Out of Sight, Out of Mind

By Lois Overton, aka Foxhole Filly

Copyright 2000

Sunday, 1315

Nothing could be heard but the sound of ragged breathing. In-out. In-out. And leather soles pounding the hard ground. The lieutenant tried to force himself into maintaining a steady rhythm, his mind marking off each step. In-out. In-out. The pain in his chest burned up into his throat as he struggled with his burden.

"Come on, Saunders...just a little farther," he panted as he tightened his grip on the arm wrapped around his neck.

The sergeants breathing was labored, his footsteps unsteady. More carried than assisted, he hung like a dead weight on the lieutenants shoulder. Breaking stride a moment, Hanley bent for leverage and hefted Saunders higher. Then the two stumbled on in their flight.

At the edge of a small meadow, Saunders suddenly collapsed, dragging the lieutenant to his knees. Both men wheezed loudly. The sergeant groaned as he hit the ground. Hanley dropped down onto his back beside him and rested a moment, one of his forearms slung over his tired eyes.

"I think we lost them a ways back." Hanley reached to his hip and pulled out his canteen, offering a drink to the sergeant first in spite of his own discomfort. "Easy. Easy," he said as he held Saunders head up and allowed a bit of water to trickle into his mouth. Then Hanley drank.

Finally having caught his breath, Hanley removed a dressing from his first aid pouch and tied it over the deep gash that a Kraut bullet had made in the side of his thigh, thankful that the German had not been a better shot. Then he turned toward the sergeant again. Heedless of Saunders noisy groans, he rolled him onto his side to get a better look at the back of his left shoulder where the blood oozed. Pulling out his knife, he cut the jacket, shirt, and undershirt, sprinkled the dark opening with sulfa, and pressed a bandage onto it.

"I figure its only about two miles...maybe three, " Hanley said as he worked the ends of the gauze around the sergeants chest and tied them. "Weve got it made now. Just get you fixed up and...."

Saunders body shuddered. "Lieutenant, I cant make it any farther. Leave me here and go on." Although he couldnt see Hanleys face, he knew from the officers silence that the lieutenant was having similar thoughts. "You know Im right."

"Forget it, Saunders. Youre coming back with me now or neither of us is going anywhere." Hanley pulled Saunders to a sitting position, and then taking hold of the sergeants field jacket, he tried to pull him to his feet. But the man was dead weight, and Hanleys strength was failing.

Saunders tried to help push himself up with his legs, but the pain had become stronger than his muscles, and he sank back down. His fingers bit into the dirt as he fought the spasms that wracked his body. "Its no good, Lieutenant. You have to get the maps to headquarters. Leave me. "

Hanley sat panting, unable to look at the sergeant. His tired brain churned as he weighed trying to carry the wounded soldier against the need to get the critical maps they had made back to headquarters. He scanned the terrain. They were in a small meadow surrounded by a stand of tall hardwoods. A pile of boulders ran along one end, and on the far side, the ground appeared to slope down and away from them. He didnt see much that might provide shelter for the injured soldier. The grass grew fairly tall in spots, and if Germans came by, they might not notice one man lying hidden in it. But there would be little protection from the elements. The sun had already started its slide to the west, and though the temperature wasnt all that cold, it would soon be dropping off fast as nightfall approached. And the darkening sky hinted rain. No. He couldnt leave Saunders in the open.

The tumbled mess of the rock pile drew his attention. Near the bottom, one flat boulder stuck out a bit farther than the others, like a shelf. Hanley moved closer and looked it over. With rocks on three sides, it formed a small cave that was almost big enough for a man to lie down in. Though long enough, there was too little headroom. But if he dug out a bit of the sandy soil, he figured it would make a perfect place to stow Saunders until he could get back. Then he could cover the opening with branches. It just might work.

Using his helmet as a shovel, Hanley scooped furiously, dumping the dirt among the crevices between the other rocks so that he would leave no trace that anyone had been digging. When he thought the space was big enough, he tested it by crawling inside, and after a few more helmetfuls, he had the makeshift cave big enough for the sergeant. Then he skirted the glade and slipped down the incline on the far side, where he picked up a few small branches lying on the ground. Tucked among the trees where he might have missed it had he not gone down the hill, a small stream eddied through a gully. He grasped the branches and hauled them out of the hollow and dropped them by the cave. Then he hurried back to Saunders.

"Come on, Sergeant. Youre going on a little ride." Hanley grasped the collar and shoulders of Saunders field jacket and dragged him to the shelter. He removed the injured soldiers web belt; then he pushed and scooted the sergeant back little by little until he had him nested in the hole. He tossed the belt in near the sergeants feet, but he retained the canteen. Giving the bottle a swirl, he found it as dry as his own.

Saunders watched the lieutenant disappear over the hill and return a few moments later with both canteens full. Hanley gave the sergeant another sip of water. Then he dug a small indentation in the dirt near the sergeants head and jammed the canteen into it.

Hanley glanced at his watch. Normally he could have made the distance back to the American lines in no time at all. But now it was bound to take longer. The leg wound, the flight from the Germans, getting Saunders squared away...they had taken too much out of him, and exhaustion had set in. "Look, I think I can make it to headquarters in...oh...say an hour. Maybe an hour and a half. So...that means Ill be back in three hours tops. Try to ration the water...just in case. OK?"

Reaching into the front of his jacket, Saunders worked out the worn map on which he had marked German positions he had spotted in St. Auguste. He handed it to Hanley, and the lieutenant stuffed it into his own jacket with his notes on Kraut units in the area.

The sergeants gaze was direct and unaccusing. "See you in a couple ...hours." He swallowed hard to push the pain back down.

The lieutenant arranged the branches in front of the opening and wedged them firmly into the rocks, hoping to make the place as inconspicuous as possible. He swept the ground with the last one before putting it into place. There was a good chance that any Germans who happened along might miss Saunders as long as he remained quiet. He picked up his carbine and started to leave, but turned back once again. Squinting hrough the foliage, he could barely make out Saunders lying there. Hanley gave him a thumbs up, and then he hobbled into the forest.

Sunday, 2153

"OK, baby. Talk to Papa." The dice tumbled from Kirbys hand and skimmed across the ground. "Hough! Seven! Sorry, gentlemen." He collected his winnings.

"Let me see them," Cpl. Barnes hissed as he whisked the dice from the dirty floor. He held them close to his eyes, examining each minute detail, scraping a grimy fingernail across each side, weighing them in his hand. Then he slammed them down again. They tumbled over and over, coming to rest showing a pair of ones, a fact that Kirby enjoyed. Barnes shook his fist in Kirbys face. "I dont know how you did it, but if I find you been cheating...youll find yerself praying for a nice patrol into Kraut territory."

Caje pushed the burly corporals hand aside. "Get off it, Barnes. You just cant stand it that Kirbys hot, and youre cold."

Several others joined in defending Kirby. Kirby snickered and swept up the pile of bills, smoothing each as he stacked and counted them. He took his time, savoring the moment.

Finally, he looked to each man kneeling or standing in the tight circle. "Gentlemen, it wouldnt be fair if I didnt give you a chance to earn your money back. Tell you what Im gonna do...." He placed the money in front of himself and patted it several times as he built suspense.

Without warning, the door flew open, the wind setting everything in motion. The stacked bills ruffled a moment and then were carried into the air. "Hey, shut the door!" Kirby cried as he hastily began grabbing bills before someone found a way to abscond with his winnings.

"Yeah, shut the damn door," Barnes added. "Its coldern blue blazes out there. "

Without looking behind, the private who had just entered gave the door a quick push and moved over to the rusty stove sitting in the center of the room. "Hey, Kirby," he called, rubbing his hands together, "aint you in second platoon?"

"Yeah, so what?" Kirby blew on the dice in his hand.

"Quiet!" Barnes shouted. "Throw the dice, big man!"

The soldier ignored the corporal. "Well, they just brought your lieutenant in. He looked pretty bad."

Kirby stopped with his hand raised. "Hanley? Whadda ya mean... bad?"

"I mean bad. Looked like hed been through an 88 barrage. He come in a while back and almost got hisself shot cause he didnt know the password. Scared the hell outa that new kid we got a couple days back." The private spat on the floor and adjusted a wad of tobacco with his tongue. "Hey, Kimmel, you know the kid Im..."

"Hanley, West. What about Hanley?" Caje asked impatiently.

West turned his backside to the heat. "Oh, yeah. Well, we took him over to the school building where they got the field hospital set up.

"Saunders brought him in?" Cajes jaw tightened as he watched West.

"I dont know nuthin bout Saunders. The way I understand it, Hanley come in alone."

Kirby and Cajes bodies shot up as one. The dice tumbled from Kirbys hand as he bolted from the room, forgetting about his bankroll.

"Snake-eyes!" Barnes cackled, scooping up the money.

Sunday, 2327

"So why in the heck didnt you remind me?"

"Listen, Kirby. No one told you to leave your money there." Caje pulled the cigarette butt from his mouth and crushed it on the floor. "Youdve probably lost it all anyway. You never know when to quit."

Kirby folded his arms on his chest and leaned back against the wall, fuming. "Whadda ya mean I never know when to quit?"

"Will you two shut up?"

The sound of the voice brought an immediate end to the disagreement. The mens irritation turned to smiles as they turned toward the officer in the bed. Heavy bandages swathed his head, and the flesh around his right eye was puffy and bruised.

"Hey, Lieutenant. How you feeling?"

"You had us worried, sir." Caje added.

"Men! Dont shout!" Hanley threw a hand to his aching head, and his elbow knocked into the IV stand.

"Easy there, Lieutenant." Kirby grabbed the tottering pole and steadied it. "Guess you aint too steady yet."

"How many of you are there in here?"

Caje shot Kirby a questioning look. "How many do you see, Lieutenant?"

Hanley squinted his one good eye. "Four? Seeing their quizzical expressions, he tried again. "More?"

Kirby shook his head. "Just me and Caje, sir."

"Youve got to be kidding. What happened? How did I get here?"

"Well, you come in a few hours ago." Kirby slid a crate close to the bed and plopped on it.

"I guess the Krauts really got me."

Kirby swallowed. "Well, actually it was Ripley."

"Yeah," Caje added. "Ripley, that green kid. He was out on guard duty when you came crashing through the bushes. I guess he got a little excited and shot without confirming his target. His bullet creased your head."

Kirby snorted, "If hed been better, youd be pushin up daisies, thats for sure."

Hanley smiled as much as his tender face would allow. "Tell you what. When I get feeling better, Ill write him a letter thanking him for being a lousy shot. But now if Im going to be out of action for a while, I need to talk with Saunders. I want one of you to get him for me."

Hanley caught a look passing between the two privates. "OK. What gives?"

Kirby leaned in. "Lieutenant, Saunders isnt here. You and him went out on a mission this morning. You came back alone. We was hoping maybe you could tell us what happened to him."

Hanley rubbed his reeling head. "I dont know," he said slowly. "I dont know what happened. The last thing I remember was going to bed Saturday night...at least I think it was. I cant remember."

His agitation grew as he began to realize that a portion of his brain was a black void. And if Saunders were missing, where he was and what happened to him must be locked somewhere in that darkness. But no matter how hard he strained to remember, nothing was there.

Just as Caje was about to pursue the question further, a corporal with a clipboard appeared at the door. "The lieutenant needs his rest. You have to go."

Kirby glared at the soldier. "Wait just a cotton pickin minute. We gotta talk to the lieutenant. Its important."

The corporal raised his eyebrows and held up a syringe. "Sorry, Mac, but he aint talkin to nobody for a while."

"Forget it, Kirby." Caje nodded toward the man at the door. "Hes right. Well see the lieutenant tomorrow." He picked up Kirbys helmet and shoveled it into his hands. Kirby started to pull back, but Caje took his elbow and pushed him toward the door.

"Kirby...Caje..." Hanley felt the burning warmth of the morphine spreading up his arm, and his eyes closed.

Kirby stopped on the other side of the heavy wooden door and blocked Cajes way. "You know...I dont get it. Sarge is out there someplace, and you act cool and calm like you dont even care."

"What do you want me to do, Kirby? Beat the information out of him? The lieutenant didnt even remember going on the mission. Do you think if we stayed there to question him longer hed know any more than he told us? We dont have any choice but to wait for now."

Kirby considered Cajes reasoning; then he nodded.

"Lets go try and find a doctor... see what he can tell us. Maybe then well know what to do."

Monday, 0407

Hanley ran through the forest, dodging trees that seemed to jump out at him. He had somewhere he needed go, but they were blocking him at every turn. Angry voices cried from the mist. He tried to run, but no matter how hard his legs pumped, he got nowhere. The voices grew louder. As his feet churned, his legs lifted from the ground, and he found himself swimming through the air, his arms windmilling desperately. The voices drew so close he could almost make out faces and feel hot breath bearing down on him.

Out of the fog, he spotted a figure running toward him. The man signaled to him, and just as the two were about to meet up, the figures hands reached out, and his body began to fall forward. He tumbled into the lieutenants arms and collapsed in slow motion as a bullet bit into the mans back, a spray of blood bursting like a geyser. Hanley lowered the body to the grass, and he looked directly into the contorted face of Sgt. Saunders. Blood quickly spread out from the sergeants wound, spilling onto the ground and pooling around Hanleys feet. It continued to pour out at a greater and greater rate until Hanley found himself drowning in a sea of red.

With a start, the lieutenant awoke, drenched in sweat. He was alone. There was no blood. No Saunders. No voices except the hushed murmurings of the late hour. It had been a dream. Or had it?

Monday, 0858

A card sailed across the room and caromed off the upsidedown helmet. Kirby sat on an ammo box, elbows resting on his thighs. He continued to shoot off dog-eared cards one after the other. "Damn!" He slammed the whole deck down on the dirt floor. Cards scattered every which way.

"Easy, Kirby," Caje sat propped against a wall, knowing that there was nothing they could do until Hanley awoke. He glanced at his watch.

"Well, I dont understand why its taking so long for the lieutenant to wake up." He wandered over to the window, resting his shoulder against the frame as he surveyed the path leading to the barn. Any minute, he expected to see a messenger arriving with good news.

"They probably have him pretty doped up right now. Hell likely sleep a long time," Doc suggested.

Kirby stared straight ahead. "It was cold last night. Sarge didnt even have a blanket."

"So exactly what did the doctor say about the lieutenant when you talked?" Billy asked.

Caje picked up a stray card and flipped it back to Kirby. "He said Hanleys lucky to be alive. His leg should heal up fine. Said wed have him back pretty soon."

"But what did he say about the lieutenants memory. Will he get it back?"

Kirby jumped in. "Thats exactly the question I asked him, Littlejohn."

Caje checked the time again. "He said the lieutenant should get his memory back.

"Its called temporary amnesia." Doc rose and began picking up the remaining cards. He stuffed the deck into Kirbys jacket. "I hear it isnt that unusual after a head trauma. Remember that guy in Andersons squad about a month ago? A grenade went off nearby, and he couldnt remember his name for a week."

"Gee! A week?" Billy lifted his scorched helmet from the top of the small stove and poured a cup of coffee, handing it to Littlejohn. "Maybe we should forget about waiting and just go out and look for Sarge. I mean, we know where he and the lieutenant were sent, and that ought to at least tell us what direction to look."

Littlejohn accepted the cup and blew across its steaming surface. "Forget it, Billy. Itd be like looking for a needle in a haystack. He could be anywhere."

"It just seems like we oughta be doing something." He poured himself a cup of the hot liquid and joined Littlejohn on a wooden box stamped US Army.

Caje took a deep breath and let it out slowly, noisily, trying to think how Sarge would handle things. "Littlejohns right, Billy. We have to wait till Lt. Hanley wakes up and hope he remembers. Then well go get Saunders."

Kirby moved over to the stove and served himself the last of the coffee. "Well, if we dont find out something soon, it aint gonna make no difference to Sarge nohow."

Monday, 1101

Hanley looked up and saw Kirby and Caje standing in the doorway. "Come in here," Hanley called out.

At first, Caje and Kirby thought that the lieutenant sounded considerably stronger than the night before. But when they entered the room, they found that his pallor belied the vigor of his voice. A fresh, white dressing covered his forehead. The bruising on his face was even more pronounced, and his eye was almost swollen shut.

"Hey, youre lookin pretty good," Kirby joked.

"Cut it, Kirby." He snubbed out a cigarette in a small ration tin and worked himself more upright, grimacing with the effort. "Sit down you two. We dont have much time."

They pulled a pair of crates over near the bed and dropped down on them.

"Look, I dont have the whole story clear in my mind yet, but I remember parts of it. I know we were ordered into St. Auguste to determine the enemys strength and map gun emplacements. Saunders and I split up. I hid in a ditch, and I had just finished making my notes when a Kraut spotted me, and all hell broke loose. Seemed like the whole German army was coming at me.

"Next thing I knew, I saw Saunders. The Krauts hadnt seen him yet. He was making his way back to help me, and I think I tried to give him cover. Everything happened so fast...and part of its still fuzzy.

"Wed almost joined up when Saunders came on a Kraut with a Schmeisser on my flank that had me dead to rights. Everything happened so fast after that...well, thats where I start to lose it." Hanley cupped hand over his sore eye. "But I remember Saunders got the German. I think thats when they hit me in the leg. And then they got him. In the back, I think. Its all crazy, mixed up."

"So Saunders got killed at St. Auguste," Caje stated flatly.

Hanley shook his head. "No. I got to him and he was still alive. That Im sure of. I remember we were running. And I helped Saunders. When we couldnt go any farther, we stopped to rest. But Saunders was played out, so I had to leave him."

Caje watched him intently. "You...?"

"I left him. He was bleeding; he couldnt make it another step. And I didnt have the strength to carry him. If Id stayed, we both be dead and probably everyone here. The Krauts are building up in this area, and if we attacked St. Auguste, after what I saw," Hanley shook his head, "we wouldntve stood a chance. I had to get the maps back. Saunders knew that."

Caje nodded. "You did what you had to, Lieutenant."

"I remember telling him that Id be back. He must still be there."

Hanleys voice had grown tired and the two soldiers strained to catch every word. "So where did you leave him?" Kirby asked.

Hanley looked up as if he might find answers written on the ceiling. His mind twirled. "Thats just it. I dont know. Ive been trying for hours, but I dont remember. I know I hid him someplace out of sight. I just dont remember where. Ive got to go find him."

"You wouldnt get two feet in your condition." Kirby nodded toward Caje. "Well take care of this. But it would help if we had something to go on...anything."

Hanley ran his hands through his hair. "Im sorry, Kirby. Ive been wracking my brain...it just isnt there."

"Easy, sir. If we get anywhere close, maybe Sarge can signal to us. Well find him."

The lieutenant didnt seem to hear them. He threw off the covers and pushed himself to a sitting position. His head spun as he almost toppled over the edge of the bed.

Both soldiers jumped toward him. "Easy, there." Kirby reached out to steady him. "Whatre you tryin to do?"

"Im going after Saunders," Hanley announced, reaching out toward the worn pair of leather boots on the floor. "I just have to...."

Caje and Kirby were going to object, but as soon as the lieutenant bent over to pick up his boots, nausea overcame him, leaving him with his head buried in a pan he found next to the bed. "You aint goin nowhere," Kirby said, helping the officer lie back in the bed and pulling the covers over him. He and Caje turned to leave.

"Jampel."

The two soldiers stopped and looked back. The lieutenant raised a hand weakly and massaged his aching temple. "Talk to Captain Jampel. Youll need permission."

"Yes, sir," Caje nodded, and then they were gone.

"Rocks," he whispered to himself. Rocks...something about rocks. He lifted himself onto one elbow. "Caje! Kirby!"

But no one was there to hear.

Monday, 1132

Saunders shivered. The night had been long and cold, and the pain in his back was incredible. Sometime in the early hours of darkness, he lost his water supply when the canteen slipped from his cold, shaking fingers. In the pitch blackness he listened to the water spilling out onto the ground before he could locate it. Bitterly, he threw the empty canteen against the rock wall near his feet. After that, he found himself thinking that maybe hed be better off if the whole thing just ended quickly. And he thought about his mother and sister waiting. Waiting for him and his brothers to come home after the war ended. That was when he knew hed fight to live as long as he could...no matter what.

Hed hoped that things would get better when morning came, but the overhanging rocks kept his spot sheltered from the sun. He still couldnt shake the chill. And thirst nagged at him. In the early morning, he had tried reaching the leaves to lick the dew from them, but they were too far away, and any kind of movement intensified the pain.

All that morning, he watched for Hanley. Each noise on the other side brought him the hope of rescue, but no help came. As the hours passed, hope began to fade. Where was Hanley? Something must have happened. Hanley was dead. He had to be. If he werent dead, hed do anything he could to return. Saunders came to the realization that if he wanted to get back to the American lines, he would have to help himself. But a lot of time had passed. Yesterday he might have stood a chance. Today the hardships of the night had taken their toll. Though his spirit remained strong, he barely had the energy to lift a hand.

His body shuddered as a wave of pain overtook him. Resting his head on the floor of the small cave, he concentrated on his surroundings...anything...to take his mind off his misery. Each exhaled breath kicked up a small cloud of dust. As if in a trance, he watched it swirl and settle, swirl and settle. Then a beetle made its way across his field of vision. It turned, and for a moment, the sergeant was sure that it was watching him. He blew, and a light layer of dust settled on the insect. It skittered backwards a few steps, then scrabbled across the ground and disappeared into a crevice in the nearby rock wall. Saunders wished he were the beetle, able to crawl away from that place.

Time crept by. Was it still Sunday? He remembered summer Sundays at home when he was a kid. His mom woke up his sister and his brothers and him at the crack of dawn; making them all go to church. They sat on the hard pews in the hot church and tried to listen while Pastor told them how they were all bound for hell. The buzz of insects outside the open windows nearly drove him crazy with longing to be in the fresh air and sunshine. Then the congregation would pull out the hymnals and sing loud enough to call down the angels. "He hideth my soul in the cleft of the rock that shadows a dry, thirsty land...and covers me there with his hand..."

From somewhere on the outskirts of his mind, Saunders heard voices. "And covers me there with his hand," he whispered to himself. No, not the choir. Even in his depleted condition, he knew the difference between the heavenly multitude and Krauts.

He opened his eyes. Through the leaves, he could see that a German squad had moved into the clearing and were sitting just 20-30 feet from where he lay. In the center of the group, a small fire licked up the sides of a dark, German helmet. Saunders watched the soldiers wolf down rations. They hauled out canteens, and they took long drinks and poured water into their hands to splash on their faces. It was almost too much to stand. Hunger that gnawed at his stomach was bad enough, but the thirst was maddening.

A shot of pain ripped through his back, and he dropped his face into the dirt to stifle the cry that threatened. At that moment, he accepted that Hanley wasnt coming, and he had only two choices. He could stay there in that miserable cave and die, or he could take a chance that the Germans would give him the medical help he so desperately needed. Surrender had never been high on his list of acceptable strategies, but at that particular moment, it seemed to be the best option available. It wouldnt be giving up so much as giving in.

He tried to call out to the Germans, but he could only muster a croak. The enemy soldiers were passing a bottle of wine among themselves, and they apparently felt they were far enough behind their own lines to enjoy a few minutes of fun, their voices louder than their good sense. Saunders was seized by a coughing fit, and one of the Germans stopped mid-bite to listen. Then he grabbed the arm of one of his companions, saying something to him. The two men quickly shushed the others, and the whole squad picked up their weapons, ready to fight.

Saunders called out again, and this time they heard him. A tall German wearing thick glasses stood and pointed his rifle at the rock pile. The branches stuck in the boulders suddenly looked out of place. The German moved forward cautiously, peering among the leaves for a sign of movement.

"Hände hoch. Kommt heraus!" The Germans grip tightened on his rifle as he peered deeply into the gloom where Saunders lay. He poked the muzzle of the rifle through the leaves and pressed down on one of the branches, making a small opening that brought him face to face with the American. "Stellt deine Hände auf and kommt heraus."

The tip of the rifle pointed at Saunders head. Sweat dripped down his face and into the dirt. "I need help. I dont think I can move. Help me."

Saunders heard voices and a shot; then the world faded into blackness.

Monday, 1132

Hanley lay quietly for a few minutes after the two soldiers left. Putting both hands to his forehead, he rubbed and rubbed, trying to force light into the void. "Think. Think," he said to himself, concentrating all his energy. He knew that with his brain scrambled, rocks could be a memory from any place or any time. But the picture of them was so fresh and so clear that it had to mean something. It must have to do with Saunders.

For the second time that morning, Hanley pushed himself up, and this time he took a moment to let his head stop swimming before he did anything else. A quick pull and he dropped the IV onto the bed. Looking around, he saw his pants and jacket hanging on a nail near the door. It took all his strength to force himself to stand, and after taking a moment to gain his balance, he shuffled his way over to his clothes. He leaned back against the wall for support and pulled on his trousers, shirt, and jacket. Exhausted, he sank onto one of the crates. He used his long legs to snag his boots and drag them across the floor. Fearing that bending over would make him as sick as before, he worked his toes into them and drew the boots up to his hands to be laced and buckled. By the time he had completely dressed, perspiration sheeted his face and dampened his clothes.

Hanley made his way down the corridor of the hospital, sliding his hand across the cool, stone walls for support. A few feet from the door a soldier with a carbine across his lap sat rocking on a battered green chair. The man reached into his breast pocket and pulled out the stub of a cigar and lit it. He lumbered to his feet, placed the rifle on the seat of the chair, and slipped out the door, using the doorframe as a scratching post. When Hanley reached the chair, he snatched the carbine and walked out of the building as nonchalantly as possible, nodding to the wriggling soldier in passing. Then he disappeared among the soldiers on the street.

At the edge of town, the lieutenant stopped to rest, his chest heaving. He thought he remembered another time he had struggled to breathe, but as quickly as he had a glimpse of the memory, it disappeared again, and he was left with nothing but impressions. Exactly where he needed to go remained hidden somewhere in his memory, but he knew in which direction he needed to travel. "Where the hell are you, Saunders? Where?" He slung the carbine over his shoulder and disappeared into the underbrush.

Monday, 1151

Saunders awoke to the sounds of voices and shooting. Through the leaves, he could see the prone body of the German. The soldier lay on his side, holding his stomach and moaning loudly. His eyes were open, and he looked pleadingly at the sergeant. He said something and held out a hand to him as if he were asking for help. As bullets peppered the ground nearby, another German ran up to the wounded man on the ground and hefted him onto his shoulder in one motion; the two of them fled toward the woods. The rest of the Germans gave covering fire; then they too retreated into the woods.

A group of six or seven GIs moved out of the woods on the opposite side, firing as they ran. When the Germans halted their retreat and began returning heavy fire, the Americans fell on their stomachs and sought cover. They were only a few feet away from his hiding place, and they never guessed that he was there. Again, Saunders tried to call out, but his voice had no strength. He looked around for something he could use to make a noise, but there was nothing. He rued his actions of the night before when he had thrown away the canteen in frustration. In the close confines of his prison, it might as well have been a mile away instead of just somewhere at his feet.

One of the Americans sprang up and bounded toward the enemy soldiers. Another fired off a burst and followed his buddy. Saunders watched as the GIs moved forward again. They were leaving! Summoning reserves he didnt know he had, he worked his way forward and tried to move the branch out of the way. But he had grown weak and his muscles were stiff from being in the confined space for so long. The barrier wouldnt budge. Saunders tried to shake the leaves to call their attention to him, but the fleeing Germans had the Americans full attention and not the pile of rocks that were now behind them. In spite of the pain, he pulled himself up onto his elbows and propelled his body forward across the branches, sending him sprawling out of his hiding place.

Saunders lay panting among the broken twigs and leaves. He raised his head in a last effort to call to the Americans, but he could only watch the last of them disappear. The noise faded into the distance. Left alone again, Saunders wondered if the firefight had been real, or if, perhaps, his mind had been playing tricks on him. But red covered the grass where the German had fallen, and a number of ration wrappers lay scattered in the grass around the still-burning fire. It had been no dream. Saunders pulled himself toward them, but not one held a single morsel of food. Even the helmet in the fire was empty, drained by a stray bullet.

His head dropped onto the dry grass. Hed had it. There seemed to be no point in going on. He desperately needed water, but there was none. Then something called to him from the back of his memory. Something about Hanley. With the pain and the hunger and the thirst consuming him, it was hard to concentrate on the lieutenant. Then he remembered seeing Hanley take the two canteens and disappear over the knoll. When he returned, hed had water. That was it. Saunders knew where water could be found. Now he only needed to get there. Reaching out with his good right arm and scrabbling with his feet, he pushed himself forward an inch at a time.

Monday, 1152

When the two soldiers entered the barn, all conversation stopped, and the men charged over to find out what had been learned about Hanley and Saunders, everyone talking at once.

Kirby signaled for them to quiet down. "OK. OK. The lieutenants gonna be fine."

Billy carried a helmet full of eggs that were about to become lunch for the squad. He broke in before Kirby could say anything further. "Well, what about Sarge?"

"Yeah," Littlejohn asked, "did Hanley say what happened to Sarge?"

"Hanley still cant remember much. All we know is that Saunders is wounded, and Hanley hid him somewhere until he could get back for him."

"Sarge has been out there wounded all this time? Well, then we gotta go get him." Billy took his helmet over to the table and unloaded the eggs. Two of them rolled to the floor and landed with a splat.

Caje propped his Garand against the wall near his bedroll and checked his ammo clips. "Thats exactly what were going to do, Billy. We know where Sarge and the lieutenant came from, and we know where they were going. Somewhere in between...thats where Sarge is."

Kirby slipped into his suspenders and attached the BAR. "Captain Jampel gave us permission to go find him. We have till 1900."

"Doc, you in?" Caje asked.

The medic nodded and began collecting his supplies.

Billy and Littlejohn added their intent to go.

Kurtz jumped up. "Im with you."

Caje put a hand on the soldiers shoulder. "Sorry, but with that blister on your foot, youd just slow us down. You better stay here."

A heavyset soldier who had just joined the squad watched the activity. He flopped down on the straw and feed sacks that served as his bed. "Saunders is probably dead already. Dont waste yer time."

No one spoke as the men gathered at the door.

"For cryin out loud. You guys take the cake. Aint no way hes still alive. Look...you said yourself he is hurt, and hes been out in the cold all night. Hes dead, all right."

Kirby stood in front of the private. "Shut your face, Milton!" The man started to speak again, but the anger in Kirbys face stopped him cold. "Just shut up!"

As soon as Kirby had left, Milton hastened to add, "Waste of time."

Caje slapped his helmet on his head and turned to the soldier sprawled on the floor. "Well, its our time to waste," he said before joining the others.

Littlejohn shook his head disgustedly and followed Caje out the door, slamming it behind him.

Milton locked his hands behiind his head. "Stupid waste of time."

Kurtz limped to the window and watched the squad disappear.

Monday, 1250

Caje peered at the sun through the trees and checked his watch for at least the fortieth time since they had left the village. In spite of the need for speed, Saunderss location wasnt going to be obvious, so they had to go slowly and cover territory more thoroughly. Every pile of brush became a potential hiding place. And if Sarge were in bad shape, there probably wouldnt be any sound or movement to draw their attention. Like Littlejohn had said, they were looking for a needle in a haystack.

Almost an hour had passed, and Caje began to wonder if there were even a chance of finding him. At the same time, the others were beginning to have their own doubts, but the determination to find the sarge kept them from admitting to having any.

"Caje!" Billy whispered suddenly as he dropped to one knee. "I heard something."

Caje crouched beside Billy and scanned the nearby trees. "Yeah, I heard it too." Caje motioned to the squad, and they immediately froze. Billy licked his lips nervously as he cocked his head to listen. A twig cracked, and then another. Someone moved about without much finesse.

"I saw movement. Right over there," Littlejohn whispered, pointing toward a denser stand of trees.

Captain Jampel had informed them that theirs would be the only scheduled patrol in that area other than one that had gone out in the early morning. So it was a good guess that it was not an American. As they all watched, they saw a shadowy figure advancing a short distance away. Caje pulled out his bayonet and handed his rifle to Billy. He signaled the others to remain where they were while he circled behind the unknown person. Moving from tree to tree, he stepped soundlessly over the forest floor. He had just pressed himself against the trunk of a large oak when he heard footsteps on the other side. Cajes grip on the knife handle tightened, and he sprang from behind the tree. His right arm drew around the enemy soldiers neck, and his left hand arced up to strike.

In a split second, Caje recognized that the man he held was not an enemy but the lieutenant, and he stayed his bayonet in midair. "Lieutenant! What the hell are you doing out here?" His hand shook at the thought that he might have killed Hanley.

The sound of Cajes voice brought the other members of the squad running. Kirby rubbed his eyes as if seeing an apparition. "What the.... Arent you supposed to be in the hospital?"

"I was. But if youre going to find Saunders, you need me along. Im fine." Hanley read the skepticism in their faces. " Really."

"Sure you are," Doc assessed, noting the lieutenants wan appearance. "You cant even stand up without holding onto something.

Unscrewing the cap, Caje handed his canteen it to Hanley. In spite of a warning to go easy, Hanley drank thirstily.

Doc moved toward the lieutenant. "You need to have your head examined. Here. Let me have a look."

Hanley motioned him off. "No time for that now. Saunders could be in real trouble."

Kirby shook his head. "Sir, you aint thinkin clearly. You were makin so much noise its a wonder the whole Kraut army didnt hear. You didnt even see Caje comin up on you. Sorry, Lieutenant, but you just dont belong out here."

Hanley remained adamant. "Im not going back without Saunders."

"Sir, do you remember where Sarge is?"

"No, Littlejohn, I dont. But Im hoping Ill recognize the place when I see it. Now we dont have all day. Lets get going." No one moved. "Thats not a request," he said with greater energy than he felt. He tipped the canteen once again and returned it to Caje with thanks. Littlejohn picked up the carbine that Hanley had dropped in Cajes attack and returned it to him. Then the lieutenant limped off into the woods, headed toward St. Auguste.

Kirby looked to the scout. "Caje? You gonna stop him? He dont belong with us, and you know it."

Caje put his knife in its scabbard, and Billy handed him back his rifle. The scout looked at the others. "If there is a chance he can help us find the sarge...you heard the order."

And they followed after Hanley.

Monday 1325

The day turned warmer, and the heat wore Hanley down. The squad stopped several times to let him have a drink. Doc wet a handkerchief and put it on the back of the lieutenants neck in an attempt to cool him. Hanleys leg throbbed and a small spot of blood appeared over the bandaged wound on his leg. The men tried to talk him into staying behind while they continued the search, but he would have none of it. Sure that eventually something would jog his memory, he insisted on continuing. Everywhere he looked, he saw places that he thought looked familiar, but since he had passed through the area several times over the past week, he couldnt be sure when he had seen them.

The squad circled a small clearing, keeping to the trees for better cover. Littlejohn provided more and more support for Hanley. When the lieutenant started to fall, the privates grip tightened, keeping him on his feet. "Caje!" Littlejohn called in a forced whisper, "We gotta let him rest, or hes not going to make it much farther."

"Were never gonna find Sarge at this pace." Kirby kicked the dirt.

For the first time, the lieutenant recognized that he might be a liability. "Caje," he wheezed, "I have to stop a minute to catch my breath."

Caje signaled a rest, and Littlejohn helped Hanley to the ground near a log he could rest his back against. Billy dropped onto the log beside him.

"Kirby, take a look around," Caje directed. "We dont want any surprises."

Kirby nodded and moved off quietly.

"Hey, Caje, you got water in your canteen?"

"Sorry, Billy. Wheres yours?"

"Remember? When we found that stream full of tadpoles, Littlejohn had that idea about him and me starting a frog farm after the war. My canteen is full of tadpoles. Littlejohn, you got your canteen?"

"Sorry, Billy. Guess I forgot it."

Doc reached behind his back and pulled out one of his canteens, tossing it to Billy. "Guess we left in kind of a hurry. Here. Theres some left in this one." After drinking, Billy handed it to Littlejohn, and one by one, the soldiers drank. Then Doc pulled out his spare and swished it, finding it half full. He offered it to Hanley.

Billy tipped the canteen the men had been drinking from and found it empty. "You know, Sarge must be pretty dry himself about now."

Hanley swallowed down a few sips. "I left a canteen for him."

Kirby returned from scouting the area and reported back to Caje.

"Any sign of Sarge?" the Cajun asked.

"Nuthing. Looks like theres been Krauts in the area, but no sign of em now."

"Here, sir, let me have a look at that leg." Doc crouched down in front of Hanley and checked the dressing. He gently felt the swollen skin around the edges of the dressing and tied a clean pad over the red-stained one. Hanley groaned as the medic tightened the gauze strips.

Kirby watched Doc bandaging the lieutenant. "How is he?"

Doc shook his head. "Hes in a lot of pain. But Ive done all I can here...he could use a hospital." He rummaged in his bag and pulled out a syrette.

"Huh uh. Put that away." Hanley stopped Doc with a motion of his hand. "I need a clear head if Im going to be any help."

Kirby put his foot on the log and balanced the BAR on his knee. "Well, you aint gonna be any help anyways if you pass out on us."

Doc sat a moment with the morphine in his hand while Hanley considered Kirbys words. He knew that he was only slowing them down. They might fail to find Saunders not in spite of him, but because of him. "O.K. Youre right. Doc, I could use that...." Hanleys brow furrowed, and he stared trancelike into the distance. Suddenly, he brushed Docs hands away and rose unsteadily.

"Lieutenant, youd better let me give you that shot."

Hanley ignored Doc. "Wait a minute. I remember something." He shut his eyes to close out the drumming in his head and concentrated for a moment. "I think I remember a grassy area. A clearing. We came out of the woods and Saunders collapsed in a clearing. Thats where I left him."

"Theres a clearing over there." Kirby pointed to the area he had just scouted.

"Billy, check it out," Caje ordered. "And keep your eyes peeled for any sign of Germans. Kirby ...well cover him. Littlejohn, Doc, stay with the lieutenant."

Billy knelt at the edge of the small grassy area. Everything seemed peaceful. Caje and Kirby drew alongside him. As soon as they were in place, Billy cautiously made his way across the field. In the center, cartons bearing German labels littered the ground. A tiny finger of pale smoke curled upward from the remains of a fire. Using the tip of his rifle, he lifted a blackened Kraut helmet.

Nelson reached down and grabbed a carton before trotting back to where Caje and Kirby waited in the shadows. He handed the cardboard wrapper to Caje. "German field rations. Looks like theyve been gone some time. Theres a fire where they were cooking, but the coals are pretty well burned out."

"No. This cant be it." The three soldiers turned to find Hanley standing behind them. "There wasnt any fire. Just a small grassy area. And rocks. I remember there a pile of rocks. It cant be the right one."

"You mean like those?" Billy pointed to his left.

Everyone looked where Billy indicated. A number of boulders were piled up at the far end. Suddenly, Hanley shook off his helpers and stumbled off as fast as his injured leg would allow him. Doc and Littlejohn followed behind, trying to stop him.

"Saunders! I told you Id be back!" Hanley called. But even before he got there, the pile of broken and scattered branches told him that the hiding place would be empty.

Fearing that the lieutenants sudden outburst might have attracted unwanted company, Caje signaled to Kirby. Caje slipped back into the woods behind them, while Kirby crossed to the other side of the clearing and disappeared into the area on the other side of the rock pile. A few moments later, they reappeared, and Kirby gave Caje an all clear.

Littlejohn knelt and looked inside where Saunders should have been. "Its empty, Lieutenant. Sarge isnt here." He pulled out a web belt and a dented, empty canteen. "But he was."

The hope that he would find Saunders alive had been the one thing that had kept Hanley going. Now, exhausted, he dropped to the ground and vomited. His leg burned, and he thought his head might explode.

"Look here." Doc squatted and pointed toward a dark stain that covered the grass nearby. "Blood."

"And a lot of it," Billy added.

Kirby examined a rough trail of trampled grass and brush at the edge of the clearing, disappearing into heavy brush. "Looks like they took off through here. Quite a few of em. More blood. Someone did a lot of bleeding."

None of them wanted to think the unthinkable, but the evidence was right before their eyes. The Krauts had come along and stopped to eat. They had found Saunders, and they had taken him away.

"Im going after him." Hanley tried to get up, but his leg wouldnt hold his weight. He looked from one man to the other and tried again. "Well, what are you waiting for? Somebody help me up."

No one moved. Caje put his hand on Hanleys shoulder and stopped him. "Its no use, Lieutenant. Theyre long gone." He scanned the surroundings. "I think we should get you out of here, sir. Youre dead on your feet."

Weariness overtook Hanley, and his shoulders slumped forward. He rested his head in his hands a moment. Looking up at the men, he took a deep breath. "Youre right, Caje. Lets go home. Give me a hand."

Littlejohn immediately reached out and clasped Hanleys wrist, pulling him up in one smooth movement. The lieutenant let the soldier support him. He looked to the men. "If only I couldve remembered sooner. It might have made a difference."

Caje shook his head and shifted his rifle to his left hand. "And maybe it wouldnt have. Those Krauts might have come along as soon as you left and found him right off. Sarge always talked about going by the numbers. You did what you had to do."

"Yeah," Billy added, "Sarge would have done the same thing."

With Littlejohns help, Hanley turned and slowly started to move back toward the American lines. Before he had gone a dozen steps, his leg gave out, and he started to slump. Littlejohn caught him and lowered him back to the ground. After a quick inspection, Doc reported that the lieutenant seemed to be running a fever. He pulled out his canteen and gave Hanley a drink. Then he pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and tried to wet it, but the canteen was empty. "Somebody give me your water. Im out."

Each of the squad members shook his head. Hanley pointed limply to the woods on the far side. "Water over there," he said weakly. "A small stream."

Doc dropped Halizone tablets into two canteens, and Billy headed off with them. Caje cautiously scanned their surroundings, but there still was no sign of Krauts.

"You know," Kirby said quietly to Caje, "maybe we should send the lieutenant back with Doc, Billy, and Littlejohn. Then you and me can look for Sarge. I mean we cant just forget hes out there somewhere."

"Kirby, he could have been gone for 24 hours. Who knows how far they took him. Might be half the German army out there." It was enticing for Caje just to throw caution to the wind, but he had taken over the leadership of this squad, and it was up to him to get them back.

Kirby squatted and rested the BAR on his knees, relieving his shoulders for a moment. "Listen. The fires still got hot ashes. It couldnt have been more than a couple hours ago."

"Kirby, you never know when to quit."

"Yeah, Ive heard that before."

Caje mulled over Kirbys words. "But how do you know the same Krauts that made the fire are the ones that took Sarge? Nah. The fire doesnt mean anything. We could spend all day running in circles. Besides, what if the squad runs into Krauts? I cant just go off and leave the others to get back by themselves. It could all be for nothing."

"Nothing? You think Sarge is nothing?"

"Come on, Kirby. You know what I...."

A sharp whistle sounded. All heads turned as Billy bounded into the clearing and signaled with his hands.

"Billys found something, Kirby muttered.

Billy disappeared down the incline, and the squad hurried after him. Littlejohn helped Hanley struggle to his feet, but with the first step, the officer collapsed again. He wasnt going anywhere on that leg. Littlejohn heaved him over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes and took off at a gallop, following the rest of the men. Reaching the edge of the woods, he barreled through the trampled grass and scrub that lined the clearing and stumbled down a small embankment.

At the bottom of the knoll, he saw the others encircling something on the ground a few feet from a small stream. Coming to a stop, Littlejohn bent over and let Hanley slide off his shoulder to the ground.

Caje grinned as he motioned to the spot where Doc and Kirby knelt. "Lieutenant, look what Billy found."

The inert body of a soldier lay sprawled face down on the ground. His outstretched arm covered his face, but the three stripes on the sleeve left little doubt as to the identity. Doc examined the wound in the mans back and applied a fresh dressing over the old one Hanley had applied the day before. "Hes alive. I dont know how, but he is." The medic gently rolled Saunders onto his back; then he took off his own jacket and covered the sergeant with it.

"I got down here to the stream," Billy babbled, "to fill the canteens. I just happened to look over and...well, there he was."

Saunders eyes fluttered open, and he groaned as Doc stabbed him with a shot of morphine. "Water," the sergeant mouthed, unable to speak. Caje looked around for the canteens and found one on the bank where Billy had dropped it. He filled the bottle and hurried back to Doc. Doc tipped it and let the water run over Saunders dry lips and down his throat. Then he poured some into his hand and splashed it on the sergeants face before offering him another drink.

"Hey, were sure glad to see you, Sarge," Billy laughed.

"Yeah," Kirby added, "You had us a little worried."

Saunders forced a smile, but a spasm of pain cut it off. "Hanley," he whispered. "What happened to Lieutenant Hanley?"

Dragging his bad leg, the lieutenant scooted up to the sergeant. "You gave us quite a start, Saunders, when you werent where I left you."

"I got thirsty."

Caje and Kirby removed their jackets while Littlejohn and Billy searched for a couple of sturdy branches to make a stretcher.

"That was a long couple of hours, sir," Saunders rasped. "I was beginning to think youd forgotten me."

"Dont be ridiculous." Hanley looked at Doc and chuckled. "How could I ever forget about you?"