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THE FRONT PAGE RAID

 

Sergeant Troy emerged from his Commanding Officer’s tent like a bear from hibernation.  His mood was gruff to say the least.  The bright sunlight stung his eyes and the pupils immediately shrunk to block out the rays.  Troy placed his hat on his head for shade. 

The Rat Patrol had been ordered back to base from deep inside German territory.  They had been fifty kilometers south of El Kabeer Oasis in the Libyan Sahara Desert. 

Troy assumed he would be briefed on the Patrol’s next mission when he arrived at Head Quarters in Bardia.  He was wrong.  As it turned out, the Rat Patrol was temporarily being split up.  Troy hated it when one of his men was traded out on assignments even when it was crucial, but he really hated it when his men were splurged on something as trivial as this.  He was miffed when he left the CO’s tent, but he had his orders and that was that.

He stood outside the flap he’d just swiped open and scanned the camp. He looked left and then right.  He saw his wingman Private Hitchcock who was standing outside the bunkhouse shirtless and shaving.  Hitch wore his specs so he wouldn’t miss any bits.

Troy continued to survey the camp but did not see the other members of his unit, Sergeant Moffitt or Private Pettigrew, so he sauntered over to Hitch.  Troy lazily saluted a Major and two Captains as he passed them.  He reached Hitch and stood with his hands on his hips.

“You seen Tully?” he asked as he scouted the camp one more time.

“Last time I saw him, he was in the motor pool working on one of the jeeps.  But that was before breakfast.”

“Thanks.”

“What’s up, Sarge?”

“I’ll brief you and Moffitt later.  CO’s tent at noon.”

“Sure thing,” Hitch said disinterested as he finished off his chin with the razor.

Troy continued down to the end of the camp and took a right turn toward the motor pool.  There was Tully with his upper torso buried in the belly of a jeep.  He too was shirtless.  His back looked like it had been bronzed.  The sun reflected off his moist shoulders.  Sweat gathered around the waistband of his pants.  He was bare foot and the bottoms of his khakis were rolled up to mid calf. His attire made him look like he was on a desert island and in and out of water all the time.  He had obviously gotten out of bed and gone straight to work on the jeeps without bothering to dress.  He was whistling Pennsylvania Six Five Thousand, which wasn’t easy. 

“Nice outfit,” Troy commented as he approached.

“Thanks.  It’s the latest.”

“The latest what?”

“Military desert ware, of course.”

“It’s stunning,” Troy joked.

Tully chuckled through the matchstick he had between his teeth.  He pulled himself out of the grease pit to face his Sergeant.

“How’s she look?” Troy asked as he placed his right hand on the hood and then lifted it quickly as the heat of the metal seared his palm.

“Ah.  She’s okay.  Just doin’ a little tuning.  Nothing major.”

“Well, do you want the good news or the bad news?” Troy said, abruptly changing the subject.

Tully leaned against the bumper of the jeep and began cleaning his hands with a rag.

“Good news.  I guess,” he said cautiously.

“Apparently, you’re the best driver in the United States Army.”

“Zat so.”

“Yep.”

“And the bad news?” Tully questioned afraid to hear the answer.

“You’ve been reassigned for the next week.”

“Oh yeah.  To where?”

“Not to where.  To who.”

“Okay.  I’ll bite.  To who?”

“You’ve been ordered, by Colonel Bracken I might add, to chauffeur a journalist and her photographer from LIFE magazine up to the front.”

“No shit.”

“Yeah.  Seems they want to get up close to the action and get some of our desert troops in combat,” Troy said with disdain.  He had no time for this escapade.

“Guess the Germans haven’t cornered the propaganda market after all.” Tully chortled.

“Guess not.”

“So what are you and Moffitt and Hitch going to do?  Am I missing anything fun?” Tully probed.

“Got a dump to blow.  Can’t really do much with one man short.”

Tully smiled.

“What’s so funny?”

“Nothing, Sarge.  Nothing.”  Tully smirked realizing that Troy was paying him an abstract compliment.

There was a pause in the conversation and Tully returned to his engine.  Troy stayed to watch the private work.  Then Tully stopped and resurfaced. 

“Did you say ‘her’ photographer?  The journalist is a she?”

“You heard me.”

“That’s not being a driver, Sarge.  That’s being a babysitter,” Tully complained.

“Sounds about right.”

“So when do I meet ’em?” Tully asked after a short disapproving pause.

“There’s a briefing at noon in the CO’s tent.  See you there.”

“Yes, Sir,” Tully sniffed.

“Oh.  And, Tully.  Could you maybe put on some boots for the colonel?”

“I’ll do my best, Sarge.”

Troy tracked down Moffitt who was sleeping in a quiet corner cot of one of the bunkhouses.  It took a lot for Troy to wake him.  Moffitt was more exhausted then usual.  He was recovering from a wicked head cold that had lingered for weeks.  The heat of the desert added to the heat of his fever.  He hadn’t slept much lately so he took advantage of the coolness and calmness of the camp. Unlike being in enemy territory, he finally felt safe. He slept soundly. 

Hitch was another story.  Troy had told him about the briefing, but he had all but disappeared.  It was five to twelve and Tully, Troy and Moffitt entered Colonel Bracken’s tent.  Just the colonel and his aide were there to greet them. 

“You’re missing a private, aren’t you, Sergeant?”

“Yes, Sir.  He’ll be right along,” Troy replied uncomfortably.
 
The words had barely left Troy’s lips when frantic footsteps rustled up to the tent flap.  It sounded like a wild pillow fight.  Hitch entered out of breath, spewing apologies. 

“Be prompt next time, private,” The colonel urged strongly.

“Yes, Sir.  I’m sorry, Sir.”

“At ease, men.”

Hitch let out the breath he was holding and looked sheepishly over at Troy and then Moffitt.  Troy shook his head at him and Moffitt stifled a sneeze.  The British sergeant’s eyes watered.

“As you are aware, young Pettigrew here has been recruited to guide two of LIFE magazine’s reporters to the front.  They are doing a story on the war in the desert and have gotten permission to do so from the top.  And I mean the top.”

Troy glanced over at Tully. He gave no sign of curiosity. Tully was rarely fazed.

“They will have one week to do their story and one week only.  Is that understood, private?” Bracken continued directing his order at Tully.

“Yes, Sir.”

“You are to get them close to the action but not too close.”

“Yes, Sir,” Tully repeated.

“Troy.  You and the rest of your men have orders for a demo mission . . . aah, here are our guests now.”

The colonel was interrupted when a young man and women entered the tent.  They blinked rapidly to get their eyes accustomed to the darkness after the brilliance of the desert sun. They gave the Desert Rats the once over before moving over beside Bracken.

“This is Adelaide Lewis and her photographer Pete Stanley.  May I introduce Sergeant Sam Troy, Sergeant Jack Moffitt and Private Mark Hitchcock.  And this is Private Tully Pettigrew the man we’ve chosen to accompany you.”

Each man nodded in turn as they were introduced.  Hitch looked Miss Lewis up and down.  Civilian women were few and far between in these parts.  American women were scarce altogether unless you were wounded and being cared for by one.  Most of the nurses were British. Adelaide ignored his stares.  Yes she was a civilian, but Hitch could tell she was a tough nut—young, but hardy.

Adelaide was small with a boyish figure.  She wore brand new fatigues with boots far too big for her.  Her hair was a mousy brown, long and braided.  Bright blue eyes peered out from under a longish fringe.  No jewelry; goggles dangled from her neck instead.  She wore no makeup but she didn’t need any.  Her fingernails were short and unpainted.  She wore a utility belt that held two water bottles—one on each side of her as if for balance.  She also had an army issue knapsack that held pens and pads of paper.

Tully noticed all of this within minutes of her arrival.  She means business, he thought.  He was expecting a skirted secretary type with bunned hair and horn-rimmed glasses with a pencil behind her ear.  He knew, of course, that that would be impractical and was glad to see that she looked somewhat prepared for the desert.  The water bottles were a good sign and the short nails.

Pete Stanley was just a kid and had the most perfect smile – an infectious smile.  He too had dark hair and sparkling blue eyes but he was not particularly handsome.  He was rather plain.  He stood less than six feet tall and not especially fit.  He carried two cameras – one slung over one shoulder and the other around his neck and over the other shoulder.  His belt had nothing but film tins that sort of resembled large bullets.  As he shook the hands of each Rat, his personality bubbled.  He was obviously a very likable, amiable guy.  Thank God, Tully thought to himself. 

“You look ready to go, Miss,” Moffitt said through his plugged nose.

“I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.”

“And you, Mr. Stanley?” Moffitt inquired.

“Sure am!  I’ve been waiting for this since January of 1942 when I turned eighteen.  Thought I’d be fighting you know, but I’m flatfooted.  Army doesn’t go for us flatfooted guys.  So I went to college and took a photography course instead.  Don’t know why.  Just like taking pictures I suppose.  LIFE needed photographers.  Go figure.  Here I am.  You seen much action?  Got any good stories for me to . . .”

“Easy, son.  Easy,” The Colonel interrupted.  “Not all at once.  There’s lots of time.”

Shit.  A talker, Tully cursed under his breath.  If there was one thing he hated, it was a talker. 

“There’s a brand new jeep outside for this little jaunt.  It’s got a fifty in case of any trouble and a third seat in the back for the extra man.  Some extra bells and whistles too,” Bracken said.

Tully’s eyes widened then he couldn’t help but scowl quizzically.  A brand new jeep?  What was going on here?  Who was this broad?  He was still happy about the new wheels though and itched to be dismissed so he could go out and see it. 

“Enjoy the rest of the day.  You’ll all be off bright and early tomorrow.  Sergeant Troy knows his territory.  Private Pettigrew, if you’ll please stay behind so we can go over yours.”

“Yes, Sir,” Tully again replied obediently.

“The rest of you men are dismissed.  And good hunting.”

“Thank you, Sir,” Troy responded wishing he could stay and be in on Tully’s private briefing.  His mother bear instinct was hard to shake.  Troy was very protective of his men—sometimes overly so.

+++++

“The Fifth is running up on Rommel right about here.”  Bracken pointed out on the map that was spread out on the table in front of them.
“There is an offensive scheduled the day after tomorrow and that is where you will get your story, Miss Lewis.  Again, I can’t stress enough, private, to keep your distance.  If word of civilian losses gets back to the States, there will be hell to pay.  Especially with Miss Lewis’ family.  Right, Miss Lewis?”

“Frankly, Colonel, I have total support from my family in my career as a journalist.  They know the risks and so do I.  This story must be told and my editor is convinced that I am the one to tell it.  My family really has no roll in this decision and the fact that I am a woman should be of no concern to anyone.”

“Well, I’m afraid your wrong there.  Females are not permitted in combat,” Bracken defended.

“Yes, sir, I realize that.  But that is not to say that woman have not been killed in combat.  Thousands of woman have been killed in the war so far isn’t that correct?”

“To my knowledge, young lady, no women has been killed in the fighting.”

Tully stayed quiet through this discussion, sizing up what he situation.  The girl that stood in front of him was not like any he had encountered before.  He wasn’t sure if he liked it or not.  He stayed clear of the fireworks.

“Bull shit!” Adelaide said defiantly.  “Women have been killed, Colonel.  All over the world. Women are just as affected by this as men.  Maybe more so.”

“All right, all right.  Point taken, Miss Lewis.  No need for profanity.”

Tully was aghast.  No one cursed the colonel.  No one.  He was starting to get the feeling that the next week would be anything but a picnic.  His curiosity was piqued though.  He was quite happy to get to know this young lady.  She was starting to fascinate him.  He had his orders and he would do his duty.  He would get Adelaide and Pete as close to the action as possible.  She was right Tully thought.  The war in the desert was a story that had to be told and it looked like Adelaide Lewis was the one to tell it.

+++++++

Tully was sent off on his mission with a precocious wink from Hitch, a gentlemanly “good luck” from Moffitt and a fatherly lecture from Troy.  The speech from Troy was mostly telling Tully to stay clear of the fighting.  He wanted “the best driver in the United States Army” back next week, not squandered on a PR mission.  Tully took Troy’s words with grace and reassured the sergeant that he would see him back at base camp a week from today. 

The young private and his charges sped off due west and the depleted Rat Patrol headed northwest back toward El Kabeer Oasis.

“Where are you from, Private?” Adelaide broke the silence after several miles of travel.

“Kentucky, Ma’am.”

“No need for formalities.  Call me Addie.”

“Okay,” Tully replied.  His second passenger stayed quiet which surprised Tully.

“Got a girl back home waiting for you?”

“Yup.  Three.”

“Is that so?”

“Yeah.  My mom and two sisters.”

“And your dad?”

“Dead,” Tully said flatly.

“Oh I’m sorry.”

“No need to be. Not your fault.”

Addie smiled and looked out into open desert.  She took a minute to take in the barren landscape and wondered how anyone could survive out here.  She then continued her interrogation.

“Have you seen a lot of action, Tully?” Addie corrected herself.

“Lots.”

“Can you tell me about it.”

“Our unit is kind of special.  We’re Long Range Desert Group.  We work in enemy territory, so we do a lot of fighting, demolition, recon… odds and ends.”

“Have you ever been wounded?”

“Lots of times.  Got sand in my eye once,” Tully mocked.

“No.  I’m serious.”

“Yep.  Been shot in the leg once, this shoulder of mine seen two, three bullets.  Got blown up by a tank blast one time.  Thought that was it.  Burned my arm pretty bad.  Concussion too.  Troy and Moffitt, Hitch and me were stranded in the desert for a couple days after that.”

“So how did you get back to base?”

“German half-track.”

“How did you get a German half-track?”

“It’s a long story.”

“We’ve got time.”

“Later,” Tully promised.

“Wow.  Why weren’t you sent home?”

“Simple.” Tully shrugged. “We’re not done yet.”

Addie was taken aback by Tully’s bravery and obvious grit.  She paused after she realized that this was not the kind of man to give up easily.  This fight was a fight to the death in his eyes. At that moment she felt her first pang of attraction. 

“Winning this war means a lot to you, doesn’t it?” She said.

“Well, sure.  Doesn’t it mean a lot to you?”

“Well, we are pretty detached from the war back home.  The fighting I mean.  Sure we do what we can for the war effort.  We get newsreels and such.  But, we really can’t relate to it until someone from the neighborhood is killed.  An uncle.  A brother.  You know, until it hits home.”

“Has it hit home?” Tully asked.

“Yes.”  There was hesitation before Addie began to speak again.  “My cousin Charles died in the South Pacific.  He was a fighter pilot and was shot down only a few months after Pearl Harbor.  And my younger brother Brad died during an air raid in London not three months ago.”  Addie fought back tears.  “I loved him very much.”

“I’m real sorry.”

“It’s okay Tully.  It’s not your fault.”

Tully looked over at his new friend and he too felt a tinge of allure; he grinned then slowly looked back toward his destination.  Addie warmly smiled back at Tully, too.  They seemed to feel each other’s soul.  They knew they would be comrades and maybe someday, lovers. 

++++++

“See that rock formation over there,” Tully yelled over the hum of the engine as he pointed across Addie’s chest.

“Yes.”

“That’s where we tricked the Germans one time with loud speakers and a dust trail we made by dragging some grates from the jeeps.”

“What did you play over the speakers?”

“A recording of a Sherman tank convoy.”

“Gosh! You men sure are innovative.”

“Well, Moffitt and Troy are the brains .  Especially Moffitt.  Me and Hitch just do what we’re told.” Tully said casually.

“Well, they may have the brains, but apparently you are the best driver in the United States Army,” Addie gushed.

“Rumor has it.”

“Why is that?  What makes your driving so special?”

“Well, I think my reputation preceded me.  I was a bootlegger back home.”

“So?” Addie probed.  Pete suddenly popped his head in between the two front seats to listen to Tully’s story.

“Well, I can outrun anything in just about anything, anywhere,” Tully boasted.  “And I can fix any kind of engine.  I used a rag for a fan belt one time.  I’ve even had my unit piss in the radiator.”

Addie and Pete laughed at the thought of that.  As a matter of fact, they howled.  Tully began to laugh too.  It wasn’t funny at the time.  The Rat Patrol was stranded and needed wheels but now when he looked back on it, he saw the humor. 

“Who had the best aim?” Pete asked between gasps.

“Hitch . . . definitely Hitch,” Tully chuckled.

++++++

The laughter subsided and the conversation ended for the next couple of hours.  Young Pete had been very quiet until the bootlegger story.  Tully had been mistaken about the guy.  It must have been jitters when Pete displayed a case of verbal diarrhea back at base camp.  Tully noticed he was taking photographs during Addie’s and his conversation earlier.  What he was taking pictures of, Tully hadn’t a clue.  There wasn’t anything out here but miles and miles of sand and rock as far as the eye could see.

“We’ve got to stop,” Tully broke the silence abruptly.

“Why?  What’s the matter?”

“Gotta check the engine for water and refuel.”

“How do you know?”

“I just know.”

Tully drew the jeep to a halt and jumped out.  Addie got out to stretch after being impressed with Tully’s uncanny instinct.  Pete stayed put.  As Tully concentrated on the task at hand, Addie motioned for Pete to photograph the soldier at work.  Tully didn’t notice and carried on with his puttering.  She stood back and watched the private work with great pleasure.  She liked his looks and the way he carried himself.  He caught her looking at him and she turned away quickly to disguise her obvious ogle. 

“Pete? Can you bring me the water and gas cans?” Tully ordered politely.

“Sure thing.”  The young man leaped from his seat to help.  He was glad to.  He pulled the two large cans from the back where they were specially placed to give more room for other supplies.  There were also tanks mounted on the side and the hood.  It was obvious that Bracken had this jeep specially outfitted so there was no chance of running out of reserves.  Tully noticed the extra rations and supplies immediately and appreciated them after months of living on practically nothing. 


“Do we have much farther to go Tully?” Addie asked as she wiped the perspiration from her forehead with her bandanna.

“It’ll take us till tomorrow to get there.  We’ll camp tonight and get an early start in the morning.”

“It’s that far?  It didn’t look that far on the map the colonel showed us.”

“It’s about 160 miles,” Tully explained as Pete handed him the gas can.

“Here ya go.”

“Thanks.  160 miles out here is farther than anywhere else,” Tully finished.

Tully completed his maintenance and took a swig of water after he made sure Addie and Pete had had sufficient. 

“Let’s get going.  I want to reach Sabir Oasis before dark.”

They all mounted up again and off they went in search of the men of the Fifth and the combat Addie so desperately needed for her story.  Addie wanted to ask so many questions of Tully and his life in the desert.  But she was afraid he might think she was prying.  Being a reporter, she went ahead anyway.

“Tell me about the other men in your unit Tully.  Do you all get along?”

“Sure.”

“Well, what about Sergeant Troy?  What’s he like?”

Tully stared straight ahead for quite sometime.  It was almost as if he didn’t hear her question.  He’d never really thought about it before.  He knew he respected Troy and liked him but he was having trouble finding the words to express his feelings.  He usually kept that kind of stuff pent up and was a little afraid to expose himself.

“I’m sorry Tully.  Do my questions make you uncomfortable?”

“No . . . well, a little.”

“You don’t have to answer.”

“I know I don’t have to but I will.”

Again there was a pause in the dialogue.  Addie waited patiently as Tully carefully chose his words.

“Troy is . . . tough but fair,” Tully blurted.  “He’s a good sergeant and I trust him with my life.  He respects me and cares about me.  I care about what happens to him, too.”

“That’s quite a compliment.” 

“He deserves it.”

“Troy seems a bit tense . . . almost angry.”

“Well, he’s under a lot of pressure.  He’s got three men to worry about not to mention the Krauts.”

“I understand.  And Private Hitchcock?”

“Hitch is my best friend.  We met at Fort Benning before we came over here.  We joined the LRDG together and got assigned to the same unit.  I trust him with my life.”

“You guys are pretty tight, aren’t you?”

“We have to be.”

“I’m sure,” Addie agreed.

“We’re at the point now where we can just about read each others minds.”

“And Sergeant Moffitt?”

“He’s great.  He’s my wingman.  I didn’t like him at first being British and all.  Didn’t trust him . . . didn’t know him.  I like him a lot now.  Smart as a fox too.”

“I thought foxes were sly?”

“Got to be sly to be smart.”

“Do you mind if I make some notes of our conversation?”

“No.  Why should I?”

“Well, I’m trusting you with my life and I don’t want to piss you off.”

Tully looked at Addie and chuckled.  He wanted to lean over and kiss her but he fought the urge.

“Thanks for asking, but you can write what you want.  That’s why you’re here isn’t it?”

“Yes.  That’s why I’m here,” Addie agreed as she pulled out her paper and pencil and began to write. 

+++++++

“This is pretty good,” Pete mumbled as he chewed his supper.

“Do you think so?  I think it's terrible personally,” Addie said.

“Well, it’s all we’ve got,” Tully smirked.

“Do you men have to eat this stuff all the time out here?” Addie asked as she gagged down the tin of beans Tully prepared for her.

“Well, we always have rations but sometimes we pick up food in the Arab villages.  Dates and bread and sometimes some meat and fruit.  Sometimes goat cheese.  My mom sends me jam and last week I got some of her oatmeal cookies.  We couldn’t eat them though.  They were just crumbs by the time they got to me.  She doesn’t understand.”

“That’s so sweet,” Addie gushed.

“Yeah, my mom is sweet.  I miss her.”

Tully had never admitted that to anyone before.  It took him aback.  Again he felt exposed.  He wasn’t used to revealing his feelings.  He was glad night had fallen and he could hide under the shadow of his helmet. 

Tully, Addie and Pete had bundled up.  The temperature had dropped significantly and the fire that Tully had built was small.  He didn’t want to take any chances.  They weren’t that close to German territory, but close enough for surprises.  He wanted to make sure their positions were as covert as possible.  Not much happened at night out here because the desert became as black as ebony.  Even the smallest flame could be seen for miles.  There were also Arab tribes to worry about as well as German convoys and reconnaissance.

There was wild life too.  Snakes and lizards and some pretty dangerous insects and spiders were common in this area.  Not to mention fenix who were notorious for sneaking into camps and stealing food.  Tully kept all this to himself.  He didn’t want to frighten his charges.  There was no need for that.

“So.” Addie said. “Tell us more about that time you were stranded in the desert and you stole the German half-track.”

“That wasn’t the first half-track we’ve stolen and it won’t be the last.”

“Well, go on.  Let’s here the whole story,” Pete urged.

“Do you really want to hear it?”

“Tuuullllly,” Addie scoffed.  She peeked at him from under her fringe of sable hair.

“Well, we intercepted a German courier and as we were checking out what he was carrying, Dietrich came up behind us and blasted the jeeps.  My gun jammed so I went up to the fifties and they blasted me.  That’s about it.”

“What about the stranded part?”

“You want to hear all of that?” Tully asked.

“You said later.  It’s later,” Addie pushed.
 
Pete’s eyes were wide and waiting.

“I went flying off the jeep into the sand and I just sat there dazed.  Then there was another shell that sideswiped Troy.  Both the jeeps were destroyed so Moffitt grabbed me and we ran for cover behind a dune.”

“Before you go any farther.  Who’s Dietrich?”

“He’s the German captain we’re always running into.  We’ve had more fights with him than anyone.”

“Okay.  Go on.”

Tully shoveled another fork full of beans into his mouth, chased it with a bite of bread, chewed and swallowed.  He wiped his lips with his knuckle and continued his story.

“So then we hear Dietrich over a megaphone telling us to give up and we’re wondering why he’s not coming after us.  So Moffitt says he thinks it’s because Dietrich wants what we got from the courier and if he comes after us we’ll destroy it.”

“What was it you got from the courier?”

“They were ancient Arab maps of waterholes.”

“Really?”

“Yep.”

“Wow.”  Addie sounded in awe.

“So after Dietrich backs off we go back to the jeeps to see if we can salvage anything.”

“And . . .” Pete inquired mesmerized.

“Nothing was left.  Just a half a canteen of water and some rubber from the tires.”

“So what did you do?”

“Well, Hitch bandaged my arm.  It hurt like hell.  My head felt like an anvil with someone pounding horseshoes on it.  Then Moffitt said we should follow the Arab maps and find the water.”

“On foot?  You weren’t in any shape to do that, were you?”

“Well, we didn’t have much choice.  It was either that or surrender and we’ll never surrender,” Tully said defiantly.

“How far was it to the waterhole?”

“Far.”

“How far?”

“We walked that whole day.  We were sun burnt and as dry as dust.  And then when we got there the waterhole had been poisoned and Dietrich was waiting for us.”

“Did Dietrich poison the water?”
“I don’t think so.  When you live in the desert water becomes . . . precious.  I don’t think Dietrich would poison something he could use.” The private paused a moment to contemplate. “Dietrich wanted a powwow with Troy so they met.”

“And . . .”

“Well, I’d told Troy before that I could knock the eyes out of a quail from fifty paces with my sling shot.  So Troy made me a sling shot.”

“Out of what?”

“The rubber I saved from the jeep wreck.  We used my boot lace to tie the rubber to the stick, and then Troy and I went up the hill behind Dietrich’s men.  It was hard because my arm was killing me and I couldn’t hold it properly.  So Troy helped me hold it. We aimed it at one of the soldiers who was eating lunch beside one of the half tracks.  But when we got the sling shot cocked I had to stop.”

“Why?”  Addie and Pete were on the edge of their seats.

“Because I had to hit him in the head and he was wearing his helmet.”

“Shit!”

“Damn right, shit . . . sorry, Ma’am,” Tully apologized for cursing in front of a lady.

“Forget it.  So how did you get the guy?”  She placed his hand on his knee for effect.  Tully’s heart skipped a beat when she did.

“Troy reflected the sun off my bayonet and got the guys attention and he looked over and I got him right between the eyes.”

“Wow!” Pete said.

“We stole the half track picked up Hitch and Moffitt and drove back to base.”

“What a great story!  What happened when you got back to base?”

“Well, I was feeling pretty bad.  I spent the next week and a half in the hospital.  I had a concussion as well as exposure, sunstroke and dehydration.  My arm was a little infected.  I’ve never felt that awful.  The other guys needed to be treated for sunstroke and dehydration too.  But we were back out on reconn in a couple of weeks.”

“Your unit doesn’t give up easily, do they?” Addie said shaking her head in amazement as she finally removed her hand from Tully’s knee.

“Nope.”  Tully kept eating as he shook his head.

“When did this happen?”

“Ohhh . . . about three months ago now.”

“Well, that’s really something.”

Tully nodded like it was just another day at the office and piled the rest of the beans into his mouth, smacked his lips and wiped his hands on his pants. 

“Well, you should bed down.  Dawn comes early,” Tully suggested.

“Good idea and thanks for being so . . . understanding about this whole thing.  I know you would rather be with your unit than babysitting civilians.”

“I needed the break,” Tully reassured her.  “I’ll take first watch.”

He picked up his mess kit and cleaned it in the sand.  Pete and Addie took his example and did the same, and they said quiet good nights to one another.  Tully picked up his rifle and settled, sitting upright against the tire of the jeep.  Pete and Addie went to bed. 

Addie was very tired but had to make her final notes of the day.  She reached for her pad and pencil and scribbled the stories Tully had told her that day.  Addie jotted down every detail about the loud speakers and the stranded Rats and Dietrich and even the food they’d bought in the Arab villages.  Everything was important.  It took her quite some time to get it all down and she was finding it hard to keep her eyes open.  She finally succumbed to the darkness and to the comfort of sleep.

After waking Pete to take over for guard duty at 2 a.m., Tully’s head just had to hit the pillow and he fell fast asleep.  It was this particular talent that impressed the other members of the Rat Patrol time-after-time.  They envied his gift for grabbing zees in just about any situation.  He took every opportunity to sleep and Addie noticed it too. 

+++++++

Tully stood atop a powder white dune.  The Sahara in the morning was his favorite time of day.  Dawn out here was especially pretty.  Tully had never witnessed such vivid colors and he appreciated it.  He scanned the desert with his field glasses. All was clear. 

The smell of bittersweet coffee wafted over his head like the aroma of a beautiful woman.  It was 06:43 and as Tully made his way down the face of the sandy mound, he saw Addie crouched over the fire preparing breakfast.  It seemed she had a stash of her own.  Tully thought he could smell bacon.  Was he dreaming? He approached her – his nose seemingly leading him.

“Is . . . is that bacon?” He asked curiously.

“It’s bacon all right.”

“Where . . . where did you get bacon?”

“I have my sources,” Addie smirked.  She was glad Tully was pleased. 

Who was this woman? He thought.  One had to have pretty good connections to pull off this LIFE magazine thing, not to mention possess something as precious as bacon.

He walked over to the flame and looked into the pan astonished.  Pete was there too.  It was nothing special to him.  He’d had a full breakfast of home fries, hotcakes and maple syrup not a week ago back home. 

“I can’t remember the last time I had bacon,” Tully said still astonished.

“Well, if you like it that much I’ll cook you extra.”

“Thanks.”

“It won’t keep without refrigeration anyway so sit and enjoy.”

He did and he did. 

“What is it you miss most about home, Tully?”  Addie sat and watched him devour the tasty strips with delight. 

“The thing I miss the most?”

“Yeah.  What will be the first thing you’ll do as soon as you get home?”

“Well, you’re gonna think this is funny but I really miss milk.”

“Milk?”

“A glass of fresh, cold milk,” Tully reiterated. 

“That seems so . . . trivial.” Addie expressed with a shrug.

“I haven’t had that since January, 1942.  A glass of milk along with a big slab of my mom’s chocolate cake . . . nothing better.”

“You’re funny,” Addie giggled.

“No I’m not.  You asked me!” Tully lashed back playfully.

“I know.  But, I thought I’d hear something like visit friends and family or walk your dog, or, I don’t know, see a movie.”

“I miss those things, too.  I just really miss milk.”

“Okay.  Milk it is.”

“What do you mean?”

“You’ll see.”

Now she’s going to come up with a glass of frosty cold milk?  Who did she think she was—General Eisenhower?  Tully polished off the rest of the bacon and washed it down with his coffee.  He stood and began his morning routine of checking the jeep and supplies.  He checked the radio too, but couldn’t raise anything, so he rescoped the antenna into place.  Pete had wandered off about fifty yards photographing who knows what, when Tully called him over. 

“Pete!  Let’s go!” He shouted.

Addie had already cleaned up the morning meal and was on her way to the jeep.  She saw Tully raise his head and look over his shoulder toward the hills of sand in quiet alarm.  She felt her heart skip a beat.  The private had sensed something and she feared it wasn’t good.  Addie started to say something when Tully told her to be quiet.  She stopped in her tracks.  He grabbed his rifle out of its holster like an Arabian Knight drawing his sword from its scabbard.  He turned to face the dunes.  His ears were pricked to a sound in the distance.  Addie heard it too. 

“What is that?” She asked.

“Shhhh!!” Tully retorted.

“But . . .”

The whistle over their heads seemed to last forever.  Then silence.

GET DOWN!!” Tully yelled.

The shell landed about twenty yards from Pete and it sent him head over heals. 

“Addie!  Run to those rocks and don’t look back.  RUN!!” Tully ordered.

She didn’t stop to ask questions but made a beeline for the rocks just as Tully had told her.  The plates she carried floated in space for a moment before they fell, splashing the sand when they landed.  Her heart pounded, and her lungs gasped for air as she went.  It felt like her legs were suspending her across the sand like she was floating.  Her adrenaline overflowed.  Two more explosions burst behind her but she did not allow them to faze her.  Her focus were the cover of rocks ahead.

Addie let out screams of terror before reaching cover behind a boulder at the base of the rocky incline.  She peered around the stone to see Pete racing toward her, his camera bouncing on their straps.  Tully had given him the order too after he saw Pete back on his feet.  The young man had blood steaming down his face and it sent Addie into hysterics.  Tears welled up in her eyes. Fear engulfed her. 

The blasts created a fog of dust.  She could not see Tully and could barely make out the hazy silhouette of the jeep.  She could not see where the shelling was coming from either.  There was more artillery fire and one hit the jeep directly sending it 20 feet in the air.  When it hit the ground the gas tanks exploded and both Pete and Addie ducked for cover.  The blast made their insides rumble.  Pete snapped the shutter of his camera wildly.

“Tully!!” Addie shouted over the noise of battle.  “Tully!” She cried again.

Nothing.  The barrage seemed to last for hours.  One more blast for good measure and Addie held her hand against her face with her palm facing out on the fracas.  She peeked up to witness the powerful figure of a soldier racing at her out of the cloud of sand. It was Tully, in one piece without a scratch.  Addie breathed a sign of relief and prayed that he would make it all the way to cover without being hit.

She watched him, as he seemed to move in slow motion.  There were bullets and shells bursting all around him.  He carried his rifle in his right hand and was bent over as he ran dodging the fragments, artillery and debris as he ran.  The straps of his helmet slapped his face and he gritted his teeth in concentration, totally focused on reaching the shelter of the rocks.
He threw himself behind the boulder then twisted around to peer past the edge of it.  Addie clung to Tully’s squared shoulders.  He pushed her and Pete back with his arm like a mother protecting her young.  They were all breathing hard with their hearts beating like drums in their throats. 

“What’s happening?  Who are they?” Addie asked as quietly as she could.

“Wait,” Tully replied hoping they would pass.

There were five Panzers, three half-tracks and four armored cars.  This was a large convoy.  Tully was surprised and puzzled.  Where did they come from?  Were they reconnaissance?  No.  This was too large a column for reconn.  The Private stayed focused on the intruders hoping the settling sand and debris would disguise their tracks. 

So far, so good.  The vehicles stopped and stood calmly as their engines rumbled in the idle position.  They were like a herd of bull elephants waiting to charge.  A German soldier pulled out his field glasses and scanned the wreckage for survivors.  Pete photographed him. 

“Get down!” Tully hissed at Pete being an opportunist and risking being sighted.  Pete obeyed.

There was no movement from the convoy. Tully ducked behind the rock and put his finger to his lips.  They could hear the convoy resonant for what seemed an eternity.  The column remained stationary. Tully, Addie and Pete held their collective breaths.

The German captain stood atop the lead half-track like a lion on a rock overlooking his territory.  His face was hidden by the field glasses he held to his eyes.  A soldier stood on the ground looking up at his commanding officer ready for any order.

“Sollen wir sie suchen?” The young German soldier asked.

There was a long pause as the Captain continued to scan.

“Nein. Wenn sie noch am lebeu sind, dann nier noch für kurze zeit.”  He gave the scene one last look and signaled the column to move on. 

+++++

“One of the water cans is still intact!” Pete yelled over to Tully as the troop scavenged the wreckage for anything that might get them through the next couple of days and the long walk back to base. 

“There’s some food here too,” he continued.

“Well, bring it on over.”

“Who were they Tully?” Addie asked breathlessly.

“Germans!”

“Well, I know that.  But, you said we weren’t in German territory yet.”

“It changes everyday.  I’m afraid they’ve pushed through the Fifth and if they have we’ve got to get word to HQ.”

“Is the radio working?”

“Don’t know yet.”

Tully dropped to his knees with a thump beside the overturned jeep.  He started digging to rescue the radio.  Pete helped, too, and after struggling to clear the sand, they managed to pull it to safety.  Tully sat back on his heels and dusted it off. He blew the remainder of the grit away.  He rubbed his hands together as if rummaging up some magic and proceeded to pull up the antenna.  He fiddled with the knobs and was getting power but could not find a frequency to come in clearly.  He could hear messages being sent back and forth but couldn’t yet send anything. 

“I think I can fix it,” he said as he changed his position to a more serious cross-legged one.  “You and Pete try and find something to put the supplies on.  You know, like a sled we can pull instead of carry,” Tully ordered.

“I’m going to patch up Pete’s head first,” Addie insisted.

“What do you mean?” Pete asked her.

“Your head—it’s bleeding.”

“Is it?” he said as he reached up to feel the blood oozing from his hairline.

“Sit down here and I’ll bandage it for you.”

“Thanks,” Pete whispered astonished that he didn’t notice his wound.

Addie ripped the sleeve off of her shirt from the shoulder and put it aside.  It was fairly clean.  Then she untied the bandana from around her neck and sprinkled it with a few sparing drops of water.  She first wiped his face and then placed the cloth firmly on the gash, which was superficial but deep.  She held it there patiently for several minutes until the bleeding stopped.  She checked it carefully for any fragments or dirt and neatly tied the shirtsleeve around his head.  Addie placed both hands on Pete’s shoulders and looked him in the eyes.

“There you go!  It’s not too bad.  Does it hurt?”

“No.  Not at all!”

“Good.  Now let’s get to work and see what we can salvage.”

“Well, this camera’s still okay.  The other one is toast but this one—tough as nails.”

Addie laughed and Pete chuckled too as they resumed their task of supply hunting.  The radio squealed in the background as they searched and Addie was impressed by Tully’s patience and mechanical know how. 

“Anything?” She shouted over to him.

“It’s coming . . . it’s coming.”

Pete took a photo of the wreckage and then joined Addie in the rummaging. 

+++++

“Red Dog, this is Baby Bear.  Come in, Red Dog,” Tully urged.  “Red Dog.  Come in, Red Dog.”
 
He played with the frequency knobs as he broadcast. 

“This is Baby Bear, do you read me Red Dog?”  The soldier then waited patiently.  The desert was silent and then broken abruptly by the familiar sound of a man with a British accent. 

“This is Red Dog.  We read you, Baby Bear.  Over,” came the faint response. 

Tully sat up straight and pulled himself into a kneeling position.  He was surprise that he was able to reach base camp and not confidant that the signal would last. 

“Alert.  The Germans have pushed through the Fifth.  Repeat the Germans have pushed through.  We’ve been attacked.  Do you read Red Dog?  Over,” Tully said firmly.

“Alert confirmed, Baby Bear.  What are . . . your . . .” The radio fizzled.  Tully lost contact but tried to regain communication.

“Red Dog?  Red Dog.  Come in.” He shouted as he sat back on his heels realizing that that was all the bashed radio was going to give.  He looked over at his two charges that had stopped their treasure hunt when they heard the radio break through.  They stood as still as sand castles listening to the drama unfold.  Their faces were scrunched forcing out the blazing sun with their mouths slightly open.  Their lips were so dry they looked like chalk.

Tully let his hand rest on his knee.  He was still holding the microphone, pumping it as if trying to give it life.  His head dropped from between his shoulders and it bobbed there like a fish floater on the surface of the water.  Addie could hear him swearing under the shelter of his helmet.

Tully was suddenly aware of the task he now faced.  He was a seasoned Desert Rat and was prepared for what lay ahead.  But could Pete and Addie do it?  Could they make the trek back to base with nothing more then all the will they could muster and the shirt on their backs?  He had to stay strong and keep his companions from panicking. 

He immediately shook off his feeling of frustration.  The radio crashed before he could tell HQ where they were.  They had a basic idea, but needed exact coordinates to find them.  Tully knew that.  He had to give Addie and Pete assurance that he was okay and in charge and knew what he was doing.

Tully stood up and placed his hands on his hips.  He was still looking at the radio as if it had just insulted him.  He shook his head and gave it a mild kick.  Pete and Addie had joined him and they all stood around the transistor like they were at its funeral.  When the threesome finally came to terms with its death and being stranded in the middle of the Sahara Desert with no contact with the allies, Addie broke the moment of silence.

“Should we say a prayer?”

Tully looked over at her warmly and put his arm around her shoulder and kissed her forehead.  Addie in turn placed her hand on his chest. 


“We’ll be okay,” he affirmed, then paused.  “Let’s see what you’ve found.”  He tried to sound up beat.

The list of supplies was short but useful.  The can of water was, of course, the biggest prize.  They also had the water bottles from their utility belts.  There were 7 tins of beans intact, a camera, and Tully’s weapons—rifle, bayonet and side arm.  He also had some additional ammunition.  Then he added some pieces that Addie and Pete would never consider important.  He grabbed some rubber from the ripped tires of the jeep like he had several months before, a three-inch-by-three-inch piece of glass from the broken windshield to use as a reflecting signal, some rope, and a few nuts and bolts for good measure. He slid them into his front pocket. 

They piled their meager treasure onto what was left of the hood of the jeep—a four by three-foot piece of scrap metal. Tully stomped on the front of it and pulled to curve it up so it would slide along the sand like a toboggan. They fastened all of the objects with the rope.

“Give me your belts,” Tully asked Addie and Pete as he lazily pointed to them.

They obliged immediately; and passed them to Tully who was, again, on his knees.  He hooked the two belts together into one long one and then attached it to the metal giving it a proper hand pull.

“Not bad for a Kentucky boy, eh?” Tully boasted as he tried to make light of the situation.

“It’s great!” Pete smiled playing along with Tully for Addie’s sake. She seemed the most worried.  Her tough shell was starting to crack.

“Are we ready?” Tully asked them.

“As ready as we’ll ever be I guess,” Addie replied.

“Let’s go.”

As they began their journey, Tully coached his comrades in the art of surviving this desolate place.

“Always keep you head covered.  We’ll ration the water and food cause I’m not sure how long we’ll be out here.  Pete and I will take turns pulling the sled.”

“What about me?  I can pull it too!” Addie protested.

“Look Addie.  I’m the captain of this ship and what I say goes.  Understood?” Tully retorted firmly. 

He heard Troy in his tone and it shocked him.  It was at that point that Tully realized how much he appreciated and respected Troy and how the burden of being responsible for the lives of his charges was heavy.  Addie looked at Tully with admiration and understood.  The Private was their lifeline and following him, without doubt, would probably save their lives.

“Yes, Sir,” she said respectfully.

“They are looking for us you know,” Tully told Addie with a calming tone.  “They pretty much know where we are, so don’t worry okay.  I won’t let anything happen to you.”

She smiled graciously at him. 
Pete took photos as they walked, Addie just looked straight ahead and Tully was on guard.  His senses were tweaked to his surroundings.  He would get them to safety.  He promised himself that.  The sun smoldered. 

++++++

“What do you mean they haven’t reported in yet?”

“Sergeant Troy.” Colonel Bracken began.  “What I am trying to tell you is that three days ago we got a transmission from your man Pettigrew warning us that Rommel had pushed through the Fifth.  This turned out to be true and we’ve been able to get the situation under control and send reinforcements to the front thanks to him.  Private Pettigrew is to be commended.”

“Yes sir.  I heard about the push.  So where are they?”

“We lost contact with them seconds after his broadcast and we never got his co-ordinates.  He said they’d been attacked.  We don’t know where they are?  We don’t know if they’ve been wounded.  What we do know is the course I set out for him five days ago.”

“We’re on our way, Sir.”

“Wait a minute.  Hang on.  Let’s think about this,” Colonel Bracken urged.

“What is there to think about, Sir?  Give me his course and I’ll find him . . . them,” Troy corrected himself.  His only concern was Tully but he knew that Bracken’s neck was on the line if the journalists were missing, injured or worse.

The colonel paused and realized that the remaining Rats were his only chance of rescuing the trio.  He rifled through his papers and found his orders from the briefing with Tully.  He picked it up and slapped it into Troy’s waiting hand.

“Get going,” Bracken conceded.

Troy did not respond verbally but gave a half-assed salute to his superior as he exited the tent.  He joined Moffitt and Hitch who lazed in their respective jeeps unaware of the daunting events. 

“What’s up, Sarge?” Hitch asked Troy after he’d burst and controlled a bubble gum balloon. 

“Gather round, you two.  You won’t believe this one.”

“Has Tully not yet arrived?” Moffitt inquired.

“They were attacked three days ago.”

“Well we gotta go get him, Sarge,” Hitch exclaimed as he sat straight up in his seat.

“That’s just what we are about to do.”

Troy placed the map on Moffitt’s jeep hood as he usually did for his spontaneous briefings.  He spread it out and held it down before the wind blew it away.  The breeze was not there when Troy entered the tent, but now all of a sudden it had picked up.  The desert was so unpredictable.
“Tully sent a radio transmission three days ago warning HQ about the Rommel push.”

“That was Tully’s alarm?”  Moffitt said proudly. “Good show!”

 “Yeah.  Problem is we don’t know where he was when he sent it.  This is the course he was supposed to take.  But, you know Tully and his short cuts.  He could be anywhere.”

“More bad news, Troy,” Moffitt interrupted.

“What?” he responded, wincing to hear what else could go wrong.

“I was just talking to Jay.  He and his men have just come in from patrol in this very area,” Moffitt pointed.

“And . . .”

“And . . . they returned early due to a sand storm.  A very severe one he said.”

“Shit.”  Hitch sunk his shoulders and let his head fall back as he shut his eyes tightly.

“Damn it!”  Troy spat.  He waited to think and placed his chin on his left shoulder and stared down to the end of the camp. 

“The way I see it, Troy, we have no choice.  We have to go after them sandstorm or not,” Moffitt deduced.

“Yeah, yeah,” Troy said thoughtfully going back over the situation in his head.  “He said that Rommel had pushed through the Fifth and then they lost contact.”

“Well, that’s it then!” Moffitt quipped brightly.

“That’s what?”

“Well, we know about the push and we know where the troops were sent to intercept.  So that is where we should start.  Don’t you think chaps?”

“Moffitt.  Sometimes you are so handy.”  Troy smiled sarcastically.

“Thank you.  I like to think of myself as handy.” Moffitt said grinning from ear to ear.

“Let’s shake it!”

+++++

It was Tully’s turn to pull the sled.  They were doing quite well he thought as they trudged over hard dried up sand.  The ground resembled the Salt Flats in Utah.

The past three days held no surprises, just miles and miles of desert that seemed to have no end.  Their supplies were dwindling but still sufficient.  The nights had been cold but Tully and Addie shared their body heat.  Addie asked to share Tully’s bed and he welcomed her.  Unfortunately for Pete, he was on his own to fend for himself in the quest for warmth. 

The days were as hot as a case iron skillet on high, but all in all Tully was satisfied with how far they’d come and was sure they would reach base camp by tomorrow evening.  Pete tripped over one of the cracks in the sand and swore. 

“Pick up you feet, Pete,” Tully laughed, recognizing his rhyme.

“I think we should take a rest and have a water break.” Addie suggested. “What do you say?”

“Sure thing.”  Tully took the hint that Pete needed some time.  All of them were exhausted. 

“Pete.  We’re going to take a break,” Addie announced with an appreciative smirk.

“Good.  My feet are killing me.  I don’t know how you guys walk around in these combat boots.  I’m used to my Keds.”

“Well, you just have to work them in is all,” Tully advised.

“They should be worked in by now.  I mean we must have walked a hundred miles!” Pete complained.

Addie, Tully and Pete sat in a circle around the sled.  There was no shelter in sight. Tully lay out on his side while holding his head up with his hand.  Addie sat cross-legged and Pete took his boots off and massaged his feet.  Tully pulled out his bayonet and poked a hole in one of the tins of beans.  He pried an opening and they dug in with two fingers each.  The water ration was distributed, as the threesome stayed silent, preserving strength for the next leg of their journey.

They would have fifteen minutes of peace and quiet.  Addie could hardly believe that, out there somewhere, a World War was going on.  She took in the Sahara and it’s power and beauty in awe of it all.  She examined the horizon to the east.  “Tully?”. But, there was no response as his favorite pastime took over - sleeping.

TULLY!” Addie said more forcefully to awaken him.

Tully sat straight up—on full alert.  He looked around, then right at her.  He didn’t seem startled just immediately awake.  “What!?”

“What do you suppose that is?”  She pointed east to a cloud of dust about seven stories high.  Pete looked over too but still continued to knead his feet. 

Tully, still a little out of focus from his luxurious cat nap, slowly twisted his body around to witness the biggest sand storm he’d ever seen approaching them at about sixty miles an hour.  He was on his feet in a matter of seconds. 

Addie wasn’t sure how he got in that position because he did it so fast. 

“Pile all this stuff as high as you can and put the sled in front of it like a shield.  Dig the sled in so it won’t blow over.  LET’S GO!” Tully ordered in a panic. “DIG!”

Pete and Addie immediately obeyed.  They’d learned over the past couple of days that Tully knew what he was doing and to do whatever he said right now and ask questions later.  There wasn’t much to put together but they did the best they could and propped the piece of jeep hood against the tins and water canteens.

“Addie I want you to lay down in a fetal position facing into the sled.  Pete spoon yourself around her and I’ll lie beside you.”

“But . . .”

“Do it!  Do it now!” Tully yelled as the winds from the storm hurled sand into their faces.  It was starting to swirl around them now and it was starting to get loud.  Pete waited for Addie to wiggle herself into position and then did as Tully asked and completely covered her.  Tully pulled his bandanna up around his face.  Only his eyes were visible between the brim of his helmet and the top of his make shift mask.  He would take the brunt of the storm.

Sand was whipping his face.  Tumbleweed attacked his legs and small stones smashed against his shins.  He took one last look at the storm and then threw himself around Pete and Addie and told them to hang on.  Within minutes they were engulfed by the storm.  The severity and violence of it took them by surprise.  Tully had survived many a sandstorm but none like this one.  It raged on and on until the sand buried them. 

+++++

“I see the storm up ahead, Sarge.”

“Yeah.  I see it too,” Troy yelled over the roar of the jeep engine that raged along at full throttle.  He pointed at it getting Moffitt’s attention.  He’d noticed too.  It was hard to miss.

“I hope they aren’t in the middle of that!” Hitch said.

“Me to, Hitch.  Me to.”

They chased the storm until they almost caught up with it and slowed down as not to race into the eye of it.  They sat in the jeeps watching it like a show of fireworks as it danced across the desert.  The jeeps idled impatiently, like they were waiting to rescue their old friend. 

Moffitt took the opportunity to pull out the map again.  He left the driver seat and carried it over to Troy.

“There last transmission had to come no more than a three square mile area from right here,” Moffitt described, circling the familiar territory with his little finger.  “With three days of walking, assuming all of them are well enough to travel, they should be right . . . about . . . here,” Moffitt finally deduced. 

“That’s not far from where we are right now, is it?” Troy asked looking back at the tail end of the storm.

“No.  It’s not.  I know Tully and I know what route he would take back to base.  They should be right where . . . the storm is . . . right now.”  Moffitt realized what he’d said and was afraid for Tully and his comrades and what they were going through right at the moment he said it.  Hitch, Moffitt and Troy stood in silence waiting for the sandstorm to end.  They were all thinking the same thing.  Could they survive?  Did they survive?

++++++

The storm past over them like a tornado.  The trio gripped each other to anchor themselves.  It wasn’t long before the dark veil of sand blanketed over them.  They lay there like a human boulder until it passed over.  Finally, the pounding of the grit and the thunderous noise subsided.  They stayed in position a little while longer to be sure it was all over.  Pete was the first to try and move.  He found it difficult because of the tremendous amount of sand that had collected over top of them.  He was surprised, too, that Tully wasn’t moving. 

Pete twisted and turned to free himself from the tomb but Tully was no help.  Addie started to stir too, and together they pushed upwards to emerge into the bright sunlight.  Tully slid down the small dune with his arms out stretched and his belly facing the sun.  He was unconscious. 

Addie crawled over to him and pulled the mask from his face.  He was breathing but was injured as blood made a tiny river from his back to the bottom of the sand hill. 

“Tully?”  Addie touched his shoulders yet again.  “Help me turn him over, Pete.”

When they exposed his back they were shocked to see a large piece of shrapnel sticking up underneath his ribcage.  It had obviously traveled with the storm and found it’s resting place in Tully’s flesh.  Addie pulled it out and blood gushed out with it.  She took Tully’s bandanna and shoved it into the gapping wound. 

“Hold this here as firmly as possible,” Addie instructed Pete.  “I’ll get some water.”

She scrambled to search for the bottles that had been strewn about by the storm. She managed to unearth one. By the time she returned to the scene, Tully had regained consciousness and was trying to sit up.

“No.  Lie down, Tully.  You’re hurt.”

“I . . . I am.  Are you two all right?”

“Yes we’re fine thanks to you.  Now lie still so I can tend to this wound.”  Addie smiled pleasantly down at him shielding his face from the sun.  She brushed the sand from his face.

“What’s that sound?” Tully shouted as he sat up.  “Take cover!!  Take cover!”

Despite his injury, he again moved his charges under the jeep hood to protect them.  He heard engines in the distance and wasn’t sure what they were.  He thought it could be Germans and wasn’t taking any chances.  When he had Addie and Pete safely back in their scant cocoon, he peeked up and over the hood. 

“It’s okay.  It’s my unit.  Thank God.  It’s my . . .”  Tully could not finish his sentence.  As the blood continued to ooze from his side, his legs gave out from beneath him as his body returned to the sand with a thud.

Addie and Pete sprang to their feet to flag down the Rat Patrol.  Troy had already seen them.  Within minutes Troy, Hitch and Moffitt pulled up beside them and were out of their jeeps.

“Are you all right, Miss?” Moffitt asked as he approached Addie.  His voice was still effected by his head cold.

“Yes.  Yes.  But Tully.  He’s . . . he’s been hurt.”

Hitch was already at Tully’s side administering aid.  Troy was there too. 

“Is he all right, Troy?” Moffitt yelled as he checked on the photographer.

“He’s loosing a lot of blood.  Let’s get him back to base,” Troy ordered with urgency.

Troy, a small man with surprising power, lifted Tully and gently placed him in the back of Moffitt’s jeep.  The British sergeant had already taken the driver’s position.  Tully lay there, crumpled into the small space, out cold.  Addie took the seat beside Moffitt and looked around to tend to Tully.  Pete climbed in beside Hitch clutching his camera as Troy took his favorite perch on the spare tire.  He held onto the fifty for balance.  They sped off toward HQ leaving the make-shift sled and its contents behind.  It was history now.  It was a journey that Addie would never forget.  It was an experience that would change her life.

++++++

“How are you feeling today?”

Tully awoke to Adelaide’s soft kiss.  He gazed up at her sun burnt face and her smile.  She sat primly on the side of his cot.  Tully felt for the bandages that surrounded his torso then rested his hand on her thigh comfortably. 

“I’m good. I think,” he replied through the haze of anesthetic.

“Of course you are.”

Addie leaned over him and kissed him on the forehead.  It felt good.  It felt like home. 

“Weeeell, a kiss for the hero I see,” Moffitt said as he pushed his way into their private moment.  He blew his nose into his monogrammed handkerchief – his head cold still lingered. 

“Hey,” Hitch greeted his wounded friend.

“Am I glad to see you guys,” Tully sighed.

“I’m sure you are.” Moffitt agreed.

“Where’s Pete?” Tully asked as he tried to raise his head from the pillow to look around the first aide tent.  He couldn’t hold it there for very long.

“He’s fine.  He’s getting his gear together,” Troy said.

“Hi, Sarge.”

“Hi, yourself.”

“Pete and I are leaving today, Tully.” Addie said. “We’re on our way back to the States.  I only wish you could come with us.”

“Me, too.”

“I’ll give your mom a call and tell her you’re okay.”

“Thanks.”

“No, Tully.  It’s me who should be thanking you.  I came over here thinking this assignment was a cakewalk.  I thought I was so tough.”  Addie laughed at herself.  “I had no idea what you men were doing over here.  No idea at all and I’d like to thank you all for opening my eyes.  Thank you for allowing me into your world.”

Addie raised herself from the side of Tully’s bed and shook Troy’s, Moffitt’s and Hitch’s hands in turn.  She affectionately looked down at Tully.

“Another place or another time,” She said woefully.

Tully didn’t say anything.  He felt the same way.

“Call me sometime.  When you get home.  Okay?”

Tully remained silent but did give her a wink.

Addie leaned over Tully and kissed him passionately.  Her breast gently bushed his chest.  He slipped his fingers through her sable hair. 

She left the tent without looking back.  Tully watched her all the way.

A nurse approached Tully’s bed with a tray that held a frosty glass of milk and a slab of chocolate cake.  She placed it on Tully’s side table.

“This is from the lady.”

His unit hadn’t seen milk in months and was astonished at its presence.  The cake too, was a surprise.  Tully smiled, and propped himself up and downed the milk all at once.  Then he picked up the fork and began devouring the cake.

“Want some?” He asked the two sergeants and Hitch – his teeth covered with chocolate.

They declined knowing that this was a special gift.  It was a gift from Addie to her savior.  Tully devoured his treat and grinned with satisfaction as he sank back into his favorite pastime—sleep.

EPILOGUE (three months later)

“Tully!  You’ve got mail,” Hitch yelled to his buddy as he jogged toward him. 

Tully was tinkering under the hood with Moffitt and Troy watching him.  He stopped to watch Hitch approach as he waved a large envelope in the air wildly.

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah.  It’s Addie’s LIFE Magazine.  It’s got to be,” Hitch sputtered a little out of breath.

“Well.  Aren’t you going to open it?” Troy asked, anxious to see what was inside.

“I guess so,” Tully said sheepishly, afraid to see what was inside.

The envelope was tattered from the overseas trip it had taken.  Tully tore the flap and pulled out the magazine.  The Rat Patrol stared at it speechless. 

“Wooowwww!” Hitch gushed.


Tully flipped through the pages and stopped at Addie's article.  As he opened it he was surprised to see it filled with Pete’s candid photos of the soldiers in the camp, Tully working on his jeep and the wreckage they left behind in the desert.  There were stunning photos of the desert at night and beautiful sunrises. And, right beside that a tent full of wounded soldiers.  Tully was not aware of Pete taking these pictures.  He was impressed by his artistry and realized that he had under-estimated the young man.

Troy, Moffitt and Hitch stood around Tully in awe.  They looked over his shoulder and read the article.  It focused on the tough life of a Desert Rat instead of the combat story she had set out to write. 

“Tully.  You got another letter too,” Hitch said as he held it out for Tully to open.  It was addressed to “Private Tully Pettigrew—First Class”, but it had no return address on it.  Tully slipped the letter out of its enclosure and began to read it aloud.

Dear Private Pettigrew,

I cannot express the gratitude I have for you in returning my niece safely.

She has confided to me, in detail, your leadership and bravery under the most dire circumstances.  You are to be commended for your actions and you have my deepest appreciation. 

Yours truly,
General Omar Bradley

 

THE END



THE END


 
 
 

 

 
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