Thursday, July 23, 2015

Short Story: Under the Silent Guns

Leyte, Philippines, 18 December 1944
Interviewee: Pfc. Gerard Rogers
Interrogator: Lt. Charles Munroe. 

Pfc. Rogers shifts in his chair. He does not look at the interviewer. He is dressed in filthy, but standard-issue, fatigues. His face is covered in small scratches. Occasionally he fingers a cross around his neck. 

Pfc. Rogers: “Jim Fulton found the first one. We were patrolling pretty far afield. There’s a thick patch of jungle north of Valancia Airfield. Forward camp there kept getting hit by artillery from the area, so they sent us out to shut the guns down.  About two miles in, the jungle just...opened up. Ten feet back in the jungle, you couldn’t see a thing. We stumbled right into it—really stumbled. Frankie Calloway had point and he fell flat on his face.”

Pfc. Rogers coughs violently and wipes his lips. A smear of blood is visible on the back of his hand. Lt. Munroe gestures for Pfc. Rogers to continue. 

Pfc. Rogers: “Well, we found the guns. But they were quiet. Whole place was quiet. Normally out there you can hear birds and monkeys or whatever. But this clearing… I’ve been in noisier morgues. Heh. Anyway. This clearing was big. Probably five, six hundred yards across at the widest point. Tall grass everywhere, higher than your head. All anyone could see were the barrels of ten arty cannons pointing up at the sky. So we headed for the first cannon, stealthy and scared. Frankie Calloway was still on point.”

Pfc. Rogers stops speaking and asks for a glass of water. He is given one by Lt. Munroe, and drinks. 

Pfc. Rogers: “It took us ten minutes to get to the first artillery piece, maybe more. We closed in on it in a semi-circle and all burst out of the grass at once. Nothing. Just the big gun, sitting there. The breech was half-open and there was a shell inside. That really spooked Frankie. He got rattled, started praying the Rosary. Captain Daughtry told me to take point instead. So I led us up to the next gun. Abandoned. And the next one. Abandoned. These guns had hammered us three nights running. They must have cleared out not long after we set out in the morning. Then we found their little camp—a few lean-tos of bamboo and brush. Pots still over firepits, half-written letters, a half-finished game of Jap dominos. But no Japs. Captain Daughtry thinks it’s an ambush, tells Boscoe, Riggs, Antonelli, McCabe, and Miller to get to work sabotaging the cannons. The rest of us, he told to fan out into the grass, see what we could find. I remember he had his big pearl-handled revolver out. Thought he was the Patton of the Pacific Theater.”

Pfc. Rogers pauses. He appears agitated. 

Lt. Munroe: “Keep going.”

Pfc. Rogers: “Jim Fulton found the first one. I heard him yell. Me and Frankie Calloway ran over to him. Figured he’d gotten caught in a punji pit or maybe he’d found a dead Jap. Wish that’s all he’d found. It was Luke Schroeder wearing a Jap uniform, one of his legs missing from the mine that killed him. But Schroeder died in Ormuc Valley, weeks ago. We told each other it was heatstroke or a hallucination. Then Pratchett hollered from the other side of the clearing. He’d found Ed Dickens with a hole in his throat where the sniper got him. Ed was in a Jap uniform too.”

Pfc. Rogers stops again and rubs his wrists, adjusting the manacles. 

Pfc. Rogers: “You mind taking these irons off, sir? I ain’t going to run. Nowhere to go anyhow.”

Lt. Munroe removes the manacles from Pfc. Rogers.

Pfc. Rogers: “There must have been twenty bodies in that clearing. All boys from our company. Except one. I found my brother. … Steve. He was an airman. … … Got shot down over France. He was … missing everything … below the belt. Just some spine … and guts was left. … He was in a Jap uniform too. I don’t... I don’t remember much after that. Someone panicked. I think it was Frankie, maybe, or Jim. I’m not sure. Yelling about Japs in the trees. I started shooting too. Next thing I know, I was stumbling into forward camp.”

Pfc. Rogers pauses again, leans forward, voice hushed. 

Pfc. Rogers: “I think…”

*The following section of transcript was written after the interrogation.

Lt. Munroe leans forward to catch Pfc. Rogers’ words.

Pfc. Rogers lunges, struggles with Lt. Munroe for a moment, before claiming Lt. Munroe’s sidearm. 

Pfc. Rogers: “I can still see them in those uniforms…” He places the pistol in his mouth and fires.

Pfc. Rogers was declared deceased on 18 December 1944, from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the brain. His parents were informed he died of combat-related injuries.

No trace of any clearing was found. All artillery shelling from that quadrant ceased immediately after Captain Daughtry’s recon party disappeared. Several days after Pfc. Rogers’ interrogation, a corpse was found in the jungle north of Valancia Airfield. The body had been savaged by animals, so little flesh remained. Scraps of Japanese uniform fabric and a pearl-handled revolver were located nearby.