by W.E.B. Griffin

Headquarters 19th Infantry Regiment
24th Infantry Division
Kongju, South Korea
0300 16 July 1950

“Incoming!” one of the sergeants in the G-3 section called out excitedly.

Quite unnecessarily, for everyone present had heard the sound an artillery shell makes in flight.

The impact came a moment later, a hundred yards away.

“It looks like you’re going to live, Major,” Zimmerman said to their North Korean prisoner. “I was beginning to wonder.”

“There will be more, much more,” the major said.

McCoy wondered: Was that a gratis offer of more information, or is he hoping that when they fire for effect, it will be right on our heads?

And then he wondered: Would I have caved in the way he did? Or Zimmerman? There’re two sides to that tell-the-enemy-nothing business. What’s the point of dying if it’s not going to change things?

His reverie was interrupted by more incoming.

Lots of incoming: Between the sound of the exploding incoming rounds, there could be heard the rumble of artillery—a lot of artillery—firing.

Very little seems to be directed at us, here at regimental headquarters, which probably means that it’s being directed at positions on the line.

They know where the positions are. They’ve been infiltrating men across the river all night. And some certainly infiltrated back, carrying maps on which is marked the position of every last goddamn fox hole and machine gun position.

And some stayed, and hidden by the darkness are calling in the shots: Right two hundred, up fifty, fire for effect.

And if there is counter-fire, I don’t hear it.

The 19th is not going to be able to do much about turning this attack, if that sergeant and PFC are typical of the kind of people they’ve got. They don’t know what the hell they’re supposed to do, and if you don’t know what to do, or what’s going to happen, you’re liable to panic.

The real question for us is how soon is it going to happen? It would be suicide to try to drive away from here now. Maybe at first light, it will be different. Maybe at first light, they’ll make the major assault, and that means they’re likely to lift the artillery barrage. That would give us a chance.

He looked at Miss Jeanette Priestly of The Chicago Tribune, who was sitting beside Major Allman on the floor, against the wall.

So if we can’t get out of here, what do I do with you?

Tough broad. If she’s about to become hysterical—which is always what I feel like doing when they’re firing artillery at me—it sure doesn’t show on her face.

If we’re overrun, do I place my faith in the humanity of the Army of the People’s Democratic Republic of North Korea, and let her get captured?

It’s possible that an officer might recognize the propaganda value of capturing a female—the only female—American war correspondent, and she would be treated well, so they could put her on display.

It’s more likely that she would be raped on the spot by the squad that comes in here, and if she lives through that, taken to maybe battalion, where she would be raped all over again.

Maybe, she might get lucky and get killed before the troops actually arrive.

And if that doesn’t happen, do I do the kind thing?

When the Apaches attacked the wagon trains and settlers, they always saved the last couple of rounds to do the kind thing for the women.

And that’s about what we have here, the Apaches attacking the outnumbered good guys. And the 7th Cavalry isn’t going to suddenly appear at the gallop with the flags flying and the bugles sounding “charge” to save our ass.

Oh, shit!

What you should have done, McCoy, is dump her at the side of the road, as Zimmerman suggested. Why the hell didn’t you?

Unkind thought: If I didn’t have to play Sir Galahad with you, Ernie and I could make it out of here on foot.

He searched in his pack and came out with one of his last four cigars.

Zimmerman looked at him, but didn’t say anything.

McCoy reached up his left sleeve and came out with a dagger.

Jeanette Priestly saw that, and her attention drew that of Major Allman to McCoy and his dagger.

McCoy carefully laid the cigar against the plywood top of a folding desk and chopped at it with the dagger. One half fell to the floor.

He tossed it to Zimmerman.

“Next time, bring your own,” he said.

“Aye, aye, sir.”

McCoy returned the dagger to its sheath, pulled his utility jacket sleeve down over it, produced a wooden match and carefully started to light his cigar.

“What’s with the knife?” Jeanette Priestly asked.

McCoy ignored her.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen one like that before,” Jeanette Priestly said.

“It’s not a knife; it’s a dagger,” Zimmerman furnished helpfully. “That’s a Fairbairn.”

“I don’t know what that means either,” she said, flashing Zimmerman a dazzling smile.

“It was invented by an Englishman named Fairbairn,” Zimmerman went on. “When he ran the police in Shanghai. Hell of a knife fighter.”

What the hell turned his mouth on?

Oh. He likes her.

Likes her, as opposed to having the hots for her. She’s tough.

“But it’s so small,” Jeanette pursued. “Is it really. . .what. . .a lethal weapon?”

“Huh!” Zimmerman snorted. “Yeah, it’s lethal. Three Eye-talian Marines jumped him one time in Shanghai. He took two of them out with that dagger. That’s how come they call him ‘Killer.’ ”

“Shut your goddamn mouth, Zimmerman,” McCoy said, his voice icily furious.

Zimmerman, as if he suddenly realized what he had done, looked stricken.

“They call him Killer?” Jeanette relentlessly pursued.

“And you, too, goddamn you!” McCoy said. “Just shut the hell up!”

Her eyebrows went up, but she didn’t say anything else.

The artillery and mortar barrage lasted about an hour, but even before it did, there were reports from the outposts of large numbers of North Koreans coming across the Kum River.

When the artillery barrage lifted, and Major Allman and others tried to call the battalion and company CPs, in many cases there was no response.

Major Allman, sensing McCoy’s eyes on him when he failed to make three connections in a row, said, “I guess the artillery cut a lot of wire.”

“Yes, sir,” McCoy said.

Or the outposts, the platoons, and maybe even the companies have been overrun.

McCoy went outside the command post. It was black dark. There was the sound of small arms fire.

He went back into the command post.

“Let’s go,” he ordered.

“I thought you said we couldn’t leave until light,” Jeanette said.

“If you want to stay, stay,” McCoy said, and turned to the North Korean major.

“Let’s go, Major,” he said, in Russian.

The major got to his feet.

“If you try to run, you will die,” McCoy added. “They’re not here yet.”



From UNDER FIRE — Book IX in the best-selling THE CORPS series.
Published January 2003.