OUTSIDE THE MEDICAL BUILDING - (submitted by Jeff O'Handley, 318th Sqn)

 

    The debriefing done, the men of Easy Does It gathered at the medical compound, trying to find word about Peter Cotten, tail gunner.  A tough-looking orderly had barred their way, telling them they had to wait outside, there was no room, the doctors had to be left alone to do their work, and on and on.  They had finally let Lieutenant McCardell in, but everyone else was stuck outside in the gloom and drizzle that had descended upon the base while they were out flying their first mission.

 

    “Why won’t they let us in?”

 

    “What the heck’s going on in there?”

 

    “How’d he look, do you think he’ll be alright?”

 

    “Sure, he’ll be fine. Won’t he?”

 

    The men chattered, smoking cigarettes, still flush with the euphoria of their first combat mission, trying to bolster each other’s
confidence that Cotten would be okay.  Only Joel Aaronson didn’t participate.  He knew better, having pulled Cotten from his tail
position after a near flak burst had sent a hunk of metal into his neck.

 

    After what seemed an eternity, the door to the hospital opened, and McCardell stepped out.  The clamor of voices stopped immediately as the crew turned expectantly to their leader.  Only Aaronson didn’t look up from his seat on the crude wooden bench outside the hospital.  He knew.

 

    “He -- he didn't make it,” whispered McCardell.  A collective sigh went up from the group.  Jake cleared his throat, and continued in a stronger voice. “The doc said that if Pete had lived, he probably would’ve been paralyzed, because the shrapnel caught part of his spine.  He said he was amazed that Pete made it back to base alive.  Come on,” said Jake, “Let’s get out of the rain and get some chow.”

 

    They trudged through the mud in gloomy silence, the thrill of the mission wiped away by their loss. Please let this be the last time I have to deliver this kind of message, thought Jake, though he knew better.