Combat! Fan Fiction by Mary Wright
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A Giant of a Man
The Last Straw
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          Saunders shifted slightly to a more comfortable position without opening his eyes, enjoying the feel of the sun on his tired body.  His muscles slowly relaxing, he listened with half an ear to Kirby telling yet another far-fetched story to Caje.  On the other side of him, Littlejohn and Billy were talking quietly.  Behind his head, he knew Doc was stretched out, half-asleep.  The rest of the squad was scattered out nearby.   For a welcome change, the afternoon was quiet, no gunfire, no artillery, no mortars.  Just the sounds of birds and a few buzzing insects.  He knew his squad well enough to know that if he dropped off, at least one would remain awake.  Most likely two.  Probably Caje and Littlejohn.  Billy was young enough and new enough to nod off easily, Kirby...well, Kirby was Kirby.  Somewhere along there he did fall asleep, awakening to someone shaking his shoulder.  Not surprisingly, it was Caje.

          "Lieutenant's coming, Sarge."

          Saunders sat up and stretched, taking a swig out of his canteen as he got to his feet.  As usual, Caje was right behind him, Littlejohn and Billy a bit behind him, with Kirby and Doc a little off to the side.  The lieutenant's jeep made it's usual sliding stop, and not for the first time, Saunders wondered if Hanley had been a race car driver before the war.  As the dust settled, he realized there was someone else in the jeep.  A sergeant.  In a Air Force uniform.  The sergeant got out and looked over the group with disgust.  The squad members were all dirty, somewhat ragged, and tired.  By contrast, his Air Force uniform looked fresh and new, despite a light coating of dust.  The lieutenant got out and motioned with his head for Saunders to join him.  Saunders took another drink, stowed the canteen on his belt and moved around the jeep.

          "Saunders.  How you doing?"  He asked quietly, his dark eyes holding Saunders' blue ones and Saunders saw that he wanted the truth, not the standard answer.

          "Fine, Lieutenant.  I just got..." he glanced at his watch, "three hours of nice, quiet, uninterrupted sleep."

          "Good."  Raising his voice, he moved around to where the squad waited, followed by Saunders.  "A recon plane went down north of here, and S2 wants us to get the camera from it, along with the pilot, if he's alive.  They figured out a way to booby trap the camera, so if the other side gets it, they can't use the film."

          "Why would the Krauts want film of their own units?"  Kirby asked brashly.

          Hanley looked at him for a moment, his eyes cold.

          "Sir."  Kirby added.

          "The camera also picks up our units, Kirby."  He explained.  "As I was saying, they have booby trapped the camera, so Sergeant Martin, here, is going along to get the camera."

          "Lieutenant?"  Littlejohn asked hesitantly.


          "If the camera is booby trapped, and the plane went down, wouldn't it blow up?"

          "It isn't a bomb, Private."  Martin said condescendingly.  "It's set up so that if you open the camera the wrong way, the film is exposed, making it useless."

          "Saunders, you, Martin, and two men will go.  I want you to get to the plane, get the camera and get back.  Do not engage if you can avoid it.  Take Doc along, too, in case the pilot is alive and injured.  You leave immediately.  Any questions?"

          "Yes, sir."  Saunders said.  "Do we know exactly where it went down?"

          "Yeah.  I'll show you the map in a minute.  Other questions?"

          "Yes, sir."  Martin said.  "Who's in charge?"

          When everyone, including Hanley looked at him in surprise, he shrugged.

          "It IS an Air Force mission."

          "It IS a joint mission, Sergeant."  Hanley's voice dripped ice.  "Saunders is in charge.  You will obey his orders.  Got it?"

          "Yes, sir."  Martin replied sourly.

          "You got a weapon?"  Saunders asked mildly.

          "Yeah.  I got a weapon."  Martin strode over to the jeep, belted on his ammo belt and picked up his rifle and helmet.

          Hanley and Saunders exchanged a long look.  Shaking out a map, Hanley spread it out on the hood of the jeep, pointing out the location of the plane.

          "Ok, Caje, Kirby, Doc, saddle up and move out."  Saunders ordered, stuffing the map in the front of his jacket.  "Caje, you got the point."

          Caje headed out, , Kirby and Doc behind him, Martin following.

          "Saunders."  Hanley said softly as the sergeant turned to follow.

          "Sir?"  He turned back.

          "Take care of yourself."  Hanley said somberly.

          "Always."  Saunders grinned and turned to follow his men.

          Hanley watched them go, waved to the rest of the squad and took off in his jeep again.


          As usual, Caje moved quickly and silently, his eyes constantly roving.  For a change, Kirby was talking to Doc relatively quietly.  Saunders had realized a long time ago that Kirby's incessant chatter covered up fear, nervousness, and adrenaline surges.  In contrast, Doc and Caje were both quiet men, taking Kirby's chatter in stride.  Martin moved along behind them, frustration and anger evident in every stride.  Saunders watched him in weary disbelief.  His helmet was under his arm, and he was more or less dragging the rifle by the strap, making no attempt to move quietly or look around him.

          "Kirby."  He called softly.  "Tell Caje to hold up a minute.  Martin, com'ere a minute."

          Kirby and Doc joined Caje, watching the area.  Martin turned around and waited.

          "I said, come here."  Saunders voice hardened.

          "What d'you want?"  Martin asked truculently, stomping back to him.

          Saunders stared at him for a full minute, his eyes like chips of blue ice.  Martin finally broke his gaze, looking around.

          "You ever been in combat?"  Saunders finally asked.

          "If you mean crawling around in the dirt in a heel and toe outfit like this, no."

          "That's what I mean."  Saunders said mildly.  "The helmet goes on your head, not under your arm.  The weapon is either carried in your hands or slung over your shoulder, ready to bring up, not dragged along behind like a puppy.  You walk as quietly as you can, and you keep your head up and look around you."

          "Yeah?  And if I don't?"  He snarled.

          "Then you end up dead.  And if we're lucky, you don't take us with you."  Saunders snapped.  "Get yourself together and do it now."  He continued, his voice low, cold, and deadly.  "That is an order, Martin.  You're in my territory now whether you like it or not, and you will do as you're told.  It's hard enough to keep experienced soldiers alive out here without having to deal with a flyboy with an attitude.  I don't give a damn if you don't like me and you don't like the infantry.  We were both given a job to do and it's gonna get done in spite of you.  Do I make myself clear?"

          Up ahead, the three soldiers exchanged looks.  They had been on the receiving end of Saunders' ire enough to almost feel sorry for Martin.

          "I said, do I make myself clear?"  Saunders ground out.

          "Yeah."  Martin slapped his helmet on his head, and lifted the rifle to his arms.

          "Alright, Caje.  Move out."

          Caje turned and moved on, Kirby and Doc falling back into position, neither talking now.  Martin followed, making an effort to walk quietly.  Shaking his head, Saunders brought up the rear.  When he saw Caje switch into what Saunders privately termed his 'hunter' attitude, he quietly moved up to Martin' side.

          "We're moving into hostile territory, Martin.  Keep your voice down and stay low.  If you see those three drop, you hit the ground on your face, fast.  Understand?"  He asked softly.

          "Yeah."  He didn't sound so cocky anymore.

          Saunders wasn't surprised to see that his face was a little paler and his hands shook slightly.  He just hoped he would do as he was told and not break and run.  Tommy gun ready, he dropped back a pace or two.  According to the map, there was a road a short distance ahead.  With luck, it would be deserted.   A few minutes later, Caje motioned urgently and instantly Kirby and Doc dropped behind bushes. Saunders was pleasantly surprised when Martin hit the dirt where he was with his gun ready.  Easing up beside him, he leaned close.

          "Stay put and don't fire unless I do."  He breathed.

          At Martin's nod, he crawled up to Caje.

          "What is it?"

          "About a dozen Krauts on foot coming down the road."

          Squirming backwards, he stopped beside Martin.

          "There're Krauts coming down the road.  Stay still and keep your head down."  He whispered.

          After an eternity or two, Caje signaled the all clear and sprinted across the road, followed a moment later by Kirby, then Doc.  Saunders tapped Martin's shoulder and he dashed across the road, Saunders following him a moment later.  Caje moved on cautiously, the others following.

          "He hasn't looked at the map since we left.  How's he know where he's going?"  Martin asked over his shoulder.

          "Keep your voice down.  Instinct, maybe.  I don't know how he does it, but he does."

          "How much further is it?"

          "Couple miles, I guess.  You getting  tired?"  Saunders grinned.

          "No, I'm not getting tired."  Martin snapped irritably.

          "Take it easy.  I was just kidding."  Sarge said mildly.

          Caje slowed down, crouching and moving carefully through the trees and bushes, Kirby and Doc doing the same.  Saunders had to give Martin credit for doing a fair imitation.  

          The silence of the afternoon was abruptly broken by gunfire.  Even as Kirby cried out, spun around and went down, Saunders lunged into Martin, knocking him to the ground for his own safety.  Caje's rifle spat rapidly, Saunders' Thompson joining in.  A moment later, it was quiet again.  Saunders rolled over to check on the others as Caje moved up to check the Germans.   He returned with his rifle slung over his shoulder, his right arm gripping his left just above the elbow.  Saunders glanced up at him, his face tightening.  Two men wounded and they hadn't found the plane yet.

          "Doc?  How's Kirby?" 

          "Got it in the leg, Sarge.  He'll be okay.  Come over here, Caje, and let me look at your arm."

          Saunders pulled out the map and studied it, checking landmarks.

          "Great going, Sergeant."  Martin snarled, coming to his knees.  "Now what, great leader?"

          Kirby lunged at him angrily, but Caje and Doc jerked him back. 

          "It wasn't Sarge's fault, Martin!"  Kirby snarled.

          "Yeah?  Isn't he supposed to be the best?  That's what the Lieutenant said.  If anyone can get you there and back, it's the great and glorious Saunders.  Now what?  How're we gonna get that camera now, huh?"  Martin retorted furiously.

          "Knock it off, both of you."  Saunders snapped coldly.  "Doc, you stay here with Kirby.  Caje..." he hesitated  "Caje, you stay here, too.  Martin and I will go for the camera.  The plane should be about half a mile ahead.  If we're not back in an hour, head for home."

          "But, Sarge..."  Caje protested.

          "You heard me, Caje.  That's an order.  If we're not back in an hour, head out.  Got it?"

          "Got it."  He said reluctantly.

          "We started out with five men, now we're down to two.  And you think we're gonna find that plane?  Are you nuts?  We're all gonna get killed."  Martin yelled.

          "Keep your voice down!"  Sarge grabbed him by the front of his jacket and jerked him close.  "You heard what I said.  Shut up and follow orders or I'll drop you right here."  He snarled.

          "You think you know everything, don't you?"  Martin snarled back, remembering to keep his voice down.  You're nothing but a dirty, stinkin' dogface!"

          Saunders hand flashed out, backhanding Martin to the ground on his back.  Following him down, he seized a fistful of jacket collar, forcing Martin's head back a few inches.

          "That's enough, Martin."  He growled furiously.  "Where'd you get those stripes?  Buy 'em from somebody with guts?  Quit acting like a sniveling coward.  I don't have time to fool with you, mister.  It'll be dark in a couple hours and we still have a plane to find before we can head home.  Keep your damn mouth shut, get on your feet and get moving.  That way."

          Rolling off of him, he got to his feet, glaring at Martin, who slowly got up and started walking.  Saunders followed him, leaving the others looking at each other uneasily.  A silent three-quarters of a mile later, Saunders, who was now leading, motioned to Martin to stop.  Just ahead and below them on a slight slope, was the crashed plane.  There was no way the pilot survived that crash.   The plane had flipped at least once and the cockpit was completely crushed. 

          "There it is.  Looks like we're the first ones here.  Get your sorry butt down there and get busy.  I'll cover you."

          With a glance of pure hatred, Martin slid down the slope to the plane's nose.  Indifferent to Martin's dislike, Saunders checked the area, watching for Germans.  Martin had the camera out and was examining it when Saunders spotted several Germans approaching.

          "Martin!  Get up here!  Krauts!"  He called softly.

          Martin shoved the camera inside his jacket and ran.  Just as he passed Saunders, bullets tore into the trees around them.

          "Can you find your way back to the others?"  Saunders demanded.

          "Yeah.  Easy."  Martin sounded thoroughly scared, for which Saunders couldn't blame him.

          "Then get going.  I'll be right behind you.  Don't stop till you reach them.  Go!"

          Martin took off running, one hand protectively holding the camera against his body.  Saunders opened up with his Tommy gun, dodging behind trees and the occasional rock.  Moments later, three of the four Germans were down, Saunders had a superficial wound to his left side, and he and the last German were dueling from behind fallen trees.  Ignoring the stinging sweat running into his eyes and the fiery pain in his side, Saunders took once chance too many.  Stepping out a little too far, he caught one in the right thigh as his shot hit the German in the chest.  Sprawled on the ground, gasping with the surging pain, Saunders retrieved his dropped gun and started crawling back toward his men.  Moving as quickly as he could, knowing more Germans would be on their way, he was just hoping they came from a different direction.  Stopping only long enough to quickly bandage his leg, he forced himself to ignore the pain, and the shakes brought on by shock, and continued crawling.


          Hearing the sound of labored breathing and running feet, Caje had his rifle up and ready, and Doc was crouched beside Kirby when Martin practically fell over them.  He collapsed to the ground, both hands clutching his middle.  Not hearing any signs of pursuit, Caje rolled over and looked at him.

          "You hit?"  Doc demanded.

          Momentarily unable to speak, Martin shook his head, pulling out the camera to check it.

          "Where's Sarge?"  Caje asked.

          When Martin didn't answer, Caje grabbed his arm roughly.

          "Where's Saunders?" 

          "He said...he'd be...right behind me."  Martin panted.

          "You left him back there?  Alone?"  Kirby stared at him.

          "He told me to."  Martin said defensively. 

          "Where's your rifle?"

          "I must have dropped it."

          "You dropped it.  You left the sergeant alone back there.  Just what kind of

men does the Air Force have, anyway?"  Caje asked in disgust.

          Martin sat up, glaring back at him.  Handing the camera to Doc, he got to his feet and held out a hand for Caje's rifle.

          "You've got his BAR.  Gimme the rifle.  I'm going back for him."

          "You've done enough.  I'll go."  Caje retorted.

          "You're wounded.  I'm not.  I've been there.  You haven't."  Martin said quietly.

          "Much as I hate to admit it, Caje, he does have a point."  Doc said.

          "Alright. Go."  Caje agreed reluctantly, handing him the rifle.

          "Martin?  The pilot?"  Doc asked.

          "Dead.  You guys make sure that camera gets back."

          Martin headed out without looking back to see the apprehensive look Caje and Doc exchanged.


          Saunders lay with his head pillowed on his arm.  He couldn't go any further.  His side ached, his leg throbbed and all he wanted was rest.  Right now, he thought he would welcome the Germans finding him, if only to put him out of his misery.  As he lay there, he thought about his mother and sister getting the dreaded telegram.  Slowly, he stretched out his right arm, grabbed a fistful of  grass and weeds,  and pulled himself forward inch by painful inch.  He had no idea how far he'd come, and he wasn't even sure he was going in the right direction.  He heard stealthy footsteps approaching him and in spite of his earlier thought, was reaching for his rifle when the blackness swallowed him and he lay still.

          Martin all but tripped over him, barely able to distinguish his uniform covered in dirt and leaves.  Afraid of what he would find, he knelt beside him and placed a hand on his back.  Thank God, he was still alive.  As he carefully rolled him over, he looked back the way Saunders had come and shook his head in amazement at the distance he'd covered.  Though he'd never treated a gunshot wound, he remembered what he'd seen Doc do for Kirby.  Fumbling with the first-aide kit on his belt, he replaced the bloody bandage on Saunders' leg.  Seeing blood on Saunders' jacket also, he nearly panicked.  Taking a deep breath, he thought for a minute, then shrugged out of his jacket, pulled off his shirt and ripped it into strips that he used to bandage Saunders' side.  Finished, he wiped his hands on the grass and pulled his canteen off his belt, taking a long drink.  Pouring a little into his hand, he dribbled it onto Saunders' face.  Much to his relief, Saunders' eyes fluttered open.

          "Martin?"  Saunders whispered in disbelief.  He'd told the man to keep going.

          "Yeah, Sarge.  It's me."

          "I told you to keep going."  Saunders voice strengthened with anger.  "The film..."

          "I made it to the others."  Martin interrupted.  "Doc has the camera.  I came back for you."

          "I can't make it.  Go back."  Saunders closed his eyes.

          "Like hell.  I'm taking you back."  Martin allowed a touch of contempt to creep into his voice.            "Is the mighty Sergeant Saunders giving up?  The famous right-hand man of Lieutenant Hanley is just going to give up and die lying in the dirt like a dog?  No wonder they call you guys dogfaces."

          Saunders' blue eyes snapped open, flashing with anger.

          "You lousy..."  He snarled.

          "Good."  Martin grinned.  "Hang on to that anger, Saunders. Get on your feet, and let's get you back home." 

          His eyes locked with Martin's, Saunders reached out with his right arm, and Martin hauled him to his feet, pulling his arm across his shoulders.  When they reached the spot where the others had been, they were gone.  Bracing his legs, Martin stopped.

          "You wanna rest or keep going?"  He panted.

          "Go."  Was all that Saunders could manage.

          Taking a fresh grip on the injured man's wrist, Martin moved on.  Evening came, then night, lit by a full moon, and still they staggered on, Martin practically carrying Saunders.  It was nearly midnight when they reeled into sight at the edge of the home base.  Littlejohn saw them first and ran to them, Billy on his heels.  Littlejohn touched Martin's arm, calling his name.  Martin looked over at him, then both men crumpled to the ground at Littlejohn's feet.  Seeing the darkness of the blood on Saunders' uniform, Littlejohn simply picked him up and ran, calling for Doc.  Billy hollered for help and Smitty came running to help him carry Martin.


          The first thing Saunders saw when he finally opened his eyes was Doc bending over him, then he saw Martin sitting behind Doc.

          "Welcome back, Sarge.  Take it easy.  You're gonna be alright, thanks to Martin.  He drag..."

          Doc broke off when Martin punched him lightly in the back. 

          "I'll be close by if you need anything."  Doc told him, dropping a hand to his shoulder.

          Saunders nodded, still looking at Martin, who took Doc's place as soon as he moved.

          "The camera?"  Saunders asked.

          "S2 has it and the film.  I'm on my way back.  Just stopped by to see how you're doing."

          "Thanks."  He meant for more than just stopping by and Martin understood that.

          "Take care of yourself, Saunders."  Martin got to his feet.

          "Yeah.  You, too, flyboy."  Saunders managed a faint smile.

          Martin nodded and headed out of the tent, quickly sidestepping Hanley on his way in.  The lieutenant came over and stood looking down at his friend, his eyes saying what his rank prevented him from voicing, feeling a heavy weight lift off his shoulders. Saunders would make it.

          "Hi, Lieutenant."  Saunders acknowledged the silent message.

          "How you feeling?"

          "Fine, sir."

          "Sure you are.  You're going back to the field hospital as soon as we can get an ambulance up here for you."  Hanley grinned.  "Get some rest."

          "Lieutenant?"  Saunders called as he turned to leave.

          "Yes, Sergeant?"

          "I want to put Martin in for a commendation."

          "Alright.  I'll get it started if you like?"  Hanley smiled.  Martin had said the same about Saunders less than an hour ago.

          "Yes, sir."  Saunders eyes closed, and he drifted off to sleep.

          Hanley stood looking down at him for a minute, then left the tent, throwing an arm out to block Kirby, Caje and the others.

          "Not now.  He's sleeping.  He's going to be alright."

          Kirby let out a whoop, quickly stifled by Caje, the men grinning in delight.  Hanley kept his 'officer' face in place till he walked away, then his face, too, split in a huge grin.

Copyright 2001

Story Copyright Mary Wright. All Rights Reserved.

Read more Dogface Tales by Mary:
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The CombatFan web site thanks Mary (aka "EagleLady") for letting us share these fan fiction stories on this web site.













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