Chapter Seventy-Four Joigny, France – August 15, 1945
‚??Whom the gods love dies young.‚?Ě Menander (342 BC – 291 BC)
The single shot echoed loudly through the night.¬† For a few seconds everything was quiet.¬† Johnny screamed and fell to the ground while Jake shoved Tom English violently out of the way.¬† Johnny was holding the barrel of the .45, still pointing toward his stomach, his thumb stuck in the slide.
Paratroopers came running over from all directions.¬† Jake knelt down beside Johnny and pulled the slide back on the pistol, releasing his thumb.¬† He felt for the wound around Johnny‚??s stomach and his hand came back covered in blood.
‚??I got ya buddy.¬† You‚??re gonna be all right.‚?Ě¬† Jake took off his jacket and rolled it quickly into a pillow for Johnny‚??s head.¬† He then applied pressure to the hole in Johnny‚??s jacket where he thought the wound would be.¬† ‚??Medic,‚?Ě he instinctively yelled.¬† ‚??Somebody call a medic!‚?Ě
‚??What the hell happened, Jake?‚?Ě¬† It was Sergeant Christian‚??s voice.
‚??That drunken dead-beat guard shot him.‚?Ě¬† Jake didn‚??t look up.¬† He just nodded toward Tom English as he tried to stem the bleeding.
‚??He‚??s a dead man.¬† We‚??re gonna fuck him up.‚?Ě¬† Christian and two other paratroopers began stomping English before they dragged him off kicking and screaming.
Corporal Leland Brewer ran up to the scene.
Jake looked up.¬† ‚??Beerman!¬† Am I glad to see you!‚?Ě
Brewer felt around the wound.¬† ‚??Aw shit, Jake.¬† This is bad.¬† I don‚??t have my stuff.‚?Ě
‚??Go get it!‚?Ě
‚??Be right back.‚?Ě¬† Beerman took off for the infirmary.
Johnny was breathing heavy, his eyes wide with anxiety.¬† Suddenly he pounded the ground with his fist.¬† ‚??Shit!¬† Goddamn it!¬† I can‚??t believe this!‚?Ě
‚??Calm down, buddy.¬† You‚??re gonna be fine.‚?Ě
‚??He pulled a pistol on us!¬† I can‚??t believe he did that.¬† That little shit pulled his weapon on us.‚?Ě
‚??He pulled it on me, Johnny.‚?Ě¬† Jake closed his eyes and shook his head.¬† ‚??Why‚??d you get in the way?‚?Ě
‚??Where is he?‚?Ě
‚??Some of our guys took him.¬† They‚??re kicking the shit out of him.¬† I think they‚??re gonna kill him.‚?Ě ‚??Let me see,‚?Ě Johnny tried to raise his head.¬† Jake was not sure if he wanted to look at the wound or English being dragged toward the barracks.
‚??Stay down.¬† Stay calm.¬† Beerman is getting his stuff.‚?Ě
‚??Beerman.¬† Good man.¬† Great medic.¬† Wants to be a doctor when he gets home.‚?Ě¬† Johnny‚??s breathing was labored and shallow.
‚??I need a meat wagon here,‚?Ě Jake yelled out.¬† Some more troopers were gathering around.¬† Someone dropped a towel and Jake used it as a compress.
‚??Oh, man.¬† I almost made it.¬† I almost made it home.‚?Ě
‚??You‚??ll make it home.¬† We‚??re gonna get you to the infirmary hubba-hubba and they‚??ll take care of you.‚?Ě
Someone dropped to his knees alongside Jake.¬† It was Captain Frank West.¬† ‚??What the hell happened?‚?Ě
‚??Trigger happy sentry, sir.¬† The boys took him to the barracks.‚?Ě
West looked at Johnny.¬† ‚??Stay with us, son.¬† Help is on the way.‚?Ě
Johnny‚??s eyes calmed though his breathing remained rapid and strained.¬† ‚??Jake, brother.‚?Ě¬† Johnny forced a smile.¬† ‚??Can you get off my legs?‚?Ě
Jake looked down and then at West.¬† Neither of them was on Johnny‚??s legs.
‚??We have to roll him over,‚?Ě ordered West.¬† He looked at Johnny. ‚??Hang tough, trooper.‚?Ě
They rolled him partly on his side and West took out a flashlight.¬† There was an exit wound on Johnny‚??s lower back near the spine.¬† They gently rolled him to his back.
‚??What‚??s there?‚?Ě Johnny asked anxiously.¬† ‚??What do you see?‚?Ě
No one answered.¬† Johnny took a deep breath and exhaled.¬† ‚??No one‚??s kneeling on my legs.¬† It‚??s my spine right?‚?Ě
‚??Don‚??t give up on me, buddy.¬† Don‚??t quit.¬† Hang on.‚?Ě
Johnny punched the ground again with his fist.¬† ‚??Don‚??t rush, don‚??t hurry.¬† I‚??m not going home like this.‚?Ě
‚??Johnny, save your breath.¬† Don‚??t give up!‚?Ě
‚??That‚??s an order, son,‚?Ě West added.¬† He turned to look for some help.¬† About a dozen troopers had gathered around.¬† The call had been put out for an ambulance and Beerman was off getting his supplies and trying to round up a doctor.¬† But West could not see anyone racing toward the scene.¬† Johnny was bleeding out and help was not imminent.
‚??Jake, come closer.‚?Ě
‚??I‚??ll take that,‚?Ě West pointed to the towel.¬† Jake took the pressure off.¬† The towel was soaked blood red.¬† Captain West began to apply pressure as Jake moved toward Johnny‚??s head.¬† He cradled his head in his arms.¬† There still was a chance to save him if he could only get Johnny to want to live.
‚??You have a wife and son, home.¬† You have to fight!‚?Ě
‚??Do you still have my letter?‚?Ě
‚??Sure, I still got it.¬† I was giving it back to you tonight!‚?Ě
‚??Good, you bring it to Rose‚?¶ in person‚?¶ like you promised‚?¶ right?‚?Ě
‚??Don‚??t talk like that!¬† Don‚??t give up, for her sake. You‚??re gonna make it!‚?Ě
‚??I don‚??t want to make it.¬† Not like this.‚?Ě
‚??Look, buddy, don‚??t quit on me!‚?Ě
‚??Jake, I don‚??t have a lot of time.¬† I don‚??t want to spend what‚??s left arguing with you.¬† I love you like a brother.¬† I need you to promise me something.‚?Ě
‚??I need to ask you to take care of my family.¬† I need to know they‚??ll be in good hands.‚?Ě
Jake blinked.¬† Tears began streaming from his eyes.¬† ‚??Jeez, I would do anything for you, buddy.¬† You know that.¬† But how am I supposed to do that?‚?Ě
‚??I don‚??t expect her to stay single forever.¬† Bring her my letter.¬† Use your charm!‚?Ě
Jake looked at Captain West.¬† His eyes asking what do I do now?¬† How do I deal with this?
West nodded.¬† His facial expression replied tell him what he wants to hear.
Johnny coughed.¬† He was spitting up blood.¬† He grabbed Jake‚??s collar and pulled him close to his face.¬† ‚??C‚??mon brother.¬† You can do this.¬† You have nothing to go home to anyway.¬† I need to know my family is‚?¶in good hands.¬† In your hands!‚?Ě
Jake smiled slightly.¬† He wanted to reassure his dying friend; make his last moments bearable.¬† He wanted to say he would try his hardest but it would be up to Rose.¬† He never got to share the news he had a letter in his pocket from Macie asking him to come back to her.¬† And now, at this moment, he knew he never would.¬† Looking into the pleading and desperate eyes of the friend he loved, he could not bring himself to excuses or explanations.¬† ‚??Of course, buddy.¬† I‚??ll take care of them.‚?Ě
Johnny smiled back.¬† His face instantly became relieved.¬† ‚??Is that a blood pact?‚?Ě¬† Johnny weakly raised a fist.
Jake tapped it with his.¬† ‚??You have my word.‚?Ě
‚??That‚??s all I needed to hear.¬† There‚??s no one on this earth I would rather have raise my son and take care of my gal than you.¬† No one!‚?Ě
Johnny‚??s hand slipped from Jake‚??s collar.¬† He leaned back on his makeshift pillow.¬† He began to cry through labored breathing.¬† ‚??I feel cold‚?¶like Bastogne!¬† It‚??s so damn cold!‚?Ě
Jake was crying.¬† He reached down and cradled Johnny‚??s head and shoulders in his arms.¬† He hugged Johnny tightly to provide warmth, rocking him ever so slightly.¬† Jake looked at West.¬† All three men had tear-streaked faces.¬† Jake held his friend tightly and gently rocked him until he expelled his last breath.