WWII - Black Sheep Squadron Universe
Admiral Orin Travis sat in the office of his old friend, General Moore, smoking a cigar and sipping a brandy. They reminisced about their time in the first Great War. As they talked about their wild adventures they both wondered how they had ever survived. Travis asked how Major Larabee's squad was doing.
"They're everything you said they would be," Tom said. "If a little unorthodox."
"No more than the Black Sheep," Orin laughed.
"Don't remind me," Moore groaned. "You know they have a rivalry going."
"So I heard," Orin smiled. "At least you haven't had to throw any of them in the brig yet."
"Not yet, but I'm sure it will be inevitable."
"I'm sure it will."
They both laughed enjoying their time together. They were interrupted when the general's aide opened the door.
"Excuse me, sir," he said. "The tower just called. Larabee's squad in on their way here. One of his planes was shot up and couldn't make it back to Corina."
"How bad?" General Moore demanded.
"Bad enough for Major Larabee to request immediate medical assistance," the aide answered.
"How far out are they?" Admiral Travis asked.
The two officers looked at each other. A silent agreement passed between them and they left the office. The aide had anticipated they'd want to go to the runway and called a jeep to take them to the airstrip. The medical personal and crash crews were already lined up and waiting when they got there. General Moore lifted his binoculars and peered through them. The 'Seven' were making their approach and he could swear two of the planes were holding up a third.
"Do you see what I see?" Tom asked.
"If you're talking about two of the planes holding up a third, then yes," Orin responded.
"That's not possible."
"Tell that to the 'Seven'."
Chris had never been so happy to see the island of Espiritos. Vin was weakening from loss of blood and Chris was afraid he would lose consciousness completely at any time. During the flight they had each kept up a steady stream of chatter to try to keep Vin with them, but for the past few minutes he had begun responding only with grunts instead of talking to them.
Chris felt a shift in his plane and struggled to keep it steady.
"Vin!" JD yelled. "Ease off the stick! Let us keep you steady!"
"Tanner!" Chris added his cry.
His reply was a garbled choking sound.
"Vin! Talk to me!" Chris said, fearing the worst.
Agonizing seconds passed before there was a response from Tanner. Vin couldn't answer - his stomach had lost the battle to the combination of shock, pain and the unsteady movement of the plane and he was tossing his last meal.
"I'm...okay," he finally managed. "Got sick... Sorry..."
"Just a little further Vin," Chris said as he glanced towards Tanner. "Alright, JD, what do we do now?"
"Unfortunately Vin's going to have to land on his own," JD said reluctantly. "We can go down with him for a short time but we'll have to peel off before he lands."
"Damn!" Chris cursed.
"I can do it," Vin said in a stronger voice.
"Vin, get your landing gear down..." JD said.
There was no response from Vin, not even a grunt, but to their relief, Ezra, who was behind and below them, reported, "He's doing it. Gear's down."
As they approached the island. JD talked them through the descent, reminding Vin to cut back on his speed, while he and Chris did the same.
"We've got you lined up with the runway, Vin," JD said. "Just glide in slow and easy... Captain, break off on my signal....," JD said.
"Vin, can you do it?" Chris asked. Foolish question. They were out of options. Vin would either land or he'd crash.
"Go on, Cowboy, I'll be all right," Vin assured Chris.
"See you on the ground," Chris said.
"Via con dios, brother," Josiah said solemnly.
"Leave some of the nurses for me," Buck warned.
"Yeah, right," Nathan laughed.
"I'll wager a round of drinks Vin lands without a mistake," Ezra added.
"Good luck," JD said quietly. "Captain... get ready.... NOW!"
The two outer Corsairs dipped and then peeled off, and Tanner's plane plummeted rapidly.
"STEADY, VIN!" Larabee barked.
Vin valiantly tried to comply as he made his finally approach. Larabee followed Vin down as long as he could, and everyone on the ground held their breath as Vin's Corsair slammed onto the tarmac and then began bouncing like a ping-pong ball down its length.
"He isn't going to make it," Travis said.
Travis was right. Vin veered off the runway and then went nose first into a drainage ditch. The medical wagon and fire crews raced to the plane. When they got there the fire crew climbed on the plane and pulled open the cockpit. One of them reached in and unbuckled Vin's seat harness and parachute. The Corsair's engine was smoking and the danger of fire or an explosion was very real, so there was no time to be mindful of the young officer's wounds as he was quickly pulled from the cockpit. Vin cried out in pain as he was awkwardly manhandled to the ground and onto a stretcher. The triage nurse barked orders as they placed a bloody Vin into the ambulance and drove away. While the rescue was underway, the rest of the squad landed as quickly as they could. Chris ran over just as the ambulance pulled away.
"How bad?" Chris demanded of the Admiral.
"Don't know, Chris," Orin said. "They pulled him out then put him directly into the ambulance."
"Shit!" Chris cursed as he commandeered the nearest jeep.
The whole squad piled in as Chris headed for the hospital. When they got there Chris raced inside with the others at his heels. Once inside a small, but feisty, older woman stopped them.
"Now, Chris, give them a chance to check him over," she said.
"Nettie," Chris growled.
"Don't "Nettie" me," she scolded. "The lot of you just go over there and sit down."
It always amazed Buck that Chris listened to her. Nettie had no real authority on the island. When the war broke out she and her niece were working there as missionary nurses. When it was decided Espiritos would be the rear base for the squadron in the Pacific she refused to leave her work. The first time Vin met her he took and instant liking to the older woman, whom he said reminded him of his late mother.
Everyone took seats around the office except Chris. The major prowled the small area like a caged cat.
"Don't you worry, son, they'll take good care of Vin," Nettie said.
"Aunt Nettie," a young woman called from the hall.
"I'm here Casey," she answered.
"I just heard that Vin was hurt," Casey said.
"They just brought him in," Nettie said patting her hand. "You just have a seat with the boys."
"Come over here, Casey," Buck called from where he sat next to JD.
"Hello," she said smiling at JD.
"Um hi," JD replied shyly.
"Casey this is lieutenant JD Dunne," Buck said, always ready to play matchmaker.
"Chris how is Vin?" Admiral Travis asked as he walked in.
"Nothing yet, sir," Chris answered.
"Chris I hate to ask now," General Moore said. "But what damage did you do to the Toranaga?"
"I don't know," Chris said angrily.
"Easy, Chris," Josiah cautioned.
"I honestly don't know," Chris sighed. "The fighters came on us so fast we didn't have time to assess the damage. I know we all hit the target, and she was burning when we left her."
"I need a couple of you to go back and get pictures," General Moore said as Chris glared at him. "I need to know if she's still a threat."
"The hell I will!" Chris yelled.
"We'll go sir," a man said from the door. It was Major Greg Boyington, leader of the infamous Black Sheep. Because of the rivalry between that unit and his, the Major's offer surprised Larabee.
"Greg," General Moore said surprised. "I didn't see you."
"Figured as much, sir," Greg Boyington said. "I'll go get your pictures."
The general agreed.
"Thanks Greg," Chris said holding out his hand. "I owe you."
"And I'll collect," Greg laughed as he shook Chris's hand. He turned to follow the general, but then turned back and said, "Which of you two powderpuffs brought that plane in?"
Chris put a hand on JD's shoulder. "It was all his show... Lieutenant Dunne, meet Pappy Boyington."
JD knew Boyington's reputation and that of his squadron. He just stood there until Buck flicked the back of his head. "Say somethin' Kid."
"It's an honor, sir," JD said.
Boyington looked him up and down, obviously taking note of his youthful appearance, although JD noticed with some satisfaction that the legendary Major Boyington was short, like he was.
"Kid, if I hadn't seen that with my own eyes... Hell, I did see it with my own eyes, and I still don't believe it..." Boyington shook JD's hand. "If you ever get tired of these yahoos, you've got a slot in the Black Sheep."
JD was flabbergasted by the offer, even though he didn't for one minute consider accepting it.
Boyington turned to leave. "Hope your man is okay, Larabee," he said as he departed.
+ + + + + + +
The squadron waited over an hour for word about Vin. Ezra sat in a corner shuffling cards. Josiah was reading Stars and Stripes while Nathan flipped through a National Geographic. JD sat talking quietly with Casey while Buck kept an eye on Chris. He knew Chris was worried about Vin. The lieutenant had an odd connection with Chris that Buck didn't quite understand. After Chris's wife and son were killed in a car accident Buck was sure his friend had a death wish. Chris used to take every dare and challenge thrown at him during their mail flying days. When war broke out, Chris redirected his anger towards the Japanese and the Germans. When Admiral Travis gave him a command of a squadron Buck was surprised Chris picked him. They argued and fought so much after Sarah and Adam's death that Buck thought he'd lost Chris's friendship. He soon learned he hadn't but they weren't as close as they had been. When Vin showed up at the training facility his calm and steady presence seemed to ground Chris and bring him back to some semblance of his former self. Buck was glad Vin had given him back the friend he remembered. He kept his eye on Chris as he waited by the door. Suddenly Chris's position changed and Buck waited for the worst.
"Well?" Chris demanded as the doctor walked in.
"He'll be fine," the Captain said.
"Whooey!" Buck hollered.
"What took so long?" Nathan asked.
"Well, Vin was hit in the right shoulder and left thigh," he began. "but the fragments apparently passed right through. He was grazed on his right temple, which caused a mild concussion. I'm surprised he never lost consciousness. He lost a good deal of blood so we gave him a transfusion. I just wanted his vitals to stabilize before I came to get you."
"So can we see him?" Chris asked.
"He's out cold," the doctor said. "But yes you can see him."
They followed him down the corridor. He pushed open a door and they walked into a ward that had ten beds, but Vin was the only one in the room. He was pale but breathing steadily. A white bandage was wrapped around his head and shoulder. Hanging from a pole next to the bed was a glass bottle of blood.
"He'll probably sleep for the rest of the day," the doctor said. "So you might as well go get something to eat and wash up."
As if he were deliberately trying to make a liar out of the doctor, Vin's eyes fluttered open. "Chris?" he rasped. "Where.... what...."
"Shhhh... take it easy, Vin. You got yourself shot up pretty good, but you're still in one piece."
Chris looked at the doctor expectantly.
"I'll see he gets something for the pain... but really, he should rest now."
"I'll stay," Chris said.
"Chris the doctor said Vin needs to rest..." Travis argued.
"You don't know Vin," Buck laughed.
"He detests hospitals," Ezra said. "Last time he walked out."
"Well if he knows what's good for him he'll stay put," Nettie said forcefully.
"Why don't we go get something to eat and bring Chris something back," Josiah suggested.
"Sounds good," Nathan said.
As they were leaving, Chris stopped JD.
"You did good, JD," Chris complimented him. "Without you..."
"I didn't do anything special," JD said modestly.
"Yes you did," Chris said. "I just wanted to say thanks."
"And I want to apologize for not believing you," Buck said.
"As do I," Ezra added. "I believed you were bragging to try to fit in. I was wrong and I'm sorry."
"Good lord!" Josiah exclaimed. "Did I just here what I think I did?"
"I think so," Nathan said shocked.
"Come now," Ezra scowled. "I know when I'm wrong and I'm not afraid to admit it. It's just that I'm so seldom ever wrong..." He winked.
"Bull...shit," Vin said softly.
"All of you quit teasing Ezra," Nettie scolded. "Now get out and let Vin sleep."
Chris shook his head as he watched Nettie hustle the rest of the squad out the door. With them gone the room was now quiet. Chris pulled up a chair and got comfortable. He was glad JD had joined the squad. He was going to fit in just fine.
The doctor had been right and Vin slept through the day. Josiah brought Chris something to eat and told him Buck was bragging about his wingman. Chris wasn't surprised Buck was letting everyone know it was JD's flying skills that had saved Vin. Being a rookie sometimes made it hard to fit in with the seasoned pilots.
Chris was reading an outdated edition of the New York Times when he saw Vin beginning to stir. For the past hour, he had been restless and crying out in his sleep, reliving the confrontation with the Zero. Chris stood up and gripped Vin's left shoulder.
"You're okay, Vin," Chris said soothingly. "Just relax."
"Is he alright?" asked a female voice.
Chris turned to see Mary Travis, a reporter for Stars and Stripes. She was also the daughter-in-law to the Admiral, widow of the Admiral's son who had been killed at Pearl Harbor.
"He's fine," Chris said. "I think he's trying to wake up and his body isn't ready yet."
"I was hoping I could talk to him," Mary said. "I wanted to do a story about what happened."
"Mary you know Vin," Chris smiled. "He's not going to talk to you. Why don't you talk to Lieutenant Dunne? He's the real hero."
"Alright I will," Mary smiled. "I want to interview you also. Dinner tonight?"
"I can't," Chris said. "We have to head back for Corina."
"You're not staying with Vin?"
"The war still goes on," Chris said. "Vin will understand."
"Alright," Mary said disappointed. "I'll go talk with Lieutenant Dunne then interview you before you go."
Chris watched Mary leave and sighed. The reporter had set her eyes on one Chris Larabee and was determined to get him. Chris tried not to encourage her in any way. Chris liked Mary but not in the way she hoped. He couldn't even think of starting a relationship with anyone while the war was on. He hadn't lied when he said he had to get back to Corina. Chris hated leaving Vin but orders were orders. He just hoped Vin would wake before they had to leave.
"Better watch your back, Cowboy," Vin said softly. "Sooner or later she's gonna get you."
"That's what I have you for," Chris said turning to Vin. "How do you feel?"
Chris smiled as he poured Vin some water. He gently lifted Vin's head and held the cup to his lips. Vin drank greedily.
"Now the truth," Chris said as he put the cup down and sat on Vin's bed.
"Fell like shit," Vin admitted.
"Well you look it," Chris smiled.
"Everyone else okay?" Vin asked weakly.
"Everyone's fine," Chris assured him. "But we have to head back to Corina."
"Figured as much," Vin sighed.
"I'll see you in a couple of days."
"Do me a favor, thank JD for me."
Chris nodded and watched as Vin settled back to sleep. He pulled the blankets higher before he got up to leave. He nodded to the nurses on his way out and went looking for the others.
+ + + + + + +
Two days later Vin was bored out of his mind. The concussion and blood loss still made him tire easily and it had been decided he should stay in the hospital a few more days. The others hadn't been able to come and see him. The Japanese kept them busy.
Vin woke early and lay staring at the ceiling. He finished all the magazines the nurses brought and had nothing to do. He was tempted to just leave but had no idea what had happened to his flight suit - which was covered with blood and puke, anyway, the last time he'd seen it - or where he could get a clean uniform. He cursed his luck as he picked up one of the magazines and began flipping through it.
"Feeling sorry for yourself?" asked a familiar voice.
"Aw hell, Nettie, I'm bored," Vin complained.
"I know you are," she said as he walked over carrying a small pie. "I brought something for you."
Vin's eyes widened at the sight. Sugar was not an easy commodity to come by and neither was any kind of fruit that you'd want to make a pie out of, so this was a special treat. "Thanks," Vin said as Nettie put the pie in his lap and handed him a fork. "The whole thing's for me?"
"I came to keep you company," Nettie smiled. "I know the boys haven't been able to come see you."
"Nope," Vin said a she he took a bite of pie. "Where'd you get apples?"
"Not apples," Nettie smiled. "Just tastes like it."
"Mmm good," Vin mumbled around a mouthful.
"Don't talk with your mouthful," Nettie scolded.
Vin swallowed what he was chewing. "Yes ma'am," Vin said.
He frowned thoughtfully as the pie reminded him of something.
"What is it son?" Nettie asked. "Still have a headache."
"Nah," Vin said. "I just have a small problem."
"Tell me what it is. Maybe I can help."
"Well, I made a bet with Ezra," Vin began. "I have to get seven Hershey bars from the nurses. If I don't, I have to give Ezra twenty dollars."
Nettie looked down her nose at him. "Have you got any idea how hard it is to get and keep chocolate in this place?"
Vin nodded contritely. Even if you could get it, the trick was to keep it from becoming a liquefied mess in the tropical heat.
"But," Nettie smiled, "I just happen to know that a few of the young ladies here would be happy to part with some for a handsome young man, like yourself."
Vin blushed at the compliment. "Damn, Nettie, you know me," Vin sighed. "I just ain't comfortable talking to them gals."
"Leave everything to me," Nettie said patting his leg. "Now eat your pie."
Vin could have eaten the entire pie, but instead he only ate half and decided to save the rest for later. Nettie sat with him and they played some cards until she could see Vin was getting tired. He protested, but not long after she said good-bye, he was asleep.
+ + + + + + +
"Chris!" JD called from the radio shack. "Espiritos is on the horn."
Chris smiled and headed for the shack. In only two days JD had made himself right at home. JD liked working the radio and he could sit for hours at the communications equipment. Chris was glad JD hadn't let the fuss about saving Vin go to his head.
Chris felt bad that the squad couldn't get to Espiritos to see Vin. He knew the young lieutenant was probably lonesome and bored in the hospital all alone.
He stepped into the shack and JD handed him the mic. "It's Vin's doctor," he said.
"Major Larabee," Chris said.
"Just wanted to let you know Lieutenant Tanner is being released in the morning," the doctor said.
"That's' great," Chris said. "We'll come get him."
"Bet Vin's gonna be happy," JD said. "He must be bored."
"Yeah I'm sure he is," Chris replied.
"I'm gonna go tell the others," JD exclaimed.
Chris watched as JD ran out the door eager to spread the good news. It would be good to have the whole squadron back together.
+ + + + + + +
The next morning Vin was up early and driving the nurses crazy. They were very glad when Nettie showed up. Nettie came with a uniform they had managed to scrounge up and helped him get dressed. They sat and talked for awhile until it was well past the time the others had said they'd be arriving to pick him up.
"Where are they?" Vin said, worried.
"Don't worry they'll be here," Nettie laughed. "Why don't you just take a rest."
"Nettie I've been resting for two days," Vin said. "I want out of here."
"I know," Nettie said. "Humor me."
Vin sighed and sat on the bed. Nettie could see Vin was pushing himself and wanted him to take a nap. She smiled as he leaned back on the pillows and promptly fell asleep. She sat in the chair next to the bed and pulled out some mending from her bag. She didn't realize over an hour had passed when Chris walked in with the others. They noticed Vin was asleep.
"How is he?" Chris asked.
"I bet he's dying to get out of here," Nathan said.
"He's fine," Nettie said. "He's just been up since the crack of dawn waiting for you."
"Took us awhile to round up a two-seater," Chris explained. "Vin," he said touching his shoulder. "Time to go."
Vin opened sleepy eyes. "What's this about a two-seater?"
"You're flying back in the backseat," Chris said.
"I wanna fly my own plane," Vin complained.
"Yeah, well, your plane got beat up worse than you did. It'll be awhile before you can fly her again," Chris said. It was a complete lie - Chris just didn't want Vin flying yet - but Tanner bought it.
Chris helped Vin up. His injured arm was in a sling, and he was still very sore and moved slowly, but he was eager to get going.
"Wait a minute Lieutenant Tanner," Ezra said. "I believe we had a bet."
"Now, Ezra, that's not fair," Josiah said. "He's been laid up."
"Yes, here in the hospital with all the nurses," Ezra said. "What better place to fulfill his penalty."
"He's right, Josiah," Buck said. "Well Junior, looks like you owe Ezra twenty bucks."
"Aw hell," Vin sighed.
"Lieutenant Tanner," one of the nurses called from the door. "Are you leaving today?"
"Yeah," he answered. "I'll be out of your hair."
"Well, we have something for you before you go," she said. "I'll be right back."
"Hey, Vin, I think she likes you," Buck smiled.
"Here you go Lieutenant," the nurses said walking in with a basket. "Hope you like chocolate."
She handed Vin the basket and inside was a bunch of Hershey bars. Vin smiled and showed the basket to Ezra. "Guess I don't owe you the twenty dollars after all."
"Touché," Ezra said with a small bow.
"Let's go," Chris said shaking his head.
"Here, Nettie, give these to the native children," Vin said handing the basket to her.
"Alright," Nettie smiled. "But you boys take a couple."
She smiled and handed each of them a chocolate bar. Vin carefully got off the bed and stood next to Chris. Chris took his arm as Vin limped towards the door. Nettie smiled as she watched them walk out. She knew they would each watch out for each other.
JD couldn't believe he'd been with the squadron now for two weeks. It felt like he'd been a part of them forever. He was starting to learn each of their little quirks. Ezra didn't like to get up before noon. Josiah was always spouting some form of philosophy. Nathan was determined to become a doctor and tried out what he read in medical journals on each of them. Vin hated to be fussed over which he found out since the Lieutenant was still grounded after being shot. Buck would talk and flirt with any thing in a skirt and Chris was quiet but always knew what was going on.
The Major had sent JD to work with Sergeant Yosemite on the planes, and that's where he'd been all day, so he was sweaty and dirty. Chris believed they should all know how to do simple repairs if needed. JD was surprised to find that Ezra had actually done this and hadn't complained. He imagined Standish hated being dirty. His uniform was always immaculate, even in the tropical heat.
JD stopped to wash up at the outdoor sink before meeting the others. He didn't have time for a real shower, since Major Larabee had been adamant that they all meet at 1800 and he didn't want to be late. There was no real plumbing on the island. A water tank fed water to the sinks and showers by means of gravity, and the latrines were more like outhouses. At least they had soap, which was a scarce commodity.
After cleaning up, he headed for the club and was bewildered to discover he was the only one there, even though it was only one or two minutes before 1800. He looked around wondering where everyone was. He shrugged and stepped in the door.
"Surprise!" Buck and the others jumped out from behind the bar where they had been hiding.
"Wha...?" JD asked looking around and blinking in confusion. It wasn't his birthday or anything...
"This is sort of a belated party for rescuing my ass," Vin said smiling. Vin's right arm was still in the sling. The doctor said two more weeks and Chris threatened to shoot him if he saw it off him.
"But... I don't need a party," JD stammered.
"Well we do," Buck smiled. "Besides it's an excuse for Nettie and Casey to come for a visit."
"Hi JD," Casey said.
"Hi," JD said smiling. He was really happy to see the pretty young nurse.
Chris held a folder, and when he opened it, JD realized it was his service record. "First, I think there is something the rest of you clowns need to see..." the Major spoke.
He carefully lifted two old newspaper articles out of the folder and handed it to Buck. Buck carefully opened it and whistled as JD craned his neck to get a look at it.
"Well I'll be damned," Buck said as he handed it to Josiah.
"Aw geez, where'd you get that?" JD blushed and grinned at the same time.
"Very impressive son," Josiah said as he handed it to Ezra.
Nathan peered over Ezra's shoulder to see a photo of an old World War I sopwith camel in flight. Standing on the wing with his arms outstretched and leaning into the wind was a young boy. The caption read 'Nine-year-old JD Dunne stuns them at air show'
"Damn," Nathan shook his head.
"I was really twelve," JD explained. "But we kinda fudged the age to make it a little more..."
"Showbiz?" Buck provided.
JD laughed. "Yeah... but, I could do it when I was nine, so it wasn't really a lie," he was quick to add.
Another article had a picture of a not-much-younger JD standing beside his plane and described the crutch maneuver in detail under the headline 'Boy Pilot Does the Impossible.'
"I'll be doubled damned," Buck said. "He wasn't makin' it up..."
"There's another reason the party was so late," Chris said as he handed JD a manila envelope. "It takes the brass a little while to get the paperwork rolling..."
JD frowned as he opened the envelope. He had no idea what it was, and before he could find out, Buck snatched it from him and began to read:
"From Vice Admiral Orin Travis, USN to Commander in Chief Pacific Fleet. Subject: Service Award, Letter of Recommendation for..."
He went on to read the detailed account of how JD's maneuver had saved Vin's life, concluding with, "It is therefor recommended that second lieutenant John Daniel Dunne, USMC, be awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for actions which demonstrated not only exemplary flying skill, but also were in keeping with the highest traditions of the Corps..."
"The DFC?" JD was speechless. It was the highest aviation combat award there was. "But... I... uh..."
"Yeah, kid, they're giving you a medal," Vin smiled.
"A well-deserved one, little brother," Josiah said.
"Just don't let Ezra get it from you in a poker game," Nathan teased. "I think that's where he got all his."
"Please, Lieutenant Jackson, I prefer my bets to be of a more profitable nature," Ezra smiled.
"Well, it's just a recommendation, but, I don't think there is going to be any problem when they read about what happened up there." Chris shook JD's hand. "You did good, kid."
JD smiled at the praise from Chris. He considered himself damned lucky he was part of this squad. The war might be a terrible place to be, but JD had never been happier. He'd found six men he could call brothers.