Authors: Harold Coyle
Tags: #General, #Fiction
Associated Press news story, 15 July: "Escalation of the Persian Gulf War continued today when Iranian aircraft attacked two oil tankers just outside the territorial waters of Bahrain. A ship of Dutch registry was reported sunk early this morning shortly after leaving port. At this time there is no
report of survivors. The second ship, registered in Panama, was inbound to Bahrain when it was attacked by two Iranian war planes. Casualties are reported to be high . . . . "
Television news story, 22 July: "Despite condemnation by the UN, Western European nations, Japan, and the U.S., Iran has pledged to continue attacks on any vessel that enters the Persian Gulf, now declared a war zone by that country. Outside the Straits of Hormuz, entrance to the Persian Gulf, the number of tankers sitting at anchor, waiting for a break in the deadlock, continues to grow. The ships' owners and their captains feel that this deadlock will not last long. As one ship's captain stated, NThey have tried this before and always backed off. They need us too much to keep this up for long.' "
State Department press release, 26 July: "The attack by Iranian war planes on commercial vessels in the international
waters of the Indian Ocean yesterday is a threat to the security of the free world. The United States and the free world cannot allow such acts of deliberate terrorism to go unpunished.
While the United States continues to pursue all available means to resolve this issue peacefully, military options are being considered."
Department of Defense press release, 27 July: "The destroyer U.S.S. Charles Logan, while on patrol in international waters off the Straits of Hormuz, was rammed, then fired upon by a Soviet Cruiser of the Gorki class this morning. U.S. forces returned fire. Damage and casualties on either side are not known at this time."
TASS news release, 28 July: "A meeting of the Warsaw Pact ministers ended today with a pledge to stand together in the face of threats and increased war preparations on the part of the United States. Representatives from Poland, the German Democratic Republic, Hungary, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, and the Soviet Union released a joint statement pledging to meet American aggression against any member state with retaliation in kind."
White House press release, 28 July: "In view of the current crisis, the President has issued an order federalizing 100,000 Army Reserve and National Guard personnel. Personnel and units affected have been notified and are reporting to their mobilization stations."
Vatican press release, 29 July: "A request on the part of the Holy Father to travel to Moscow to talk to the Soviet premier in an attempt to find a peaceful solution to the current crisis was denied. The Holy Father calls for both sides to remember their responsibility to their people and to the world and again offered his services in any future negotiations." BBC news release, 30 July: "A stormy session between the French president and the Soviet foreign minister in Paris today ended when the Soviet foreign minister warned the French president that the national interests of France would best be served if that nation did not involve itself in the current crisis between the
Soviet Union and the United States. In a statement immediately after the meeting, the president announced that France would stand by her treaties and do her part to defend Europe against aggression from any quarter. The president went on to announce that the French military forces, with the exception of its strategic nuclear forces, would actively cooperate with other NATO nations during the current crisis."
Television news story, 1 Aug: "We interrupt this program for a special announcement.
Unconfirmed reports from Brussels, headquarters for NATO, state that the NATO nations have ordered their armed forces to mobilize and commence deployment to wartime positions. While there is no official word from Washington concerning this, announcement of an address to the nation by the president at seven o'clock this morning, followed by a joint press conference by the secretaries of state and defense, seems to add credibility to these reports."
The noise and the metallic voice sounded as if they came from the far end of along, dark corridor. There were no other feelings or sensations as he drifted from a dead sleep through that transitional period of half-asleep-halfawake. An inner, soothing voice on the near end of the corridor whispered, "It's not important, go back to sleep." But the radio whined back to life again and the metallic voice called out unanswered, "BRAVO THREE
ROMEO FIVE SIX-THIS IS KILO EIGHT MIKE SEVEN SEVEN-RADIO CHECK-OVER."
The inner voice was silent this time. Duty called and further sleep had to be abandoned.
As Captain Bannon began the grim process of waking up, other senses began to enter play.
First came the aches and pains and muscle spasms, the result of sleeping on an uneven bed of personal gear, vehicular equipment, ration boxes, ammo boxes, and other odds and ends that tend to clutter the interior of a combat vehicle. A tumbled and distorted bed made up of paraphernalia ranging from soft, to not-so-soft, to downright hard does cruel things to the human body. Only exhaustion and the desire to be near the radios whenever possible allowed Bannon to survive the ordeal of sleeping like that.
While still sorting out the waves of pains and spasms, he opened his eyes and began to search the interior of the armored personnel carrier in an effort to reestablish his orientation.
The personnel carrier, or PC, was dimly lit by a dome light just above his head. It bathed everything in an eerie blue green light that reminded him of a scene from a Spielberg movie.
First Lieutenant Robert Uleski, the company executive officer, or XO, was sitting in the center of the crew compartment, on a box of field rations, staring at the radio, waiting for it to speak to him again. Cattycorner from where Bannon was perched was the PC's driver, Sp4
James Hurly, huddled up and asleep in the driver's compartment. For a moment Bannon stared at Hurly, wondering how the boy could sleep in such a godawful position. A twinge and a spasm from one of his contorted back muscles reminded him of his accommodations. Perhaps, he thought, the driver wasn't in such a bad spot after all.
A static crackle, a bright orange light on the face of the radio and the accelerating whine of a small cooling fan heralded the beginning of another incoming radio call: "BRAVO THREE
ROMEO FIVE SIX-BRAVO THREE ROMEO FIVE SIX-THIS IS KILO EIGHT MIKE SEVEN
SEVEN-RADIO CHECK-OVER." Without changing his expression or moving any other part of his body except his right arm and hand, which held the radio hand mike, Uleski raised the mike to within an inch of his mouth, pressed the push-to-talk button, and waited a couple of seconds. The little cooling fan in the radio whined to life. When the fan reached a steady speed, he began to talk, still facing the radio without changing expression.
"KILO EIGHT MIKE SEVEN SEVEN-THIS IS BRA VO THREE MIKE FIVE SIX-STAY OFF
THE AIR-I SAY AGAIN-STAY OFF THE AIR-OUT." Releasing the push-to-talk button, Uleski allowed his hand to fall back slowly into his lap. He continued to stare at the now silent radio as if he would pounce and attack it if it dared to come to life again. But it didn't.
Bannon's first effort to speak ended in an incoherent grunt due to a dry mouth and a parched throat. After summoning
up what saliva he could, his second effort was slightly more successful. "Is that 3rd Platoon again?"
Still staring at the radio with the same expression, Uleski provided a short, functional, "Yes, sir." "What time is it?"
Uleski raised his left arm in the same slow, mechanical manner as he had used when answering the radio. Looking at his watch, he considered for a moment what he was looking at and in the same monotone he simply stated, "0234 hours."
It wasn't that Lieutenant Uleski was an expressionless automaton without feelings. On the contrary, "Ski," or Lieutenant U, as the enlisted men called him, was a very personable man with a good sense of humor, a sharp wit, and an enormous capacity to absorb Polish jokes and retaliate with appropriate ethnic jokes aimed at his opponent. It's just that in the very early morning, everyone falls into a zombielike state. The requirement-to sit on a hard surface for hours on end, in a small, cold aluminum armored box called a PC, with two sleeping bodies as your only company, with nothing better to do than stare at a radio that you did not expect, or want, to come to life-only added to one's tiredness. Uleski was not an exception. Nor was Bannon.
Considering for a moment the information his XO had given him, Bannon slowly plotted his next move. The PC was quiet and Uleski had gone back to watching the radio. Slowly, his mind began to come alive and it became apparent that sitting there, watching Uleski watching the radios was definitely nonproductive. Besides, Bannon was now in too much pain to go back to sleep and movement was the only way he was going to stop the aches and spasms. It was time to make the supreme effort and get up. Besides, the Team would be having stand-to within the hour and he needed some time to get himself together. While it was permissible for everyone else to look like he had just rolled out of bed at stand-to, the Team commander, at least, had to give the appearance that he was wide awake and ready to deal with the world. The night, if four hours of sleep on a pile of assorted junk could be called a night, was over. It was time to
greet a new day, another dawn, the fourth since Team Yankee had rolled out of garrison and headed for the border.
Long before the tanks rolled out of the back gate toward the border, Pat Bannon knew that Sean was involved in more than another exercise. After eight years of marriage and life in the army, Pat could read her husband's moods like a book. At first, there was little change.
The sinking of the oil tankers in the Persian Gulf by perpetually warring nations was just another story on the Armed Forces Network evening news. Life in the military community continued as usual, as did Sean's comings and goings. It was the closing of the Straits of Hormuz and the commitment of a U.S. carrier battle group to the area that began the change. The husbands began to spend more time at their units. The normal twelve-hour day that commanders and staff officers put in stretched into fourteen and fifteen hours. They tried to shrug off the extra hours as prep for an upcoming field exercise. But the wives who had
"been in the service" awhile knew that the new routine was not the norm.
Some wives became upset and nervous. They didn't know what was happening but felt that, whatever it was, it was not good. Others talked about nothing else, as if it was a challenge to find out what the big dark secret was. During the day they would gather together with the rest of the "grapevine" and compare notes in order to pool information they had gleaned from their husbands the night before. Pat chose to follow the lead of the older wives in the battalion. Cathy Hill, wife of the battalion commander of 1 st of the 4th Armor, went out of her way to carry on as if everything was business as usual. So did Mary Shell, the wife of the battalion S-3. Pat and many of the wives followed their lead, not asking questions or nagging. They agreed that, whatever was happening, nagging wives would not help the situation.
It was the public announcement that the Soviets were sending a naval battle group to the Persian Gulf to "assist in maintaining
peace in the Gulf" that destroyed the last pretense of normalcy. When Pat told Sean the news after he
came home from morning PT, he simply replied, "Yeah, I know." His attitude convinced Pat that he had already known about the incident and probably more. The feeling of dread and foreboding became more pronounced when word spread around the community that the.
training exercise for which the battalion had been preparing for months was suddenly canceled. In their two-and-a-half years in Germany, that had never happened before. To make matters worse, cancellation of the exercise did not change the new fourteenhour day routine.
Over the next few days every new deterioration in the world situation seemed to be matched with further preparations by the battalion. One night, Sean brought home his field gear and took out his old worn fatigues and clothing and put some of his newer fatigues in. The next day, while returning from the commissary, Pat saw trucks with ammo caution signs on them in the motor pool, dropping off boxes at each of the tanks. Even the community dispensary began to pack up. The news that a U.S. and Soviet warship in the Gulf had collided and then exchanged fire, silenced the last optimist.
Pat wasn't ready for this. It suddenly dawned on her that her husband might be going to war.
The possibility was always there. After all, Sean was a soldier and soldiers were expected to fight. As Sean would say on occasion, that's what he was paid for. Pat knew that someday it might come to that but had never given it much thought. Now she had to. It was like a great dark abyss. She had no guidelines, no idea of what to do. The Army spent a fortune training and preparing Sean for this moment but not a penny to prepare her, the wife of a soldier. Pat decided that the only thing she could do was to make this period as comfortable and as easy for Sean as possible.
Besides Sean, there were the children. Little Sean, the eldest, already knew something was not right. For a child of six, he was very perceptive and picked up on the tension and fear that both his mother and father were trying to hide. He didn't talk about it but would show his concern by asking his father each morning if he was going to come home that night.
Little Sean would stay awake until his father did come and then would get out of his bed, run to his father and hug him with no intention of letting go. Sean had to carry his son to bed, lay him down and talk to him for awhile. Kurt, at three, was hell on wheels and just the opposite of his older brother. Their daughter Sarah, at one, was fast growing up by trying to do everything her brothers did; her busy schedule of exploration and mischief kept her from noticing a break in routine.
The transition from home and family to field and prep for war boggled Bannon's clouded mind. It was almost as if he had been moved into a different world. Pondering such deep thoughts, however, was getting him nowhere. He had to get moving and live in the present world and hope for the best in the other.