Supply and Demand - A War Story (Lest We Forget)

Supply and Demand a short story written for November 11 By Jeff Mahoney “Hey man, give me some of those Pall Malls,” the weary soldier barked at the supply depot attendant. “That’ll be 2 bucks,” replied Phil, who was tired of the grief that he was constantly being fed. Since the beginning of this war, Phil had moved from supply depot to supply depot, looking after the needs of the troops that managed to stay alive. His life was cartons of cigarettes, whiskey, magazines and even the occasional black- market weekend pass. Phil knew all of the tricks and had developed the skill of memorizing what he had in stock. Officers would drop by from time to time to see if the legend was true and he never let them down. Growing up in Wisconsin, Phil was raised on a farm that taught him the value of hard-work and reliability. The dreaded Saturday night approached and with that, Phil got the cases of whiskey at the ready, as he knew that he would be spending most of the evening, handing out bottles to grunts that would be treating him like a robot.

The shift was passing quickly, as Phil handed out the last of the whiskey bottles. Hanging up the “sold-out” sign at the front counter always brought with it the risk of a small riot, so he decided to wait until the very end of the night to do so, if he was able. “What do you mean you are out of whiskey? You go back there boy and get me a bottle, before I got come back there and deck yer lights out. I have been fightin’ to keep you safe, you pansy!” The soldier that stood before him was more than just a little tipsy and whatever trauma that he had experienced so far was surfacing. “Now, I told you already. We are sold out and if you choose to act in this way, I am gonna get the M.P.’s over here and they won’t have any problem playin’ soccer with your head, if you keep this up,” the tired depot attendant stated. “Now take this cola and get out of here, before you go and do something stupid,” he added, slamming a bottle of soda down on the counter. Pulling down the gate, Phil closed up for the night, satisfied that he still had all of his teeth in his head.

The sound of the bugle always made Phil feel refreshed, as he knew that the soldiers on the base would be feeling it’s sting. It was as if it was his personal weapon against those that drank too much the night before. Opening the rear door of the shop, Phil was surprised to see that the door was unlocked. Worried that he had neglected to lock the door, Phil rushed in. “Who the hell is in here? I have my sidearm pulled and if I were you, I would get outta here.” A stern voice replied from the corner of the room. Peering into the corner, Phil could see the cherry of a cigar, burning as it was being drawn upon. “Good morning son. Glad to see you that you arrive to work on time. Most of the supply clerks need a swift kick everyday to make that happen.” Master Sargent Marjory was a legend in this neck of the woods. Standing at attention, Phil saluted the officer that stood before him. “Stand at ease son, I have a mission for you. Pull up a chair over here, I need to explain this to you,” the Master-Sargent ordered, in a calming voice. Sitting at the small table, Phil waited patiently for the man to speak, fearful of what he was about to hear. He had heard stories of supply clerks being sent into battle or on long supply truck missions, never to be heard from again. Driving a supply truck in this area of the world, painted a very big target on your back. “You have been assigned to supply truck duty son. The last truck that we sent out has been reported missing. You need to understand that you will be driving this truck through some pretty dicey territory, but we have a plan for that this time.” Phil began to enter a state of internal panic, as he listened to what could only be a death sentence handed to him.

“Sir, I don’t mean to disrespect you, but I am lousy at driving those trucks. I am good at numbers and stock, but those things are just horrible. I don’t think that I am the man for the job sir,” Phil replied desperately, at the risk of being thrown in the slammer for contempt. “Son, we don’t have a choice right now. I want you to know that we have taken precautions and that you won’t be alone. I must take my leave now son, but Larry should be here any moment to fill you in. He will be following you with a small unit, to make sure that the supplies get through. We need to get this stuff to the men, otherwise we could be in serious trouble. Good luck son.” With that, the Master-Sargent turned on his heel and exited the dimly lit stock room. Sitting there in silence, Phil began to shudder at the thought of driving one of those beasts, especially anywhere close to the enemy. They were slow, loud and cumbersome and made for a very easy target. “You must be Phil. I’m Larry and I am sure that the Master-Sargent has filled you in. We need to get that truck loaded this morning. I have a small crew outside and I want you to tell them what to do. I will fill you in as we get this truck loaded.” In a typical army fashion, the officers did not give you time to think and soon, Phil was pointing to large crates of explosives, food and medicine for the men to carry. “This stuff is all going out to the airborne that dropped on the other side of the line and this will be the third attempt. Don’t worry, we have a solid plan, but I need for you to do exactly as I say. You are the most qualified to drive that truck, as most can’t drive those things. I read your report and am impressed with the miles that you have banked on those things, Phil,” Larry stated, slapping him on the back. With the truck loaded, Larry pulled up behind the truck in a Sherman tank and the soldiers in a truck behind him. Phil climbed aboard the truck and following the map and the instructions given to him, Phil hit the gas. The truck roared and together, with the roar of the tank, Phil believed that they were making enough noise to wake the dead. Leaving the base, the French countryside opened up in front of the small convoy, granting them some peace. The countryside was indeed beautiful, but as they moved down the muddy road, the feeling of what lay ahead was a grim reminder of the mission. The road winded through the fields and soon, the sound of mortar shells reinforced the danger of this mission. Slowing slightly to take a turn, the truck began to sputter and lose power. Phil pumped the gas over and over and soon the truck came to a grinding halt, causing the convoy behind to pull off the side of the road, in order to avoid collision. Jumping out of the tank, Larry approached the truck, with rifle at the ready. “What happened Phil? We can’t be stopping here man we are in the middle of it.” Phil turned the key again, but the truck sounded as if it was flooded. “I don’t know what happened, it just stalled and won’t start.” Phil was sweating, as the sound of German gun-fire in the distance was a reminder of their dire situation. “We gotta get this truck off of the road and into those bushes. This road is used by German convoys. Those tracks up there are fresh.” Larry was pointing at the tracks in the mud, signifying that they had to get a move on. Larry boarded the tank and with the turret to the side, began to push the truck. Phil steered the truck as it was pushed and within moments, the truck was hidden under the cover of trees and foliage. “Ok guys, pull some of those branches and cover the tank and the truck. If we are going to spend the night here, we better make damn sure that we cannot be seen.” Larry and the soldiers set to work, hacking and slashing trees that stood deeper in the forest, collecting their camouflage. Standing on the road, Larry felt satisfied and as they retreated back into the forest, they covered the tracks, left by the machines as best they could. “Well, we better get that hood open and see what we can do about this truck. Try to keep it down guys and stay out of sight.” Larry and the soldiers stood guard as Phil and another soldier worked on the truck, trying to determine the cause of the mechanical failure. Hours passed and still no luck. “Come on man, you gotta get that truck fixed. We are sitting ducks out here,” Larry whispered, stamping his feet to keep warm. “I think I found the problem, but need another hour, I think. This valve has a problem and is jammed. I gotta take it apart and replace the plunger somehow. Maybe some dirt got lodged in it.” Phil replied. Larry turned his attention to the road, as the sound of engines whirring in the distance caught his attention. “Guys, take position and get down! There is a convoy coming. Get out of sight and get ready!” The soldiers hit the mud and Larry took a knee behind a tree, rifle at the ready. Phil moved away from the truck, as he knew that if spotted, it would be the first thing to be hit.

The ground began to shake, as the German column approached. Laying there in the mud, Phil held his breath as he watched a series of tanks and personnel transports slowly crawl by. In the front of the column was the feared Tiger tank and propped up out of the top, a German soldier of high rank. Holding his hand in the air, he ordered the column to pause, as he looked around on the ground in front of his position. “Halt. Es sieht so aus, als wären einige vergangen. Das sind amerikanische Tracks. Sei auf der Hut!” The German officer shouted, hopping out of the tank. With his luger drawn, he inspected the tracks that seemed to end at the tree-line. Standing at the tree-line, the officer stood for a moment and then ordered a small group of his soldiers to stand in a line, with machine guns drawn. With his hand in the air, he ordered the men to fire their weapons into the trees. With his face in the mud, Phil remained still as a flurry of bullets flew over-head. The soldiers were all laying flat upon the ground, waiting out this attack, careful not to make a sound. Splinters from the trees hit them in the face, as the bullets wreaked havoc on the trees. Several minutes passed and the German officer ordered the men to stop firing. Phil felt a sense of relief, as the German officer ordered his men back to the trucks. Climbing back into his Tiger tank, Phil watched in horror, as the massive turret on the tank began to slowly turn towards their position. Studying the treeline, the German officer was getting ready to fire into the darkness. Phil waited and prayed, as he knew that if the truck were to be hit, they would all be killed. There was enough explosives and ammunition in the truck to level an army base. Waiting for his impending death, Phil watched as the German officer was distracted by the radio on his head. Loud explosions could be heard off in the distance and Phil recognized the sound of British Lancaster and Halifax bombers, high in the night sky. The Tiger’s engine roared and using the field on the opposite side of the road, the convoy turned and proceeded back the way that they came, in haste. The horizon was lit up, as the bombs from the saviors in the sky, dropped on the German positions in the distance. Larry stood up and slowly began to check on the soldiers that were laying silently. Three soldiers had been hit by the German bullets and Larry collected their dog tags, as their life spilled out onto the forest floor. “Come on guys, help me with the boys here. It seems that we have some casualties. We are lucky, it could have been a lot worse.” Mournfully, Phil and the soldiers lifted the three men and laid them to rest in the body bags that they had retrieved from the truck.

As Phil continued to work on the truck, finally he was met with success. With the Germans long gone, they fired up the truck and with some help of the tank behind, got out of the forest and back onto the road. Darkness covered the land and in the distance the horizon was glowing, from the fires caused by the bombing run. The Germans were under attack and it could not have come a moment too soon. The members of the small supply convoy all thanked the metallic angels in the sky, for if it were not for them, they would not be driving over the bridge to their troops and safety... The End. LEST WE FORGET

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