I slipped McInerney’s flashlight into my right side pocket, its end sticking out a bit and rapping back and forth against the hard leather of my Colt .45 holster.

“Fusner,” I whispered, turning back toward the foxhole I’d left, but making no move to retreat there.

“Sugar Daddy,” I ordered, and then waited.

Fusner quickly moved the dials he needed to move in order to isolate Sugar Daddy’s frequency on his PRICK 25.

“Six actual,” I stated, and then went on when he responded by using my Junior nickname.

He was in a bad spot with his platoon and I could hear the tension in his voice just by reading it in the strained tone of his single word reply.

“We need the ropes you intended for the other side and we need them now. Have your men string one single long linked line along the side of the bridge that’s upriver. The only cover you had at all, the last time we did this, was from getting into the river and moving along low on the other side of the bridge. The 106 rounds mean everything,” I added.

“How long do we have?” he asked, rushing the speed of his words as he’d never done before.

“About twenty, maybe twenty-five minutes,” I replied, knowing I was probably going to be caught short.

If the A-6 made its last run sooner than that then the cost would be in Marines taken down by machine-gun fire from the jungle area that Jurgens’ platoon, unloading, and the running supplies to the company, would be in no position to suppress. The supplies had to come first or all was lost, and the only men to facilitate and receive the supplies, from the more dangerous position of the bridge since it’d moved, were Jurgens’ Marines.

“I’ll do my best, Junior,” Sugar Daddy said in such a way as I’d never heard him before.

It was almost as if he was transmitting a message of respect toward me, as well as a deep measure of fear. I stood for a few seconds, surprised and holding out the handset before me. I didn’t reply. There was no reply necessary. All Jurgens and I could do was to wait for the ropes and then go to work building a makeshift cargo net to get the heavy supplies down and across the deadly gulf that had formed between the river bank and the rear of the bridge structure. And we had to move as fast as humanly possible, given the short suppression period the Intruder could give us and the likely continued and unpredictable movement of the structure.

Marines appeared at the top of the metal wall that was the back of the bridge, visible from the reflected moonlight suffusing up and out from the thickness of whitewater the fast-moving liquid threw into the air all around us. I was drenched, and I hadn’t come within feet of the river water itself, which I didn’t mind because the fresh feeling of the river water did a lot to revive and keep me going. The Marines began throwing coils of rope across the distance. Fifteen feet was not a great gulf between us, but the coils were wet and heavy. Many made it, to land in the nearby mud, a few others were retrieved as they struck the near edge of the water and about to be swept away. A few were lost altogether.

“Knots, we need knots, and fast, and we won’t have time to make a proper net either,” I said quickly to Jurgens. “Any of your men who can tie knots I need right now.”

My mind raced back to my time aboard the Daniel J. Morrell when I’d served as a deckhand before it went to the bottom of Lake Huron. I’d spent two summers between college years spending most of my off time learning seaman’s knots and lore from the other sailors. The running hitch was about the fastest knot anyone could tie that was secure and could be continued, one knot after another, without having to cut the rope to build the lattice, and it was easy and fast to tie.

I gathered a small group of Marines Jurgens had ‘volunteered’ and showed them how to tie the simple knot, using an arms-length distance for the placement of each knot at the crossing point where the ropes were brought together. It was too dark to show much of anything, however, so I pulled out McInerney’s flashlight and lay it on the mud. Its angled head pointed sideways and provided enough light. I took the chance that it also could attract fire if the enemy wasn’t crouched down in holes or hiding in tunnels waiting out the Intruder’s deadly explosive runs.

I finished my quick course in the showing the Marines how to tie the lines together to form nets that had squares of about three feet in size, way too big to haul or rest cargo on, particularly as it came across the round racing water. We had no time, and the wet ropes were cumbersome and difficult, but they’d probably serve for the Marines to climb onto and haul the supplies over themselves without ending up in the river, either being spirited downriver to some gloomy ending or drowning outright.

The results of the second of the Intruder’s runs blew us all into a moment of frozen inaction and silence. The concussive waves crossed the river almost instantly but were partially blocked by the steel corner of the bridge itself. We plunged back into the knotting work after they passed. We finished most of the net before the fourth A-6 bombing run, just as Sugar Daddy’s Marines began arriving at the bridge’s upper rear edge with all manner of boxes, bags and uncovered mortar tubes and plates.

We were out of time, so I ordered the knotting work to stop. Just as I was about to have a line thrown across the distance to attach what we had of a cargo net, a coiled rope landed right in front of me. I looked up to see a dark figure waiting to haul the end of the net up. It had to be Sugar Daddy.

A single gunner fired a line of green tracers from the jungle area we all feared. The tracers came in well over everyone’s head, but still forcing everyone down.

“The light,” Jurgens hissed, brushing by and knocking me out of his way. He didn’t turn off the fire attracting light, instead, he buried the flashlight deep into the mud not far from my left boot. He said nothing, immediately turning to tie the thrown line to the cargo net, and then yelling for the Marines on the bridge to haul it up.

I eased the flashlight loose from the mud by feel, getting the sliding switch on the side to the off position before I brought the waterproof lens up from the muck. I wasn’t willing to give up the flashlight. The light had proven that the enemy would survive the bombing runs and eventually direct heavy fire upon anyone left in the open while they would be making the supply move attempt. I had wished at one point that we could use the old runway further upriver, and also a bit down from Hill 975, but the river water had done its work as it had increased in volume and speed with the increased rainfall. The old runway was all but gone, it’s great concrete squares eaten out from underneath by the racing water and then broken up as they failed in pieces instead of being plopped down to rest flat on the river’s underwater bed. Two of Jurgens men had bravely gone upriver earlier to check it out.

The Marines worked to get the net up and secured with three of Jurgen’s men assigned to hold the riverbank edge down and tight. I watched them work, no orders or instructions being necessary. Somehow, none probably ever working as a merchant seaman other than myself, they knew instinctively what to do. They didn’t talk, they just got the job done.

I waited for the next bombing run, hoping that Homan would make sure to hit further down in the jungle area. The Marines crossing the exposed flat surface of the bridge carrying the supplies would be at real risk from the concussive waves of the bombs if they landed any closer at all to where they’d come in earlier. I thought of calling Homan on the radio but then realized he and his pilot knew exactly what they were doing, and very likely their advanced radar could take in the situation we were in as they made their runs.

I carefully replaced the flashlight back in my pocket, this time freeing up my left front pocket so the head of the light wouldn’t whack against my automatic. I watched the Marines work, as supplies began to flow first to men struggling to balance as best they could on and in the net, and then as other Marines grabbed the supplies and ran back toward the open area running all the way to the cliff, not far from where my foxhole had been dug. The makeshift cargo net allowed for the transfer, although almost two squads of Jurgen’s Marines had to be stuck among the knots and ropes to ferry the stuff down.

The flashlight incident brought a lot of stuff rushing back to me, as I waited to see what had to be done next, and also for the return of the Intruder.

I wasn’t made up of anything of my own. I was the creation of others. My helmet was a bruised and battered relic from officers who had died before me. My gun was from a dead lieutenant I’d shared so little time with that I had to concentrate to remember his name. My used boots came in from a chopper crewman who felt sorry for me, and then died hours after being stuck on the ground, and then going immediately into combat. My watch was taken from another officer who’d passed on earlier. The flashlight I’d lost had been owned by one of my platoon sergeants and then replaced by the flashlight owned by another officer killed because he was too new to understand the near-instant mortality of combat to men exposed without any experience. I was like the scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz, a collection of bits and pieces, although different from that fictional character by being gifted, or cursed, with a great memory. There was no making any mistake in my own mind, however, that I was as entirely fictional as that movie creature. I had made myself up, with the Gunny’s help, to become something I could not look twenty-eight days back and recognize at all.

I realized that the 106 ammunition was coming across the water first, with Sugar Daddy’s large presence visible up on the bridge’s end to make sure. It was that touch and understanding that burned deeply into me about the man. I would write Sugar Daddy up for the Silver Star he had somehow come to crave. I wouldn’t do it for his heroism in any action or activity he might be performing. I’d do it for his knowing and doing the right thing at the right time to save two companies of Marines from annihilation.

106mm recoilless rifle ammo box

106mm wooden boxes

The flat wooden boxes, each with two 106 rounds inside, came over quickly. Although weighing about fifty pounds per box, the wooden crates handled easily when a rope was run through one of the hemp handles and then tied to the other. They bounced easily across the shaky net, guided by the Marines over the holes in the net and the rapidly moving water below. The ropes on the boxes were untied with great speed and the rounds spirited away into the night. I knew they were being run to the Ontos at top speed. In only minutes the Ontos would be fully resupplied with both high explosive and flechette ammunition.