June 2, 1942
“So what are they working on?” asked Vice Admiral Alden.
“Convoy action,” said Commander Adams. “Edna and Samson are the opposition force against Wayne. It’s going to be an all-day affair. I’ll join the opposition force if I can after handling afternoon traffic.”
“Sounds long. What’s the goal?”
“More detail on the combination of escort carriers with convoys with hunter-killer submarines. We’re trying to go from high-level simulation to where we might offer guidance on doctrine.”
“For all of us. Admiral, a comment.”
“How well do the Americans know what we’re doing here? And exactly who were they aiming for in that bombing at the Black Pearl?”
John Alden raised an eyebrow. “What are you suggesting?”
“Who’s the most critical member of our team?”
“I think that we’re all critical, Thomas.”
“Of course. Let me rephrase. If one of us had to die, who would you choose?”
“Myself, of course.”
“And you mean that, Admiral. You’re a good man. If I haven’t ever told you that, it’s because I had thought that you understood it. I doubt not for a moment that you would give your life without hesitation to save any of us. But let me rephrase—if only one of us could survive, and you had to make the decision before you yourself died, which of us would you choose?”
That gave John Alden pause.
“And, given that this is a hypothetical, I died delaying the situation long enough to give you that choice, not that I’m in any way whom you should choose.”
“Well, thank you. This makes this easier.”
“Only socially. I play a unique role here, but I’m not the most important person on this team.”
“You are unique, Thomas. And I mean that only in a good sense.”
“Thank you, Admiral. I chose not to die in order, instead, to try. Twice. But I’m not the most valuable person here.”
John Alden marveled at the stark reality of the casual phrase, “I chose not to die.” He could not imagine what Thomas B. Adams had endured, either from battle wounds or from narcotics withdrawal.
“Very well, Thomas, not you. It’s Wayne. He’s a miracle. He could run this office better than I could, given my rank. Wayne is the common thread of every one of our victories in the Pacific, from Oahu to Balikpapan. That’s why I brought him here.”
“Admiral, you are wrong,” said Commander Adams.
“The most valuable and critical member of this command is Channah Jewell. The Royal New England Navy lost Noah Watson, an irreplaceable asset, without turnover. Edna had an idea of what he had done, and she knew where the notes were. From that, Channah reconstructed all of the modeling, and, with her exceptional skill at mathematics, she made it an order of magnitude better. She is solely responsible for what became victory at Palembang, as naïve as she was at that time regarding strategy and tactics. She is more important now, and completely irreplaceable. Wayne Crandlemire is the most brilliant officer in the New England Royal Navy, ourselves obviously included. Other, two or three or ten or twelve in tandem, could do what he does. Were Channah Jewell to perish, this command would cease to function.”
John Alden said nothing.
A knock came on the door to the inner office. “Admiral, you have a telephone call,” said Chief McGuire.
“Take a message,” said Vice Admiral Alden.
“It’s John Shaw,” said Chief McGuire.
Commander Adams and Vice Admiral Alden looked at each other. Both knew that inpatients at Nahant had no telephone privileges.
“Put him through,” answered John Alden.
“I can’t imagine…” began Thomas B. Adams.
The telephone rang. John Alden picked it up. “Good morning, Vice Admiral Alden,” he said.
“John, it’s me! John Shaw! John, the Americans bombed Nahant last night!”
“They bombed Nahant! One heavy bomber, a single string, and three hit the island! But John, it was an American bomber, I know!”
“I’m sure! John, how are you doing?”
The line went dead to tone.
“You can’t ask that. He’s an inpatient.”
“I just realized that.”
“What did he say, Admiral?”
“The Americans bombed Nahant. One heavy bomber, a single string, and three hit the island.”
“Why would the Americans bomb Nahant?”
“Because they missed. They were bombing Boston.”
“But they don’t have the fuel to do this.”
“They can make the fuel for one bomber a night.”
“And what good does that do?” asked Commander Adams.
“It distracts us, for one thing!” said Vice Admiral Alden.
“Exactly. Harassment bombing has been practiced in Europe for years now.”
“But we have the best British night fighters.”
“And we’ll put them up now. But it’s not easy finding a single night bomber.”
“I suppose you’re right, Sir,” said Commander Adams.
“Admiral, Commander,” said Petty Officer Chiang.
“Yes, John,” said Vice Admiral Alden.
“You have not yet had breakfast. I have three miniature omelets for each of you, Vermont cheddar with bacon, gorgonzola with ham, and lobster mozzarella, with a buttered English biscuit and fresh-brewed coffee. Please, take a break, and enjoy.”
“Thank you, John, we could use breakfast. Lobster, you say?”
“As one of three flavors, with mozzarella cheese to mellow the taste.”
“Admiral, do you like your lobster with drawn butter?” asked Commander Adams.
“Well, of course. That’s how it’s served here in New England.”
“The cheese in the omelet serves the role of the butter.”
“Try it, Admiral. It is good!” offered Petty Officer Chiang.
“I would trust him, Admiral. John is a good young man,” said Commander Adams.
“Well, of course…” said Vice Admiral Alden, accepting the plate thrust before him upon his desk.
“The lobster omelet has flecks of red on its periphery.”
“Yes, Thomas, I can tell…”
“Just try it.”
Vice Admiral Alden had half of his very small lobster-mozzarella omelet. He chewed it and closed his eyes. He knew that it was the best bite of food he had ever tasted. For a moment, guiltily, without comment, and only to himself, he compared it to sex.
June 2, 1942
The position on the mountain was too high to allow rifle-length lines of sight. The Americans were advancing too fast to permit proper consolidation of position. A few mines had been tossed haphazardly on the shoulders of Jersey Mountain Road. Five teenaged boys and young men were lying down, concealed in the mountain scrub trees, ten to fifteen yards away. Thirty yards away, hidden at the start of the cutback, was Captain O’Brien with three machine pistols and six spare magazines.
Softly, August cried, lying beside him.
“I know, boy, they’re coming.” Captain O’Brien spoke in a barely-audible whisper that he knew that his dog could hear.
From mutual understanding, not trained word of command, the Doberman went silent.
A squad of American soldiers turned into the field of view. They were clearly the lead patrol. The point man was far too close to the main unit. They walked into the ambush area, the lead soldier still fifteen yards from Captain O’Brien.
The timing was perfect to confuse the Americans.
Captain O’Brien emptied a magazine through the blameless and surprised point man and into the remainder of his squad. He put down the machine pistol and picked up another. Some American started firing back more or less in his direction. The point man fell, kicking in involuntary post-mortem spasms. Captain O’Brien emptied another machine pistol magazine straight down the mountain road as the soldiers tried, faster or slower, to escape the bullets by diving away. On either side of the road young American men dove upon land mines, thus ending their lives. Those slower to try to escape were cut down upon the mountain road, cut by shrapnel from the mines, pierced by bullets as well. Guns opened up point-blank beside the road. In three seconds no Americans were left alive.
Captain O’Brien ran down to the scene of carnage. “Men!” he screamed.
“Yes, Sir,” said a fresh-faced young freckle-faced Christian man whose name he did not know.
“Leave the corpses! Lay mines five to ten yards downhill, both sides!”
“We only have six mines left!”
“So use them! Plant them! Then wait here, in cover! It won’t be long!”
The boys and the men went to work on the mines, establishing a new killing zone ten yards downhill from the first one, right behind a curve and a drop. Captain O’Brien moved to the dead bodies and harvested them for grenades. He passed one or two to each of his men, keeping as many for himself as he could fit on his belt.
His Boys Rifle was back in his truck. He picked up an American rifle, a Mauser design manufactured in New York State, and he gathered a few extra rounds of ammo. He saw that the American had a sheathed bayonet. He drew it and fixed it. He ejected his spent magazines and replaced them. He had one spare left for each machine pistol. His revolver was tucked against his chest.
“Men, take cover! What you’ve done has to be good enough! I’ll be downhill. Take cover behind these tarpaper shacks, and don’t fire in my direction. I’ll trigger the ambush. Use grenades liberally. They’ll bring more. Got it?”
“Yes, Sir,” murmured the boys. The men, more aware of the blood on their hands, were silent.
“Good! Cover!” barked Captain O’Brien. The young Scots-Irish men, not well-trained but, at least, trained, spread out along Jersey Mountain Road uphill of the handful of broken-down shacks. As he dashed north, downhill, for cover, he thought he heard something. Any troops this close would have heard the gunfire. Captain O’Brien chose a wet gully filled with blackberries and shrouded by half-dead pine limbs in which to hide. He slid into the ditch, August close beside him. The Doberman snuggled close beside him, sniffing the air. He poked Captain O’Brien in the cheek.
“I know,” said Captain O’Brien, in the sub-audible whisper he only used with August. “Many.”
It took three minutes for the Americans to come close. Captain O’Brien, flat in the gully, could not see them. He could hear their voices, ill-disciplined, on the road five yards away to his left. There were a lot of them. He was not accustomed to counting men by voices, but there were more than a patrol squad of different vocal sounds. They came to the narrow field of view offered by his ditch. They were too dense for a squad. It was probably a company, and maybe the lead elements of an entire battalion, of leg infantry.
Captain O’Brien realized that his chosen position, based upon ambush of a single squad, was untenable. He adjusted his plans based upon the assumption of a solid column of men to his left, trying, somehow, to find a chance for survival.
“Don’t worry, August. We’ve got this.”
The Doberman licked his cheek, once. He returned to sniffing the air.
“Hey! There’s a dead guy here!” shouted an American soldier.
Captain O’Brien staged four grenades in front of his face.
“Oh my God! It’s a whole @!%%!*% squad!” cried another American.
Captain O’Brien pulled the pin on the first grenade. He lobbed it to his left, where it would hit the road and roll downhill. He pulled the pins on the second and third grenades and did the same thing. He tossed the fourth onto the road ahead of him. Then he ducked into the mud for cover.
The middle of the American column—those at the turn of the road—almost simultaneously had their bodies ripped apart by steel. The four grenades all detonated within three seconds of each other.
The Scots-Irish irregulars opened up with machine pistols at the lead elements of the American formation.
Still hiding in his ditch, Captain O’Brien opened up with two machine pistols, one in each hand, straight uphill down the Jersey Mountain Road into the heart of the kill zone. Caught in crossfire, every soldier fell.
The two magazines were emptied in seconds. Above his head, Captain O’Brien felt a torrent of American bullets lopping limbs from the pine trees and chopping blackberry brambles to rain down upon his torso. He reloaded the two machine pistols. He had one magazine and one other machine pistol left. He held both up, firing blind, blasting the axis of the highway to his left. He ditched the guns. He broke cover with his last machine pistol. There were three American soldiers still alive close to him. The first one’s skull blew apart before he had realized that Captain O’Brien was visible. The second one’s heart and lungs were perforated by five bullets before he could bring up his Mauser. The third one almost had time to aim before a burst ripped from his thigh to his forehead.
Captain O’Brien dropped back into the gully. He grabbed two more grenades, and he hurled both of them as far downhill on the road as he could. He reloaded his last magazine. He realized, as he did it, that he had put mud into the action.
He dropped the machine pistol and picked up the American-built Mauser. The nearest American soldier was thirty yards away. He put a bullet through his lungs. He worked the bolt in a second. The next-nearest American soldier was seventy yards away, standing in the middle of the road, mouth-open astounded at what Captain O’Brien was doing. He took a bullet to the heart. Captain O’Brien worked the bolt action.
Leaving the mud-jammed machine pistol behind, Captain O’Brien, carrying the Mauser with three rounds remaining, yelled, “August, come!” as he fully broke cover and dashed uphill.
August barked, dashed ahead, ran behind, and followed Captain O’Brien through the killing zone of the ambush. It had worked. Everybody uphill of the officer and the dog had been killed.
“Follow me!” bellowed Captain O’Brien. “Get out of here!”
It was less than half a mile to Three Churches. He and his men had done what they could do. It was time to retreat.
June 2, 1942
“Congratulations, Sir, on your promotion to Major General,” said Colonel Paul Hutcheson.
“Thank you,” said Malcolm Little. His demeanor was brooding as he gazed out upon Bourbon Street on the terribly hot late spring day.
“We have concerns regarding our dispositions. Vicksburg and Memphis are vulnerable, defended by nothing but militia.”
“General Patton is better able to defend the Mississippi crossings with his First Armored Corps. Extending the Negro Army beyond Louisiana and the East Texas oil fields is unwise.”
“General, you are being ordered to extend your defensive line up the Mississippi River.”
“Colonel Hutcheson, I refuse that order as unwise for the Confederate States. If General Patton or President Long choose to come here to correct me, I shall order the greatest hospitality possible.”
“Yes, Major General Little. I ask you to reconsider your direction, given your orders from higher command.”
Malcolm Little sucked sweet tea from a straw on a balcony overlooking New Orleans. Given the swampy terrain of Louisiana, he could easily defend the last vital Confederate oil and the city where he rested, if he did not overextend his forces.
“Thank you, Colonel. I appreciate your guidance. But no, I shall not extend my forces to the north. Notify my chain of command of that decision.”
“Of course, Major General Little,” said Colonel
Hutcheson, bowing his head, but maintaining eye contact. The two men smiled.
Colonel Hutcheson departed to do his job. Major General Little looked out across the historic streets of New Orleans, streets he commanded under martial law, sipping sweet tea. It was good. It was right.
June 2, 1942
“Reverend, we must go!” demanded Captain O’Brien.
“But some of the families…” Reverend Welling began to say.
“No! We leave now!”
“No. We must go. If we remain, the Americans will kill the women and children. They already shelled the churches! Reverend, now! We go! I am starting my truck. I have no idea how far it can go, but it will go farther in first gear with the wagons. I have seven wounded children in the back of my truck. Do you want them to die?”
“No! No, of course not!”
“Then follow me. Do you believe I was sent by God?”
“Yes! Yes, I do!”
“Then this is Exodus! Follow me! I am taking these children to safety!”
Captain O’Brien shifted into gear. August sat on the bench seat close beside
him. In the truck bed a widow and a
teenaged girl tried to comfort seven wounded children.
The retreat from Three Churches had begun.