Midwife in the Tire Swing

Intermezzo 14—Nameless into Battle

“Dick (R. J.) Lavery was the captain. We didn’t wear name tags in those days. We were the Army Air Corps and wore our names at the end of a chain, on dog tags inside our shirts. You were expected to know who you were without having to check. Not having a name tag out front prevented the enemy from any spontaneous familiarity like calling you by a nickname as you shot him in the face—this might cause a relaxing of your homicidal intent. We did not have that problem. We flew close to the ground, particularly on the Ploesti raid, but too high for a face-to-face. This is an old man’s story and old men’s tales can be tedious. Bear with me.

“Nameless into battle, see His legions go. Onward Christian soldiers. The YMCA sent sets of song books out with the troops—for their moral uplift, did you know that?

“(R. J.) Lavery wore a name tag right under his wings. No one else did. The parentheses he believed gave him an authority that lifted him above his shanty-Irish roots. Dick parenthesis R. J. parenthesis fucking Lavery. From Pottstown, Pennsylvania.

“We were all guys together having fun killing each other. Rape and pillage, blowing things up—all the good stuff. No white hats, all black hats. The Russians, French, Germans, Americans, the Brits and Italians, we all did it. Going nameless into battle was understood as a tacit act of aversion. Our clothes we marked on the inside with indelible ink so that they would know whose clothes they were, in case they wandered off unaccompanied. And with no name out front, how could you be the target of any cabalistic act by your victim’s relatives—the Evil Eye, a curse?

“Dick (R. J.) Lavery was the pilot, but I have told you that. This is a confession and confession is good for the soul. As a death midwife, the soul is your playground of opportunity. You could very well pick up some continuing education credits by my dying. Anyway, R. J. did not want to stop flying bomber sorties. The raids had taken on a life of their own. In contravention of orders, he took the squadron up for a raid. And the war was over. The Nazis had surrendered.

“We loaded in the 500 pound bombs and took off. There were only three B-24s left by then. It was his final raid no matter what. Over Ploesti, Rumania—and it was easy going as the anti-aircraft batteries were silent, out of ammunition, their gunners dead or fled and we had destroyed the rail lines the previous year—we came in low at five hundred feet. R. J. mistook the town of Targoviste for Floresti where the oil fields or what was left of them were. You could see the faces of the people as they looked up and waved—common ordinary faces. R. J. ordered us in for a pass. I undid my harness and went up to the cabin where I shot him in the back of the head. We dumped him out over the oil refineries. To this day I pray that his corpse did not land on someone when it hit. That’s a lie. I didn’t give a shit; I wanted to go home.

“With the gold wire-rimmed Ray-Ban aviator glasses and slick horsehide flight jacket he must have looked quite a sport when he splattered like a dropped watermelon all over Targoviste.”

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