Pacific Eagles

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Historical Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
The year is 1945. Lost and abandoned by his comrades, Private Jack Davis is captured by Japanese forces on the remote island of Bataan, site of one of the bloodiest battles of the Second World War. Interned under barbaric conditions with little hope of rescue, it is only through the assistance of Colonel James Dempsey, fellow inmate and determined war veteran, that Davis is able to survive, and ultimately escape from his harrowing imprisonment.

Submitted: July 20, 2015

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Submitted: July 20, 2015

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Private Jack Davis awoke in the dark. He could feel a dull pain behind his eyes and his back ached. His throat felt like sandpaper. “What happened?” he thought to himself. He scarcely remembered anything that had happened in the last hour, much less the last five minutes. His mind was drawing a complete blank.
A light suddenly flickered to life in the small, dark room Davis was trapped in. He sensed the floor beneath him vibrating, as if he was in the back of a moving vehicle. Looking around, he could tell he was in some kind of canvas-backed truck; a tiny amount of cold night air seeping through tears in the tough green fabric that enclosed the truck bed. The rotting wood floor was spattered with a sticky maroon substance that appeared to be blood. A wooden crate containing long-spoiled military rations lay overturned against the side of the truck bed, spilling its mold-encrusted contents onto the floor.
Suddenly, the truck stopped. Davis could hear the sound of the cab door open and the driver hopping out. He heard two voices speaking in muffled Japanese before the back door to the canvas-portion of the truck was abruptly yanked open by a tall man wearing the uniform of a Japanese Imperial Army officer.
“Doko kara kita nodesu?” barked the officer in Japanese. “Where are you from?”
 “America,” Davis said through his parched throat. “US Army.”
 The officer shouted something in Japanese to the driver, who appeared at his side. He held a pair of handcuffs and a blindfold.
 “What’s going on here,” shouted Davis. “Do any of you speak English?”
 Saying nothing, the officer grabbed Davis by the arm and forcibly pulled him out of the truck. Davis landed face-first on the muddy ground and was pulled up to his feet by the driver, who handcuffed him and fastened the blindfold around his head.
 Davis heard the officer walk up to him and whisper, “Welcome to Bataan, American.”
 Davis shuddered as he heard the words. The Bataan prison camp, known to US forces as Camp O’Donnell was one of the most infamous Japanese camps in the Pacific. Nearly 10,650 people, all of them either Allied Filipino or American soldiers, had died in the grueling walk from a Japanese facility in Balanga to the prison camp in a march that came to be known as the Bataan Death March. Davis had been friends with some of the POWs that had died. He would later describe this as one of the reasons he had stayed in the Army throughout the war.
 The two Japanese soldiers walked Davis through a reinforced steel gate into a large concrete bunker surrounded by walls crowned with spools of barbed wire. Draped over the bunker’s entrance was the red-and-white sunburst symbol of the Japanese Imperial Army.
 Once they arrived inside the bunker, the officer untied Davis’ blindfold, allowing him to take a look at the interior. The inside of the building hardly resembled what the US Air Force, who had originally designed and owned the building, intended the bunker to look like.
 Prison cells were cut into the building’s whitewashed walls, many unoccupied with rusted doors and water-damaged floors covered with dead leaves. As the soldiers marched Davis onward through the prison camp, they passed a brightly-lit room resembling an operating room, as well as several rooms containing bunk beds and rusted steel lockers, evidently dorms for the Airmen that used to work at the base before it had been taken over by the Japanese.
 They continued down a darkened hallway to a pair of metal double doors with portholes that allowed a glimpse of the world outside. The driver pushed the door open as the officer escorted Davis across a long-disused walkway to an abandoned tarmac that ran from the thick jungle growth on one side of the island before ending in a sheer cliff face on the other end. The hangars at either end were sealed and padlocked, leaving no possibility of escape if Davis were to break free of his captors, steal a plane and fly back to friendly soil. If Davis thought his chances of freedom were slim before, they almost certainly flat lined as he examined every possible avenue of egress on the island.
 As he looked down toward the jungle side of the island, Davis saw a pair of headlights speeding down the runway. The vehicle, apparently a stolen Army Jeep stopped about four yards away from them. Another Japanese soldier got out, this one an enlisted man. The soldier exchanged a few words with the officer before manhandling Davis into the back of the car, starting the engine and driving down the runway back toward the jungle.
 As they got closer, the sounds of the jungle became ever more apparent against the still and quiet of the night. A beaten-up dirt road led through the thick underbrush, the path littered fallen branches, puddles, and every now and then the occasional shot-up helmet and battered rifle of an American soldier, a shadowy reminder of the battle that had once occurred deep in the jungle depths.
 The soldier stopped the car at a thick murky swamp that surrounded an old air raid shelter that was half sinking into the water. The soldier led Davis out of the car, blindfolded him and took him through the swamp, Davis occasionally stumbling on a submerged mangrove root or other debris, the icy muck soaking through his torn and mud-encrusted combat fatigues.
 At last they arrived inside the bunker, which had been gutted clean save for a few tattered maps and broken bookshelves containing books on military history and strategy. The soldier led Davis into a darkened portion of the structure where a few storage racks had been left standing along the hallway, many holding dismantled Thompsons and M1carbines.
 At the end of the hallway stood a heavily-battered wooden door that had what looked like claw marks dug into it. Nailed into its surface was a white-painted sign that read RE-EDUCATION in three different languages.
 Davis heard the soldier unlock the door, and felt him shuttling him through the door and into a freezing-cold room that reeked of blood. A staccato clicking resounded throughout the room, much like that of a movie projector. Davis felt the soldier remove his handcuffs and pushing him into a chair. He heard the door slam shut and he immediately ripped off his blindfold.
 He found himself sitting in a bloodstained wooded chair in a small room the size of a conference room or meeting hall. Above him was an old movie projector projecting a picture of the Japanese flag onto a large screen across the room. As he looked to his side he was surprised to see another person sitting beside him, apparently a POW as well.
 The man wore a torn-up combat jacket that looked as if it had been thrown into a fire and shot multiple times. On his lapels were two bloodstained silver eagles, the rank of a colonel. He had a buzz cut and his face was covered in dirt. He looked exhausted.
 The colonel looked over in Davis’ direction, and, after seeing the private’s rank on his sleeve, said “So the Japanese got their hands on another G.I fresh from boot camp. How did you get here?” he asked.
 “To be honest, I don’t really know,” replied Davis. “I remember waking up in the back of a truck going to the prison camp back there. One of their soldiers took me through the jungle dropped me off over here.” He said. “The name’s Jack Davis, by the way”
 “Colonel James Dempsey,” said the colonel. “US Marines. Out of curiosity, how much action have you seen around here?”
 “I fought in Iwo Jima with my unit when we first invaded the island.” Davis said. He didn’t mention that he had deserted his unit during the fighting, or that he regretted ever joining the Army after he had seen nearly all of his squad mates get cut down by a group of enemy infantrymen.
 “That must have been brutal.” said Dempsey. “I was at Okinawa when the Japanese attacked. I helped rescue some guys on my destroyer after one of their Zeros hit us. I won the Medal of Honor for that.”
 “Interesting,” said Davis. “So what got you involved in the war?”
 “Patriotism, really.” replied Dempsey. “To be honest, I’m not in this for medals or recognition. I’m doing this because my country needs me right now, more than it ever has.” The colonel said. “What about you? What made you join?”
 “For me, I think it was for wanting revenge for what the Japs did at Pearl Harbor.” said Davis. “I remember going to the enlistment office as soon as I read that article in the paper.”
 “So you’re a patriot then?” asked Dempsey.
 “I’m not really too sure,” Davis said. “I’d die for my country, but I don’t think I signed up for all this.” He said. “Anyway, how did you end up here?”
 “Well, it all started at least an hour ago when I was off duty on a patrol boat off Iwo Jima…” started Dempsey.
***
Colonel James Dempsey stood in the war room in the below-decks portion of his patrol boat writing a letter to his family back in the States. He signed the letter, put it in the envelope, and put it in the pocket of his combat jacket so he could mail it once he got back to Manila, a city in the Philippines where a small Marine shipyard had been set up.
 As he walked up the stairs that led to the main deck, he was suddenly blown back by a powerful explosion that singed his jacket and blasted him backwards into the wall. As he struggled to regain his footing, he found himself standing in water that went up to his knees. Apparently the ballast tanks had been hit. “We’re being attacked.” thought Dempsey. It was just like Okinawa all over again.
 As he attempted with great difficulty to get up the stairs to the main deck, he heard the alarms going off all over the ship. After two minutes of slipping and nearly falling down the stairs, Dempsey finally made it to the upper decks, where many of his crewmen were manning anti-armor weapons and firing them blindly at a Japanese destroyer that loomed at least half a mile away.
 “What happened, Corporal?” Dempsey asked one of his crewmen.
 “That destroyer out there came out of nowhere. They hit our ballasts. We’re not gonna make it.” said the corporal.
 “Keep it together, Corporal. Where’s the radio?” asked Dempsey.
 “In the bridge.” said the corporal. “But there’s no way you’re going to make it up there.”
 “We’ll see about that.” said Dempsey. He took off running across the deck and up the long flight of stairs that led up to the bridge. Suddenly, he felt the whole ship lurch as another torpedo slammed into the stern of the ship. Looking across, he could see the bow of the ship slowly rising out of the water, the ship nearly resembling the Titanic.
 He rushed into the bridge just as the ship hit an almost ninety-degree angle. Inside, he could see the ship’s captain holding the radio mike to his lips, shouting the ship’s current position into the microphone.
 “Sir, give me that radio!” shouted Dempsey. “There’s an aircraft carrier near here that could probably give us a hand.”
 “Whatever you say, Colonel.” said the captain. He handed Dempsey the mike as he the colonel dialed the bridge of the nearest aircraft carrier, the USS John Stennis. “Mayday, mayday, USS Stennis, this is the patrol boat Roosevelt. Request immediate air support at grid Oscar-Uniform-Delta-”
 Instantly, the Japanese destroyer dealt the killing blow to the dying ship as another torpedo plowed straight into the bridge, likely incinerating the captain and blowing Dempsey out the window and into the icy ocean below. As he fell to what seemed to be certain death, Dempsey closed his eyes, waiting for the end, and praying for his own salvation.
 Suddenly, he felt his body hit the water, the tangy taste of salt water waking him up and making him fully alert. The first thing he saw was the patrol boat on its side, slowly sinking into the water, the American flag that adorned its bridge, torn and blackened, stood crooked yet sticking defiantly out of water. The sight was something that Dempsey would remember for the rest of his life.
 Miraculously, Dempsey saw a piece of wreckage floating towards him and immediately grabbed onto it, the mangled piece of metal now his lifeline. As he paddled his way towards the direction of dry land, Dempsey was met by the grisly sight of several of his crewmen’s corpses lying face down in the water. Many had sustained burns, their charred flesh still smoldering in the water.
 At least half an hour later, Dempsey, who was nearly unconscious after paddling for so long, finally washed up on the beachhead, the same beachhead that so many Americans had died on during the month long invasion of Iwo Jima.
 As Dempsey got to his feet, he saw perhaps the most surprising and unwelcome sight he could possibly hope to see after his long ordeal. Rising above the sprawling jungle canopy was the flag of the Japanese Imperial Army. The Japanese had done what the US Department of Defense: they had managed to keep control of one of their airfields, probably connected to the rest of the islands by the elaborate networks of tunnels the Japanese had dug all over the island.
 Overcome with rage at what the Japanese had done, both to his crewmen and to the land his fellow Marines had sacrificed to capture, Dempsey knew there was only one thing left to do: he had to avenge his fallen comrades by taking down the last Japanese holding on the island. His mind was set. Clutching the letter in his pocket that he had wrote only thirty minutes before, he knew in his heart that he would either succeed or die trying.
 Taking his combat knife from his pocket, he slowly stalked through the heavy jungle growth, his every sense fully alert. He soon came to a massive man-made trench that ran across the island itself like a huge black scar that split the island in two. As he looked into its depths, he saw that a massive runway had been set up at its bottom, along with several warehouses and bunkers built into overhangs that burrowed into the trench’s sheer walls.
 As Dempsey began searching for a way down, he came across a small wooden hut that looked as if it had once served as an ammo store for the old Japanese garrison that had once been stationed at the island. As he raided the hut for anything he could use to strike back against the Japanese, he found a battered STG-44 (a submachine gun used by the Germans in WWII), along with two rolls of dynamite with attached timers that he could use to blow up some of the main airfield, and a coil of sturdy climbing rope that he could use to rappel down.
 He quickly walked over to the side of the trench, securely knotted the rope to a rock on the side of the trench and began the perilous task of rappelling down the cliff. As he got closer and closer to the ground, he saw at least forty Japanese troops all stationed at certain points around the base. “This is going to be tough.” thought Dempsey, sizing up the opposition.
 Once he set foot on solid ground, he stealthily edged along the cliff wall until he reached a set of fuel tanks where a set of enemy engineers were refueling a Japanese Zero fighter. The pilot stood nearby, chatting with a few soldiers nearby.
 Dempsey snuck behind the fuel tanks, took out both rolls of explosives and planted them along the base of the tanks. He set the timer for two minutes, walked back to where he had left the rope, and climbed slowly up the cliff face, always on the lookout for enemy troops that had discovered his position.
As he grasped the top of the cliff and pulled himself up to his feet, he checked his watch and crouched down to get a better view of his handiwork. As the charges went off, Dempsey saw a massive cloud of flames and tar-black smoke mushroom up into the sky. Below he saw the charred black skeleton of the Zero in flames, being surrounded by engineers and soldiers attempting to put out the fire. Alarms and sirens reverberated around the base; soldiers with rifles ran about the airfield, fanning out to search for the infiltrator who had managed to evade their defenses.
As Dempsey turned to find a way off the island, he suddenly found himself face-to-face with a Japanese soldier who had a rifle trained at his face.
“Get down!” barked the soldier in broken English.
“Alright, alright.” said Dempsey, crouching down, his hands over his neck. The soldier led him back through the jungle and over to the beachfront where a Japanese cargo plane sat landed on the sand, an odd sight in such a subtle environment.
The soldier led him into the plane through the cargo ramp at the back and handcuffed him. After closing the hatch, the plane took off on a two-hour flight to the airfield at the Bataan complex, where Dempsey was brutally tortured and interrogated by the installation commander before he was taken to the bunker in the swamp to be brainwashed and used as a strike agent against the US government. At least three days later he met up with Private Jack Davis, who had been captured after being shot down while flying on a bombing run directed at a Japanese base on the island of Saipan near the Mariana Islands.
***
“So that’s how you got caught?” asked Davis once the colonel had finished his story.
 “Yep, completely true.” Dempsey said. “And if I don’t make it out of here, I want you to give this letter to my family.” he said, taking the letter out of his pocket. Although slightly waterlogged, the letter was still legible. Even the postage was still intact.
 “It would be an honor, sir, but I don’t think I stand a chance; I’m only nineteen. There’s no way I could escape.” Davis said.
 “That may be true, said Dempsey. “But you’ve got guts, kid. You’ll find a way out; I know it.”
 Suddenly, the two men heard what sounded like a scuffle happening outside the door that led out of the projector room. They heard what sounded like glass breaking, a muffled sentence in Japanese, and an eerie creaking sound like a rope makes when stretched taut.
 “What was that?” asked Davis. He looked afraid of what he could possibly find waiting just outside the door.
 “I’m not sure,” said Dempsey. “but we should probably check it out.”
 Together the two men walked towards the door, reflexes steeled, ready for anything that might come their way once they were outside. Davis tried the doorknob, and, none to his surprise, found it locked. It appeared to be bolted from the outside.
 Dempsey motioned for his fellow prisoner to get back as he kicked down the door, the cheap, weathered wood easily breaking under the strain. Behind it they the hallway abandoned. The Japanese soldier had simply disappeared, apparently taking all the dismantled assault rifles and maps with him. A filing cabinet had been knocked over and was lying on the floor on its side. Papers were scattered in a disheveled mess across the floor; it looked like someone had quickly rifled through them, taking what they needed and leaving the rest behind. 
 “So he just decided to leave?” asked Davis.
 “He had to have had a reason.” Dempsey said. “The Japanese military is bound by an honor code and they’re not particularly kind to deserters. If the Japanese command found out about that, they’d probably have him publicly executed.” the Marine said. “They’d probably only disband themselves like that if they knew the end was near and they were going to lose.”
 “What do you mean “lose”?” questioned Davis. “The war’s still going on right?”
 “I’m not so sure.” Dempsey said. He crouched down to pick up a few pieces of crumpled paper that lay on the floor next to the Imperial soldier’s body. It appeared to be a stolen US intelligence document as it bore the stamp of the US DoD on the back. Typewritten onto its surface were the simple words: 509th and 393rd missions successful. Japan has surrendered. All friendly naval units and personnel in the Pacific are requested to leave the operational area by 1800 hours for a regroup at the San Francisco Bay in western California.
 The Marine showed the paper to Davis, who looked overjoyed as soon as he read the words. “So then it’s really over then.” he said. “We won.” Davis handed Dempsey back the letter, wanting him to have the honor of reading it to his family. To his surprise, Dempsey declined.
 “Jack, if there’s anything that I’ve learned from you, it’s that you know when to fight hard and when to hold back.” Dempsey said. “There’s still work I have left to do here for my country, but as soon as you get back to the States, I want you to read this letter to my family. We’re like brothers now, Jack, and you’re the only person that I’d want to give the honor of reading my family this letter.”
Dempsey’s words were heartfelt, and suddenly Davis saw in the older man the father that he had never had but always wanted. Apparently too stunned with emotion to speak, Davis took back the letter and put it in his pocket. With tears welling up in his eyes, Davis, for the first time since he had been sent to war, actually broke a smile; it seemed as if the world finally was at peace once again…

 


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