Thursday, November 29, 2012

"Tough Luck Makes a Hero" by Anonymous

Tough Luck Makes a Hero

"You can keep your medals!" Marine Sergeant Terry Powers growled in a deep voice as he carried a rusty two gallon pot toward the helicopter the Central Korean front. The rotors were turning slowly, stirring up a little breeze in the lifeless, humid air.

Marine Corporal Joey Delaney who had just finished servicing the 'copter, stared over at the rusty pot. "What you got there, Sergeant? That's too big for a good luck charm!"

The remark brought a dark red flush to the sergeant's face. Slipping the pot carefully into the cockpit, he turned to scowl at the mechanic. "You mind your end of the business, an' I'll mind mine! Next time you remove that horseshoe from the instrument panel, I'll hang it on your eye!"

"I just asked you if that rusty pot was another good luck gimmick," Delaney snapped back. "You don't have to get sore about it."

"Okay, Joey," the 'copter jockey sneered. "I'll tell you. That pot is full of oil saturated rags. It will make a nice smudge fire. Now go back and count your medals, hero. When this war is over, I hope I can be prouder of my horseshoe and rabbit's foot. They'll see me through without a scratch."

The mechanic shuffled back to his tool shed, and Jerry climbed into the cockpit of the windmill. In a few minutes a courier ran up and handed him a typed order. Jerry frowned as he read it. He was to fly and pick up a bazooka man who had been wounded in both legs. The place was a narrow, rock-strewn valley between two low hills, just out of reach of the Reds' new spearhead.

Jerry rubbed his horseshoe for good luck, signalled that he was taking off and slowly advanced the 'copter's throttle. At a sharper pitch the rotor blades pulled the weird looking craft off the ground. Jerry took his bearings from the air compass and leaned back in his seat to watch the sky through the plexiglas canopy.

On his last three missions he'd been threatened by Red MIG's. The smoke from an artillery duel had given him cover once. The other two escapes had been made through low-hanging fog. But the sky was clear this day and there wasn't enough smoke up front to make cover for a butterfly.

About twenty minutes later Jerry turned his windmill into a narrow valley between the two low hills. He caught a glimpse of scattered Red troops dug in along the crest of the hill to the north. Three mortar shells burst in and around the Reds' foxholes, and Jerry guessed the shells had been lobbed over from the Marines who were still holding the other hill.

Looking below he caught sight of a Marine waving a shirt from a pocket of large boulders. Jerry cut the throttle and let the 'copter drift down. He landed on a small patch of gravel, and before he crawled out he saw two marines moving swiftly toward him, carrying a casualty on a make-shift stretcher.

The wounded man was Sergeant Nick Curtis, an almost legendary hero of the corps.

"Get our Gunny out of here safely, can you?" one of the privates pleaded to Jerry. "He got hit in both legs last night when we made a charge up the hill. You know him, don't you?"

Jerry smiled down at the pain-wracked face of the man on the stretcher. "I make a specialty of rescuing the most decorated men in the corps. You've got nothing to worry about, Sergeant Curtis. I'll have you down at the base hospital in twenty minutes."

Nick curtis grinned weakly and said in a whisper, "If an MIG doesn't jump us en route! Red airmen have been criss-crossing this sector all afternoon. I didn't expect you'd come for me."

They slid the wounded man gently onto the flooring behind Jerry's seat, and Jerry didn't waste a moment taking off. Over the drone of the motor he shouted back to Curtis: "Take care if you move your arms not to knock over that rusty pot."

But suddenly a look of terror spread over Jerry's face. He hadn't seen an enemy plane, but he remembered that he'd forgotten to bring matches. "Got a match on you?" he shouted back, then he turned his head and saw that Curtis was shaking his head in a negative.

Jerry explained. "Without matches I can't light the oil-soaked rags in that smudge pot. I was going to do that to fake a hit in case we were shot at by an MIG. You see, if a Red leaves you smoking, he figures you're not worth a second pass so he doesn't come back."

Ten minutes out from the valley a speck in the sky disappeared behind a cloud but Jerry could make out a faint vapor trail that whipped in a curve behind it. "There's a jet fighter back of that big cloud," he shouted. "If it starts coming down, you can bet it's a Red. I'm dropping to treetop level."

The MIG streaked out of the cloud, leveled then banked into a steep dive. "He's coming for us!" Jerry told himself. "There isn't enough cover on the ground to hide an ant. Best I can do is scrape the rocks and play stop and go. We'll be a clear target when he comes out of that dive."

Jerry dropped the 'copter to less than ten feet above the rocky, shell-torn plain. The 'copter hovered almost motionless, then jerked forward like an erratic dragon fly. But Jerry wasn't sure this technique would make them a poor target for the Red jet fighter. Then he spotted a trough in the plain caused by soil erosion. The gravel had been washed away from the base of several large rocks in a cluster.

"I'm going to land," he called back to the wounded sergeant. "If you don't raise your head you won't be hit."

Nick Curtis didn't say anything after Jerry cut the motor and put the ship down in the sheltered spot. The roar was deafening as the jet tore down on them. Jerry slipped off his seat and went down on his elbows. His legs were drawn up halfway so he wouldn't hit the man on the litter behind the seat. "Here it comes!" Jerry groaned.

It came so quickly Jerry didn't know whether the MIG's guns had raked them or not. Terrific air pressure rocked the 'copter as the jet roared over it. Jerry turned to look behind him but he was blinded by puffs of black smoke. The Red's incendiary bullets had ignited the oil-soaked rags in the rusty pot! But if the pot had been hit, so had Curtis. Probably he was dead.

"Curtis!" Jerry shouted between coughs.

"I'm okay," came the reply. "I opened the astral hatch so the smoke will pour out. Let it burn a minute so that Red will think he got us good, then see if you can slide the pot out your door without burning yourself."

When he could stand the oily smoke no longer, Jerry found a length of heavy wire with a hooked end under his seat, fished behind for the pot and jerked it out through the door. As the smoke cleared from inside the plexiglas enclosed cabin he saw that the topside had been riddled by bullets. "If we hadn't kept our heads down, we'd have got it!" Jerry said. "It was just pure luck that one of the bullets fell low enough to hit the pot and not you."

Jerry credited his luck, too, when the motor started and the big rotor began turning. Luck was everything, Jerry thought. He'd proved it on fifty missions. Let the other guys be heroes and take the medals. Jerry wanted nothing but luck!

The last leg of the hop was uneventful. Nick Curtis didn't talk, so Jerry kept quiet, too. When the 'copter touched ground near the hospital, Jerry jumped out, grinned at the two medics who were standing by with a stretcher and headed for the canteen.

A half hour later as he was telling his experience for the fourth time to a new group of corpsmen who had come into the canteen, one of the medics who had taken Curtis in moved up to Jerry. "That wasn't exactly a lucky bullet that struck your smudge pot, Sergeant. Heroes don't rely only on luck, you know. Nick Curtis proved that."

Jerry frowned. "What are you trying to tell me?"

"Only what I can guess," the medic mused. "Curtis didn't say anything, but the bullet hole through his left hand tells the story. He held that pot up through the top of your canopy when the jet jockey opened his gun on you. It takes more than luck to be a real hero."

Jerry gulped. Across his mind flashed a picture of Nick Curtis, raising himself on wounded legs to hold the pot up through the topside. "Yes, I guess you're right about that, Medic. Good luck never made a hero."

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