BRADDOCK TRAIN COIL FACTORY, UNDER THE RANKIN BRIDGE, BRADDOCK, PA MAY, 1974
He sat on the edge of the train loading platform by the tracks, roaking a Cigaretu. His dad sat next to him, lighting up a square.
“Dad, I don’t sleep anymore. I just think about Chicken. He was a beautiful man. He was ethereal, like a hippie cosmic dude. He didn’t belong in the Military. But he died like nothing, without a sound. Dead face down in the sh&t like the world thought him a piece of f*cking garbage. Dead, completely still, you know what it looks like, like the Angel of death stole his soul. One minute he was a human being, he was beautiful, the next… He died for nothing, so we could blow up a goddamned meaningless hamlet 10,000 miles away for bunch of politicians who don’t give a f%ck about anything. Life is sh&t, It’s meaningless sh%t. Please tell me what is the point?”
Martin’s Dad looked down at the tracks.
‘I wish I knew. If I knew I would tell you, it just takes time. You just have to wait it out.
They stuck around until the shift was over. It was 6AM. A stream of mill-workers went to the morning bar to catch a drink before they took the trolley home. Martin and his dad walked up the hill to their house. Baby sister was asleep on the couch. She was 14 now, a big girl, but she was still Martin’s baby. He lay on the couch next to her like when she was a little girl. He went to get up after a little while.
‘Stay here with me big brother. I waited up as long as I could for you to come home. Life is shit. I was afraid you would die in the war. I’m afraid to walk to school. I’m afraid of the world. Stay here with me.’
He wanted to get up and grab breakfast, but baby sister was so sad. She was the only girl in the family since Mom died. She was probably bewildered by everything. He wanted to protect her, maybe it was his turn and he owed her his time. Maybe they all had been selfish. Maybe it was her turn. She was right, who was watching out for her. She looked like mom and her voice sounded more and more like her every day. He wrapped his arms around her and they both fell asleep.
Dad woke them up. It was time for baby sister to go to school. He walked her up the hill, then the boy appeared, the one who had been bothering her every day. Martin grabbed the boy by the hair and violently picked him up and then slammed him full body into the concrete sidewalk without a single word. He leaned over the boy and put his lips right up against his ear as he twisted the boy’s arm until he screamed.
‘Shut the f*ck up. Not a single f*cking word. You know who I am and you know what I am. Take a look around the neighborhood. These are good civilized people. I am not. I am the f*cking devil himself come straight from hell. I will f*ck you and I will tear you apart piece by piece so your own mother won’t recognize you. I am a monster from your nightmares and you know in your heart that I will do exactly what I say. It’s been less than two years since I last killed anyone and I’m getting pretty f*cking antsy, so it might as well be you. See? Nobody can hear what I’m saying to you. To the cops, I’m a war hero and you are a little piece of sh*t. I will creep in your f*cking window at night and rip your f*cking c*ck off with my bare hands. I am death and I am terror. Take a look at my sister. It is the last time you will ever look at her or talk to her again. If you ever see her, remember this moment and run, don’t walk, the other way. If I find out otherwise, I will come for you in the night. Are you on my frequency?’
Martin left the boy on the sidewalk and Martin dutifully walked his sister to school every day for the rest of the month. Baby sister never saw the boy again.
28th Infantry Division “Keystone: Headquarters, WILTZ CASTLE, GRAND-DUCHY OF LUXEMBOURG, DECEMBER 16, 1944
General Cota walked around the encampment at edge of the river. He could smell the snow over the fields. His eyes were pinched from the cold wind. He could hear the German Artillery starting to walk in. He was running out of time. His own artillery was too far away. Strickland was off on the perimeter. His staff was getting ready to move West. If a General was taken alive it would be a monumental embarrassment. He grabbed whoever he could find.
“Master Sergeant, get over here.”
MSG Ben Lebensraum put down his binoculars. He didn’t look back.
“Who’s the rude bastard calling me?”
“Your Division Commander you a$$h0le!”
Lebensraum ran over and came to attention.
“You have a combat patch from the 27th Division, what the hell are you doing in Europe?”
“I got shot up and then reassigned, sir.”
“What do you do?”
“Combat Forward Observation NCO for the III Corps Artillery FSCOORD Team, Sir.”
“Have you led men in combat?”
“You bet your f*cking ass sir! I mean, yessir, for 16 months straight in the jungles, sir!”
” I need you to take a bunch of terrified REMF’s, get them together and get them to fight. I need you to organize a defense at the crossing site. Buy us whatever time you can. LTC Strickler is in charge, but I need you to hold this sector right down here.”
“Who have we got sir?”
“I’ve got the band, the mess section and some mechanics.”
“Reaaaaaaally…Sir. Okey dokey, I mean yessir. Roger, got it, WILCO. Where are they at?”
“I will take you to em. You will be the Senior NONCOM. The poor LT is a REPLDEPL, transportation officer, try to keep his head in the game.”
“Sir, my Major is with me too, he is a pretty good officer. Been with me since Normandy. We called US Navy fire at Juno. We will get your boys squared away and dug in. Any commo? Radio? Wire? Any instructions?”
General Cota looked the MSG in the eye.
“Hold at all costs.”
“Roger Sir, got it, got it. One question…Have we got any engineers?”
“I’ve got a team from DISCOM. I will get them to you. I have decided not to leave. I will make a stand here.”
“Sir, you need to get the fuck out of here, now. The propaganda value will be devastating for those shitty Krauts if you are captured or killed, plus you are the only General in Bradley’s command who has the slightest idea what the fuck he is doing. Sir, all the troops need you, there are a lot more spread around towns and woods to the rear of this position and they need you too. We will figure it out.”
“Lebensraum, we will meet again I think. Just listen to LTC Strickler, don’t be an asshole.”
“Sir, roger, got it, got it.”
Ben rendered the hand salute and he watched Cota ride away in the jeep. He respected Cota, he was a good man and the Army needed him.
“Major Smitty, sir, we need to figure something out quick. Anyone left up here is going to flat-out die. We need a retrograde plan. I figure with the 109th to the South and the 112th to the North or vice-versa, plus each regiment has some FA, the can hold without getting rolled. Channel the krauts right down the middle. 110th is pretty screwed though, but somebody has to slow these bastards down.”
“Ben, OK, we set up some positions here, have some trucks ready about a half-mile back. We hold the Hun at the river, then we have the engineers set some booby traps, then we run for the trucks and so on and so on as far back as we can go.”
“We can’t surrender Smitty, they will kill us all. So it’s fight and run every mile. I’ll get the Engineers ready. You go get the band and the cooks.”
The two men turned around, it was LTC Strickler.
“Sir.” They both saluted at once.
“Who are you folks?”
“We are with Corps Artillery FSCOORD section sir. I am Master Sergeant Ben Lebensraum and this is Major Joe Smith. But the FA can’t range over here. They’ve got the guns too far South or too far North. I’m sorry.”
“No worries, son. Maybe you can help. I need some senior people. Some adult company so to speak.”
“Sir, we’ve been in the game a long time.” Said Major Smith. “I was on the Border and I was in the Big One with the 42nd, so I know the score.”
LTC Strickler looked very animated. He roaked a Czech Cigaretu. The smell of the Cigaretu mixed in with the cold winter breeze from the river. He pointed to the river with his cigarette hand. “So you know the game then, boys. If you are up for a mission, there’s a ford down by the river. That’s going to be the first point of contact, the crossing area. I’m going to give you a squad of engineers. It’s all I can do, do your best.”
“Sir, we’ve got it covered.”
Strickler nodded, then he paced rapidly back up the path towards the castle. The two men walked to the water’s edge.
“Nice Major Smitty, nice. You jagged the Regimental Commander. Now we got the shit duty.”