Lance Corporal Eddie Swift huddled under his poncho, letting the rain beat down on his steel helmet. The machine gun emplacement filled with water every time it rained, and it rained on and off all the time. Eddie hadn’t been completely dry since landing on this little slice of tropical hell back in August. Tonight he and his crew mate, PFC Bud Walton, were the last position bordering the slime and slug infested little stream that the Marines had dubbed Alligator Creek.
Eddie and Bud were responsible for making sure some Jap patrol didn’t sneak around the platoon’s right flank. There were two riflemen in a foxhole about ten yards to their left, and that was it. The only time Eddie could actually see the creek was when a flash of lightening lit it up through the driving rain, and that usually killed his night vision for a minute or two.
Eddie and Bud had schlepped their Browning machine gun and its tripod to the site before dark. They’d hauled up ten boxes of belted .30 ammo and a five gallon jerry can filled with distilled water. Their gun was water cooled, and Eddie thought it was ironic that they had to haul water around in a tropical downpour. After they dug the gun emplacement, they’d helped the commo guys lay phone lines back to the C. Company HQ.
The rain started and stopped until midnight, then it came down in sheets. Eddie and Bud shivered and shook, sitting in dirty water up to their waists, watching the creek bank. Eddie was close to dozing off when a blast of lightening lit the creek and the sandbar on the other side in white, blinding light. Clear as day, Eddie could see dozens of Japanese soldiers advancing across the sandbar.
He kicked Bud and said,
“Call and get us some flares! Half the damn Jap army is on that sandbar! Bud cranked the field phone, and when it was answered he croaked,
“This is Charlie four! We’re under attack and need some flares!”
A voice replied,
“10-4 on the flares. They’re on their way.”
Eddie heard the pop of mortars being fired, and seconds later three white phosphorus parachute flares lit up the creek and sandbar like Times Square. He could clearly see hundreds of Japs caught in the glare. He pulled the breech bolt on the Browning, and began to pour controlled bursts of machine gun fire into the mass of troops.
Bud began to break out a second can of ammo, and told the mortar guys to keep the flares coming. The Browning was capable of firing almost 500 rounds per minute, but Eddie had been trained to fire in short bursts, so as not to burn out the barrel. Even with the cooling jacket, you just couldn’t put the trigger the down and let ‘em fly, and changing a barrel in the midst of a frontal assault might prove tricky.
His subconscious mind acknowledged the crack of high powered rifle fire all around him. A few rounds hit the log in front of the gun position, but most were several feet over his head. He remembered the Gunny Sgt. on the firing line at Paris Island ranting about keeping your fire low. Most men in every army fired too high, and tonight he was thankful that some Jap Sargent had been ignored.
The two riflemen crawled over and took up positions to watch the right flank. Eddie kept a steady stream of fire onto the sandbar, mowing down rows of the advancing Japs. Finally the main force began to withdraw further down the sandbar, and the only sounds were the moaning of the wounded on the other side of the creek.
Eddie checked and saw that they only had three cans of ammo left, and ordered Bud and the two riflemen to go back to platoon and bring more forward. He called back to the mortar squad and asked for one flare at a time during the lull in firing. Bud and the two guys returned with four cans of ammo each, and they were accompanied by a squad of riflemen and two sections of 37mm antitank cannons.
The riflemen took up positions to either side of the gun emplacement, and the 37mm cannons dug in just behind them. Eddie grabbed a rag and begin to loosen the brass cap on the gun’s water jacket. He refilled the jacket with fresh water, and turned to Bud.
“What’s with the anti-tank stuff? I ain’t seen no tanks.”
“Yeah, well I asked them about that, and they said we’d better hope we didn’t see any. All of the ammo they brought is canister shot.”
Eddie was cleaning the breech block of the Browning, when he heard the blare of a bugle. He watched in amazement as at least a battalion of Japs came racing down the sandbar with flags flying and officers leading the charge, waving swords. There was just a moment when they were caught in a newly popped flare, and everything seemed frozen in time. Then he opened up with the Browning.
He heard the cannon blasting away with canister shot and the steady crack of rifle fire from the infantrymen. He mowed down rows of Japs, and the cannon fire cut swaths through their ranks, but they kept on coming. He and Bud changed out cans of ammo, and he increased the length of each burst, but the Japs kept on coming.
The leading edge of the attack soon hit the far side of the creek, and the Japs slowed as they hit the knee deep water, but they didn’t stop. Eddie kept his fire on the massed troops on the sandbar, hoping the riflemen could hold off the ones in the creek. The two cannons kept up a rapid fire, and a picture of Custer at the Little Big Horn crept into Eddie’s mind.
He heard himself laughing out loud, as four Japs came thundering out of the creek within ten yards of his position. He swept through them with a long burst, the cannon firing just over his head, and bits and pieces of bone, flesh and blood spattered on his muddy dungarees. He picked up a boot with a foot still in it, and hurled it at the retreating Japs.
It was almost dawn when the few remaining Japs broke off and ran down the sandbar. A thick blanket of smoke, laced with the tangy aroma of cordite, hung over the battlefield. He and Bud stood up in the ankle deep water of the gun emplacement, watching as Marines from the 2nd Battalion moved through their area in pursuit of the retreating Japs. There were scattered shots being fired, as some of the wounded Japs were finished off.
Eddie and Bud grabbed a couple of empty wooden ammo boxes that were scattered around the area where the 37mm cannons had been, and tore open two packets labeled: “U.S. Army Field Ration Biscuits 1918.” As they sat eating the hardtack and drinking the distilled water, Bud said,
“Eddie, do you think those guys were drunk, or drugged, to keep on coming like that?”
“Naw, replied Eddie, “I think they were just stupid.”
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Categories: Flash Fiction