Read 1945 Online

Authors: Robert Conroy

Tags: #World War; 1939-1945 - United States, #Alternative histories (Fiction), #World War; 1939-1945, #General, #United States, #Historical, #War & Military, #World War; 1939-1945 - Japan, #Japan, #Fiction

1945 (6 page)

BOOK: 1945
5.35Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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"Do you want to get married?" Debbie asked softly, surprised at her own boldness and wondering if she really meant it. "We could run off to Kentucky and get married right away. I know some people who've done it."

He held her even more tightly. "I want to marry you more than anything in the world, but not until I return." And in one piece, he thought. "You're much too young to be a war widow and I won't wish that on you."

"Don't even think like that," she gasped. "Even my brother, Ronnie, is starting to talk like death is just around the corner. He'll be eighteen in a few months and now they're talking like he won't even get to finish high school before he gets drafted. My God, Paul, now they're taking babies in the draft! Isn't anybody left? Ronnie's scared and I don't blame him. I'm terrified for both of you."

Paul wondered what it was like in Japan. Were they drafting children the way the Germans did? He'd seen so many little boys in German uniforms, pretending they were soldiers, but using real bullets. Some were only ten or eleven years old, and a number of them had been killed or wounded by Americans who didn't stop to ask their age. An enemy soldier with a gun was a threat, no matter how old he was. It occurred to Paul that the winner of this awful war might just be the last country with anyone left standing.

They held each other in silence. They kissed and sometimes sobbed. This was not a night for giggling and petting. It was a night for remembering every sound, every word, every scent of each other. They didn't even look up and comment on the sea of stars that was visible. They wanted nothing to distract them from what might be their last memories of each other.

After what seemed like only a few minutes, they heard the sound of a car horn. The interlude was over. She walked with him to the front of the house and they kissed one more time before he got in the car and drove away into the darkness.

Debbie kept a stony façade until the car turned the corner and was out of sight. Then she dropped to her knees and let out a wail. Her parents came running.

 

Chapter 6

 

The dust-covered jeep stopped in front of a long row of identical brown army tents. The two MPs in the front watched as the disheveled young lieutenant eased himself stiffly out of the back and removed his duffel bag. They made no effort to help him, nor did any of the soldiers in the area manage to notice the situation either. The sight of MPs delivering a soldier to the area wasn't the slightest bit unique.

One of the MPs, a sergeant, glared before speaking. "Lieutenant, if I was you, I would trot my ass down to tent 721 directly. Do not try to clean up, do not get a bite to eat, do not pass go, do not collect no two hundred dollars. Just get down there and pronto before you get in any more trouble."

"Thanks for the lift, Sergeant, and the warm night of hospitality," he added, and dropped the heavy bag by his left side. He waited and stared until the sergeant reluctantly saluted him. Morrell returned it and turned away.

Tent number 721 was but one of thousands like it in the massive tent city that had been thrown up on the outskirts of Oakland, California, as a means of processing the transient troops en route to the war in the Pacific. The whole camp had an air of temporariness, as if it belonged to a migratory horde that had suddenly appeared and could disappear at will. The roads were dirt and rutted, and the tents were small and shapeless. However, the camp was laid out in a sensible grid that made it possible for the MPs to drop Paul off only a little way from his destination, tent 721. They could have dropped him off right in front, but they wanted to show a little more of their superiority by letting him take a walk.

Paul tapped on a piece of plywood attached to the front of the tent as a crude knocker. "Come in," a voice called, and Paul had that feeling that he'd been here before. It was uncannily like that last time in Germany.

He ducked his head and entered. Then he started to stand upright and come to attention. "Sit down, Lieutenant," said the voice, interrupting that effort. Paul found a camp chair and did as directed.

As his eyes became adjusted to the dimmer light, he saw that the man facing him across a card table that served as a desk was a captain in his late twenties or early thirties. He had dark, brush-cut hair and looked to be fairly tall and rangy.

"Lieutenant Morrell, I presume?"

"Yes, sir."

"Wonderful. Lieutenant, I am Captain Tom Ruger. Now just where the hell have you been? You were supposed to be here three days ago. Almost all the rest of the regimental officers have gone on ahead with the enlisted men, with me left behind to round up strays like you."

Tradition dictated that he was to say "no excuse," or something like that. Right now, Paul was too tired and dirty to care. "Sir, if I hadn't been thrown in jail for no good reason yesterday, I would only have been two days late. As to the rest of it, my orders weren't realistic. I may have had travel priority, but that couldn't get me on planes that weren't flying or trains that weren't moving."

To Paul's surprise, Ruger laughed. "The orders may not have been realistic, but most army orders aren't. If we had told you to arrive as soon as you could, how long would you have taken? A year? Two? As to the other part, you were arrested for the crime of wearing a uniform in San Francisco, which, after the peace riots of a few weeks ago, is now off-limits to all military personnel and will remain that way for the foreseeable future.

"When the cops stopped you, your orders caused the police to worry about your intentions because they showed you were already two days AWOL. If you'd been on time, they'd just have put you on a bus or truck and shipped your sorry ass out here. Since your paperwork condemned you as a probable felon, they decided not to take chances, and that's why they held you in jail. To tell you the truth I don't blame them. There are a lot of people showing up late in hopes the war will be over by the time they arrive."

"I admit the thought crossed my mind."

"As to transportation problems, Lieutenant, the military in the Northwest states are going crazy, which is completely screwing up everything that moves on wheels. The Japs have started sending over firebombs attached to balloons that drift along over the prevailing air currents by the hundreds, maybe the thousands, and into the U.S. They've only caused a little damage: a couple of small forest fires, and a handful of people were killed while trying to examine them. But rumor has it that one of the bombs apparently started a fire at some supersecret installation near Hanford, Washington, and cut the place's electricity. It may have been chance, but it's the sort of thing that drives the brass crazy and disrupts train schedules."

Ruger's voice dropped its tone of banter and turned stern. "Be that as it may, you were still supposed to be here on time. Do you understand that?"

"Yes, sir."

"You planning to make the army a career, Lieutenant Morrell?"

"Hell, no. I mean, no, sir."

Ruger took a piece of paper off his makeshift desk and wadded it up. "Then there's no point in disciplining you, is there? I could maybe have you court-martialed and stripped of rank, but that would be a waste of the time and money the government's got invested in you, and a written reprimand that would ruin your career wouldn't mean squat if you don't have a career to ruin in the first place." He threw the paper away. It landed on the ground, a few feet from an overflowing wastebasket. "You got a family in Detroit? A girl?"

"Yes to both, Captain."

Ruger leaned forward and glared. "I'll bet you deviated from a true straight-line course and spent some time with them, didn't you?"

Why lie? Paul thought. "Yes, Captain, I did. I was off course for about seven hours."

Ruger shook his head in disbelief. "That all? Jesus Christ, Lieutenant, I would have spent a lot more than that with them. After all, you're not likely to see them for a helluva long time."

Paul blinked and Ruger started laughing. "Like I said, Lieutenant Morrell, how can I punish you? Can't fire you, now can I?"

Paul worked up a reciprocal smile. "It wouldn't hurt my feelings if you did."

"Morrell, I'm a reservist myself, so I can't wait for this pile of shit war to end so I can get home to my loving wife and two kids and start working on kids three and four. In the meantime, I've got an infantry company to staff, along with filling a couple of other openings in the battalion for Major Redwald and General Monck. The enlisted men and the rest of the officers left via troopship shortly after the riots, and we are trying to fill the last officer vacancies. It's an unusual procedure, but this whole damned war is highly unusual. You, Mr. Morrell, look like you can do the job. Let's see, you're twenty-three. How the hell did you stay out of the draft for so long?"

"Captain, I was in ROTC in college, had a mild knee injury from high school football, and my dad knew someone on the draft board. Of the three, I think the last was the most significant."

"Not exactly dying to get in, were you?"

"I don't think anybody is. I guess that's why we have the draft in the first place since any rush to enlist ended shortly after Pearl Harbor. But now that I'm here, I'll serve and do my best."

Ruger grunted acknowledgment. "I see you've been in combat."

"Very little. Twice my unit in Germany was under indirect artillery fire, and once we might have been shot at by a sniper. In all cases, I just kept my head down and tried to keep my people from being killed."

"But you actually did something. You didn't lie there frozen in your own crap, now did you?"

"I guess I did manage to move about and function usefully."

"So why'd they get rid of you in Germany? How badly did you flick up?"

Paul explained the situation with the grenades and the discipline. "Funny," Paul concluded, "but all I was trying to do was the right thing."

Ruger nodded. "The road to hell is paved with people trying to do the right thing or something like that. I presume you've learned a little discretion."

Paul grinned. "A lot."

"Fine. Let's get back to you in those combat situations. Were you scared?"

"Shitless."

Captain Ruger nodded. "My first time was in the Philippines last year. I was so scared I maybe did shit, although the place already stank so bad I don't think anybody could tell, and I suppose I'll be scared again when we invade Japan."

Paul's heart sank. "Then it's official?"

"Yep, and you're gonna be part of it. Since you look reasonably human and have almost satisfactorily explained yourself, I'm taking you for my company. We are part of a now-forming infantry regiment, the 528th, Brigadier General John Monck commanding. We are going to be assigned as a reserve force for one of the divisions that's going to invade. We'll be shipping out from here faster than you can say jack shit, so don't even think about unpacking or even leaving this tent without me as a chaperone."

Paul sagged. That soon? Not even a few days' respite? "Do I have time for a phone call? How 'bout a shave and a shower?"

Ruger looked at his watch. "If we move fast, we can both make a phone call. Unless somebody changes their minds, we'll be on a C-54 in about two and a half hours. You can forget the shower. The plumbing around here is terrible at best."

Ruger stood up and Paul realized the captain was not as tall as he'd first thought, only an inch or so taller than he was. Ruger held out his hand and Paul took it. Ruger's grip was firm. "Morrell, welcome to whatever the hell we're getting into. Now, let's go find us some phones, some food, and maybe even something to drink. You mind eating and drinking in an ugly old tent?"

Despite his apprehensions, Paul smiled. "Not in the slightest, Captain. Uh, do you have any idea where we're going from here?"

"Paul, after a few stops for food and fuel, we will be catching up with our enlisted personnel on that resort spot of the Pacific, Okinawa, and God help us."

Paul's first steps in the Pacific theater would come soon.

 

Chapter 7

 

The third atomic bomb followed its precursors at Hiroshima and Nagasaki and fell on Kokura, with the same devastation. Gen. Korechika Anami, minister of war, stared at the small group of grim-faced men who sat with him in that same bunker where Emperor Hirohito had been taken prisoner. The austere walls were now covered with maps and reports that charted the flow of the war that was raging over their heads as American bombers pounded targets in Tokyo and its suburbs. The new leader of Japan wondered what was left for them to destroy in Tokyo .

Beginning with the March fire raids, the city had systematically been destroyed. More than a hundred thousand of her people had burned to death as the fragile wooden dwellings that housed her population of 3 million had gone up like matches.

It was the same in the other cities of Japan. Fire and death.

As news from the bombed city of Kokura filtered in through the shattered lines of communication, and as the death toll from Hiroshima and Nagasaki continued to mount, the sixty-three-year-old General Anami wondered if he had done the right thing by supporting the rebellious young officers whose palace coup had caused the killing to continue. He dismissed the brief spark of doubt. What had been done was right and Japan's fate. Japan would fight on and so would he. He had to. He was samurai and bound by the oath of Bushido to never surrender. But what would Japan fight with? They had to stop the rain of nuclear terror from the skies.

Grudgingly, he acknowledged that the traditional definition of war had been changed. Japanese bravery would count for naught unless he could find some way of halting the bombings. Not for the first time he wondered if he had been born too late. Better that he was already dead and his ashes scattered than to see what was happening to his beloved Japan.

Because of his role in the coup that had captured Hirohito and prevented the planned surrender, General Anami had taken the duties of prime minister as well as war minister. The previous prime minister, Suzuki, had not resigned. He had died of a sudden and massive stroke while being taken into custody, and it offended Anami that the American and British press insisted that the seventy-seven-year-old Suzuki had been murdered. The doddering old man who had survived other coup attempts and outlived assassins' bullets had simply died.

BOOK: 1945
5.35Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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