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KEEPERS OF THE BONDBook I (Ein)
By Kenneth Brown
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2011 Kenneth Brown
All right reserved.
Chapter OneIt's late 1918. The location is the endless trenches in eastern France. Two Caddo Lake Rats, Jo Johnsen and me, Jeb McCloud, find ourselves serving in the same outfit during WWI. We are both captains and combat engineers, and the army is using us as troubleshooters attached to the US Army Medical Corps, so we move around a lot as we attempt to solve problems. An elderly Frenchman is our interpreter. He is a professor of anthropology. Before the war, he was involved in research but did at times teach graduate students at the Institute of History and Science in Paris, France. He is a rather small man with a close-trimmed beard and rumpled clothing and looks somewhat like the artist Toulouse LauTrec, who liked to drink a lot of wine and draw pictures of dancing girls. Anyway, the old prof is fluent in English, French, German, and other languages, including Mandarin Chinese, which will become important later as the clan gives you more background information about the origin and rebirth of the BOND on Caddo Lake.
Jo and I receive the assignment to construct a new field hospital. The new hospital is to be located about a half mile behind the Allied front lines, which consist of zigzag trenches that run for many miles through the muddy, shell-pocked countryside. It doesn't look like it is part of planet earth, and the troops say it looks like hell, but in reality it is much worse. At every intersection of the zig, and the zag, there is a bunker dug into the bank of the trench. The troops in that sector take shelter in the bunker if they come under heavy shelling or air attack. They are safe unless the bunker takes a direct hit. In that case, everyone will be killed either by shell fragments ripping through their bodies or from the mud-covered roof caving in and burying them alive. In most cases, they don't attempt to recover the dead for a number of days.
The heavy, putrid air in the trenches is beyond description. Replacement troops, on first arriving at the front-line trenches, become violently sick. That lasts a few days, and then they become numb. They don't care if they were killed, because it would be a relief.
Close behind this environment are the field hospitals. The one Jo and I are setting up is in a small valley that affords the hospital complex some protection. We have our construction team scrape out a smooth, level area with mule and slip. Next we will construct a floor for each tent by layering boards on the ground three deep. We raise snow-white tents on the flooring with a bold red cross on the roof of each tent. German reconnaissance planes, on spotting the hospital, will notify their artillery and air force units as to the location, because no one fires on a church or a hospital.
Always the first tent setup is the receiving station, and wounded start arriving before we have finished setting up the second tent, which is the surgery station. Jo and I stay inside the surgery station until the operating table is secured and level. As we step out of the tent, a horse-drawn wagon is pulling into the complex. Two doctors and five nurses scramble out of the wagon and run to the receiving tent. On entering, one of the doctors starts screaming out orders: "Do this, do that, get this boy in surgery, and damn fast. Fuck cleaning him up, if he lives through surgery, then we will clean him up."
We are now standing between the two tents listening to the rough, grumpy doctor's voice. We don't say anything to each other, but we both can't believe we are listening to the raving of a real close friend, Ray Lawton, Doctor Ray Lawton, from Morringsport, Louisiana.
Medics rush out of receiving with a badly wounded soldier on a stretcher, and Doc Ray is right behind them screaming orders at the top of his voice, so the other doctor and nurses who are now in the surgery tent can hear him and be prepared for the soldier being delivered to surgery. As the stretcher passes, Doc Ray makes eye contact with us and freezes in his tracks for a fraction of a second before taking two steps forward to bear-hug both of us. Doc Ray straightens up, looks at us with sad, grieving eyes, and shares with us cold, hard stats.
"Jeb and Jo, over half of these boys die in the receiving tent while waiting for surgery. Then another half die during the eight- to ten-hour wagon trip from here to the regimental hospital, because no one is with them to stop the bleeding. Their wounds open because of the rough road, and the drivers can't stop to help them. These boys just fucking bleed to death all alone, with no one to help them."
Doc's expression changes, and he says, "I can't think about that, I'm needed in surgery." Doc starts walking to the surgery tent, and without turning his head back toward Jo and me, he comments, "Thank God my two best friends are here to help me."
We wonder how Ray is going to take the news that we will be through setting up the complex in a few hours and will have to leave. We will not be staying to help him. These young soldiers and his patients will continue to bleed to death alone.
Just then a wagon loaded with lumber enters the complex. The muleskinner is asking where he should unload. Jo and I walk over to inspect the heavy timber when all hell breaks loose. The first explosion tips over the wagon, dumping the contents where we are now laying on the ground half-dazed. An estimated twenty rounds explode throughout the complex within seconds. We help each other up, look around, and can't believe our eyes. The whole complex has been destroyed. One wagon with a team of two horses is intact. The two horses are nervous but okay. Combat horses never break and run, but Jo and I run to what is left of the surgical tent. The soldier they were operating on is dead, along with two nurses and the other doctor. Ray is nowhere to be found. Then we notice movement under tattered tent canvas, and there we find Ray alive but hurt bad. His right leg has a hole blown through it halfway below his knee, and the ankle bone and main artery are severed. A stream of blood spews three feet out of the gaping wound with every beat of Ray's heart. Ray is dazed from the explosions but conscious. We use a link of tent rope to apply a tourniquet, stop the bleeding, and start checking the rest of Ray's body for additional wounds.
Ray's head begins to clear, and he asks about the operating team. We tell him all are dead. He asks about receiving. We tell him we don't know. "Well one of ya'll get your ass over there, and find out."
Jo stays with Ray, and I make my way over to what little is left of the receiving tent. There I find the dead remains of three nurses, two medics, and sixteen soldiers. I return with my report. Doc doesn't respond to my report, takes a deep breath, and then proceeds to tell us that we will have to cut his leg off.
I respond, "Hell no. I'm going for help."
Ray looks at me as if I'm crazy. "Jeb, where in hell do you think you'll find help?"
I respond, "The Germans have field doctors. I will be back as soon as I obtain their help." I gather up two tent poles and tie white flags to both. I secure them to both sides of the one wagon that survived the attack. I rein the team through the scattered debris and turn east for our lines and the German lines farther to the east of our lines.
As I approach the allied lines, a US Army sergeant stops me. "Sir, who are you, and why in the hell are you flying white flags?"
"I'm Captain McCloud, Thirty-Second Combat Engineering Regiment, in charge of constructing a new field hospital that has just been destroyed by German artillery fire. I need the services of a doctor to save the life of the senior field hospital doctor who is also the only survivor. So, Sergeant, I'm going to the Germans under a white flag to obtain their help in this urgent matter."
"Wait here, sir," the sergeant replies.
The sergeant returns with an American major, who salutes, and I return his salute. "Captain, if you think you are going to the Germans for help, then you are out of your mind, and I will not allow such a foolish attempt."
"Major, with all respect, I'm not under your command, and I am surely going, because it is the only hope I have of saving the life of Captain Ray Lawton, MD, sir."
"Where are you from, Captain?"
"Didn't you damn rebs learn from the Civil War that individuals and states no longer have rights, only the federal government?"
"Sir, the war that you are referring to was the war of the illegal invasion of the Confederate States of America by Lincoln's Federalist Army. Regardless of the war's outcome, Southerners will always maintain individual and states' rights as established by the founding fathers of our country. That was our country before Lincoln and the Federalist takeover of our country. Therefore, as a Southern officer exercising those God-given individual rights, I will proceed to the Germans seeking help. Major, if you would order the firing of signal flares to get the attention of the German lookouts, I would appreciate it, sir."
"Reb, if you proceed, I may order that you be shot in the back."
"Major, you do what you have to do, and I will do what I have to do, sir."
With the end of the reins, I pop the team's rear and proceed into the Allied lines.
"Major, should I give the order to have the reb shot in the back?" the sergeant asked.
"Sergeant, give the signal corporal orders to fire six flares so the Germans will be sure to see him approaching. Then order our sector to cease fire, and let's enjoy watching the Germans kill the arrogant reb for us," the major replied.
At the German lines, a forward observer notices the signal flares, turns his telescope in their direction, and spots a wagon approaching, flying two white flags, with what appears to be an American officer at the reins. He orders all firing to stop in that sector and requests the presence of an officer to determine what action should be taken, knowing that the white flag is to be honored. A German captain enters the observer's post and focuses the spotter's telescope until he has a clear view of the approaching wagon. "It must be a trap. Why would an American officer use a wagon instead of riding horseback?" The captain orders four machine guns to be trained on the wagon, and at his command, they are to fire until the wagon, the horses, and the American are all cut into small pieces.
I continue my slow, steady approach toward the German lines. The German captain has made the decision to be safe and will give the order to fire, white flag or not, because something is wrong. No American officer would ride up to their lines in a wagon. Moments before he actually gives the order, the wagon stops. I dismount and walk a few feet in front of the team with my hands raised above my head. I shout in German, with a strong Texas accent, my request for help. I need a doctor and will bring the doctor back in about three hours. The German captain stands in silence, staring at me. I shout again, "Please help me." The captain orders his sergeant to obtain a white flag and accompany him. He also tells his second in command that if anything goes wrong, the machine guns are to level everything, including himself and his sergeant. When the German captain is about six feet from me, he stops. He carefully studies my face, observes the blood smeared on my uniform and hands, and notices my rank as captain. He and his sergeant salute, and I return their salute.
"Captain, you have inadvertently shelled our field hospital, killing all except for one badly wounded doctor. If you will not provide a doctor to help him, he will surely die."
"American, we do not shell hospitals."
"Captain, I know you would never knowingly shell or bomb a hospital or a church. We were in the process of setting this hospital up and were just receiving wounded. Sir, there had not been time for your reconnaissance planes to spot the complex and pass its location to the front lines."
The German captain breaks eye contact with me and addresses his man. "Sergeant, go to the medical corps. Bring back our top doctor, along with a nurse and the supplies they will need." The sergeant turns and jogs back, disappearing in the maze of German trenches.
The German captain is quiet, not looking at me, but gazes over the battlefield beyond me. "Captain, are you from Texas?"
"Texan, I have kinder in the Texas Hill Country. They love Texas, the Hill Country, and the United States. Do you think this madness will ever end?"
"Sir, I don't know why it started, how the United States became involved, or how it will end, but I don't believe there will be a real victor, just many dead on both sides. God help all of us."
Before the German captain can respond, the sergeant returns, escorting a doctor with his nurse and two medical supply bags.
The doctor, nurse, and I hurry to the wagon and load it. As I begin turning to the west, the German captain salutes, and I return his salute. I drive my team at a faster pace, hoping to arrive back in time to save Ray's life. As we traverse through the allied lines, I see the Yankee major and salute while we hurrying past him. The Yankee major reluctantly returns my salute.
On approaching the medical complex, I can see it is now a beehive of activity. About a dozen soldiers are recovering the dead and preparing them to be transported to a burial site. The driver of a small, one-horse ambulance is securing his horse, thereby telling me that he has just arrived. I spot a makeshift lean-to with Doc Ray lying on a waist-high table constructed out of scraps from the demolished surgical tent. Jo and the old professor, our interpreter, are both standing beside Doc Ray. Prof caught a ride on the ambulance to rejoin Jo and myself. It is good to see him and to have him back with us.
I pull the wagon as close to the lean-to as I can, and on dismounting, I yell, "Is Ray alive?"
"Fuck you, Jeb."
On hearing Ray's response, my knees became weak, and it is all I can do to not start crying like a baby. The grumpy, old bastard and good friend is still alive. The German doctor and his nurse are already out of the wagon and running to the lean-to, so I grab both the medical bags and follow.
At Ray's instructions, Jo has already removed his britches leg, and as soon as the German doctor sees the wound, he changes his focus to Ray's eyes as he checks his pulse. "What blood type does my patient have?" Prof translates.
"I'm A-negative, and I'm not a patient. I'm a damn doctor," Prof translates.
"Check and see if anyone here has A-negative."
I understand the doctor's question and step forward. "I have."
"Damn if I will have that sorry asshole's Texas blood in me," Prof translates.
The German doctor looks at Prof and smiles. "They must be good friends." Prof nods.
Prof translates, "Rig up a makeshift table next to my patient, uh sorry, the damn doctor, and my nurse will start the transfusion. Doctor, I will give you ether and then start on your leg. I will try to save your leg."
Prof translates, "Hell no, don't give me anything. I want to see what you are doing and be able to talk to you as you patch me up."
Prof translates, "You will be in a lot of pain."
Ray looks straight into the German doctor's eyes. "After all the pain that you and I have inflicted on these wounded young boys, it's past time for me to suffer physically rather than just suffering emotionally," Prof translates.
The German doctor stares into Ray's eyes. "I don't think you're a damn doctor. I think you are a brother," Prof translates. The two doctors stare at each other with understanding reflected in their eyes and nod to each other.
After a number of minutes, the doctor checks Ray's vital signs, and then my vitals. Ray's color is much improved. Mine is now very pale, with dark circles under my eyes. "Nurse, we cannot take any more of the damn doctor's best friend's blood, so disconnect and remove the tubes, etc."
I tell the German doctor to stop saying damn doctor. "Just call him Ray or asshole."
The doctor and nurse burst out laughing. Prof translates, and Ray smiles. "Doc, what should I call you?" Prof translates.
"Kirk." Kirk then looks at his nurse. "Let's start," Prof translates. Ray nods, and then Kirk hands Ray a rubber bar to bite on instead of chewing up his lower lip and tongue.
Excerpted from KEEPERS OF THE BOND by Kenneth Brown Copyright © 2011 by Kenneth Brown. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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