Now that he'd gotten this far with it-contacting the man and driving all the way up to Gettysburg from Washington, D.C.-Hal Collins was having second thoughts. He arrived at the house fifteen minutes early, but drove right by it and pulled over to the curb two blocks farther on. Several minutes later, the pain in his hands registered in his brain, and he realized he'd had a death grip on the steering wheel. He took his hands away and popped his knuckles.
The old wooden cigar box was sitting on the passenger seat beside him. He remembered seeing it in the bottom drawer of the general's desk in his study, when he was a boy and the family was visiting the general, his grandfather. While the older folks sat out on the porch and talked, Hal would sneak into his grandfather's study, which was stuffed with memorabilia from three wars his grandfather had fought in: World War II, the Korean Conflict-as it was called until recent decades when it was finally given the respect of having been a war-and Vietnam, which his grandfather had fought from the Pentagon, having been called back into duty from retirement. Generals were always subject to being recalled, and Hal's father was a symbol of extraordinary bravery, honor, and service.
But the general never would talk to his family about his war service. Hal's father-and later Hal-had to find out about the general's war service and the stories behind all of his medals and citations through magazines articles from the time, or, like Hal did, while his parents and the general chatted on the porch, by surreptitiously going through his grandfather's study.
For some reason, although Hal always checked that the wooden cigar box, closed by two rubber bands, was always in the bottom drawer of the desk, he never, while his grandfather was alive, had had the courage to open it.
After his grandfather's death-ironically from lung cancer contracted by chain smoking the same cigar brand of what Hal thought of as the general's secret box-Hal's father had quickly packed up all of the memorabilia and sent it off to the general's regimental museum.
For years Hal had kept thinking about the box and wishing he'd had the courage to open it to see what was inside when he was a child. When his own father died, Hal was surprised to find the box-the same one; he'd memorized every torn scrap on its sides and top-tucked away in his dad's attic along with other things Hal knew were very private to his father.
The rubber bands no longer were on the box. Now it was closed with thick string. His father must have opened the box and seen what was inside. He must have read the few notes that were inside, crudely penciled on yellowed paper and secured with a black ribbon.
And when Hal read those notes, he was glad he hadn't read them until now and he knew why both his grandfather and his father had kept them secret-and, most of all, why his father hadn't sent them off to the regimental museum with everything else. Underneath these ribbon-wrapped notes was a short letter from his own father, addressed to Hal. His father not only had kept the notes, but he had known that Hal would find them.
Hal: As it is evident that you have now found and read of your grandfather's secret, I turn over to you the request that he made of me but that I was not equipped-either emotionally or by nature-to fulfill, as you are. You can understand all of this better than I can, I'm sure, and are much better able to decide what to do about this. The enclosed notes were written to your grandfather when he was a young army officer during the Allies' Anzio invasion in World War II, when his unit marched from the boot of Italy to Germany. At the last, the general begged me to find what had happened to the young private who wrote these notes, Benjamin Montgomery, and to pass on the general's highest regards and appreciation and his apologies to Montgomery or his surviving descendants, if any.
I had no idea what he meant before I found and read the notes. When I did find them, I regretted having promised to try. And I put off trying until it was too late for me. But by then, I knew you would be the one to fulfill this request, if anyone could or would. Both because of who you are and because you have the means of searching the records from the Pentagon. So, I leave it entirely up to you on what you can or wish to do about this.
Hal sighed, picked up the box, opened the car door, and started walking back to the house wherein lived Benjamin Montgomery's grandson. It had taken some time to trace him through the Pentagon files, but Hal had done so. He now wished he hadn't been persistent in doing so. He had assumed he would find nothing, and then when he did, he assumed that Montgomery's grandson wouldn't have any interest in a few notes his grandfather had written in World War II.
He had called ahead and he had said the minimum he thought necessary to be able to claim-to himself-that he'd done what he could to fulfill his grandfather's death wish. But the young man on the other end of the line, Bud Montgomery, had surprised him. There had been a pause before he had spoken.
"General Henry Collins? Yes, I know of him. You say you have some notes from my father, sent to him in World War II?
"Yes, and I promised my grandfather when he was dying to try to track down what had happened to your grandfather in life and to pass on his regards, appreciation, and-he said-his apologies. It might be enough to have done this over the telephone . . ." Hal certainly hoped it would be enough, and he had now passed on the three things the general had asked for, so this would be enough for Hal. "There are just a few notes, probably in your grandfather's hand. But you may not want those, and perhaps just this connection over the telephone is enough." Hal hoped the young man wouldn't want the notes. It was bad enough that Hal knew about them and had read them.
"Where are you?" the young man answered. "I think we should meet."
"I'm in D.C., but I can come to you, if you wish," Hal said, hoping that the young man didn't wish. "But perhaps a meeting isn't . . ."
Hal had done what his grandfather had wanted. He didn't really want to get any further into this.
"I think we should meet. I think I have the notes your grandfather sent mine in this exchange."
Oh shit, Hal thought. "Maybe we should just leave this . . . I don't think it would do either of our families any good to . . ."
"It's fine, Colonel Collins," he answered. "This need go no further than the two of us, but I loved and respected my grandfather, just as I'm sure you must have yours to be doing this. I think we owe it to them to put these notes together, if they do go together, just to give them both some peace and closure."
And thus Hal found himself knocking on the door of a neat little bungalow on the edge of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
A trim, handsome young man met the door. "Colonel Collins? I'm Bud. Please come in. The living room's over there. Would you like to have a beer?"
While the young man was getting the beer, Hal entered the living room, which was minimally but neatly furnished. He sat on the sofa and looked around. There were photographs across the room on a table. A wedding photograph, obviously of Bud Montgomery and a pretty, young blond woman. And a few others, of a couple of older couples-their respective parents? And a more recent one of Bud and his wife and two small children. And one of an older, but handsome man. The Benjamin Collins of the notes?
Despite the table full of photos, Hal got the distinct impression that he was alone in the house with Bud Montgomery.
After bringing in the beers, Bud left for a few minutes and then came back with a small wooden box-not a cigar box, but obviously an old one. He took a small stack of folded, yellowing paper out of it, and sat on the sofa next to where Hal was sitting, the general's cigar box in his hand.
"Well, if these are the two parts of a story, we'd best see what the story was," Bud said.
"Are you sure?" Hal asked. "The notes I have are very . . ."
"From what I have here, I have no illusions about what these represent," Bud answered.
And so, they began.
* * * *
"It would be suicidal, Major. And it would be cruel to the soldiers who we know won't last the night or beyond tomorrow. We need to let them die and peace. Then in a couple of days we could-"
"It's what regimental headquarters wants, Captain. We must move with the regiment and they are moving on from the Monte Cassino area."
Captain Collins knew that Major Dunlap was lying about that. Collins was the "Sparks"-the commo operator-for the unit of fifteen soldiers of the 157th who had been assigned to maintain the wounded until the ambulance corps unit could catch up with them. And since they'd been assigned those duties and managed to pull the wounded up to this warren of caves around the base of the mountain that the Monte Cassino monastery supported, all hell had broken out on the battlefield below. They hadn't heard from regimental headquarters for two days. A German artillery unit had advanced to support the Italians, and Captain Collins strongly suspected there wasn't a 157th regiment anymore.
The unit had landed in Oran, Africa, in June of 1943 to stage for the invasion of Italy at Anzio at the end of January 1944. The landing had gone well, but by early February, as the regiment worked its way up the peninsula, the Germans began throwing everything they had left at the invasion force and the 157th had stalled at Monte Cassino, seventy miles short of Rome.
So, Dunlap and Collins were the officers of a fifteen-man unit guarding thirty-two wounded soldiers in a series of caves opening up onto a broad ledge. The wounded, a good third of which would inevitably die soon, were stashed in the caves. The fifteen combat-capable soldiers were pulling eight-hour shifts of five men each at positions near the edge of the ledge, watching for Germans or Italians, while five soldiers maintained a mess and other support needs and the other five were sleeping in a cave dedicated to their needs. Dunlap and Collins each had a shallow cave for their own billet.
The ambulance unit consisting of seven medics had reached them less than an hour previous to the disagreement conversation between the major and the captain near the entrance to the cave holding the terminally ill. To the major's great disappointment they arrived with no news of the rest of the regiment's disposition or condition.
Major Dunlap was about to reiterated the order to prepare the men to move out, when the head medic, a corporal, came out of the cave.
"We have assessed the wounded, Major," he reported. "Three of the soldiers will die within the next couple of hours, and I doubt that five others will last the night."
"That's unfortunate, Corporal, but we must be on the move to meet up with the regiment."
"How far will that be?" the corporal asked.
Captain Collins, who had been turned away from this discussion, turned back and said, "We have no idea how far it is. We have no idea where the regiment is now. Or do you know, Major?"
The major looked irritated-but also fairly called. "No, it will be up to us to find them."
"Many of the wounded can't move on their own, Major," the corporal said. "We've just done our assessment. Now we have to dress the wounds. Some of the soldiers still have bullets in them. It will be hours before we can stabilize the wounded."
"And by then it will be dark," Captain Collins said. "We will stand less of a chance finding the regiment through enemy territory in the dark than in the light. And, as I said, it would be cruel to force march men who will be dead, one way or the other, in the morning-and the able-bodied soldiers can't fight, as needed, with two wounded men each on their back."
The major's face was beet red. He didn't like to be second-guessed, even by clear logic. But the logic, in fact, was clear.
"Very well. We will reassess the situation at dawn tomorrow. But I then want us on the move by noon."
Collins and the corporal watched the major stalk off. They turned and looked at each other. Both were fine-looking men, the captain in his late twenties and the corporal, by the look of him, barely twenty-two. They each shook their heads, giving the other a sympathetic look, and walked off to perform their respective duties.
It was late afternoon on February 12, 1944.
That evening, Captain Collins found a note that had been placed under his pillow that gave him some comfort that his near insubordination with the major earlier that day had not gone by without some form of support from the men of the unit.
Shouldn't be doing this, I know, but just wanted you to know that most of us guys are with you on this, Cap. Some of the man we have here are too shot up and played out to be on the move just yet-some of them forever, and it would just be cruelty to bring those men even more pain in something that isn't going to save them. Just want you to know you aren't alone in this, even tho none of the rest of us have a say in anything.
The next day dawned with no further contact from the regiment, two soldiers that had to be buried in the soft soil at one edge of the ledge, and a heavy fog enveloping the mountain. The fog helped them in the respect of making it less certain that any of the remnants of the German and Italian forces roaming around-the enemy having suffered as much in the battle as the Americans had-would find them under those conditions. They still could hear the occasional sound of rifle shots. But the German artillery was silent, and perhaps on the move up the peninsula. The 157th was a vanguard regiment in the march up from Anzio. Soon wave after wave of American forces would be in the area. This was why Captain Collins favored staying put. They could always catch up to the 157th later, he reasoned with the major.
The fog hurt them in the respect that it brought the disagreement between Major Dunlap and Captain Collins even more in the open. There really was no place they could go and not be overheard if the major insisted on blustering his position. And the major did insist on blustering his position.
The fog stayed with them all day, though, and by late afternoon the major had to admit that they were going nowhere that day. Two more of the critically wounded had died in the night and two beyond that during the day.
"But what about those with only minor wounds?" the major asked the medic corporal.
The corporal called out a young private, who looked barely old enough to be at war out of the cave were the less-critical soldiers were being treated. The private was shy, although he managed a smile at Captain Collins when he emerged from the cave. "The major has asked about the progress of the health of the minimally wounded, Private Montgomery. Please report. How many of them would be ready to march tomorrow-and to fight, if need be."
The private flared up a bit at the question, glaring at the major probably a bit more than the major would tolerate if the soldier were directly under his command, but he calmed down as quickly as he had shown irritation. "Most of the men not in the critical care area could probably march tomorrow, sir. But I doubt if more than a dozen of them could point rifles steadily. Perhaps a few more days and-"
"Thank you, Private," Major Dunlap said with an icy voice. "You may go back to your patients now."
Once again the private gave Captain Collins a smile as he turned and fled back into the cave.
That night Collins received yet another handwritten note under the pillow of his pallet, which gave him encouragement to hold off on the withdrawal from the caves.
Stand up to the major, Cap. There are enough of us who will stand behind you on this. The caves are the best place to be in this until the fighting gets beyond us. We got more sick and wounded here than we got men who could fight. We didn't march all the way up from Anzio to Monte Cassino just to get out in the open for Krauts and Spics to pick us off. There's nothing cowardly about it. I, for one, would pick up a gun and join it out there if you tell me to but none of us medics can be doing that and caring for the wounded soldiers and carrying them out of these caves on our backs at the same time. You are told the major right about that.
One who cares and stands behind you.
Late that night, not being able to sleep, Captain Collins had left his cave and was standing by the entrance into the critical care cave, chancing smoking a cigarette to calm his nerves. He normally wouldn't have considered doing this at night, but the fog had settled in again, and he doubted that a lighted tip of a cigarette could be seen at the edge of the ledge from here, let alone down the mountainside.
He thought he heard a strange noise from inside the critical cave-like perhaps one of the patients choking-and instinct drew him into the entrance way. He stopped there, though, instantly understanding what was happening at a pallet over in a corner.
The young soldier on the pallet was one who had been thought not to be alive this morning, but he was still alive. One of the medics was kneeling beside him. The medic had unbuttoned his fly and had his cock out, and the dying soldier was sucking on it, while the medic had his hand inside the fly of the soldier and was stroking his cock.
Collins wasn't surprised. There had been indications about this solider earlier, the one who was dying, but nothing definitive had been established. It was clear from what Collins could see and hear that what the medic was doing for the dying soldier was an act of solace. Regulations, of course, demanded immediate charges and punishment for both of the soldiers. But, muttering "fuck it" under his breath, Collins just turned and left the cave.
Exhausted, he was able to fall into a deep sleep on his pallet for the few hours left in the night. When he awoke, he found another note-in the same hand and on the same lined notebook paper as the two earlier notes-laying on top of his mess kit. The note thanked him for turning his eyes away from what he had spied in the night, and for not reporting the incident.
Just want to thank you for understanding, Cap. There's lots of ways to take care of the wounded and dying. It's not being less of a man to be human and carrying with all this shit going on. Private Craig is on his way out. He knows that. Jimbo knows that. If Jimbo allows him to get what comfort and pleasure is left in life that ain't up to no one but the two of them and God, I say. It's war, and it's still bad out there. Krauts everywhere and the Spics are just shooting at anything that moves. We're probably all gonna die. Probably none of us are going back to a regular life as the Bible tells us to do.
Thanks-for the private Jimbo's caring for in the best way he can see and for the remaining time the private has-for just overlooking it and not telling the major. Everything about where we are and can't get out alive is unnatural. And we're stuck with everything. So, nothing's unnatural here.
With the greatest respect,
When Collins checked the next morning, he found that Private Craig had died an hour earlier. Collins also now knew who had been sending him the notes. This one was signed by the private who had been called out to report the combat readiness of the less critical wounded, Private Montgomery. He had signed the note "Private Benjamin," but the only Benjamin in the caves was Private Montgomery.
Other news he received that morning was that Major Dunlap had taken two soldiers and set off on his own to reconnoiter the area, still being hot to lead the unit off the mountain and to meet up with the 157th. This was fine with Collins except for the part of not having been informed that the major was doing this. It was a clear sign that the major didn't trust or want to work with Collins, which couldn't possibly be good, especially when the unit was in the peril that it found itself in.
Still, there was an upside to this. Until the major returned, Collins was in charge. The major had said nothing to the men about the situation. Collins called them together, including the less-critically wounded, after they had breakfasted and told them that, unless the major returned with contrary orders, they would stay here for at least two more days. He didn't say the timing was established with the consideration that by then there wouldn't be critical wounded still alive who could not travel-but everyone listening to him knew the score.
He continued by saying, though, that the unit would have to be on the move soon. Little evidence of fighting had been heard or seen from the valley in more than twenty-four hours, he was sure that the main vanguard of the U.S. forces would be appearing in the next day or so, and, most telling of all, they would be running out of supplies and couldn't stay here much longer in any event.
The men listened to him intently and none questioned the wisdom or necessity of what he was saying, his spirits were lifted that night to find yet another note in his cave that evening providing affirmation and pledge of support from his not-so-secret supporter. It normally wouldn't mean a great deal to receive support from a private-and one from a medical rather than a combat unit and looking barely old enough to shave-but his eyes had met on several occasions with those of Private Montgomery over the past two days, and an affinity had been established between them. For some reason, Captain Collins found himself very much wanting to know that he had the young, good-looking private's approval.
He was not yet able, however, to consider what might underlay this affinity.
You're the man. I'd follow you anywhere. You were right. It's just about past us now. Soon as we're down to those never going anywhere from here, I'm with you a hundred percent on giving it a go. So's all the other guys. The major doesn't come back, we'll do what you say, no question. Me, especially, whatever you want, whatever you tell me to do. You got it. I'll carry a man and a gun. Just say the word.
The next morning, Captain Collins' world changed forever. And it happened in the most unexpected way, blindsiding him, deeply disturbing him, and causing him to brood for some time on his life until now to consider whether there had been any foreshadowing for this life-shattering revelation.
The unit had devised a shower behind some rocks at one edge of the ledge, where a small cascade of water dropped down the side of the mountain. Part of the "on mess duty" units duties was to keep buckets of this water filled, and when the men were able to break away to douse themselves with the ice-cold water, they merely tipped a bucket over their heads, soaped up, rinsed, and used as little water as they could in the process.
When Collins' rounded the corner of the rock-enclosed area, naked, to take a quick dousing, he almost ran into Private Montgomery, who already was there, soaped up. Surprised at the appearance of the captain, the private lost his balance. Collins' caught him, preventing the smaller man from falling to the ground. But the positioning of the captain's arms and hands when he caught the naked private was intimate. He was embracing the privates chest from behind him with one arm, the captain's hand palming the private's pecs. And his other hand was cupping the private's genitals.
All would have been fine, if the captain had let loose of the private as soon as Montgomery had regained his footing. But he didn't. They remained, transfixed, in that position for nearly half a minute-time enough for both of them to start hardening up and for each to know that other was doing so. Collins was trembling. Montgomery let out a low moan, which snapped Collins out of his daze. He turned and fled the shower.
For the rest of the day, he dreaded the knowledge that there would be a note accusing him of what he'd had no knowledge of having any interest in-at least until now. He agonized at the realization that he had meant something to him. That it had started to make some feelings of the past click into place, feeling he didn't know he'd had and didn't want to have.
He avoided Private Montgomery for the rest of the day and wouldn't have known what to say to him if they did encounter each other in private. There certainly was nothing he could say to the young man with others present.
He made it to the night without incident, but, just as he surmised, there was a note under his pillow on his pallet when he retreated to his cave. It wasn't an accusatory note, though. Collins realized that it might have been better if it were. It was a "not to worry" note that left him more disturbed and full of guilty feelings than before.
It's OK, Cap. It's more than OK. It was accidental like. But anything you want. Anything you need. Just ask. And not because you're an officer. Because you're you. You don't even need to ask, know what I mean? We all have needs. I have needs too.
Benjamin Montgomery's note of conciliation-and hinting of more-could not go unanswered. To talk to him would put it all on some sort of official level. Captain Collins decided he had to write a note of his own, the first one he'd ever written to the private. He agonized over the note, not being able to write what his emotions were telling him he wanted to write-to admit to-which wasn't only that feelings he had for other men were beginning to emerge from him but also that he had specific feelings for, attraction to Private Montgomery. Feelings he should not have, but increasingly couldn't deny.
This had to be nipped in the bud. Montgomery couldn't know how he really was feeling. His note to Ben, delivered by slight of hand in passing the next morning, was meant to apologize for the encounter and assure the private both that it wasn't his fault and that it was an anomaly brought on by the tensions of the war-and not an indication of anything real.
Oh, god, B, I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to do that. Just forget I ever touched you like that. I don't know why. I'll be careful not to be showering at the same time again. It's the war, man. I'm not like that. You don't have to tell me it's OK. It isn't.
The note didn't work. Private Montgomery clearly was interested in more contact-and inviting more intimate contact. His answering note clearly opened the door to Collins and caused the captain to retreat to his pallet, pull the cover over himself, and masturbate to gain relief and release the heat of the thoughts that now were racing through his mind. A simple, accidental encounter in the shower had opened a Pandora's box. It had let a genie out of a bottle that Collins didn't seem to be able to bottle up again. And it wasn't being helped by Private Benjamin, who was now giving Collins intimate looks as they crossed paths and was positioning his body provocatively
The note Collins found after the noon mess clearly signaled that the private wanted more from him. And increasingly, Collins wanted to give the small, cute medic more.
I wanted more. There, I said it. But you're so hung, I was scared. And an officer. You haven't done it, ever before? Don't know how you managed Africa and then up from the boot of Italy without it. Or maybe officers can get at the women. Privates like me sure can't. I sure won't say anything to the major or anyone else, and if you're interested, see you at the shower again. If you're not, please just forget that I mentioned it.
That night, the private stole into Collins' cave and was naked and creeping under the blanket covering Collins' pallet so silently that Collins thought that he was having a dream-a dream that he couldn't help but having-before he was awake enough to know that he was hard, that Private Montgomery was straddling his hips, and that the private was fisting Collins' cock and sliding his channel down the pole.
Collins lay there, wide eyed and panting heavily as the small, young, incredibly sexy private fucked himself on the cock.
Collins had done nothing to force the encounter, but when, after twenty minutes of groaning sex, they both had come, Collins had done nothing to cut off the encounter either.
His note to the private the next morning was meant to put an end to it, to take all of the blame, but to say that it would be impossible to go on, to follow his acknowledged attraction farther. And in accepting the blame for someone egging the young man on, he as much as told Private Montgomery to turn him in for rape. He was the officer. The responsibility was fully his.
I'm such an animal. How can I ever let you know how sorry I am I lost control like that. Just a fuckin animal. It's all this stuff about whether and when to make a break for it. I just about had all I can of it. I promise I will never again . . . If you want to report me to the major, I wouldn't fault or fight it. Maybe it's just time for me to be put down. This war is hell. It's making a fucking wild animal out of me.
I couldn't say this to your face. You can show this note to the major, if you like. It's all my fault.
Private Montgomery's answering note, brushed all of Collins' arguments and noble intentions to take full blame and all responsibility aside and pressed on for more attention from Collins, for the captain, the older of the two and the top, to continue and deepen the relationship. When Collins didn't answer that note, Montgomery sent yet another one, beginning Collins to step up to the attraction each undeniably had for the other. The second note was passed by hand, and for the first time the issue was spoken.
"You have fucked me already, Captain. That cat don't go back in the bag. You want me, I know-as much as I want you. It's the war. We both need this. I'm aching for it."
No, don't feel like that, Cap. Don't say anything like that to me. I wanted it. I asked for it. It ain't like you popped my man cherry or anything. My first officer, tho, and I never had it so big. Not your fault. Once I saw you in the shower. . . . Just the way it is out here on the road to Berlin. The tension and the needs. It's not the real world. We all have needs and urges. Me too. Don't take this on yourself. You need it . . . anytime, you got it.
Anytime you want it, Cap. 'Cause I sure want it. I can't stop think of doing it with you. I have needs too. Couldn't you tell by my moaning as you pushed it up into me and how I clung to you and then begged for it again? You're not taking advantage. You didn't hurt me-in none of the ways. I've done it before. Lots of times. And I can get it. That's not a real problem. But you and me. We're real good together. Real good. I gotta say that if you're really thinking of me, as you say is what's holding you back, you'll fuck me again. We both need it. We both need to feel. You're driving me wild here. I'm aching for it.
Collins came to Ben in the shower. The shower wasn't set up in the last niche in the rocks along the far edge of the ledge. Collins pushed the private beyond the shower, into another niche, and fucked him from behind, standing up, with the smaller man bent over in front of him and grabbing his ankles.
Ben said that wasn't enough for him. Collins admitted that it wasn't enough for him either. They fucked half that night away in Collin's cave, on his pallet, in several different positions, all ones Ben nudged Collins into. It was clear that Ben was the expert here, no novice in any sense of the word. But Collins was a quick learner. The dam had burst. He suddenly knew who he was and what he wanted.
And what he wanted was to fuck Ben silly. It's what Ben wanted too.
The note Ben handed Collins the next morning exuded the glee that he had that, at last, they were fucking with no reservations, no restraints other than keeping it private between the two of them.
Roll me over, Roll me over
Roll me over in the clover
And do it again, do it again!
Ain't much for poetry, and I never thought of that way of it, but that's all I could think of, you fucking me. Us guys are always singing that song-most in a different way. But that's just how I feel with you now. You put me on one high, you did. First time we done it all the way flat out without any guilt or shame-at least for me, and you sure as hell didn't seem to be holding anything back. And then again. I want you to do me again and again and again, Fuck me. Fuck me. There, I said it. War is hell. But it's not that much hell now.
Roll me over . . . BIG SMILE.
They had one more night together in the caves. They fucked with abandon, with Collins taking complete control, with Ben muttering over and over again, "Fuck me, spike me, screw me, plow me," in joyful celebration that Collins was mining the depths of his channel, both of them spewing cum multiple times.
The last note that Collins received from Ben in the caves celebrated their exuberant coupling with a crude poem that was to become Ben's mantra as the march and fucked across northern Italy and into France.
Fuck, spike, screw, plow,
Do me anyway you like,
Just do me now, now, NOW!
There. Hasn't being royally screwed like that last night made me a much better poet? I know that we can't speak about this in the open. But don't deny me these notes. You don't have to answer if you don't want. You let me know in the night what you're feeling. You came to me for it last night. I am just busting with the want of having your dick inside me. Fucking me, fucking me, fucking me. This war is hell, but you have given me a slice of heaven, a reason to live, to be there on the other side. I live for the nights, of you covering me, and kissing me, and holding me tight. And thrusting inside me. And fucking, fucking, fucking me. God, you are hung.
I know you don't want to talk of love. But if one man could talk of love to another . . .
Yours. Anywhere, anytime.
That morning, Captain Collins marched what remained of the unit, down a fourteen soldiers, including Major Dunlap and the two soldiers he'd taken with him on the reconnaissance mission, out of the caves and down the mountainside. Twice they brushed by near German remnant units but two days later, without firing a shot, Collins delivered all of the men who had come off the mountain with him safely into the hands of U.S. Forces.
The remnants of the 157th, now, with the addition of Captain Collins' men, was gathering north of Rome to prepare for a march through France, toward Berlin. The Germans were on the run back to the homeland. Of the 705 men in the 157th at the first firing of a gun in the battle for Monte Cassino to the day the Captain Collins appeared with his unit, Major Dunlap never being heard from again, there remained 163 men.
On February 24, 1944, Captain Collins was promoted to major and notified that he was being put in for the Silver Star for bringing his unit out substantially intact and saving as many wounded men as he had.
At the end of the ceremony, Private Benjamin, thinking that his ambulance unit might now be split off from the 157th slipped a note of congratulations to Collins, and set up an assignation with the new major in the room assigned to Collins in a small hotel had had been commandeered as an officers' billet.
Congratulations, Major. If anyone deserves it, you do. Bringing all of us out the Monte Cassino caves hell hole alive. I'm so proud of you. But being an even higher muckity muck officer now, does that mean we have to use a rubber? Sorry, that was a joke. But I don't want to use a rubber. The skin of a hard, throbbing cock rubbing me inside. Not just any cock-yours. That's what I want to feel. The heat of it. I guess there would be the pulse of it that I love to try to match even with the rubber. But not the heat and then the filling of me. Your hot jism exploding even deeper inside me-deeper than your big, hard cock can reach. I feel it in my belly. It warms me through the long, wet trod through France. Tried to come with you last night. Almost got there. Maybe tonight?
Tell me that majors still fuck privates. If I've worked it right, you are reading this as you turn in. And are getting hard. For me. If so, I am just back in the shadows. Just put out the light and lay down on your back. I'll give you a blow job worthy of a major and then I'll do the riding.
Love (Yes, there, I've put it out there in the open)
You know who
The fucking, intense and celebratory not only because of Collins' promotion but also from relief that they had made it to U.S. lines and because this was their first lovemaking in a proper bed, went on for hours. Collins was in full control now, taking Ben first doggy style, bent over the side of the bed. After drinking half a bottle of Champagne that Ben had managed to commandeer, Ben lay on his back on the bed, his legs hooked on Collins' hips as, pushing his knees under Ben's buttocks, Collins grabbed Ben by the waist and pulled him on and off the cock. They celebrated their first encounter and Collins' first controlling fuck by fucking in the shower of the adjoining bathroom, Collins standing with his back to the slick tiles of the wall, and Ben plastered to his pelvis, with wrists hooked behind Collins' neck, and Ben placing his feet on the wall in either side of Collins' torso and fucking himself on the cock by leveraging off the wall on the balls of his feet.
One last drunken fuck found them on the floor, Ben on his belly, and Collins riding his buttocks and waving his arms in the air like a rodeo cowboy.
Ben asked for a written note cataloging their evening together, thinking that this might be their last fuck, that they would find themselves in separate units the next morning.
Collins' letter not only celebrated the night, but also expressed the depth of his appreciation for what Ben had given him. It also contained the surprise that they would not be parted-that a major was accorded an orderly and that Collins' request that Ben be assigned to him as his orderly had been granted.
They would march into France together. As an high-ranking officer, Collins would received billeting in a hotel or private home, wherever possible. That the two would march by day by fuck in a private bedroom by night.
War or no war, life was good for the two lovers.
Jesus Christ, that was incredible. We've come a long way, haven't we, B? There is so much I want to do with you, to you. You are the reason I can go on. And it will go better for us, now, I promise. A major scores an orderly. And better billeting along the road. Maybe a private bedroom in a heated house. And an orderly to serve him. Guess who services-opps, I mean serves . . . grin . . . me so well. So, guess who've I've asked to be my orderly.
We mustn't sink too far into this, though. This has got to remain the temporary result of the circumstances of war and men thrown together in worry and danger and not the usual outlets. This is still unusual, unheard of in my family, as I'm sure it is in yours. I have a wife and a child. I love them no less than before this happened.
This must, for both of us, just be to see us through this hell of a war. We can't put too much meaning into this-either one of us. But it's important to me. Now, thanks quite a lot to you, I can see a glimmer of sanity on the other side. Not a life completely like it was before Africa and Anzio and Monte Cassino, and now France. I would never regret this: you, being inside you, the release, the pleasure, the forgetting just for those moments, you lying under me, you giving it to me . . . everything. But this isn't the real world, and aren't we fighting to put the world back on its axis-and on the pedestals that civilized societies create for us to honor? I love my wife. I love my baby son-even though I've never seen him in the flesh. And, yes, I have L for you too, B. But it's a different feeling. It's for here, now. That will have to be enough.
But, fuck, B, that was incredible. Yes, fuck, fuck, FUCK.
The only shadow hovering over the concept of their life being ideal-or as ideal as it could be considering that they were still in a war and marching across countries on their feet-was the continued hedging Collins voiced and wrote about concerning the future and the probability that they both would return to normal-more socially acceptable-lives after the war.
Ben continually worked to deflect this, though, and answered Collins with a letter making every effort to hang on to what they now were to each other. Whereas Collins fought to acknowledge reality, Ben grasped at the fantasy that had been woven around them.
I don't know why you lift me up and then push me down. Not when I'm on your cock, of course. You can lift me up and slam me down all you want then. You could have stopped at "score." You sure scored last night. You could write these letter on two sheets and just slip me the first page and burn the other one. But I'll take what I can get. I'm aching for you to slip me something right now, and we've just finished the evening mess. I have hours more to pant for your cock.
I'll take an L that comes with an F and an S or two and a P (Fuck, screw, spike, plow-but do it now. Isn't that the way it went? You'd think I chanted it enough while you were screwing me that I'd remember exactly how it goes). Your body doesn't lie to me, Henry. You are in paradise-far from this fucking slog to Berlin-when you are fucking, screwing, spiking, plowing me. And so am I.
You are right about having privacy and a bed most nights along the march through France. I didn't know you could come up with that many ways to fuck a man. Good thing we don't use rubbers. We'd be out of what few the Red Cross slips under the table to a soldier before we'd gotten out of the caves. Screw thinking about the other world. This is my whole world now. You are my whole world. Even if you can't say it, I can. Love, love, love.
And right now, I would love you to fuck me.
* * * *
By late July of 1944, the 157th, in separated small units spread across the line of advance, was approaching the Largue River in the Franche-Comté region, preparing to move into the Alsace region. When they cleared Alsace, they would be in Germany itself. They were hot on the tail of the retreating German army. There were few skirmishes between the U.S. and German forces, but the local populace was war weary and panicked and communication were such that they had little knowledge of what army was moving through their region. All they knew was that they had been used as pawns to exploit and ravish.
They were skittish and responding to any danger they saw to their villages and farms.
Major Collins' unit was approaching the small hamlet of Bonfol, which had been brutalized by German soldiers not more than two days previously. Walking in a tree-lined dirt-surfaced avenue between fields that had been churned up by German Panzer units, Collins' heard a rustling in a tree overhead. Looking up, he saw a young boy of no more than nine or ten, pointing an old rifle at him. The rifle wavered in the boy's hands and Collins' had time to see the fear, determination, and hatred in the boy's face before he turned to take cover. He also had time to shoot the boy out of the tree with his own at-the-ready rifle.
He didn't shoot, though, and because he didn't shoot, as he turned, the rifle in the tree discharged and a single bullets somehow struck Collins' in the muscle of a calf, traveled through that calf, and then through the other. As he fell, he remembered having looked back up to the face of the boy in the tree, whose eyes looked sad and weary. The boy was raising the rifle again.
But a shot rang out, from among the soldiers who were catching up to the major, and the boy fell out of the tree and lay, dead, on the ground just beside where Collins' had fallen. Before Collins' was lifted up by his orderly, Collins' was face to face with the boy on the ground for long enough for it to register than the boy's eyes retained their look of sadness.
Collins' was transported to the nearest U.S. Army field hospital near Basel. His orderly, Private Montgomery stayed with him, having been very useful in tending to Collins on the spot and keeping him as comfortable and stabilized as possible en route to the field hospital because Montgomery himself had been a medic in an ambulance unit.
At the field hospital, the orderly stuck by the bedside of the major, providing additional nursing care twenty-four hours a do to what the busy hospital could afford. The wound was painful and it would prevent Major Collins from preceding with his unit or meeting up with the 157th until they were approaching Heidelberg, in Germany, some ten weeks later. But his wounds were minor compared to others the hospital had to deal with under short-staffed conditions, so the presence of the orderly meant everything in the initial care of the patient.
When the major came out of the near coma, induced by painkilling drugs, though, he turned away from the orderly and refused to respond to him. At length, he asked to be transferred to another hospital and for his orderly to be sent on to catch up with the 157th, which is what transpired.
In the final known, and fullest and most revealing, exchange of letters between the two men who had become war-conditions lovers, Private Montgomery, who was the soldier who had shot the boy from the tree outside Bonfol, pleaded to the major not to turn away from him and the major sadly answered that it was time for both of them to start returning to reality-that their war would be over soon, they both would want to return to a life that didn't include men making love to men, and that this disruptive incident in France was, both of them needed to admit, the best possible circumstance to end their relationship.
August 5, 1944
Tell me that wasn't our last time. Tell me it wasn't because your wounds hampered you and I had to do the work. You didn't mind it with the promotion celebration. You seemed so distant tonight. But it wasn't because you couldn't come. I brought you off twice. But it was like you were holding back-and I know you when you aren't holding back in a fuck. Oh, god, do I know how wildly you can fuck when you're loosened up. I thought we were beyond the notes, that we could talk to each other in the daylight. I can control myself in front of the others. You should know that by now. I'm your orderly and also a medic. No one's questioned that I spend the night with you in this hospital room. If you won't speak to me, at least read this note. Don't turn away from me.
Is it because he was just a boy and I shot him? Or is it because you hesitated in shooting him yourself, and are embarrassed that I saw that? I don't judge you for that. Your ability to still be a human after all of this time in the war is part of why I love you. And no one else saw what happened. No one saw you freeze.
It was him or you. And he'd already shot you once-and even though he looked scared as hell, he was going to shoot you again . . . and again until you dropped dead. So, of course I dropped him. You have to understand. When it's you and anyone else, if I can do anything, I will. I know what you've said and written, where you've drawn the line. I understand your problem, how you are torn, how you feel you have to hold on to that other world if you can. But that's your line. I draw no such line. I have no other world to lose. I'm yours, all yours. I will do anything to keep you alive.
OK, you don't have to talk to me, but those wounds, even though they are flesh wounds, could easily be infected. Don't turn me away. I'm a medic, not just the young soldier you're fucking and can't fully accept that you are.
Don't turn me away.
The private you are fucking and who loves you
August 7, 1944
If you are reading this and we aren't both in a stockade, the colonel gave you this letter without reading it-as I requested that he do. You also will know that I have been moved to another hospital-at my request-and that you have received orders to catch up with the unit marching into Germany. Although I've learned we are going to Heidelberg to protect artwork the Jerries stored in the castle there rather than to Berlin. I don't know if you even care about that. But Heidelberg would have been a far better place for us to spend our last days together than what's left of Berlin.
And you must realize that we would have ended it there, in Heidelberg, which isn't that far away considering that we have tramped on foot from the boot of Italy to here in Alsace already.
I'll say it now. I have come to love you, and it isn't all about the sex, even though, you are right, it has been paradise to be able to balance the hell of war with the heaven of fucking you. And, yes, that scares me. I shouldn't have let it go there.
This isn't the real world. We both must return to the real world. I can't believe that you have nothing waiting for you back in Tennessee. You must return to normalcy, as I must. This war has stripped away everything civilized and acceptable in the soldiers who have been forced to clean up the failure of politicians and megalomaniacs like Hitler and Mussolini. To a certain degree, we've been reduced to being primitive animals too-just to fight them on their own level and to survive. It was natural, in a way, there being few women and many frightened men along the road that I let myself be reduced to a primitive animal in this way too. Men thrown in together in fear and uncertainty, need and tension. Testosterone like a bright flame. And being told over and over again that we weren't like the fascists-we didn't loot and rape. And if we did, we'd be summarily executed-in a climate where it was believable that this would be our fate.
It was natural to turn to each other for comfort and release. And you were so desirable-from the first time I laid eyes on you. And then, yes, you have to admit it, so willing and leading me. You accepted responsibility for that from the beginning. It's not that I'm saying you are a schemer. It just seemed so much more acceptable for you in the circumstance we were in. You were the one with the open mind and I was the prude.
That's not an excuse for me, of course. I was an officer and you were a private-not even a foot soldier. You were a medic working to save the wounded men assigned to my unit in the caves of Monte Cassino. I didn't even ask you how old you were. You looked so young that I should have. Thank god your being too young didn't get added to my sins. I should have shown restraint. But it was such a struggle on what to do there, and you were so comforting and supportive-and available and willing. And so damn sexy. I was an animal, a primitive animal. And you took it and did everything you could to have me and to hold me inside you.
I don't think I've ever told you. I never could bury it all with my wife or any of the other women I've had. But you took it all and made love to it. And I was such an animal. I was lost to you-days before I first fucked you. It was driving me crazy. It was what I wanted at the time. When you gave yourself to me, it got me through the lunacy of the war.
But enough of that. I promised myself to keep this formal-for the sake of both of us. No, this is not your fault. None of it is your fault, really. You were young-you still are in years, but certainly not in experience. I'm an officer. It was basically my weakness-my weakness in this so that I could be strong in other ways. You'll chastise me, I think, for mentioning "fault." All along you've taken what we've been doing as natural and right, under the circumstances, and I've been the one who was reserved and expressed the guilt. That said, I have loved your notes; the heat of them spurred me on to something I'll never regret (I hope), and they gave me release when, barring a release such as that, I might have killed Major Dunlap back in the caves of Monte Cassino, and then where would we have been?
A parting is inevitable. I ask you to come to accept that. But that it is now isn't because of anything you've done. You saved my life. I don't discount that in the least, and I forever will be in your debt for that. I was in your debt before that. You gave me everything. You gave me pleasure and release and a will to put one foot in the front of the other during our trek. And you did it all without asking for or demanding anything but the cock in private-which was the easiest thing I could give to you, because it brought so much pleasure to me. (Cock in private. I laughed when I reread that. I'm sure you did when you first read it. You always said I was too serious. I sure had my cock in a private, didn't I?)
I think it was the eyes-the sad eyes-that woke me up. Of course the bullet through the legs was a wake-up call in itself. That young boy in the tree. His eyes looked so sad. He didn't want to be there any more than we did. But he had a duty, just as we did, no matter how futile and irrelevant it was at that point. The Jerries were on the run-all the way back to Germany. His war was over. But the boy didn't realize it, and he did what duty told him he had to do-shoot the invaders. He was trembling so bad that I have no idea how he managed to hit me-even in through the thighs.
I can't help wondering what I would have done-what you would have done-if he'd missed with that first shot. But it was the eyes. I'd seen those sad eyes before. I saw them on your face when you first struggled up to the caves in Monte Cassino with your medical unit and saw the work that faced you-knowing that a good third of those boys would never be coming out of the caves alive no matter what we faced if we had to go back into the battle.
I think when I first saw those sad eyes of yours, I knew that I wanted to possess you. (The rest of the body was great too, I must say.) I had had those thoughts about other men before that. But there was something about you that told me that I needed to have you under me, pinned to the ground by my cock, fully mine. But when I saw the eyes of that young boy who died, needlessly, because I was invading his village and his village had suffered the savagery of all of the invaders who came before us, I knew I couldn't go on like that with you.
And I knew, despite what I've written, that it was all my fault, all responsibility for your life and well-being that I shouldn't have taken advantage of.
Don't write me again-please, Ben. It all has to stop at some time. Now is the time. You won't find me. The colonel has assured me that you will be safe where he assigns you-back in an ambulance unit, but now with the enemy pointed the other way and running. Remember me with fondness, if you can, and as your partner in surviving the hell of war. I know that I will remember you with . . . yes, Love.
* * * *
"That's the last letter I have from your grandfather to mine," Bud Montgomery said. The light was growing dim in the small living room. The men had been sitting side by side, closely, piecing the letters together for a couple of hours.
"I see," Hal Collins answered. "That's sad, so sad."
"Yes, but what I story. I can understand how both of them felt. The sadness was that it had to end."
"As I read the letters, I can see the conflict in my grandfather's view of it-having to consider the social mores of the time-or thinking he had too. Your grandfather's position seemed the purer."
"But it also seems clear that my grandfather seduced yours into the relationship-a private seduced an officer."
"I don't think that would have been possible if the officer didn't basically want it to happen. They just lived at the wrong time."
"You think it would have been better in the present?"
"Well, homosexuality is more readily accepted now, I think. I certainly don't feel the stigma that my grandfather obviously did-probably for very good reason. I'm an Army officer and I've been able to declare, if only recently."
"You? You're gay?"
"Yes, I think that's why this responsibility for putting the letters together devolved on me. My father couldn't bring himself to do it. But in his letter to me, passing on the responsibility, he said that I should understand the need for it better than he did, because I was gay. In that, I think he was right."
"I see." Bud was looking away from Hal, his face turned toward the family photographs on the table across the room.
"I'm sorry if I have offended you." Hal was truly concerned. Since he had arrived here and while they had been piecing together the letters, he increasingly had become attracted to Bud Montgomery. He, of course, could never act on it, but he found the young man's understanding and acceptance of the contents of the letters and the sensuality he exuded arousing.
"How could you have offended me?" the young man, asked turning back to Hal. He placed a hand on Hal's forearm that Hal felt as a burning brand, so much did it arouse him.
"You have been so good about all of this-the revelations in these notes and letters. I'm gay, so it isn't difficult for me. But for you it should be-"
"I'm gay too."
"Excuse me? Those photographs on that table over there. Isn't that your wife? Aren't those your children?"
"Yes, but that doesn't mean that I'm not gay. It just means I didn't come to grips with that fact until after I married and had children. My family is resigned to the fact and we get along fine. They just don't live here. I live here alone, and when I'm feeling brave and am attracted to a man, I bring him back here, and I lie under him."
"You bring men back here, and you lie under them-when you are attracted to them?"
Bud had not removed his hand from Hal's arm.
"You lie under men?" Hal repeated.
"Yes, I'm sorry if I offend you now, but I'm openly gay, and I want to make the most of the rest of my life. That's what I find sad in the story of our grandfathers-that they so obviously loved each other and yet had to give each other up. I don't even need the love. If I'm am attracted to a man and aroused by him I am happy to let him fuck me."
"Men fuck you?"
"Yes, when I want them."
"And that's all it takes? You might, then be attracted to-"
"I have been attracted to you since I heard your voice on the telephone. I have been aroused by you since you walked through my front door. Haven't you felt the vibes too?"
"Yes, I've felt them. But I believed . . . I didn't know . . . I fought them."
"Like your grandfather fought them? To what good purpose? Was he happier for it? I can tell you my grandfather wasn't happier for it. He mourned the loss for the rest of his life. He's the one who forced me to acknowledge that I like men rather than women-and that I liked men to fuck me. He's the one who told me not to resist my impulses, to grab as much pleasure, of my own choosing. He gave me the notes letters he'd saved from your grandfather. That your grandfather saved the notes and letters he received as well screams of his own regret for what he lost. We don't need to relive our grandfathers' mistakes, though . . . Damned right I want you to fuck me."
Hal stopped further declarations by the younger Bud by pulling him closer, embracing him, and possessing his mouth with his. Bud pulled Hal down on top of him as they turned to stretch out on the sofa, and they rolled around, frantically pulling at each other's clothes until there was nothing else to pull off. Instinctively, Bud scooted down the length of the sofa as Hal worked his way in the opposite direction, raising up in a pushup position on his toes, with the heels of his hands dug into the sofa arm. His face now positioned under Hal's pelvis, he took Hal's half-engorged cock in his mouth, and Hal face fucked him, doing pushups above the younger man.
When Hal was as hard as hard can be, Bud scooted up the length of the sofa again, to where he could guide Hal's cock to his asshole, wrapped his legs around the small of Hal's back, and pulled the cock inside him.
"Shit, you're good at this," Hal muttered as he continued his pushups, this time stroking his cock in Bud's channel rather than his mouth.
"So, according to those letters, was my grandfather," Bud answered. "There's so much I can show you, so much we can do, so much fucking we can make up for for our grandfathers."
Hardened armyman that Hal was, he was able to do hundreds of pushups without breaking a sweat. Bud was glad he could, although they both broke a sweat.
When they had been ejaculated and fell into an entwining embrace-and Bud had managed to regularized his breathing, he whispered, "Can you come again?"
"Gettysburg isn't that far from D.C. I think I can manage to make the trip again soon."
"No, I mean can you come again now. Can you make me come again now. This house is small, but it has a bedroom."
"Yes, I think I can manage that," Hal answered, with a grin. "But our grandfathers did it wherever. I don't need to go as far as the bedroom."
Bud gave a gasp and arched his back, as Hal thrust his cock up inside him again and began to pump, showing how fit he was-that he could get hard again quickly.