Free Sample – Chapters 1-2
Enjoy the first two chapters from My Honor Flight:
Copyright © 2012 Dan McCurrigan
All Rights Reserved
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 – Chartelli Deserted
Chapter 2 – The Card Game
Chapter 3 – Buzz Company Olympics
Chapter 4 – D-Day
Chapter 5 – Fight #2
Chapter 6 – The Lucky Scarf
Chapter 7 – Fresh Meat
Chapter 8 – The Sleepwalker
Chapter 9 – The Rescue
Chapter 10 – A New Holiday
Chapter 11 – The Chase
Chapter 12 – The Church
Chapter 13 – Liberation
Chapter 14 – The Chateau
Chapter 15 – Dissension
Chapter 16 – A Bad Day
Chapter 17 – Rage
Chapter 18 – Bloodbath
Chapter 19 – The Colonel
Chapter 20 – The Camp
A Letter to the Reader
Last year, my great-grandfather was invited on a flight to the World War II memorial in Washington D.C. They called it an Honor Flight. A local grocery chain sponsored the trip, and a family member was to escort each invitee. My father thought it would be a good idea if I accompanied my great-grandfather. I would soon be deploying to Afghanistan, and Dad said it might be a way for Pops to share some tips from his time as a soldier.
I didn’t know Pops very well before the trip. He was a nice old guy that made pleasant conversation and talked about the weather a lot. But during that trip, he shared stories from his tour of duty in World War II. I had no idea that such a gentle old man had been through so much.
These are his stories, as told by him.
Chapter 1 – Chartelli Deserted
Whenever you watch movies about the war, they make Europe look cold and colorless and dark. Seems like the studios like to show snow and tanks. And we had plenty of time like that. Totally miserable.
But in the fall of ’44, my company was in France. It was beautiful! It was early October, and still warm. The leaves had turned, and there was plenty of orange and yellow. I remember thinking that it felt like some Frenchie artist had painted the landscape. It was about that time that my good friend Oily Chartelli went AWOL. In the Army during the war, there wasn’t much worse a guy could do. It was desertion. And Captain Reynolds, our commanding officer, was pissed about it. He pulled me aside and said, “You’re that goddamn Chartelli’s buddy, aren’t ya?”
I snapped to attention. “Yes sir!” I said. “But I haven’t seen him, sir.”
He got right up in my face. His breath smelled like stale coffee and cigarettes. I’ll bet his nose was a quarter of an inch from mine. I felt a droplet of spit hit my lip as he chewed me out. “Well,” he said, “if you see him, you tell him that he better keep running. Because I’m going to kill the son of a bitch if I see him again.”
“No sir! I mean, yes sir!”
He just squinted at me and shook his head as if I were the village idiot. I chuckled inside as he walked away. How could I talk to Chartelli if he’d run away? But even though Cap didn’t make much sense with his threat, I understood where he was coming from. I’d been in Buzz Company for eight months. The company was assembled in England out of pieces from other companies, and we’d spent the last four months fighting our way across France. We had only each other. And if we weren’t there for each other, then we would all die. No matter how good a friend Oily was, I began to hate him for leaving us. And it was just stupid anyway. No matter how pretty the countryside was, there were krauts everywhere, so he would probably get captured or killed. I thought Oily was smarter than that.
Our mission was to protect a bridge. There was nothing else in the area—just a tiny unnamed village, with a church and some houses. The bridge was made of wood, not steel. I don’t think it could take much weight. But it crossed a pretty good-sized river. Now, the bridge couldn’t handle tanks, but it could handle cars of German couriers and commanders, and maybe light supply trucks. So our job was to secure that bridge and guard it from the krauts. The river was the enemy line, so it wasn’t hard getting to the bridge, but it would be hard to defend it.
Our company set up rotating shifts. We had groups on both sides of the bridge, and we would rotate around through four separate foxholes. There were foxholes on either side of the road, at either end of the bridge. No one liked being on the far side of the bridge. If the Germans attacked and we had to fall back, we had a long run back across the bridge, with no cover. There was a field just past the far side of the bridge. It was about seventy-five yards of open space from the bridge to the forest line. But the forest was thick, and we couldn’t see in there.
Cap was nervous about that forest, so he added another job to the rotation. We called it Shooting Gallery. When it was time for a team to leave the far-side foxholes and come back to our side, they had to walk the perimeter along the forest line. I tell you what. That was the scariest part of the whole rotation. Since we were in teams of four, the perimeter team would scatter out in single file. The idea was that if the krauts were in there and they shot one of us, the other three might have a chance of making it back to the foxhole. And the damn forest was alive with noise. As we startled squirrels and rabbits and birds, they’d jump around in there. Every time a branch moved or a twig rustled, we’d train our guns at it. So we were constantly waving our guns all over. But most of the time we couldn’t see the source of the noise. If there were krauts in there, we wouldn’t be able to see them. It would be real easy for them to pick off all four of us.
The day after Oily went AWOL, we had only three men in our foxhole team. It was me and Morelli and Paul Taylor from St. Louis. We called Morelli and Chartelli the twins. They weren’t related, but they were both Italians from New York City. They always made fun of my Midwestern accent. I never heard anyone else say that people from Michigan had an accent. Those two jokers could lay the New York lingo on real heavy. All this “bada bing” stuff. And they pulled pranks on everyone. I remember one night in our training camp in England, they caught a rooster and put it in a broom closet. They knew that Edwards was on patrol, and that he was scared of the dark. Well, that rooster was very unhappy, and was rattling around in the cleaning supplies. Poor Edwards was standing outside of the closet, with his gun pointed at the door. Just then Chartelli and Morelli hustled by and asked Edwards how it was going. They walked right up to the closet, saying something about needing a mop. Chartelli opened the door, and that rooster came BOLTING out of the closet, straight at Edwards! He fired about three shots, and actually missed the rooster with all three. Chartelli and Morelli dove for cover. They had no idea he would fire his weapon. They howled in laughter, laying there on the ground. Poor Edwards never heard the end of that. Scared by a chicken.
So the twins really liked to have a good time. But when there was a fight, they’d protect each other like brothers. And they wouldn’t protect just each other, but anyone in Buzz Company. So I liked having Morelli in the foxhole with me. I just wished Oily were there too.
Paul was a Negro. I never had any trouble with black folks. But back then, you know, that was twenty years before all the civil rights stuff happened. Growing up in Grand Ledge, I’d never seen a colored guy before basic training. The first time I saw a Negro, I couldn’t help but keep stealing glances. I didn’t know how I was supposed to act around them. Boy, was I stupid about them. But that didn’t last long. Once you get into battle, I don’t care what color you are, you’re going to fight to stay alive, and keep the guy next to you alive. Paul was a good friend of mine.
So Paul, Morelli, and me lay in the foxhole, peeking out and watching the forest line. It was boring as hell. The weather was perfect, probably in the seventies, and we all kept talking about taking the day off. We wanted to sit on the river’s shore. Maybe take a nap. Maybe get a bottle of wine and talk about girls, soak up the sun. Late in the afternoon, it was our turn to move to the far side of the bridge. We hated that shift because the sun was dropping, and the forest was to the west. So we couldn’t see much because we were looking into the sun. I pulled out a cigarette and asked Paul for a light. He reached out with a lighter, and just then one hell of a racket erupted. I saw a bullet hole appear in Paul’s helmet. He dropped.
Morelli and I dove to the bottom of the foxhole. The gunfire was a constant barrage of thunder—big guns! They had to be machine guns set up in the forest. We looked at each other, then I crawled over to Paul. His eyes were still open, staring at the sky. He was dead. I threw up.
Morelli and I couldn’t do anything. If we rose even a little above the foxhole, there would be a burst of machine gun fire. And we knew the other, far-side foxhole was in the same situation. We couldn’t look up to get a bead on the enemy. The rest of the company couldn’t help us, because they’d have to cross the bridge in the open. We were trapped.
We affixed our bayonets. We figured that the krauts were going to lay down cover fire and charge our foxholes to take them over, so they could advance on the bridge and the village. So we had six guys to hold off a force of unknown size.
After about a half hour, the gunfire subsided. The krauts were conserving their ammunition. But this gave us a chance to yell at the guys in the other foxhole.
“You see anything?” I yelled.
“We can’t see shit!” It was Kozlowski. “Every time we raise up to look, they shoot!”
“Same here! Be ready for a charge!”
“Why aren’t they throwing grenades at us?” asked Kozlowski.
“’Cause they’re idiots!” I said. We all laughed, but we were sitting ducks. The Germans had us pinned down in cages. All they had to do was throw some grenades in the foxholes, and they’d have this side of the bridge.
“We might make it out in the dark,” said Kozlowski.
“They won’t wait that long. Too risky. They’ll be coming soon,” I said.
“You think Cap’s going to get us any help?” asked Kozlowski.
“No. They can’t make it across the bridge.”
We went silent for quite a while.
“I got an idea,” said Morelli. “I think those assholes are low on ammo. If we prop a helmet up and move it around, maybe we can get ’em to waste shots.”
I nodded. It was a good idea. I started to unbuckle my helmet.
“Wait,” said Morelli. He stared at Paul. Then he kind of nodded toward him.
I paused. That didn’t seem right to me. Paul had just died, and it felt like we should honor his death by leaving him alone. Leave him out of the battle.
I shook my head. “That ain’t right.”
“Look, I don’t like it either,” said Morelli. “But we can’t bring Paul back. We need to use everything at our disposal. There’s just the two of us now.”
I slowly nodded. “I know. It just doesn’t feel right.”
Morelli started belly-crawling over to Paul. I put my hand on his shoulder. “I’ll do it,” I said.
I went over to Paul, and for a minute, I just stared into his eyes. I’d seen plenty of death already, but this was the first close friend I’d lost. I fought off tears, and carefully unbuckled his helmet. I didn’t know what I was going to find inside. I was hoping his whole head didn’t come apart in my hands when I removed the helmet. It didn’t. It was a clean shot, of a smaller caliber than the big machine guns.
I put his head down on the ground, real gentle. Then I took out a handkerchief, and covered his face. I scooped just a little bit of dirt up and put it on two of the corners, so the wind wouldn’t blow the cloth away. I turned to give the helmet and rifle to Morelli. He was sniffling and wiping tears away.
“Fucking bastards,” he muttered as he put the helmet on the butt of Paul’s rifle, and slowly raised it up.
Sure enough, every time he raised the helmet up, we’d hear that big old machine gun bang out a few rounds and the dirt around the foxhole would fly up in little clouds. We raised it up in different spots in the foxhole every couple of minutes for at least an hour.
Then we heard a new noise, and we froze. There was gunfire on the village side of the bridge! Buzz Company wouldn’t waste ammunition by shooting at the forest—it was out of range. That meant that the Germans were on the village side of the river. We were surrounded. I just lay in the dirt, holding my head in my hands. This was the end. I thought about Debbie back home, and how I’d never see her again. We were going to get married when I got back, and I was going to go to the university in Lansing. I was going to be a teacher. But now I was going to die in this hole, like some kind of animal trapped in its own nest.
“We’re screwed,” said Morelli.
“You see any way out of this?” he asked.
I thought for several minutes. “We could try for the river, try to swim downstream. But we ain’t doing that until we’re the last ones.”
Morelli nodded, his lips pursed tight. “We won’t be the last ones to die. We’ll probably be the first ones. I just wish we could fight, and not just sit here.”
I started to reply, “Maybe when it gets dark—”
We heard a grenade explode, followed a split-second later by another one. We waited. I was listening so hard that I wanted to close my eyes to really focus—I was trying to hear the kraut footsteps as they came. But I couldn’t close my eyes, in case a grenade flew into the foxhole. A couple minutes later, we flinched when the silence was broken by staccato automatic weapon fire from the woods. Morelli and I looked at each other, wide-eyed. The krauts were making their move! We lay in the bottom of the foxhole on our backs, facing the edge of the hole nearest the forest, our bayonets pointed up. We knew they’d be charging the foxholes or throwing in grenades, and this way we could try to either throw the grenades back, or shoot the krauts as they came in.
There was no more machine gun fire, and the fighting on the other side of the bridge was far enough away that it was really only background noise. With the adrenaline running through me, it was so quiet. I could hear my heartbeat pounding in my ears, and I had to keep reminding myself to loosen the grip on my rifle. The enemy could be five feet away and we wouldn’t know it. We waited maybe twenty minutes. I’m just guessing on that. It felt like hours, but if that was the case it would have been dark, and the light hadn’t changed much. Then we heard three bursts of rifle fire from the forest.
About a minute later, we heard someone. “Buzz Company! Hey, goombas! Forest is clear!”
It was Oily Chartelli’s voice!
We jumped up, and peered over the edge of the foxhole. Here came old Oily with his rifle on one shoulder, and two German rifles on the other. I had never been so happy to see that guy before. But our happiness was short-lived, because gunfire continued on the other side of the bridge. The New York twins and I ran over to the other foxhole. Kozlowski, Peters, Jones, and Duncan were all OK. Seven of us. That meant that twenty-seven guys from the platoon were on the other side.
“How do we help them out?” asked one of the guys.
“Hey, Oily, does that kraut machine gun still work?” I asked.
He looked at me and smiled. “GUNS, you mean. There was two of ’em. I don’t know. I just threw grenades at them. They might still work.”
We sent a pair of men to each gun. Me and Morelli went to one, Chartelli and Kozlowski went to the other, which turned out to be busted. The other guys stood guard, in case the Germans beat Buzz Company in the village and advanced over the bridge. Me and Morelli hauled our gun back to the foxhole. That son of a bitch was heavy! Oily and Kozlowski brought ammo boxes. We set the gun up so that we could shoot from the edge of the foxhole. That way if the Germans returned fire, they’d just kill one of us, and then another could take his place. The machine gun was heavy-caliber, and it had a good range. The trick was going to be finding and taking out Germans, because it was going to be dark real soon.
We talked for a few minutes, trying to figure out how to get the krauts out in the open. Oily came up with an idea, but it was risky as hell. If we could cross the river and come up on the other side’s banks, we could lay down rifle fire. The krauts might attack. Then we’d let them have it with the big gun.
We decided that four guys would cross the river, and three would stay on the big gun. The twins, Kozlowski, and I ran about a hundred yards upriver, then swam across. The current carried us down as we swam, and we came out right at the bridge. We crawled up to the bank’s edge and started shooting. Sure enough, we surprised the krauts. They split their fire between us and the village buildings. Once our guys on the machine gun saw the Germans’ gun flashes, they laid down suppression fire into the thicket of trees the krauts used for cover. Man, that was something. That big gun sent splinters and small branches flying, and then the rest of Buzz Company shot the Germans as they tried to get away. It took about fifteen minutes, then all went quiet. After about ten more minutes, we got up and called out. Pretty soon, all of Buzz Company gathered together by the bridge. Well, not all of Buzz Company. We’d lost three men—Paul, Gunderson, and Taft.
Cap Reynolds walked up to Chartelli, a big frown on his face. “Where the hell have you been?”
“Cap,” I said. “He saved our asses back there.”
Cap turned his frown toward me. “I want to hear it from him, not you.”
“Well, remember, I was chief cook and bottle washer yesterday,” Oily began. “We needed water, so last night I took a bucket down to get some at the river, around five o’clock. There was this Jerry on the other side of the river.” Oily referred to Germans as Jerries, like the British. He was the only one in Buzz Company who called them that. To the rest of us, they were krauts.
“I thought about taking him out. I laid down on the ground and put him in my sights, but then I thought, ‘Wait a minute, where there’s one Jerry, there are more!’ So after he traipsed back into the woods, I ran like hell over the bridge and to the woods. I thought if I could catch up and spy on him, we’d know exactly where they were.”
“So what happened?” asked Morelli.
“I’m gettin’ there!” said Oily, all agitated. “Just calm down and let me tell the story, will ya? So I come up to the woods, and I’m lookin’ all over the place for where that damned Jerry disappeared. I only had probably thirty rounds of ammo on me, plus my pistol. So I was real quiet, crouched in the weeds. I couldn’t see shit for a trail. I don’t believe for a second those Indians in the movies can track someone. I was probably ten minutes behind this guy, and there was no footprints, no bent twigs or grass, nuthin’. So’s I just started crawling and looking, right? I was bein’ really quiet. And I was getting lower and lower, and the brush was getting higher and higher. I’m laying there, scratching my head. How in the hell CAN’T I see this guy? Then, I hear a twig snap. But it was behind me!” Chartelli slapped his forehead.
“I’m thinking, ‘Jesus! I passed him!’ I’m thinking, ‘How in the hell did I walk right past him?’ But then I hear voices. There’s TWO krauts, not one. So I move under some heavy brush. Man, that’s some nasty stuff in there. All pokey. Look at this!” He held up his right hand, which was raw with fresh scratches from thorny weeds.
“I’m still picking thorns out of my clothes. So I just laid down there for a long time—that whole night. Man, I was getting fed up with it. They were walking all around me. I couldn’t tell how many of them were there. Maybe ten? I had some chocolate on me, but that’s it. And no water. So by the end of the night, I was gettin’ real uncomfortable.”
“So, I’m getting pretty pissed off by then, you know? ’Cause I know old Cap here is going to be chewing my ass hard for not being in camp.” Cap shook his head and smirked. “So once it got a little bit of daylight, and I got hungrier, I got a little more brave and started to move around the area. I had to be real quiet—super quiet, man. Because there was Jerries on patrol. Hell, they were only ten feet away some of the time. But as I was crawling around under that brush, I saw them setting up them two big guns. I knew you guys were screwed. I didn’t know if I should try to weasel out of there, or if I should hunker down and help from the inside.”
“But them fucking Jerries wouldn’t stop moving around! They were walking by on patrol ALL THE TIME! It was really pissing me off, because I was getting hungrier, and I was about dying of thirst. I ended up laying around like a rabbit, not moving. I figured I’d just have to wait until dark to get out of there.”
“Just then!” He put his hands up in fists, and started shaking them. “Them big guns lit up, and they was like thunder! They was only about thirty feet apart, and there I was right between them and a little behind them. So all the krauts are watching you boys in the foxholes. I counted them. Eleven! And none of them guarding the forest. Well, you boys know what a great baseball player I am, right? I had two grenades. That was it, just two. So I knew if I was gonna use them, they had to be perfect. I pulled the pins on both at the same time, chucked one left and one right. With all the noise, they didn’t even hear them roll in right next to them. I hit the dirt.” He paused for a minute.
“Then it got crazy! Those grenades went off. Boom! One went off. And before all the shrapnel sprayed, boom goes the other one! I didn’t even look—just crawled back into heavier brush. It went quiet, and I could hear them Jerries talking. I thought it was strange that their voices were all coming from the same area. I peeked, and there were five of them all huddled up together real close. Real close. I didn’t even think. I just pulled my rifle and fired. Hell, I bet I only moved the barrel a few inches because they were so close together, and I emptied my clip. Then I hit the dirt again. I don’t understand why they were standing so close together. Maybe they thought the grenades came from you guys? They sure acted like rookies. Anyway. I was scrambling around in that brush, in case anyone saw me. It was real quiet again. I knew there was at least two more guys, because I saw them take off running when I gunned down the other five. They probably thought I had a whole company with me! So then it was cat and mouse for about fifteen minutes. I ended up catching them behind a tree. They didn’t even see me coming, so I knocked those two Jerries off and grabbed their rifles. I ran back to the machine guns and counted the bodies, just to make sure I didn’t miss anyone. Sure enough, it was eleven.”
The whole company burst out talking at the same time. Everyone was complimenting Oily, or talking with each other about what he’d done. Cap walked up and slapped him hard on the shoulder, nodding at him. Then he shook his hand. We all started taking turns walking up to Oily and shaking his hand, congratulating him and thanking him. For the first time ever, he actually got modest, and was even speechless for a while. That was it for the celebration, though. We knew krauts were in the area, and we’d lost three men. But at least later on, Chartelli got a Silver Star for that fight at the bridge.
Most of the guys were in pretty good spirits, but me and Morelli were pretty sad. I couldn’t speak for Morelli, but I had that image in my head of Paul Taylor laying dead in the foxhole, and I couldn’t shake it. Death was getting closer every damn day, and now it was touching people that were close to me. It felt like we were on a suicide march.
Chapter 2 – The Card Game
When I came home from the war, everyone always asked for war stories. I used that battle at the bridge as my main story. Kind of a canned story that I whipped out at cocktail parties or barbecues to entertain people. I didn’t tell all that personal stuff about Paul. They just wanted to hear something exciting or heroic, and it was a great story. But there was a lot that happened other than that battle. To really understand Buzz Company, and how we were more than just a bunch of guys fighting Germans, you have to know the story from the beginning. So I’m going to tell you about our time in Europe from start to finish.
Buzz Company didn’t just come together all at once. We weren’t pre-assigned to the company. During the Allies’ preparation for the invasion, there was a ton of logistics that had to be handled. Remember that a million men were involved with D-Day. A million men! So things shifted around a lot.
We were stationed at a camp in England. It was just a farm field with tents and lots of big simple buildings. Hundreds of men were there—maybe thousands. Command gave us additional training, outfitted us, and assigned us to companies. They were working on the battle plans for D-Day, so they were somehow mapping out which companies went where.
We in Buzz Company were called mutts back then—Brass assembled us out of small groups from several different areas. This was a lot different than most companies, because most of the companies were assembled in the States and then they came over together. But Buzz Company wasn’t like that. It was just the way the logistics worked out.
But in training camp, we were the red-headed stepchildren. People called us “the Leftovers” or “the Liberties.” I didn’t understand the “Liberties” name. I thought maybe it had something to do with having some company members from New York City. But Morelli clued us in. There’s a sign on the Statue of Liberty that says “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses…” So the other companies weren’t being complimentary. They were saying that we were the rejects from all the other companies. That really pissed us off.
We had only been in camp for a week or so. I didn’t really know many of the guys. Me and Petey Anderson went to basic training together back home, so we stayed pretty close. He was from Michigan too—Battle Creek. Back then I was kind of timid. I didn’t like to talk much, and I usually let other folks lead. I just didn’t have any experience at it and didn’t really have any desire. Hell, I was only eighteen years old. I learned a lot just by listening and watching everything around me. Petey used to razz me pretty good about being so quiet.
Every evening, we had some downtime in the mess hall after the day’s drills. We couldn’t leave the camp, and there wasn’t much to do. We played cards all the time. There were lots of tables, and groups played different games.
I was a really good card player. I liked Hearts and Pitch, and I could hold my own at poker. Petey and I wandered around the hall, pausing to watch games. I imagine there were about a hundred men in the hall, and I recognized five or ten from our platoon.
We watched a few minutes at one table because there was some excitement. A guy from Buzz Company named Harry Trumbull was hauling in some serious winnings. He was from somewhere back East, but I don’t remember where exactly. I want to say Maryland. Trumbull was kind of a strange guy. He was real quiet—probably the quietest guy in Buzz Company. See, I was quiet because of inexperience. Trumbull seemed to be turned inward, like he was more interested in his thoughts than in other people. He was real small. Skinny, short, real puny. I remember we used to give him a hard time when we had to move on foot. It didn’t look possible that such a puny little guy could carry so much gear. But he handled it somehow.
Trumbull was on a streak with seven-card stud, and you could just see his eyes ticking off cards as he saw them on the table. He could really count cards! There was some asshole from another company playing at the table. He was fat and he smoked cigarettes constantly. He had a big mouth. He jawed constantly during the hands, commenting on other player’s dealt cards, or cussing when he lost. And he lost a lot. He cussed louder and louder as he lost hands.
We watched for probably ten minutes while this guy got more and more agitated. After he’d lost all of his money, he stood up.
“You’re a dirty cheating son of a bitch!” he yelled.
Trumbull didn’t look up, just slowly gathered the money from the pot.
By that time, quite a crowd had gathered around. There were about ten men standing around the table. I couldn’t tell if they were buddies with Fatty, or just curious. Petey ducked out for a minute and roused Kozlowski. Petey was a big guy, stood probably around six foot two. I don’t know, he might have weighed about two hundred pounds. He was easygoing enough, but if there was a scrap, you wanted Petey with you. But Kozlowski. There’s one thing you have to know about Kozlowski. He liked to fight more than anyone I ever met.
The loser had been yelling for a few minutes, and he was real red-faced, spitting as he yelled.
“Just take it easy,” said Petey, as he returned to my side.
“This son of a bitch your friend?” Fatty shouted.
“Yeah, he is,” replied Petey. “What’s the problem?”
“The fucker’s cheating!”
“How do you know that?” asked Petey.
“Because no one can win every hand! No one! And he just won every single hand since I sat down!”
A couple of guys snickered in the crowd. I’m sure they were thinking the same thing as me—he must really stink at cards. I bet there were about twenty guys standing around the table now. I didn’t like the way this was going, because I recognized only one guy in that crowd except for Petey, Kozlowski, and Trumbull.
Petey shrugged. “Maybe you’re just a bad card player,” he said.
Well, that made the guy REALLY mad. He kicked his chair back and sent it flying behind him. “You got a really big mouth, pal!” He started around the table toward us, and Kozlowski met up with him halfway around. Kozlowski kept closing his hands into fists, and then opening them again. I could tell he was getting real excited because he tilted his head back and forth, cracking his neck joints. He was smiling this big goofy grin. The loser pulled up short, looking at Kozlowski.
“What the hell is wrong with you, halfwit?”
Kozlowski lost his goofy grin. He clenched his jaws and his fists. I’d been on the receiving end of a scrap with Kozlowski a few days before, and I knew what was coming next. I looked around the room. Several guys stepped up next to the loser. This was shaping up to be a lot more than a fistfight between two men.
“This is going to be trouble,” I whispered to Petey.
“Twins are here,” he whispered back, nodding toward the door. That made me relax a little bit.
“Whaaaaat? Yous goombas got nothing better to do than fight each other?” asked Morelli. “Come ON! We got all the fucking krauts in the world to fight. Save it for them bastards!” He waved his hand, like he was waving off a bad thought.
“Yeah,” replied Chartelli. “You know, we got a saying back in the Bronx. Why smash each others’ heads when you can smash someone else’s?”
They just kept talking as they walked. It was clever, because it bought them time to get up to the table in case a scrap broke out. And, since everyone was watching their little comedy show, people didn’t really notice another five or six guys from our platoon walk into the hall a minute later, and join in around the table. If the fight dispersed, no one got hurt. But if it turned ugly, they’d stalled long enough that they were now in the middle of the crowd, and Buzz Company had people all around the circle.
“So, what’s the REAL problem here?” asked Chartelli.
“This son of a bitch cheats at cards,” said Fatty, pointing at Trumbull.
“Nah, he’s just some kind of card genius,” said Chartelli. “He wins all the time. I think I’m paying for a new car for him back home, all by myself.”
“He doesn’t win every hand. No one wins every hand.”
Chartelli’s eyes got real wide, and he dropped his chin in astonishment. “You sayin’ this guy beat you at EVERY hand?”
“Yes!” nodded the loser.
Morelli’s eyes got real wide too. “How many hands?” he asked.
“Probably twenty,” said the loser.
Chartelli slapped his forehead in disbelief.
Morelli let out a whoop. “Jesus, you’re right! No one can win that many hands. Unless they are playing one hell of a dumb son of a bitch!”
About half of the room erupted into laughter. The rest cautiously eyed each other. Several guys used the laughter as an excuse to turn and walk away.
But the twins’ cracks were more than the loser could handle. His head shook and his face got all bright red. It looked like he was holding his breath, trying to keep it all inside. He looked around the table and made eye contact with three or four guys. They must have been in his platoon, because I watched them nod at him as he looked at each of them. He looked at the twins, then looked back at Kozlowski, who was just itching to get started. Then he looked at Petey, who stood a good four inches taller than him. Then he looked at me, and then Trumbull. He was really frustrated. I imagine he was trying to figure out if he and his boys could kick our asses.
Trumbull’s squeaky chair broke the silence as he stood up. He cleared his throat, and everyone turned to watch him. He looked like one of those bankers you see in old Westerns—a puny little guy with glasses. He looked up over his glasses, making brief eye contact with the loser. “Could you empty your pockets? It appears some cards are missing.”
Have you ever seen a tire spring a fast leak? One of those times where it’s not instant, but over the course of a few seconds it goes flat? This guy was the tire. All his bluster disappeared instantly, and his eyes widened a little bit in surprise. Then he tried to cover it up by sticking out his chin and sneering.
“I ain’t never been so offended in my life!” His voice was much quieter now, and there was just a little bit of tremble in it. His eyes panned the room. “First I’m cheated, and then I’m accused of cheating?”
“Oh, I see, I see!” Chartelli nodded vigorously.
“Yeah, me too!” said Morelli. “Yeah, I get it, man. That’s just offensive!”
There was a really long pause. It felt like a couple of minutes. No one said anything, and the silence became real uncomfortable. Fatty just stared at Trumbull, his lips pursed tight and his head shaking. Trumbull stared back, unblinking. Finally, the loser snapped out of it, and turned away from Kozlowski, toward the door.
“Well!” he said. “I apologize to you, pal. I know that no good American here would cheat at cards. I just was a sore loser, and I’m sorry to have raised a stink about it.”
We looked back at forth at each other, trying to decide what to do. Do we make the guy empty his pockets or let him off the hook? After a few seconds, all of our eyes fell on Trumbull. He looked around the room at us and then just barely shook his head. The loser, his nose high in the air, nodded slightly as he passed the twins and left the tent. We all relaxed, and the crowd broke up. We gathered around Trumbull.
“So was he cheatin’?” asked Kozlowski.
“King of diamonds has been missing for about the last six rounds. King of clubs disappeared two rounds ago. I haven’t seen the ace of hearts at all.”
“Why didn’t you call him on it during the game?” I asked.
Trumbull looked up at me and flashed a mischievous look. “I figured it was a good handicap. I wanted to beat him even though he had a pair of kings in his pocket. He really IS a lousy card player.”
“So did he play the kings on the last round?” asked Kozlowski.
“Yes. He had two pair, kings and sevens,” said Trumbull.
“What did you have?” asked Kozlowski.
“Full house. Threes over… kings.” He winked at us.
We all laughed about that one for days.
Chapter 3 – Buzz Company Olympics
I should explain what the ACTUAL Buzz Company really was. The company included nine platoons. My platoon was the Ninth. So, I guess we were the leftovers of the leftovers. I think that’s how we ended up …
Want to see the rest? My Honor Flight is available on Amazon.
My main website: http://danmccurrigan.com