The Almost Warrior

Reads: 121  | Likes: 0  | Shelves: 0  | Comments: 0

More Details
Status: Finished  |  Genre: Historical Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A tense military tale set in the Cold War and involving the assassination of an American president and a small team of special operations soldiers sent behind "enemy lines" on what may prove to be the eve of World War III.

Submitted: January 02, 2011

A A A | A A A

Submitted: January 02, 2011

A A A

A A A


THE ALMOST WARRIOR
 
By Ralph F. Brady
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
It was early evening on a cold November day in Germany. Rafe had finished an easy day of weapons and tactics training, and was in the shower washing off the dust from the rifle range. He was looking forward to the evening ahead at his regular gasthaus in the local village, and grateful that his duty in Germany allowed for some pretty nice off duty time. The beer was good and the local frauleins were always friendly to the American G.I.’s, so all in all he had no complaints about his time in the army.
Afterwards, he wouldn’t even remember who it was that came into the latrine and was shouting out to him. He came out of his reverie to hear something that he never anticipated.
“Hey, did ya hear? The president’s been shot!”
Rafe at first thought that this was one of the sick jokes that had been circulating through the unit, so he decided to play along with the gag.
“OK, and what’s the punch line?”
“No really, it’s true. The president’s been shot and the commies did it. We’re going to war!”
Rarely at a loss for words, this revelation stopped Rafe in his tracks. Before he could even let it sink in, the silence and his musings were interrupted by the loud claxon sound of the alert alarm. It was the similar to the sound that you might hear in a movie about submarine warfare when the watch officer gives the order to dive, only this time it was followed by more than a one word command.
“Alert, alert . . . this is not a drill! Repeat this is not a drill. Fall out to combat stations!”
Because everyone had started to take these alert drills for granted, they had done this before. They would insist in the alert warning that it was not a drill, but then it always turned out to be just that. This time, however, Rafe had a bad feeling about what was happening. Coming right after news about the president being shot, this just might be the real thing. He put his disbelief aside and began the routine that they had drilled into him month after month since he had arrived in Germany.
He quickly dried off and headed down the corridor to his room. Hanging in his locker was the wool olive drab fatigue uniform that they always wore for winter maneuvers, and his gear was stacked on top of the locker for easy access. He took out wool socks and long underwear from the foot locker and dressed quickly. Grabbing the rest of the gear which consisted of a web system containing canteen, gas mask, ammo pouches, medical kit and rations, he bolted out the door to sprint the three flights of stairs down to the armory.
The hallway and stairs were already full of the rest of his barracks mates heading the same way, but they had all drilled this before and almost moved as one body. The usual tip off that it was simply another drill was getting to the armory, drawing your weapon and then being handed a slip of paper that said, “This simulates one hundred rounds of live ammunition.” This time, the armory sergeant had a surprise for him.
Rafe went to the left side of the armory where there were fewer soldiers pulling weapons and drew his Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR). Most of the troops were assigned the standard M-14 rifle while some of the non-commissioned officers (NCO’s) were assigned Thompson machine guns or the ever popular British “Bren Gun”. Rafe’s
 assignment fell into the “heavy weapons category” and so there was less congestion at the rack with the BAR’s.
He truly loved the firepower of the BAR, even though it meant carrying a weapon that weighed 20 lbs. as opposed to the much lighter M-14.It fired the same 7.62 mm round that the smaller weapons did, but it was deadly accurate to about 1,800 feet and would empty a 20 round clip in a matter of seconds. Rafe was tall and since the BAR was a full 47 inches long, it took a taller soldier to effectively run with it slung over his shoulder without banging into the back of his legs. He had virtually blown apart a jeep with it on the practice range one day, and loved the feeling of its power ever since.
He slung the weapon to keep his hands free and headed over to the armorer to get the usual slip of paper, but tonight was going to be different. The sergeant saw him coming and pulled a small metal ammunition box off the shelf and handed Rafe what turned out to be eight clips of live 7.62 mm round ammunition.
“Load ‘em up boy, you’re gonna need ‘em this time!”
“What’s up Sarge? Whaddya hear?”
“Not much boy, only that the president’s been shot by some commie assassin, and we’re gonna be on the line when the Reds come marchin’ through. They figure that while we’re all confused back home with the president dead and such, it would be a good time to take over the rest of Germany and whatever else they can grab. You know we’re nothing more than a delaying tactic to slow down the Red’s advance. We’re so outgunned and outmanned that it’s pitiful, and all that the brass expects us to do is slow them down for 48 hours or so while the rest of NATO has time to get into the fight. We’re goin’ to need a lot more than kids like you with BAR’s to come out of this, and we’ll probably be overrun by the end of the second day. Do your best kid, and take as many of those commie bastards with you as you can. You’re gonna be a real hero!”
It’s a funny thing about being eighteen or nineteen, you really don’t think that you can die. The army has you so jacked up on patriotism that you’re ready to run off and take on anybody, with never a thought about the ugliness of dying from a gunshot wound or being blown up by a tank round. Fully enveloped by that mindset, Rafe headed out of the armory to his predesignated position, where he would meet up with the rest of his team. The main part of the company lined up in their regular formation while the specialist teams took their positions at the right side of the parade field, a little apart from the rest.
They were Long Range Reconaissance Patrols or LRRP’S, with the acronym commonly pronounced “Lurps” by just about everyone. The Army had borrowed the concept from the British Jedburgh Teams of World War II, named for the town in which they did most of their training. Their mission was to operate in hostile territory, usually behind enemy lines, to gather information and provide some early warning of an enemy’s activity. Around the time that the so called Cold War was declared, American military authorities realized that they really did not have any significant “special operations” types of units to keep pace with the way that warfare was changing. The Army Ranger program had been placed on sort of a back shelf after the Korean War, and while the new concept centered around what would become Army Special Forces, the country needed a faster response to stay competitive. The reaction to this was the LRRP program where the training time was significantly shorter that that required for a fully operational special forces unit. The early special forces soldiers would receive across the board training for every possible theater of operations. They would be airborne qualified and trained in jungle warfare as well as all other possible environments, and all of this would take a great deal of time. An LRRP unit could be made operational in a much shorter period of time. They would already have the weapons skills necessary and would only have to be trained for their theater of operations. There aren’t a lot of jungles or rain forests in Europe, and so by making the training specific to the European area of operations, an effective LRRP unit could be created in a matter of months, rather than years for a Green Beret team. Rafe double-timed down the parade field to meet up with the three other members of his team.
They were as diverse a group as you could possibly find for just four men. The team consisted of Big Al, Little Al, Lizzard, and of course Rafe. The other three had been together for nearly two years, while Rafe had only been a part of the team for four months. He had replaced the other member of their team who rotated back to the U.S. at the end of his enlistment. At some times Rafe still felt like an outsider to the group, but it was nothing that they had ever done and probably all in his head. They all had different backgrounds and all were Specialist Fifth Class (Spec Five) in rank. This was equivalent to a three stripe sergeant, or what the army called a “buck sergeant”. Rafe, on the other hand, was a Spec 4, equivalent to a corporal, and in addition to holding the lowest rank on the team, he was also the youngest. The other three had enlisted for three years of service, while Rafe had simply gone down to the local draft board and volunteered to go into the military early, and get it behind him. That meant that he had no choice in what he would do as a soldier, but it also meant that his commitment would only be for two years of active duty. The army had looked at his test scores and experience and made him an administrative clerk, but he knew that this wasn’t what being a soldier meant to him, so shortly after arriving at his duty assignment in Germany, he volunteered for the field training and assignment to a recon unit.
On top of all of the other differences separating Rafe from the rest of the team, he was also the only one without a nickname, and harbored a little resentment about this. They had tried to find something that fit him and went through the obvious choices of Stretch, Beanpole, Stick, and some others that were even less flattering, but in the end they still called him Rafe. Almost everyone else in the company called him by his last name, which was the more common habit, but he hoped someday that someone would come up with a nickname that he would be comfortable with.
The clear leader of the team was Big Al. He wasn’t nearly as tall as Rafe, but carried a good deal more weight, and so the nickname seemed appropriate. Big Al was from Massachusetts, and had the accent to prove it. By nature he was the serious one, always quick to laugh at someone else’s joke, but never one to make the joke himself. He was certainly more mature than the others, even though he was only in his early twenties. Rafe respected him and his judgement, and never doubted for a minute that he was the right choice to lead the team.
Next in ranking in the team was little Al, also from Massachusetts and in his early twenties, but a diehard prankster with a great sense of humor. Little Al was so short that the rumor was that he had bribed someone at the recruiting office to allow him to get into the army. He would never discuss his height and stayed far away from anyone who might attempt to get him against a wall and actually measure him. Little Al was hairy, short-limbed and incredibly strong, and never shied away from carrying the heaviest load when the team went out on maneuvers.
The last member of the team was Lizard, and this nickname had been given to him because his first name was Loren and his last name began with the letter “Z”. This might not have been enough to come up with an imaginative nickname like Lizard, but he had a thin serpentine look about him, so the name seemed a natural. Lizard was Rafe’s closest friend on the team and the last one to join before Rafe. He was also in his early twenties but younger than the other two. He always moved with incredible speed and agility, and could get himself into impossible places. With stealth and camouflage being so important to the team’s missions, Lizard was a key man and always seemed fearless when there was any danger involved.
Rafe came up to the designated place in the company formation for his team, and was a little out of breath after carrying the BAR and all of that ammo. Everyone else had beaten him there so he knew that he was in for a good deal of friendly ribbing. Big Al, dove right in to it.
“Well I’m glad that you got your special invitation to the party.”
“Come on Al, you know that it’s a bitch to lug all of this ammo. Besides, I wasn’t just sitting around waiting for the alert bell to ring. Some us actually have lives and were making plans for the evening. So what do you hear about this?”
“The part about the president being shot I know for sure. The rest of it’s just talk, and nobody’s said anything about where we’re heading.”
Lizard chimed in, “Those bastards killed our president and are about to start a war. I’m not sayin’ I’m happy about any of this or even being here, but we’ve got a job to do, and it’s important.”
“You’re right,” added Little Al, “and I’m feelin’ that we have to do something. It’s just not right. The Prez was a good guy with a young family, and now he’s dead. I’m up for some revenge and kickin’ some commie ass, if that’s what they’re gonna order us to do. Are you guys up for this?”
The all nodded in unison and added their yeses to the discussion. Before anyone could add anything else, they heard the First Sergeant calling the company to order. In a split second the entire company had snapped to a parade rest position with weapons at their side. In situations like this, everyone from the company clerks to the motor pool sergeants were all geared up and combat ready. The LRRP teams would always be deployed to advance positions, while the rest of the company would be assigned to some infantry or armored cavalry unit. Because the entire Seventh Army in Germany was so badly outgunned and outmanned by the Soviet Block forces, the battle plan pretty much made everyone an infantry soldier in time of crisis. This had been the outcome of a large exercise called Operation Springboard several months ago, and right after that, Rafe had taken the opportunity to volunteer for the LRRP program.
“All right troops, settle down.” And with that, the First Sergeant began the roll call with every soldier answering with a “Here sergeant”, when his name was called. With the roll call then completed, he then saw the company commander approaching and called the troops to order.
“Ten hut.”, and to the Captain, “Company assembled and ready sir.”
Captain Wilbur C. Curran was the epitome of what someone expects when he comes into contact with a regular army officer. He was a man in his late thirties or early forties, with close cropped blond hair and the kind of demeanor about him that left no doubt in your mind that he was born to command. He glanced up and down the assembled company and began.
“Gentlemen, as many of you already know, the President of the United States has been assassinated by a lone gunman believed to have ties to the Soviet Union. The details that we have received so far are a bit sketchy, but the President seems to have been riding in an open car, and been shot while in the middle of a motorcade. Our system of government provides for a smooth transition in circumstances like this, and the vice-president has already taken the oath of office and assumed the responsibilities of the presidency. It is believed, at the highest levels of our military, that the Soviet Union is going to seize this opportunity to advance over the border with East Germany and the border areas of Poland and Czechoslovakia, and expand their sphere of influence in the rest of Europe. They are banking on the fact that the murder of our president will disrupt our chain of command so badly, that they will gain an immediate advantage. I am sure that you will all agree with me that we cannot allow this to happen.”
Some of the more boisterous members of the company could not hold back at this point and started shouting out that they wouldn’t let the “commies” get away with this and started cursing them in some very creative ways. Captain Curran motioned for silence and the outcries stopped immediately, so he continued.
“It is the mission of Seventh Army and particularly units like ours, to be the eyes and ears of USAREUR (United States Army in Europe), and to give our commanders as much early information as we can about Soviet troop movements. We are therefore going to deploy along the Czech border using Camp May, the forward observation post, as a command center. The LRRP teams will be deployed accordingly and team leaders are to pickup their orders and truck assignments from the First Sergeant when I’m through. The rest of the company will be detailed as part of the support force that will include II Corps of the Bundeswehr (West German Army). We expect the main Soviet force to be preceded by an armored column that may come from the East German 1st Guards Tank Army. The LRRP teams’ mission will be to alert command of the movement of these armored forces, radio back the coordinates and then get the hell out of there. You will be in Czechlovakia and without any real support, so in no case are you to engage the enemy. The mission is to observe, report and withdraw, period! Now unless there are any questions, mount up and move out, and God be with you all!”
Big Al led the way up to the First Sergeant, and was given a packet marked Truck #3
and the rest of the team just followed his lead. There wasn’t a lot of conversation among
them or the other teams that they passed on the way. The trucks were marked with hastily drawn numbers on white cardboard, and the team would be sharing their ride with two other LRRP teams.
The army two and a half ton truck known as the “deuce and a half” is the workhorse of military transportation, but though nearly indestructible, to ride in it is a deafening jaw rattling experience. In civilian life, most private companies would not even consider it suitable for hauling cargo, much less as transportation for their employees. Nevertheless, outfitted with wooden benches on the rear bed, it does the job and is easy to repair and keep running in the field. The 468 kilometer ride that the team had to look forward to was its own form of torture, and there would be little conversation or rest for them for the next six hours.
Everyone seemed to be in kind of a daze as they climbed onto the truck’s rear step to swing themselves into the back of the truckbed. Weapons were generally passed up after one of the men had climbed aboard, and with no particular order, the three teams were seated and ready to depart in about five minutes. The truck also carried some of the support gear including radios, wire cutting equipment, extra rations and water, and a box of grenades for each team. In spite of the orders to avoid any contact with Soviet forces, they were equipped to at least defend themselves in the event that they were discovered by an enemy patrol.
Rafe always seemed to be the most talkative member of the team and he thought sometimes that he made a lot of conversation to cover up his nervousness. The teams were sitting together, so with a little shouting over the noise of the truck, he was able to make himself heard.
“Waddya thinkin’ (Big) Al?”
“Oh, I don’t know. I guess I was thinkin’ about home and what it’s gonna be like when I get back there. Someday this will all be just a memory, sort of our place in history. I’m feeling good about being a part of this and doing my duty. Isn’t this just what they trained us for?”
Little Al jumped in. “I keep thinking about the president’s family. He was kind of younger that most of the other presidents, and he’s got little kids. Forget the politics and whatever this means to our country and the Reds. There’s a couple of little kids that are gonna grow up without a dad. I think that’s what makes me the maddest.”
Always the most excitable, Lizard had to say his piece as well. “This all really stinks. We’ve got this huge commie conspiracy to take over the world, and it’s gonna start another war. Doesn’t anybody ever learn? We just finished a world war less than twenty years ago, and most of these countries haven’t even recovered from that. We’ve got God knows how many of our own people killed in the last war, and now the whole thing’s gonna  start again. We were all lucky; our dads didn’t get killed in the last war. My dad was in the navy and saw a little action, but two of my uncles got killed. I’ve got two aunts that cry every time anyone talks about the war. It’s so fuckin’ stupid. If this thing goes bad there’s a whole lot of us that aren’t going home. This shit’s the real deal, and I don’t mind tellin’ you, I’m scared.”
“We’re all scared Liz”, added Big Al, “but we’ll be real careful and we’re trained to get through this so let’s just settle down and try to get some rest. We’re gonna need it!”
It’s like trying to sleep in a cement mixer thought Rafe, but it wasn’t worth the effort of shouting over the truck noise just to make some lame joke, so he kept the thought to himself. The convoy lumbered on into the night over newly built autobahns and through Reggensburg and Passau, and then on through some smaller German villages. Their destination was Rainbach, home of Camp May near the Czech border.
It was near dawn when the convoy pulled into Camp May, a small installation of mostly temporary buildings a couple of hundred yards from the two rows of barbed wire topped fencing that separated the Republic of Germany from Soviet controlled Czechoslovakia. Everyone was exhausted from the long ride and when they were given bunk assignments in the large tents that made up most of the camp, they pretty much passed out and slept through most of the day. Around 1500 hours, a young sergeant attached to Camp May came into the tent and woke them.
“All right guys, it’s show time. Get up and get some chow. There’s a briefing at 1700 hours, and you’d better be packed and ready.”
Big Al was the first to respond as he had woken up on his own some time earlier, and had been reviewing the mission briefing.
“Let’s go guys, shake it out and listen up while you’re getting dressed.”
There was a bit of unintelligible mumbling among the other three, but they half listened while getting dressed.
“OK, you know what’s going on here based on the captain’s briefing. We’re designated Team Echo and we’ll be kicking off at 2000 hours. Another lovely “deuce and a half” ride, much shorter this time, will drop us off at point Foxtrot on this mission map. We’re to cross over the border into Czechoslovakia and head north about two miles to some high ground overlooking their route number E55 that runs north to south from Prague. The Czech 1st Guards Tank Army is stationed just outside of Prague and command thinks that they have to take this route to cross over into Germany. We’ll set up an observation post on high ground to get a good view of the highway and increase the range of the walkie talkie when we check in. Check in times with command will be at 0615 and 1815 each day, when we key the transmit button on the walkie talkie, just to let them know that we’re still alive. You can all take turns reading the packet here just so that everyone knows what the story is. Al, you take it first.”
“Ok, but how long do they figure we’ll be out there?”
“Well, if we do see a tank column, it won’t be too long and we’ll be beating it the hell back here. If nothing happens, well, they’re issuing us rations for five days and water for two. There’s supposed to be a small stream near the top of this hill that I think looks like a good place for us to set up.”
Lizzard, who could eat enough for two men and not gain a pound was not happy.
“Crap, K rations for five days. I’d just as soon eat dirt off the hill than that shit.”
“Hey, you know the drill”, added Little Al. I’ve seen you wolf down that crap like it was your last meal. I think you really like it. Whaddya think, Rafe?”
“I caught him going through my pack while I was sleeping on the last field problem. I swear he stole some of the puddings from my kit. The guy’s a scavenger, he’ll eat anything.”
“Very funny guys”, was Lizard’s response. You’re all just jealous that my finely honed survival skills are better than yours.”
“Hey, I’m glad it was only the pudding”, added Rafe. I thought the guy was gonna take a bit out of me.”
Big Al ended the discussion. “OK, enough; let’s head down to the mess tent. It might be that last real food that we get for a couple of days.”
“Or ever”, muttered Little Al, sort of ending the joking and giving things a more somber tone.
After a quick stop at the latrine, the team headed over to the mess tent, and actually had a pretty decent hot meal. It was pretty obvious that the common joke among all of the teams was that this was the last meal for the condemned man. They ate with little conversation, taking turns passing the mission briefing papers back and forth to familiarize themselves with all of the details. In a way, the reading gave each of them a reason not to do much talking, and they were all afraid that something in their voices might give away the nervousness that they all felt. At the end of the meal, a couple of officers got up at the head of the mess tent and an old sergeant from another company called the troops to order.
“Let’s hold it down, this is important. Captain Marshall here from battalion G-2 Intelligence has some more information for you. They’re all yours Sir.”
“Thank you Sergeant. Men, I don’t have much new information for you. There’s really nothing new from command or the news from back home. The country is at Defcon One, which as you all know is the alert level that precedes the start of a shooting war. They are mobilizing back home to airlift a major force to backup Seventh Army, but until then the job is ours. We’ve got VII Corps on our left flank and behind us and German II Corps on the right. The key right now is early warning and that’s going to be your primary job to give us that. Listening posts like Camp May here and the flyovers by recon aircraft have not shown any activity on the other side yet, but we can’t really fly over Czech airspace without being the ones to start a war, so the best that we’ve got is the old “boots on the ground”. The main body of this company will deploy out and around Camp May to set up a defense perimeter, and you teams will be heading out later this evening. Your team leaders all have their orders and should have briefed you by now. Let’s not have anyone get trigger happy while they’re over there. We’re not supposed to be there and the key is to not let the enemy even know that we’re keeping an eye on them. Good luck, and make sure you all get back safely.”
They left the mess tent with Big Al leading the way and wound their way over to the motor pool where the truck that had brought them to Camp May was waiting with its engine running. Again they shared the truck with two other teams and everyone on board already was busy sorting out the rations and special gear on which they would depend in the days ahead. Rafe loaded the five days of ration packs into his pack and filled his canteens from the larger cans on board. The other three sorted out the grenades but with the heavier ammunition load of the BAR, Rafe was not expected to have to carry part of the grenade load as well. Little Al carried the wire cutting and repairing equipment, while Big Al was charged with carrying the radio and extra batteries for it. Once everyone had located and sorted out all of their gear, the light in the back of the truck was extinguished to allow everyone’s eyes to begin the dark adaptation that they would need to operate in the night. There was a waning moon in the sky, about one-third full, which allowed some for some light for their border crossing and movement through the wooded terrain. The NATO side of the border was secured by forward posts like Camp May, which the NATO forces used as bases for the guard duty assignments that they used to secure the border. Soldiers stationed at Camp May and its like were assigned guard duty along the NATO side of the fence. They would walk back and forth along an assigned sector of the fence for two hours, and then have four hours off before they had to return to the same dull routine. The lucky ones got to walk guard duty at a part of the fence that was not in immediate sight of a guard tower on the Czech side.
The Soviet forces’ approach to guarding the border was a little more rigid. Their fence was about fifty yards away from the NATO border fence, and they had set up wooden guard towers every quarter mile. In each of these towers they stationed a soldier with their equivalent of fifty caliber machine guns mounted on a moveable rack, with two high power searchlights that moved along with the rack. For the NATO troops that were unfortunate to have to walk within sight of one of these towers, the Soviets had devised a plan to intimidate them. The guard in the tower would follow the NATO soldier with the searchlights for the whole two hours that he walked his post.That meant spending two hours knowing that an enemy soldier had you illuminated and in his sights with a couple of machine guns that could virtually cut you in half in a couple of seconds. Most of the other troops always felt that it was just a matter of time before someone walking guard duty snapped and started firing across the border to shoot out the lights. The common joke was that this would be what would start World War III, but that was before the reality of a recently assassinated president had sunk in.
The truck ride was only about fifteen minutes before they made their first stop dropping off one of the other teams. Team Echo would jump off at the next stop which seemed to be a very short time after the first but was probably another fifteen minutes. When the truck stopped, Big Al was off first and the others quickly followed. All conversation from here on would be in a whisper, and would be avoided wherever a hand signal could convey the same message. They had been dropped off in between two of the guard towers so there was minimal light but they could see the searchlights of the towers to their right and left sweeping the fence and tracking the regular guards who were walking their posts. It was imperative that the normal NATO guard routine be continued and to do nothing out of the ordinary to alarm the forces on the other side.
Big Al motioned with his hand three times, pointing to a small clearing in the brush, and he whispered, “Go, go, go!”.
Lizard moved ahead first, followed by Little Al, then Rafe, with Big Al bringing up the rear.They moved in a half crouch and quickly came in sight of the NATO fence marking the border. Lizzard dropped to the ground and motioned Little Al to pass him, which he did in a belly crawl. When he reached the fence, Little Al began to unwind a patch in the wire where it had been previously cut, and he had soon opened up a large enough piece of the fence for one man at a time to crawl through. Little Al rolled to the side allowing Lizard to crawl through first, which he did with more ease than the rest of them could manage. Rafe went next, pushing the BAR through first and following it through. He then crawled a couple of yards and dropped the biped legs on the front of the BAR and took off the weapon’s safety. The BAR was trained on the Soviet side of the border, and he scanned left and right with his eyes for some early sign that they had been detected. Behind him, Big Al cleared the fence and also took up a position facing the Soviet side. Little Al was last through and had to rewind the wire patch to eliminate any trace of them having penetrated the fence at that point. With that done, now led by Big Al, they slowly belly crawled the fifty yards to the Czech border fence.
At this other  fence, they split their ground formation to allow Little Al to reach the fence first. Everyone’s senses were operating in high gear, alert for any slight noise or sign that did not belong to the normal night environment. Little Al reached the fence and began to cut a ziz-zag pattern in the wire that would allow them to get through without leaving an obvious disruption in the normal flow of the wire that would give them away. It was still possible to see enough to make out hand signals a couple of feet away, and Little Al motioned that the opening was made and they began to advance again. Lizzard lived up to his nickname and almost slithered through the fence and took up a position about ten feet beyond the fence. He covered their right flank with his M-14, but still kept an eye towards his left until Rafe could get through and set up the BAR. Rafe followed next and positioned himself about eight feet left of Lizard and again set up the BAR. Big Al came alongside next and always seemed to make a little more noise than the rest of them due to his larger size. Rafe thought that Al had better do a better job of securing the radio to his pack, as it was rattling a little and in the stillness of the night even the slightest noise seemed much louder than it really was.
While the other three held their positions, Little Al spent about four minutes reweaving the wire of the fence and twisting off the ends so that the break that they had made would only be visible in a very detailed inspection. The Soviet forces seemed confident that their guard towers would discourage any incursions by NATO troops and so they very casually conducted their inspections of the fence by driving along their side, and rarely even getting out of their vehicles. Little AL was truly an artist when it came to disguising his cuts in a fence, and they all knew that they were trusting their lives to his ability to keep their border crossing undetectable.
It would still have been too dangerous to attempt any verbal communication, so at Big Al’s gesture they all moved ahead at a crawl for another twenty yards, and then as they entered some light brush they followed his lead and rose to a half-crouch. The objective now was to put as much distance between them and the border fence as possible, while still eliminating any signs of their presence to a passing military vehicle. Big Al had apparently memorized much of the terrain from the map that he carried, and was able to lead them into denser woods and relative safety. He halted them along the side of a large fallen tree and shielded the red beam flashlight that he carried while he consulted the map.
Big Al’s were the first words spoken since they had passed through the first fence, and he kept his voice to a whisper. “I think we’re OK now, but keep the noise to a minimum and a sharp eye out for any movement. I’ll lead with Little Al bringing up the rear and covering our back. Liz, make most of your focus to the right and Rafe yours should be to our left. We know these lazy bastards don’t like to actually walk their patrols, but there’s always a chance, and one mistake and we’ve had it. We’ve got to go about two miles in all, but when you feel the grade starting to increase you’ll know that we’re headed to the high ground over highway E55. Same drill as always, keep as low as you can, don’t break any dried brush, no talking and keep sharp eyes.”
“Roger, chief”, whispered Little Al, while the other two just nodded.
The march toward their objective would be painfully slow, but fortunately uneventful. They spooked a couple of wild animals every now and then and the snorting and noisy retreat made them suspect that they were wild boar. Everyone’s nerves were on edge at every sound or unusual shape in the dark, but they all knew that any accidental shot fired or any type of response would give away their position to any enemy forces that were within earshot. The intensity of this challenge took all of their attention, and for the several hours that they moved through the woods there was little time for daydreaming or allowing random thoughts to distract them from the mission. After about an hour, Big Al signaled for a break, and this proved to be the pattern that he would follow for their entire journey. He was the first to speak while they all opened their canteens for some much needed water.
“How’s everybody holding up?”
“I’m OK but it’s hard to keep the BAR from making noise when I sling it, so I’m just carrying it and keepin’ it at the ready”, was Rafe’s response. Al, I can still hear the walkie talkie rattling a little when you loosen the strap.”
This was a case where Big Al was more than willing to listen to the junior member of the team.
“OK, I’ll keep it tighter against my body. Thanks Rafe. How about you Al?”
“Doing fine boss. I’m glad you guys are taking slow shorter steps. You know these little legs sometimes have trouble keeping up.” Even in the dark, you could sense that this brought a smile to everyone, and was a welcome break in the tension.
“I’m OK”, added Lizard, “but I am workin’ up an appetite.”
They all had to stifle the urge to laugh out loud, but managed to keep it quiet. Big Al could just see that there was an obscene gesture or two being passed around in the dark, and he knew that his men were handling the stress in their own way. They’d be fine and as long as he could keep thinking of this mission as just another training exercise, he knew that he could handle it as well. His only real fear was letting them down!
At around midnight they could sense a change in the terrain as they slowly began to gain ground toward the higher area overlooking the highway. This slowed their progress a bit, but their bodies had loosened up by now and the effort did not seem to be much greater. The silence and the beauty of the clear night sky helped to lessen the tension that they had felt earlier, and their thoughts began to drift a little as they picked their way through the dark woods. They were probably safer now than when they were closer to the border, and Rafe was struck by the beauty of the sky in particular. “It’s the same sky that I’ve looked at every night back on base”, he thought, “but all of a sudden it looks really foreign and less friendly. What a crazy state of mind this has gotten me into.”
Around 0200 hours, they could see a clearing up ahead and when they reached it they realized that they could now look down on highway E55. It had two lanes running each way and was wooded along both sides, much like any autobahn that they were used to in Germany. The Soviet Bloc nations didn’t have the funding to match some of the more modern highways in western Europe, so there were no concrete dividers or brick walls along the edges. They could see occasional headlights which appeared to be trucks traveling in the night, but were unable to determine if they were military or civilian vehicles. There was minimal lighting widely spaced along the highway, so it would be difficult to spot anything at night other than an extremely large movement of vehicles in a convoy. If a large column of tanks did come along there would be no mistaking them for any other type of vehicles. The clattering of the tread drive, loud exhaust and shaking of the ground beneath it, would identify a tank more than a half mile away. Rafe and the others didn’t even want to think what this would mean if it happened .
They scouted the immediate area as best as they could in the dark and decided to set up their outpost above a turn in the highway below. There was a flattened area that might have been a lay down area for a deer, and they all agreed that this would be a good first location to use, so they gathered some loose brush and twigs around it to conceal it even more. Everyone settled in for the rest of the night, and Rafe was assigned as lookout for the first hour. They all curled up in their goose down sleeping bags, while he was left to fight the cold and eventual boredom.
Fear is a very funny thing when you are the age of Rafe and his comrades. Death seems like such a distant possibility that it kind of hovers in the back of the mind but rarely comes into your consciousness. They were all definitely feeling some fear, but in Rafe’s case it was more a fear of letting down his teammates than any actual fear of danger. There was the possibility that they would all be either killed or captured, but that didn’t affect Rafe or the others to the point of interfering with their mission. He stayed alert with no fear of falling asleep due to the cold, and allowed a part of his mind to wander off in a thousand different directions.He spent some time wondering what his future held, and imagining where he might be a year or two from now. There was always the option to reenlist and make the military a career, or maybe go on to college which he had skipped in favor of a regular paycheck. The night air remained still, and alone in his thoughts with the moon and a couple of heavily breathing bodies around him, the hour for him to turn over the watch to someone else passed rather quickly. It was Little Al’s turn to relieve him, so he just leaned over and tapped him on the shoulder and gave him a little shake.
“Al, it’s time”, which was all that he had to say. They were all used to this routine and it took very little to rouse them from the light sleep that they allowed themselves in a time like this.
“Huh, OK”, mumbled Al still a little groggy. “Everything OK?”
“Yeah, real quiet. Lizard relieves you in an hour.”
“Got it; get some sleep.”
With this, Rafe unzipped his sleeping bag and slid in. In about five minutes, the warmth that it provided was overwhelming. He drifted off to sleep with hardly a thought.
Shortly after sunrise, Rafe could hear the rest of the team moving about, so he reluctantly let go of the peacefulness of sleep, and allowed reality to intrude on his dreams.
“Hey guys, what’s up?”
Big Al was on his feet already with the radio in hand. “Lizard and I are going to go up to that clearing on higher ground. I’ve got to check in with HQ at 0615 to let them know we’re on station. We’re going to scout out that water source while we’re up there, so everyone give me one of your canteens.”
With this done, Big Al and Lizard began a slow walk to the higher ground while Rafe and Little Al rolled the sleeping bags and pulled some additional brush in around their position. Rafe reached into his pack and took out a paperback novel to show to Little Al.
“Looks like it’s goin’ to be a long day, or maybe more. I ‘m glad I brought along something to read.”
“What did you bring”, inquired Little Al.
“It’s a novel about this British spy named James Bond. There’s a whole bunch of them and I’ve read a few already. They’re always about some nut trying to take over the world, but it’s fun reading. We don’t all have to be on watch at the same time during the day, so I thought this would help to pass the time.”
Little Al was obviously interested. “Sounds like fun. Can I start reading it when you’re not?”
“You’re on. Maybe we can just pass it around during the day and give everyone a shot at it.”
In a little while, Big Al and Lizard returned, with Lizard carrying three obviously full canteens.
“OK, here’s the water guys. We’re OK on that front. The stream’s nice and clean and we can fill up twice a day when Al checks in. So drink to your heart’s content.”
“You didn’t find any beer up there did you?” inquired Rafe.
“Sorry, not this time, pal.”
Big Al brought them up to date. “The water source is good and that clearing up there is perfect to get a signal through to HQ. We’re getting maximum range and power on the walkie talkie. I just keyed the transit button once and got their signal back right away. The deal is that I just key them a transit signal and they key back the same unless they have new orders or something to tell us. All I got was a beep, so I guess this thing’s still on. Let’s see what’s for breakfast, and settle in.”
The day passed uneventfully and led into an equally quiet evening. They passed the time with the usual banter and small talk, and observed what little activity there was on the highway below them. The road really ended at the fenced border so there was very little commercial traffic and only occasional military movement. On the morning of their second day in Czechoslovakia, all of a sudden they spotted three military vehicles coming down the highway. There was a jeep like vehicle, a small truck of undermined purpose and a second truck with a large moveable antenna mounted on the roof.
“What’s that?” asked Rafe to no one in particular.
“That’s one of their snoop vehicles”, answered Little Al. “They use them to try and monitor our side’s radio transmissions.”
With a worried look on his face, Big Al added, “I hope they didn’t pick up our signal. That’s why we’re just hitting the transit button real quick. Just a split second to transmit a beep. There’s no way they could have picked up that, it took almost no time. If we had talked back and forth, OK, they might have picked it up, but no way they’re on to us.”
Lizard had been watching them more carefully than the rest and observed, “Looks like they’re just pointing the antenna at the border. Sneaky bastards, but hey, I guess our guys do the same.”
They all kind of collectively held their breath until they were sure that they had not been detected, and then settled down into their daily routine of K-rations, talks about back home, and of course girls. Night fell again and with it the bone piercing cold that made them dread the sun going down each evening. The tedium of just holding their position started to wear them down, and the boredom that came with it could have made them start to get careless. Big Al, always the “rock”, held them together and was quick to stop anyone who might be talking too loud or making any unnecessary movement. The nighttime routine remained unchanged with each man taking a one hour watch and then waking his relief just prior to diving into his own sleeping bag. It seemed as the nights wore on that those one hour watches that had passed so quickly on the first night now seemed to take an eternity. Big Al continued to do the twice a day check in with headquarters, but all that he ever got in response to his transmit signal was a like signal in return. They all speculated on what was actually happening in the real world. It was doubtful that a war had begun, because they had not seen any real military activity on the road to the border. Besides, if the country were at war, they would have been recalled to their base to take part in the action. You really didn’t need forward observers when the war had already come to your own backyard. On the morning of their third day in the observation post, they had a very unwelcome break in their routine.
Lizard had heard it first. “Hold on . . . chopper. . . everyone take cover!”
In one movement they all dove to the ground and started pulling loose brush from the perimeter of their little outpost, to the center to cover all of them. They had no idea of just how good this camouflage  would be to an aerial observer, but with the olive drab ponchos and sleeping bags, this was the best that they could do. It was a Soviet MI-8 attack helicopter that was regularly used along the border by the Czech troops for surveillance. In addition to the pilot and copilot it also carried two gunners or observers who could check out the terrain below through two open back doors. The chopper was coming down from the north, following the highway route which would give the observers the ability to see the high ground overlooking the highway on both sides of the road.
Rafe could feel his heart pounding so loudly in his chest that he swore that the other guys would be able to hear it as well. He knew it made no sense but for a second or two he actually thought that the Czechs might even be able to hear his heart pounding over the noise of the helicopter itself. The MI-8 came on steadily until it passed directly adjacent to their position, but kept to a line that directly paralleled the middle of the highway so it was still several hundred yards away from them and a little bit higher. The noise of the engine was not as overwhelming as it was in the sort of valley that the high ground over the highway created, but it was still loud enough to shake the ground under them. They could feel the vibrations over their entire bodies as they lay motionless on the ground, and all held their breath waiting for some change in the noise or direction of the helicopter that might indicate that their position had been spotted. Rafe took the safety off the BAR and slid it alongside of him toward the forward edge of their hideout so that if it appeared that they had been detected, he could at least get off a shot or two before the helicopter opened up on them with its machine guns.
The noise of the chopper faded a little as it went past their position on the high ground and headed further south toward the border and the end of the highway. They could still hear it and then it became louder as it retraced its route and came abreast of their position again, and then faded  as it headed back north over the highway. There was a collective sigh of relief and exhaling of breath as they all realized that the danger had passed.
Big Al was the first to speak. “Wow, I guess that was what you’d call a close call. I thought they’d spotted us.”


© Copyright 2018 karateguy. All rights reserved.

Add Your Comments:

More Historical Fiction Short Stories