The Officer of the Guard was a second lieutenant, a twenty-one-year-old, six months out of Annapolis. Joe had wondered whom he thought he was going to have to shoot.
He hadn’t said anything, of course. Staff sergeants in the Marine Corps don’t question anything officers do, even twenty-one-year-old second lieutenants, unless it is really stupid and likely to hurt somebody. If Lieutenant Ellsworth Gripley felt that it was necessary to carry a loaded pistol in the performance of his duties as officer of the guard, that was his business.
Howard set his steel helmet at the appropriately jaunty angle for a sergeant of the guard and set out to find the Officer of the Guard. He was a little worried about Second Lieutenant Ellsworth Gripley, USMC. It had finally sunk in on the young officer that this wasn’t a maneuver; within forty-eight hours the 4thDefense Battalion would be ashore on Wake Island and engaging the Japanese, and he would be expected to perform like a Marine officer.
Lieutenant Gripley wasn’t afraid, Joe Howard thought. More like nervous. That was understandable. And he saw it as his duty to do what he could to make Gripley feel a little more sure of himself.
The ships making up Task Force 14 were, of course, blacked out to avoid detection by the enemy. One of the functions of the guard detail-in S/Sgt. Joe Howard’s opinion, the most important function-was to make sure that no one sneaked on deck after dark for a quick smoke. The glow of a cigarette coal was visible for incredibly long distances on a black night. Even so, there seemed to be a large number of people, including officers, who seemed unwilling, or unable, to believe that their cigarette was really going to put anyone in danger. They seemed to think that maybe if three or four hundred people lined the ship’s rails, merrily puffing away, a Japanese submarine skipper could see this through a submarine periscope, but one little ol’ cigarette, carefully concealed in the hand? Not goddamned likely.
Because of his zealous enforcement of the no-smoking regulations, Howard had already earned a reputation among some of the officers as a rather insolent noncom. Marine officers are not accustomed to being firmly corrected by staff sergeants. Or to being threatened by them:
"Sir, if you don‘t put that out right now, I’ll have to call the officer of the guard."
When he had said that, the cigarettes were immediately put out. But in half a dozen instances, the officer had asked for his name and billet. He didn’t think the information had been requested so the officers could seek out the Headquarters Company commander to tell him what a fine job S/Sgt. Howard had been doing.
He had had less trouble with the enlisted men, although there were about ten times as many of them as there were officers. The lower-ranking Marines were either afraid of defying orders or of Japanese submarines-or probably of both. And Joe Howard was aware that most of the senior noncoms probably knew, as he did, just how far a cigarette coal could be seen at night and did not wish to end their war by drowning after being torpedoed. And, besides, they would be in a shooting war soon enough. The word had leaked out of Officer’s Country, via a PFC orderly whom Joe had known at Quantico, that at 1800 hours they were about 550 miles from Wake Island. The Task Force was making about fifteen knots, which translated to mean they were then thirty-six hours steaming time from Wake. In other words, they should be at Wake at daybreak the day after tomorrow.
The ships in the center of the Task Force, the Saratoga, the Tangier, and the oiler, had been making course changes regularly, zigzagging across the Pacific so as to present as difficult a target as possible for any enemy submarine that might be stalking the Task Force. The cruisers and destroyers had been making course changes that were more frequent and of greater magnitude than those of the carrier and the ships following in its wake. The destroyers had been weaving in and out between the larger ships like sheepdogs guarding their flock.
Joe Howard had grown used to changes in course-the slight tilting of the deck, the slight change in the dull rumble of the engine, the change in the pitching and rolling of the Tangier - to the point where he paid almost no conscious attention to them.
But now, as he made his way aft along the portside boat deck, looking for Lieutenant Gripley, he slowly came to realize that this course change was somehow different. He stopped, putting his hand on the damp inboard bulkhead to steady himself.
For one thing,he thought, it’s taking a lot longer than they normally do.
And then he understood. The Tangier, and thus all of Task Force 14, was not changing course, but reversing course.
What the hell is that all about?
The Tangier’s public-address system, which never seemed to shut up, was now absolutely silent. If something was up, it certainly would have gone off, accompanied by harshly clanging bells, calling General Quarters.
He decided that nothing had happened, except that his imagination was running away with him.
He began moving aft again, telling himself that after he found Lieutenant Gripley, he would go to the guardroom and have a ham sandwich and a cup of coffee.
When he reached the rear of the boat deck, there was someone leaning on the railing beside the ladder to the main deck. At first he thought it was the guard posted there, and that he had deserted his post at least to the point of taking off his steel pot and assuming an unmilitary position. He was considering how badly to ream him when he saw the guard, steel pot in place, standing at parade rest.
Whoever was leaning on the rail was an officer-not Lieutenant Gripley, but somebody else.
When he got close, he saw that it was the Executive Officer of the 4thDefense Battalion. And when he heard Joe’s footsteps, he first turned his head, and then stood erect.
"Sergeant Howard, Sir. Sergeant of the Guard."
"Yes," the Exec said absently. "How are you tonight, Sergeant?"
It was not the expected response.
"Just getting a little air, Sergeant," the Exec continued. "Stuffy in my cabin."
"Yes, Sir," Joe said.
"Trying to get my thoughts in order, actually," the Exec said.
"Sir?" Joe asked, now wholly confused.
The Exec straightened.
"Sergeant," he said. "At 2100 tonight, there was a radio from Pearl Harbor. Task Force 14 is to return to Pearl."
"Task Force 14 is ordered to return to Pearl. We have already reversed course."
"But what about Wake Island?"
"It would appear, Sergeant," the Exec said throatily, huskily, speaking with difficulty, "that Major Devereux and his men are going to have to make do with what they have."
"Jesus Christ," S/Sgt. Howard blurted. He knew, perhaps as well as anyone, what few arms and how little ammunition, and how few Marines, were at Major James P. S. Devereux’s command.
"Orders are orders, Sergeant," the Exec said, and pushed his way past Joe Howard. There was not much light, but there was enough for Joe to see that tears were running down the Exec’s cheeks.
Goddamn them!Staff Sergeant Howard thought. How the hell can they turn around, knowing that unless we can reinforce Wake, the Japs will take it, and all those guys will be either dead or prisoners? Who the hell could be responsible for such a chicken-shit order?
And then he thought: Who the fuck are you kidding? If we’d gone to Wake, when the first shot was fired, you’d be hiding behind the nearest rock, curled up like a fucking baby, and crying, the way you behaved on December seventh.
Lakehurst Naval Air Station
Lakehurst, New Jersey
1605 Hours 1 January 1942
PFC Stephen M. Koffler, USMC, heard his relief coming, the crunch of their field shoes on the crusty snow, the corporal quietly counting cadence, long before he saw them. Koffler was eighteen years and two months old, weighed 145 pounds, and stood five feet seven inches tall.
The relief was marching across the front of the enormous airship hangar; and Koffler’s post, Number Four, was a marching post, back and forth, along the side of the hangar.
Permission had been granted to the guard to carry their Springfield 1903 caliber .30-06 rifles at sling arms, muzzle down. The idea was to keep snow out of the muzzle.
PFC Koffler unslung his piece and brought it to port arms. The moment he saw the corporal turn the corner, he issued his challenge: "Halt, who goes there?"
He had learned how to do this and a number of other things peculiar to the profession of arms generally, and to the United States Marine Corps specifically, at the United States Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, South Carolina, during the months of October and November and in the first weeks of December, but the first time he had done it for real was here in Lakehurst.
There were five rounds in the magazine of his rifle, and a total of forty more in the pockets of the "Belt, Web, Cartridge" he was wearing around his waist. His bayonet was fixed to the muzzle of his rifle. Sometimes, walking back and forth alongside the dirigible hangar, he had forgotten it was there and bumped into it with his lower leg.
"Corporal of the Guard," the corporal called.
"Advance, Corporal of the Guard, to be recognized."
The Corporal of the Guard ordered the guard detail to halt. When they had done that, he took another half-dozen steps toward PFC Koffler.
"Giblet," PFC Koffler challenged.
"Gravy," the Corporal of the Guard replied, giving the countersign.
When he had first been told the night’s challenge and countersign, PFC Koffler had been more than a little surprised. Somebody around here apparently had a sense of humor. There had been none of that at Parris Island, not with something as important as guard duty.
Not that what he was doing here at Lakehurst wasn’t serious. The hangar had been built to house dirigibles before PFC Stephen Koffler was born, back when the Navy had thought that enormous rigid airships were the wave of the future. It now held half a dozen Navy blimps, used to patrol the waters off New York harbor for German submarines. A blimp was a nonrigid airship, like a balloon. Last night in the guardhouse, PFC Koffler had heard that the first Navy nonrigid airship had been called the "A-Limp," and the second model the "B-Limp." That’s where the name had come from.
There were German submarines out there, and it was quite possible that German saboteurs would attempt to destroy the blimps in their hangar. There were a whole lot of Nazi sympathizers in New York’s Yorktown district. Before the war, they used to hire Madison Square Garden for their meetings.
Guarding the dirigible hangar and its blimps was not like guarding the recruit barracks at Parris Island. PFC Koffler had taken his responsibilities seriously.
"PFC Koffler, Post Four, Corporal," Koffler said. "All is well."
They went through the formalized ritual of changing the guard. The first Marine in the line behind the corporal marched up and held his Springfield at port arms while Koffler recited his Special Orders, then the Corporal of the Guard barked "Post," and PFC Koffler marched away from his post and took up a position at the rear of the relief guard.
This was his last tour. He’d gone on duty, "stood guard mount," at 1600 yesterday afternoon, and been assigned to the First Relief. He’d gone on guard at 1600, walked his post for two hours, and been relieved at 1800. Four hours later, at 2200, he had gone on again and walked his post until midnight, which was New Year’s. Then he’d had another four hours off, going back on at 0400 until 0600. Another four hours off until ten, then two hours more until noon, then four hours off, and then this, the final tour, two hours from 1400 to 1600.
It had not entered his mind to feel sorry for himself for having to walk around in below-zero weather on New Year’s Day, any more than it had entered his mind on Monday, when he’d gotten off the Sea Coast Limited train that had carried him from Parris Island, South Carolina, to Newark, that if he got on the subway, he could be home in thirty minutes.
It had been instilled in him at Parris Island that he no longer had any personal life that the Corps did not elect to grant him. He was not a candy-ass civilian anymore, he was a Marine. He could go home only when, and if, the Corps told him he could. You were supposed to get a leave home when you graduated from Parris Island, but that hadn’t happened. There was a war on.
Maybe he could get a leave, or at least a weekend liberty, while he was going to school at Lakehurst. Or when he graduated. If he graduated. He wasn’t holding his breath. For one thing, the sergeant major on Mainside at Parris Island, where he’d been transferred after graduating from Boot Camp, had really been pissed at him. They had gone through the records looking for people with drafting experience, and they’d found him and transferred him to Mainside to execute architectural drawings for new barracks. He hadn’t joined the Corps to be a draftsman. If he’d wanted to be a draftsman, he would have stayed with the Public Service Corporation of New Jersey, where he had been a draftsman trainee in the Bus and Trolley Division.
There’d been an interesting notice on the bulletin board. Regulations said you had to read the bulletin board at least twice a day, so it wasn’t his fault he’d seen the notice. The notice had said that volunteers were being accepted for parachute duty. And that those volunteers who successfully completed the course of instruction at Lakehurst would receive an extra fifty dollars a month in pay. That was a lot of money. As a PFC, his total pay was forty-one dollars a month, thirty-six dollars plus five dollars for having qualified as Expert on the firing range with the Springfield.
So he had applied, which immediately pissed off the Sergeant Major, who needed a draftsman. "Let some other asshole jump out of goddamned airplanes," the Sergeant Major yelled at him. The Sergeant Major was so pissed and he made so much noise that one of the officers came out to see what was going on.
"Well, you’ll have to let him apply, Sergeant Major," the officer said, "if he wants to. Put on his application we need him here, but let him apply."
Stephen Koffler felt sure that was the last he would ever hear of parachute school, but three days later the Sergeant Major called him into his office to tell him to pack his fucking gear and get his ass on the train, and he personally hoped Koffler would break his fucking neck the first time he jumped.
He never even left Pennsylvania Station when he got off the Sea Coast Limited at Newark. He just went downstairs from the tracks to ask Information about when the New Jersey Central train left for Lakehurst. They told him it would be another two and a half hours. While he was waiting, he got asked three times for his orders, twice by sailors wearing Shore Patrol brassards, and once even by fucking doggie MPs. Steve Koffler was already Marine enough to be convinced that the goddamned Army had no right to let their goddamned MPs ask a Marine anything.
When he got to Lakehurst, a truck carried him out to the Naval Air Station. And then the Charge of Quarters, a lean and mean-looking sergeant, told him where he could find a bunk, but that he’d have to do without a mattress cover, a pillow, and sheets because the supply room was locked up. He might even have to wait until after New Year’s.
In the morning, he had a brief encounter with the First Sergeant, who was lanky and mean-looking like the Charge of Quarters, just older. The First Sergeant said that he really hadn’t expected him, and that he thought the new class would trickle in over the next couple of days, but now that he had reported in, he should get his gear shipshape and be ready to stand guard mount at 1600.
Koffler spent the day getting ready for guard, pressing his green blouse and trousers and a khaki shirt and necktie, which he now knew was not a necktie but a "field scarf." He restored the spit-shine on his better pair (of two pairs) of field shoes, and cleaned and lightly oiled his 1903 Springfield .30-06 rifle.
It had been pretty goddamned cold, walking up and down alongside the dirigible hangar, but there was hot coffee in the guardhouse when you’d done your two hours; and the Sergeant of the Guard had even come out twice with a thermos of coffee and fried-egg sandwiches, an act that really surprised Koffler, based on his previous experience with both sergeants and guard duty at Parris Island.
After the guard that was just relieved marched back to the guardhouse and turned in their ammunition, every round carefully counted and accounted for, Steve Koffler took a chance and asked the Sergeant of the Guard a question. He seemed like a pretty nice guy.
"What happens now? I mean, what am I supposed to do?"
"If I was you, kid, I’d make myself scarce around the billet. There’s always some sonofabitch looking for a work detail."
"You mean we’re not restricted to the barracks?"
"No. Why should you be? You just get out of Parris Island?"
"It shows," the Sergeant said.
"Where should I go to get away from the barracks?"
"You can go anyplace you can afford to go. It’s about an hour on the train to New York City, but you better be loaded, you want to go there."
"How about Newark?"
"Why the hell would you want to go to Newark?"
"I live just outside, a town called East Orange."
"You just came off Boot Camp leave, right?"
"What do you mean, ‘No’?"
"I mean I didn’t get any leave. When we graduated, they sent me to Mainside, and then they sent me here."
"No shit? You’re supposed to get a leave, ten days at least."
"Well, I didn’t get one."
"I find out you’ve been shitting me, kid," the Sergeant said, "I’ll have your ass."
Then he picked up the telephone.
"I hope you’re really hung over, you old sonofabitch," he said to whoever answered the phone.
There was a reply, and the Sergeant laughed.
"Hey, I just been talking to one of the kids who’s reporting in. I don’t know what happened, but they didn’t give him a leave out of Parris Island. He lives in Newark, or near it. Would it be OK with you if I told the CQ to give him a seventy-two-hour pass?"
There was a pause.
"He already pulled guard. We just got off."
Something else was said that Koffler couldn’t hear.
"OK, Top, thanks," the Sergeant of the Guard said, and hung up. "He was in a good mood. You get an extended seventy-two-hour pass."
"I don’t know what that means," Steve Koffler confessed.
"Well, you get one pass that runs from 1700 today until 1700 Sunday. That’s seventy-two hours. Then you tear that one up and throw it away, and go on the second one, which lasts until 0500 Monday. The First Sergeant says that nothing’s going on around here until then, anyway."
"Now for Christsake, don’t do nothing like getting shitfaced and arrested."
An hour later, PFC Stephen Koffler passed through the Marine guard at the gate and started walking toward the Lakehurst train station. He hadn’t gone more than a hundred yards when a Chrysler convertible pulled to the side of the road ahead of him, and the door swung open. The driver was a naval officer, a young one.
"I’m going into New York City if that would be any help, son," he said.
On the way to Newark, where the officer went out of his way to drive him into the city and drop him off at Pennsylvania Station, he told Koffler that he was a navigator on one of the blimps and had spent New Year’s Eve freezing his tail ten miles off the Jersey coast, down by Cape May, at the mouth of the Delaware River.
Steve told him he had just arrived to go to the parachute school. And the officer replied that Steve had more balls than he did. There was no way anybody could get him to jump out of an airplane unless it was gloriously in flames.
Steve caught the Bloomfield Avenue trolley in the basement of Penn Station and rode it up to the Park Avenue stop by Branch Brook Park in Newark. Then he got off, walked up to street level, and caught the Number 21 Park Avenue bus and took it twenty blocks west across the city line into East Orange. He got off" at Nineteenth Street, right across from his apartment building.
Steve’s mother and her husband lived on the top floor of the four-story building, on the right side, in the apartment that overlooked the entranceway in the center of the U-shaped building. There were no lights on in the apartment, which meant they were out someplace; but there were lights on in the Marshall apartment, which was on the same side of the building, and a floor down.
He wondered if Bernice Marshall was home. He had known Bernice since the sixth grade, when his mother had married Ernie and they had moved into the apartment building at 121 Park Avenue. Bernice Marshall wasn’t his girlfriend or anything like that. What she was was a girl with a big set of knockers and dark hair, and she was built like somebody who would probably get fat when she got older. But she was a girl. And as Steve looked up at her apartment now, his mind’s eye was full of Bernice taking a sunbath on the roof of the building, with her boobs spilling out of her bathing suit.
Whenever the Marshall girls, Bernice and her sister Dianne, took sunbaths on the roof of the apartment, the males in the building usually found some excuse to go up there and smoke a cigarette and have a look. Dianne was a long-legged, longhaired blonde four years older than Bernice. She had run away to get married when she was a senior in East Orange High. And then she had had some kind of trouble and moved back home with her baby.
Dianne had gotten a job in the Ampere Branch of the Essex County Bank and Trust, right next door to where Mr. Marshall ran the Ampere One-Hour Martinizing Dry Cleaning and Laundry. Steve didn’t know what Bernice was doing. She’d tried to go to college, at Upsala, in East Orange, but just before he had joined the Marines, Steve remembered now, he’d heard that hadn’t worked out and that Bernice was going to try to get some kind of job.
It then occurred to him that he didn’t have a key to get in. His keys and every other thing he had owned as a civilian had been put into a box and shipped home from Parris Island the very first morning he was there, right after they’d given him a haircut and a set of utilities and a pair of boots. Even before the Corps had issued him the rest of his gear. Jesus Christ!
There was a door on either side of the lobby of 121 Park Avenue, which could be opened if you had a key, or if someone in one of the apartments pushed a button. Or if you gave the brass plate on it a swift kick. That’s what Steve did next, giving him access to the first-floor foyer and stairwell.
He went up the stairs two at time. When he passed the third-floor landing, he could hear female laughter from the Marshall apartment, but couldn’t tell if it was Bernice or Dianne, or maybe even Mrs. Marshall.
More or less for the hell of it, he tried the door to his apartment. It was locked, as he thought it would be. Then he went up to the roof. With a lot of effort he pushed the door open against the snow that had accumulated up there.
What they called "the deck"-the place where Bernice and Dianne took their sunbaths-was a platform of boards with inch-wide spaces between them. Now it was covered with ice and snow, and it was slippery under his feet as he made his way across it to the fire escape.
There was a ladder down from the roof to the top level of the fire escape, which was right outside his room. He climbed down it and tried his windows. They were locked.
Just beyond the railing of the fire escape was the bathroom window. If that was locked, he didn’t know what the fuck he would do. He leaned over and pushed up on it, and it slid upward.
But to get through it meant you had to stand on the fire escape railing and support yourself on the bricks of the building, while you leaned far enough over until you could put your head and shoulders into the window without falling off. Then you gave a shove. After that, you could wiggle through and end up head-down in the bathtub.
Steve realized there was no way he could do that wearing his overcoat and brimmed cap and gloves. After he considered that, he decided he couldn’t make it wearing his blouse either; so he took all of them off and laid them on the steel-strap floor of the fire escape.
Then he was so goddamned cold he started to shiver.
When he stood up on the railing of the fire escape, he thought there was a very good chance that he was not going to make it, and that when his mother and her husband came home, they would find him smashed and bloody on the concrete of the entranceway four floors down, dead.
Sixty seconds later, he was in the bathtub, head down.
He pushed out of the way his mother’s underwear and stockings, hanging to dry over the tub, and found the light switch and flicked it on.
He saw himself in the mirror. He didn’t look familiar. There was no fat on his face anymore, and his eyes looked like they had sunk inward. But the big difference, he realized, was the hair. Before he’d enlisted, he had had long hair, worn in a pompadour, with sideburns. What he had now was hair not half an inch long, and no sideburns.
He went into his bedroom, opened the window, and reclaimed the rest of his uniform from the fire escape. He opened his closet and put the cap on the shelf, then found a heavy hanger for the overcoat and hung that on the pipe. It really looked strange in there, he thought, beside his red and white Mustangs Athletic Club jacket.
His "rig" was on the shelf. He had been interested in amateur radio since he was a high school freshman and had joined the Radio Club. By the time he was a sophomore, he had learned Morse code and joined the American Amateur Radio Relay League. He had built his first receiver when he was still a sophomore, and his first really good receiver when he was a junior. He had passed the Federal Communications Commission examination for his ham ticket and had then gone on and gotten his second-class radio telephone license when he was a senior.
Getting the money to build his first transmitter and the antenna that it needed had meant giving up a lot of nights out with the Mustangs, but finally he had it up and running in the early spring of his senior year. That had lasted a week, until the neighbors in the building found out what was causing all the static when they tried to listen to "Lowell Thomas and the News" and Fred Allen and "The Kate Smith Hour." They’d bitched to the superintendent, and the super had made him take the antenna down from the roof.
His mother’s husband had acted as if he had done something criminal. He’d even bitched at him for just listening to the traffic on the twenty-meter band, refusing to understand that receivers don’t cause interference. The fights they had over that had been one of the reasons he had joined The Corps.
He took his Mustangs jacket off its hanger and slipped it on. It had a red velveteen body and white sleeves and red knit cuffs and collar. Mustangs Athletic Club was spelled out in flowing script on the back, and Mustang AC and Steve in smaller block letters on the front.
He closed the bedroom door to examine himself in the full-length, somewhat wavy mirror mounted on it. The Mustangs jacket didn’t look right; either it had shrunk or he had grown. It was tight across his shoulders and chest, and the cuffs seemed to ride too high on his arms. He took it off and noticed something else. It looked cheap. It looked like a cheap piece of shit.
That made him feel disloyal and sad.
He hung the jacket back up and put on his uniform blouse, then looked at himself again in the mirror. He looked right, and the PFC stripe and the glistening silver marksman badges didn’t look bad either. He had two, an Expert Medal with little medals readingrifle andpistol hanging under it, and a Sharpshooter medal withbar hanging under it. He hadn’t made Expert with the Browning Automatic Rifle, but Sharpshooter was nothing to be ashamed of. He’d only made Marksman with the .30-caliber machine gun and mortar. They had a medal for that too, but he had elected not to wear it. Everybody who qualified-and you didn’t get to graduate from Parris Island if you didn’t qualify-was a Marksman, so why the fuck bother?
He went into the foyer, where the mystery of his missing mother and her husband was solved. There was a brochure on the table. Three Days and Three Nights, Including New Year’s Eve, at the Luxurious Beach Hotel, Asbury Park, N.J. Only $99.95 (Double Occupancy).
That’s where they were, not thirty miles from Lakehurst.
Christ, didn’t they know there was a war on? That the Japs had taken Wake Island two days before Christmas? That the Japs had invaded the Philippine Islands? That while they were sipping their fucking Seven-and-Seven in the Beach Hotel, there were German submarines right offshore, waiting to put torpedoes into American ships?
121 Park Avenue
East Orange, New Jersey
2105 Hours 1 January 1942
What I’ll do,thought PFC Stephen Koffler, USMC, is get together with the guys, maybe get a couple of drinks.
He went to the telephone mounted on the wall in the kitchen and dialed from memory the number of his best buddy.
Mrs. Danielli told him Vinny was out someplace, she didn’t know where. She would tell him Steve had called, she said, and asked him to wish his mom and dad a happy New Year.
He started to call Toddy Feller, but remembered that his mother had written that Toddy had enlisted in the Navy right after Pearl Harbor Day.
He thought, unkindly, that at this very moment Toddy was probably on his hands and knees, his fat ass in the air, scrubbing a deck at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center with a toothbrush.
He went back into his bedroom, where he now remembered seeing the package from Parris Island, unopened, on the closet shelf. He took it down, tore the paper off, and dug through it. There was dirty underwear and dirty socks, and the pants and shirt and shoes and toilet kit (a brand-new one) he’d taken to the post office when he’d enlisted.
And his keys. To the lobby door, to the mailbox in the lobby, to the apartment door, and to his locker in East Orange High School. He’d kept that one for a souvenir, even though it meant paying the bastards two-fifty for a key you could have made in Woolworth’s Five and Ten for a quarter.
He put the keys in his pocket and went out the front door and down the stairs to the Marshall apartment, on the floor below.
He heard conversation inside when the doorbell sounded, and then he heard someone who was probably Bernice say, "I wonder who that can be?" and then the door was opened.
Mr. Marshall looked at him a minute without recognition, until Steve spoke.
"Hello, Mr. Marshall, is Bernice around?"
"I’ll be damned!" Mr. Marshall said. "I didn’t recognize you. Hazel, you’ll never guess who it is!"
"So tell me," Mrs. Hazel Marshall said.
"Come on in," Mr. Marshall said, taking Steve’s arm, then putting his arm around his shoulder, as he led him into the living room.
"Recognize this United States Marine, anybody?" Mr. Marshall said.
"Why, my God, it’s Stevie," Mrs. Marshall said. "Stevie, your mother and father are in Asbury Park!"
"Yeah, I know."
"Oh, she’ll be heartbroken she missed you!" Mrs. Marshall said as she came to him and kissed him. Then she held him by both arms and looked at him intently. "You’ve changed."
"Hello, Stevie," Dianne Marshall said. "Remember me?"
"Yeah, sure. Hello, Dianne."
"And this is Leonard," Mrs. Marshall said. "Leonard Walters. He and Dianne are sort of keeping company."
Leonard Walters looked like a candy-ass, Steve decided. Dianne looked good. She didn’t have big boobs like Bernice, but the ones she had pressed attractively against her sweater.
"I’m very pleased to meet you, I’m sure," Leonard said as he shook Steve’s hand. "You’re a Marine, huh?"
"How about a little something against the cold, Steve?" Mr. Marshall said.
"Charlie, he’s only seventeen."
"Eighteen," Steve corrected her. "I was hoping Bernice would be home."
"She had a date," Dianne said. "She’ll be sorry she missed you."
"No big deal," Steve said.
"Seven-and-Seven OK, Steve?"
Seven-and-Seven was Seagram’s Seven Crown Blended Whiskey and 7-Up. Steve hated it.
"No, thank you," Steve said.
"See, I told you," Mrs. Marshall said.
"How about a little Scotch, then? That’s what I’m having."
"Scotch would be fine," Steve said. He wasn’t even sure what it was, only that he had never had any before.
"Water or soda?"
Dianne walked across the room to him.
"What are those things on your uniform, medals?"
She stood close to him and bent over and examined them carefully. He could see her scalp where she parted her hair; and he could smell her; and he could see the outline of her brassiere strap.
"I’m impressed," she said, straightening, still so close he could feel the warmth of her breath and smell the Sen-Sen she had been chewing.
Mr. Marshall handed him a glass and Steve took a sip. It tasted like medicine.
"That’s all right, son?"
"Just fine," Steve said.
Dianne walked away. He could see her rear end quiver; she was wearing calf-high boots. Steve thought that calf-high boots were highly erotic, ranking right up there with pictures he had seen in The Police Gazette in the barbershop, of women in brassieres and underpants and garter belts.
"So how do you like it in the Marines, Steve?" Mr. Marshall asked.
"I like it fine," Steve said. That wasn’t the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, but he understood that he couldn’t say anything else.
"What have they got you doing?"
"Monday I start parachute school," Steve said.
"I don’t know what that means," Mr. Marshall said.
"The Corps is organizing parachute battalions," Steve explained. "I volunteered for it."
"You mean you’ll be jumping out of airplanes?" Mrs. Marshall asked.
"Really?" Dianne asked. When he looked at her and nodded, she added, "I’ll be damned."
"Dianne!" her mother said. "Try to remember you’re a lady."
Steve sensed that Leonard wished he would leave, and while Steve thought Leonard was a candy-ass, fair was fair. If he had a date with some girl, he’d want to get her alone and away from her family and neighbors, too.
He refused Mr. Marshall’s offer to freshen his drink, and then left.
He called the Danielli house again, thinking that maybe Vinny had come back; but Mrs. Danielli said she hadn’t heard from him and didn’t expect to, as late as it was. He apologized for calling so late and turned the radio on.
He quickly grew bored with that. From his living room window he could see the candy store on the corner of Eighteenth Street and Park Avenue but it was closed. So there was no place he could go without a car.
He had a damned good idea where Vinny was. He was up at The Lodge, on the mountain in West Orange, where you could get a drink even if you weren’t twenty-one. But getting one around here was an impossibility. They all knew who you were and how old you were. And you needed a car to get to The Lodge.
But then he remembered hearing that if you were in uniform you could get a drink, period. The idea began to grow on him. There was a bar by the Ampere station. His mother and her husband never went there, so the people there wouldn’t connect him with them.
It was worth a try. It was a shame to waste a seventy-two-hour pass sitting around listening to the radio all by yourself. If they wouldn’t serve him, he’d just leave. He’d turn red in the face, too; but that wouldn’t be too bad.
He put on his overcoat and his brimmed cap, turned the overcoat collar up against the cold wind, and walked to the bar by the Ampere station.
It was crowded and noisy. He pushed his cap back on his head, unbuttoned his overcoat, and found an empty seat at the bar.
"What’ll it be?" the bartender asked.
"Scotch and soda," Steve said.
The bartender said, "You got it," and went to make it. Steve took a five-dollar bill from his wallet and laid it on the bar.
When the bartender delivered the drink, he pushed the five-dollar bill back across the bar.
"On the house," he said.
Steve took a sip of the whiskey. It still tasted like medicine. Not as bad as the first one, but still bad. It was probably, he decided, another brand.
The bartender set another drink on the bar in front of Steve.
"From the lady and the gentleman at the end," the bartender said. Steve looked down the bar to where a middle-aged couple had their glasses raised to him.
"My privilege," the man called.
"God bless you!" the woman called.
Steve felt his face flush, and desperately hoped he wasn’t blushing to the point where it could be seen.
"Thank you," he called.
It was the first time in his life that anyone had bought him a drink in a bar.
"You meeting somebody?" a male voice asked in his ear. He turned and saw that it was Leonard.
"No," Steve said. "I just came in for a drink."
"Whyn’tcha come sit with us?" Leonard asked, with a nod toward the wall. There was a wall-length padded seat there and tiny tables, eight or ten of them, in front of it. Dianne Marshall was sitting on the bench, smiling and waving at him.
"Wouldn’t I be in the way?"
"Don’t be silly," Leonard said. "If we knew you were coming here, you could have come with us."
Steve picked up his five-dollar bill and followed Leonard over. Dianne patted the seat next to her.
"You should have said something, Steve," Dianne said, "about coming here. You could have come with us. What did you do, walk?"
"I guess you get a lot of that, walking, in the Marines, huh?" Leonard asked.
"Try a thirty-mile hike with full field equipment," Steve said.
"Thirty miles?" Dianne asked.
"Right. It toughens you up."
"I’ll bet it does," Dianne said, and squeezed his leg over the knee.
She wasn’t, he saw, looking for any reaction from him. She was looking at Leonard, smiling. She relaxed her fingers, but didn’t take them from his leg.
She doesn’t mean anything by that,he decided solemnly. She has a boyfriend and I’m just the kid friend of her little sister. I mean, Jesus, she was married, and has a kid!
He was not used to drinking liquor; he started to feel it.
"It’s been a long day," he announced. "I’m going to tuck it in."
"You haven’t even danced with me yet!" Dianne protested.
"To tell you the truth, I’m a lousy dancer," he said, getting up.
"Ah, I bet you’re not," Dianne said.
"You better dance with her, kid, or she won’t let you go," Leonard said.
"Don’t call me ‘kid,’ " Steve said, nastily.
Jesus Christ, I am getting drunk I better leave that fucking Scotch alone!
"Sorry, no offense," Leonard said.
"What’s the matter with you, Lenny?" Dianne snapped. She got up and took Steve’s hand. "I’ll decide whether you’re a lousy dancer."
She led him to the dance floor and turned around and opened her arms for him to hold her. And he danced with her. He was an awkward dancer, and he was wearing field shoes. And he got an erection.
"I think we better call this off," he said, aware that his face felt really flushed now, and that it was probably visible, even in the dim light.
"Yes, I think maybe we should."
He didn’t sit down again with them, just claimed his overcoat and brimmed cap and put them on. After that he shook hands with Leonard and left.
It was a ten-minute walk back to the apartment. Snow had started again, but it was still cold enough for him to feel that he was sobering up. He told himself he had made a mistake leaving, that maybe Dianne had meant something when she didn’t take her hand off his leg. And then came the really thrilling thought that she had felt his erection, and it hadn’t made her mad.
By the time he got to the apartment, however, and was shaking the snow off his overcoat and wiping it off the leather brim of his cap, he had changed his mind again. Dianne was twenty-what? Twenty-two at least, probably twenty-three. She was an ex-married woman, for Christsake. She had a boyfriend. His imagination was running wild, more than likely because he had had all those medicine-tasting Scotch-and-sodas.
The telephone rang.
It had to be Vinny Danielli. The sonofabitch had finally come home, and his mother had told him he had called.
"Hello, asshole, how the hell are you, you guinea bastard?"
"I know. I thought it was somebody else."
"I sure hope so," she said.
"I’m sorry about that."
"What are you doing?"
"We left right after you did. Leonard lives in Verona and was worried about getting home in the snow."
"Your parents get home?"
"They won’t be home until tomorrow sometime."
"Mine are in bed," she said. "And so’s Joey."
Joey, Steve now recalled, was her little boy.
There was a long, awkward pause.
"You want to come up?" he heard himself asking.
Oh, my God, what did I say?
"To tell you the God’s honest truth, Steve, I’d love to," Dianne said. "But what if anybody found out?"
"Who would find out?"
"I wouldn’t want Beraice to find out, for example. Not to mention my parents."
"She wouldn’t get it from me," Steve said, firmly. "Nobody would."
"But, Jesus, if we got caught!" Dianne said, and then the phone clicked and went dead.
He felt his heart jump.
She wouldn’t come up. She’s had a couple of drinks, a couple of drinks too many, and it’s a crazy idea. Once she actually went so far as calling up, she realized that, and hung up. She absolutely would not come up.
The doorbell rang.
He ran and opened it, and she pushed past him, closing the door behind her and leaning on it. She was wearing a chenille bathrobe and slippers that looked like rabbits. She had a bottle of Scotch in her hand.
"I saw that you liked this," she said, holding it up.
"Yeah," he said. "I’m glad you came."
"Can I trust you? If one word of this got out, oh, Jesus!"
"Sure," Steve said.
She leaned forward quickly and kissed him on the mouth.
"Leonard is a good man," she said.
"Leonard is a good man. I mean that. He’s really a good man, and he wants to marry me, and I probably will. But . . . can I tell you this?"
"He thinks you should wait until you’re married," she said. "I mean, maybe that’s all right if you’re a virgin. But I was married, you know what I mean?"
"If I hadn’t come up here, were you going to do it to yourself?"
"You know what I mean," she said.
"Yeah, probably," he said. He had never confessed something like that to anyone before, not even to one of the guys.
"You didn’t, did you?" she asked, and then decided to seek, with her fingers, the answer to her own question.
"I think I would have killed you if you had," she said a moment later, pleased with the firm proof she had found that he had not, at least recently, committed the sin of casting his seed upon the ground. "After I took a chance like this."
"You want to come in my room?"
"There, and in the living room, and in every other place we can think of." She pulled his head down to hers and kissed him again, and this time her tongue sought his.
It took him a moment to take her meaning. It excited him. He wondered if she would be able to tell, her having been married and all, that he was a virgin.
Jesus, I’m really going to get laid.
121 Park Avenue
East Orange, New Jersey
0830 Hours 2 January 1942
Dianne Marshall Norman woke up sick with the memory of what had happened between her and the kid upstairs. She knew why she had done it, but that didn’t excuse it, or make it right. She had done it because she was drunk. And she knew why she had gotten drunk; but that didn’t excuse it, or make getting drunk right, either.
Maybe she really was a slut, she thought, lying there in her bed with her eyes closed, hung over. A whore. That’s what Joe had called her when he’d caught her with Roddie Norman in the house at the shore. She’d been drunk then, too, and that had been the beginning of the end for her and Joe. He had moved out of their apartment two weeks later and gone to a lawyer about a divorce. And been a real sonofabitch about it, too.
His lawyer had told her father’s lawyer that Joe would pay child support, but that was it. He would keep the car and all the furniture and everything else, and he wouldn’t give her a dime. He would pay for her to go to Nevada for six weeks to get a divorce. If she didn’t agree to that, he would take her to Essex County Court in Newark and charge her with adultery with Roddie Norman, and it would be all over the papers.
Dianne didn’t think doing it with just one man (two, actually, but Joe didn’t know about Ed Bitter) really made her a whore or a slut. And there was no question in her mind that Joe had been fooling around himself. She’d even caught him at the Christmas office party feeling up the peroxide blonde, Angie Pal-meri, who worked in the office of his father’s liquor store. And there had been a lot of times when he’d had to "work late" at the store and couldn’t come home, and she had driven by and he hadn’t been there.
What had happened with Roddie Norman wouldn’t have happened if everybody hadn’t been sitting around drinking Orange Blossoms all afternoon; it had been raining and they couldn’t go to the beach. And the real truth of the matter, not that anybody cared, was that she had been mad with Joe because he had been making eyes at Esther Norman all day and looking down her dress.
And then, because Roddie was taking a nap on the couch and Joey was asleep, Joe and Esther had gone to get Chinese takeout at the Peking Palace in Belmar. God only knew what those two had been up to when they were gone, but that’s when it had happened. Roddie had awakened and the phonograph had been playing and they’d started to dance, and the first thing she knew they had both been on the couch and he had her shorts off, and Joe had walked in.
Dianne sometimes thought that if Joe had been able to beat Roddie up, it wouldn’t have gone so far as the divorce. What actually happened was that Roddie knocked Joe on his backside with a punch that bloodied Joe’s nose. Getting beaten up by Roddie was the straw that broke the camel’s back, so to speak.
So she’d gone to the Lazy Q Dude Ranch, twenty miles outside of Reno, Nevada, for the six weeks it took to establish legal residence. Then she’d gotten the divorce and moved back home, where her parents treated her as though she had an "A" for "Adultery" painted on her forehead.
And then her father brought Leonard Walters home. Leonard sold dry cleaner’s supplies, everything from wire hangers and mothproof bags to the chemicals they used in the dry-cleaning process itself. She had seen him around, seen him looking at her, and knew that he was interested. That was really one way to get her life fixed up, she thought. But Leonard was the single most boring male human being Dianne had ever met.
Dianne’s father brought him home to a potluck supper. That was so much bull you-know-what. They just happened to have a pot roast for supper, and Bernice just happened not to be there, and they ate at the dining room table off the good china and a tablecloth, all usually reserved for Sunday dinner, if then.
It had been carefully planned, including a little dialogue between her mother and her father to explain Dianne’s situation. The story they fed Leonard used the phrase "Dianne’s mistake" a lot. But "Dianne’s mistake," the way they told it, was not getting caught letting Roddie Norman in her pants, but in "foolishly running off to get married."
In her parents’ version, Joe Norman had stolen her out of her cradle. And then, once he got her to elope with him-in the process throwing away her plans for college and a career-he started to abuse her and drink and run around with a wild crowd who drank and gambled and did other things that could not be discussed around a family dining table.
Leonard Walters not only swallowed the tale whole, but embarked on what he called "our courtship." The courtship had not moved very rapidly, though. The reason was that Leonard’s name had been Waldowski before his parents changed it when they were naturalized. The Waldowskis were Polish and Roman Catholic, and Leonard’s mother was a large and formidable woman who did not believe Roman Catholics should marry outside The One True Faith. She knew that Dianne was a Methodist, but Leonard hadn’t told her about Dianne’s marriage, and she didn’t know about Little Joey either.
It was not now the time to tell her about it, Leonard said. "Let her learn to know you and love you."
Leonard was pretty devout himself, and he did not believe in premarital or extramarital sex. In his view, the thing to do about sex and everything else was "wait until things straighten themselves out."
On the day that PFC Stephen Koffler, USMC, entered her life, Dianne and Leonard had dinner, served precisely at noon, at the Walters’ house in Verona. It was a strain, relieved somewhat by several large glasses of wine.
Then they went to East Orange, where Dianne’s mother had promptly dragged her into the bedroom to deliver a recitation about how badly Joey had behaved while she was gone. After that she demanded a play-by-play account of all that was said at the Walters’ dinner. When Dianne explained that Leonard had not yet told his mother about Dianne and Joe, and, more important, about Joey, there followed a two-minute lecture about why Dianne should make him do that.
Once her mother let her go, Dianne went from the bedroom to the kitchen and made a fresh pot of coffee. She laced her cup with a hooker of gin. By the time Steve Koffler marched in, looking really good in his Marine Corps uniform, she was on her fourth cup.
At first he remained the way she always had remembered him-"the kid upstairs," a peer of Bernice’s, one of the mob of dirty-minded little boys who always came up to the deck on the roof to smirk and snicker behind their hands whenever she and Bernice tried to take a sunbath.
It was difficult for her to believe that he was really a Marine. Marines were men. Stevie Koffler, she thought, probably still played with himself.
That risque thought, which just popped into her mind out of the blue, was obviously the seed for everything else that happened. A seed, she realized after it was over, more than adequately fertilized by the gin in her coffee.
It was immediately followed by the thought-not original to the moment-that playing with himself was what good old Leonard must be doing. Either that or he just didn’t care about women, another possibility that had occurred to her. She had tried to arouse Leonard more than once; and she’d worked at that as hard as she could without destroying his image of her as the innocent child bride snatched from her cradle by dirty old Joe Norman. But she’d had no luck with him at all.
Maybe Steve doesn’t play with himself. Marines are supposed to have women falling all over them.
When Steve Koffler walked into the Ampere Lounge and Grill an hour after that, there was proof of that theory. Dianne saw several women-all of them older than she was-look with interest at the Marine who walked up to the bar in that good-looking uniform, his hat cocked arrogantly on the back of his head.
And then, if you wanted to look at it that way, Leonard himself was responsible for what had happened. If he hadn’t gone to Steve at the bar and practically dragged him back to the table, Steve would have had a couple of drinks and gone home. Maybe with one of the women who had been looking at him.
But Leonard dragged him back to their table. And then she felt his leg. And it was all muscle. The couple of times she had squeezed Leonard’s leg, playfully, of course, it had been soft and flabby. Steve Koffler’s leg was muscular, even more muscular than Joe’s, and Joe had played football.
And then, when she danced with him, and that happened to him, and she knew that he wanted her, too . . .
She tried to talk herself out of it. She even went so far as to put on her nightgown after Leonard took her home and gave her the standard we-can-wait-until-we’re-married goodnight j kiss. But then she decided to have a nightcap, so she could sleep. And when she stood in the kitchen drinking it, the telephone was right there, on the wall, in front of her nose.
Things, she told herself, always looked different in the morning. They did this morning. What they looked like this morning was that she’d gotten drunk and gone to bed with the kid upstairs. Marine or not, that’s what he was, the kid upstairs.
Christ, he can’t be any older than eighteen!
And what they’d done! What she’d done, right from the start, right after the first time, when it had been all over for him before she even got really started.
Joe had taught her that, and from the way Steve acted, she had taught him. That, and some other things she knew he had never done before.
Jesus, what if he starts telling people?
She had another unsettling thought: Sure as Christ made little apples, Steve Koffler is going to show up at my door.
She got out of bed and took a shower. When she came out, her father was in the kitchen.
"I promised Joe’s mother that I would take Joey over there," she said. "Can I borrow the car?"
"Sure, honey," her father said. "But be back by five, huh?"
When she got back, a few minutes after five, she met Steve coming out of the apartment with his mother and his mother’s husband.
Steve’s mother didn’t like her. Dianne supposed, correctly, that Steve’s mother knew what had really happened with Joe Norman. So, as they passed each other, all Dianne got was a cold nod from Steve’s mother, and a grunt from the husband.
Steve didn’t know what to do. But then he turned around and ran back to her.
Dianne told him that she had to do things with her family that night and the next day. And she managed to avoid him the rest of the time he was home.
Office of the Chairman of the Board
Pacific and Far Eastern Shipping Corporation
San Francisco, California
16 January 1942
The ten-story Pacific and Far Eastern Shipping Corporation Building had been completed in March of 1934, six months before the death of Captain Ezekiel Pickering, who was then Chairman of the Board. There were a number of reasons why Captain Pickering had two years before, in 1932, ordered its construction, including, of course, the irrefutable argument that the corporation needed the office space.
But it was also Captain Pickering’s response to Black Tuesday, the stock market crash of October 1929, and the Depression that followed. Pacific and Far Eastern-which was to say Captain Pickering personally, for the corporation was privately held- was not hurt by the stock market crash. Captain Ezekiel Pickering was not in the market.
He had dabbled in stocks over the years, whenever there was cash he didn’t know what else to do with for the moment. But in late 1928 he had gotten out, against the best advice of his broker. He had had a gut feeling that there was something wrong with the market when, for example, he heard elevator operators and newsstand operators solemnly discussing the killings they had made.
The idea of the stock market was a good one. In his mind it was sort of a grocery store where one could go to shop around for small pieces of all sorts of companies, or to offer for sale your small shares of companies. Companies that you knew-and you knew who ran them, too. But the market had stopped being that. In Ezekiel Pickering’s mind, it had become a socially sanctioned crap game where the bettors put their money on companies they knew literally nothing about, except that the shares had gone up so many points in the last six months.
The people playing the market-and he thought "playing" was both an accurate description of what they were doing and symbolic-often had no idea what the company they were buying into made, or how well they did so. And they didn’t really understand that a thousand shares at thirty-three-and-a-quarter really meant thirty-three thousand two hundred fifty real dollars.
And it was worse than that: they weren’t even really playing craps with real money, they were buying on the margin, putting up a small fraction of the thirty-three thousand two hundred fifty and borrowing the rest.
Ezekiel Pickering had nothing against gambling. When he had been twenty-nine and First Mate of the tanker Pacific Courier, he had once walked out of a gaming house in Hong Kong with fifty thousand pounds sterling when the cards had come up right at chemin de fer. But he had walked into the Fitzhugh Club with four thousand dollars American that was his, not borrowed, and that he was prepared-indeed, almost expected-to lose. To his way of looking at it, the vast difference between his playing chemin de fer with his own cash money at the Fitzhugh Club and the elevator man in the Andrew Foster Hotel playing the New York stock market with mostly borrowed Monopoly money was one more proof that most people were fools.
The stock market was a house of cards about to collapse, and he got out early. And he took with him his friend Andrew Foster. So that when Black Tuesday struck, and people were literally jumping out of hotel-room windows, both the Pacific and Far Eastern Shipping Corporation and Foster Hotels, Inc., remained solvent.
Of course, the Depression which followed the crash affected both corporations. Business was down. But retrenchment with cash in the bank is quite a different matter from retrenchment with a heavy debt service. Other shipping companies and hotels and hotel chains went into receivership and onto the auctioneer’s block, which gave both Ezekiel Pickering and Andrew Foster the opportunity to buy desirable properties, ships and hotels, at a fraction of their real value.
There never had been any doubt in Ezekiel’s mind that the domestic and international economies would in time recover. In fact, he agreed with President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 1932 inaugural declaration that the nation had "nothing to fear but fear itself," and he said so publicly. Thus, when a suitable piece of real estate went on the auction block, he put his money where his mouth was and bought it.
The Pacific and Far Eastern Shipping Corporation Building was both a structural and an architectural marvel. It was designed not only to remain standing after what the engineers called a "hundred-year earthquake," but to reflect the dominant position of the corporation in Pacific Ocean shipping.
An oil portrait of Ezekiel Pickering, completed after his death, was hanging in the office of the current Chairman of the Board. It showed him standing with his hand resting on a five-foot globe of the earth. The globe in turn rested in a mahogany gimbal. There were the traditional four gold stripes of a ship’s master around his jacket cuff, and a uniform cap with the gold-embroidered PandFE insignia was tucked under his arm.
His lips were curled in a small smile. In his widow’s view, that smile caught her late husband’s steely determination. But Fleming Pickering had a somewhat different take on it: while the artist had indeed captured a familiar smile of his father, based on Fleming’s own personal experience with it, that smile meant, Fuck you. I was right and you were wrong; now suffer the cost of your stupidity.
He had once told this to his wife, Patricia, and it had made her absolutely furious. But when he had told the same thing to old Andrew Foster, the hotelman had laughingly agreed.
It was a quarter past two on a Friday afternoon, and Fleming Pickering was alone in his office. There was a glass of Old Grouse Scotch whiskey in his hand. He drank his Scotch with just a dash of water and one ice cube. His father had taught him that, too. Good whiskey has a distinct taste; it is stupidity to chill it with ice to the point where that taste is smothered.
While there was always whiskey available in the office-kept in a handsomely carved teak cabinet removed from the Master’s cabin of the Pacific Messenger when she was retired from service and sent to the ship breakers-Fleming Pickering almost never drank alone. But the glass in his hand was the third today, and he was about to pour a fourth, when a light illuminated on one of the three telephones on the huge mahogany desk.
Since Pearl Harbor, Pacific and Far Eastern had lost nine of its fleet, eight to Japanese submarines and one, the tanker Pacific Virtue, at Pearl. It had been caught by Japanese bombers while it was unloading aviation gasoline. Three other PandFE ships were now overdue. Fleming Pickering thought it reasonable to presume that at least one of them would never make port.
He knew every officer on every crew, as well as a good many of the seamen, the black gang, and the stewards. He was not ashamed to have taken a couple of drinks.
Pickering reached over and picked up the handset of the telephone.
"A Captain Haughton for you," said Mrs. Helen Florian, his secretary, adding: "A Navy captain."
I know what this sonofabitch is going to say,Pickering thought, as he punched the button that would put him on the line. "I’m afraid I have some bad news to report, Mr. Pickering."
"This is Fleming Pickering," he said to the telephone.
"Good afternoon, Sir. I’m Captain Haughton, of the Secretary’s staff."
"How may I help you, Captain?"
"Sir, I’m calling for Secretary Knox. The Secretary is in San Francisco and wonders if you could spare him an hour or so of your time."
Well, no news is good news, I suppose.
"What does he want?"
I know goddamn well what he wants. He wants my ships. He’s a tenacious bastard, I’ll say that for him.
"I’m afraid the Secretary didn’t confide that to me, Sir," Captain Haughton said. "At the moment, the Secretary is on the Navy Station at Treasure Island. From there he’s going to the Alameda Naval Air Station to board his aircraft. Whichever would be most convenient for you, Sir."
"No," Fleming Pickering said.
"Excuse me, Sir?"
Obviously,Pickering thought, Captain Haughton, wrapped in the prestige of the Secretary of the Navy, is not used to hearing "no" when he asks for something.
"I said no. I’m afraid I don’t have the time to go to either Treasure Island or Alameda."
"We’d be happy to send a car for you, Sir."
"I have a car. What I don’t have is time. I can’t leave my office. But you can tell Mr. Knox that I will be in the office for the next several hours."
"Mr. Pickering, you do understand that the Secretary is on a very tight schedule himself," Captain Haughton said, and then added something he instantly regretted. "Sir, we’re talking about the Secretary of the Navy."
"I know who he is. That’s why I’m willing to see him if he wants to come here. But you might save his time and mine, Captain, if you were to tell him that I have not changed my mind, and I will fight any attempt by the Navy to take over my ships."
"Yes, Sir," Captain Haughton said. "I will relay that to the Secretary. Good afternoon, Sir."
Pickering put the handset back in its cradle.
If I wasn‘t on my third drink, would I have been less difficult? Well, fuck him! I told him in plain English that if the Navy tries to seize my ships, I’ll take it to the Supreme Court. He should have listened to me.
He stood up from behind his desk, walked to the liquor cabinet, and made himself another Old Grouse and water. Then he walked to an eight-by-twelve-foot map of the world that hung on an interior wall. Behind it was a sheet of light steel. Models of the ships of the PandFE fleet, each containing a small magnet, were placed on it so as to show their current positions.
After he checked the last known positions of the Pacific Endeavor, the Pacific Volition, and the Pacific Venture, he mentally plotted their probable courses. Then he wondered-for what might have been the seven hundredth time-whether it was an exercise in futility, whether he should move the three models down to the lower left-hand corner of the map to join the models of the PandFE ships he knew for sure were lost. Almost exactly an hour later, the bulb on one of his telephones lit up. When he picked it up, Mrs. Florian said, "Mr. Frank Knox is here, Mr. Pickering. He says you expect him."
Well I’ll be goddamned. He really is a tenacious sonofabitch!
"Please show Mr. Knox in," Fleming Pickering said.
He opened the upper right drawer of his desk, intending to put his Old Grouse and water out of sight. Then he changed his mind. As the door opened, he stood up, holding the glass in his hand. The Hon. Frank Knox walked in, trailed by a slim, sharp-featured, intelligent-looking Navy officer with golden scrambled eggs on the brim of his uniform cap. He had to be Captain Haughton.
Before speaking, the Hon. Frank Knox, Secretary of the Navy, stared for a moment at Fleming Pickering, Chairman of the Board of Pacific and Far Eastern Shipping. There was no expression on his face, but Pickering saw that his Old Grouse and water had not gone unnoticed.
Christ, he’ll think I’m a boozer; I was half in the bag the last time, too.
"Thank you for seeing me on such short notice," Knox said. "I know you’re a busy man."
"I have three overdue ships," Pickering replied. "It’s the reason I didn’t come to meet you. I didn’t want to get far from a telephone."
Knox nodded, as if he understood.
"Mr. Pickering, may I present Captain David Haughton, my administrative officer?"
The two shook hands. Pickering said, "We spoke on the telephone."
"I’d like to talk to Mr. Pickering alone, David, if you don’t mind," Knox said.
"Mrs. Florian," Pickering said, "would you make the Captain comfortable? Start with a cup of coffee. Something stronger, if he’d like."
"Coffee will be fine," Haughton said, as he followed Mrs. Florian out of the office.
"May I offer you something?" Pickering asked.
"That looks good," Knox said, nodding at Pickering’s glass. "Dick Fowler told me you had cornered the Scotch market."
Is he indulging me? Or does he really want a drink?
"It’s Old Grouse," Pickering said, as he walked to the liquor cabinet to make Knox a drink. "And I’m glad you’ll have one. I’m a little uneasy violating my own rule about drinking, especially alone, during office hours."
Knox ignored that. He waited until Pickering had handed him the glass, then he nodded his thanks and said, "Haughton doesn’t like you."
"I’m sorry. I suppose I was a little abrupt on the telephone."
"He doesn’t think you hold the Secretary of the Navy in what he considers to be the proper degree of awe."
"I meant no disrespect," Pickering said.
"But you aren’t awed," Knox insisted. "And that’s what I find attractive."
"I beg your pardon?"
"There was a movie-or was it a book?-about one of those people who runs a motion-picture studio. He was surrounded by a staff whose primary function was to say ‘Right, J.B.,’ or ‘You’re absolutely right, J.B.,’ whenever the great man paused for breath. After our interesting encounter in Dick Fowler’s apartment, when I calmed down a little, I realized that sort of thing was happening to me."
"I don’t think I quite follow you," Pickering said.
"This is good stuff," Knox said, looking down at his glass.
"I’ll give you a case to take with you," Pickering said. "I have a room full of it downstairs."
"Because I’m the Secretary of the Navy?"
"Because I would like to make amends for my behavior in Fowler’s apartment. I had no right to say what I said."
"The important thing, I realized, was that you said it," Knox said. "And you might have been feeling good, but you weren’t drunk. I think you would have said what you said if you hadn’t been near a bottle."
"Probably," Pickering said. "That doesn’t excuse it, of course; but, as my wife frequently points out, when silence is called for, I too often say exactly the wrong thing."
"Are you withdrawing what you said?" Knox asked evenly.
"I’m apologizing for saying it," Pickering said. "I had no right to do so, and I’m sure that I embarrassed Richardson Fowler."
"But you believe what you said, right?"
"Yes, I’m afraid I do."
"You had me worried there for a moment," Knox said. "I was afraid I had misjudged you."
"It may be the Scotch, but I have no idea what we’re talking about," Pickering said.
"We’re talking about you coming to work for me."
My God, he’s serious!
"Let me explain the problem, and then you tell me if you think you could be helpful," Knox said. "I mentioned a moment before that David Haughton doesn’t like you because you’re not sufficiently awed by the Secretary of the Navy. That attitude- not only on Dave Haughton’s part, but on the part of practically everybody else-keeps me from hearing what I should be hearing."
"You mean what’s wrong with the Navy?"
"Precisely. Hell, I can’t blame Haughton. From the moment he entered Annapolis, he’s been taught as an article of faith that the Secretary of the Navy is two steps removed from God. The President sits at the right hand of God, and at his feet the Secretary of the Navy."
"I suppose that’s so," Pickering said, chuckling.
"To Haughton’s way of thinking, and to others like him, the Secretary of the Navy controls the very fate of the Navy. That being so, the information that is presented to him has to be carefully processed. And above all, the Navy must appear in the best possible light."
"I think I understand," Pickering said. "And I can see where that might be a problem."
Knox removed his pince-nez, took a handkerchief from the sleeve of his heavy woolen suit-now that he noticed it, Pickering was sure the suit was English-and polished the lenses. He put them back on his nose, stuffed the handkerchief back up his jacket cuff, and looked directly at Pickering.
"That might be an overstatement, but it’s close," he said. "And to that problem is added what I think of as the Navy’s institutional mind-set. From the very beginning, from the first Secretary of the Navy, the men in blue have been certain that the major cross they have to bear is that the man with the authority is a political appointee who really doesn’t know-is incapable of knowing-what the Navy is really all about."
"Huh," Pickering grunted.
"Their quite understandable desire is-and I suppose always has been-to attempt to manage the Secretary of the Navy. To see that he hears what they want him to hear, and that he does not hear-or at least is presented with in the best possible light- what they’d rather he didn’t hear at all."
"One doesn’t think of the Navy as an institution," Pickering said, "but of course that’s what it is."
"On October 13, 1775, Congress voted to equip seven ships to support George Washington," Knox said. "Less than a month later, on November 10, 1775, the Congress authorized the Marine Corps. And before that, there were states’ navies- Rhode Island’s in particular. In July 1775, Washington sent a frigate of the Rhode Island navy to Bermuda to get gunpowder for the Continental Army. In 167 years, a certain institutional mind-set is bound to occur."
Pickering chuckled. There was something professorial in the way Knox had precisely recounted the origin of the Navy, and about the man himself, with his pince-nez and superbly tailored English suit. It was difficult to imagine him during the Spanish-American War, a Rough Rider sergeant charging up Kettle Hill with Lieutenant Colonel Teddy Roosevelt’s 1stUnited States Volunteer Cavalry.
As it is difficult for me to accept that I once actually fixed a bayonet onto my ‘03 Springfield, and that when the whistle blew, I went over the top and into no-man ‘s-land in Belleau Wood.
"They had an interesting tradition, early on," Pickering said. "Privateers. I don’t suppose I could talk you out of a Letter of Marque, could I?"
Knox looked at him with annoyance, and then smiled. "You really think there’s a place in this war for a pirate?"
"A pirate is an outlaw," Pickering said. "A privateer was authorized by his government-and our government issued a hell of a lot of Letters of Marque-to prey on the enemy’s shipping. There’s a substantial difference."
"You sound as if you’re serious."
"Maybe I am," Pickering said.
Knox looked at him for a moment, his demeanor making it clear he was not amused that Pickering was proposing, even half-jokingly, an absurd idea. Then he went on, "I understand why you felt you couldn’t work for Bill Donovan, but I think you’ll have to grant that he has the right idea."
That was pretty stupid of me,Pickering thought. He’s going to think I’m a fool or a drunk. Or both.
"Excuse me? What idea?"
"The country will be better off-if the Army and the Navy let him get away with it, which is open to some doubt-if, that is to say, intelligence from all sources can be filtered through Donovan’s twelve disciples... and if they will use it as the basis for recommending to the President action that is in the best interests of the United States, as opposed to action recommended on the basis of the parochial mind-set of the Army or Navy."
"I agree," Pickering said. "I’m a little surprised-maybe ‘disturbed’ is the word-to hear you doubt the Army and Navy will ‘let him get away with it.’"
"I try to see things as they are," Knox said. "And I’m fully aware that in addition to being at war with the Germans, the Italians, and the Japanese, the Army and Navy are at war with each other."
Pickering chuckled again.
"I laugh, too," Knox said. "Even knowing that it’s not funny."
"Why do I think that the Navy is having a hard time managing you?" Pickering said.
"Well, they’re trying," Knox said. "And the odds would seem to be in their favor. Franklin Roosevelt is partial to the Navy. He was once an Undersecretary, for one thing. For another, he has a lamentable habit of calling in Ernie King-"
"Admiral King?" Pickering interrupted.
Knox nodded. "King replaced Admiral Stark as Chief of Naval Operations on December 31. Stark was a good man, but after Pearl Harbor he had to go. Anyway, Roosevelt has already started giving Admiral King marching orders without asking or telling me about it. And he’s about to throw Admiral Bill Leahy into the equation."
"Thatyou’ll have to explain," Pickering said.
"Leahy-and understand, Pickering, that I admire all the people I’m talking about-is functioning as sort of chief of military staff to Roosevelt, a position that does not exist in the law. They’re about to organize a committee, comprised of the Chief of Staff of the Army, the head of the Army Air Corps, the Chief of Naval Operations, and the Commandant of the Marine Corps. They’re going to call it the Joint Chiefs of Staff, or something like that. And Leahy will preside over that. Without any legal authority to do so, except a verbal one from Roosevelt."
"Huh," Pickering snorted, and added, "You seem to be outnumbered, Mr. Secretary. But I don’t see what any of this could possibly have to do with me."
"My responsibility to the President, as I see it, is to present him with the most accurate picture that I can of the Navy’s strengths . . . and, more importantly, its weaknesses. His decisions have to be based on the uncolored facts, not facts seen through parochial, rose-colored glasses. I cannot, in other words, let myself be managed by Ernie King, or Bill Leahy, or the Association of Annapolis Graduates."
Knox looked at Pickering, as if waiting for his reaction. When there was none, he went on, "I’ve come to the conclusion that I need some-more than that, several-people like Bill Donovan’s disciples."
"And that’s where I come in? As one of them?"
Knox nodded. "Interested?"
"I don’t know what you’re really asking of me."
"I want you to be my eyes and ears in the Pacific," Knox said. "You know as much about maritime affairs in the Pacific as anyone I know, including all of my admirals."
"I’m not sure that’s true," Pickering said.
"I’m not talking about Naval tactics, about which I am prepared to defer to the admirals, but about logistics, by which I mean tonnages and harbors and stevedoring and time/distance factors. I don’t want my admirals to bite off more than they can chew as they try to redeem themselves in the public-and their own-eye after Pearl Harbor. Logistics affects strategy, and advising the President on strategy is my business. I want the facts. I think you’re the man who can get them for me."
"Yeah," Pickering said thoughtfully. "I could do that, all right."
"My original thought was to offer you an assistant secretaryship, but I don’t think that would work."
Pickering looked at him curiously.
"You’d be political. Both the political appointees and the Navy would hate you and try to manage you. And they’d probably succeed. If you were in uniform, however, the political appointees would not see you as a threat. As a naval officer, as a captain on the staff of the Secretary of the Navy . . ."
"A Navy captain?"
"How’s the Navy going to react to an instant captain?"
"We’re commissioning a lot of ‘instant captains.’ Civil engineers, doctors, lawyers, all sorts of professionals. Even a few people who are already entitled to be called ‘captain,’ like yourself." Knox paused and smiled at Pickering. "Since you already know the front of the ship is the bow and the floor is the deck, you’ll be way ahead of most of them."
"Does this interest you, Pickering?"
"You think I could do something worthwhile?"
"Yes, I do. I really do."
"Then I’m at your service, Mr. Knox," Pickering said.
Knox walked up to him and offered his hand. "I’d like to have you as soon as possible. When do you think . . . ?"
"Tomorrow morning be all right?" Pickering replied.
Now it was Knox’s turn to chuckle.
"Things don’t move quite that quickly, even for the Secretary of the Navy," he said. "Could you call Captain Haughton back in here, please?"
Pickering picked up one of the telephones.
"Would you ask Captain Haughton to come in here, please, Mrs. Florian?"
The slim Navy officer, his eyes wary, appeared a moment later.
"David, Mr. Pickering has kindly offered me a case of this excellent Scotch. Would you see that it gets on the plane?"
"Yes, of course, Mr. Secretary."
"And before we get on the plane, I want you to find out who handles officer procurement out here. Then call them and tell them I want a suitable officer assigned to walk Mr.- Captain- Pickering through the processing. Make it clear to them that this is important to me. As soon as we can get him sworn in, Captain Pickering will be joining my staff."
"Aye, aye, Sir," Haughton said. He looked at Pickering, briefly but intently. He was obviously surprised at what he had just heard.
"And stay on top of it when we get back to Washington," Knox ordered. "I don’t want the process delayed by bureaucratic niceties. Tell them they are to assume that if any waivers are required, I will approve them. And while I’m thinking about it, tell the Office of Naval Intelligence that while we’ll go through the normal security-clearance process with Captain Pickering, I have-based on my own knowledge of Captain Pickering, and on the unqualified recommendation of Senator Fowler-already granted him an interim top-secret clearance. Have that typed up. Make it official."
"Aye, aye, Sir."
Knox turned to Pickering. "That should get the ball rolling. Haughton will be in touch. Thank you, Pickering. Not only for the Scotch. And now I have to get out of here. They’re waiting for me at Alameda."
"May I send someone for the Scotch, Captain Pickering?" Haughton asked.
"It won’t take a minute to get it. You can take it with you."
"Whatever you say. I’ll get the driver."
"It doesn’t weigh all that much," Pickering said, without thinking. "I’ll get ii."
Haughton gave him a quick, dirty look.
Well, here you go, Fleming Pickering, not five minutes into your naval career, and you’re already pissing people off.
"Let’s get it now," Knox said. "Before he has a chance to change his mind."
Pickering led them to the storeroom on the ground floor that held the greater part of the whiskey removed from the sold Pacific passenger liners. He pulled a case of Old Grouse off a stack. When he started to carry it out, he saw that Haughton was uncomfortable, visibly unable to make up his mind whether he should volunteer to carry the case of whiskey himself-or to insist on it.
A sailor who had been leaning against the front fender of a 1941 Navy gray Chrysler quickly stood erect when he saw them coming out of the building. He opened the rear door, then quickly moved to take the case of whiskey from Pickering.
At leasthe knows what he’s doing, Pickering thought.
Knox nodded to Pickering and got in the car. Haughton, at first hesitantly, and then enthusiastically, offered his hand to Pickering.
"Welcome aboard, Captain," he said.
"Thank you," Pickering said. He did not like the feel of Haughton’s hand.
He watched the Chrysler move down Nob Hill, and then went back to his office.
He made himself another drink, and drank it looking out his window at San Francisco bay. Then he looked for a moment at his father’s picture. He wondered what the Old Man would have said: Hooray for you for enlisting! or, You damned fool! Then he sat on the edge of his desk and called his home.
"Hi!" he said, when Patricia’s cheerful voice came on the line.
"You’ve heard, haven’t you?" Patricia Pickering said.
"What?" he replied, only afterwards remembering that she was talking about the overdue Endeavor, Volition, and Venture. They had, shaming him, slipped from his immediate attention.
"What’s on your mind, Flem?" Patricia asked.
"Frank Knox, the Secretary of the Navy, was just in to see me."
"About the ships? Oh God, that sounds ominous!"
"He wants me to go into the Navy," Pickering said.
There was a pause before Patricia replied, "If you had turned him down, you would have said ‘wanted.’"
"Yes, that’s right."
He heard her inhale deeply; it was a moment before she spoke.
"When do you go? What are you going to do?"
"Soon. Work for him. He’s arranging for me to be commissioned as a captain."
"Oh, goddamn him!"
"I suppose I should have discussed this with you," Pickering said.
"Why should you start now, after all these years?" It was a failed attempt at lightness; a genuine bitterness came through.
"I’m sorry, Pat," he. said, meaning it.
"My father would say, ‘Never be sorry for doing something you want to do.’ And you do want to go, Flem, don’t you?"
"Yes. I suppose I do."
"Don’t come home now. I’d say things I would later regret."
"Give me an hour. Make it an hour and a half. Then come."
He heard the click as she hung up.
Anacostia Naval Air Station
30 January 1942
First Lieutenant Charles E. Orfutt, aide-de-camp to Brigadier General D. G. Mclnerney, stepped inside Mclnerney’s office, closed the door quietly behind him, and waited until the General raised his eyes from the paperwork on his desk.
"Sergeant Galloway is outside, Sir."
That the news did not please General Mclnerney was evident on his face. He shrugged, exhaled audibly, and said, "Give me two minutes, Charlie, and then send him in."
"Aye, aye, Sir," Orfutt said, and quietly left the office.
Precisely two minutes later, there was a polite knock at Mclnerney’s door.
Technical Sergeant Charles M. Galloway, USMC, in greens, marched into the office, stopped precisely eighteen inches from Mclnerney’s desk, and came to attention. Then, gazing twelve inches over Mclnerney’s head, he said, "Technical Sergeant Galloway reporting to the General as ordered, Sir."
General Mclnerney pushed himself backward in his chair, locked his fingers together, and stared at Galloway for a full thirty seconds before he spoke.
"Look at me," he said.
Oh, shit. Here it comes,Charley Galloway thought. He dropped his eyes to meet Mclnerney’s.
"Do you have any idea how much goddamned trouble you’ve caused?"
"Yes, Sir. I think so."
"You don’t look especially penitent, Sergeant."
"Sir, I’m sorry about the trouble I caused."
"But you think it was really caused by a bunch of chickenshit swabbies, and in your heart of hearts you don’t think you did anything wrong, do you?"
The old bastard can read my mind.
Galloway’s face went pale, but he didn’t reply.
"You’re thinking that you were almost a Marine Corps legend, is that it? That you’d be remembered as the guy who fixed up a shot-up fighter with his own hands, flew it without orders onto the Saratoga, and then on to Wake, and died gloriously in a battle that will live forever in the memory of man?"
Again, Galloway’s face paled momentarily, but he didn’t say anything.
That’s not true. I wasn‘t trying to be a fucking hero. All I was trying to do was get that Wildcat to Wake, where it was needed.
"What the hell were you thinking, Galloway? Can you at least tell me that?"
"I was thinking they needed that Wildcat on Wake, Sir."
"Did it occur to you that in the shape that Wildcat was, you could have done some real damage, crashing it onto the deck of the Saratoga?"
"Sir, the aircraft was in good shape," Galloway said.
"It had been surveyed, for Christ’s sake, by skilled BUAIR engineering personnel and declared a total loss." He was referring to the U.S. Navy Bureau of Aeronautics.
"Sir, the aircraft was OK," Galloway insisted doggedly. "Sir, I made the landing."
General Mclnerney believed everything Galloway was telling him. He also believed that if he were a younger man, given the same circumstances, he would-he hoped-have done precisely what Galloway had done. That meant doing what you could to help your squadron mates, even if that meant putting your ass in a potentially lethal crack. It had taken a large set of balls to take off the way Galloway had. If he hadn’t found Sara, he would have been shark food.
The general also found it hard to fault a young man who, fully aware of what he was going to find when he got there, had ridden-OK, flown -toward the sound of the guns. Purposely sailed, to put it poetically, into harm’s way.
And he also believed that Galloway had actually come very close to becoming a Marine Corps legend. Professionally-as opposed to parochially, as a Marine-General Mclnerney believed that it had been a mistake to recall Task Force 14 before, at the very least, it had flown its aircraft off to reinforce the Wake Island garrison.
That move came as the result of a change of command. Things almost always got fucked up during a change of command, at least initially. How much Admiral Husband E. Kimmel, the former Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet, was responsible for the disaster at Pearl Harbor was open to debate. But since he was CINCPAC, he was responsible for whatever happened to the ships of his command. And after the Japanese had wiped out Battleship Row, he had to go.
Mclnerney privately believed-from his admittedly parochial viewpoint as an aviator-that the loss of most of the battleship fleet was probably a blessing in disguise. There were two schools in the upper echelons of the Navy, the Battleship Admirals and the Carrier Admirals. There was no way that the Battleship Admirals could any longer maintain that their dreadnoughts were impregnable to airplanes; most of their battleships were on the bottom at Pearl.
Conversely, the Carrier Admirals could now argue that battleships were vulnerable to carrier-borne aircraft, using the same carnage on Battleship Row at Pearl Harbor as proof of their argument. That just might give command of the naval war in the Pacific to the Carrier Admirals.
Mclnerney knew that it wouldn’t be an all-out victory for the Carrier Admirals over the Battleship Admirals. The battleships that could be repaired would be repaired and sent into action; those still under construction would be completed. But if it came to choosing between a new battleship and a new carrier, the Navy would get a new carrier. And the really senior Navy brass would no longer be able to push Carrier Admirals subtly aside in favor of Battleship Admirals.
No aircraft carriers had been sunk at Pearl. It might have been just dumb luck that they were all at sea, but the point was that none of them had been sunk. And since there were no longer sufficient battleships to do it, it would be the aircraft carriers that would have to carry the battle to the enemy. And when the discussions were held about how to take the battle to the enemy, the opinions of the Carrier Admirals would carry much more weight than they had on December 6, 1941.
Admiral Husband E. Kimmel had to go, and he knew it, and so did everybody else in CINCPAC Headquarters. From 1100 on December 7, Kimmel had had to consider himself only the caretaker of the Pacific Fleet, holding the authority of CINCPAC only until his replacement could get to Hawaii. As it actually turned out, he wasn’t even given that. He was relieved, and an interim commander appointed, while Admiral King and the rest of the brass in Washington made up their minds who would replace him.
They had settled on Admiral Chester W. Nimitz. Mclnerney personally knew Nimitz slightly, and liked him. Professionally, he knew him better and admired him. But Nimitz hadn’t even been chosen to be CINCPAC when the decision had been made to send three carrier groups to sea, two to make diversionary strikes, and the third, Task Force 14, to reinforce Wake.
The decision to recall it had come after the humiliated Kimmel had been relieved, and before Nimitz could get to Hawaii and raise his flag as CINCPAC.
Mclnerney believed the recall order did not take into consideration what a bloody nose the Americans on Wake had given the Japanese with the pitifully few men, weapons, and aircraft at their disposal. Commander Winfield Scott Cunningham, the overall commander on Wake, and the Marines under Majors Devereux and Putnam, had practically worked miracles with what they had.
The decision to recall Task Force 14 had obviously been made because it was not wise to risk Sara and the three cruisers. Mclnerney was willing to admit that probably made sense, given the overall strength of the battered Pacific Fleet; but there was no reason for not making a greater effort to reinforce Wake.
Another twelve hours’ steaming would have put them within easy range to fly VFM-221’s F2A-3 Buffalo fighters (and Galloway’s lone F4F-4 Wildcat) off Sara onto Wake. It seemed likely to Mclnerney that risking the Tangier, with her Marine Defense Battalion and all that ammunition aboard, by sending her onto Wake would have been justified. Tangier could probably have been given air cover by VFM-221 and, for a while at least, as Sara steamed in the opposite direction, by Navy fighters aboard Sara.
Instead, Tangier had turned around with the others and gone back to Pearl Harbor . . . and at the moment she turned, she was almost at the point where the carriers could have launched aircraft to protect her.
Mclnerney was not willing to go so far as to assert that the presence of the additional aircraft (he was painfully aware of the inadequacies of the Buffalo) and the reinforcement Defense Battalion would have kept the Japanese from taking Wake, but there was no doubt in his mind that the planes and the men- and, more important, the five-inch shells-would have made it a very costly operation for them.
If that had happened, and if T/Sgt. Charley Galloway had managed to get his Wildcat onto Wake and into the battle, he would have become a Marine Corps legend.
But it hadn’t happened. Sara and the rest of Task Force 14 had returned to Pearl with Galloway and his F4F-4 aboard.
There was a good deal of frustration aboard Sara when that happened. Mclnerney had learned that a number of senior officers had actually recommended to the Task Force Commander that he ignore the recall order from Pearl and go on with the original mission. In the end, of course, they had obeyed their orders.
Meanwhile, Mclnerney guessed-very sure he was close to the truth-that some chickenshit sonofabitch, probably a swabbie, had pointed out that what that damned Marine flying sergeant had done was in clear violation of any number of regulations.
Since that sort of thing couldn’t be tolerated, charges were drawn up. And since people were looking for something, or someone, on whom to vent their frustration, Galloway had wound up being charged with everything but unlawful carnal knowledge.
General court-martial charges had actually been drawn up against him. But when it came to convening the court, they had found out that general court-martial authority was not vested in CINCPAC, but in the Commanding General of the 2ndMarine Aircraft Wing, back in San Diego, because VFM-211 was under its command.
So they had put T/Sgt. Galloway under arrest, on a transport bound for San Diego. And they’d air-mailed all the charges and specifications to the Commanding General, 2ndMarine Air Wing, "for appropriate action."
The Commanding General of the 2ndMarine Air Wing, realizing a hot potato had dropped in his lap, had quickly tossed it upstairs and into the lap of Major General D. G. Mclnerney, at Headquarters, USMC.
A court-martial was now out of the question, as a practical matter. It would be impossible to gather the witnesses necessary for a successful prosecution in Washington. They were all over the Pacific. And some of them were dead. There was, besides, the question of the press. It would look to the press-as it looked to Mclnerney-as though the Marine Corps was about to try to punish somebody for trying to fight for his country.
"But we have to do something, Mac," the Major General Commandant had said when Mclnerney reluctantly brought the matter to his attention. "Even Ernie King has heard about your Sergeant Galloway. Use your best judgment; I’ll back you up, whatever you decide."
Mclnerney knew what would satisfy the Navy, short of a court-martial: a letter saying that Galloway had been relieved of flying duties and assigned elsewhere.
"I’m really furious with you, Galloway, about this," Mclnerney said. "You’ve cost me a fine fighter pilot and what I’m sure would have been a superior squadron commander."
"You! You dumb sonofabitch!" Mclnerney said, with a fury that started out as an act, but became genuine as he realized that he was speaking the truth.
"I’m sorry, Sir, I don’t understand."
"If you could have restrained your Alan Ladd-Errol Flynn-Ronald Reagan movie-star heroics for a couple of weeks, there would have been bars on your collar points and a squadron to command. You could more than likely have done some real damage to the enemy, a lot more than you could have caused even if you had managed to get that jury-rigged wreck to Wake. And probably taught some of these kids things that just might have kept them alive."
"I never even thought about a commission," Galloway replied, so surprised, Mclnerney noticed, that he did not append "Sir" to his reply.
"That’s your goddamn trouble! You don’t think!"
"The Corps spent a lot of time and money training you, Galloway, and now that’s all going to be wasted."
"It will be a cold day in hell, Galloway, before you get in a cockpit again."
"Yes, Sir," Galloway said.
Mclnerney saw in Galloway’s eyes that that had gotten to him. The worst punishment that could be meted out to someone like Galloway was to take flying, any kind of flying, but especially flying a fighter plane, away from him.
I wonder why I said that? I don’t mean it For a number of reasons, including both that the Corps needs pilots like Galloway, and that I have no intention of punishing him for doing something I would have done myself.
"It has not been decided whether to proceed with your court-martial, Galloway. Until that decision has been made, you will report to MAG-11 at Quantico. You will work in maintenance. But you will not get in the cockpit of a Texan, or any other aircraft, to so much as taxi it down a taxiway."
"Aye, aye, Sir."
"That’s all, Sergeant. You may go."
"Yes, Sir. Thank you, Sir," T/Sgt. Charley Galloway said. He did an about-face and marched out of General Mclnerney’s office.
Lieutenant Orfutt came into General Mclnerney’s office a moment later.
"Have a memo typed up to General Holcomb," Mclnerney said, "saying that I have temporarily assigned Sergeant Galloway to Quantico for duty as an aircraft maintenance supervisor. And then do a letter to CINCPAC saying that appropriate action in the case of Sergeant Galloway is being implemented."
"Aye, aye, Sir," Orfutt said. "Damned shame to lose his experience."
"You’re not listening carefully, again, Charlie," Mclnerney said. "The operative word is temporarily."
"Oh," Orfutt said, and smiled. "Yes, Sir."
"And I said something in the heat of anger that might make some sense. Get a teletype out to the 1stand 2ndAircraft wings, telling them to review the records of the Naval Aviation Pilots and submit to me within seven days a list of those they can recommend for commissions. Put in there somewhere that the lack of a college degree is not to be considered disqualifying."
"Aye, aye, Sir."
"Is there anything else, Charlie?"
"Sir, you’re having lunch at the Army-Navy Club with Admiral Ward."
"Oh, Christ! Can I get out of it?"
"This would be the third time you’ve canceled, Sir."
Mclnerney looked at his watch.
"Order up the car."
"I’ve done that, Sir. It’s outside."
"Sometimes you’re just too goddamn efficient, Charlie. With a little bit of luck, maybe it would have had an accident on the way here from the motor pool."
"Sorry, Sir," Orfutt said, and went to the clothes tree and took General Mclnerney’s overcoat from it and held it up for him.
Fifteen minutes later, as the Marine-green 1941 Ford was moving down Pennsylvania Avenue near the White House, General Mclnerney suddenly sat up. He had been glancing casually out the side window, but now he stared intently, then turned and stared out the back.
"Stop the car!" he ordered.
"Sir?" the driver, a young corporal, asked, confused.
"That was English, son," Mclnerney snapped. "Pull to the curb and stop!"
"Aye, aye, Sir," the Corporal replied, and complied with his orders.
"There’s a Navy officer coming up behind us on the sidewalk. Intercept him and tell him I would be grateful for a moment of his time," Mclnerney said. Then he slumped low in the seat.
The driver got quickly out of the car, found the Navy officer, and relayed General Mclnerney’s desires to him. He walked just behind him to the car, then quickly stepped ahead of him to pull the door open.
The Navy officer, a captain, saluted.
"Good afternoon, General," he said.
"Get in," General Mclnerney ordered.
"Aye, aye, Sir," the Captain said.
The Captain complied with his orders.
General Mclnerney examined him carefully.
"’Fuck the Navy!’ Isn’t that what I remember you saying, Captain?"
"Yes, Sir, I seem to recall having said something along those lines."
"And how long now have you been wearing Navy blue?"
"Three days, Sir. How do I look?"
"If people didn’t know any better, they’d think you were a Navy captain. The look of confusion in your eyes, for example."
"Thank you, Sir."
"I’ve got a lunch date I can’t get out of," General Mclnerney said. "But I can give you a ride. Where are you headed?"
"Just down the block, Sir."
‘To the hotel your father-in-law owns?"
"Actually, General, to the White House. Secretary Knox wants me to meet the President. I’ve been invited to lunch."
"Oh, Flem, you sonofabitch! Why am I not surprised?"
The White House
30 January 1942
"My name is Pickering," Fleming Pickering said to the civilian guard at the White House gate. The civilian had come out of a small, presumably heated guardhouse at his approach. The two soldiers on guard, their ears and noses reddened by the cold, apparently were required to stay outside and freeze.
"Let me see your identification," the guard said curtly, even rudely.
Fleming produced his new Navy identification card. The guard examined it carefully, comparing the photograph on it to Pickering’s face.
"Wait here," the guard said, and went back into the guardhouse. Pickering saw him pick up a telephone and speak with someone. He did not come back out of the guardhouse.
A minute later, a Marine sergeant in greens came down the driveway. He saluted.
"Would you come with me, please, Captain Pickering?" he said politely, crisply.
Pickering marched after him up the curving drive toward the White House. There was a crust of ice on the drive. It had been sanded, but the road was slippery.
The Marine led him to a side entrance, toward the building that had been built at the turn of the century to house the State, War, and Navy departments of the U.S. Government, and then up a rather ordinary staircase to the second floor.
Pickering found himself in a wide corridor. A clean-cut man in his early thirties sat at a small desk facing the wall, and two other men cut from the same bolt of cloth were standing nearby. Pickering was sure they were Secret Service agents.
"This is Captain Pickering," the Marine sergeant said. The man at the desk nodded, glanced at his wristwatch, and made a notation in a small, wire-bound ledger.
"This way, please, Captain," the Marine said, and led Pickering halfway down the corridor to a double door. He knocked. The door was opened by a very large, very black man in a starched white jacket.
"Captain Pickering," the Marine sergeant said.
The black man opened the door fully. "Please come in, Sir," he said. "The President’s expecting you."
This was, Pickering realized, the President’s private suite, the Presidential apartments, or whatever it was called. He was surprised. He had expected to be fed in some sort of official dining room.
A tall, well-built, bespectacled man in the uniform of a Marine captain came out of an inner room. In the moment, Pickering recognized him as one of Roosevelt’s sons, he had no idea which one. The Captain said, "Good afternoon, Sir. Let me help you with your coat. Dad and Mr. Knox are right inside."
Pickering handed him his uniform cap and then took off his topcoat and handed that over. Captain Roosevelt handed both to the steward, then motioned Pickering ahead of him through a door.
The President of the United States, in a wheelchair, rolled across the room to him, his hand extended. Pickering knew, of course, that Franklin Delano Roosevelt had been crippled by polio, but the wheelchair surprised him. He was almost never photographed sitting in it.
"We’ve been talking about you, Captain," Roosevelt said as he shook Pickering’s hand in a very firm grip. "Have your ears been burning?"
"Good afternoon, Mr. President," Pickering said.
He heard his father-in-law Andrew Foster’s dry voice in his mind: "The sonofabitch is obviously a socialist, but giving the devil his due, he probably saved this country from going communist."
"Naval officers are forbidden to drink on duty," the President said, smiling warmly, "except, of course, when the Commander in Chief doesn’t want to drink alone."
Another steward appeared at that moment with a glass of whiskey on a small silver tray.
"Thank you," Pickering said, and raised the glass. "Your health, Sir," he said, then took a sip. It was Scotch, good Scotch.
"That all right?" Roosevelt asked. "Frank said you’re a Scotch drinker."
"This is fine, Sir."
"He also told me that you’d much rather be wearing a uniform like Jimmy’s," the President went on, "but that he’d convinced you you would be of greater use in the Navy."
"I was a Marine, Sir," Pickering said. "Once a Marine, always a Marine."
"Frank also told me to watch out for you-that if I let my guard down, you’d probably ask me for a Letter of Marque."
Pickering glanced at Frank Knox, who smiled and shook his head.
"May I have one, Sir?" Pickering said.
Roosevelt laughed heartily.
"No, you may not," he said. "I admire your spirit, Pickering, but I’m afraid you’re going to have to fight this war like everybody else-including me-the way someone tells you to."
"Aye, aye, Sir," Pickering said, smiling.
I am being charmed. I wonder why.
"Why don’t we go to the table and sit down?" Roosevelt said, gesturing toward a small table near windows overlooking the White House lawn. Pickering saw there were only four places set.
Stewards immediately began placing small plates of hors d’oeuvres before them.
Roosevelt began to talk about the British commandos. Pickering quickly saw that he was very impressed with them-as much for the public’s perception of them as for any bona fide military capability.
"When Britain was reeling across Europe from the Nazi Blitzkrieg," Roosevelt announced, as if making a speech before a large audience, "when they were literally bloody and on their knees, and morale was completely collapsing, a few small commando operations, militarily insignificant in themselves, did wonders to restore civilian morale and faith in their government."
"I had really never thought of it in that context," Pickering said honestly. "But I can see your point."
Roosevelt, Pickering was perfectly willing to grant, was a genius at understanding-and molding-public opinion.
"A very few brave and resourceful men can change the path of history, Pickering," the President said sonorously. "And fortunately, right now we have two such men. You know Colonel Jim Doolittle, don’t you?"
"If you mean, Mr. President, the Jim Doolittle who used to be vice-president of Shell Oil, yes, Sir. I know him."
"I thought you might," the President said. "Two of a kind, you know, you two. Not thinking of the cut in pay that putting on a uniform meant, but rather rushing to answer the call of the trumpet."
I really am being charmed,Fleming Pickering decided. He wants something from me. I wonder what. Not the damned ships again!
"Frank, have you told Captain Pickering what Jim Doolittle’s up to?"
"It’s top secret, Mr. President," Secretary Knox replied.
"Well, I think we can trust Captain Pickering. . . . Captain Pickering, would you be offended if I called you by your Christian name?"
"Not at all, Mr. President."
"Well, Frank, if Flem’s going to be working for you, he’ll find out soon enough anyway. Wouldn’t you say?"
"Probably, Mr. President."
"Jim Doolittle, Flem, came to me with the idea that he can take B-25 Mitchell bombers off from the deck of an aircraft carrier."
"Sir?" Pickering asked, not understanding.
"The Japanese Emperor is sitting in his palace in Tokyo, convinced that he’s absolutely safe from American bombing. Colonel Doolittle and his brave men are about to disabuse him of that notion," Roosevelt said, cocking his cigarette holder almost vertically in his mouth as he smiled with pleasure.
"The idea, Pickering," Secretary Knox said, "is that we will carry Doolittle on a carrier within striking distance of Tokyo; they will launch from the carrier, bomb Tokyo, and then fly on to China."
"Fascinating," Pickering said, and then blurted, "but can Doolittle do it? Can you fly airplanes that large from aircraft carriers?"
"Doolittle thinks so. They’re down in Florida now, in the Panhandle, learning how," Knox said. "Yes, I think it can be done."
"Christ, that’s good news!" Pickering said excitedly. "So far, all we’ve done is take a licking."
"And there will be other reverses in the near future, I am very much afraid," Roosevelt said.
"The Philippines, you mean?" Pickering asked.
"You don’t believe that Douglas MacArthur will be able to hold the Philippines?" Roosevelt asked. He was still smiling, but there was a hint of coldness in his voice.
Jesus Christ, my mouth has run away with me again!
"Mr. President, I don’t pretend to know anything about our forces in the Philippines, but I do know that they will require supplies. I do know something about shipping. I know that there are not enough bottoms to supply a large military force, and even if there were, there are not enough warships after Pearl Harbor to protect the sea lanes to the Philippines."
"Aren’t you concerned, talking like that," Roosevelt asked, carefully, "that someone who doesn’t know you might think you’re a defeatist?"
"If I have spoken out of turn, Mr. President . . ."
Roosevelt looked at him thoughtfully for a long moment before he spoke again.
"I said, a while ago, we have two brave and resourceful men," he said. "Jimmy here is allied with the other one. And don’t tell me this is top secret, too, Frank. I know."
"Yes, Mr. President," Knox replied.
"The commander of the Marine Guard at White Sulphur Springs a few years back," Roosevelt said, "was a man named Evans Carlson. You happen to know him?"
"Major Carlson is now out in San Diego, starting up a unit I think of as American Commandos. But I don’t want it to appear as if we’re slavishly copying our British cousins, so we’re calling them Raiders. All volunteers, highly trained, who will hit the Japanese and then run."
"Sounds very interesting," Pickering said.
I wonder how he’s going to move them around? It’s thirty, forty miles from the English coast to the French. Distances in the Pacific are measured in multiple hundreds, multiple thousands, of miles.
"Frank had the Navy yards convert some old four-stacker destroyers to high-speed transports," Roosevelt said.
He’s reading my mind,Pickering thought.
"The idea, Flem," Captain Roosevelt said, "is that by striking the Japanese where they don’t expect it, in addition to what damage we do there, we will force the Japanese to put forces they could use elsewhere to work guarding all of their islands."
"I see," Pickering said.
"And, Flem," the President said passionately, "think of what it will do for morale! As you just said, all we’ve done so far in this war is take a licking and lick our wounds!"
"Yes, Sir. I understand."
"Well, I’m sorry to tell you that my enthusiasm is not shared by either the Navy or the Marine Corps," the President said.
"Now, Frank," Secretary Knox said, "that’s not true."
"They are dancing with Evans Carlson with all the enthusiasm of a fourteen-year-old in dancing school paired off with a fat girl," Roosevelt said, and everyone laughed. "They have to do it, but they don’t have to like it."
"Frank," Secretary Knox said, "if you really think that’s the case, I’ll send Captain Pickering out there to see what needs straightening out."
Roosevelt looked as if he had just heard a startlingly brilliant suggestion for the first time.
You fraudulent old sonofabitch,Pickering thought, that’s what this whole thing with your boy here for a private lunch is all about. Knox brought me here to let you know what he intended to do with me, and you’ll let him, providing I take care of this Major Evans Carlson. Tit for tat I haven’t been here a week, and I’m already in politics.
"That might not be a bad idea, Frank," Roosevelt said thoughtfully, and then added, "Now that I think about it, if you can spare Fleming, he’s probably just the right man for the job. You were a Marine, Flem, after all."
"Yes, Sir, I was."
"I’ll send him out there tomorrow, Mr. President," Knox said.
"Good idea, Frank!"
When they left the White House, Knox waited until they were in his limousine and then said, "I have a Commander Kramer who has all the background material on Major Carlson, the Raiders, and their target. An island called Makin. I’ll have him bring it around to your hotel tomorrow. And then you get on the Monday-morning courier plane to San Diego. I’m not really sure how I feel about the whole idea.... I understand why people may be dragging their feet; they think it’s both a waste of time and materiel and an idea that may go away. .. . But now I know that it’s important to Roosevelt. Given that, it’s important to you and me that you go out there and light a fire under people."
"I’m sympathetic to the notion that a victory, any kind of a victory, even a small one, is important right now."
"And it will be even more important when the Philippines fall," Knox said. "So it’s important, for a number of reasons, that you go out there right away. We can get you an office and a secretary when you come back."
Security Intelligence Section
U.S. Naval Communications
0730 Hours 31 January 1942
When Mrs. Glen T. (Ellen) Feller passed through the security gate on her way to work, the civilian guard smiled at her and handed her a note. It read, "Ellen, please see me at 0800." It was initialed "AFK." Commander A. F. Kramer was the officer-in-charge.
Ellen Feller, who was tall and thirty, with pale skin and long, light brown hair which she normally wore in a bun, glanced at the note for a second. It sparked her curiosity, but it did not cause her any real concern. She often found essentially identical notes waiting for her as she came to work.
"Thank you," she said, smiling at the guard; then she entered the restricted area. She either nodded and smiled or said good morning to a dozen people as she made her way to her desk at the far end of the long and narrow room. People smiled back at her, some of them a little warily. Ellen was aware that her co-workers thought of her as devoutly religious. She had several times heard herself referred to as a "Christer."
Personnel records, and especially reports of what were known as Complete Background Investigations, are classified Confidential, the security classification a step below Secret. They were thus theoretically really confidential, and their contents were made available only to those with a "need to know," who had been granted the appropriate security clearances.
In practice, however, personnel records and reports, "interim" and "final," of Complete Background Investigations of new or potential employees were available to anyone who was curious-even secretaries. This was especially the case in the Security Intelligence Section, where even the clerk-typists held Top Secret security clearances. There the Confidential classification was considered something of a joke.
Before Mrs. Feller had reported for duty, some time ago, as an Oriental Languages Linguist, all the girls in the office knew that their new co-worker was married to the Reverend Glen T. Feller of the Christian and Missionary Alliance; that she had perfected her language skills in the Orient; and that until the previous May, she and her husband had operated a CandMA missionary school in China.
They also knew that the Fellers had no children and that Reverend Feller was off doing the Lord’s work among the American Indians on a reservation in Arizona. Meanwhile, Mrs. Feller had noticed a classified advertisement placed by the U.S. Government seeking U.S. citizens with fluency in foreign languages, and she’d answered it.
Soon after that, the Navy offered her a job as an Oriental Languages Linguist. It wasn’t known whether she accepted the job as a patriotic citizen; or because the Fellers needed the money; or because she didn’t want to live in the Arizona desert. Her application for employment stated simply that she "wanted to serve."
In fact, although the job paid her more than she’d expected, she had taken it for the very simple reason that she really didn’t want to go to Arizona. And that meant she had to find work.
The actual fact was that Ellen Feller had absolutely no interest in doing the Lord’s work or, for that matter, in saving her immortal soul. And even more to the point, she loathed the Reverend Feller. She didn’t want to live with him in Arizona or anywhere else.
Were it not for her father, who was rich and elderly-approaching the end of his time on earth-and a religious zealot, she would have divorced her husband. But a divorce would almost certainly inspire him to cut Ellen out of his will and leave all of his money to the Christian and Missionary Alliance. The way it stood now, he intended to leave half of his worldly goods to his daughter and her husband.
With that understanding, and of course after days of prayerful consideration, the Reverend Feller had announced to the hierarchy of his denomination that it was God’s will for him to go alone to bring the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ to the Navajos. His beloved wife would meanwhile make what contribution she could to the war effort in Washington, D.C. This move would cause them both a huge personal sacrifice, but they had prayerfully and tearfully decided to endure it.
The Reverend Feller had been honestly unhappy to leave Ellen behind in Washington. Not because he particularly liked her, or even because he would be denied his connubial privileges, but because the old man was in a nursing home in Baltimore, forty miles from Washington. The Reverend was afraid that while he was off in Arizona, Ellen would attempt to poison her father against him with reports of his misbehavior, sexual and otherwise, in China.
In the end, he had acquiesced to the move solely because Ellen had threatened to go to the authorities, both governmental and ecclesiastical, and inform them of some of the lesser-known facts about her husband’s activities in China. From the day they had entered that country, for example, he had been involved in the illegal export to the United States of Chinese archeological treasures looted from tombs.
The Reverend Feller had gone to great lengths to conceal what he called his "personal pension plan" from his wife. He had therefore been astonished to learn that she knew about it. He incorrectly suspected that one of the Chinese had told her. She had actually learned about it from an American Marine. As one of their last missions before being transferred to the Philippines, the 4thMarines had provided a guard detachment for the convoy of missionary vehicles as they left for home.
Ellen Feller had had a brief fling in those days with one of the young Marines. She now realized the affair had been both foolish and stupid; but at the time she had endured a long abstinence from men, the Marine himself was extraordinarily fascinating, and she’d imagined that the odds were very much against her ever seeing him again.
When she first saw him staring with interest at her body, she presumed he was a simple Marine in charge of the Marine trucks. It was only after they’d made the beast with two backs half a dozen times that she learned that Corporal Kenneth R. "Killer" McCoy, USMC, wasn’t anything of the kind.
He was, in fact, on an intelligence-gathering mission for the 4thMarines. His mission was concerned both with the location of Japanese army units in the area he was passing through-and with reports that missionaries were smuggling out of China valuable Chinese artifacts: jade, pottery, and other items.
Until she was actually aboard the ship that brought her home, Ellen Feller managed to convince Ken McCoy that she was fonder of him than was the case. Largely because of that, she was reasonably assured that he did not report to his superiors that some of the shipping containers the Marines had obligingly transported for them to Tientsin contained material having nothing to do with the work of the Christian and Missionary Alliance.
But of course, she couldn’t be sure.
Her concern diminished with time, and especially when she learned that the 4thMarines had indeed been transferred from China to the Philippines as scheduled. It was about that time that she entered the Navy’s employ.
Just before Pearl Harbor, however, she was instructed to deliver to the office of the officer in charge, Commander A. F. Kramer, a packet of classified documents that were to be transported to the Far East by officer courier. The officer courier turned out to be Killer McCoy, now wearing the uniform of a Marine lieutenant.
Since McCoy was driven directly from the office to meet his airplane, there was no time then for Ellen Feller to do anything but make it plain to him that she was perfectly willing-even anxious-to resume their intimate relationship. There was enough time, nevertheless, for her to reassure herself that McCoy had still not informed anyone about the material her husband had illegally brought into the United States.
Not long after that, there was a cable reporting that Lieutenant McCoy was missing in action in the Philippines and presumed dead-news that for a few days flooded Ellen Feller with considerable relief. The matter was finally over and done with, she told herself.
But then McCoy dropped out of the blue alive and well, and that put her back on square one. Beyond that, McCoy showed no interest whatever in resuming their relationship. And soon after that, McCoy disappeared from Washington. There was a credible rumor (which she now thought of as "scuttlebutt") that McCoy was on a confidential, undercover mission in California.
Ellen Feller was nothing if not resourceful. A short time later-though after a good deal of thought-she came up with a reasonable plan in the event McCoy reported the crates. First of all, there was a good chance that he would not report them at all. If he did, the question would naturally arise as to why he hadn’t made his report to the proper authorities in China; his failure to do so would constitute, almost by definition, dereliction of duty.
And even if he did report them, it would come down to his word against hers and the Reverend Feller’s. Besides, Ellen Feller had so far been unable to locate the crates, although she’d tried very hard to find them. Her husband had obviously hidden them well. Under the present circumstances, she doubted that anyone in the government would spend a lot of time looking for them-or that they could find them if they did. Glen Feller might be a miserable sonofabitch, but he was not stupid.
And even if the crates did show up, she could profess to know nothing whatever about them; or alternatively, she could claim that she had reported the matter to McCoy. What was important, she concluded, was to earn the reputation of being a simple, loyal, hardworking employee, who was so devoutly religious that she could not possibly be involved in anything dishonest.
It was not difficult for her to play this role. In China she had successfully played the role of a pious, hardworking, good Christian woman for years.
Playing it in Washington turned out to be even easier. In fact, partially because of the mushrooming of the Intelligence staff, it produced unexpected benefits. Other linguists came aboard after she did, and many of them, like her, were former missionaries. Soon she was given greater responsibility: since there was neither time nor need to translate every Chinese or Japanese document that came into their hands, Ellen Feller became sort of an editor. She separated those documents that would be of interest to the Navy from the others, which were discarded, and then she assigned the job of translating the important ones to someone or other. She rarely made the actual translations herself. Because she had taken on greater responsibility, her official job description was changed, and this resulted in a promotion.
At precisely five minutes before eight, Ellen Feller rose from her desk and visited the ladies’ room to inspect her hair and general appearance. She was generally pleased with what she saw in the mirror, yet she wished, as she almost always did, that she could wear lipstick without destroying the image she was forced to convey. Without it, she thought, she looked like a drab.
She checked very carefully to make sure that no part of her lingerie was visible. She took what she was perfectly willing to admit was a perverse pleasure in wearing black, lacy lingerie. It made her feel like a woman. But of course she didn’t want anyone, especially Commander Kramer, to see it.
When she finished, she went to Commander Kramer’s office, stood in the open doorway, and knocked on the jamb.
"Come in, Ellen," Commander Kramer said, smiling. "Good morning."
"Good morning, Sir," she said, and stepped inside.
There was a captain in the office, who rose as she entered.
"Ellen, this is Captain Haughton, of Secretary Knox’s office. Captain, Mrs. Ellen Feller."
Haughton, Ellen saw, was examining her carefully. There was a moment’s concern (What does someone from the office of the Secretary of the Navy want with me?) but it passed immediately. She sensed that Captain Haughton liked what he saw.
"Good morning, Sir," Ellen Feller said politely. "I’m very pleased to meet you."
The Foster Lafayette Hotel
31 January 1942
Captain Fleming Pickering, USNR, had been talking with his wife in San Francisco. Just after he put the telephone handset back in its cradle, the telephone rang again.
The ring disturbed him. During the last few minutes of his call he had said some unflattering things about the President of the United States, and he’d performed a rather credible mimicry of both the President’s and Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt’s voices. As he did that, it occurred to him that his telephone might be tapped, and that Roosevelt would shortly hear what Fleming Pickering thought of him.
The possibility that his telephone might indeed be tapped was no longer a paranoid fantasy. Telephones were being tapped. The nation was at war. J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI had been given extraordinary authority. And so, certainly, had the counterintelligence services of the Army and Navy. The Constitution was now being selective in whose rights it protected.
The great proof of that was just then happening in Pickering’s home state. A hysterical Army lieutenant general in California had decided that no one of Japanese ancestry could be trusted. And he had been joined in this hysteria by California’s Attorney General, a Republican named Earl Warren. Warren was more than just an acquaintance of Fleming Pickering’s. Pickering had played golf with him-and actually voted for him.
"To protect the nation," the Army lieutenant general and the California Attorney General had decided to scoop up all the West Coast Japanese, enemy alien and native-born American alike, and put them in "relocation camps."
Just the West Coast Japanese. Not Japanese elsewhere in the United States. Or, for that matter, Japanese in Hawaii. And not Germans or Italians either . . . even though it wasn’t many months earlier that the German-American Bund was marching around Madison Square Garden in New York, wearing swastika-bedecked uniforms, singing "Deutschland VberAlles," and saluting with the straight-armed Nazi salute.
It was governmental insanity, and it was frightening.
Pickering had already concluded that if he were J. Edgar Hoover-or one of his counterintelligence underlings (or for that matter, some captain in Naval Intelligence)-and had learned that Fleming Pickering, Esq., had appeared out of nowhere, been commissioned as a captain directly and personally by the Secretary of the Navy, and was obviously about to move around the upper echelons of the defense establishment with a Top Secret clearance, he would want to learn instantly as much as he could about Pickering and his thoughts and opinions. The easy way to do that was to tap his telephone.
Among the many opinions Pickering had broadcast over the phone moments earlier, he’d said that "the President of the United States is either the salvation of the nation, or he’s quite as mad as Adolph Hitler, and I don’t know which." And "if he goes ahead with this so-called relocation of the Japanese, especially the ones who are citizens, and isn’t stopped, I can’t see a hell of a lot of difference between him and Hitler. The law is going to be what he says it is."
Fortunately, he’d sensed that he was upsetting Patricia, so he’d switched to mimicking Roosevelt’s and Eleanor’s quirks of speech. He knew that always made her laugh.
Of course, he had not informed Patricia of the subjects discussed over lunch in the Presidential Apartments. Without giving it much solemn thought, he’d decided that anything the Commander in Chief had said to the Secretary of the Navy and a Navy Reserve captain was none of the captain’s wife’s business.
"Hello," he said, picking up the telephone.
"Captain Pickering, please."
"This is Captain Pickering."
"Sir, this is Commander Kramer. I’m in the lobby."
Oh, Christ I should have answered the telephone in The Navy Manner. This isn‘t the Adams Suite in the Lafayette. This is the quarters of Captain F. Pickering, USNR, and I should have answered the phone by saying ‘"Captain Pickering."
"Please come up, Commander."
"Aye, aye, Sir."
Pickering pushed himself out of the upholstered chair in the sitting room and went into the bedroom to put on his uniform. Commander Kramer had probably already decided he had been selected by ill fortune to baby-sit another goddamned civilian in uniform. Opening the door to him while wearing a Sulka’s silk dressing robe would confirm that opinion beyond redemption.
The door chimes went off while Pickering was still tying his tie. He muttered, "Damn," then went to the door and pulled it open.
Commander Kramer, a tall, thin man with a pencil-line mustache, was not alone. He had with him a lieutenant junior grade and a woman. The JG was a muscular young man who was carrying a well-stuffed leather briefcase. Fleming would have given odds that he’d not only gone to Annapolis, but that he’d played football there.
The woman, smooth-skinned, wearing little or no makeup, was in her middle thirties. She was wearing a hat-a real hat, not a decorative one-against the snow and cold. She had unbuttoned her overcoat, and Fleming Pickering noticed, en passant, that she had long, shapely calves and a nice set of breastworks.
"I was just tying my tie," Pickering said. "Come in."
"Yes, Sir," Commander Kramer said, then thrust a small package at Pickering. "Sir, this is for you."
"Oh? What is it?"
"The Secretary asked me to get those for you, Sir. They’re your ribbons. The Secretary said to tell you he noticed you weren’t wearing any."
"Would you say, Commander, that that’s in the order of a pointed suggestion?"
"Actually, Sir," Kramer said, "it’s probably more in the nature of a regal command."
Pickering chuckled. At least Kramer wasn’t afraid of him. Frank Knox had described Kramer as "the brightest of the lot," and Pickering had jumped to the conclusion that Knox meant Kramer was sort of an academic egghead. He obviously wasn’t.
"Captain, may I introduce Mrs. Ellen Feller? And Mr. Satterly?"
"How do you do?"
Mrs. Feller gave him her hand. He found it to be soft and warm. Lieutenant Satterly’s grip was conspicuously firm and masculine. Pickering suspected he would love to try a squeeze contest.
"Let me finish, and I’ll be right with you," Pickering said, and started to the bedroom.
"Captain, may I have a word with you alone, Sir?" Kramer asked.
He held the door to the bedroom open for Kramer, and closed it after he’d followed him through it.
"Mrs. Feller is a candidate nominee, maybe, for your secretary, Captain," Kramer said.
"I wondered who she was."
"The Secretary said I should get you someone a little out of the ordinary," Kramer said. "I took that to mean I should not offer you one of the career civil-service ladies."
"How did you get stuck with me, Kramer?"
"I’m flattered that I did, Sir."
"It’s always interesting to work with somebody who doesn’t have to clear his decisions with three levels of command above him."
"So it is," Fleming said. "Tell me about Mrs. . . . what did you say?"
"Feller, Captain. Ellen Feller. She’s been with us about six months."
" ‘Us’ is who?" Pickering interrupted.
"Naval Intelligence, Sir."
"OK." He had figured as much.
"She and her husband were missionaries in China before the war. She speaks two brands of Chinese, plus some Japanese."
"Now that you think about it, she does sort of smell of missionary."
"She doesn’t bring it to work, Sir. I can tell you that. She’s been working for me."
"Why are you so willing to give her up?" Pickering challenged, looking directly at Kramer.
There was visible hesitation.
"The lady has character traits you forgot to mention? She likes her gin, maybe?"
"No, Sir. There’s an answer, Captain. But it sounds a bit trite."
"Let’s hear it."
"If I understand correctly what your role is going to be, you need her more than I do."
"Oh," Pickering replied. "That’s very nice of you. I thought perhaps you might be giving her to me so she could tell you everything you wanted to know about me. And about what I’m doing."
"No, Sir," Kramer smiled. "That’s not it."
"How do I know that?"
"Well, for one thing, Sir, I don’t need her for that purpose. The back-line cables will be full of reports on you."
"What’s a back-line cable?"
"Non-official messages. Personal messages. What the admirals send to each other when they want to find out, or report, what’s really going on."
"OK," Fleming said. "You’re a very interesting man, Commander."
"I don’t know about that. But I like what I’m doing, and I’m smart enough to know that if I got caught spying on you-as opposed to getting my hands on back-line cables-I would spend this war at someplace like Great Lakes, giving inspirational talks to boots."
"Did you ever consider selling life insurance?" Pickering asked. "You’re very convincing. People would trust you."
"Some people can. People I admire can trust me completely."
"How do I rate on your scale of admiration?"
"Way at the top."
"Is that what the Navy calls soft-soap?"
"I really admire the Secretary," Kramer said. "He admires you, or you wouldn’t be here. Call it ‘admiration by association.’ And then there are these."
He walked to the dresser where Pickering had laid the small package Kramer had given him. He opened it and took out two rows of multicolored ribbons.
"These are very impressive, Captain. You didn’t get these behind a desk."
Pickering went to him and took them, then looked at them with interest.
"I don’t even know what they all are," he said.
"Turn them the other way around," Kramer said, chuckling. "They’re upside down. And then, from the left, we have the Silver Star, the Navy and Marine Corps Medal, the Purple Heart with two oak leaf clusters. . . ."
"I never got a medal called the Purple Heart," Pickering interrupted.
"It’s for wounds received in action," Kramer said. "It was originally a medal for valor conceived by General Washington himself in 1782. In 1932, on the two-hundredth anniversary of his birth, it was revived. It is now awarded, as I said, for wounds received in action."
"We had wound stripes," Pickering said softly, and pointed at his jacket cuff. "Embroidered pieces of cloth. Worn down here."
"Yes, Sir. I know. You had three. Now you have a Purple Heart with two oak leaf clusters. On the left of the lower row, Captain, is your World War I Victory Medal, and then your French medals, the Legion d’Honneur in the grade of Chevalier, and finally the Croix de Guerre. A very impressive display, Sir."
"Kramer, I was an eighteen-year-old kid. . . ."
"Yes, Sir. I know. But I suspect the Secretary feels, and I agree, that someone who has never heard a shot fired in anger- and we have many senior officers in that category, Sir-will not automatically categorize as a goddamn civilian in uniform a man who was wounded three times while earning three medals for valor."
Pickering met Kramer’s eyes, but didn’t respond.
"You’ve noticed, Sir, that the Secretary wears his Purple Heart ribbon in his buttonhole?"
"No, I didn’t. I saw it. I didn’t know what the hell it was."
"The Secretary got that, Sir, as a sergeant in the Rough Riders in Cuba in 1899."
"OK. You and the Secretary have made your point. Now what about the young officer?"
"He’s carrying the bag. I didn’t know what you were interested in, so I brought everything you might be. It’s a heavy bag. You pick out what you want, and he’ll return the rest. Do you have a weapon, Sir?"
"I beg your pardon?"
"Are you armed? Do you have a gun?"
"As a matter of fact, I do. Am I going to need one?"
"Much of that material is top secret, Captain. It either has to be in a secure facility or charged to someone who has the appropriate security clearance and is armed."
"My pistol is stolen," Fleming Pickering said.
"I brought it home from France in 1919," Pickering said. "It’s stamped ‘U.S. Property.’"
Kramer chuckled and smiled. "I’m sure the Statute of Limitations would apply, Sir. A Colt .45?"
"Yeah," Pickering said He went to a chest of drawers, opened it, and held up a Colt Model 1911 pistol.
"Well, we’ll get you another one, Captain. But that should do for the time being."
"Is there any reason I can’t just read this stuff here and give it all back?"
"None that I can think of, Sir. May I make a suggestion?"
"Make a quick survey, select what you want, and then we’ll send Mr. Satterly back to the office with the rest. For that matter, I could go with him. And then-presuming you find Mrs. Feller at least temporarily satisfactory-she could stay here until you’re finished, then bring the rest back."
"What would Mrs. Feller do about a gun?" Pickering asked dryly.
"She carries one in her purse, Sir."
"I’ll be damned!"
Pickering put the Colt automatic back in the drawer and closed it. Then he examined his tie, straightened it, and shrugged into his uniform jacket.
"Let me help you with your ribbons," Kramer said.
He pinned them on for Pickering, then they went into the sitting room.
"Mrs. Feller," Pickering said, "Commander Kramer speaks very highly of you. If you think it’s worth trying, I’d be grateful if you would come on board to help me."
"If you’re not pleased with how I work out, Captain Pickering," she said, "I’ll understand."
"Well, we’ll give it our best shot," Pickering said. "Mr. Satterly, you want to hand me that briefcase?"
"Aye, aye, Sir," Lieutenant Satterly said. For the first time, Pickering saw that the briefcase was attached to Satterly’s wrist with a length of stainless steel cable and a handcuff.
"Mrs. Feller," Pickering said, "why don’t you call room service and order some coffee?"
"Just for the two of you," Kramer explained. "Ellen, you’ll stay and see what Captain Pickering decides to send back with you to the office."
She nodded. As Pickering dipped into the briefcase, he heard her ask the operator for room service.
A moment or two later, he glanced around for Commander Kramer to ask him a question. Before he found Kramer, however, his eyes went up Ellen Feller’s dress. Quite innocently, he was sure, she was sitting in such a way that he could see that her lingerie was lace and black.
I’ll be damned, a missionary lady who wears black lace underwear and carries a gun in her purse.
"Commander, would you tell me what the hell this is, please?" he said, turning his attention to the business at hand.
Headquarters, 2ndJoint Training Force
Camp Elliott, California
1005 Hours 2 February 1942
Offices in Marine headquarters are usually well equipped with signs identifying the various functions performed therein. And often the signs identify the name of the functionary as well. That didn’t seem to be true of Headquarters, 2ndJoint Training Force. There were sign brackets mounted over the doors, but no signs hung from them.
Second Joint Training Force, whatever the hell that was, was either moving in or moving out, Staff Sergeant Joe Howard decided. He was not surprised. The whole Corps seemed to be in a state of upheaval.
Though Staff Sergeant Joe Howard normally took a great deal of professional pride in his appearance, he looked slovenly now, and he knew it. He needed a shave, for one thing, and his greens were mussed and bore the stain of a spilled cup of coffee.
Howard had just flown into San Diego from Pearl Harbor on a Martin PBM-3R Mariner. The Mariner was a "flying boat," a seaplane. Most of the twin-engined, gull-winged aircraft had a crew of seven. They were armed with one .30- and five .50-caliber machine guns and had provision to carry and drop a ton of ordnance, either bombs or depth charges.
The one Howard had flown from Pearl Harbor, however, was the unarmed transport version, the "Dash-Three-R." But this one wasn’t a standard Dash-Three-R. It had been fitted up inside for Navy brass. For admirals or better, Joe judged from the comfortable leather seats, the steward, and even an airborne crapper. There were sixteen passengers aboard, including a rear admiral, a half-dozen Navy captains, three Marine and one Army full colonels, and some lesser brass. And two enlisted men. The other one was a gold-stripe Navy Chief Radioman who had made it plain even before they were taken out to the airplane at Pearl that he was not interested in conversation.
Rank didn’t get you on the Mariner, the priority on your orders did. They left a roomful of brass behind them at Pearl, including a highly pissed Marine lieutenant colonel who had strongly asserted that there was something seriously wrong with a system that made him give up his seat to a lowly staff sergeant.
It had been Joe Howard’s first ride on an airplane of any kind. As a consequence, he had not been aware that aircraft have a tendency to make sudden rapid ascents and descents while proceeding in level flight. The price he paid to gain such an awareness was a nearly full cup of coffee spilled on his chest, soiling his shirt, field scarf, and blouse, and painfully scalding his skin. All this took place while the gold-stripe Chief Radioman watched him scornfully.
A heavyset, middle-aged master gunnery sergeant came down the deserted, signless corridor.
"Gunny, excuse me, I’m looking for Captain Stecker in Special Planning," Staff Sergeant Joe Howard said to him.
The Gunny examined him carefully, critically. There was no way he could miss the stubble on Howard’s face or the brown stains on his field scarf and khaki shirt.
I am now going to get my ass eaten out, and this sonofabitch looks like he’s had a lot of practice.
"You’re Howard, right?" the Gunny said.
"That’s right," Joe said, and then blurted, "They just flew me in from Pearl, Gunny. That’s when I spilled coffee on me."
"Captain Stecker’s the third door on the right, Howard," the Gunny said, turning and pointing. "You bring your records jacket with you?"
"Yeah," Howard said, surprised. An enlisted man’s records were not ordinarily put into his hands when he was transferred. They either found some officer going to the same place and gave them to him, or they sent them by registered mail. But Howard had been handed his along with the set of orders transferring him to 2ndJoint Training Force.
"Good," the Gunny said, and walked down the corridor.
How the hell does he know about my records? Or my name?
Joe went to the third door on the right and knocked.
It was Jack NMI Stecker’s familiar voice. But it was no longer Gunny Stecker, his friend from Benning and Quantico. It was now Captain Jack NMI Stecker.
Joe opened the door, marched in, and reported to Stecker as a Marine sergeant is supposed to report to a Marine captain.
"Jesus, you’re a mess," Stecker said. It was an observation, not a criticism; and there was gentle laughter in his voice when Stecker added, "You may stand at ease, Sergeant."
Howard dropped his eyes to Stecker’s, and saw that he was smiling at him.
"What did you spill on yourself, Joe?" Stecker asked.
"A whole goddamned cup of coffee," Joe said, and remembered to add, "Sir."
"Well, come on," Stecker said, "we’ll get you cleaned up. You look like something the cat dragged in."
"I’m sorry," Joe said.
"You look sorry," Stecker chuckled.
He led him out of the building, opened the trunk of a 1939 Ford coupe, and motioned for him to put his bag in the back. At Quantico, Joe remembered, Stecker had driven an enormous black Packard Phaeton.
"I left Elly the Packard," Stecker said, as if reading his mind. Elly was his wife. "She went to Pennsylvania for a while. I bought this when I got here."
"How’s she doing?" Howard asked uneasily. He knew that the Steckers’ son, Ensign Jack NMI Stecker, Jr., USN, had been killed on the Arizona.
"All right," Stecker said evenly. "I suppose it’s tougher on a mother than the father."
That’s bullshit,Howard thought.
"How are you doing?" Joe asked.
"Well, I seem to be getting used to it," Stecker said. "At least I don’t salute lieutenants anymore."
Joe chuckled, as he knew he was expected to. And he knew that Jack NMI Stecker had purposefully misunderstood him, in order to change the subject from the death of his son.
It doesn’t matter,Howard thought. I had to ask, and I asked, and he knows I’m sorry as hell about his kid. That’s enough.
"How was the flight? Aside from the coffee?" Stecker asked.
"It was a fancied-up Mariner. Real nice. They put a lieutenant colonel off it to put me on."
"Is that so?"
"What’s going on?"
"That airplane used to belong to the Rear Admiral at Guantanamo," Stecker said. "They took it away from him to use it as a courier plane between here and Pearl."
"That’s not what I was asking," Howard said.
"I know," Stecker chuckled. "Well, here we are. Home sweet home."
Howard saw that they were pulling into a dirt parking lot beside three newly built frame two-story buildings. There was a plywood sign reading,bachelor officers’ quarters.
It was the first time Joe Howard had ever been in Officers’ Country for any purpose. For what he understood was good reason, these were off limits to enlisted men. If it had been anyone but Captain Jack NMI Stecker, he would have asked what he was doing here now.
Stecker’s quarters inside were not fancy-the opposite, in fact. The studs in the wall were exposed. There were no doors on the closets, but just a piece of cloth hung on a wire. There was a bed, an upholstered chair, a folding metal chair, and a chest of drawers. In a small alcove there was a desk and another folding metal chair.
Only a few things in the room had not been issued. There were graduation pictures of Stecker’s sons: one of Jack Junior in his brand-new ensign’s uniform, taken at Annapolis; and another of Second Lieutenant Richard S. Stecker, USMC, his dress blue uniform making him stand out from his fellow graduates at the Military Academy at West Point. There was also a picture of Stecker and Elly and the boys when they were just kids. It was taken on a beach somewhere, and everybody was in bathing suits.
There was a radio, a hot plate with a coffeepot, and a small refrigerator. And that was it.
"You better take a shower," Stecker said. "You got a towel?"
"And your other greens?" Stecker asked. "They going to be pressed?" He nodded toward Howard’s bag.
"They should be all right," Joe said.
"I’ve got an iron if they’re mussed."
Howard took his carefully folded greens from the bag. They would be all right, even up to Jack NMI Stecker’s high standards.
"You going to tell me what’s going on?" Howard asked.
‘Take a shower and a shave," Stecker said. "Right now, you’re probably the sloppiest sergeant on the base."
"In other words, you’re not going to tell me."
"When you’re shipshape," Stecker replied.
When Joe Howard came out of the shower, a tin-lined cubicle shared with the next BOQ room, Stecker was sitting slumped in the one upholstered chair, holding a beer in his hands.
Joe’s eyebrows rose.
"You can have one later," Stecker said. "First let me tell you about Colonel Lewis T. Harris."
"Lucky Lew? He’s here? I thought he was in Iceland."
"He’s here. Scuttlebutt-I believe it-says he’s about to make general. But right now he’s Chief of Staff of the 2ndJoint Training Force."
"What’s that got to do with me?"
"Well, among other things, he’s the president of the Officer Selection Board for the West Coast."
"I don’t even know what that is," Howard confessed.
"The Corps is pretty hard up for officers. We don’t have enough right now, and the way they’re building the Corps up, that situation will get worse."
"When you’re finished dressing-you better take a brush to your shoes, while you’re at it-you’re going to go up before him. We’re desperately short of officers who know anything about small arms beyond what we taught them in Basic School at Quantico. I’ve recommended you for a direct commission as a first lieutenant."
"You may not get it. You may have to settle for being a second lieutenant, but that’s not so bad. Scuttlebutt has it again that from here on in, promotion will be automatic after six months."
How the hell can I be an officer? You can’t be a Marine officer if you get hysterical and hide behind a counter when you see somebody get killed.
"I don’t know what to say," Howard said.
"When you’re in there with Colonel Harris, what you say is ‘Yes, Sir,’ ‘No, Sir,’ ‘Thank you, Sir,’ and ‘Aye, aye, Sir.’"
"I meant about becoming an officer."
"Don’t you, of all people, start handing me that crap," Stecker said.
"Why do you think I had you brought here from Hawaii, for Christ’s sake, so that you could go work in a battalion small-arms locker someplace? Goddamn you, don’t you dare tell me, "Thanks, but no thanks.’"
"A year ago, I was a corporal. I don’t how to be an officer. Captain, I just don’t think I could handle it."
"If I handed you a list with the names of every officer you know on it, you could go down it and say, ‘This one is a good Marine officer,’ and "That one is a feather merchant.’ Do what you’ve seen the good officers do."
"And what if I fuck up? What if I can’t?"
"Then we’ll give you your stripes back," Stecker said. "For Christ’s sake, do you think I would have recommended you if I didn’t think you could pass muster? And anyway, you’ll be an ordnance officer; you won’t have to worry about running a platoon."
"It just never entered my mind, is all... ." He stopped, then started to tell Stecker about what had happened at Pearl, but realized he couldn’t. He added lamely, "I almost said ‘Gunny.’ "
"I get into something sometimes and answer the phone that way," Stecker said. "Usually with some real asshole calling." He laughed. "You know those indelible pens with the soft tip you use to write on celluloid overlays?" Howard nodded.
"Harris came in my office when I first got here, told me to give him my hand, and when I did he wrote C-A-P-T on the palm. Then he said, ‘Every time you answer your phone, Captain Stecker, read your hand before you speak.’ He said he was getting tired of explaining to people that I was retarded."
"Yeah. Harris is one of the good guys. We were in France together. In Domingo, too. Nicaragua. We go back a long way. I had a hell of a time getting that stuff off my hand. It’s really indelible."
"You sure you’re doing this because you think I’d make a passable officer?"
"Because we’re friends."
"Thatpisses me off," Stecker snapped.
"Sorry, I didn’t mean it that way. But, Jesus, this came right out of the goddamned blue!"
"You’ll be able to handle it, Joe," Stecker said. Maybe as an ordnance officer. Just maybe. Maybe they’ll assign me here, or at Quantico. Someplace in the States, some rear area. I know weapons, at least. I could earn my keep that way.
"When is all this going to happen?"
"We’ll go back to the office. You’ll see Harris. If you don’t fuck that up, you’ll go into ‘Diego to the Navy Hospital and take what they call a ‘pre-commissioning physical.’ That’ll take the rest of the day. In the meantime, we’ll get all the paperwork typed up, there’s a lot of it. Jesus... you do have your records?"
"In the bag."
"OK. Come back to the office tomorrow morning, we’ll get you discharged. And then you go over to the Officers’ Sales Store and get your uniforms. Colonel Harris can swear you in after lunch."
"Where will I be assigned?"
"Here. To work for me, stupid. Why do you think I went to all this trouble?"
"What will I be doing?"
"You ever hear of the Raiders?"
"No. What the hell is that?"
"American commandos. Long story. Nutty story. No time to tell you all about them now. But they’ve been authorized to arm themselves any way they want to. I need somebody to handle that for me, to get them whatever they want. You."
Headquarters, 2ndJoint Training Force
Camp Elliott, California
1205 Hours 2 February 1942
One of the two telephones on Captain Jack NMI Stecker’s desk rang, and he answered it on the second ring, and correctly:
"G-3 Special Planning, Captain Stecker speaking, Sir."
"Stecker, this is Captain Kelso."
There was a certain tone of superiority in Captain Kelso’s voice. Stecker knew what was behind that. Although Captain Kelso was in fact outranked by Captain Stecker, by date of rank, he could not put out of his mind that Captain Stecker was a Mustang, an officer commissioned from the ranks. As an Annapolis man himself, Kelso considered that he was socially superior to a man who had served in the ranks. This opinion was buttressed by his duty assignment: he was aide-de-camp to the Commanding General, 2ndJoint Training Force.
What Captain Kelso did not know was that the Commanding General of the 2ndJoint Training Force had discussed him with Captain Stecker over a beer in the General’s kitchen when Captain Stecker had first reported aboard.
"My aide may give you some trouble, Jack," the General had said. He and Stecker had been in Santo Domingo, Nicaragua, and France together. "He’s an arrogant little prick, thinks he’s salty as hell. Efficient as hell, too, to give the devil his due, which is why I keep him. But he’s capable of being a flaming pain in the ass. If he does give you any trouble, let me know, and I’ll walk all over him."
"General, I’ve had some experience with young captains who thought they were salty," Stecker had replied dryly, "going way back."
"Your commanding general, Captain, is sure you are not referring to anyone in this kitchen," the General replied, laughing.
"Don’t be too sure, General," Stecker chuckled.
"I have never known a master gunnery sergeant who couldn’t handle a captain," the General said. "I don’t know why I brought that up."
"I appreciate it," Stecker said. "But don’t worry about it."
"And how may I be of service to the General’s aide-de-camp, Captain Kelso?" Stecker said, oozing enough sarcastically insincere charm to penetrate even Captain Kelso’s self-assurance and cause him to become just a little wary. Kelso recalled at that moment that the General habitually addressed Captain Stecker by his first name.
"There’s a Navy captain, from the Secretary of the Navy’s office, on his way to see you . . ." He paused just perceptibly, and added, "Jack."
"Oh? Who is he? What’s he want?"
"His name is Pickering, and I don’t know what he wants. He just walked in out of the blue and asked for the General; and when I told him the General wasn’t available, he asked for you. I’ve never seen a set of orders like his."
Now Stecker was curious.
"What about his orders?"
"They say that he is authorized to proceed, on a Four-A priority, wherever he deems necessary to travel in order to perform the mission assigned to him by the Secretary of the Navy, and that all questions concerning his duties will be referred to the office of the Secretary of the Navy."
"That’s goddamned unusual," Jack Stecker thought aloud. "I wonder what the hell he wants with me?"
"I have no idea. But I’m sure the General would be interested in knowing, too."
"What did you say his name was?"
Stecker’s office door opened and his sergeant stuck his head inside.
"Sir, there’s a Captain Pickering to see you, a Navy captain."
"He’s here," Stecker said, and hung the telephone up. He got to his feet, checked the knot of his field scarf as an automatic reflex action, and then said, "Ask the Captain to come in, please."
Captain Fleming Pickering, USNR, walked into the office.
"Good afternoon, Sir," Stecker said. "Sir, I’m Captain Stecker, G-3 Special Planning."
Pickering looked at him, smiled, and then turned and closed the door in the Sergeant’s face. Then he turned again and faced Stecker.
"Hello, Dutch," he said. "How the hell are you?"
"Sir, the Captain has the advantage on me."
"I always have had, Dutch. Smarter, better looking . . . You really don’t recognize me, do you?" Pickering laughed.
"I would have recognized you. You’re a little balder, and a little heavier, but I would have known you. The name Pickering means nothing to you?"
"I’m crushed," Pickering said. "Try Belleau Wood."
After a moment, Stecker said, "I’ll be damned. Flem Pickering, right? California? Corporal? You took two eight-millimeter rounds, one in each leg, and all they did was scratch you?"
"I don’t think ‘scratch’ is the right word," Pickering protested. "I spent two weeks in the hospital when that happened."
"You went into the Navy? Back to college, and then into the Navy? Is that what happened?"
"I just came into the Navy," Pickering said.
"Am I allowed to ask what’s going on? You awed the general’s aide with your orders, but they didn’t explain much."
Pickering reached into his uniform jacket pocket and handed Stecker a copy of his orders.
"I’mawed, too," Stecker said, after he read them.
"You don’t have to be awed, but I thought I should show them to you."
"What do you want with me?" Stecker asked, as he handed the orders back. "You didn’t come from Washington to see me?"
"To tell you the truth, it wasn’t until that self-important young man told me that General Davies was not available that I remembered that Doc Mclnerney told me you were out here someplace."
"You’ve seen Doc?"
"Sure have. And I got another interesting bit of information from him. Our boys are roommates at Pensacola."
"I’ll be damned!" Stecker said. "How about that?"
"It would seem, Dutch, that we’re getting to be a pair of old men, old enough to have kids who rate salutes."
"I don’t know about you, Captain," Stecker said dryly, "but I still feel pretty spry. Too spry to be sitting behind a desk."
"They don’t want us for anything else, Dutch," Pickering said. "Mac made that painfully clear to me. We’re relics from another time, another war."
"How’d you wind up in the Navy? Or is that one of those questions I’m not supposed to ask?"
"I tried to come back in the Corps. I went to see Mac. He made it pretty plain that I would be of no use to the Corps. Then Frank Knox offered me a job working for him, as sort of a glorified gofer, and I took it. I jumped at it."
"FrankKnox? The one I think of nearly reverently as Secretary Knox?"
"You’d like him, Dutch. He was a sergeant in the Rough Riders. Good man."
"And you’re out here for him?"
"Yeah. I’ll tell you about it over lunch. Let’s go over to the Coronado Beach Hotel. They generally have nice lunches."
"They generally have great lunches, and everybody knows about them, and you need a reservation. I don’t think we could get in. We could eat at the club here."
"Indulge me, Dutch," Pickering said. "It isn’t only the food I’m thinking of."
"You want to see somebody else?"
"I’m about to appoint you-I’d really rather have gotten into all this over lunch-the Secretary of the Navy’s Special Representative to See that Carlson’s Raiders Get What They Want. You know about the Raiders?"
"I’m already the General’s man who does that," Stecker said. "Is that why you’re here?"
Pickering nodded. "So much the better, then. The Navy brass are as curious as a bunch of old maids about what I’m doing here. It will get back to them that I had lunch in the Coronado with you. It might come in handy for them to remember you have friends in very high places when you’re asking for something outrageous for the Raiders."
Stecker looked at Pickering for a moment, until he concluded that Pickering was both serious and right.
"OK. But first we have to get from here to the hotel, and my car may not start. Bad battery, I think. I had to push it off this morning."
"The Admiral’s aide met my plane and graciously gave me the use of the Admiral’s car for as long as I need it," Pickering said.
"And then we have to get in the dining room."
"I think I can handle that," Pickering said. "Can I have your sergeant make a call for me?"
"Sure," Stecker said, and called the sergeant into the office.
"Sergeant," Pickering said, "would you call the dining room at the Coronado Beach for me, please? Tell the maitre d’ that Captain Stecker and myself are on the way over there, and that I would like a private table overlooking the pool. My name is Fleming Pickering."
"Aye, aye, Sir," the sergeant said. "A private table, Sir?"
"They’ll know what I mean, Sergeant," Pickering said. "They’ll move other tables away from mine, so that other people won’t be able to hear what Captain Stecker and I are talking about."
"Why is this making me nervous?" Stecker asked.
"I have no idea," Pickering said. "Maybe because you’re getting old, Dutch."
"If there are any calls for me, Sergeant, tell them that I went off with Captain Pickering of Secretary Knox’s office, and you have no idea where I went or when I’ll be back."
Pickering chuckled. "You’re a quick learner, Dutch, aren’t you?"
"For an old man," Stecker said.
United States Naval Hospital
San Diego, California
1515 Hours 2 February 1942
"Tell me, Sergeant," the Navy doctor, a full commander, said to Staff Sergeant Joseph L. Howard, "do you suffer from syphilis?"
"How about gonorrhea?" Commander Nettleton asked.
Commander K. J. Nettleton, MC, USN, was a career naval officer. In his fifteen years of service, he had discussed venereal disease with maybe fifteen thousand Navy and Marine Corps enlisted men. In his experience, it was seldom possible to judge from an enlisted man’s appearance whether he had been diving the salami into seas of spirochetes or not.
He had treated angelic-looking boys who-as their advanced state of social disease clearly proved-had been sowing their seed in any cavity that could be induced to hold still for twenty seconds. And he’d treated leather-skinned chief bosun’s mates and mastery gunnery sergeants who had not strayed from the marital bed in twenty years, yet were hysterically convinced that a little urethral drip was God finally making them pay for a single indiscretion two decades ago in Gitmo or Shanghai or Newport.
But it was also Dr. Nettleton’s experience that when regular sailors and Marines-sergeants and petty officers on their second or third or fourth hitch-contracted a venereal disease somewhere along the line, they tried to get their hands on their medical records so they could remove and destroy that portion dealing with their venereal history. They had learned how the services subtly and cruelly treated men with social diseases.
His experience told him that’s what he had at hand, in the person of Staff Sergeant Joseph Howard, USMC. Sergeant Howard was taking a pre-commissioning physical. That meant he had applied for a commission. An Officer Selection Board was likely to turn down an applicant who had a history of VD, even one who was obviously a good Marine. You didn’t get to wear staff sergeant’s chevrons as young as this kid was without being one hell of a Marine-and one who looked like he belonged on a recruiting poster.
"Sergeant," he said, "if anyone was to hear what I am about to say, I would deny it."
"Sir?" Howard asked, confused.
"There are ways to handle difficult situations, " Commander Nettleton said. "But destroying your records is not one of them. Now, what did you have, and when did you have it?"
"Sir, if you mean syphilis or the clap, I never did."
Nettleton fixed Howard with an icy glare.
You dumb sonofabitch, I just told you I’d fix it!
"No, Sir," Howard replied, both confused and righteously indignant.
I’ll be damned, I think he’s telling the truth.’
‘Then how do you explain the absence of the results of your Wassermann test in this otherwise complete stack of reports?"
Staff Sergeant Howard did not reply.
"Sir, I don’t know what-what did you say, Wasser Test?- is."
"Wassermann," Doctor Nettleton corrected him idly. "It’s an integral part of your physical."
"Sir, I don’t know. I went everywhere they sent me."
Commander Nettleton looked at him intently, and decided he didn’t really know if he was looking at Innocence Personified or a skilled liar.
He reached for the telephone, found the number he was looking for on a typewritten sheet of paper under the glass on his desk, and dialed it quickly.
"Venereal, Lieutenant Gower."
"This is Commander Nettleton, Gower. How are you?"
"No complaints, Sir. How about you?"
"You don’t want to hear them, Lieutenant. I need a favor. How are you fixed for favors?"
"If I’ve got it, Commander, you’ve got it."
"You got somebody around there who can draw blood for a Wassermann for me? And then do it in a hurry?"
"Yes, Sir. I’ll take it to the lab myself. They owe me a couple of favors up there."
"It has to be official. I need the form and an MD to sign off on it."
"I’m sending a Staff Sergeant Howard to see you. Make him wait. If it comes back negative, send him and the report back to me. If it’s positive, put him in a bathrobe and find something unpleasant for him to do. Call me and I’ll see that he’s admitted."
"Aye, aye, Sir," Lieutenant Gower said.
"Appreciate it, Gower," Commander Nettleton said, hung up, and turned to Staff Sergeant Howard. "You heard that, Sergeant. The Venereal Disease Ward is on the third floor. Report to Lieutenant Gower."
"Aye, aye, Sir," Staff Sergeant Howard said.
Like Commander Nettleton, Lieutenant Gower was a career naval officer, with nearly as much commissioned service as he had. She had entered the Naval Service immediately upon graduation from Nursing School, and, in the fourteen years since, had served at naval hospitals in Philadelphia; Cavite (in the Philippines); Pearl Harbor; and San Diego. She had just learned that she was to be promoted to lieutenant commander, Nurse Corps, USN.
While on the one hand Lieutenant Hazel Gower did not consider herself above the mundane routine of the VD ward, of which she was Nurse-in-Charge, on the other hand, Rank Did Have Its Privileges.
She rapped on the plate-glass window surrounding the Nurses’ Station with her Saint Anthony’s High School graduation ring, and caught the attention of Ensign Barbara T. Cotter, NC, USNR. Ensign Cotter had just reported aboard, fresh from the Nurses’ Orientation Course at Philadelphia.
Lieutenant Gower gestured to Ensign Cotter to come into the nurses’ station.
"Yes?" Ensign Cotter asked.
"The way we do that in the Navy, Miss Cotter," Lieutenant Gower said, "is ‘Yes, Ma’am?’ "
"Yes, Ma’am," Ensign Cotter said, her face tightening.
"This is not the University of Pennsylvania, you know."
"Yes, Ma’am," Ensign Cotter said, just a little bitchily.
That remark made reference to Ensign Cotter’s nursing education. Ensign Cotter, unlike most of her peers, had a college degree. She had graduated with a bachelor of science degree in psychology from the University of Pennsylvania Medical School, and had earned, from the same institution, the right to append "RN" to her name. She’d been trained as a psychiatric nurse. And she had been lied to by the recruiter, who told her the Navy really had need of her special skills. In fact, the Navy used medical doctors with psychiatric training and large male medical corpsmen to deal with its mentally ill.
When Ensign Cotter reported aboard Naval Hospital, San Diego, the Chief of Nursing Services told her that since they had no need for a female psychiatric nurse, she wondered how she would feel about working in obstetrics. An unpleasant scene followed, during which it was pointed out to Ensign Cotter that she was now in the Navy, and that the Navy decided where its people could make the greatest contribution. Following that, Lieutenant Gower in Venereal received a telephone call from the Chief of Nursing Services, a longtime friend, telling her she was getting a new ensign who was an uppity little bitch who thought her college degree made her better than other people. The little bitch needed to be put in her place.
"There’s a syphilitic Marine sergeant on his way up here," Lieutenant Gower said to Ensign Cotter. "Draw some blood for a Wassermann."
"He’s not on the ward?"
"I’m getting tired of telling you this, Cotter. When you speak to a superior female officer, you use ‘ma’am.’ "
Ensign Cotter exhaled audibly.
"He’s not on the ward, Ma’am?"
"Then how, Ma’am, do we know he’s syphilitic?"
"The Wassermann will tell us that, won’t it, Miss Cotter?"
"Only if he is syphilitic, Ma’am," Ensign Cotter said.
"Commander Nettleton wouldn’t have sent him up here unless he was," Lieutenant Gower flared. And then she remembered that Nettleton had said to send the sergeant back if the Wassermann was negative. She was going to look like a horse’s ass in front of this uppity little bitch if it did come back negative.
"Just do what you’re ordered to do, Miss Cotter," she said icily.
Barbara Cotter saw Staff Sergeant Joseph L. Howard the moment she walked out of the glass-walled nurses’ station, and she reacted to him precisely the same way most other men and women did when they first saw him. God, that fellow looks like what a Marine should look like!
"Excuse me, Ma’am," Joe Howard said, "I’m looking for Lieutenant Gower."
"You’re here for a Wassermann, Sergeant?" Barbara asked, telling herself that she had sounded professionally distant.
This beautiful man has syphilis?
"Yes, Ma’am. I was told to report to Lieutenant Gower."
"I’ll take care of you, Sergeant. Come with me, please."
She led him to an examination room.
"Take off your jacket, please, and roll up your shirt sleeve."
When he took his uniform jacket off, Barbara saw that his shirt was tailored; it fit his body like a thin glove, which allowed her to clearly make out the firm muscles of his chest and upper arms inside it.
What’s going on with me? He’s not only an enlisted man- and there is a regulation against involvement between officers and enlisted men- but he’ssyphilitic/
She wrapped a length of red rubber tubing around his upper arm, drew it tight, and told him to pump his hand open and closed. He winced when she slipped the needle into his vein.
"Have you had any symptoms?" she heard herself asking, as his blood began to fill the chamber.
"Lesions . . . sores? Anything like that."
"Then what makes you think you’ve contracted . . . ?"
"I don’t think I’ve contracted anything," Joe Howard said, unable to take his eyes from Ensign Cotter’s white brassiere, which had come into view when she had leaned over his arm to stick him with the needle.
"Then why are we giving you a Wassermann?" Barbara blurted, looking up at him and noticing that he quickly averted his eyes. God, he’s been looking down my dress! "You know what a Wassermann is for, don’t you?"
"For syphilis," he said. "I just figured that out."
"Why has somebody ordered the test?" she asked. "If you don’t think you’ve-"
"They put me in for a commission," Joe said. "Some asshole-oh, shit! Sorry, Ma’am."
He’s going to be an officer? Is that what he means?
"Some asshole what. Sergeant?" Barbara said.
"Somebody forgot to send me for the test," Joe said. "And now that Commander ... he thinks I’ve got it."
"And you don’t?"
"I know I don’t," Joe said.
Barbara pulled the needle from his vein, dabbed at the puncture with an alcohol swab, and told him to bend his arm.
"Well, we’ll soon know for sure, won’t we?" she said.
It will come back negative,she thought. I know it will come back negative. Up yours, Lieutenant Gower, Ma’am!
Officers’ Sales Store
U.S. Naval Base
San Diego, California
1100 Hours 3 February 1942
To Joe Howard, the Officers’ Sales Store looked like a cross between a supply room and a civilian clothing store. There were glass-topped counters, and shelves loaded with shirts and skivvies, and racks containing jackets and trousers. There were even mannequins showing what the well-dressed Naval or Marine Corps officer should wear. Even two mannequins of Navy nurses, one wearing blues and the other summer whites.
He had a semi-erotic thought: Here there were no female mannequins in underwear, as there were in civilian department stores. That was just as well; those always made him feel a little uncomfortable. It didn’t take him long to guess why that thought popped into his mind: the nurse at the hospital yesterday. It would be a long time before the image of her brassiere and the soft, swelling flesh above it faded from his mind.
Jesus, she was a looker!
"Can I help you, Sergeant?"
It was a plump and middle-aged Storekeeper First Class, obviously the man in charge. He looked ridiculous in his bell-bottomed pants and blouse, Joe thought. The Navy’s enlisted men’s uniform was worn by everybody but chief petty officers. It didn’t look bad on young guys. But on middle-aged guys like this one, with a paunch and damned little hair, it looked silly.
"I need some uniforms," Joe said, and handed the Storekeeper First a copy of his brand-new orders.
Paragraph One said that Staff Sergeant Joseph L. Howard, USMC, was honorably discharged from the Naval Service for the convenience of the government.
Paragraph Two said that First Lieutenant Joseph L. Howard, USMCR, was ordered to active duty, for the duration of the war plus six months, with duty station 2ndJoint Training Command, San Diego, Cal.
"Well, you came to the right place," the Storekeeper First said. "It’s going to cost you."
"I figured," Joe said.
He had a lot of money in his pocket, so it didn’t matter. They had brought his pay up to date for his discharge. And they had returned to him the savings money they had been taking out of his pay every month; the government had been paying him three percent on it. He had been saving money since he’d come in the Corps, redepositing it when he shipped over. Now it had all been returned to him. Officers were expected to manage their own money, not have their hands held by the Corps to encourage them to put a little aside.
There was even more. He had been paid for his unused accrued leave, and for what it would have cost him to go to his Home of Record. And Captain Stecker had told him that when he drew his first pay as an officer, he would be paid for what it took to come from Birmingham out here. And finally, there was a one-time payment of three hundred dollars for uniforms.
The Storekeeper First was far more helpful than Joe had expected him to be. And in a remarkably short time, one of the glass counters was stacked high with the uniforms Joe would need as an officer.
The three-hundred-dollar uniform allowance didn’t come close to covering the cost of the uniforms. The officer’s brimmed cap alone, for example, with just one cover-and he needed four more covers-came to $19.65. The covers were expensive, because Marine officers’ covers-unlike Army and Navy officers’ covers-had woven loops sewn to their tops. These were now purely decorative, but they went back to the days of sailing ships, Joe remembered hearing somewhere. Marine sharpshooters in the rigging could distinguish their officers on deck below because of woven line loops sewn on top of their caps.
Aside from the Sam Browne leather belt ($24.35), there wasn’t much outward difference between officers’ and enlisted men’s greens. Officers’ trousers had hip pockets, and enlisted men’s trousers did not. The quality of the material was better.
The only alteration Joe required was the hemming of the trousers. The chubby little Storekeeper First said he would have a seamstress hem one pair immediately, and Joe could pick up the rest the next afternoon. Joe suspected he was getting a little better service than most people. The Storekeeper First was probably one of the enlisted men who was pleased when a peer became an officer. A lot of people resented Mustangs.
When the Storekeeper First helped Joe into his blouse, expertly buttoning the epaulet over the crosspiece of the Sam Browne belt, the reason why he was being so obliging came out.
"I can offer you a little something for your enlisted stuff," he said. "Not much, because it’s nowhere near new, but as much as you’d get hocking it off the base."
Joe had not considered getting rid of his old uniforms; still, all of them were in a duffel bag in the trunk of Captain Stecker’s Ford, which he had borrowed.
"Make me an offer," he said. "I’ve got a duffel bag full."
"Outside. In the trunk of a car."
"Let’s go look at it, maybe we can do a little business."
"I’m not sure I’m allowed to wear this yet," Joe said, staring at the image of First Lieutenant Joseph Howard, USMCR, in a three-way mirror. He found what he saw very pleasing-yet unreal enough to make him feel uncomfortable.
"I don’t get sworn in until half past two."
"You’re supposed to get sworn in in uniform," the Storekeeper First said, "Officer’s uniform. Nobody’s going to say anything."
"You aren’t the first Mustang to come through here."
"OK," Joe said. "When they throw me in the brig, I can quote you, right?"
"Absolutely," the Storekeeper First said. "Pay for this, and then we’ll go see what you’ve got in the car."
The price the Storekeeper First offered for all of Joe’s enlisted men’s uniforms was insulting. He was being raped, but he could think of nothing to do about it. He could, of course, tell him to go fuck himself, in which case when he returned to The Officers’ Sales Store for the rest of his new uniforms tomorrow, they wouldn’t be ready. Or worse.
He managed to get the total price up to $52.50, but beyond that the Storekeeper First not only wouldn’t budge, he showed signs of getting nasty.
"Sold to the man in the bell-bottom pants," Joe said, forcing a smile.
"A pleasure doing business with you, Lieutenant," the Storekeeper First said as he hoisted Joe’s duffel bag onto his shoulder.
"Don’t forget my fifty-two-fifty," Joe said.
"I’ll have it for you tomorrow."
"You can have the stuff tomorrow, then," Joe said.
"You don’t trust me?"
"Not as far as I could throw you," Joe said. "I show up there tomorrow and you’re not there, then what would I do?"
The Storekeeper First heaved the duffel bag back into the trunk, and then shrugged. He dipped his hand behind the thirteen-button fly of his bell-bottoms and came out with two twenties and a ten.
"That’s all I got," he said. "I’ll have to owe you the two-fifty."
"Either look in your sock or somewhere, or put two of the wool shirts back."
The Storekeeper First looked carefully at Howard, then shrugged and dipped into his thirteen-button fly again. He came out with a wad of singles and counted off three of them. Joe put them in his pocket and gave the man two quarters in change. They exchanged dry little smiles, and the Storekeeper First, grunting, hoisted the duffel bag to his shoulder again and marched off.
That fat old sonofabitch has got a nice little racket going,he thought. He paid me less than half of what that stuff is worth in any hockshop. And there’s probably one or two guys like me going through there every day. Christ, not only Marines! The Navy must be commissioning Mustangs too.
"I’ll be a sonofabitch," he said aloud, more out of admiration than anger, as he considered that the Storekeeper First must be taking in probably as much as a hundred fifty dollars a day.
"I’m almost afraid to ask what all that was about," a voice, a female voice, said behind him. Surprised, he turned quickly to see who it was. It was an officer, a female officer, a Navy nurse, and specifically the one who had drawn his blood for the Wassermann test the day before.
Joe saluted crisply, without thinking about it, a Pavlovian reflex: an officer had spoken to him; therefore he saluted.
"I think I was supposed to do that," the nurse said. She was carrying a paper sack from the Commissary.
"Excuse me?" Joe said.
"Those are silver bars you’re wearing? Mine, you’ll notice, are gold. I think I was supposed to salute first."
"Jesus Christ!" Joe said.
She smiled. "What was going on?"
"I sold him my old uniforms," Joe said.
"You look very nice in your new one," Barbara Cotter said, smiling. "Are congratulations in order?"
"I haven’t been sworn in yet," he said.
"But you did pass the Wassermann," Barbara said. She had suspected this Adonis could blush when she had told him he looked nice in his uniform; now there was inarguable proof. His face was flushed.
This isn‘t the first time,she thought. He blushed when I caught him looking down my whites. Adonis is actually shy!
"Yeah, I did that, all right," Joe said. And then he took the chance: "Can I offer you a ride? I’ve got a borrowed car."
Ensign Barbara Cotter hesitated, not about taking the ride, but because she had her own car.
I don’t want to start off lying to this man. Isn’t that strange?
"I’ve got a car," she said. "I’m on my way to lunch. Have you eaten?"
"Follow me over to the hospital, then," she said. "The food’s not bad."
Joe looked at his watch. There was time.
"Sure," he said.
"The blue Plymouth coupe," she said, and pointed down the line of cars.
With a little bit of luck, Lieutenant Hazel Gower, USN, will be having her lunch when I walk into the officers’ section of the hospital mess with this Wassermann-negative Adonis. Is that why I went up to him in the parking lot? To get at dear old Hazel?
As she put her key in the ignition of her Plymouth, she understood that while zinging Lieutenant Gower might be nice, it was not the reason her heart had jumped when she saw Joe Howard standing by the open trunk of the Ford.
"Oh, God!" she muttered, as she pushed the starter button. "What is this?"
Office of the Chief of Staff
Headquarters, 2ndJoint Training Force
San Diego, California
1445 Hours 3 February 1942
"Congratulations, Lieutenant Howard," Colonel Lewis T. "Lucky Lew" Harris said, offering his hand to Joe Howard. "You are now a Marine officer. I have every confidence that you will bring credit to the uniform you’re wearing, and to the Corps. Good luck to you!"
"Thank you, Sir," Joe said.
"Will you wait outside a moment, please?" Harris said. "I’d like a word with Captain Stecker."
"Yes, Sir," Joe said, and did an about-face and marched out of Harris’s office.
"That one, I think, will do all right," Harris said to Stecker. "But, frankly, I’m a little uncomfortable about not sending him to Quantico for Basic School."
"Sir, he’s not going to get a platoon, or even go to the Division-"
"Not today, anyway," Harris said, dryly. "I’ve already read today’s teletypes from Washington reassigning our officers. But what about tomorrow?"
"Until he appears on a list of officers who have completed Basic School, he’s not eligible for assignment with troops," Stecker said. "And as long as we ‘forget’ to request a space for him at Quantico, he won’t be ordered there. In the meantime, we can put him to work."
"And if some zealous paper pusher sends a TWX asking why we haven’t requested a Basic School slot for Lieutenant Howard, what do we say?"
"When all else fails, tell the truth," Stecker said. "We tell them that Howard, a small-arms expert, has been charged with getting the 2ndRaider Battalion the weaponry they want. And, that since this is a matter of the highest priority, according not only to the Commandant, but to the Secretary of the Navy as well, we thought this assignment was more in the best interests of the Corps than sending him to Quantico."
Lucky Lew Harris still looked doubtful.
"Colonel," Stecker said, "I talked to Captain Pickering about him. He said if anybody gave us any trouble, to call him. He made it pretty plain to me that what the Secretary of the Navy wants is to give the Raider Battalions what the President wants them to have . . . which is anything they want."
"Just between you and me, Jack, I don’t like the whole idea of these so-called Raider Battalions a damn bit."
"I don’t really know how I feel," Stecker said. "Evans Carlson is a hell of a Marine."
"He used to be, anyway," Harris said. "But it’s a moot point, Jack, isn’t it?"
"Yes, Sir, it is."
"And your pal Captain Pickering makes me nervous, frankly. Can he be trusted?"
There was a moment’s hesitation before Stecker answered. "He can be trusted to do what the Secretary tells him to do. And beyond that, I think he still thinks like a Marine."
"What did he tell you about me? About the General?" Harris asked.
"I suppose what I’m asking is whether he wants reports from you directly."
"Sir, he told me to feel free to call him if I saw any problems coming up. But I wouldn’t do that without checking with you."
"No, of course you wouldn’t," Harris said. "No offense intended. Christ, Jack, why do things get so complicated?"
"It wouldn’t be the Corps, Sir, if there wasn’t some moron putting his two cents in and getting in the way of simple riflemen trying to do their job," Stecker said.
"Keep Carlson happy, Jack," he said. "Let me know if I can help."
"Yes, Sir. Thank you, Sir."
Lieutenant Joe Howard was sitting on a battered, chrome-framed, plastic-upholstered couch in Colonel Harris’s outer office, thumbing through a copy of Collier’s. He got to his feet when Stecker came out of Harris’s office.
"What we’ll do now, Lieutenant, " Stecker said, "is take you out to the 2ndRaider Battalion and introduce you to Colonel Carlson, his S-4, and Captain Roosevelt. Then we’ll get you settled in a BOQ. And then, I thought, tonight we’ll celebrate your bar, wash it down, and maybe get a steak, at the officers’ club."
Howard looked a little uncomfortable.
"Something wrong with that?"
"Sir, I’ve got sort of a date tonight."
"I met a nurse at the hospital," Joe said. "I asked her to supper."
"Well, hell, I wouldn’t want to interfere with that," Stecker said. Then he smiled, dug in his pocket, and came out with a key. "Here," he said, handing it to Howard.
"What is this, Captain?" Joe asked, confused. Stecker had handed him a hotel key from the Coronado Beach Hotel.
"We Mustangs have to stick together," Stecker said, as they walked down the corridor toward the front door. "Captain Fleming Pickering, USNR, gave that to me. We served together in France in the first war. I was a buck sergeant, and he was a corporal. He just came in the Navy, as a captain."
Howard was visibly confused.
"Between wars, Pickering is in the shipping business. Specifically, Pacific and Far Eastern Shipping. He owns it. And they keep a suite at the Coronado Beach Hotel, permanently, to put up their officers who are in port. If you want to impress the nurse, take her out there. Just show that key to the maitre d’ and he’ll give you a table. Without a reservation, I mean."
"And I can use it?"
"I think Captain Pickering would be delighted to have you use it, under the circumstances," Stecker said. "And who knows, Joe, you might get lucky. The suite has four bedrooms. Odds are, one of them ought to be empty."
"She’s not that kind of a girl," Joe Howard said.
"The one thing I’ve learned about women, Joe, over the years," Stecker laughed, "is that you never can tell about women."
"I said she’s a nice girl," Joe Howard said sharply. "From Philadelphia. She’s even got a college degree."
"I’m sure she is," Stecker said.
The Coronado Beach Hotel
San Diego, California
1930 Hours 3 February 1942
There was a long line of people waiting to get into the main dining room. The line overflowed the bank of upholstered benches intended for those waiting for a table.
"We’re never going to get in here," Ensign Barbara Cotter said to Lieutenant Joe Howard.
"Trust me," Joe said, with far more confidence than he felt. He put his hand on her arm and marched her past the sitting and standing people waiting to get in. Some of them, senior officers, many with their wives, looked at them either curiously or unpleasantly.
The maitre d’, in his good time, raised his eyes from his list of reservations.
"Your name, Sir?"
Joe showed him the hotel key.
The maitre d’s eyebrows rose.
"Certainly, Sir, will you come with me, please?"
The enormous, old fashioned, high-ceilinged dining room was almost full, but here and there there were empty tables with Reserved signs mounted on brass stands. The maitre d’ led them to a table by a wide window overlooking the water. The window was now covered by a heavy black curtain.
"Your waiter will be here shortly, Sir," the maitre d’ said, as he held Barbara’s chair for her. "Enjoy your meal."
"What did you show him?" Barbara asked.
He handed her the key.
"I don’t know what you think I am, or who you are-" Barbara flared, and started to get to her feet. She saw the horrified look on his face, and stopped.
"Captain Stecker loaned me that," Joe said. "He said to show it to the headwaiter, and it would get us a table."
"Who is Captain Stecker?" Barbara asked, partially mollified.
Why am I so furious? So far, he hasn‘t even looked directly at me, much less tried to put his hands on me.
"He’s my boss, the one that got me the commission," Joe said, and then blurted, "I’m not trying to get you into a hotel room or anything like that."
"I certainly hope not," she said.
"All the key is for is so we could get a table," Joe said.
"You said that," she said. "He lives here, or something?"
"No. The key . . . this is an involved story. . . ."
"I’m fascinated," she said.
He told her what Stecker had told him. Their eyes met, and in them she saw that he was telling the truth.
And now that’s over,she sighed inwardly. The key has been explained, and I believe he did not get himself a room here, confident that I would jump in bed with him. So why do I feel a little let down? He almost sounds as if he doesn’t want to go to bed with me. My God, this is an insane situation!
"I’m sorry," he concluded.
"Why should you be sorry?"
"Because you thought-"
"Let’s just let it drop, OK?"
"OK," he said, with enormous relief. "What would you like to drink? I mean, do you drink?"
"Scotch," she said.
"Scotch?" he asked, in disbelief.
"Something wrong with Scotch?"
"I didn’t think girls drank Scotch."
"Girls drink gin fizzes and brandy Alexanders, right? Things like that? And then they get sick to their stomachs. Well, this girl learned that in college, and this girl drinks Scotch. If that’s all right with you."
My God, why did I snap at him like that? What the hell is wrong with me?
"Sorry," he said.
"Stop saying you’re sorry!"
"Good evening," a waiter said. "May I get you something from the bar?"
"Scotch," Joe said. "Scotch and soda. Two of them."
"I’m very sorry, Sir, we’re out of Scotch."
Barbara looked at Joe, and she saw that he was looking at her, and that his lips and his eyes were curled in laughter he was afraid to let out.
"That figures," Barbara said, and then she laughed; then, without thinking about it, she reached out and touched his hand with hers. But instantly withdrew it.
"What now?" Joe asked.
"Do you have any rye whiskey?" Barbara asked the waiter.
"Rye and ginger ale, please," Barbara said.
"Two, please," Joe said.
He handed them menus and left.
They read the menu. Joe was astonished at the prices; Barbara was horrified.
He’s only a first lieutenant. He can’t afford this. I wonder how he would react if I suggested we go Dutch treat?
"I’m not really very hungry," she said. "I think I’ll just have a salad."
"I know what you’re thinking," he said.
"I certainly hope not," she said. "What am I thinking?"
"You’re thinking the prices are crazy."
"They are," she said.
"Two big things have happened in my life in the last forty-eight hours. And I happen to have a lot of money. Let me splurge. Please."
"What two big things?"
"Look at my shoulders," Joe said. "A year ago, I was a buck sergeant."
"Being an officer is important to you, isn’t it?"
"I’m not sure I’ll be able to hack it," he said.
He shrugged. "I’m just not sure, is all."
As if with a mind of its own, her hand touched his again, and was again instantly withdrawn.
"What was the other thing?" she asked, idly curious.
"You," he said.
Her eyes moved to his, and then away.
My God, he means that And I’m blushing!
"I wish you hadn’t said that," she said.
"It makes me uncomfortable."
"Stop saying you’re sorry!"
The waiter appeared with a silver ice bucket on a stand. There was a towel-wrapped bottle in the cooler.
"We didn’t order any wine," Joe said.
The waiter disappeared without a word.
"What’s that all about?" Barbara asked.
The waiter reappeared, this time carrying a silver ice bucket, tongs, two glasses, and a soda-water siphon.
"What’s all this?" Barbara demanded.
"I wasn’t aware before, Sir, that you’re Pacific and Far Eastern," the waiter said, almost in a whisper. "The cooler contains Scotch, Sir. From the PandFE cellar. You won’t mind mixing your own? And please keep the towel in place. Because of the other guests."
And he disappeared again.
"Do you understand what he said?" Barbara asked.
Joe shook his head, then took the bottle from the cooler. He unwrapped the towel, then closed it again.
"Scotch," he said. "Something called Old Grouse."
"Let me see," Barbara said, and he handed her the towel-wrapped bottle.
"It’s Scotch, all right," she said. "Good Scotch."
"Where did it come from?" Joe asked.
"You ever hear the expression ‘Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth’?"
He took the bottle from her, and made a drink for her. It was, to judge by the color, far stronger than Barbara would have preferred, but she didn’t want to make a fuss.
After the first couple of sips, I’ll dilute it with more soda.
She waited until he had fixed his own drink, then touched her glass to his.
"Congratulations on your promotion," she said.
"To you and me," he said.
She met his eyes for a moment, then echoed him.
"To you and me," she said.
The waiter took his sweet time coming back for their order. She had just about finished her second drink by the time he did. She had really only wanted one, and that to be sociable. The second drink was as dark as the first, but it didn’t seem to taste as strong.
She indulged him and gave up the idea of having just a salad, telling herself that she would make it up to him somehow. She ordered a shrimp cocktail, a New York strip, and asparagus.
"And for a wine, may I suggest a very nice Cabernet Sauvignon? It’s Mr. and Mrs. Pickering’s favorite, I might add."
"Well, if it’s good enough for them . . ."
"I think you’ll like it, Sir. It’s made right here in California."
I will have just one sip of the wine. The last thing I can afford to do is get tight.
She looked down at her glass and saw that he had refilled it.
I don’t need that. I just won’t drink it.
"What’s a New York strip?" Joe asked. "I don’t think I’ve ever had one."
The admission took Barbara by surprise.
He really doesn‘t know, which is not surprising. Since the day before yesterday he was a Marine sergeant, aprewar Marine sergeant, someone my father would claim was in the Marines because he couldn‘t find a job, and because the Marines offered three square meals a day and a place to sleep. Regular Marine enlisted men have few of what my father would call the social graces. And no social graces came to Joe miraculously when he put on that officer’s uniform. Ordinarily, God forgive me, I am uncomfortable around the enlisted men. Why is it different with this man?
"You know a T-bone?" she asked, and he nodded. "The big piece. They cut the bone out of T-bone. The little piece is a filet mignon, and the big piece is a New York strip."
"I came in the Corps when I was seventeen," Joe said, and she took his meaning: that she had a social background and he didn’t; and that was why he didn’t know what a New York strip was. New York strip was not common fare for Marine enlisted men.
My God, is he reading my mind?
She felt a wave of compassion for him as her mind’s eye filled with a picture of Joe Howard at seventeen, looking like the kids she saw in the Marine Recruit Depot here. Frightened little boys in uniform.
That’s all he is now. The only difference is that he’s twenty-four or twenty-five and wearing an officer’s uniform. But he’s still alone and more than a little frightened.
She finished her drink before the meal was served. And she had three glasses of the Cabernet Sauvignon with the steak. The steak was delicious. While they ate, a band started to play. When they were finished eating, he asked her to dance.
She could smell his after-shave when they were close, and she remembered the firm muscles of his chest and arms.
What I’m going to do now, when we finish dancing, is go back to the table and have a cup of coffee, and then I’m going to tell him I have an early day tomorrow and have to go home.
He spun her about, and her eyes moved across the people at the tables around the dance floor.
And fell on Lieutenant Hazel Gower, NC, USN, who was staring at her. She was with another nurse, the skinny little old bitch who had sent her to the Venereal Diseases Ward after Barbara told her she didn’t want to work in Obstetrics.
"Let’s quit," Barbara said to Joe. "I’m a little dizzy."
When they returned to the table, the wine was gone, and so was the Scotch in the wine cooler. These had been replaced by a tray of cheese and two brandy snifters.
I don’t want that, either. But it’s his party and I don’t want to appear bitchy.
"Did you order that?" she asked.
He shook his head.
"If you don’t want it, don’t drink it," he said.
"It would be a shame to waste it," she said.
A short time later, Joe said, "I don’t think I’ve ever had a better time in my life. I hate for it to end."
"It has to. I’ve got a busy day tomorrow."
"Sure. I understand. I didn’t mean . . ."
Her hand reached for his again, and touched it, and this time she did not immediately withdraw it.
"I’ve had a fine time, too. Really. I’m glad we came here."
His hand closed on hers, and they held hands for a moment, and then he pulled his away.
"I’ll get the check," he said, and started looking for the waiter. It took him some time to find him. After the waiter noticed Joe waving and started moving toward their table, she caught Joe glancing at her, and then averting his eyes.
"Will there be something else, Sir? A pastry, perhaps?"
"You want a piece of cake?" Joe asked, and she shook her head. "Just the check, please."
"Excuse me, Sir?"
"Can I have the check, please?"
"Sir, that’ll go on the Pacific and Far East house ledger."
"I’d like to pay for it," Joe said.
"Sir, that would be ... difficult."
"Let it go, Joe," Barbara said. "Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth."
"OK," he said, hesitantly. "Thank you."
"I hope you enjoyed your meal, Sir."
He took her arm again as he led her from the room. They walked within ten feet of Lieutenant Gower and her friend. When Barbara smiled at her, Gower stared right through her.
In the lobby just outside the dining room entrance, Barbara stopped.
"Where’s the room the key goes to?"
"I don’t know. It says 418."
"Then it would seem reasonable to assume it is on the fourth floor, wouldn’t you say?"
"And I think it would also be reasonable to assume that it would have a bathroom, wouldn’t you say?"
"Sure. I’m sure it would."
"Nature calls," she said. "And there, lucky me, are the elevators."
"Would you like me to wait here?"
She walked ahead of him and got on the elevator.
"Four, please," she said to the elevator operator.
She didn’t look at him on the way up. He followed her into the corridor.
She stopped and turned to him, and looked into his eyes.
"If you don’t kiss me right now, I’m going to lose my nerve," she said.
He didn’t move. He looked paralyzed.
"Didn’t anybody ever tell you not to look a gift horse in the mouth?" Barbara said.
He kissed her.
And then they walked, arms around each other, down the corridor until they found suite 418. He had a little trouble fitting the key to the lock, but once they were inside, and after he kissed her again, everything went off without a hitch.
Anacostia Naval Air Station
0845 Hours 13 February 1942
"General Mclnerney," Brigadier General D. G. Mclnerney answered his telephone, not taking his eyes off the thick stack of paper before him.
"Colonel Hershberger, Sir."
"Hello, Bobby, how are you? What can I do for you?"
Colonel Robert T. Hershberger was Chief of Staff, 1stMarine Air Wing, Quantico, Virginia.
"General, the General is gone. He’s at New River. I’m minding the store."
The General was Brigadier General Roy S. Geiger, Commanding, 1stMarine Air Wing.
"Got something you can’t handle, Bobby?"
"General, I can handle this. What I would like is your advice on how to handle it."
"Shoot. Advice is cheap."
"I have a requirement to send one R4D, rigged for parachutists, to Lakehurst, to arrive NLT 0600, 14 February. That’s tomorrow."
"I know. I laid that requirement on you."
"And your Major made it pretty plain that this is a must-do."
"And thirty minutes ago, I got a call from the Director of Public Relations, just checking to see that the aircraft was scheduled, and asking me if I could take particular care to see that the crew was ‘photogenic’"
"The sonofabitch called me just a few minutes ago," General Mclnerney said. "He told me that the Commandant had ‘expressed enthusiastic interest in the project.’ You know what it is?"
"Lifemagazine is sending a photographer. Photographers. Plural. To watch the parachute trainees jump out of the airplane."
"Right. The idea, apparently, is that when the red-blooded youth of our nation see these heroic daredevils, they will rush to the nearest recruiting office to join up," General Mclnerney said dryly.
"That being the case, I figured there was no way I could get out of sending my only R4D up there," Colonel Hershberger said.
"If that’s why you called, Bobby, save your breath. I don’t know if General Holcomb really knows about whatever this public-relations operation is, but that requirement came down here from the Throne Room."
"There are four people here qualified in the R4D," Hershberger said.
"That’s all?" Mclnerney asked, surprised.
"General, you may not have noticed, but people have been sending my pilots overseas."
"I can do without the sarcasm, thank you very much, Bobby," Mclnerney said. "And you may not have noticed, but there’s a war on."
Colonel Hershberger did not reply.
"What’s the problem, Bobby?" Mclnerney said, more cordially. "It only takes two pilots to fly one of those things, doesn’t it?"
"Two of the four pilots don’t look old enough to vote; and they have just finished the checkout. The check pilot, aware of the pilot shortage, was not as critical as he should have been."
"How do you know that?" Mclnerney snapped.
"I was the check pilot," Hershberger said. "Primarily because I am the only R4D Instructor Pilot here."
"You said four pilots."
"Well, he has two hundred-odd hours in the aircraft, and he went through the parachute-dropping course at Fort Benning."
"Well, then, what the hell is the problem? Send him. And send the two kids with him to see how it’s done."
"Aye, aye, Sir. I hoped the General would say that. The name of the only fully qualified pilot for this mission is Technical Sergeant Charles Galloway."
General Mclnerney exhaled audibly.
"Oh, you sonofabitch, Bobby," he said. "You sandbagged me."
"The options, General, as I see them, are to send the two kids and pray they don’t dump the airplane, or drop the parachutists in the Atlantic or over Central Park, while Life’s cameras are clicking. Or fly it myself. I’ve never dropped parachutists. I can probably find Lakehurst all right, but it occurred to me that it would look a little odd to have a full bird colonel flying a mission like this. Or send Charley Galloway."
"I told you about Galloway."
"Yes, Sir, I know that he embarrassed the U.S. Navy by getting repaired an airplane that BUAIR said was beyond repair. And then he further embarrassed the U.S. Navy’s security procedures by finding out where a Task Force was, and then flying the unrepairable airplane out to it. And I know the only excuse he offered for this outrageous behavior was that he thought Marines were supposed to fight the enemy."
"It’s a damned good thing we’ve been friends for twenty-odd years, Bobby," Mclnerney said. "Otherwise, I’d have your ass for talking to me that way."
"Doc, for God’s sake, I’m bleeding for pilots. Not only for this stupid public-relations nonsense, but all over. It makes absolutely no sense to have a pilot like Galloway sitting on the goddamned ground with a wrench in his hand when he could be, for example, teaching the kids how to fly the goddamned R4D."
Mclnerney didn’t reply.
"And if we hadn’t been friends for twenty years, Doc, and somebody else was sitting at your desk, I would have just sent him without asking, and said, ‘Fuck you, court-martial me,’ if anybody said anything about it."
There was a long silence.
Finally, Mclnerney said, "Got your mouth under control now, Bobby?"
"Yes, Sir. Sorry, Sir."
"Colonel Hershberger, you have my permission to restore Sergeant Galloway to flight status. You have my permission to have Sergeant Galloway fly this public-relations mission to Lakehurst. And you may utilize Sergeant Galloway in such other flying roles as you deem appropriate for someone of his skill and experience, except that he will not leave the Quantico local area without my express permission."
"Aye, aye, Sir. Thank you, Sir."
"And you tell that sonofabitch, Bobby, that if he so much as farts and embarrasses you, me, or Marine Aviation in any way, I personally guarantee that he will spend the rest of this war as a private in a rifle company."
"Aye, aye, Sir."
General Mclnerney slammed the handset into its cradle and returned his attention to the thick stack of papers on his desk.
Lakehurst Naval Air Station
Lakehurst, New Jersey
14 February 1942
Lieutenant Colonel Franklin G. Neville, USMC, who was thirty-seven years old, balding, barrel-chested, and carried 212 pounds on a six-foot-two-inch body, had seen the future and it was Vertical Envelopment.
In 1937, as a very senior (and nearly overage-in-grade) captain, Neville was appointed Assistant Naval Attach?, United States Embassy, Helsinki, Finland. His previous assignment had been as an infantry company commander.
When he was not selected to attend the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and was then asked if he would accept the Helsinki embassy assignment, Neville understood that his Marine Corps career was drawing to a close.
If he was lucky, he might be promoted major while on the four-year embassy assignment. But promoted or not, he knew-in fact, he’d been unofficially informed-that in the spring of 1941, when his Helsinki tour was over, he would be retired.
He’d also been told-and he believed-that he himself was in no way personally responsible for his coming retirement. He had, in other words, not been found wanting. He was a good officer who performed his assigned duties well. There was no record, official or whispered, that he was too fond of the bottle or of the ladies, or of any other sport inappropriate for a Marine officer.
The bottom line was that there were only so many billets available for majors in the peacetime Marine Corps, either in the serving Corps or in the professional schools. And others competing for these spots were better qualified than he was. The rule was "up or out"-meaning that if an officer was not selected for promotion, he was either separated from the Corps or retired. Retirement was the fate of officers like Captain Neville, who had enough years of service to qualify for it.
He’d understood the rules of the game when he’d accepted a regular Marine commission in 1919; and he had no complaints now-although, naturally, he was disappointed.
Franklin G. Neville had entered the Marine Corps as a second lieutenant in June of 1916, on his graduation from Purdue University. He had come home from France a wounded, decorated captain, who had taken over command of his company when its commander had been killed at Belleau Wood.
The Corps, and the war, had changed him. He no longer wanted to become a lawyer specializing in banking law, like his father. He now knew that any personal satisfaction he might find in the practice of law could not compare with the satisfaction he had known leading men in battle.
His father never understood that. Worse, he shared with most of his peers the notion that a man served in the peacetime military only if he could do nothing else. And he was simply incapable of understanding why anyone would want to settle for the pittance paid regular officers when a financially rewarding career right there in St. Louis was available.
Available, hell, it’s being handed to you on a silver platter, you damned fool!
Estelle Wachenberg Neville, whom he had married five days before shipping out to France, had understood. And she had also brought into the marriage a substantial trust fund established for her by her maternal grandfather, who had been one of the original investors in the Greater St. Louis Electric Power Generation and Street Railway Company.
So money was never a problem, except in the perverse sense that he and Estelle had had to be very careful not to let their relative affluence offend anyone. In fact, this did not turn out to be much of a drawback. Franklin didn’t think that a young lawyer in Saint Louis could drive a Harmon or a Pierce Arrow, or even a Cadillac, without offending someone senior to him. Not many in that hierarchy had a quarterly check from a trust fund.
By the time the Helsinki assignment-his "tailgate" assignment-came along, there was no longer a requirement to be "discreet" about their affluence. So he and Estelle decided to go out in style. They left the boys behind in the States, at Phillips Exeter, to join them in the summers. And in Finland, Estelle found a furnished villa in Helsinki’s most aristocratic section, Vartio Island, about five miles from the embassy.
The waters of Kallahden Bay were solidly frozen from February to April, permitting the Neville’s Packard 280 sedan (Estelle’s) and Auto-Union roadster (Franklin’s) to drive directly from the mainland to the front door. In the warmer months, a varnished speedboat carried them back and forth from the island to the shore.
His Excellency the Ambassador was a political appointee, a deserving St. Louis Democrat who professed a closer friendship with both Estelle’s and Franklin’s parents at home than was the case. In point of fact, a letter from Estelle’s father indicated that so far as he was concerned, the Ambassador was a traitor to his class for supporting that socialist sonofabitch in the White House.
Nevertheless, the polite fiction served both to keep the Naval and Army attaches off Franklin’s back and to open social doors that permitted Estelle to enjoy a role as hostess that she had been denied all those years.
Between Franklin’s social contacts within the diplomatic-military community and Estelle’s with the diplomatic people and their neighbors on Vartio Island, it was a rare evening indeed when their butler served dinner to them alone at home.
When the boys arrived in the summer (they spent the Christmas holidays with their grandparents in St. Louis), they were, as Estelle wrote home, "received by the best young people in Finland." They fished and sailed, and they danced and kept close company with a number of splendidly beautiful and astonishingly blond Finnish girls. In due course, Franklin found it necessary to have a serious man-to-man talk with them about how they would embarrass not just their mother but the United States of America if one of the young ladies should find herself in the family way. He then counseled them on the absolute necessity of faithful use of rubber contraceptives.
In October of 1939, Captain Franklin G. Neville was promoted major. The promotion came as a surprise. He could not imagine that his immediate superior, Lieutenant Commander H. Raymond Fawcett, USN, the Naval Attach?, had been writing glowing efficiency reports on him. Fawcett’s disapproval (and/or jealousy) of the Nevilles’ lifestyle was nearly visible. But still, it would be nice, when they went back to St. Louis, to be able to call themselves "Major and Mrs. Neville."
In November of 1939, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics attacked Finland across the southeastern province of Karelia. Before the 1917 Revolution, Finland had been part of Tsarist Russia; specifically, it was a Grand Duchy thereof. When Finland declared its independence, the military forces of the Soviet Union were in no position to do anything about it.
Now they were. They regarded Finland as part of Russia, and they wanted it back.
Major Franklin Neville immediately went to the war zone as an observer. It was clearly his duty, perhaps the most important duty a military attach? can perform, to observe the combatants at war, to report on their relative efficiency and capabilities, and to learn what he could.
Neville, along with an officer from the Finnish High Command and Lieutenant Colonel Graf Friedrich von Kallenberg-Mattau, an assistant military attach? at the German Embassy with whom Neville played golf and tennis in the summer and hunted and skied in the winter, drove to Karelia in Freddy von K’s Mercedes. Freddy argued that the Mercedes had a better heater and more luggage space than either Neville’s Auto-Union roadster or the official, smaller Mercedes sedan the Finnish General Staff officer had been given.
As they drove off, there was little question in Franklin Neville’s mind that soon, perhaps within the day, he would be in the hands of the Russians. They outnumbered the Finns by a factor of better than twenty to one. As courageous as the Finns might prove to be, that sort of a disbalance of opposing forces could result in only one end: the Finns would be overrun and wiped out.
He wondered if the Russians would honor his diplomatic status, or whether he would be shot out of hand, or whether he would perhaps simply disappear.
It didn’t matter. It was his duty to go; and without any false heroics whatever, he could no more not have gone than he could have flapped his wings and flown.
What he found in Karelia Province was not in any way what he expected.
He could not believe that the military forces of a major, contemporary world power would be committed to combat with such poor planning, or with such an absolute ignorance of the kind of warfare they would have to wage.
Though the wintertime temperature in Karelia regularly dropped to below minus forty degrees Fahrenheit, eighty or ninety percent of the attacking Russian forces were not clothed or otherwise equipped to fight in such conditions.
The apparent Russian plan to penetrate and overrun the Finns swiftly, through sheer numbers and massive artillery barrages, was an absolute disaster. The Russian artillery, for instance, was almost useless in the bitter cold. And when the pieces could be coaxed into firing, most of the projectiles simply buried themselves deep in the snow before exploding. Rarely did they do any real harm.
The Finns, on the other hand, were not only superbly equipped to deal with the weather (they even had stoves and facilities to build "warming areas" where troops were routinely returned to be fed and warmed), but were able to wage war effectively in it. Their infantry was equipped with skis and snow-shoes, permitting rapid movement over deep snow. They had snow-colored parkas, glasses to prevent snow blindness, and even white sleeves to place over their rifles to camouflage them.
And they were superbly led and disciplined.
The result was that the Finns were able to cause severe personnel and materiel losses to Russian forces at little cost to themselves. Finnish forces would suddenly appear when and where the Russians did not expect them. When the Russians marshaled forces sufficient to repel the Finnish attackers, the Finns simply disappeared in the vast snowy terrain, where the Russians were unable to pursue them.
Any other army but the Red Army, Neville cabled Washington, would have called off the offensive after suffering such terrible losses. Yet even their apparent total willingness to disregard personnel losses was not going to permit them to accomplish their objective of a quick and decisive victory.
But the Russians did have one military capability that deeply impressed Major Neville, even if they used it improperly-they literally threw it away. The Russians had massed a large fleet of transport aircraft, from which they parachuted infantry, plus some supplies, to the ground.
In practice, the Russians generally dropped their parachute troops in the wrong places, where Finnish forces quickly wiped them out; and Russian planning made little or no provision for reinforcing or resupplying the parachutists once they were on the ground, which meant that they ended up, in effect, dying on the vine. In Neville’s professional opinion, however, these failings did not detract in any way from the obvious fact that the use of parachute troops-the Theory of Vertical Envelopment-was an idea whose time had come.
This theory was not new. Neville recalled that in the notoriety surrounding his court-martial for insubordination, it was often forgotten that U.S. Army Air Corps Brigadier General "Billy" Mitchell had written as long ago as the World War that parachute troops would play an important-perhaps a dominant- role on the battlefields of the future.
As for poor little Finland, in the end, of course, Goliath prevailed against David. Courage, discipline, and skill in the techniques of warfare cannot stand up forever against an enemy who possesses both overwhelming logistical superiority and manpower, and who is not responsible to his people for the loss of their sons in battlefield slaughter. The Finns sued for armistice in early 1940.