This is the result of a sort of challenge DocII and I bandied back and forth in a late night IM. I combined the
episodes Walk With an Eagle and Dateline. In reality, they aired the opposite way ‘round from how I used them, but
– hey – it’s fanfiction.<G> Writer’s prerogative. I never liked the ending of Walk With an Eagle, anway. Seriously,
the pilot learned to right a motorcycle in the time it took Hanley to get them away from the Germans? I don’t think
so. ~ Mel
The Man, or the Mission?
The whole thing had been one big disaster. Such a waste of young lives. All because of some guy’s ego and the
need to be right. Just because he was a major and Hanley was a lieutenant. A pissing contest between a flyboy and
a dogface, never mind that the flyboy was out of his element. Never mind the guy hadn’t been on the ground outside
a secure airfield. Never mind that Hanley had worked his way up the ranks since D-Day. A disaster, right from the
So, that’s where he was. Up a creek without a paddle. Nothing to do, but lay back, feel the sun warm on his face and
try to ignore the burning bullet hole in his leg. Also try to make up his mind whether to stay and wait, or go it on his
own. Figures a flyboy Major wouldn’t know how to drive a motorcycle. He did. Old Tyler down the road had one.
Easiest way to get around a farm, Tyler would always say. “Cheaper than a horse, son, ‘cause you ain’t gotta feed
it.” Personally, he just thought the old guy liked to be the first one to have whatever newfangled thing came out. The
gray-bearded rancher was the only one in the area could afford such improvements.
Never one to turn down a challenge, he’d jumped at the chance to learn to ride it. ‘Course, he’d lied to Hanley about
being able to ride one. He wasn’t stupid. The Major was the mission. Hanley had the gun. Besides, what good was
a wounded medic, trying to drive a wounded Major past German sentries on a motorcycle? No, the lieutenant was
the only choice to get the war hero back to their lines safely. The only choice, if they were to complete their mission.
And the mission took priority, even if the mission had been doomed from the beginning.
The warmth of the sun disappeared as a shadow moved over his face. With a sense of dread, he opened his eyes
and squinted up at the figure looming above him. This guy was good. Doc hadn’t heard a sound. Blue eyes closing
in defeat, Doc sighed and slowly pulled his hands from behind his head.
Make that up shit creek. And still no paddle.
The roar of the engine made talking nearly impossible. Besides which, trying to avoid the Germans’ gunfire had
meant he was too busy to hold a conversation even if he’d wanted to. Though there were a lot of things he’d like to
say. Things he never would say, because the man hunched in pain in the sidecar next to him outranked him. It
wouldn’t do any good, anyway. Nothing could unmake the mistakes already made. Wouldn’t bring back good men
who hadn’t deserved to have their lives needlessly thrown away. Wouldn’t help the man they’d left behind back on
that hill. Surrounded by Germans.
“We’ll come back for you, Doc.”
Empty words. He had looked into the medic’s pale blue eyes and seen the truth reflected back at him. Doc knew as
well as he did that the chances of anyone getting back to the medic before he was discovered - well, Hanley wouldn’t
want to bet his pay on it.
Hanley gripped the handlebars tighter, his long legs tense and his jaw clenched. He leaned forward, as if he could
force his upper body to make the motorcycle go faster on the loose dirt road. A good man had stayed behind.
Wounded. So that he could get the pilot back to their lines. An ace. A hero flyboy. The lieutenant would rather
have Doc’s steady presence at his back any day. But Doc hadn’t been the mission. Three men. Two spaces on the
motorcycle. He had been forced to choose. Sometimes, he really hated being an officer.
Hazel eyes narrowing in determination, Hanley pushed a little more speed from the German bike. All he could do for
the soldier left behind was to try to get back to their lines as fast as he could. And do his damned best to make the
truth he’d seen in the medic’s face the lie he wanted it to be. Gil Hanley didn’t leave a man behind, if he could help it.
Fate has a strange sense of humor sometimes, though.
It felt good to take a few hours rest time. No patrol, no recon. Sgt. Saunders had even managed to sleep until pulled
from his rest for chow. He and the rest of his squad – the ones not awakened at o’dark-thirty for a recon – got to
enjoy a leisurely breakfast that had included actual eggs, then the luxury of a cold shower. Hot water would’ve been
a bit much to ask for. But, as they say, all good things must come to an end.
He’d seen the tall sturdy figure of Captain Jampel coming down the hill and stood to meet him. Rest time was over.
Duty called. “Got something for us, Captain?”
Captain Jampel slowed to a stop next to the sergeant and looked at him for a moment, before gesturing to a shaded
doorway. Stepping around shattered roof slates, dislodged from the last barrage, Saunders followed him with a
sense of trepidation. Something had been in the Captain’s eyes just then. Something that didn’t bode well for the
“I’d give this to Lieutenant Hanley, Saunders, but-.” Captain Jampel pushed his helmet back, the straps swaying from
the movement. “The Lieutenant and his squad ran into a bit of trouble.”
That sense of foreboding was starting to build. “Trouble, Captain?”
“On the way back from patrol, Lt. Hanley and his men were chosen to retrieve a downed flyer. They were the closest
patrol in the area. The pilot’s an ace and deemed important for the war effort. A Major.”
Uh huh. “Is everyone okay, Captain? They find him?” Of course, he knew everyone wasn’t okay, or Hanley would
be taking whatever it was the Captain was there to hand him. He wasn’t so sure he wanted the answer. And what of
Doc? Harmon and Palmer?
“I’m afraid not, Saunders. They…ran into a bit of trouble. Hanley made it back with the Major. Hanley sprained his
wrist but still managed to drive Major Caldwell back to our lines on a motorbike. Caldwell was wounded as well, but it
wasn’t too bad.”
That silence as the Captain looked back at him, weighing his words, said it all. Saunders broke eye contact for a
moment and shifted his feet with a sigh. Looking back up to meet the officer’s eyes, he cleared his throat. “The
“Doc was shot in the leg. The rest-. I’m afraid the rest of the men were KIA.”
Good men. Repple-Depples that had actually had experience. Fine additions to the squad. Harmon and Palmer,
gone. Saunders closed his eyes briefly at the thought of the letters he would have to write as soon as he had down
time. He unknowingly echoed Doc’s thoughts. Such a waste of young lives. Good men, for one officer. Saunders
hoped the ace pilot was worth what everyone thought he was.
“So Doc’s gonna be okay?”
“I’m sorry, Saunders. I know what a blow to morale it is to lose a company medic. But the only transportation Hanley
had available to him was a German motorbike. It would only hold two. Hanley had to leave him behind.”
Sgt. Saunders couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Sure, logically he knew the Lieutenant hadn’t had a choice.
But, Doc. His conscience, as Caje was his right hand. This must’ve been what Captain Jampel was coming to him
for. To go find their medic and bring him back to the evac hospital.
“Where did they leave him, Captain? Can we get a jeep or do we need to just do this on foot and take a stretcher?”
This time it was the Captain that sighed. “You’re not going back for Doc, Saunders. I came to give you a different
Not going back? Kirby was going to be difficult to reason with once that bit of news was passed on. With a frown,
Saunders rubbed at a bit of sweat trickling down his jaw and scratched at the three day stubble. “Who’s going back
“He’s behind enemy lines, Sergeant. We have orders to avoid that area for now. Doc will have to manage to find his
own way back.” The Captain’s look hardened at the expression on the Sergeant’s face. “That’s the way it is,
Sergeant. Now, come with me to my office and I’ll brief you on your mission.”
Those eggs were starting to sit like a stone in Sgt. Saunders’ gut. Their medic was wounded, lost behind enemy lines
and on his own. And there wasn’t a damn thing he could do about it.
After his briefing with the Captain, Saunders made his way over to the hospital that had been set up in what had
been the village’s orphanage. The details of his latest mission swirled in his mind, but he had to simply shake his
head at the foolishness of it. At least all they had to do was an escort. The rest of the mission was just plain nuts.
Saunders turned sideways to avoid a pair of medics rushing out of the door with a loaded stretcher then made his
way inside. He stepped close to the wall a moment, letting his eyes adjust to the brightness compared to the twilight
outside. After consulting with a nurse, and taking a moment to enjoy chatting briefly with a beautiful young lady, the
sergeant made his way upstairs.
He could hear Hanley before he even entered the room, arguing with another nurse. Saunders slipped through the
doorway and waited, smiling as the lanky lieutenant lost his battle. Saunders dipped his head politely at the brunette
as she passed and shuffled over to sit in a wobbly wooden chair by Hanley’s bedside.
“So what’s the word, Lieutenant.”
Hanley picked at the sling holding his arm to his chest. “Small fracture in my wrist. I’ll be out of here tomorrow. Don’t
know why I can’t leave now.”
Saunders shrugged and rested his hands on the tommygun lying across his lap. “Guess they just want to make sure
everything heals up right.” Meeting the gaze of his lieutenant squarely, Saunders cleared his throat. “How was Doc,
before you left? Was he hurt badly?”
This was the moment Hanley had been dreading. When he’d have to look the medic’s friends in the face, and
remember what he’d had to do.
“It didn’t seem too bad. At least, so Doc said. But you know how he can be. He seemed to have the bleeding under
control, though. If he can keep hidden, I’m sure he’ll be able to hold out until someone can go back for him.”
A cold, steely look flashed in Saunders’ blue eyes momentarily. “You know as well as I do, Lieutenant, that nobody’s
going back for him.”
A muscle twitched in Hanley’s jaw then he nodded. “You’re right, Sergeant. I heard about the orders to stay out of
that area. I’m sorry I had to leave him behind, but I had my orders as well.”
Sgt. Saunders leaned back in the creaky chair and frowned, though not necessarily at Hanley. “Well, I hope that
Major Calwell was worth the loss of three good men.”
“So do I, Seargent. Though, from your point of view, I can see how you’d doubt it could be true.”
The words, softly spoken and tinged with regret, came from a man in the bed opposite Hanley’s. His chest was bare
except for the cotton bandages wrapped around his torso. This then must be the downed pilot. Saunders met his
gaze levelly and shrugged. The Major was correct.
“Your medic was, is, a good man. He knew what staying behind meant, but insisted I go. I tried to argue with him.
With Lt. Hanley. But, they both have a strong sense of duty. They wouldn’t be swayed, so here I am. Your Lt.
Hanley would’ve gladly been the one to stay behind, if we’d had other transportation. I’m sorry things turned out the
way they did, Sergeant. You have no idea how sorry I am about that.”
The remorse on Major Caldwell’s face said everything. The mission hadn’t been his idea. He’d simply been the
goal. The prize to be returned. The pilot’s regret was plain to see. Whatever had happened, it was in the past.
There was nothing to be done about it now. Nothing, except to find his squad and explain to them what had
happened to Doc, Harmon and Palmer.
With a weary sigh, Saunders stood and made a sketchy wave to the two recovering officers. “Well, what’s done is
done as Doc would say. Take it easy on the nurses.” A brief smile twitched his lips then disappeared. “I have to go
brief the squad.”
Saunders took the long way back to their billet to give himself time to arrange his thoughts. When he stepped inside,
several heads turned his way. Squaring his shoulders, the sergeant met everone’s eyes for a moment before settling
his gaze on Kirby. “We have a new mission. But, first, I have some bad news…”
Wind whistled and rattled the old wooden door of his prison, but Doc ignored it. It had been nearly the longest day of
his life. Not as long as D-Day mind you, but pretty close. His captor had hauled him to his feet when he’d been
found and sent him stumbling down the hill to a row of waiting German soldiers. They’d looked so much like an
execution firing line, he’d nearly thrown up. But that momentary shard of fear had been temporarily removed when
they grabbed him and shoved him toward a waiting vehicle.
Stripped of his web belt, helmet, and bag, Doc had been half pushed half pulled into the waiting transport where he
was unceremoniously dumped on the floor. Several of the Germans had climbed up behind him, being sure to
trample him on their way to their seats. Apparently, the soldiers had been a little angry at having missed out on
capturing their intended prey. A medic was a very poor substitute for an enemy flying ace.
The trip was something Doc would prefer to forget. His leg had throbbed mercilessly and his head pounded at every
jarring bump of the transport. When they had finally come to a rattling stop, he was prodded to the edge where a
bulky German had put a large hand to his shoulder and, with a wide smile, shoved him out of the back. Hitting the
ground was something Doc would prefer to forget.
When he’d opened his eyes, the first thing he had seen was a freshly dug grave. A warning of the future. That
shard of fear had returned.
The next little while was a blur. An officer had told him if he tried to escape, the next freshly dug grave would be his
own. He had been shown to his new prison, introduced to his inmate and told would be called upon for questions
later. Something to look forward to.
Now, he closed his eyes and tried to push down the throbbing pain in his leg. Doc knew he was on borrowed time.
Once he’d been shown his fellow prisoner, he’d known why he was still alive. The other prisoner was also wounded
and showing signs of infection.
Apparently, his fellow inmate was a captured reporter. Someone who spent time with the brass; was privy to certain
information. Or so the Germans suspected. They wanted to keep the reporter alive and well until he could be taken
to someone with more authority than the officer the medic had met on his arrival. For that, they required Doc’s skills
and equipment. Now, they wouldn’t have to send for a medic of their own. Medics on both sides were in short
supply. A lucky capture for the Germans after all. Not so lucky for Doc.
He’d been given his bag back (minus anything remotely sharp or useful for escape) and he’d set to work on both the
reporter’s wound and his own. He couldn’t very well escape, if he ended up weakened by an infection himself.
Robert Barton, war correspondant, was someone Doc couldn’t figure out. It wasn’t that he didn’t understand the
older man. Being captured by the enemy was frightening and demoralizing. Being interrogated was a terrifying
experience. One he’d hoped never to repeat, but fate had its own agenda. Still, it was a soldier’s duty to do his best
to escape. To get back to his own lines. Not only to save his own life, but to make sure the enemy never got any
information out of him.
Maybe it was because Barton was, essentially, a civilian. Granted, Doc was a non-combatant. But he was still a
soldier. He’d killed a man in combat. He’d been on the front lines almost since D-Day. He knew what was at stake.
But the reporter seemed to think giving up was the only option.
With a sigh of pain, Doc sat up and used a rickety wooden chair to help drag himself to his feet. Limping his way to
the back of the barn that acted as their prison, the medic found the Barton lying listlessly on a pile of old hay. He’d
probably get fleas. Doc flapped a hand tiredly. “C’mon. It’s time for me to check that bandage.”
The reporter glanced up at him, crossed his arms and refused to move. “Just leave me alone. It won’t do any good
Sliding his bag around in front of him, Doc lowered himself to the straw with a painful grunt. “Giving up may be
easier, but the outcome won’t be. If you put up a fight and try to find a way out of this, you just might have a chance.”
“You’ve been here a few hours, medic. I’ve seen a guy buried out there in that yard. Helped dig the grave. We ain’t
going anywhere those Germans don’t want us to go. Accept it.”
Pulling aside the woolen material of Barton’s pants leg to get a look at his handiwork, Doc shook his head. “I don’t
believe that. I’ve been in some pretty tough spots before, when it would’ve been easy to just give up. But I didn’t. I
got out of those situations and I’ll find a way out of this one.”
There wasn’t any fresh blood showing through the bandage, so Doc nodded in satisfaction and swept his hand
around inside his bag for the little bottle of aspirin. He pulled the bottle out, unscrewed the top and tapped out a
couple of the small chalky pills. “Here, this will help bring the fever down.”
The reporter begrudgingly took the offered pills and choked them down with a sip of water from the medic’s canteen.
Barton ran a shaky hand through dark hair starting to grey with age and mileage. “You’ll leave this place when the
Germans take you away, or I end up burying you out there with the other soldier, medic. Now, leave me alone.”
Doc replaced the pill bottle in his bag and closed the flap. He was wasting his time with this man, but his own nature
made him give it one more try. “You know, I watched a lot of good men die today. To save one man that our brass
thought was really important to our side. Maybe they think you’re that important, too.”
Gripping an old stall board, Doc pulled himself once again to his feet. Shaking his head at the bitter expression of
the man lying in the hay, Doc frowned. “You might feel a little less afraid if you had some faith.”
“In what? God?” The reporter rolled onto his side, effectively dismissing Doc.
“In anything.” Even as he said it, Doc wondered why he continued to try to get through to the reporter. “I have faith.
In God. In my Sergeant, my squad and myself. Even my Lieutenant, who had to leave me behind today. I figure with
that kind of faith, one or the other is bound to help me get out of here. Even if it’s myself. If you haven’t any faith in
anyone or anything, there ain’t much that’s gonna get you out of this mess. And that’s why you’re so afraid.”
With those final words, Doc limped back over to the main room and slid down against the wall. It was going to be a
long night, with an uncertain morrow. Lying back down, Doc used his bag as a pillow and closed his eyes. He sent
up a silent prayer that his faith would see him through. One way or another.
It had been a long, restless night. As predicted, Kirby had been furious at the news that Hanley and his men had
been hit so badly just to get one officer back to friendly lines. The loss of all the men was hard, but the loss of their
medic was keenly felt. They all knew the odds of Doc making his way back on his own, wounded, were slim to none.
The man didn’t even carry a weapon to defend himself with. Kirby was practically vibrating with impotent rage, and
Saunders worried that the wiry soldier would become a liability on their upcoming mission.
Saunders knew it was the medic’s influence that had tampered some of Kirby’s natural anger into more productive
emotions. How those two had ended up becoming such good friends was something the Sergeant couldn’t fathom.
Doc could make friends with just about anyone, but Kirby-. Kirby was a harder nut to crack. The prickly BAR man
had gradually let down his guard with the easy-going medic and they’d all seen the improvement in Kirby’s attitude
He only needed two men for this, plus himself. Caje was still nursing a wound taken a couple of days ago, but
Saunders was hesitant to pick Kirby. It wasn’t as if he had a lot of choice, and maybe it was better to have Kirby burn
his anger out where his sergeant could keep an eye on him. “Kirby, you and Littlejohn are with me on this one.”
If Doc moved from the MIA list to the KIA list, Saunders wondered how long it would be before Kirby’s anger boiled
over. But for now, he had to push it all to the back of his mind. They had a mission. One that was eerily similar to
Hanley’s. To take his men behind enemy lines and rescue a man. Someone their side felt was important enough to
risk more lives to retrieve.
It was the most bizarre thing he’d been ordered to do, yet. Go with another a Captain from G-2, Reardon, and lead
him behind the German lines where he would be captured and taken to a temporary prisoner camp. Where,
hopefully, the reporter was still being kept. He would make contact with the reporter then lead him out of the camp
through a tunnel built by previous prisoners who were transported out before they could use it. The men had
escaped during transport and passed on their information to headquarters. Hopefully the information was accurate.
It was a lot to pin their hopes on.
He hoped he had better luck than the Lieutenant.
The escort patrol handed to Saunders and his men couldn’t have ended any worse. The man they were to see
“safely” captured by the Germans was dead. Bad luck seemed to be dogging their platoon lately. Sgt. Saunders had
a few seconds to make a decision and he hoped he’d made the right one.
Captain Reardon had been blown nearly in half by a landmine. Saunders, Littlejohn and Kirby found themselves
surrounded and pinned down by Germans with nowhere to go. Still, they kept firing until they ran out of ammo.
Looking into the hopeful faces of his men, Saunders shook his head. They had no choice now, but to complete their
mission. Raising his hands, dropping his tommygun to the side, Saunder slowly stood.
He and his men would be taking Reardon’s place. They had all the information they needed to see it through.
Except the small, minor detail of the locaton of the escape tunnel that is. Surely it wouldn’t be that hard to find. He
was betting the lives of his men on that fact. He couldn’t lose. Wouldn’t lose.
The march to the temporary prison camp was a long one, with several hard stares at Saunders’ back. And at least
one angry glare beside him. He knew Kirby, at least, wasn’t so keen to gamble his life for a reporter they’d never
met. Sgt. Saunders’ blue eyes swept the area as they approached the gates, his breath curling into the chill of the
evening. He had a better understanding of Hanley’s decision now. Risking the lives of good men…men he’d gone to
battle with…for that of a stranger.
A creak and rattle drew his attention back to the barbed wire gates as they swung open and the squad was shoved
through. A fresh-looking grave was a macarbe scene on their right. A warning for those who entered that they could
expect the same if foolish enough to defy their captors, no doubt. Saunders didn’t scare very easily. He ran a hand
through his hair, feeling the sweat cold against his scalp. He sincerely hoped the reporter wasn’t in one of those
A German officer approached the three men and barked a quick order to the guards, who jerkily untied the American’
s hands. His dark eyes were cold, a hearing aid trailing a wire from his left ear. A Major Meuller. They got the typical
speech about escaping is futile and to obey their guards. Orders Sgt. Saunders had every intention of disobeying.
Having been stripped of their jackets, the night air was starting to chill the sergeant’s arms. He resisted the
temptation to rub them for warmth and stared impassively back at the German Major until he and his men were
dismissed, to be pushed and shoved toward what looked like an old barn.
An iron bold was pulled back, a hand shoved the small of his back and Saunders stumbled inside. Littlejohn and
Kirby bumped into him from behind as they were given the same treatment. The door was slammed shut and the
sound of the bolt sliding closed clicked behind them.
Sgt. Saunders’ eyes adjusted to the dim light of the old wooden structure as they focused on a figure sitting up from
the floor. Surely his eyes were playing tricks on him.
“Hey, Barton! I told you to have faith. Look, it’s my Sergeant.” Their missing medic sat on the dirty wood floor,
laughing quietly and shaking his head.
Saunders reached down and grabbed Doc’s hand to pull him up. Other than the bandage on the medic’s leg and a
few fresh-looking bruises, the medic seemed in pretty good shape.
Kirby took Doc’s arm to help the medic get his balance. “Boy are you a sight for sore eyes, Doc. We thought for
sure you were a gonner. Not that I was worried any, you understand. I knew you’d turn up, like a bad penny.”
The corner of Doc’s mouth quirked up in a half smile. Kirby could talk a good act, but the medic saw the genuine
concern there. “Well, Kirby, it seems it’s you who’s the bad penny. I was just sittin’ here minding my own business
when you showed up.”
Interrupting banter that Saunders knew could go on for ages, the sergeant took Doc’s weight from Kirby. “You said
the name Barton. Is Robert Barton in here?”
“He’s over there in one of those stalls, Sarge. He’s got a leg wound, too. I’ve done the best I can. At least that Major
lets me give him morphine. How’d you know he was here? How did you know where to find me, anyway?”
Helping the medic over to the stall, Saunders let Doc balance himself then dropped to a crouch next to the sleeping
reporter. “We didn’t know you were here, Doc. We came here for Barton. We were just supposed to escort a guy
from G-2 to come get this guy, but he got killed. We got caught. Now it’s up to us to get this guy back to
Shifting his weight, grimacing at the strech and pull of his wound, Doc frowned at his sergeant. “How’re you figuring
to do that, Sarge?”
Smiling, Saunders stood and glanced at the three soldiers gazing back at him, trust and faith on their dirt-streaked
faces. “Well, Doc. Seems there’s an escape tunnel here somewhere. All we have to do is find it.”
Saunders had all the faith in the world that they would find it. If they could somehow stumble across their missing
medic, against all odds, surely something as simple as an escape route would be child’s play. They would find it, get
both wounded men out and back to their own lines. Nothing else would be acceptable. Wouldn’t Hanley and a
certain flying ace be surprised when they brought Doc into the evac? The look on the lieutenant’s face, alone, would
be worth everything.
Doc shifted, leaning his hip against the worn wooden slats of the stall. His face was etched with pain and weariness,
yet he smiled like he’d heard the war had ended. “I told Barton to have faith, Sarge. All a man needs to get through
a rough patch is faith. And maybe a fair bit of luck.”
Maybe their luck was changing. A bad couple of days were behind them. Morning would hopefully find them all
safely inside American lines. A chance to start over and celebrate the return of a friend and brother. Hanley could
let go of his ill-placed guilt. Major Calwell could mark a name off the list of men who died to save his life. Yep, just
like Doc said. Faith and a fair bit of luck. It’s all they needed.