“And thus Taffy 3 fought the last major naval engagement of the Pacific theater. The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors allowed US Army and Marine forces to begin the retaking of the Philippines. “ David writes quickly with the chalk on the blackboard. “Your assignment is one of the favorites of internet historians everywhere. What if something had changed at Samar. Those whose last names start with A-M will write about what might have happened if Task Force 34 had gotten into position earlier. N through Z will write about what might have happened if Kurita had pressed his attack. I will expect this assignment to be around 1000 words and due next class period.”
He knows it’s wrong but the groans of displeasure do please him. It’s a survey course, one taken by people who figure they will get an A because they know how WWII ended. But he’s not here to give out easy As. Setting the chalk down and turning to face the class. “You are all dismissed.” He watches as the students straggle out of his class. Noting the smiling blond girl heading towards him, he begins to pack up his things. Placing them in the leather case, he looks up when she should be near his desk. “Can I help you Miss?”
“I just wanted to say I’m sorry to hear about you and your wife.” A finger twirling in her hair. “If you wanted to talk about it….”
Confusion fills his face as he looks at her. “I am not married. I have never been married.”
“But your wedding band, you stopped wearing it…”
David suddenly understands. “It was not a wedding band. It was my academy class ring. It was… damaged.” He glances down at his hand, seeing the pale skin of where the band was, and a small twinge of regret and loss.
“Oh. Okay. I was just going to get some coffee…” A mixture of dejection and dogged pursuit in her voice.
“If you have some questions, I am in my office during office hours. I can not take coffee with students. People may say things and one does know how quickly gossip travels around here. It would get blown out of proportion so quickly.” Clasping the case closed, and hoping that is a gentle enough to not bruise the ego. “Now if you will excuse me, I am late for a dinner engagement.”
The blond walks out with a bit of smile on her face, thinking he is clearly oblivious.
9 Years previously
David stands at attention among the other cadets. His white cadet uniform is pressed and gleams in the sunlight. Captain Marvin stands before him. The ring box moves between them. David opens it. Carefully turning the ring so his class crest is facing inwards towards his heart, on the left ring finger. Looking around, at his fellow cadets. Then looking up on the hill where the family members view the ceremony. Grey eyes flickering over the people gather there. But his father, his mother and Amanda aren’t there.
7 Years Previously
“2nd Lieutenant David Atkins reporting for duty sir!” Saluting and returning the salute.
“At ease Lieutenant.” Captain Miller looks through the personnel file in front of him. “Third in your class at West Point. It’s been my general experience that West Pointers are either great or absolute dog shit. Care to enlighten me about which one you are?”
“Sir, the very best, sir.” David stares straight ahead. His face a mask as he resists the urge to glare.
“You will excuse me if I don’t put money on it. I’m giving you second platoon. I expect you to meet with your platoon sergeant within the hour. Oh and Lieutenant, if you fuck up one of my platoons then even the WPPA won’t be able to salvage your career. Are we clear?”
“Like crystal sir.”
5 years previously.The walls shake as an RPG slams into them. Fired too close to arm, it still hits hard enough to shake up some dust over the men hunkered down in the building.
“Corporal Sanders, I want your squad on point. My squad is going to handle the rear as well as evacuating the wounded.” David begins sketching out the withdrawal plans on the dust. He looks around and sees agreement. “As much as I would like to hunker down and wait for the Cougars to get through the choke points we are simply too low on ammo to hold out. So we are going to make a fighting withdrawal. Then we hand off the wounded, rearm and come back.”
The troops gather up, the platoon’s heavy weapons opening up as Sander’s squad begins moving out the door and down the street. Finding cover and then firing their own suppressive fire as squads begin to leap frog past them. Then David’s squad exits, the four wounded being carried out as the other squads give them cover. Blackjack is carrying his platoon sergeant and awkwardly firing his pistol. David doesn’t even feel the round graze his arm, he simply keeps going with the movement. The leap frogging continues until they reach the alleyway blocking the Cougars. Medics are waiting there to triage the wounded. Most of them are prepped for medivac but one goes in a body bag.
Looking down at his hand. David’s blood mixed with that of his platoon sergeant’s soaking his sleeve and cuff. Mixing with the plaster dust and coating his academy ring.