The cry rang through the chill morning air, “INCOMING!!”
Seconds later the “crump!” of mortars shattered the early morning calm as soldiers dove for their foxholes. Sergeant O’Keefe shared his foxhole with a young private who had just come into the regiment early that week. He was cowering in terror at the bottom of the hole, mumbling something under his breath.
As the experienced sergeant leaned closer he could make out the words, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…” O’Keefe shook his head. How many times now had he heard that prayer whispered desperately in the midst of combat? He’d lost count – just like he’d lost count of the number of rookies whose prayers were interrupted by the suddenness of death.
He took advantage of a pause in the bombardment to peek over the top of his foxhole – and wished he hadn’t. The North Koreans were launching yet another human wave assault – heedless of the hideous losses American fire was already inflicting on the charging mass of humanity. O’Keefe knew they wouldn’t stop until every single one of them was dead, or they had reached their goal. If it was the latter, O’Keefe – and the terrified private – would have no more worries in this world.
Coolly, O’Keefe raised his rifle and added the weight of his fire to the mass of destruction across the valley. The enemy soldiers were dying in droves, and still they came – screaming madly all the way.
A nearby explosion washed O’Keefe with radiant heat – he looked over to see who’d been hit. The com-center was gone. “So much for backup” the sergeant muttered, grimly. He looked back down to the private, kicked his leg, “Get up kid, we’re gonna need your fire on the line.”
The young soldier simply hunkered down farther into the hole, his prayers taking on a more desperate note.
O’Keefe reloaded his rifle and resumed firing on the ever-approaching troops. They were less than 100 meters away now, and O’Keefe had given up hope of surviving this one. Death had finally come for him – but he wouldn’t go alone.
Fifty meters now, then twenty. Suddenly a shadow whipped over his head, followed by a deafening roar. A trio of jets roared towards the enemy, releasing napalm and cluster-bombs into their ranks, slaughtering them by the hundreds.
The planes came around for another run, 20mm canon blazing – and then the enemy was no more. Every single Korean soldier lay dead or dying in the snow.
* * *
Two days later, Sergeant O’Keefe stood in Company HQ before his CO, giving a report on the battle. As he was finishing he said, “What really saved us, Sir, was that air strike at the last minute. With the radio gone, we thought we were finished. Can you tell me, Sir, who ordered that strike?”
The CO looked at O’Keefe and asked, “What air strike, sergeant? All of our aircraft were present and accounted for at the time stated. How, you survived, I’m not entirely sure – but you did, and that’s all that matters. Dismissed.”
O’Keefe, puzzled, walked from the CO’s office resolved to seek out that private and ask him a few questions.
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