Michael Worthington : Devil Dogs : Flash Fiction : June 2019

Southern Legitimacy Statement: I am a Southerner born and raised on a tobacco farm in Eastern North Carolina. The farm sits on a hill with a small creek running around its base. The slopes are wooded, so only about half of the acreage is cleared, but tobacco was a labor-intensive crop that didn’t require large fields. We survived mainly on our garden with canned tomatoes, frozen corn, dried field peas and potatoes, and we raised livestock for milk and meat. My two older brothers still live on the farm, but I figured that office work was easier than fieldwork, so I moved away to attend college and find a professional job. Today I am retired, but I attend a small country church in a rural community near the border between Virginia and North Carolina. We hold pulled pork barbecue dinners to support sick neighbors and soup-and-sandwiches socials to fund local missionaries. To my mind, loyalty to family and God is what defines a Southerner.

Devil  Dogs

They are fiends! Only devils from hell could advance through a rain of bullets and just keep coming while screeching rebel yells. Machine guns mowed them down in rows as they moved across the fields of golden wheat, but instead of rushing through the danger, they would pause to lift their rifles and fire several rounds before walking forward a few more meters. Their fire was so quick it sounded like bursts from machine guns, and they hit their targets.

As I carried a couple of ammunition boxes to a machine gun position, the gunner suddenly fell backwards with a hole in his forehead. I helped drag his body back a couple of meters, and the man who had been feeding the ammo belts took the gunner’s place while I took his place as the feeder. After we had fired an entire belt, I turned to open another ammo box, and the new gunner slumped over with blood gushing from his throat. I looked into the eyes of the other ammunition bearer, and we both crawled away from the machine gun.

I fired my rifle until I ran out of ammo, and then fell back before the inexorable advance of the Americans. Like ocean waves, they had advanced nearly to the tree line several times during the day before falling back to their foxholes beyond the wheat fields. But like the incoming tide, they kept coming a little farther each time. Many of them had exhausted their ammo during this last assault, but with fixed bayonets they entered the relative gloom under the trees of Belleau Woods.

A sergeant hustled me into a line of men to block their advance, and with a tree protecting my left side, I braced myself for close combat. Seemingly of its own volition, my left hand touched the front of my blouse where a crucifix hung suspended from a neck chain. Only my metal identification tags were supposed to hang from the chain because regulations didn’t authorize personal jewelry, but I was far from the only soldier to wear one and the officers didn’t object during inspections. In this at least, they shared emotional empathy with their younger subordinates who were facing mortality. After all, the officers were more likely to become casualties because marksmen targeted those in command.

My dear mutter had given me the crucifix on the day I had left home to report for duty. Her picture resided in my left breast pocket along with a picture of the fräulein who had promised to wait for me. My other breast pocket held my ration card and a folded letter addressed to my family, in case I didn’t return.

Inside the woods, the straight ranks of the American Marines dissolved into a disordered mass, but they displayed inhuman ferocity as they rushed through the trees. My opponent scarcely slowed his momentum before thrusting his bayonet at my middle. Using my rifle, I knocked his bayonet downward so instead of piercing my abdomen the blade stabbed my thigh. As agony convulsed my body, he jerked his rifle back and slammed the butt against my head like the kick of a dying mule.

The sky was noticeably darker when I regained consciousness. My head throbbed and I reached down to find my trousers sodden with blood. I tried to examine my wound, but I didn’t have the strength to sit up. Feeling with my fingers, I found the wound and pressed it closed while contemplating the fact that my life was slowly trickling away.

Then I heard rustling in the bushes. Turning my head, I saw a dog casting about as if in search of a scent so I tried to call out, but my throat was too dry to do more than croak. Gathering a little salvia in my mouth, I pursed my lips and whistled. The dog’s head came up and he trotted toward me; as he approached, I saw the Red Cross on his back. Immediately he pulled on my sleeve trying to get some token to carry back, so with my other hand, I pulled out my ration card to give him.

The dog soon returned with his handler and two stretcher bearers. They called out in German so the Americans must have been beaten back. I felt relief as help approached because at least I wouldn’t bleed to death, and while convalescing from my wounds, I wouldn’t have to face those damn devil dogs again.