The Last Jump: Chapter 36

“Who naught suspects is easily deceived.”
Petrarch (AD 1304 – 1374)

“We were really glad to see the boys show up after disappearing for those few days.  They seemed happy to be back too.  No one told us where they went.  They wouldn’t say anything either, not even to me.”  Sky sipped his Prop-Blast and held the glass up to the dim light and looked at it.  “Brings back lots of memories.”

“Did you ever find out where they were?” Cynthia asked.

Harley answered.  “Not until much later, kid.  They were on a top secret mission.”

J.P. was intrigued by that answer but suppressed any reaction.  The busboys came by again and cleared the last of the utensils.  They even cleaned off the already clean white tablecloth with their little crumb-scrapers.  The waitress remained by the kitchen door and held the dinner bill in a leather folder with hands clasped across her apron.  J.P. knew he had run out of time.  He signaled the waitress and she was over in a flash.  He placed his American Express card on top of the folder without examining the bill.  She disappeared toward the cash register.

“And you said they were transferred after that?” J.P. directed the question to Sky.  He had a few more minutes before he had to sign the credit card slip and would squeeze every last drop of information possible.  He sensed he would never see Sky in person again.

“Not immediately.”  Sky pursed his lips and squinted to help him remember.  “The beachhead at Salerno was in trouble.  The Germans counterattacked and punched this huge hole through American lines toward the beach.  General Ridgway was ordered to send in reinforcements so we made what became know as the ‘oil drum drop’.”

“Oil drum drop?” Cynthia asked.  She seemed completely sober to J.P. now.

“We didn’t drop oil drums,” Sky chuckled.  “The guys on the ground set up these sand filled fifty-five gallon drums and doused them with gasoline.  They marked the drop zone, which was behind our own lines.  When the planes hauling the Five-oh-four got close, the GIs on the ground lit fires in the drums.  Guided them right in.  Once the paratroopers hit the ground, they piled into British lorries…that’s what the Limeys called trucks…and were ferried right to the front lines.  They were crucial to holding the line the next day.  The Five-oh-five dropped twenty-one hundred troopers on the DZ the second night.  When we dropped we could hear the guys on the ground cheering.  I remember it felt like the cavalry coming to the rescue.  We held the beach and pushed the Krauts back.  History says the Eighty-second saved the beachhead.  I agree.”  Sky raised his glass and gulped down the last of his drink in a personal toast to that memory.

“Was that about the time they were transferred?”  J.P. pressed for more even as the waitress returned his credit card and signature slip.

“Yeah, and even that was strange.  Right after we loaded up on the trucks, Cannonball himself comes running to the back of each truck in a panic yelling out their names.  When he found them in our truck, he pulled them out.”

“What happened to them?” J.P. asked.

“They were flown back to Sicily right away.  The next time I saw them was in London.  They were with the Hundred and first, the Screaming Eagles.  Imagine that!  From an All-American to a Screaming Eagle just like that!”

“That’s right,” Frank said.  “They wound up in my company.”

“I’d love to talk to you about that,” J.P. said.

“My flight doesn’t leave until tomorrow night.  I’d be glad to meet you tomorrow.”  Frank seemed willing despite another stare from Harley.

“That would be great.”

J.P. scrawled his signature on the credit card slip and turned to Harley.  “I’d love to talk more with you.”

“If I ever get back to D.C., kid, I’ll be sure to look you up,” Harley lied.  “In the meantime, call me anytime.  I’m only a four hour drive away and I’ll be mostly busy with the D-Day Memorial…I’m on the committee…should break ground this year…so if you feel like taking a drive, you’d be welcomed.”

“I guess I kind of dominated the conversation,” Sky interjected.  “Sorry, I got carried away.  I hope I helped.”

“You were a great help,” J.P. exaggerated.

“Anyway, thanks for dinner.”  Talking about the War was cathartic for Sky.

The group moved slowly to the main lobby.  J.P. gave his parking stub to the valet.

He turned to Cynthia.  “Do you have a car?”

“I took a taxi.”

“Can I give you a lift?”

She clutched his arm suggestively.  “I thought you’d never ask.”

Frank walked over to J.P and touched his arm.  “About tomorrow, Mister Kilroy, how about noon at the Wall?”

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