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Forever After: The Hagan Family Journals
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  1. #1

    Forever After: The Hagan Family Journals

    To be clear the following is not a new story. It is in fact a part of a thread that SqrlGrl started on the EZBoard incarnation of TB2K back in February of 2001 titled <i>An Exercise in Preparedness</i> which dealt with nuclear warfare survival. That thread ran concurrently with Taz's (she went by Colonial America on EZBoard) <i>Safe Haven Ranch</i> thread so they sort of heterodyned off each other as they went along. SqrlGrl's original post in her nuclear war thread was a short bit of fiction and she invited others to append their pieces of the story to it in the vein that she started with. I wrote a piece, others wrote pieces and much discussion about nuclear warfare preparedness ensued. Some of the original participants in that thread are still around while others have drifted away. I don't have their permission to post their stuff so I won't.

    One thing that sprang from SqrlGrl's thread was a story idea that I had which I titled <i>Forever After: The Hagan Family Journals.</i> It's nearly my earliest lengthy piece of fiction and it shows in its rough edges. Frankly, I don't think it's very good, but Synap and several others have asked me to post it here and seeing as how the original EZBoard TB2K seems to have gone with the wind I can't simply give a link to it anymore.

    So, for the benefit of the folks who have a thing for bad fiction I will post it here. It's Spring and I'm heavily into myriad agricultural endeavors so I don't have time to polish it up so you're going to see it pretty much as I posted it way back when though I may fix a few typos and such along the way.

    I am chagrined to say that the ending seems to have vanished. I distinctly recall having written one, but it's not in the archival copy of the original thread that I made a year or two ago so I don't know if I merely thought I'd written the ending or if something happened at EZBoard to erase it. By the time I get to the end of posting the whole story maybe I'll have remembered what it was and can bang it out some afternoon while it's raining.

    The next post will be the beginning of the story.

    Last edited by A.T.Hagan; 05-03-2005 at 10:41 PM.

  2. #2

    Forever After - Monday, March 26, 2001

    <big><strong>Day One
    Monday, March 26, 2001 - 7:00 p.m.</strong></big>

    There is an old military maxim that states if you want to launch a surprise attack one of the best times to do it is in the hour before dawn. It is at this time that Man's spirit is at its lowest ebb and he is most likely to be asleep. The Russians thought so too and thus we slept through the opening of World War Three.

    The war started as an otherwise ordinary weekday. It had been a long weekend, we'd gotten to bed late and the 5:05 a.m. our clock radio alarm was set to came much too early. The radio faithfully clicked on and for a few seconds the middle strains of Aaron Copeland's <i>Appalachian Spring</i> filled the room and then clicked off. I thought nothing of it, we commonly hit the snooze button once before we actually get up so reckoned my wife Ann had done so. Some time later she admitted to me that she thought I had. It was some hours before we realized that it was actually the high altitude EMP burst destroying the national electrical grid which caused our radio to fail.

    My next conscious thought was when I awoke because the dawn light shining on my face disturbed my sleep. For a moment I thought nothing of it then realized that is was much too light for us to be getting up on time for a Monday morning! I gave my wife a swat on the fanny as I leapt out of bed. Snatched up the clock radio and it was blank. Curious. I realized the bedroom ceiling fan and bathroom nightlight were off at the same time. Marvelous, just marvelous. Some fool missed the turn and took the bloody pole out <i>again</i>. Why can't Clay Electric just resite the damn thing?!

    I stalked into the kitchen to look at the battery operated wall clock - 7:45 a.m. Nuts, fifteen minutes to get dressed, drive twenty one miles into town, drop off the baby and make it to work. Carry a jug of water into the bathroom for us to use to wash our faces with. No morning shower today. Shove ourselves into our clothes, make a quick bite for the baby to eat in the truck, pack our stuff, and get out the door. Sigh! Turn around, go back into the house to change the baby's poopy diaper and finally get out the door at about 8:25. We'll grab a muffin at work or something. Turn on to the main road into town and realized the only car in sight was approaching at one Hell of a clip. Jeez, will you look at that idiot?! He must have been doing better than a hundred! Well, if he doesn't wrap himself around a tree off one of the curves then ASO will get him (I hope). Idiot.

    We don't encounter any other speed demons going into town. Look, the Quick Stop is dark and the traffic light's out too. Hey, so are the ones on the other side of the overpass. So are *all* the gas stations on the other side. Gotta be a pretty big power outage to take out both sides like this, they're on different circuits. Ann turned the radio on to see if 89FM had anything on it - their morning news program would still be on. Hmm, 89 FM is off. OK, try one of the other area FM stations. NO FM stations on the air at all? OK, the hair on the back of my neck is starting to stand up. Go to AM, didn't WRUF used to be one of the old Conelrad stations way back when? No, that was 640 and 1240 I think. Anyways I think they have emergency generators. What time is it anyway? 9:00a.m., OK there's 850 and hey! we've got a carrier signal. Oh shit, that's the EAS warning tones! Wait, here comes an announcer. <blockquote>"This is WRUF in Gainesville, FL. Reports are still sketchy and incomplete but it now appears certain that the United States has suffered a thermonuclear attack most likely originating from the Russian Federation. We have been unable to establish contact with any national news agency or the Federal government at a level higher than the local office here in Gainesville. Only a few targets have been confirmed so far. It appears that the Kennedy Space Center and Trident submarine turning basins in Brevard county, the submarine base in King's Bay near Brunswick, Georgia and Eglin AFB in the panhandle near Pensacola have been struck, our sources indicate that the base was a site for space surveillance radar. Unconfirmed reports indicate that Atlanta, Georgia and the Savannah River nuclear installation have also been struck. No other regional targets are known to have been attacked at this time. Technical advisors here at the University state that the Florida area and probably the entire North American continent has been subjected to an ElectroMagnetic Pulse resulting from a high-altitude nuclear detonation which has damaged or destroyed the national power grid and most forms of radio and television communications. Our transmitter was temporarily disabled until our staff engineers were able to replace damaged parts and we are now broadcasting with emergency power at a reduced level. All citizens are instructed to immediately store water, non-perishable foods and necessary medicines. Stay indoors and secure your homes against fallout which has the appearance of fine dust or sandy grit. No radioactive fallout has yet been detected in the Gainesville, Florida area. Our next broadcast will be in two hours at 11:00 a.m. Eastern time. This has been WRUF in Gainesville, Florida."</blockquote> Dead air.

    SHIT! Like most folks are gonna know anything about how to cope with fallout! What the Hell's going on? We missed the news last night talking to the realtor. Was there a crisis or attack last night? Uhh, wait a minute, the security guard at work mentioned something in the elevator last night about CNN carrying a breaking story on tension between us and the Russians. Another missing sub? It sure as Hell didn't sound that serious! What a time to not be paying attention to the news!

    Look, we're already here in town, let's swing by Albertson's and see what we can pick up. Yes, I know we've got food storage but in this case we're gonna need everything we can get, it's only a mile to the grocery. Traffic was rapidly fading so getting through the unregulated intersections doesn't take long. Quite a crowd in front of the supermarket. Hmm, OK, parked at the far edge of the lot where there's lots of clear ground. Gave the truck pistol to Ann and gave her a fast refresher on its operation then told her to keep the doors locked and don't hesitate to use if anyone threatens. If I hear any shots I'll come running. Cross the parking lot and approach the store. The emergency lights are still on in the store and the doors are propped open. Crack! Crack! A shot from inside the building stars one of the store windows about twelve feet to my left. Shit! To Hell with it, the situation's too far gone now. Get back to the truck and get out of here!

    Snatch the CB radio and its magnetic mount antenna out of the tool box and plug it in. Go to channel 1 and call for Randy. No luck, try channel 3 and 6. Nothing. Well, it's close to eight miles from his place to here so we may be out of range for this little antenna. Getting into the truck I happen to glance to the northeast and see the tops of two spreading mushroom clouds. Northeast, that has to be Jacksonville and the navy base. Maybe the Russians don't believe we're no longer keeping nukes there anymore. Well, Jax is what, 80-90 miles from here and downwind from us so I guess we should be safe from it. Wonder if they'll hit the other cities? Stupid to just stand here and stare at the damn cloud, gotta get home.

    See only two cars on the way back which is kind of spooky for this time of day. Pulling into the yard and I'll be damned if it's not that stupid son of a bitch from down the road stepping out of my storage shed with one of my gas cans! Slewed the truck around in the yard to put the driver's side window towards him and make a cross body shot with the .45. Heck, I know my chances of hitting him are virtually nil but I'll be damned if I'll just watch him rip me off. Don't reckon I'm gonna have to worry about courts and lawyers now and that gas is vital. Crack! Crack! Hmmph, like I expected, no hits but he did drop my gas can! Looks like we're gonna have to do something about him sooner rather than later. Pull the truck up closer to the house. No other apparent theft out of the shed, the house looks intact. Figures if any of the neighbors was gonna start stealing it woulda been him. OK, tell Ann when we get inside to belt on her .38 and to KEEP it on. Haven't worn this belt holster for the truck pistol in a long time and it feels strange now to carry it but looks like it's going to become an old friend again.

    Go inside and break out a couple of radios and the deep cycle battery. Ann suggested that she could scan the AM/FM and shortwave bands while she starts cooking up the food in the refrigerator. Gonna be some strange menus for a day or two until we get the fridge stuff eaten. Reckon the deep freeze oughta be OK for a few more hours before I need to fire the genny so I'll fill the remaining water barrels then. Charged up and zeroed three dosimeters and two survey meters. We'll keep one inside and the other I'll keep with me while I'm outside. So far no readings. Found the bottle of crystallized potassium iodide and filled it with distilled water and shook it for five minutes to make the supersaturated solution. Put a drop on my tongue, gaahhh!, that stuff is nasty! Mixed Katie's dose into a full bottle of formula and told Ann to be certain that Katie drank it all. She's so young that her little dose mixed into eight ounces of formula didn't seen to bother her. Ann and I took our doses in glass of water while we ate. No problems so far. There's enough KI that it shouldn't be a problem to dose everyone in the neighborhood, if they'll accept it.

    Decided I oughta confab with some of the neighbors, they may be feeling a bit anxious with the gun shots and all and they need to know about that thieving bastard down the street. Some of them may not even know we've been nuked. Reckon I'd best just stand in the road and shout at each house until someone answers.

    Saw another mushroom off to the distant southwest around 10:00 a.m. so I think it was Tampa/McDill AFB. I think they still had some sort of major command down there though the flight line itself was largely supposed to be inactive. Spoke with the four nearest neighbors who are taking it as well as can be expected and I think they'll steady down if we don't start taking any fallout or nearby hits. No one answered at the fifth house, they may not be home, I can't recall how many cars they have. Looks like we'll need to keep an eye on his place for while. If he doesn't show up in a couple of weeks then he'll probably never show up at all so I'll suggest salvaging his stuff with the surrounding neighbors then.

    It's early evening now and Ann is cooking supper while I make this entry in our journal. Taking stock: We're alive, unirradiated, unblasted and wondering if the war is over or was this just the opening phase?
    Last edited by A.T.Hagan; 05-03-2005 at 10:15 PM.

  3. #3

    Day Four - Thursday, March 29, 2001 - 7:00 a.m.

    <strong>Day Four
    Thursday, March 29, 2001 - 7:00 a.m.</strong>

    I had resolved to keep a daily log of the Hagan family experience during the war and here it is three days since my last entry. Too busy for writing and too tired when I'm able to sit down to want to write. Well, maybe I can try for at least every couple three days...

    The last three days have been an exercise in controlled chaos. Ann caught another news report Monday at noon off of WRUF while she was in the kitchen which confirmed Savannah and Charleston as losses. I try not to think too much of the farm. I'm sure dad and uncle John would do their best to defend it but it sits right there on the interstate not a quarter tank's worth of gas out of Savannah which probably vomited ten of thousands of panicking fleeing people into the surrounding countryside in the hours between the first missiles detonating and when Savannah finally went. Of course, if they hit Ft. Stewart too then the whole place may be irradiated anyway. Only five hours drive away and they might as well be on the Moon now. They'll either make or not on their own. Maybe they'll try for here if they have to abandon ship.

    Ann's worried about her parents. I can't tell her but I think they're probably both lost. Haven't heard anything confirmed yet but I'd be surprised if Portland, Maine still exists. It's just too important for northern TransAtlantic shipping. Shortwave yesterday said they were having a late season snow storm across New England. To no one's surprise D.C. is gone along with New York, L.A. and virtually all of the larger coastal cities on the East and West coasts including Miami. The Russians must be thinking we'd use them to ship our invasion forces. For some reason they took out Las Vegas which puzzles me - maybe it offended their morals. Someone seems to be using nukes tactically as well because late Monday night we saw two flashes reflected off the clouds nearly due east of us and from the very faint sounds we heard some time later they must have been out in the Atlantic. We're praying no one does this in the Gulf.

    Jim & Lisa showed up Monday night about 9:00 p.m. and I was so relieved I nearly embarrassed myself by weeping in public. They'd gone down to Eustis Sunday to clear out the last of their stuff from their old place, got caught in the flood of people fleeing Orlando and spent the whole of Monday getting back to Gainesville. Said things were fairly quiet at their place downtown when they got in but they did hear gunshots a couple of times so Lisa insisted they leave the house and head out here. They didn't have any running water or sanitation there anyway. We saw a flash in the sky South/Southeast just about midnight and Jim had the presence of mind to note the time so calculating the distance from the flash/noise we figure it was Orlando. The follow up attacks seem really spotty so I reckon we must be having some luck at shooting their bombers down or taking their stuff out while it's still on the ground.

    WRUF has a regular broadcast schedule now - every two hours for fifteen minutes from 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. with one newscast at 11:00 p.m. They're drawing power from the cogeneration plant that's running Shands hospital but the supply of diesel on hand is only enough for another two weeks or so. They think the university has enough PV panels scattered here and there being used for various purposes that if they collect them all together they can maintain power for the transmitter at a reduced level and for the most vital functions in the hospital.

    When it became light Tuesday morning we took a careful inventory of the food storage. I hadn't planned on four people (and the baby) but we still hadn't completely drawn down the excess we put away for Y2K so it looks like with careful rationing we can all maintain an 1800 calorie diet for close to seven months and have plenty for the baby. Well, we all needed to lose weight anyhow and it'll motivate us to expand the garden space and do it right. I think I can endure nearly anything if I have to but there's so much emotional import we give to food I fear we're going to have trouble adjusting to short rations. Some survivalist I am. Well, what cannot be cured must be endured.

    Late Monday afternoon I tried to fire the generator to fill the remaining water barrels and naturally the damn thing didn't want to crank. Critical need detector worked flawlessly again. Sure wish Shelby were here, I just don't relate to combustion engines. Finally got it cranked after I cleaned and regapped the plug and sprayed a hefty amount of WD40 in through the spark plug hole to use the propane propellant as a starter. Should have put away some starting fluid but it's too late now. Filled the barrels and brought the deep cycle battery back up to full. Wish I'd have bought more of those too but there wasn't money for it. We're only using it for the two radios and one 15 watt halogen light so it hasn't been hard to keep the thing topped off. What I'm going to do if this low-end genset goes south on me I don't know. Guess I'll just have to charge it with the truck for as long as the fuel holds out. Sure wish I'd have bought that PV panel now but we needed the money to pay for land. Well, if I'd have *known* we were going to for sure have a nuclear war this year I'd have bought the thing and I'd have six tons of corn in the barn too. "Wish I'd ahs" are about stupid.

    Tuesday about noon we heard a shot from down the road at John's place (the retired Marine who flies the U.S. flag and Corp banner in his yard). We made sure the women were well armed and locked themselves in the house before Jim and I went down the road in the pickup. John knows my truck and we approached slowly. We found him standing in his back yard with a side by side 12 gauge looking at a body on the ground. He motioned us over so we went in and watched as he turned the body over. Lo and behold, it's our thieving neighbor! John said he saw him coming out of his barn with his can of mower gas and its oil so he busted him from behind with a load of buckshot. Can't say that I'm unhappy over the loss but it surprises me the fool would try to steal like that in broad daylight. John says neither he or his wife had been outside at all that day so it may be he thought no one was home. They do often take off for a couple of weeks at a time. In fact the only reason they were home at all is because their RV is in the shop in town.

    We searched the body and came up with his wallet, house keys, thirty six cents in change, the butt end of a joint and my, my a S&W Chief's Special in .38. DL in the wallet gives his name as Richard White. John kept the handgun and after firing one round to be sure of its function gave it to his wife. We all loaded up into the truck and went down to the other end of the road where the late Mr. White lived. I'd seen a woman driving his raggedy Toyota a time or two so we hollered up the house before approaching. There was no one at home. He'd apparently been cooking in a hibachi on his porch and there was the remains of a number of photographs burnt in it so perhaps she took off on him. We unlocked the house and it was as trashy inside as it was outside which is about what we expected. A brief search turned up no trace of any woman still living there and strangely enough very little evidence that Mr. White lived there although he'd been there since before we moved to the area. There was furniture and the other assorted stuff that one accumulates but virtually nothing in the way of clothing or personal articles. The only useful items we found were two cans of soup, a partial bag of rice and some yard tools in the shed outback. I kept a grubbing hoe and John took the rest since he doesn't have a lot in the way of gardening tools. There was so much trash and debris inside and out we debated simply burning the place down as a public health precaution but after carefully looking the place over we decided to leave it. We'll come in and dispose of the trash but we might need the housing later.

    White's well worn Toyota was in the driveway and as we passed it I noticed the back seat was full of boxes and bags. His car keys were on the ring so we opened it up and discovered why there was so little of his stuff in the house. All of his personal clothes were in the car, a box of tools and a .22 rifle which John took and we kept the tools. There was a gas station map on the front seat with backroads route pencilled in up to Monticello in Jefferson county. He had distances marked off so I think he must have been figuring mileage to get there. I put the key in the ignition and the gas gauge read a bare quarter tank. Well, that might explain Mr. White's interest in other people's gasoline. A quarter tank would have maybe gotten him halfway there. We left the car to salvage later and took John back to his place. We decided to bury White in John's back field since it was clear, non-rocky ground. His wife pitched a fit when he took up a shovel and started yelling about his cardiac condition so Jim and I ended up doing the digging. We found just like Randy Bragg in <i>Alas, Babylon</i> that when you get more than about waist deep only one man can dig a one man grave so we spelled each other. John's wife made us lemonade and lunch while we worked and I called the house on the CB while Jim was working to fill them in. We're going to give John one of the handheld CB's so we can communicate over the 3/10's of a mile between us. The battery out of White's car ought to be enough to keep it running if we recharge it periodically.

    The girls said the radio reported Biloxi and Mobile as lost, apparently to a sub. There was some looting in town but the police got it under control though they had shoot a few people to do it. Jim said there was nothing they left at their place worth the risk of trying to retrieve it. Their clothing and what food, medicine, and weaponry they had came with them in the Wagoneer so mostly it was their furniture, kitchen and bathroom stuff they left which is no great loss. Gainesville can do without us for a little longer.

    About four p.m. Tuesday a cold front swept in, still not enough rain to put much of a damper on this damn drought. Got a real start when the survey meter started giving a reading. At worst it only went up to two REMs outside but it was enough to worry us. The front must be blowing in radioactive dust from Texas perhaps. We broke out the roll plastic and sealed the house windows. It rained for about twenty minutes which amounted to maybe two tenths of an inch or so and when it was over the readings dropped down to a half-REM. Katie's pitching a fit but we're keeping the baby inside for now and now one goes outside without a dust filter on their face. No one wears their shoes inside and everyone sponges down in the laundry room before coming back into the house. With the cloudiness it got dark and with the specter of radiation we decided to stay indoors for the rest of the day. I took a reading during my watch from midnight till two and the needle stayed in the one to two tenths REM range so it looks like things are settling down. We're discussing the desirability of putting in one of Kearny's expedient shelters in the barn. We can just dig up the dirt floor and use the barn roof to keep the worst of it off of our heads. Probably start tomorrow though I hate the idea of time and labor lost when there's so much to do.

    Well, the day's wasting and there's a world of work so I'd better get at it.
    Last edited by A.T.Hagan; 05-03-2005 at 10:32 PM.

  4. #4

    Sunday, April 1, 2001

    <strong>Day Seven
    Sunday, April 1, 2001. 7:00 a.m. April Fools Day - The Joke Is On U.S.</strong>

    A three to four day interval for journal entries seems to be the way to go for now. Perhaps if we're ever able to slow down I can make them daily but frankly I'm too tired to write most days. It's just light enough outside now that I can sit on the front porch and enjoy the cool of the morning while Jim and Ann fix breakfast (it being their turns). Ann noted from the bathroom calendar that Sunday was Daylight Savings Time which Katie misunderstood in her toddler way and told everyone for the rest of the day that it was “Daylight Save Us Time!” and we laughed every time we heard it. Gotta blow off tension somehow.

    Although the survey meter now gives only the barest indication of any activity we put in a Kearny style shelter in the barn Wednesday. We carefully removed the floor joists from the middle fifteen feet of floor so that we could use them as structural timbers later and started digging. Naturally, it took about five minutes to hit a large rock but Jim and I were able to wrestle it out. Ann and Lisa measured and cut heavy wood to reinforce the floor areas surrounding the hole so they'll be able to support the dirt we'll be piling on later.

    We dug until about noon and broke for dinner. As we were sitting on the porch (too hot to eat in the house) one of our neighbors to the west of us hollered us up from the road so we invited him over. His name is Jake and he asked if we had any drinking water we could spare. Guess he heard the genny on Monday and reckoned we must have water. Well, we figured we'd probably become the neighborhood water source so we pointed him to the barrels and told him to fill his buckets. In the course of conversation it came out that he's a mechanic! He must have thought I was strange the way I suddenly started grinning at him. He and his wife (think he said her name was Brenda) and his 12 month old son (Jake Jr.) live in that peach colored single wide which they moved into after losing their house when his business failed. We worked it out that he and any other of the neighbors in the area could come and get water every day from 1-2 p.m. for as long as we were able to pump it and he volunteered to maintain and repair the equipment. It'll mean more use of the genny to run the pump but we figure it's in our greater self-interest not to have folks in the neighborhood possibly drinking unsafe water which could lead to a communicable disease problem. Besides, sooner or later that low-end Coleman is going to break down and this way I’ve got somebody who knows what he’s doing who’ll fix it for us which is better than me having to find out how little I really know about small engine mechanics.

    We spent the rest of Wednesday putting the shelter in. It's about eleven feet wide, twelve feet long and the actual depth of the hole is about four feet. With the floor joists on either side of the hole heavily reinforced we laid down the joists we removed perpendicular across them and laid old tin over top. We used two rows of old fence posts to reinforce the middle of the span and then started shoveling the dug out dirt on top. It's just about fifteen inches or so from ground level to the bottom of the shelter roof so with the hole depth we've got the thing to a bit more than five feet in vertical height. Once we were sure of our bracing, the girls (because they're shorter) starting excavating the shelter floor to increase our vertical height. We're hoping to achieve at least six and a half feet of depth, about eight inches of which we'll lose when we floor the thing with pallets. One *good* thing about this drought is that we've yet to hit ground water. Digging that much dirt, rocks and roots out in one day was some of the hardest work I can ever recall doing. Damn glad I bought that mattock last year! Ought to work out a bend in the entranceway but we'll come to that later.

    By Wednesday night the dosimeter in my pocket (I'd forgotten it!) indicated I'd taken a total of eleven REMs since the front moved through Tuesday evening. Alarming by peace time standards but given the circumstances I feel it's minimal. Re-zeroed mine and Ann's and issued one each to Jim and Lisa and explained how they worked. Ann had less exposure and the baby a good deal less since we haven't let her go outside at all. Ann's set up a log to track everyone's exposure and what the meter readings for the day were. Hopefully we won't ever get enough to be important but who knows? Supper Wednesday was marvelous. With all the excavating we were hungry as wolves so we cooked up a huge chicken supper with all the trimmings using food out of the deep freezer. I want to get it all eaten or preserved fairly soon so that we can stop having to power it. I'm becoming acutely conscious of the electricity it requires. Lisa reported she heard multiple gunshots on her watch (midnight to four) but they sounded very far off and to the east in the direction of town.

    Thursday morning I decided we'd better go see about Randy and Sharon. Should have gone earlier but there was just so much to do. I took Lisa with me since she can handle a rifle better than Ann. My pickup gets better gas mileage than their Wagoneer so we took it. Nothing uneventful happened on the trip over though we did take a couple of dirt roads to go around Newberry. Saw one freshly burned house and some folks picking through the remains. What with so many folks having to cook anyway they can and no fire services I reckon this is just something that's going to happen. We waved but did not stop. Got to Randy's place about twenty minutes after we left the house which would probably be better than a two hour walk or an hour's bike ride.

    We hollered up the house from the road and Randy came out with a carbine in his hand. We traded insults for a while and I introduced him to Lisa, none of them had met her yet. They've got their genny and water pump set up and so far seem to be doing OK. He hadn't kept his deep cycle battery topped off regularly and it self-discharged to the point that it won't take more than about a 50% charge now. He'd gotten a small battery to begin with so now he can't run his CPAP machine long enough for a full night's sleep so they're using the battery out of their van to power it. Guess they'll get by for a while like that but they'll need to find a better battery soon. Of course, between working hard all day and having to carefully watch his eating if loses the 100+ pounds he's needed to lose for about forever maybe his apnia will go away and he won't need the machine anymore.

    One of his projects of the last few days was to build a cubical quad antenna for our place so we took it with us. He reckons that if we can get it to about a thirty foot height and a fairly unobstructed view we ought to be able to talk direct point to point on the two meter radios. The map says eight miles between his place and mine. I told him we'd try to have it mounted by tomorrow noon and to call us then. He's got several of his neighbors on a CB net and says that everyone seems to be doing OK drinking water wise but that folks are likely to start getting hungry in another week or so. I think the horse population in his area is likely to go down. When you're hungry and out of horse feed that $20,000 animal is going to start looking a little different than it once did. I started getting itchy to be home so we left soon after.

    Returned by different and longer route and encountered nothing of note.

    The rest of Thursday was spent expanding the garden area to three times its present size. We didn't finish it then, it took Jim and I the better part of three days to turn and rake out the sod but we now have about 3500 square feet of growing area. Reckon we'll have to expand more but just now it's about all we can handle. Ann and Lisa built a chicken tractor so the birds can forage for more of their own feed without being exposed to danger. Damn good idea. I don't trust it to withstand a determined dog for long so come dark we'll put the birds back in the hen house which I built with dogs in mind but at least this way we won't have to put so much work into foraging for them. We just pull the thing to a new spot every hour or so going back and forth across the garden at first and later the field next to it. Long term I've got a better way in mind but it'll take some serious wire scrounging.

    Friday morning we got out my twenty eight foot extension ladder, ran it out its full length and used the four of us to walk it up the oak tree behind the house. I scaled the ladder and using heavy wire and pliers mounted a ten foot pipe with the antenna mounted to it to the strongest upper most limb I could get at. Jim estimates the antenna height at about forty feet. Looking off north towards Randy's house I saw a wide, heavy column of black smoke so I called down to Ann to fetch the field glasses out of the house. Jim used to do forestry work so I sent him up to try to estimate distance and we figure it's a forest fire some thirty to forty miles away, probably Baker or Union counties. There's quite a lot of planted pine up there and that area burned badly back in '98. Unless the wind blows the smoke down on us like it did back then it's too far away to be of immediate concern. With no forestry or fire services the fires will just have to burn themselves out.

    We got the radios hooked up and Ann made contact with Sharon (they're the ones with the HAM licenses) and exchanged news while Jim and I fired the genny, pumped water and charged batteries. Had about six neighbors including John and Jake show for water but it didn't take long to get everyone's water. We decided to have a neighborhood meeting Saturday night. The rest of Friday Jim and I spent slaving in the garden and the girls spent excavating in the shelter. I'm afraid it'll be a long time before gardening returns to being a pleasant hobby. Friday night Lisa thought of building a stand and setting one of the non-potable water barrels on it at about eight feet in height and using a siphon from the barrel through the bathroom window to fill the toilet tank. Had to wonder why I didn't think of it myself!

    Saturday morning Jim and I cut four sturdy young oak trees and trimmed the trunks down to about eleven feet in length. Naturally we hit another damned rock but we managed to sink four post holes three feet deep each and planted the poles. Using some of the trimmed off material we built the platform for the barrel and filled it at the noon pumping time. Worked like a charm. We're still keeping with our water conservation measure though - "if it's yellow, let it mellow. If it's brown, flush it down." Eventually I think we'll be dipping the septic tank out and using it for fertilizer but that's down the road just yet. Saturday afternoon we built a wood fire and cooked up about five gallons of soup. Mostly rice but with a couple of cans of beef and some dried carrots for flavor. With the soup on we all bathed in anticipation of the neighborhood meeting. I have to admit I was excited and nervous about what was going to happen.

    John and Jake showed up first. They contributed some dried beans to the soup, table cloths to cover the saw horse tables and John put two bottles of whisky on the tables. When Jake saw the bottles the way he licked his lips gave me pause but I decided it was unfair to judge a man on nothing more than that.

    The meeting came off rather well. Over bowls of soup we discussed communications between families using CB's (four families had them and I loaned out my two spares), the community water supply and the necessity to share certain kinds of equipment and skills for the good of the community. Somebody asked if this wasn't socialism and I said that it could be seen that way but it had often been done among pioneering communities and it didn't mean anyone had to give up their private property. The equipment still belongs to the owner but it was in the owner's greater self-interest to share the equipment so that everyone's survival chances improved. All who used the equipment would contribute towards its fuel or maintenance or upkeep. Being the local water source made my argument a little more persuasive so now Richard (the neighbor just this side of the deceased Mr. White) will allow each family to use his heavy rototiller to start or expand their garden areas (my back thanks you Richard!). Another neighbor (Stu somebodyorother) offered to help folks build cookstoves for those that needed them (he's got a lot of metal working tools) if he could get help with his garden. He has a back injury that prevents a lot of the heavy work. Mary, the single woman with two kids next door to John, is renting my rooster to service her six Buff Orpington hens in return for giving me half of whatever chicks that result. We shared the news that we'd gleaned off the shortwave radio which still isn't much and talked about our fears, hopes and future plans while killing off one bottle of whisky and a few shots out of the second. It was good and dark then and the mosquitoes were coming out so everyone went home. All in all it was a very positive meeting and I feel more hopeful. I'm still expecting trouble to come out of Gainesville when folks in town get hungry enough but so far so good. No feral dog problems yet, either, though I'm expecting one.

    It wasn't until we were cleaning up that we realized we couldn't find the second bottle of whisky.

  5. #5

    Day Eleven - Thursday, April 5, 2001, 7:00 a.m.

    <strong>Day Eleven
    Thursday, April 5, 2001, 7:00 a.m.</strong>

    Because it was Sunday we all decided to sleep in a bit so we didn’t roll out of bed until nearly 9:00 a.m. and my body said another seven or eight hours would have been fine with it! Richard showed up about ten a.m. with his big Troybilt rototiller so we burned up three gallons of irreplaceable gasoline going over the area that Jim and I had hand turned and then doing another 5,000 square feet for a corn patch about forty feet to the west of the garden area. That sod was tough and it took us both the entire day to get the job done but we’d have been a week doing that corn patch by hand. While we wrestled the machine Ann and Lisa raked up and moved a huge pile of oak leaves and pine needles to be used as mulch. With water being a precious commodity anything we can do to limit the amount we need for the garden is a good thing. Sunday night we were too exhausted to do much of anything but we did have a family thanksgiving with Jim giving the prayer. He’s the most spiritual in the clan so it seemed natural for him to do it. I cracked the seal on a bottle of my ten year old bourbon (whose like will probably never be seen again – alas) and we toasted our continued survival. Damn, it tasted fine but since I only have three bottles we limited ourselves to just one shot apiece and put the bottle away.

    Monday the girls finished the shelter excavation while us boys started raking over the garden and corn patch areas. When they finished they came out to take over the raking while Jim and I floored the shelter and then used old tin to line the interior walls. After that we took the garden raking back over and the girls stared raking up more mulch material. With 8,500 square feet to mulch it’s going to take quite a lot of leaves and pine needles to get a useful depth to deter weeds and water loss. The federal government finally came out of their hidey hole and WRUF carried a live broadcast by President Bush in place of their noon news. To no one’s surprise he declared martial law, stated that we had inflicted “devastating retaliation” on the Russian Federation, repeatedly emphasized that the U.S. would rebuild itself to its former glory and ordered all active duty and reserve military forces to “assist” civilian law enforcement agencies to regain control and establish order in any area found to be in anarchy. Reckon that would be pretty much the entire area of the nation that wasn’t blasted into subatomic particles. The entire speech lasted perhaps about ten minutes and then he went off. Didn’t tell us anything useful or new and never did mention where our new seat of government is located so I infer that “hostilities” with the Russian Federation are still ongoing. Gave no indication when we’d see any Federal help either. With the state the military was in before the war they may be as hard up as we are.

    Tuesday was pretty much more of the same. Jim and I finished raking out the garden and corn patches, shoveled out the hen house for fertilizer and laid down fresh bedding while the girls started marking off and planting rows. They also loaded the birds up with fresh greens. Reckon I’ve got about fifty five to sixty pounds of layer pellets left and maybe twenty five pounds of scratch feed. Probably get us into September or October before we run out but I want to stretch it for as long as we can in case we come up short on forage later. Ann thought up the idea of dragging a tarp across the top of the grassy areas to collect grasshoppers. They worked for about a half hour and caught a pint and a half of assorted grasshoppers, crickets and other bugs which they drowned in a bit of water so they wouldn’t get away when we fed them to the birds. We gave them half then and dried the other half in the sun to give them the next day. Probably won’t be able to collect that much every time but this could be a useful protein supplement for the poultry.

    Wednesday morning the women designed and built seed starting boxes out of scrap lumber and baked soil to sterilize it for starting seeds for the stuff we’re not going to put directly in the garden. We’re taking a risk planting this early, we sometimes get a last frost right about Easter but I don’t want to wait any longer. We’ll just have to pay close attention to the thermometer and be ready to cover anything that’s above ground if the temperature looks to dip into the thirties.

    Ann called up Sharon on the two meter while she was cooking dinner and the rest of us were pumping and hauling water. Sharon’s having difficulty producing enough breast milk for Danny (their five month old son) and is stressing out pretty bad. I was surprised to find they hadn’t stored more infant formula than they did so after discussing it with Ann we decided to give them half of our store of formula. Katie’s over a year and a half old now and can get along with the dry milk if we keep her fat intake up.

    Jim said he’d gotten two of the old bikes I’d stashed in the barn rebuilt (an evening after dark project), mostly just disassembling, cleaning and relubing but with new inner tubes and tires so we decided to save gas and take the bikes. He’s also thought of a way to use Katie’s wagon as a bike trailer so we’re going to modify it for the purpose but we didn’t need it for that trip. Ann and I tied on the formula, some baby clothes that Katie had outgrown that would be useful for Danny and a couple of Ann’s breast feeding books and left just after lunch. We elected to take the longer route I took on my return trip the first time since we would pass fewer houses and be less likely to run into trouble. I carefully marked the route out on the map for Jim just in case he needed to rescue us. We took one handheld CB and the 2 meter handytalky in the hopes that if we were too far from one house we’d be able to raise the other if we needed too.

    We left at about one p.m. and got to Randy’s place about three in the afternoon, mostly because neither one of us is used to riding anymore and we had to stop several times. Bike riding on pavement is fine but those damn washboardy dirt roads are a literal pain in the ass! Sharon gave Ann some work pants which she desperately needed, we swapped news and hit the road again. Seems like a different century when we used to go over on a Sunday afternoon for supper and a lazy evening discussing whatever happened to float through the room. The return trip was a bit shorter and we made it back about a half hour after dark. As quietly as the bikes ride it may be that riding at night is the way to go. Less likely anyone will notice our passing.

    We were just about to call it a night when I heard a voice calling my name from out on the road. Didn’t recognize it at first and then I realized who it was just as Jim said, “Alan, I think that’s Shelby!” I snatched up the backdoor Maglight, ran outside to see and my heart sank. It was Shelby alright and he had a woman and two children with him.

    There’s the breakfast call. Have to finish this later.

  6. #6

    Day Twelve - Friday, April 6, 2001 – 7:00 a.m.

    <strong>Day Twelve
    Friday, April 6, 2001 – 7:00 a.m.</strong>

    Yesterday being so momentous I’m making an early entry so that I can finish what I’d started to say about Shelby’s arrival. I was trying to decide how to deal with the turn of events, caught between elation that he was okay, and distress about our limited resources. Ann took the initiative, knowing that Shelby had previously always been a part of our preparedness plans, even though there were personal differences between him and her – differences that would have to be set to rest for everyone’s benefit. She shouted out a warm greeting, welcoming them in.

    When we got him and the woman and kids up to the house where we could see them in better light we saw they were a sorry sight. Shelby looked like he’d been on the losing side of a gang fight and the woman had old bruises on her face and neck. All of them were filthy. Jim put water onto heat over a fire in the yard so they could all bathe while Ann and Lisa started putting a meal together. Shelby gave the others first crack at the wash water and stood with Jim and I at the fire to talk with us. I broke out the whisky bottle and we passed it back and forth, sharing once again the water of life between brothers.

    It had been some time since either of us had seen him. He’d been slowly sinking to the bottom when we finally parted company and I had no idea where he’d been or what he’d been doing since the last time we’d met. He said he'd hit bottom there for a while and had been slowly pulling himself back up again. He’d moved out of the apartment that I knew he’d been living in to find a cheaper rent and had been holding a steady job for nearly a year. He still didn’t have a car but had been able to get along without one by using the bike I’d given him after he lost his Nissan in the accident - his job and necessary shopping were all within a few miles of where he lived.

    Monday being one of his days off he’d actually been awake and listening to the radio the night the war started while he surfed the net on his old computer. He always was a night owl. Somewhere around 2:00 a.m. 89FM broke into their jazz programming with a special news bulletin informing us that the Russians had rescued three crew members off their sunken sub in the Baltic sea, one of whom was a sonar officer. A Kremlin spokesman stated that the crew members were all emphatic that their sub had been torpedoed and that the acoustical properties of the fish matched those of an American torpedo. The sub got off a distress call after the first hit but was struck again moments later resulting in their ship going to the bottom. Only three crew members had successfully exited the sub when the second torpedo hit. Of course, our navy categorically denied having attacked the sub but the Russians accused us of violating their sovereignty and accused us once more of the Kursk sinking some months ago declaring that our deliberate attack on their submarine was an act of war. Shelby said that NPR reported that after having made that statement the Russians cut off all communications with the West.

    Around 3:00 a.m. another news bulletin relayed a statement from the State Department and Navy that we may have in fact torpedoed the Russian sub but the navy strongly emphasized that the Russian sub had attacked our boat first (one of our attack subs he thought but he didn’t catch the name) and it had fired only in self-defense. The sub skipper did not know why they had attacked but was very firm in his statement they had NOT been inside Russian territorial waters. Our boat had taken some damage but had not sustained any casualties.

    About a half hour later Shelby said NPR came on again with another news bulletin stating their sources in the Pentagon had told them the military had been ordered to a full Red Alert and that all active duty and reserve military personnel should report to their duty stations immediately. After the Red Alert statement he said he’d tried to call us here at the house but all he could get was a recorded message stating “All circuits are busy. Please try again later.” Given that it was 3:30 in the morning when nearly everyone in the country would have been asleep he thought it was strange that the phone system should overload so quickly but he never was able to get through to us. At approximately 4:30 a.m. he said the Emergency Alert System activated and gave a message that a National Emergency had been declared and informed everyone to immediately start storing drinking water, non-perishable foods, necessary medicines and to secure their homes against possible fallout. The EAS message shut off and NPR came on and reported that according to witnesses in the vicinities of our ICBM bases in the midwest the silo hatches had been rolled back. Other witnesses stated there was heavy air traffic leaving Air Force bases all across the continent. Apparently no one was going to be taken by surprise. If there’d been enough time to get here on his bike Shelby said he’d have ridden out here then but was afraid of being caught in the open if there were going to be nukes going off.

    Another news bulletin came across at about 4:55 a.m. reporting that there were running gun battles between police and groups of saboteurs who were attacking key electrical, telephone and telecommunication sites across the U.S. The identity of the assailants had not been confirmed but according to an F.B.I spokesman in Washington it was thought they were likely to be Russian sabotage teams who had been stationed here during the Cold War. I wonder if we had something similar going in Russia? I suppose we’ll probably never know.

    There were no more news bulletins after that. Shelby said his lights and computer shut off at 5:05 a.m. but he never heard or felt any blasts. I think probably we could have seen the sky reflections from the Eglin and Space Center nukes if anyone had been outside to look but he was afraid to go outside after the power went off.

    After the Red Alert had been declared Shelby had pounded a plug into his bathtub and filled it with water along with everything in the apartment that would hold water. He about twenty pounds of rice in the house and enough canned goods for two or three weeks so I guess he still had some residual preparedness habits though it was a far cry from what was needed. Shortly after dawn he heard shrieking and screaming coming from the apartment next door so he went over to investigate and discovered it was his neighbor Carol freaking out after she’d heard the news of the war. Apparently she and her husband had just divorced with him leaving for Miami several months ago and her family being in the Oak Ridge area of Tennessee. Her and the kids – Will is twelve and Amanda is ten – had all been asleep and woke to a power outage just like we did. It wasn’t until they turned on a battery powered radio that they heard the first news broadcast from WRUF after they managed to get their transmitter back on the air. We didn’t hear the first broadcast but apparently it was pretty panic stricken and it certainly panicked others as well. Carol was terrified for her children and had something of a breakdown. When Shelby went over to investigate he said she was all over him until he finally managed to wrestle her to the floor and force her to regain some measure of composure.

    Shelby and I are a lot alike in that we have a soft spot for kids so I suppose it’s understandable that he ended up taking them under his wing, such as it was. He managed to get some Benadryl into Carol to help combat her anxiety and hysteria while they discussed how to cope with the situation. Carol wanted to immediately load her kids up into her little Geo and go back to Tennessee until Shelby convinced her it would be impossible. Even if she had a clear road the whole distance she didn’t have enough gas to make it all the way and it would be highly unlikely she’d be able to get more on the road. The chances of a woman and two children alone traveling so great a distance under the circumstances were piss poor. Whatever she did would have to be done here. Everyone she knew here in Gainesville lived in town and most likely were having to cope with the same problems she had. The only reason she was in Gainesville in the first place was that she was a student at the veterinary college just a year from graduation and worked as a vet tech here in town. She said the stress of child rearing and coping with a wife undertaking a demanding field of study and working full time was what finally drove her marriage on the rocks and her husband had taken off with a freshman from Miami after it became known he’d gotten her pregnant. Really just another family falling apart like millions of others.

    At first things in town hadn’t been too bad. For a short while things had threatened to get ugly but the police were somehow able to get themselves reorganized even without their radios and the few outbreaks of violence and looting were quelled though the rules of engagement had changed since the police were far more willing to shoot suspected looters than before the bombs dropped. Shelby went around to all of other tenants in the complex and explained the importance of proper waste disposal and even managed to get several men to assist him to build latrines. They had to break into the groundskeepers shed to get the tools and they salvaged plywood and lumber from a construction site down the street but they got them built.

    Most people didn’t have drinking water but he taught them how to sanitize the water from Hogtown creek using laundry bleach. The idea of drinking water out that creek which runs through the middle of Gainesville makes my stomach churn but he said when they filtered it through folded tee-shirts and bleached it the water didn’t taste too bad. Fortunately they only had to do that for a couple of days before someone off-handedly mentioned that he had an undersink water filter and how much better the water from the filter tasted than from the creek! There was one more tenant in the complex with a similar such filter so Shelby was able to rig a filtering system to produce safe water and educated several folks in how to use the system and how to prolong the filter lives by prefiltering. With their immediate water and sanitation needs taken care the mood in the complex quieted somewhat.

    About a week after The Day things started to get tense again as many people began to run out of food and had to rely on the small amount of rationed food the local government was issuing from the stockpiles they had collected from local warehouses and grocery stores. Shelby said he estimated an adult's ration came out to between 800-1000 calories a day and you could only receive food from your assigned disbursement site where you had to show proof of your identity to draw your rations. Several people were caught trying to receive double rations and were arrested for hoarding. The two story apartment building across the street from him caught fire and suffered extensive damage before the fire department showed up. They had to pump water out of the creek but were able to eventually put the fire out. No one was injured or killed but it left fifty or sixty people homeless. He didn't know if they were able to find shelter or not.

    The night of the fire a mob formed in front of the Publix at the shopping center close to his apartment and over ran the police who were guarding it while city workers inventoried and loaded the food onto trucks to be taken to the central storage area. He said he thinks the police shot a number of people before they were overcome (and possibly killed themselves) but the grocery store was looted along with a number of other stores in the same plaza. When he went past the next day he noticed no one had bothered to break into the electronics store. There were still bodies on the ground in front but eventually the city collected them and took them away.

    That night things began to really get tense. There wasn’t any open gang activity that he knew about but you could hear gunfire all over town suddenly breaking out in bursts and then dying down only to be heard from some other direction. Shelby had no weaponry in the house other than kitchen knives and his ken staff. He’d sold his pistol, shotgun and rifle back when he was hitting bottom to pay for rent and groceries. He tried to convince Carol to leave with him that night but she was terrified of the idea of just leaving town to go someplace she knew nothing about so they stayed. The next morning they discovered that sometime in the night a thief had cut the fuel line of her car and drained the tank.

    By carefully rationing what food they had they were able to still eat but they took great pains not to let anyone know they still had food and they showed absolutely no lights after dark. For security he moved Carol and the kids into his apartment because his had only the one window (being the cheapest, least desirable in the complex). He tried to organize the other tenants so that they could mutually help themselves but with every day it seemed like someone would just leave without a word and the remaining tenants became less and less cooperative. Finally on the ninth night after the war started their apartment was attacked by a gang from the “economically depressed” neighborhood two streets over.

    He knew the complex on the street behind him had already been victimized and had hoped it would not spread to them but it was in vain. They locked the door and propped a chair under the knob but their attackers simply used a sledgehammer to smash the door out of the frame and came in. Shelby always had been pretty good with a stick and said he immediately put two of them on the floor but the third one pulled out a revolver and shot him. He said it was funny how time seemed to slow down as he saw the predator pull the little revolver out of the waistband of his baggy jeans and raise it up. As soon he saw it starting to come out Shelby went for a disarm with his staff but the punk managed to fire before he connected with the gun. Luckily for him the bullet struck the staff as it was descending and deflected it enough that it hit Shelby in the forehead at an angle rather than dead on or he’d probably have been dead. The blow knocked him unconscious but Carol said the descending staff did manage to knock the gun out of the fellow’s hand before Shelby let go of it.

    Naturally, once Shelby was out of commission there was nothing to stop them from doing as they would which was gang raping Carol. The three that he’d managed to hit with the staff worked Shelby over with it pretty thoroughly but with the exception of springing a rib and knocking out one tooth did no permanent damage. The predators had just stripped the kids to have a little fun with them too when by some miracle the police showed up. There was a brief running gun battle resulting in three of the gang being shot and the others surrendering. A female paramedic examined Shelby, Carol and the kids, took their report and left. She told them they could go to one of the local hospitals but to be honest they weren’t going to be able to get much help. The hospitals were triaging everyone on the basis of critical need and what they had to be able to treat patients with. None of them had life threatening injuries and there were literal dozens of rape victims in Gainesville now. If it made her feel any better the gang members who’d surrendered would likely be executed tomorrow down in front of the courthouse after they were given a summary trial. She could come and watch if she wanted.

    I can’t say that I’m surprised at their stories, it’s what we’ve been expecting. In fact, I’m surprised the local law enforcement have managed to hold what they have but being a university town the local PD did attract a lot of military veterans. They probably coped better than other departments did.

    Carol said that she boiled some water over a little camping stove to sterilize needle, thread, and bandages and then cleaned and sutured Shelby’s scalp laceration. She was afraid he’d have internal bleeding inside his skull but apparently the bullet hit at such a shallow angle it just tore a long laceration across his temple. It wasn’t until she’d tended to Shelby, dressed the kids and fed them some Benadryl to calm them that her shock wore off and she went nearly catatonic. Shelby said when he finally came all the way back to consciousness the kids were in bed asleep and Carol was curled up in a fetal position moaning. He finally managed to get a large dose of Benadryl into her to put her to sleep and he cleaned her up after she did. At that point he loaded up the last of their food, several gallons of water, all of their clothes and particularly their footgear and went outside to lash it all to his bike only to find it was gone – stolen by the predators.

    When everyone finally awoke he distributed the gear and supplies among them and told them they were leaving right now, on foot since they had no other way, to find us. They spent the last night in a garden shed behind a burned out house about five miles out of Gainesville and at first light finished the journey. He had wanted them to walk through the night but they were shot at from one house in the dark when the dogs in the yard began barking at them so he decided not to chance it again.

    Well, I said to Shelby, you’re here now and you’ve presented us a pretty problem. We’ve got shelter for you and water’s no problem but we’re already on tight rations until the first of our crops come in. I won’t ask you if that woman and her children are important to you, I reckon I know you well enough to see that in your face. Goddamnit, you’re my brother! I have to take you in and by extension your woman and her children but what the Hell are we going to eat when the food storage runs out before the crops start coming in?

    I hate to do it but it looks like we’re going to have to become looters ourselves. The Whitehall Cattle Company has a pasture full of beef not a quarter mile across those woods there and we’re going to have to rustle some of it and do it soon too. We’ll call up a couple of neighbors tomorrow and plan the operation out. Even one steer is going to be more than the entire family can cope with before it spoils so we’ll make a community project out of it. I imagine that Jake and some of the other families that were pretty hard up before the war started have to be fairly close to being completely out of food by now so this shouldn’t be a hard sell. Sure hope there ain’t no one guarding them cows because I sure don’t want any of us getting shot over them and I damn sure don’t want to have to shoot no one while I’m stealing them…

  7. #7

    Day Fifteen - Monday, April 9, 2001 - 7:00 a.m.

    <strong>Day Fifteen
    Monday, April 9, 2001 - 7:00 a.m.</strong>

    It's raining to put out the fires of Hell this morning and has been for over an hour now. We're proud to see it what with the drought and all, it'll save us having to pump water for irrigation. The only drawback is that the rain is coming from a late season cold front sweeping down out of the northwest and the REM count has started to climb. It's up to about 2.5 right now which is the highest it's ever been. They’ve noticed at the university too as WRUF warned everyone in their 6:00 a.m. broadcast to stay indoors while the rain is coming down. The hall barometer dropped a point and a half in under a day which seems to be giving some real strength to this front and it's obviously picked up quite a bit of dust as it swept across Texas which is now coming down dissolved into the rain. So far we're about as comfortable as can be expected here in the shelter. We've got the hens in a wire cage in the corner under a makeshift table where it's dark and the rest of us where ever we can find room. Between the barn roof over head, the shelter roof and the dryness of the ground because of the drought the floor in here is still quite dry and we're praying it will stay that way. What with so many people close by the baby has been quite content in her playpen. The plywood bunks Jim and Shelby built are allowing us to have more open floor space by keeping at least two people off the floor at all times. We're discussing how best to expand the shelter. Shelby thinks we can do it in a way that'll let us use the shelter roof for light storage so it won't be like we're having to sacrifice half the barn floor area. With six adults, two older children, a baby and five chickens we're looking like a bunch of Okies in here! More space is a necessity not a luxury.

    The morning after Shelby, Carol and the kids arrived (Friday) we went over to the home of the late Mr. White, opened it up and cleaned out the trash. Half of us worked on the house while the other half worked on the garden and mulch details. The place took a powerful amount of cleaning - I don't see how anyone could live like that but white trash is as white trash does to paraphrase Forrest Gump. We found an amazing stash of some of the raunchiest porn that I've seen since I left the Service which we threw on the burn pile. I hate throwing away any kind of paper but we don't want the kids getting into it. With enough sweeping and scrubbing the place didn't look half bad. If ever we can come up with some decent house paint it ought to look pretty good once we get the yard trash policed and the lawn and bushes trimmed. There's two scabrous old pear trees in the back just loaded with tiny pears which we were thrilled to find. I'll have to go over soon and thin the fruit a bit so we can have a good crop later.

    The problem of how we were going to cope with Carol's rape had me stonkered as it’s frankly outside of my experience but Lisa really came into her own on this one. She took three years worth of classes up to Wesleyan in Macon and majored in counseling and social work. She's been briefing us on how to help Carol to the extent that anyone can help her and by yesterday she was beginning to act just the smallest amount less fearful though I reckon it may take years to really do much good. She does seem to be made of tough stuff though because for all of her traumas she's still doing a very credible job of putting in a full day's work. Lisa tells us that it's best to keep her busy all day as it gives her less time to reflect and enables her own natural healing to do its thing. She bumped into Mary, the single woman with the Buff Orpingtons, and they seemed to hit it off which is good because Mary had been somewhat reclusive until now. Their kids are near to the same age so they play together when they're not busy with chores. They always come and get Katie to play with which thrills her no end. Watching the kids is doing us all a world of good in that it’s giving a visible reason for keeping up the struggle.

    On Saturday we spent the day planting the garden and corn patch, foraging edible wild plants and I had a quiet word with Jake and John about the cattle situation when they came for water. They returned that night at about 11:00 p.m. with John's one ton flatbed Ford. He'd disconnected the brake and interior lights and brought a manual winch. The two of them, myself, Jim and Shelby loaded up and went around by the hard road to the pasture gate near to the tree line. There wasn't any lock on the gate so we eased it open and went in. The moon was just past full in a cloudless sky so John pulled the truck up under the shade of the trees while we surveyed the scene. We didn't see any lights around the pasture which looked hopeful. Shelby was dressed in faded black t-shirt and BDU pants and we sent him off down the fence line along the hard road to survey in that direction. Staying down in the road ditch and moving at random intervals he really didn't present much of anything to be seen at more than fifty feet. Jim went along the tree line staying under the trees to scout in that direction. The rest of us waited at the truck. It seemed like hours but my watch said they'd only been gone about a half hour or so before they returned and said they couldn't find anyone but Shelby said he was pretty sure there was still somebody in the house diagonally across the pasture from us because at about a hundred yards from there he began to see faint light seeping through the drawn curtains.

    This was about what I'd expected so we executed our mission and one of Whitehall's steers. The cattle were about two hundred yards from the gate bedded down near to the treeline so Shelby and I stayed just out from under the trees to avoid making a lot of noise but near enough that we'd be difficult to see in the light of the full moon. I had my lever action .357 magnum with me loaded with a couple of 180 grain Keith type semi-wadcutters over powder charges that should drive them at about 1000 fps according to my reloading manuals. I really didn't want to be making any more noise than we absolutely had to. Shelby had wanted to simply cut the steer's throat but the group felt that sneaking into a cattle herd at night and cutting one of the herd members throats was a good way to get killed in a cattle stampede. As we approached the edge of the herd I pulled a three foot length of black painted PVC pipe out of my belt and slipped it over the muzzle of the carbine. I'd previously made two 2" vertical cuts in one end and that is the end I slipped on with a hose clamp that I tightened down with my Leatherman. I'd never done anything like that before and I was hoping that for at least one shot it wouldn't blow the PVC off the end of the carbine but would deaden the muzzle blast of the subsonic cartridges enough to not be so noticeable several hundred yards away across the hard road.

    The steer nearest to us and on the outside edge of the herd noticed us first and stood up as we approached. The moonlight was bright enough that I could clearly see through the ghost ring sight as I lined the front sight up looking at a white patch behind the cow's left ear and shot it at a distance of about twenty feet. The sound of the shot sounded like a cannon to me but Shelby said it was quiet enough that he plainly heard the slap of the bullet when it impacted. The rest of the crew back of the truck said they heard it but had they not been expecting it would never have recognized it as a gunshot. The steer let out a brief gassy bellow and collapsed. As soon as the rest of the herd bolted into the open pasture away from us Shelby ran forward and cut it's throat. John brought the truck up, keeping it under the edge of the treeline. He stopped at the point nearest to the cow. We put a stout rope around the hind legs and with a lot of effort the five of us drug the cow up to the truck. We field dressed the animal there to lighten the load and managed to get it onto the truck along with the head and guts, we didn't want to be leaving any more traces behind than we had too. Jim and Shelby used several buckets of water that we'd brought with us to wash as much blood into the grass as we could. Not much to be done about the tire tracks, just have to leave them. After that we loaded up and left the pasture as quietly as we could.

    We wasted gas by going in the direction away from the house and making a wide loop on the paved roads so that we could come to the house from the opposite direction. Maybe all of this intrigue and subterfuge was unnecessary but we were all feeling like a bunch of felons rustling cattle rather than a group of men merely trying to feed their families so were taking no chances.

    Jake has a chain hoist in his shed to we took the beef there for butchering. We debated whether we should save any of the organs for eating but even after I ran the meter over them with negative results we weren’t comfortable with the fact that there might be hot particles in them so kept only the heart and used the rest for fertilizer in Jake’s garden. John said he’d done a fair bit of leatherwork back when he was still in the service and thought we ought to tan the hide. He’s got seventy or eighty pounds of rock salt for his water softener which he’ll use to preserve the hide with until he can get it tanned. Sooner or later we’re going to need a source of good leather so I reckon if he’s got the interest we might as well start having someone learn how to do it now.

    With the weather being as warm as it is now we decided to go ahead and butcher the entire thing out right then before it could begin to spoil. We’d just emptied the freezer out and unplugged it a couple of days ago to conserve electricity but we decided to freeze as much beef as we could until we could preserve it some other way. Mary has a pressure canner and I’ve got one so we’ll have to canvas the neighborhood for as many jars and usable lids as we can find to can as much of the meat as we are able. The rest we’ll make into jerky or eat fresh and I’m going to try dry curing some with a bit of John’s rock salt. We kept all the bones, cutting them into lengths short enough to get into cookpots and distributed them among the neighborhood so that everyone could make soup of them. I was never very fond of beef marrow but that afternoon it tasted pretty good. We didn’t weigh it all but I reckon we ended up with about 400lbs of boned out beef into the freezer which absolutely filled it and required running the genny for close to twelve hours, stopping only long enough to give it a required oil change, until it was all frozen. Really hate running it that long as I’m afraid of breakdowns but we had to get that meat chilled. When we got home the girls started cooking the bones, later adding barley and foraged wild greens and some wild onions – the soup was delicious. Seeing as how it was Sunday I didn’t feel too bad when Jim, Shelby and I slept late after we got back!

    The rest of Sunday was spent planting the last of the garden and raking ever more mulch. At the rate we’re going there won’t be a leaf on the ground in this end of the county.

  8. #8

    Day Eighteen - Wednesday, April 11, 2001 - 7:00 a.m.

    <strong>Day Eighteen
    Wednesday, April 11, 2001 - 7:00 a.m.</strong>

    Spent Monday morning cutting the leanest beef into thin strips for drying into jerky. The work is tedious but with four adults doing the cutting we quickly went through twenty pounds of beef and hung each strip on the chromed racks that comprised part of our storage shelving in the back room. Carol and Lisa sewed covers out of nylon window screening to go over the racks to keep the flies off and we put the whole thing in the sun out in the yard. We'd have done more but that's as much as we could hang all at once. At night we'll cover it with tarps to keep the dew off but today is a clear, sunny, hot day so I don't think it'll take long to dry. I hope not because otherwise it will mold.

    Couldn't find anything specifically covering this in my books but we also took a half-dozen slabs of beef cut an inch thick somewhat like a London Broil, toweled them as dry as we could and then pounded salt into them before laying them on a bed of salt and then covering them over with more salt. The meat is thin enough that it should cure down pretty good before the center can spoil. Would love to have some nitrates but I hadn't stored any and it takes time and effort to make them out of manure which we need for fertilizer anyway.

    As we ate dinner we listened to the noon news on WRUF. It seems that China saw an opportunity to maybe get back some of what she lost to Russia way back when and sent troops west and north across their common border. Seeing as how us and Russia have done such an excellent job of mostly killing each other while China sat out I reckon it was to be expected. Russia warned China not to send any more troops across her borders or she'd respond forcefully to the provocation. After the report we discussed the matter and decided that with the garden all planted perhaps it would be a good time to start the shelter expansion in the barn.

    After the water call was over the Jim, Shelby and I got out the tools and started work in the barn while Carol and Lisa watered the seed boxes and the garden and corn patches. Everyone is eagerly awaiting the first signs of green sprouts. Ann took the kids and went foraging. Reckon it was about two o’clock when the dog started barking so I looked out the door and saw a car coming down the road towards the gate. We figured it must be fairly important for someone to be burning gasoline driving a car so I walked over to the gate to see what was up. The car was a late model Ford Crown Victoria and the fellow who got out appeared to be about 45 or so and bald down the middle. He had on jeans and a light jacket. There was another fellow of about twenty or so in the passenger seat and I didn’t need to ask him his name to know that he must have been the older fellow’s son.

    The car stopped just outside the gate and the fellow looked at me through the windshield for a moment then got out. He was smiling as he walked up to me and extended his right hand and asked “Are you Alan Hagan?” I allowed as much that I was and he said I was the man he’d been looking for as he drew a .38 snubbie left handed. “Now just keep still and you won’t get hurt”, he warned, “I’ve heard about you. Folks says you’re rich, that you’ve got water, food, even electricity! My boy here and I just want your gas and enough food to last for a couple of weeks and we’ll leave. So just slow and easy like raise your hands in the air and start walking towards the house so the rest of your people can see that I’ve got you covered.” I didn’t say anything for a moment as I struggled to keep my voice even and said, “Mister, I don’t want no trouble with you. Are you sure you want to do this?” He replied, “Of course I’m sure! Now shut up and get moving!” Not having any other alternative I raised my hands…

    I honestly can’t say I heard the shot I was concentrating on the gunman so hard. His face seemed to momentarily balloon outwards when the rifle bullet hit him in the forehead. Naturally the back of his head exploded outwards splattering onto the car windshield. The boy inside had a look of blank shock on his face for several seconds which was long enough for me to fumble out the .45 I’d tucked in the back of my belt underneath my shirt before I stepped out of the barn. He was just bringing his pistol up to clear the door when I started to fire. My damn hands were shaking so bad I didn’t hit him until my third shot which took him in the left side of the face. He fell along the front seat out of sight so I sprinted around the car to slowly approach from the opposite side from where I’d been and eased up close enough that I could see into the front seat. The boy was still thrashing and I couldn’t see the gun. I shot him once more straight through the top of the head and he stopped moving. I felt cold all over and realized I must be going into shock. I looked up and saw Shelby with a revolver on the other side of the car from me and Jim braced against the fence with the rifle. Kipling is one of my favorite poets too. Once we were sure there wasn’t anyone else in the car we opened the doors and pulled the body out. Jim told Lisa to go in the house and get the whisky which he handed to me and I took a large belt.

    It wasn’t the first time I’d had a gun pointed at me. Many years ago as a young man I’d been robbed one night when I was working the graveyard shift in a convenience store and the whole gamut of emotions that I felt then flooded over me once more. The muzzle of that .38 had looked as big as the muzzle of the 12 gauge sawed off pump the bandit in the store shoved in my face! I was grateful that Ann and the children weren’t here to see it. We could hear the CB blaring in the house so Lisa sprinted in to fill John in on what the shooting had been about. The whole thing from when the fellow stepped out of the car to the final shot couldn’t have lasted a minute. It wasn’t but another minute or so later that we could hear Ann hollering as she and the kids ran towards the house, naturally she’d have heard the shots. Fortunately Carol thought fast and intercepted them before they could round the barn and told her we were all alright and took the kids into the house. Women are passing strange at times because as soon as she saw for herself that I was OK and cried all over me she got angry with me for letting that fellow point a gun at me! I will never understand the way women think.

    There being nothing for it we took the bodies off to the far edge of the corn patch where there was clear ground away from the trees and dug a grave. We debated digging two and finally just dug one and put both bodies in. We put a good two feet of rocks we’d dug out of the garden on top of them and then backfilled the hole with dirt. Jim did a reading from the Book of Common Prayer and that was that. Just for the record the two deceased were Martin R. Woodbridge age 46 and Victor M. Woodbridge age 21, both from Newberry. Mr. Woodbridge had been an insurance agent and the younger had been a student at Santa Fe Community College. Neither had anything on them to indicate a Mrs. Woodbridge and the next of kin listed a Janet Parker of Atlanta, Georgia so I don’t reckon we’ll be notifying anyone. While we were digging the grave Carol went in to be with the kids and Ann and Lisa took some water over to the Ford and cleaned it up so that we could move it. All the digging probably did me some good because it gave me something to do with the massive adrenalin dump that was still coursing through me so bad that I could not make my hands stop shaking.

    Of the deceased’s property the only useful stuff we found were the two .38 Taurus revolvers, about 200 rounds of ammunition, their clothing, a tent, two sleeping bags, some cooking gear, and a half-tank of gas. I suspect that we were the Alpha and Omega of their careers as highwaymen. We pulled the car around the other side of the barn in case we decided to salvage it later. Lisa thought perhaps we should knock off for the day and I didn’t really resist much. By the time we’d gotten the bodies buried it was going on six anyways. Ann and Carol cooked up another big pot of soup of which Ann practically forced me to consume three bowls. The rascals conspired not to wake me for my turn at watch.

    The next morning’s news was still ominous as we went back to work on expanding the shelter. We talked as we dug and ultimately decided that it had been inevitable someone would try to rob us. Were we not so far out of town we’d probably have had to deal with this sooner and with things getting tighter and tighter it was likely going to happen again. Looks like we're going to have to do something to restrict vehicle access through neighborhood and start keeping a much better eye on the road. Probably ought to have a neighborhood meeting so we can work it out.

    We broke for lunch at noon and the other shoe finally dropped. China had made an armored spearhead thrusting towards cutting the Transiberian railway and Russia nuked them and another column moving towards cutting off whatever was left of Russia's resources in Vladivostok. Reports are really confused but it seems the Chinese upped the ante by nuking what they thought was the Russian East Asian military headquarters - heck maybe it really was. It took about five seconds for Russia and China to start nuking each other in earnest after that for which we should all be grateful the U.S. did not involve itself in. I'm still not clear as to why or how India became involved nor exactly who it was that nuked her though I suspect it was the Chinese. I'm not sure if Pakistan decided to try and finish India off or if India decided to take Pakistan to Hell with her but from what WRUF has been reporting it sounds like for a brief while there was a four way nuclear firefight going on. I suspect that once one side realized they were badly hurt they figured it was in their best interest to make sure their enemies were just as badly hurt even if they hadn't initially been involved in the war. It's unknown as of yet just who popped the EMP burst over eastern China but they sure as hell fried all of Japan when they did it. There were no direct attacks on the Japanese but the pulse has devastated the islands and they seem nearly catatonic with shock. Confined to Asia as the entire shooting match was we're thinking we shouldn't get any significant amount of fallout here but we've decided the shelter expansion will be the top priority until it's finished. We redosed everyone in the neighborhood with KI just to be sure of their iodine levels. Have to be careful about doing this too much but this one extra dose I reckoned shouldn't present any problems. Fortunately no one in the neighborhood has thyroid problems.

    We spent the rest of the day working on the shelter and are probably two thirds done now. With six adults cranking out the work things move much more quickly now. I've developed a passionate dislike for digging.

  9. #9

    Day Twenty Two - Easter Sunday, April 15, 2001, 9:00 a.m.

    <strong>Day Twenty Two
    Easter Sunday, April 15, 2001, 9:00 a.m.</strong>

    Finished the shelter expansion Wednesday afternoon. It's now twenty feet long by twelve feet wide with six and a half feet from the top of the pallet floor to the bottom of the roof. This has used up all of my lumber and all of the old tin on the place plus what we scrounged from White's place. The entrance way has a nice ninety degree bend in it before reaching the shelter door and we have four air vents. Bunk beds line one wall. If necessary we can fire the generator on the barn porch to charge batteries while we’re inside the shelter but it's not something we'd do except in extremis because of the attention attracting noise it makes. Fairly cool in there so if ever we are able to stop having to store ourselves in there it ought to be good for storing food. The seventy two degrees of ground temperature is a lot better than the high nineties we get in midsummer.

    Spoke with the neighborhood during water call about the robbery attempt and our need to improve security. John has a fair amount of combat experience so he said he'd survey the neighborhood to find the best places for look outs. We're fortunate that we have only the one road coming through the neighborhood so anyone wanting to actually get into the areas of our homes would have to come that way or on foot through the woods. We're going to use vehicles to block the road so that anyone wanting to come down the road will have to do a hard zig-zag to get between them and that's where we'll put our pole gates. We'll let the air out of all the tires so they'll be more difficult to move out of the way. The actual lookouts will be in the woods off to one side or another. The road shoulders we'll trench out or block with something. John said we should have put the Woodbridge's heads on spikes by the road with a sign saying they were highwaymen but the looks on Ann and Lisa's faces were enough to convince me not to even open that discussion.

    Wednesday night the shortwave reception was pretty good so we picked up news from several stations. No radio communication has come out of Pakistan since the free-for-all started. They weren't a very big country to begin with so didn't have much area to soak up a lot of hits, particularly if any of them were dirty. Several Indian stations have reported but none so far claiming to be an official source. Bomb damage is reported to be catastrophic as the Chinese struck hard at their industrial and agricultural areas. There appears to have been a shake up in the government of the PRC as the official government station keeps mentioning government officials that were not the same officials as before the war. The Russian government appears to be intact (or so they say) but is reporting virtually no real news so it’s unknown as to how bad they’re hurt from the fresh attacks. With so few nations able to come to anyone's assistance now I would not be in the least surprised if the casualty rate in Asia will be measured in the high hundreds of millions. Once again the Black Death has come upon the world. So far Australia, New Zealand and South Africa are the only industrialized countries that have not suffered major damage in the war. This might be the start of the ascendancy of the Southern Hemisphere nations to global domination.

    Thursday Mary and John's wife Martha came over and with Ann, Lisa and Carol and spent the day firing and running our two pressure canners. First time we've ever done it over a wood fire but once we got to where we could keep a consistent heat things smoothed out OK. Between our place, Mary's, Shelby's place, John's, Richard’s and Stu's we managed to come up with eighty four pint jars and ninety four quarts comprised of an assortment of canning, mayonnaise, and any other jar that would accept a standard or wide mouth canning lid. Some years ago I had slowly started converting a lot of my non-gallon glass jar storage over to canning jars for this purpose so we had quite a few jars on hand. Many of them had dry foods still in them that required us to transfer them into other containers but we had the jars. At the rate we're eating up the food storage the decreased storage life doesn't bother me.

    The women started an assembly line process to cut up and partially cook the meat, pack it in jars and into the canner, then unpack the canner and start the process all over again while rounding up fire wood and keeping the fire going. Martha ran the whole show with humor and efficiency. She's been all over the world as a soldier's wife but she grew up on her father's farm in Iowa so none of this was new to her. She reckoned from dawn to dusk with two canners continuously running it would take a good three days to use up all the jars and she was right although the last couple of canner loads Saturday night were done well after dark. That used up a fair bit of the freezer beef. They also cut up more meat for drying into jerky. We sampled a bit of the first batch and pronounced it first rate! It has now all been packed in a five gallon bucket with a hefty amount of desiccant inside to draw off the remaining moisture so that it will keep. I think we’ll soon be able to repack the freezer with fresh beef or just unplug it again. A backup generator just now would surpass the value of all the gold ever minted but so far Jake has kept ours running right along. Still makes me nervous to be so dependant on one machine though.

    That same Thursday I sent Shelby over to get with Stu and build a couple of cookstoves in return for us coming over later and working his garden up for him and getting his own corn patch in. Jake came by and serviced the genset. We kept lunch until water call and the whole neighborhood sat down and had soup and cornbread for lunch. After lunch John, Jake, Jim, Richard, and myself put in to moving vehicles to block the road at both ends of the neighborhood and used John's flat bed to move large boulders and stumps to cover the shoulders. John thought that as time permitted we should trench behind the line and mound the dirt up on both sides so that we could get to and from the vehicles without exposing ourselves. Sounded good to me but it'll mean more perishing digging!

    Friday the women worked with the canners again, John went over to investigate the cookstove operation at Stu's and helped them finish our two to gain experience to make one for him and Martha. Richard already had a woodstove and said we ought to be putting some time into felling wood for next year's fuel supply and he's right. Jim being a natural for it he and Richard went off to survey the area for the trees we ought to cut. I spent the morning with Will working on Stu's garden and on the way back for lunch passed the Bishop house.

    It's been three weeks now since the war and we haven't seen any sign of them yet. It doesn't appear that White tried to break into the place so everything looks to be intact. I radioed up to the house that we were going to stop by and that we'd be a bit late for lunch. Will and I went through the gate and approached the house. At about ten feet from the door I got a good whiff and my stomach rolled over. I was hoping that it was just food spoiling in his refrigerator and freezer but I was afraid that perhaps someone had been home all along. I tried the front door and it was open. I pushed the door open and the smell was so bad it made me wretch.

    I sent Will to the house to fetch a cup of gas and two dust masks and waited until he got back before attempting to enter. We put a few drops of gasoline on each mask and put them over our mouths and noses. Burned like hell until our noses went dead and then we went in. There in the LaZBoy recliner was Mr. Bishop. A 1911A1 .45 lay on the floor next to his chair and I stepped on an empty shell casing when I came through the door. The body appeared about the way you'd expect it to appear for a man shot through the head and left sitting in a recliner chair for three weeks in the steadily warming weather and that's all I'm going to say about it. We did a brief look through every room and found no other bodies. He was retired and the absence of his wife would explain the empty space on their carport. His big Chevy truck was there but the little white Chevy sedan John said his wife drove was gone. There was a half-empty bottle of Johnny Walker Green Label on the coffee table in front of him and under it was a piece of paper I realized was a note. I told Will to start opening every window and door in the house while I went over to pick up the paper and took it outside. They were the last thoughts of Mr. Daniel Bishop. <blockquote>"I am not a coward, no matter what you may think from what you see here. I spent eight years in the Army and fought the length of Korea giving ground and taking it. I've seen death, been wounded and dealt death. It holds no mysteries nor fear for me any longer. Nevertheless, a man must have some reason to live in order to find any value in the struggle for survival and now that Mankind has finally committed his great Act of insanity I find I've run out of reasons. Rachel has gone to New York City to visit our son Dan Jr. and his wife Deidre so will not be returning to me. My grandson Carl is in the Navy and was so proud of the promotion he had just gotten to the fleet in the Med and my granddaughter Heather had just written us from L.A. about her new job as a commercial artist. None will ever return to me now. When a man's posterity dies with him he is dead entirely. I have no worries about the afterlife. I've seen so much Hell here on this Earth that I no longer believe in one somewhere else. We each create our own Hell and carry it with us. It is finished. If there's anything here worth the taking you can have it. Daniel Bishop, Sr."</blockquote> I looked back into the house and realized that this meant I'd have to dig another grave. I hate digging.

    We left the house and scrubbed ourselves pink in the wash barrel once we got home and broke the news. The Bishops had been fairly new arrivals and no one knew them very well except for John who'd spoken to him at the mailbox a couple of times. The world has seen death on such a massive scale these last few weeks that I find it difficult to find much sorrow or remorse for a neighbor I never knew other than to nod to. His note has reminded me though that I do have quite a lot of reason to continue this struggle so he did me a service there and I won't begrudge him the time it will take to dig his grave.

    After dinner Will and I returned to the Bishop house with a couple of shovels and the mattock and scouted a likely place in the backyard under a green and pleasant dogwood. Having dug a couple of graves now I had some good idea of how to go about the job and with Will to spell me we got the hole dug in about three hours. He's really turning into quite a young man. I've never heard him complain about any job he's been given and he's always willing to go and do so long as he's with one of the men while he's doing it. Reckon we ought to maybe recognize that sometime soon.

    Mr. Bishop's recliner had rolling casters under it so we elected to simply leave him in his chair and just rolled the entire thing out onto the patio. Out there we gently rolled him onto an old tarp and moved it to the grave. Kind of difficult for a man and a boy to lower a grown man into a grave so I'm afraid that part was a bit undignified. I sent Will to the house and he returned with Jim and the others. Jim read several passages from the Book of Common Prayer and led a prayer for Mr. Bishop and that was that. Ann and I had bought the Prayer Book when we were planning our wedding because it had the wording for a wedding ceremony in it. Seems like now it's mostly useful because it has the words for a burial service as well. The men pitched in to filling the hole and then everyone went back to their respective tasks.

    While were at the house for dinner I had grabbed several pairs of heavy rubber gloves so Will and I put them on and pitched into cleaning out the refrigerator and freezer. The house still stank pretty bad so we just tied the doors shut and rolled them both outside using a handtruck. Don't know if we'll ever had electrical power for them again but I didn't see any point in just leaving them with rotted food inside. We made a quick trip through the house and removed anything else that had decayed. We found a likely spot in the back yard and put the recliner chair in it. In the utility room we found a gallon can of mineral spirits so I had Will go around and collect up a large pile of downed branches and pine cones to pile up on the chair and then poured the solvent on it and set it afire.

    Jim showed up about then and said he and Richard had marked the likely trees so Richard had gone back to his place to overhaul his chainsaw and sharpen his chain. We went into the Bishop house and gave it a good going over to see what was worth salvaging. I take no joy from the death of any man but Daniel Bishop bequeathed unto us riches that considerably gladdened my heart. In the master bedroom (the house had only two bedrooms) there was a small steel gun cabinet for which I found the keys on a ring in a desk tray on the dresser. Inside was an M1 Garand, an older model Savage bolt action in .30-06 with a Weaver four power scope, an old Remington 513 bolt action .22 and a Ruger Mk. 1 .22 pistol. Ammunition amounted to 8 clips of M2 ball in a WWII web belt (64 rounds), 3 boxes of 150 grain softpoints, two boxes of G.I. hardball for the .45 along with three more magazines and Winchester Super-X .22lr hollowpoints to amount to one box shy of a brick. I decided to give John the Garand though it was a wrench to do so. He doesn't have a center fire rifle and I suspect he probably trained with the Garand back when he was a recruit. The Savage I would give to Shelby so that every adult would now have a center fire rifle. I gave the 1991A1 to Jim for his sidearm. The little Remington 513 I had in mind to give to Will for his birthday coming up in another month after I discussed it with his mother. He'll be thirteen then and ready for his rites of passage into manhood.

    The rest of the house yielded other riches. In the boat there were two fairly new looking deep cycle trolling batteries and Glory be to God! - a photovoltaic battery trickle charger! Take a long time to bring a battery up that was deeply discharged but at least we'd be able to keep the radios alive if we run out of gas to fuel motors with. I think we'll probably haul one of the deep cycle batteries over to Randy's so they won't have to use their car battery for their radio and his CPAP machine anymore. There's also two boat tanks of gasoline, maybe about ten gallons worth and another full five gallon can that was probably for his mower. The truck yielded a further fifteen gallons for a total of about twenty five gallons. There were assorted yard and garden tools that we left but we took the little trailer for the garden tractor. I think we can modify it into a bike trailer. There were also two beach cruiser type bikes that looked like they hadn’t seen a lot of use and a CB radio in the truck. Inside the house in the second bedroom that apparently Mrs. Bishop used as a sewing room we found a very nice electric sewing machine but what made my heart leap was the old Singer treadle machine. My grandmother and mother both had Singer treadle machines but this one looked larger than I remember theirs being. Quite a lot of fabric, thread and needles too. Well, at least we'll be able to go clothed a bit longer. Ann and Carol had both brought up the subject of clothes for the kids last night.

    Saturday we spent felling trees and cutting them into movable lengths. Much of it we split into stove wood where we felled it to make it easier to move. Killed a rattlesnake outside the hen house, he was good sized at 4 ft 6 inches. Will wants to tan the skin. We also got the cookstoves that Shelby and Stu built installed in Shelby’s place and ours. They built the fireboxes oversized so they could be brick lined inside to protect the sheet metal of the box. We fired ours up and it worked like a charm. Right now we’ve got it set up on the barn porch which is serving as something of a summer kitchen but next winter we’ll move it into the house where we can benefit from its heat.

    It's 9:00 a.m. now and the cooks have just about got breakfast to the table. Will just came back from visiting with Chuck, Mary’s thirteen year old son, and has informed us that one of her Buff Orpington hens had gone broody and was setting a clutch of ten eggs and she had twelve more incubating in her oven where the pilot light would keep them warm. This gave an upbeat tone to the day and it got better when Amanda ran into the house and informed everyone that the corn, field peas and beans were breaking ground. Even in this valley of the Shadow of Death that Man has fallen into life is once again renewing itself! Being Easter Sunday we all slept in late and Jim will be preaching an Easter Service this morning for the neighborhood - any and all faiths invited. Jim says we have to do something about getting a real preacher so I snatched the shade off of a lamp and put it on my head, wrapped a table cloth around my shoulders and smacked him on both shoulders with a flyswat all the time spouting fractured Latin and pronounced him the Bishop of Alachua County fully authorized to preach the gospel to the masses, bless weddings, sanctify burials, baptize babies and promote the general welfare so help me God! The whole family doffed their headgear, placed their hands on their hearts, shouted AMEN!!! at the top of their lungs and commenced to singing hymns until Jim threw in the towel and said he'd go quietly.

  10. #10

    Day Twenty five - Wednesday, April 18, 2001, 7:00 a.m.

    <strong>Day Twenty five
    Wednesday, April 18, 2001, 7:00 a.m.</strong>

    We took it easy on Easter Sunday not doing anything more strenuous than watering the plantings, doing laundry and riding over to Randy & Sharon’s place with one of the deep cycle batteries. We hooked Katie’s modified wagon to my bike and loaded the battery into the wagon along with a couple of pounds of frozen beef wrapped in insulative material to keep it from thawing. The wagon/battery made a noticeable drag on the bike but it wasn’t too bad and we made it in the same two hours the first trip took. Their garden is really coming along and they’ve gotten a very large part of their immediate area organized with radio communications using CB’s and the FRS radios. No problems with looters so far but two burglars were shot in their immediate neighborhood. With our own immediate problems resolved I think perhaps it’s time to widen our community back home as well.

    With close to three and a half acres of pasture for just the one animal their horse seems to be doing OK without grain to feed him and Randy says he’s going to try riding him over to our place soon so we marked off on his map the routes we’ve tried. He says there’s a rumor out of Archer that the old Maddox foundry is going to try to produce hand water pumps. I reckon it ought to be a simple enough matter to make a water pump if you have foundry equipment and a man who understands sand casting. He says they’re experimenting with firing the crucibles with wood and charcoal. No results so far but folks are hopeful. Reckon maybe we ought to be thinking what we could trade to acquire one or more of these pumps if they’re able to produce them. Could go a long ways towards reducing our electricity needs.

    Sunday night all Hell broke loose in Gainesville again. Apparently the local authorities had been told the Feds were going to be bringing in truckloads of corn and soybeans requisitioned straight off the farms and grain elevators but they failed to show up by the promised delivery date because of difficulties of finding enough trucks and fuel. Don’t know who let the word out they were coming but it got out and when the trucks didn’t come a food riot broke out. The police, National Guard and some neighborhood militias managed to get matters back under control but twenty five people were killed and a fair part of southeast Gainesville burned. No word on the number of wounded but there were probably a lot. The daily ration in town has stabilized at 800 calories, at least for now. Shands still has limited electrical power but has pretty well run out of antibiotics, anesthetics and most other consumable supplies. With the medical college and the other technical schools there the faculty is looking into producing their own antibiotics and anesthetics. Probably be pretty crude stuff but I reckon it beats Hell out of none at all.

    Early Monday morning a large twin rotor helicopter painted gray (Navy?) over flew us heading generally south so it seems perhaps the federal government is showing some signs of life after all. WRUF reported that various military units would be moving through the area measuring radiation levels and that so far the Alachua county area was pretty clean relative to the areas up near the Georgia line and further south down around Orlando and Tampa. A large number of refugees from the Orlando and Jacksonville areas have been housed in the University buildings which threatens to spark more food riots if something doesn’t happen soon to alleviate the food shortage. John and I spent most of Monday morning widening our contacts with others in the local area and managed to get four more houses into the radio net and there is a meeting planned for Wednesday night for the general area at the church over at the corner of our road and the county road heading off towards Archer. From the sounds of it I think we’re the best organized of anyone in the area so it’s likely we’ll be the ones getting the rest of them organized. We met Tuesday night at the house to discuss organization plans. The rest of Monday we all spent cutting, splitting and stacking wood along with foraging edible wild plants. We’re starting to have to go fairly far afield for this now so I’ll be glad when our gardens start producing. The new road watch system is working out OK and I stood my first turn at it Monday night.

    Tuesday morning was upsetting. Two truck loads of National Guard troops came out to the Whitehall pastures along with a half-dozen semis with cattle trailers and loaded up all of the herds. When Chuck, Will, Amanda and Cheryl (Mary’s 10 year old daughter, Chuck’s sister) came running up to tell us about it I hustled on down right away. This is exactly the reason why I was in such a hurry to get one of those steers slaughtered because when Shelby said there was food rationing in Gainesville I figured it wouldn’t be long before they started casting their nets into the country side for whatever they could find.

    There was a lieutenant in charge of the detail and I spoke with him about perhaps leaving us some of the cows since we were depending on them too but he said he had orders from North Florida Military District HQ at Camp Blanding outside of Starke to pick up all of the Whitehall herds. I didn’t even know there was a N. Fl. Military headquarters but I suppose it stands to reason they’d create one under the circumstances. We talked around it for a while and I eventually managed to convince him to leave us two cows still in milk and four calves so the community would have something to live on and his troops rounded up all the rest. Watching a bunch of troops who’d obviously never worked cattle trying to load them into the trailers without the benefit of stock chutes was pretty funny and I had to struggle not to laugh. I carefully picked out two healthy looking cows and their calves and two healthy looking calves from other cows making sure that three of the four calves were female and one bull calf. The rest they’ll probably end up slaughtering pretty soon but ours are going to be the start of a new herd though if we have to we might slaughter one grown cow once the calves are weaned. I sent Will and Chuck back to the house to fetch ropes which I fashioned into impromptu halters for the two grown cows and the two calves that didn’t belong to them. We led them back to the house with only a few moments of our own hilarity when the creatures decided suddenly to go elsewhere than where we were going. I’d forgotten how difficult a cow can be when it comes to her calf.

    After talking it over and surveying the land we’ve decided to rerun the fences between my place, the Bishop’s and White’s to create as much pasture as we can since we have no feed for the cattle. With all of the herds gone off the Whitehall pastures I’m thinking in a couple of months we might be able to cut hay from them. Going to have to think about this a bit. No one has a scythe that I know of so I’m not sure how we’re going to do the cutting. I’ve got that old reel mower that we could probably rehabilitate but I’m not sure if it’ll cut hay. Got to have that hay so we’ll have to come up with something even if we have get out there and cut it with butcher knives.

    Tuesday afternoon another weak cold front moved through and dropped about a half inch of rain. Maybe this means this wretched drought is finally starting to ease. The REM count went up to about 3/10ths so we moved the kids into the shelter and we all either worked in the barn or the house so our exposure ought to be minimal. Can’t do much about it falling on the garden, we’ll just have to make a point of thoroughly washing/scrubbing everything before we eat it. John came over about dark along with Richard and we brainstormed plans for how best to organize the greater neighborhood area. There’s a family on the far edge of the area from us with a hand pump on a shallow well and it’s been serving as the focal point for that local area. From the map it appears they’re just at two miles from us which puts pretty much the entire area we’re trying to organize between us and them. I don’t know if they have a radio or not but we’ll have to make sure they get one. If we can get communications and defense worked out for this area we’ll effectively control both of the roads that pass through and should be able to keep out any large group of hostiles should they ever come. Richard says that talk has it there’s something of a market springing up in Newberry at the Little League fields. If we can get two trailers rigged for the bikes this is something we should investigate. I think we’ll likely produce enough fresh vegetables that we could afford to trade some and still have enough for immediate consumption and for preserving for later.

    There's still a huge potential that everything may fall apart anyway, most especially if there's anymore bombing, but for the first time I'm beginning to actually feel hopeful we're going to get through this.

  11. #11

    Day Twenty Eight - Saturday, April 21, 2001, 7:00 a.m.

    <strong>Day Twenty Eight
    Saturday, April 21, 2001, 7:00 a.m.</strong>

    For the first time in what seems like decades Wednesday proved to be an uneventful day. Mostly we spent it working on the winter wood supply, weeding the garden and corn patch, foraging what ever wild edibles we could find, and surveying and planning future outbuildings and land use. We spoke with Richard who lives between us and White's place and he's agreeable to refencing his back field to make it a part of the pasture for our newly acquired cattle herd in return for a bit of the beef when we finally are able to slaughter one. He doesn't have any grazing animals of his own so the field was just becoming grown over. He has cattle experience and has agreed to help us keep the health of the herd up. I spoke with him about the possibility of milking one of the cows once the calves were weaned and he thought that it would be quite a trick to accomplish since they're not one of the dairy breeds and not accustomed to being milked but if we could come up with some sort of cow "crush" to hold the animal still we might eventually train her to being milked. Probably wouldn't yield a terrible lot but it would be something for the kids anyway who need the calcium and would take the pressure off of our rapidly diminishing stock of dry milk.

    He also had a pleasant surprise for us - tobacco seeds. He said he'd gone up to some pioneer days kind of thing in Georgia two years ago and had bought the teaspoon of burley tobacco seed along with a bunch of the usual pioneering ways booklets and stuff, had stuck the seeds in one of the booklets and had just forgotten them until he came across them again looking for info on pre-power machinery agriculture. We're going to try germinating them and see what we get. Neither Richard or anyone in the family smokes but tobacco has a number of medicinal and veterinary uses and if we can produce a product fit to smoke we ought to have quite a barter item. There's still a few old tobacco barns around Alachua county so I suspect there's still a few old tobacco farmers around here as well so we're going to start casting around for one for advice.

    Thursday morning got off to an ordinary start and then got interesting. We had just finished breakfast at about seven thirty or so and I went out on the porch to drink my coffee (not much left of it - alas) when the radio light up with a call from the look out - a Hummer had pulled up at the roadblock and several uniformed troops got out so I trotted right on over to see what was up. Turns out they're part of our local National Guard outfit (engineering, I think) and I was afraid we were about to have problems if they were coming for our supplies or something so I told Ann to get on the horn and alert the neighborhood - just in case. They had a scanner in the Hummer because I was just coming into earshot when I heard John's voice coming back telling Ann he's sent the message on to the more distant parts of the community. No surprises for them and none for us is what I was hoping for.

    Turns out it was the same lieutenant (J.G. Watkins, Jr.) that had been out the other day to pick up the Whitehall herds. He had been tasked to start covering the counties to find any neighborhoods or communities that had managed to get themselves organized sufficiently to restore order. Since we'd spoken earlier he'd come here first before heading into the more unknown parts of the county. I came straight to the point with him and asked why the government wanted to know and he just grinned and said that it was because they wanted to know where they needed to concentrate their attentions. If we were organized enough to keep order then they wouldn't have to commit resources here to keep the peace and they could assign them to the areas that were continuing to falling apart like a fair part of Gainesville, Ocala and some of the other area towns that were fragmenting due to infrastructure failure.

    I mulled this over for a few seconds and decided to take him at his word and become a part of his solution rather than a part of his problems so I told him about how we had things organized, roughly how large an area we had organized and where I thought we'd be in another month or so and that so far as keeping the peace was concerned we were doing OK with that, one burglar killed and two highwaymen disposed of. He looked a little concerned at that so I supplied their names, circumstances of their death and where we'd buried them. I think this reassured him somewhat because he said that some time in the future someone would be out to take a formal report but if I had witnesses who'd corroborate my story that would probably be that. There had been so many killed in the last month in the act of looting, robbing and whatnot that the government was mostly just trying to keep track of names, dates, and circumstances.

    We then discussed our roadblocks and who we were letting through and who we denied passage to and I agreed we'd let all legitimate traffic through provided they didn't present any threat to the neighborhood security.

    Once we got past our law and order problems I told him that if the government ever did actually come up with food shipments that we had a number of folks who were living off little more than wild greens and mush made from ground animal feed so we'd really, really appreciate any food assistance we could get until our own crops started coming in. He replied that he couldn't make any promises but that they were told every week there would be grain and soybean shipments coming, none of which had arrived so far due to fuel and transport difficulties, to include outright pitched battles to hijack the trucks, but sooner or later they would get through and there would be food distribution then. If folks had corn meal mush made of feed corn and wild greens to live on it was still more than many folks in town had where there wasn't a cat, dog, pigeon or squirrel to be seen. He mentioned there would be an informational meeting in Newberry Saturday night at 6:00 p.m. for any organized communities he could find where they would explain how to set up contact methods for the local authorities, any means of assistance or support that could be provided (damn little just yet, but would be increasing by and by) and what we could do to assist the greater whole in restoring order to the North Florida area. I said we'd have a delegation there for sure.

    Once he left I returned to the house and got on the horn to call a general neighborhood meeting at water call and called the folks over to the county road to tell them what had just happened here and gave them the gist of what I'd agreed to. Friday night we're going to have our own greater Buffalo Pond community meeting to discuss what our collective positions would be when we went to the meeting in Newberry the next night. Over dinner I got on the two meter with Randy to tell him what had happened, what we'd talked about and that we should come up with some positions to strengthen our mutual interests. I said I'd call him back late Friday night after our Buffalo Pond meeting.

    The rest of Thursday we spent making repairs on the house and barn and putting away ever more wood. Starting to get that old tendonitis again in my right elbow so I reckon I need to let someone else do more of the splitting before it gets so bad again that I can't use it.

    Friday morning gave us a real start when the 6:00 a.m. WRUF news broadcast came on. The G*ddamned Cubans have invaded! Where in Hell they got the idea to invade us I don't know but according to the report, later reconfirmed at the 8:00 o'clock broadcast, they landed an estimated 10,000 troops at points ranging from Homestead on the East Coast all the way over to Naples on the West coast. From the description given by the Florida Air National Guard aerial reconnaissance it sounded like a Dunkirk evacuation in reverse. They must have fair emptied Cuba of every seaworthy vessel on the island to load and transport that many troops, equipment and supplies in one night starting at just past midnight until roughly about 8:00 a.m. when we nuked the three Cuban port cities that had been used to launch the invasion flotilla. With the nuclear threshold having already been leapt I don't know what they thought was going to happen but we showed them forcefully that putting troops on U.S soil was not going to sit well with us. On the shortwave that night Radio Novy Moscow (the old Moscow no longer being in existence) cheered on the invasion and promised full cooperation and support. With the damage we've inflicted on them I don't know what kind of support they can really offer but I'm sure the Pentagon (where ever it is they've holed up) must have gotten a bad acid squirt about it.

    We kept someone standing by all day with the radio to keep us up on news. So far as the government has reported no more Cubans have been landed and we've got complete air control over south Florida and all sea approaches, or at least so they say. After all these decades of Cuban expatriate groups burying weapons and training all over the Glades, the various swamp rats, crackers and militant anti-social types that have been slowly infiltrating into the swamps for the last century I imagine the Cubans must be having quite a party. Probably all kinds of things coming up out of the ground to be used for their reception. I wish them the joy of their Everglades experience and sure do hope they don't manage to make it out of the swamp.

    We were all kind of distracted as we went about our daily work but we managed to get through it to the Buffalo Pond community meeting that night. Right off the bat we decided to first discuss the Cuban problem and then the Saturday night meeting in Newberry with the local authorities. With fuel and transport being as difficult as they are and the Cubans still being some three hundred miles to the south of us we eventually decided to just bide our time and see how far they get. We are all going to inventory our available weaponry, ammunition, web gear, backpacks and so on. John and a half-dozen other combat vets said they'd start giving all volunteers some basic military training in fire and maneuver in the evenings and on Sundays. If the Cubans look to reach a line with Tampa we'll put as large a contingent together as we can and head south. If we're going to have to fight a war inside a war then we'd rather fight it in somebody else's yard than our own.

    We'd held our own family meeting earlier to decide who should go and it got a bit contentious. Eventually we more or less came to a détente that Jim would stay because of his back injury of several years ago and his bad eyesight and Shelby and I would go. Frankly, I'm not sure if Shelby will make it either if his asthma comes back on him again but he's game to try. Will made a pitch to go as well to the utter dismay of his mother. That boy is making us proud but I can't, just can't bring myself to take a twelve year old boy (nearly thirteen! He says) into something like this so we cheered him a bit by telling him gravely that the place was too big for only Jim to handle and really needed two men in the family which meant him. He didn't really buy this but he put his best face on and accepted it. Ann and Lisa pulled me to the side that night and pointed out that I needed to be putting some thought into making Amanda and Cheryl feel like an important part of the community too! With my only child (thus far) being a daughter I suppose they have a point. Reckon I'll have to think on it a bit.

    With the invasion occupying as much of our attentions as it did the discussion about what to do about the Newberry meeting was much less contentious than I feared it would be. Basically our attitude is that we can keep our own area peaceful so we need no troop presence and we will not cooperate with any attempt by the government to inventory our supplies or equipment. All we really want is to just give us some assistance in improving our potable water supplies and whatever food aid they can supply. I passed this on to Randy Friday night late and he said it was not much different than what his group settled on after their own visit from the Guard late Friday morning.

    The 6:00 a.m. Saturday morning broadcast reports the Cubans have managed to reach lake Okochobee and are encountering heavy resistance by National Guard forces, "local militias", and what units of active duty federal troops that were able to reach there from Georgia and Alabama. A storm front has passed through the area (should hit here this afternoon I reckon) and under cover of the storm the Cubans managed to land fresh troops (probably no more than a thousand or 1500) and supplies at Naples. Once the front passed enough that we could more clearly see what was happening we nuked the port the flotilla launched from. Many of the West Indies islands are screaming about the nukes as is Mexico.

    All these years I was prepared to have to cope with looters, burglars, even a repressive government but I never thought we'd have to repel an invasion! Sure hope they get those Cubans stopped before they reach Tampa…

  12. #12

    Day Thirty - Monday, April 23, 2001, 7:00 a.m.

    <strong>Day Thirty
    Monday, April 23, 2001, 7:00 a.m.</strong>

    Saturday was somewhat tense because of the war news but there not being much we could do about it just then we tried to go on with our lives. We still can't conceive of what the Cubans think they're going to gain out of this invasion. Surely they don't think they can actually hold any part of Florida? So far it's a mystery to us.

    We had a bit of rabbit depredation in the garden so I put the kids onto it to formulate a plan to see what they'd come up with. I already had something in mind but wanted to give them a chance first. Shelby and Jim modified the Bishop's garden tractor trailer to serve as a bike trailer for the trip into Newberry. It's a single axle trailer which ought to make it easier to pull than Katie's wagon. We thought we'd swing by the Little League fields early in the afternoon to see what we could see in the market area. Might as well get a feel for the place and figure out if there's anything we can trade with. Being mostly recon this time we're only taking a few boxes of .22's, a couple pounds of sugar and a stack of old parenting magazines. It'll probably be a little while before we really have much to trade.

    Randy called us on the two meter to shoot the breeze about our plans for heading south if the Cubans make it to Tampa and we agreed that we should link our two groups together. Looks like we might have enough to make a reinforced platoon between the two communities, maybe a bit more than that. Sounds like everyone has a rifle and ammo in the more common calibers .30-06, .308, .30-30 and 7.62 x 39 with a couple of oddballs like 6.5 Swedish and .243 but they all have at least 100 rounds of ammo apiece for their weapons. A quartermaster's nightmare to be sure but it's a come-as-you-are war.

    He says the Maddox people have had their first successful melt at the foundry using homemade bellows to pump the fires with and home made charcoal for fuel. They poured a half-dozen pump body molds and are doing the grinding/polishing now. If they can make functional pumps I think the Maddox people are likely to get rich.

    We left the house at about 1 p.m. for town - myself with the bike trailer, Jim, John and Richard (all on bikes) and made it to the Little League fields at just past two p.m. We looked kind of comical since the others hadn't ridden a bicycle in years and the new trailer kept doing odd things to my balance. Seems that much of the trading is done and over by noon but there were still a few holdouts. Wasn't in much of a hurry to trade anything but I did manage to swap a box of .22's for a 26" bike tire and another for two tubes. I never did have enough of those put away. Fellow ran one of the bike shops in Gainesville before the war and managed to get his stock moved out before things really went to Hell. He lives with his brother between us and Newberry now. He really wants another .22 rifle and is willing to make a good trade for one. I've got an old Sears (Marlin) single shot bolt action that I might be able to let go of but I'm going to have to think on it a bit. Firearms of any type just now are priceless.

    The meeting went better than we expected. The county commissioners that were there explained how they were setting up CB and FRS radio nets using a number of the large radio towers across the county that had been used by commercial broadcasters. Even a handheld CB ought to be able to hit one of their antennas just about any where in the county since they're all three hundred feet or better in elevation. Still not much that the authorities can do for us, the "troubled" areas have pretty well got their attention and most of the military resources are now being directed south but if any area comes under an attack it cannot handle by bandits or highwaymen we are to call them on Channel 9 and they'll send "tactical" resources to assist. Who knows how long it would take them to arrive. We're not counting on them too much in that area.

    Because safe drinking water is so strongly in the public interest the county commission says it is negotiating with the Maddox people to subsidize the cost of the water pumps to make them more affordable. With no money and their ability to tax nearly non-existent I don't know what they're going to give the foundry folks but we'll all be waiting to see what they can eventually work out. This could be the first time the county has actually ever done anything for me other than get into my hair. The commission rep also says as soon as attention can be taken away from the invasion to the south the government will be able to provide more in the way of help. He said the war news was good and that the Army had assured all Florida county governments the Cubans would not be able to advance north of the lake but that they did not yet have the resources in place to drive them off the peninsula. No mention was made of any desire on the part of the authorities to tax our food, equipment or other resources and the meeting broke up after that. I had the feeling that much more had been originally planned to discuss but the war forced a lot of plans to be tabled. At the end of the day we received little in the way of help but didn't lose anything either so I guess we're ahead on points.

    When we got home Amanda and Cheryl presented me with their rabbit solution - a half dozen snares and two box traps. They'd found the instructions in one of my old books and decided to give them a try since the boys had jumped on the idea of staying up at night with guns to kill the rabbits. I allowed as to how we could implement both solutions at the same time.

    The next morning we had two tired boys with one rabbit to show (taken with only one shot!) and the girls had no rabbits but to our surprise their box trap had taken that pesky armadillo that kept getting under the house. One of their snares they'd put on a game trail near to the garden had also had something in it but whatever it was had escaped. Shelby used to fool with those things upon a time so he told the girls that he'd work with them on improving them. Reckon this allowed them all to save face but I think this snare and trap business is likely to provide more meat than sitting up at nights with a gun because many can be set at one time and no one has to be there all the time to make them work. When we dressed the rabbit and the armadillo out the diller came up to better than twice as much meat. The girls beamed all day.

    Maybe I have been neglecting them.

    Sunday was fairly quiet with a light rain (non-radioactive) so we did laundry, cleaned house, repaired tools or equipment and started a reading circle. Each person got to choose a book they wanted read aloud and we put the titles all in a hat and drew the first one to be read. Given our circumstances I thought <I>The Lord of the Rings</I> would be a good story to read because it is a tale about struggling against great odds and hopelessness and winning through in the end. As luck would have it that was the name that Amanda drew. I read them an hour of it and as each evening will allow will read an hour more until it's finished then we'll draw another title. We've been so starved for music or any sort of entertainment that even the adults sat quietly and paid attention as I read aloud. Ann says I have a deep, resonant voice that works well for reading aloud but she's my wife so I figure she's biased - she has to listen to me like it or not. I was surprised to learn that both Lisa and Carol had never read the trilogy before though I wasn't surprised to find the kids hadn't. The rain continued so we spent a fair part of the afternoon combing the family library for practical projects that would benefit us and that we could come up with the material to build.

    The four o'clock news was not good. Apparently the Cubans managed to flank us and are in the process of rounding Okochobee. The land gets progressively less swampy north of the lake which may work against us. Reports from the front indicate that a high percentage of the invading forces are actually Nicaraugans. Still can't figure what they hope to get out of doing this, it's already cost them big and is just going to get worse. I suppose it should come as no surprise that a number of people living down there have gone over to the enemy. Quite a lot of recent arrivals down there and with the war having pretty well having wrecked everything they must have been pretty hard up so perhaps they're going over as an act of desperation. Won't keep them from being hung when they're caught. Many of them are acting as guides for the invaders which is part of the reason why they managed to bypass our forces.

    I was having difficulty getting to sleep (my back was really hurting) so I was out on the porch about ten minutes till eleven waiting for the eleven o'clock last news broadcast when the northwestern horizon suddenly lit up and started getting brighter. I was only seeing the sky reflection but there wasn't any doubt that it was a nuke! Not sure what the target was but it seemed to be a couple of hundred miles away. Fortunately, it was not a high altitude EMP burst so the radio didn't fry. We really need to not leave our radio antennas extended all the time, the war is obviously still on and the damned Russians might just dose us again with another EMP attack. Gonna be a problem about our CB and FRS net though.

    About ten minutes later the news came on and the first reports about the latest bombing came in. The target was Tyndall AFB at Panama City apparently a short range missile from a Russian sub in the Gulf. The navy says they're hunting the sub now and expect to sink it shortly (we'll see). It's been weeks since the last bombing and we'd hoped it was all over but it seems the Russians thought up something they could do to support the Cubans after all. Tyndall had a large coastal surveillance radar there that could see Cuba via sky-bounce and the Russians kindly took it out for them. The Governor has ordered everyone in Tallahassee and all areas east of Panama City to take shelter. I put a fresh battery in the survey meter and if it begins to give any reading we're going into the shelter ourselves. Finally managed to fall asleep somewhere around 1 a.m.

  13. #13

    Day Thirty three - Thursday, April 26, 2001, 7:00 a.m.

    <strong>Day Thirty three
    Thursday, April 26, 2001, 7:00 a.m.</strong>

    Monday was another fairly good day despite the war news. We finished resetting the fence and now have about six acres of improved pasture for our two cows and four calves and can probably expand into another four acres down the road. We've had no more rabbit depredations so the one the boys got must have been the one I think and the girls took another armadillo in their traps and a raccoon in one of their snares. I had never been very fond of coon before but this one tasted pretty good after we soaked him in salt water for a few hours. Eventually they're likely to take a possum and I’m going to have to confront my long-standing policy of NEVER eating a possum. What the heck, soak him in brine, pressure cook him and put enough hot sauce on him and he'll be delicious - I hope.

    The bedding plants have gotten big enough to transplant which the women did and we men cut and split ever more wood. There's a band of oaks that we want taken out for more pasture/cornfield and improved visibility that we're working on. Too many trees for this year's wood needs (as best as we can gauge it) so it'll probably take a few years to really clean them out. There's only a few truly large live oaks in there which we're going to leave since we don't have the equipment to cope with a five foot diameter tree. One of them is pretty well situated on a slight rise so we're putting in a ladder and platform in the top. You can see damn near the entire Buffalo Pond community from up there and still not be immediately noticeable. We're also running a CB antenna up there that we can hook on of the handheld units up to. The tree is nearly in the center of our holdings so it would be a long-rifle shot for someone not on the property to reach the platform. Naturally, the kids love this.

    The six o'clock evening news broadcast was dour. The invaders have reached the north end of the lake on a line between the town of Okeechobee and Arcadia on state route 70. The Cubans have learned to be careful about sending large flotillas out since we've nuked four ports so far and they are now sending things piece meal from every little inlet and harbor making for a difficult situation. Maybe we're running low on nukes or they just don't want to nuke every little coastal village in Cuba I don't know. The navy and coast guard are sinking/capturing what they can but many of these boats are very small and don't make much radar return and they're making the trips at night. Must be a hell of a loss rate for them but they're still coming and Haitians are starting to show up as well as Dominicans. Starting to look like the entire damned Caribbean basin is coming over. Not getting much help from out west since the Mexican border is proving very porous so those states are preoccupied with their own concerns.

    They don't come right out and say it but the Army is in a bind. There's only so much fuel and trucks left and they're having a hell of a time prioritizing. If they send troops and equipment south and west to fight the invasions they don't have much left to ship food and other vital supplies to the surviving metropolitan areas which then start rioting because they're all starving. Those same metropolitan areas contain many of the industrial resources that are vital to the war effort and rebuilding the nation. If the rioting gets out of hand they have to send troops and equipment to quell it which are then not heading south and west to fight the Cubans and other invaders so they find themselves in a nice circular loop. Meanwhile the Cubans are working their way steadily north.

    Tuesday we went in early to Newberry to trade. After discussing it within the family I decided to strike a deal with the bike fellow for the Sears single-shot and two bricks of the Winchester Wildcat .22's that I'd put away years ago. In return we got a new three speed beach cruiser, a complete rebuild on all of the family bikes, four more new tires, six more new tubes, three patch kits and baskets and cargo racks for three bikes. Quite a haul for a gun that I got for nothing and two bricks of .22's that I paid only about $19.00 for five years ago. No one in the area is trading guns for anything so he was feeling desperate. Maybe when the invasion is over guns will be (relatively) cheap again. We also picked up nails, nylon window screening, some new bits for our brace, couple of tubes of anti-fungal cream and a quart of Sevin concentrate for the garden. I was a bit surprised at how cheap the Sevin was. Perhaps folks haven't thought through yet how valuable insecticides are going to be.

    With Newberry being more or less equidistant between High Springs, Alachua, Archer and Williston the Little League complex there is slowly becoming the regional trading area for western Alachua, eastern Levy and Gilchrist counties with a few folks coming from further out. No one seems to want to go into Gainesville for this kind of thing so Gainesville folks are coming out. Less threat of robbery I suppose. Anyway, because of this the county commission and North Florida Military District HQ out of Camp Blanding over to Starke have set up their own little huts there.

    The county commission has struck a deal with the Maddox folks to supply them with their fuel (wood to make charcoal from), some raw materials, and some labor in return for lowering the price of the water pumps they're building and allowing them to assign to specific areas 50% of all pumps they make for the first year or so. The idea is they're going to start making sure that every area in the county has a hand pump on a safe well near enough that the majority of the population will be able to travel to it get safe drinking water. Makes sense I suppose, beats outbreaks of dysentery, typhoid and cholera. The kicker is that the county is going to tax us to supply all this stuff. The details are still being worked out but so far it sounds like every family will be assessed on the basis of its able bodied adults which we can pay either in a certain number of hours of labor or in raw materials like wood, scrap iron or steel or other necessary materials. I'm thinking that White's ratty old Toyota is still in the driveway over there and the Crown Vic that we took off the highwaymen could both supply a fair amount of cast iron that we can't do much with and still leave us the good carbon steel parts for our own use. I'll discuss this with Jim and the women so they'll know what I have in mind in case I don't get back real soon from down South.

    Tuesday night the news reported the invader's advance had been stopped at the Peace River just north of Arcadia with the Cubans falling back to regroup for another try. The county sheriffs have been deputizing groups of locals to free up the National Guard troops they'd been relying on to keep the peace in the troubled areas so we have been able to get more trained troops to the front. Our older combat vets here in the community who aren't physically fit to go south are going into Newberry tomorrow to volunteer to be deputized and we decided that Jim should go with them since he's had military training as well. Hopefully we'll never have a situation where all the men will be pulled out of the area at the same time but the fact of the matter is that the National Guard around here are about to be ordered south whether the local law enforcement is ready or not. The women all have sidearms and there's a shotgun, a lever action carbine and various .22 rifles as well so it'll just have to do. I really, really don't like this but it's the best we can do just now. I spoke with Randy and agreed to meet with him in Newberry the next morning to discuss our link up.

    We got off early so some of the men could get some trading in before heading back and I met Randy at the National Guard hut. Turns out the local brigadier out of Blanding HQ was there and he told us he is putting out a call for volunteers to be announced Wednesday with volunteers to report to the Little League fields on Saturday. He questioned us at length about our respective groups and told us he'd integrate us into the Alachua county force he's putting together. Randy was Regular Army with two tours, the last as an officer, so the general took him in and made him a captain in the artillery which is probably just as well because Randy really can't hump a pack through the brush all day anymore. The artillery is a rather motley assortment of old Guard equipment and a few pieces belonging to private collectors but it beats none at all. More is expected down from Ft. Stewart but he has no idea when it will actually show up.

    For my part I must admit astonishment. My military experience was that of an Air Force medic but the general said that if I had the initiative to organize my own community's volunteer security force like I did then he'd make me a brevet 2nd lieutenant with a permanent rank of E5. I protested that I did not have the military experience for such a thing and that besides I had the benefit of the older combat vets in my community who helped me to organize. He said "Son, that's why I'm going to give you a sergeant. He refuses to take a lieutenant's bars and would have a hard time leading a sailor into a whore house but he's forgotten more about running a platoon than I hope you'll ever have to learn. You listen to his advice and be out there in front. If you can work a map and a radio you'll be as equipped as half the men I'm sending down. Oh, by the way, you'll have to shave that beard."

    Yeah buddy, another lieutenant who doesn't know anything but who has to take his men over the top. At least my platoon sergeant and squad leaders will be trained men. The rest will be hapless recruits like myself who either served in military capacities that did not involve much (if any) combat training or never served in the military at all. I suppose that this really isn't any different than my ancestors faced who served in the Revolutionary War and what my great-great-grandfather faced in the War Between the States. Badly trained, badly equipped and ship them to the lines as fast as you can get them there. He told me to report back in Thursday (today) at noon. He's got a small staff of retired and handicapped vets who are going to give the Alachua county force as much training as we can absorb before we get sent off.

    We went home and broke the news. Everyone knew it was coming but it didn't make it any easier. We'd already assembled our web gear and weapons so there really wasn't much in the way of packing to do. Kind of strange in a way. It was just a couple of months ago before the war (seems like decades now) that I'd ordered that M1923 cartridge belt and M1912 cavalry holster because I thought it would look cool to wear them to the range and now I'm wearing them for real. I'd given Shelby my SKS and the bandolier for the ammo strippers that I'd made to go with it. We worked over our leather gear and inspected our weapons. We'd decided that since we were likely to have to carry all this stuff on our backs for a long time we'd best keep the load light. I'm figuring it might well be at least a few days before we head south so if we've forgotten anything we really need we'll be able to retrieve it before we ship out. Supper was a very somber affair.

    It's Thursday morning now and Shelby and I have decided there's little point in hanging around any longer so we'll just head out with the rest of my unit. The girls have fixed us an excellent breakfast and packed us five pounds of jerky and pinole' apiece in our packs. We're going to share a drink of whisky before we go and then move out.

    I hate long drawn out goodbyes.
    Last edited by A.T.Hagan; 05-14-2005 at 08:48 PM.

  14. #14
    Commentary thread for this story:


  15. #15

    Day Thirty six - Sunday, April 29, 2001, 7:00 a.m.

    <strong>Day Thirty six
    Sunday, April 29, 2001, 7:00 a.m.</strong>

    Not really sure when I'm going to get to make entries once we ship out but Ann insisted I take this journal with me and she'll keep one of her own too so that maybe someday we can collate the two together.

    Other than telling Shelby I didn't mention my shiny new commission as I figured it'd be better for the general or whoever to do it and I was half-hoping maybe they'd change their mind. Thirty men from the Buffalo Pond community answered the call and twenty five from the Watermelon pond area where Randy lives. I was surprised that they were turning anyone down for duty but the retired doc doing the inspections sent five home saying the Army didn't have the resources to treat the real wounded so it did not make sense to send those who wouldn't even make it to the front before they needed a medic.

    It had been decided that we'd train as a unit except for some specialized stuff that only a few of us would get like codes and the like as this was also going to be a our unit shake down. We're shipping out this morning (Sunday) as soon as transport shows up. There wasn't time for physical training to have any meaningful effect other than making us exhausted so the entire PT routine was abandoned. Our time was spent on familiarizing with commands, fire and maneuver, weapons familiarization, radios (what there was of them), map reading and the like. Only got to fire a few rounds from the M60 and M2 .50 caliber (shortage of ammo) but they were great! Spent a lot of time going over loading, unloading and clearing. Takes months in peacetime for the Army to teach this stuff and we got three days to pick up what we could, the rest we'll learn on the way down or at the front. Damned expensive way to educate a green lieutenant but there is no choice.

    About eight o'clock Thursday night they let us quit for the day so I wandered around the camp to see if I could find Randy. Eventually I did find him over by the artillery park. To my astonishment he was supervising the cleaning of a battery of six civil war era cannon. I asked where the museum pieces had come from and he said they represented half of the pieces under his command! Old they may be but they'll still fire canister and grape and with the critical shortage of artillery they're having to use anything they can lay their hands on. Turns out that there were six Civil War re-enactor artillery crews in the Alachua, Gilchrist, Levy and Columbia county area so the Army drafted them all and their cannons. These fellows really can load and fire these things and are teaching others as well. Randy figures if the war really carries on it may come down to the Maddox foundry casting cannon like they did way back when the last time a war was fought here in Florida. I noticed a trimmed piece of palmetto stuck in his hat and recognized it as the Palmetto Cockade from the time period and asked him about it. He said they'd picked it up from the Civ-War guys and all the artillery group was wearing them now. He gave me one and I said we'd wear them too. Silly thing to be sure but it makes me feel better. It's been 136 years since Florida sent troops like this to defend the state and I suppose it's good to remember those times again. Tallahassee was the only Confederate state capital not to surrender to the Union and we'll be damned if we'll surrender to the likes of the Cubans!

    We bunked these last couple of nights in a warehouse near to the Little League fields with the enlisted men in tarp shelters nearby. Be a lot worse when we're in the field so I'm not complaining. Friday morning was more of the same as the day before except for training on the radios and codes. Reckon the years of using radios doing security work and studying for my Ham license helped there as I didn't have too much difficulty with them. Took me a bit to get the hang of map reading but I eventually caught on. Met my sergeants and squad leaders Friday morning. My platoon sergeant (the one who wouldn't take a lieutenant's bars) was a very large (6'4", 250lbs and none of it slack) black man named (I kid you not) John Tyree. I thought the major was pulling my leg when he introduced me to him but Tyree showed me his military I.D. and sure enough that's his name. Well, I reckon he's not the first Sgt. Tyree to get a green lieutenant through his first battle and keep his platoon together. Privately Major Hall told me Tyree had a gambling problem and I'd have to keep an eye on that but otherwise he could be counted on. Since Shelby came in with me on Thursday and showed some proficiency with radios, maps and codes they made him an assistant squad leader. All of my platoon sergeants and squad leaders have had some modicum of military training (many sporting brand new stripes), most of the assistant squad leaders have had some form of military training and the rest have had no prior military training at all. Well, I suppose men have gone to war with even less training so we'll just have to make do with what we've got.

    Saturday morning the mustering in took place. I ended up with a platoon of forty eight - mostly my guys from Buffalo Pond, the crew Randy recruited from Watermelon Pond and a sprinkling of others from between Newberry and Archer. The county produced about 300 all told which isn't bad I suppose given the circumstances. With Randy's artillery the lot of us were put down in the books as the Alachua battalion. Everyone was wearing the Palmetto Cockade in their helmet bands (helmets and BDUs being just about the sole items of equipment everyone had in common) which I reckon was Randy's doing. I told the sergeants and squad leaders to get everyone familiarized with their gear, to make sure everyone had a working weapon and ammunition for it and make sure we had complete records of exactly who they all are, where they come from and who their next of kin are. I reckon the Army probably recorded all of that as well but I wanted to make sure WE had it. The rest of the day was spent in dry fire practice for familiarization and fire and maneuver across the fields. Not quite one day of practice. I've had acid heartburn since yesterday morning and no amount of baking soda seems to help it.

    The 6:00 a.m. Sunday morning news was all bad. There's more food riots going on in Alabama and Georgia so we're still not going to be seeing much help come down from there as the available troops and transport is being used to quell the riots and ship food to the starving. We're not going to get any more gear if the factories up there are burnt up by starving rioters but we can't fight NOW if they never send us any supplies! To make matters even worse the Cubans have broken through the lines and are now into Sebring generally following U.S. 27 right up the center of the peninsula. Seems like the war is mostly rifles, machine guns, small mortars and knives with anything larger being pretty scarce so I suppose we're going to be the heavy infantry coming in. Total federal active duty troops down there amount to about one brigade of non-mechanized infantry, whatever National Guard units could be found, collected together and sent down (mostly support units for active duty combat units) and "local militias" which seem to be mostly groups like us with even less organization. The Air Force and Army aviation units do lend some support but they're suffering from severe fuel, munitions, and parts shortages so only the most "high priority" targets are attacked. Air superiority doesn't mean much when there's little to put into the air.

    Here comes the trucks or I should say buses. Looks like they've "requisitioned" about a dozen Alachua county school buses for us troops and a varied assortment of semi-tractor trailers and flatbeds for our artillery and supplies. Big old yellow school buses to carry us all to war in - just like the field trips we used to take back when we were all in school. Need to shut this off and get the men into formation for loading them up.

  16. #16

    Day Thirty eight - Monday, April 30, 2001, 11:00 p.m.

    <strong>Day Thirty eight
    Monday, April 30, 2001, 11:00 p.m</strong>

    Getting the troops, cannon, gear and supplies loaded up back in Newberry on Sunday was a Chinese fire drill which is about what everyone expected it to be but eventually everything was hoisted on and tied down. While we were waiting for them to finish loading the cannon John rode up on his bicycle. He looks kind of funny wearing a plaid shirt, shorts, sandals, and a sheriff deputy’s badge – kind of like a retired Matt Dillon who’d moved to Florida. He laughed when I told him that. I asked if he’d come down to see off the troops and he said as much that he had but also to deliver a letter from Ann. I thanked him for it and tucked it away in the breast pocket of my BDUs. He said that he and Richard are drilling the women in firearms use and simple site defense, something that Ann pushed them to do, in case they had to if they were there by themselves. I told him that I reckoned even if they were there the women weren’t going to be content with hiding in a hole and he just grinned and nodded his head. “You’d better be prepared for a change when you get home! Them women are already figuring out for themselves they can fire a rifle just like the men can.”, he boasted. Hope so because I sure don’t like leaving with no men there over thirteen or under 60 but it can’t be helped. The last of those old muzzle loaders was finally lashed down so I had to get on the bus. John threw me a crisp salute and after a moment of being startled I managed to return it. One more thing I don’t do as well as the real soldiers.

    We finally got the whole show on the road about noon and headed south down I-75 to Ocala it turns out. We stopped off at the airport there and joined up with their battalion of about 400 men and three cannon of various sorts. They even had a couple of single engine aircraft that were going with us to act as reconnaissance spotters. I asked why we didn’t have something similar coming from Gainesville and Tyree said it was because some moron set fire to the hangers on the private air side of the airport and damaged most of the aircraft. What could be salvaged was sent down to Ocala and will be coming with them to serve as parts to keep what aircraft we have in the air. Took until about five that evening to get everyone back on the road and we stopped once again at state road 50 in south Sumter county to join up with another contingent of about 350 from Lake, Sumter, Citrus and Hernando counties. Quite a lot of retirees in that area so less military age able bodied men. They had no cannon but did produce four Bradley APCs. One of the reserve combat units had been in Leesburg. We got out of that area at about ten that night and pulled into the rest area where we’re at now around eleven. Once it became clear we weren’t going anywhere soon Major Hall (now our battalion commander) ordered everyone out and to set up camp. I tried to assist in setting up but Tyree said that was his department (I knew he knew what I meant when I said he couldn’t believe his name was Tyree!) and got the platoon squared away in record time and even had a hot meal over to me within the hour. Not bad for having so many FNG’s (to include me). It was just canned beef stew heated over a Sterno unit but damn it tasted good.

    I was so exhausted at this point that I wasn’t thinking clearly but felt I needed to set an example by not hitting the sack until I’d seen all my men squared away and appropriate guards posted. Everything was set to rights by about one and I was headed for my sack when the battalion C.O.’s aide came by and said there would be an officer’s meeting at 0630. Wonderful, just wonderful. No one knows where we’re going or when but we have to be up at the crack of dawn anyways. I told Tyree to have the guard wake me at 0600 and hit the sack. I don’t even recall my head hitting the rolled up clothing I was using for a pillow.

    Tyree shook me awake at 0600 with a pan of hot water to shave with. Didn't sweat the uniform too much, a fair number of the troops in the regiment had only what they reported to muster in to wear but I did try to get everything tucked in properly. The regimental CO is a colonel Parker, Regular Army, sent down from Ft. Stewart to take command. Unfortunately other than some communications gear and some intel people he hadn't brought anything else with him. He discussed our deployment plan and what we knew of the composition of the enemy forces.

    It seems to me the reason for the Cuban (and everyone else in the Caribbean) invasion was becoming clear. There weren't really any military objectives, at least not in terms of them trying to conquer and hold territory. From what our aerial recon is showing us they're here mainly to loot! There really are organized military units down there, ostensibly Cuban but some made of Nicaraugan military, that are being used to overcome whatever organized military resistance there is and they've fought pretty hard but once they're past and in the area where there wasn't any resistance it seems that there are just thousands and thousands of people from all over Central America and the Caribbean ought to take whatever they can move and try to get home with it again. They figure that us rich gringos can't defend ourselves any more and we've got all these riches just laying around for the taking. I suppose if you're from a culture where electricity and running water is only for the well off maybe we do appear to be rich to them. They're certainly not deterred by the loss of the power grid and logistical system, they've never had much of one to begin with. The Navy reports that more than a few ships have been so overloaded with stolen goods that they've simply sunk under their own weight the first time the ocean swells pick up. Looters or not, they're presenting a difficult problem for us now as disorganized as we are and with the technology we've come to rely on as damaged as it is. If we don’t get it together soon we’re going to be no better off than Cuba.

    Maybe not even that well off.

    The lines here in the center of the peninsula at the moment are down in Sebring but we've been too lightly manned to hold them well, there's too much open country to simply go around our flanks in. The plan is to fall back to Avon Park, the next town to the north. There's beaucoup little and medium sized lakes spread throughout the town and on the east and west are numerous little boggy creeks and marshes. Getting wheeled vehicles through there will be difficult if they have to go off the roads and we can set up lines on the roads between the lakes in several positions to deny their use. With so many of our troops being green and untested we'll be deployed off to the side of what is anticipated will be the main area of battle but still expected to see some action. The map calls the subdivision Highland Lakes and it's to the west of U.S. 27 with a couple of roads looping out from around a lake to the south and eventually tying back into 27 on the north side of the water coming through my area. There's a drainage canal that we'll use since it has fairly steep concrete walls, probably has at least a few feet of water and is about 25 yds from wall to wall. Tyree and I decided that without actually having seen a photo of the place or seeing it in person it didn't look too bad.

    None of us having worked together before the colonel allowed everyone to ask questions that wanted to and spent some time going over again and again the main and alternate plans. From looking around the area I'm not the only "irregularly commissioned officer" in the lot. My company C.O., a captain Robert Hickok, is an Army reservist who worked up in High Springs. Each of the other company's also has at least one fool like myself who got talked into this commissioned officer thing.

    The meeting let out at 9:30 and we went back to our area. It turns out that about half of the troops have bayonets for whatever rifle it is they have so I inquired of Major Hall about supplies and managed to come up with a handful more bayonets for the various AR-15s and M-16s in the platoon that didn't already have them and enough machetes to issue to those who didn't have a bayonet or whose rifle wouldn't accept one. The major thought it a bit odd to insist on bayonets but with ammo being so short if it came down to close quarters combat at least they wouldn't have to resort to clubbed rifles and pocket knives. 1st lieutenant Prentice, the first platoon leader in the company started kidding me that all the 1st and 2nd World War gear I was wearing was going to my head and I must be thinking of taking my troops over the top to charge the Kaiser's trenches. Well, maybe so but it'll beat hell out of having fistfights in the firing positions. Since we didn't know exactly when we were pulling out I had Tyree set up dry fire practice for the men who practiced in rotation. Those with bayonets got some rudimentary instruction from a couple of my older sergeants. Those with machete's got instruction from a sergeant Hollis who had been through the Special Forces schools. I tried both and got a solid knot on the back of my head from a buttstroke but only ONCE! It had taken me a while to find it but I did manage to come up with the bayonet for Shelby's SKS before we had reported in. He seems to do pretty good with it - probably a result of all that stick work – no knots on his head.

    Even when the situation is desperate it’s still “hurry up and wait” in the Army. We sat until noon today at the junction of I-75 and U.S. 98 waiting on orders to come down from on high which is why I have time to catch this journal up. I see Captain Hickock coming so I reckon we must have our orders.

  17. #17

    Day Thirty nine - Tuesday, May 1st, 2001, 10:00 a.m.

    <strong>Day Thirty nine
    Tuesday, May 1st, 2001, 10:00 a.m.</strong>

    My damn thigh is killing me so I might as well get this written down. Maybe it’ll relax me enough to get some shut eye. I’ve never been so tired in my life.

    Orders finally came through at noon yesterday so we "enbussed" and headed southeast on U.S. 98. We encountered no opposition but did pass what seemed like thousands of refugees heading north. We had a vanguard of M.P.s running interference for us to clear the road. We reached our objective around 4 p.m.

    I've been to Avon Park before but it was more than twenty years ago and it's changed so much that I didn't recognize anything. Sebring was far enough to the south that we didn't even hear cannon fire, what there was of it. We did see a couple of Apache gunships over head moving south. The regiment came to a stop and Captain Hickok came through and detailed where we were to deploy exactly. Took some time to get them muzzle loaders offloaded, they must weigh about a thousand pounds apiece. The gun carriages and limbers were never meant to be towed behind a motor vehicle so we have to load them onto trucks to move them any real distance. No horses or mules to pull the things into position so we had to do it ourselves. The defensive situation was better than I hoped. There's just two roads coming through here and both have to cross the drainage canal. Sent a man out to wade the water to find the depth and it's right at four feet. Not enough to stop someone from wading across but enough that it'll make it a slow trip.

    Prentice's platoon is situated on the other bridge to the east of my position. His east flank is anchored on a small lake and we're his west anchor. My west flank is anchored on a larger lake but there's a fair sized grassy field on my side of the drainage ditch between the lake and the bridge with all of the houses mostly being on the other side except for about six on my side of the bridge, three on each side of the road. As luck would have it both of the houses nearest the bridge had high wooden palisade fences in the back yards that could see the bridge and the length of the canal. I had three of the old cannon and Prentice had three more. Randy is off with the more modern stuff to the east where the main thrust is expected to come through. I put a singleton on Prentice's side of the bridge since he'd be able to give some overlapping fire and the remaining two cannon on the lake side of my flank. All three can cover the bridge but I wanted them to be able to fire the length of the canal. That open grassy field concerns me but it's well within range of grapeshot all the way down to the lake's edge.

    As some of the men were horsing the cannon into the backyards I had more men knock the wood fence off of its posts and then reset them back onto the posts again with just the loose nails holding it pinned in position. This way a simple slap on both ends of an individual piece would knock them off the posts and out of the way. With the palisade fence reaching eight feet in height the revetments covering the cannon and firing holes behind the fence would not be visible from the road. Made quite a hole in the back yards but we ran each revetment up high enough that the cannon could be reloaded when it reached it’s rearmost position after recoiling without a man having to stick his head over the top. Of course the opening the cannon fired through was exposed but there’s only so much we can do about it.

    The grass in the field had not been mowed in a while so in many places it was two feet tall or so. I had a trench dug about five feet back from the edge of the concrete wall of the ditch and the dirt carefully mounded on the firing side so that it did not show above the grass in front. I was concerned that if they couldn't make the bridge they may just try to cross the canal itself once they discover the water is only about four feet deep. I put twenty men near to the bridge and another twenty in the trench. The remaining eight men I had selected out because they had scoped rifles of various sorts. I put four each on the roofs of the two houses nearest the bridge on the backsides away from where they could be seen across the canal. I gave them the usual shoot anyone that looks like an officer or leader orders with the exception of anyone that was in that category who had a caucasian appearance. Word had it that there were Russian advisors mixed in with the Cubans and if there were I wanted them taken alive if we could. It was midnight by the time we finished all of the digging and we were exhausted. Major Hall had scouts out south of town and Prentice and I detailed advance pickets in front of us so I let the rest of the unit get some sleep.

    About four thirty a.m. private Carter shook me awake and reported that the scouts had spotted the Cubans advancing north straight up U.S. 98 in a long column of captured trucks and some heavy construction equipment. I ordered the men woken up and everyone to check their weapons and ready ammo. About four thirty or so I began to hear the distant sounds of heavy trucks over to the east where 98 ran between the first of the two sets of lakes. Too dark to see anything and that's where the more experience units are sited since it's expected to be where the main battle will occur so I tried not to worry about it. Around 5:25 a.m. I heard the first boom of cannon and a flash of light. The battle was on.

    There being no immediate action in my sector I walked the lines talking to the troops. Had to warn several about smoking and glared at their squad leaders when I did so. Christ, even I know that it's a good way to catch a sniper's bullet! Couldn't think of anything else to either make us more ready or reassure the troops so went back to my own lookout post in the house nearest the bridge on the lake side. The sound of rifle and machine gun fire was really starting to pick up to the east and the booming of cannon. No shells fell on us. We're low on any sort of artillery ammo so have to be very conservative with it and I figured the Cubans were too. Mostly ours is being saved for large vehicles that would be difficult to stop otherwise and to bust up potential breakthroughs by shooting at a zero elevation and point blank range. The canister shot loads are homemade but effective nonetheless.

    About 5:30 we got the first flash of movement in the road crossing the bridge on the far side just where the turn angles towards the bridge probably about 800 yards. Still pretty dark but I could see enough through the 8X monocular to tell that it was some sort of large vehicle. Decided to let it get a bit closer before opening fire on it. Another couple of minutes later and I could tell that there were troops coming across the backyards of the houses on either side of the street. After the vehicle had made it about a quarter of the way down the street towards us I realized it was a large bulldozer. Still pretty dark but I detailed four of the scoped riflemen to see if they could hit the driver who was exposed. Unfortunately, after just a couple of shots (none that I could tell hit) he raised the dozer blade so that we couldn't see him. Of course, that meant he couldn't see us either but he seemed to be using the road curb to keep him pointing straight and kept on coming. Damn!

    This set me a pretty problem. We had the bridge blocked with abandoned vehicles but that dozer could simply push them out of they way and keep on coming. Nothing we had with us would going to shoot through that dozer blade nor did I think we could cause it to throw a track. Fortunately, just about then one of the men fired at the thing causing a ricochet off the top of the steel cage over the driver's head which must have peppered him with fragments because he raised the blade another foot or so higher. This uncovered the lower six to eight inches of his radiator so I ran over to private Korsakov who has a heavy barreled Savage in .30-06 with a big 4-10X50 Leupold scope on it. I asked him if he could see the dozer radiator clearly and he said yes so I slipped him a stripper of my black tip out of my belt and told him to put as many of those in that radiator as he could. He thumbed them off the clip and into his rifle magazine, aimed and fired. The first one hit the frame on the bottom so he came up a hair and the second one puffed a gratifying cloud of steam as did the third, fourth and fifth. By his third round his partner private Jimenez had ranged it with his Winchester model 70 with the 3x9 on it and put several rounds in it as well. Coolant poured out of the dozer like a waterfall.

    It didn't take the driver long to realize he had a problem, either he could lower the blade to protect his radiator or keep it raised to protect himself. By the time he decided to compromise and drop the blade back down a foot and hunch down in his seat the damage was done. He gunned the motor to try to make the bridge but bulldozers are built for torque not speed and he was still two houses shy of the clear ground in front of the bridge when the motor seized. Of course, about the time we'd put a few rounds into the machine the troops on the other side started to open up on us with a light machine gun dancing rounds across the roof top where the snipers were located but with no hits. Most of them were still to far away for the light conditions to be favorable but at least a couple seemed to have scoped rifles as some of the other hits started getting pretty close.

    A front end loader came out from around the stalled dozer with his bucket raised to protect the driver. Not enough room to make puncturing the radiator worthwhile so we shot out the tires. The left front went first and before the driver could correct for it he was exposed and Jimenez shot him out of the seat. The motor was still engaged so it continued to try to circle and eventually tipped over. A large flatbed Ford came around the other side of the dead dozer. He had steel plate welded across his hood with just a vision slit in it for the driver to see through but at that range it wasn't difficult for Korsakov to put a round through it and into the driver. The truck hit a brick mailbox and came to a stop and Jimenez skipped a round off the pavement right in front of the steel plate to flatten first one front tire then the next.

    By this time we were fairly well under fire from troops on both sides of the street across the bridge so I gave the order to return fire but in semi-auto ONLY, the man who fired full-auto without my orders would be dipped head first into the latrine trench. We simply did not have enough ammo to spend it profligately. It was light enough that the nearest houses could be seen clearly to shoot at. A heavy machine gun opened up on the firing positions on our side of the bridge when a group in platoon strength tried to rush the span but it was a good seventy yards of clear ground front last house to the foot of the bridge and the M60 and massed rifle fire cut them all down. A couple of squads tried to make it back to the houses but the last hadn't quite reached it before he fell. That heavy gun was going to cause us serious trouble so I detailed four of the snipers to take it out. Took them a moment to locate it for sure but when they did the gun crew spent more time ducking than firing and eventually had to reposition their gun. From what I could tell just then we appeared to have taken only one casualty so far. From the east it sounded like the D-Day invasion so I guessed the main thrust was going right up the middle.

    Two more trucks, a stake bed and a box side with firing slits cut in it and both armored like the first tried to make it around. The one who cut between the front end loader and the house on that side bogged down in the soft dirt as he tried to bull through a hedge in front of the door. The one of the other side very nearly made it around but the other four of the scoped riflemen poured fire into the vision slit and eventually took out the driver. A small piece of the left front tire was also exposed so they took that out as well. Now the main road to our bridge was completely blocked and I realized I should have done that in the first place! Blocking the bridge was good but we should have blocked the road itself between the houses so that any vehicle trying to reach the bridge would have to come down a side road and then turn itself to us broadside when it had to turn at the canal to come to the bridge. This would give us much more ample opportunity to destroy the vehicle. I resolved that if I survived the battle I'd not make the same mistake again.

    We stayed pretty much under constant rifle fire but mostly it was ineffective. Many of the troops on the other side didn't really seem to be aiming, just pointing their guns in our general direction and letting rip in full-auto. They must have a lot more ammo than we've got is all I can say. Prentice seemed fully engaged but hadn't called for help so I reckon he was keeping his piece under control. The battle on 98 on the other side of the lake from him seemed to rage as hard as ever. I could hear cannon thunder but we still had not taken any shells on my positions.

    The other shoe dropped about a minute later when a Loomis-Fargo armored car rounded the corner on one of the side streets and started making for the bridge for all it was worth. We pretty well flayed the paint off of it but the only fifty cal the company had was with Prentice so it didn't look like we were going to stop it before he hit the bridge barricade. In retrospect I probably should have opened up with the muzzle loaders when he made the turn onto the bridge but just then I was loathe to let it be known I had them. I wasn't entirely without resource though because as he started to make the turn onto the bridge I picked up the knife switch wired to the truck battery and fifty feet before he hit the barricade I closed the switch. The fifty five gallon drum of home heating oil concealed in the middle of the barricade junk pile went up very gratifyingly just before the armored car hit it. I'd put about a half-pound of black powder I'd gotten from our cannoneers carefully compressed in a heavy pipe cap underneath the barrel with a piece of ni-crhome wire out of toaster buried in it which in turn was wired to the truck battery through the knife switch. We hadn't had time to properly thicken the fuel with soap or styrofoam or anything but it coated the truck and the barricade quite nicely in flaming oil anyway. Couldn't stop the truck from busting through the barricade of its own momentum but it put the vehicle out of action. The old tires we'd stacked all through the barricade began to burn almost at once. There was a hole in the barricade now that well, you could drive a truck though, but both sides of it were a flaming Hell of burning rubber and fuel oil.

    The truck punching through was the signal for the general rush and trucks started to pour out of the side streets heading for the bridge. Not much choice now so I signaled the gun captain of the singleton and twenty feet before the truck reached the barricade he fired his piece. All three had already been sighted in on the bridge so all that needed to be done was to put the slow match to the touch hole. POOUUMMMM!!!! Jesus God! I'd heard these things fire before at various Civ-War and Seminole War reenactments, but with only packed wadding. With a full load of grapeshot the cannon sounded like a billion angry hornets. The front of the truck was smashed, windshield, radiator, grill, tires and suspension instantly destroyed and the truck slewed sideways and came to a stop against the flaming barricade. Excellent! The men in the back of the truck who survived bailed out and hugged as close to the burning barricade as they could which wasn't quite enough and the riflemen took them out.

    Another large truck gunned it coming up the bridge obviously hoping to ram the first one out of the way. He had steel plate welded across the front without even a vision slit. Must have towed it into position and the driver used the curb to steer by. He had to have had a fair amount of mass in the box in back because he only hit the barricade doing about thirty but the entire thing, barricade, first truck and all started coming our way down the bridge so I nodded to the gun captain of the other two guns on my side of the road. POOUUMMM!!!!! POOUUMMM!!!, they didn't quite fire simultaneously. The first gun fired a solid iron shot (we had very few of those) and the second one grape shot. The solid shot gouged a groove across the hood of the truck and fairly well tore the cab right off the body, steel plate and all while passing through the box behind. The grapeshot behind pretty well wiped off whatever was left visible above the heavy plate covering the grill and the truck stopped intertwined with the first truck and the barricade and the entire mass started to burn. After that I figured it would take a heavy wrecker several hours to clear that bridge so I ordered the gun crews to load grape and be prepared fire the length of the canal in either direction.

    Being only twenty feet from the two guns on the lake side of the road I was getting fairly close to blast deaf (forgot my damned ear plugs!!) but it sounded like the battle over on 98 might have been winding down. I was hoping we'd convinced the Cubans to go home for the day when I saw new vehicular movement turning onto the main road to the bridge at the far end of the road and almost immediately turn onto the side street nearest the lake to my west. It was hard to tell through the smoke exactly what kind of truck that it was but it wasn't a flatbed or box van like the first had been. I called the sergeant at the lake end of the line to find out if he could see it (I'd put one of our two radios at the far end of the line). He said he could and that it appeared to be some sort of car hauler like is used to deliver new cars to dealerships. OK, what in Hell are they going to do with it? Intervening houses kept us from being able to get a clear shot at it so we decided to wait until it cleared the last house and made its turn in front of the canal to take it out. About then I noticed another such truck going down the side street on the opposite side and a cold chill went down my spine. I began to understand what it was they were literally driving at.

    The first truck reached the last house and never made a turn. He gunned the truck for all it was worth straight at the canal. The troops in the trench poured fire into it, shredding windshield, radiator and tires but he kept it straight ahead and drove straight into the canal. The driver bailed out as the cab was in the air and landed in the water. The cab jacknifed but the trailer stayed upright and damn near spanned the canal from side to side. Before it had even come to a full stop troops began to pour out from behind the houses running towards the trailer and bridge. I ordered the two lakeside guns to divide their attention between bridge and truck and watched the second truck repeat the performance of the first. That driver never made it out of the cab and the trailer sat in the canal on its side at an angle but the troops running towards it carried twelve foot heavy bridge timbers with spikes on either end. It was dropped several times as the men carrying it were shot down but steadily the wood made its way to the canal side and bridged the span between the canal bank and the back of the trailer. Another minute or minute and a half later they spanned our end too. We had serious problems.

    The cannoneers told me that each piece could put out three rounds a minute of sustained fire with a well trained crew and these guys were. They'd been practicing this stuff for years at reenactments and about half of them had even appeared in the movie <I>Gettysburg</I> with their field pieces. With a trooper detailed to pour water over the barrels between shots they steadily cranked out the fire and with each shot they pretty well cleared the runways the enemy was trying to cross but in between more and more came across. Once battle was joined seriously dozens started wading the canal itself so had to be picked off one by one. I called Prentice and he said he had four such crossing points in front of him and was starting to become unable to prevent the enemy from establishing a toehold on the bridge itself and that he'd already put a call in to Major Hall requesting reinforcements. Unfortunately Hall said the enemy was attempting to flank east of the original battle around one of the other small lakes as they pressed their attack in the middle again so could not spare any troops but would ask Colonel Parker to commit at least one Bradley to back us up.

    From the apparent numbers it seems that Avon Park was turning into the largest pitched battle of the invasion so far. We never did see any of the units from down to Sebring and we later found out that they had been forced to retreat to the east in the direction of the Avon Park bombing range after the enemy commander had sprung his armor plated truck surprise on them. We met up with them the next day when they came down to meet us from the north having had to skirt a large swamp and a couple of lakes.

    For a few moments I thought we'd hold them on their side of the canal but one of our cannon had a misfire that could not be immediately cleared. Unfortunately it was the piece covering the bridge. The mess blocking the bridge and the smoke from the fires there made visibility difficult so it was sometimes hard to see men coming around the barricade in the narrow way on both sides that had resulted when the last truck rammed it. We shot plenty off there as they came around but more and more were making it across. Good thing I learned how to make myself heard running a shooting range for the local Sportsman Association back home because I shouted "FIX BAYONETS!!!" when it became apparent that we might not hold the bridge. About three minutes after that the first of the enemy made it into our trenches and it got hot and heavy then. I shot the O3 dry and was shoving another stripper into it when Juan jumped into the trench with me. He slipped in the bottom of the trench which allowed me to shove my bayonet through his neck and he sprayed blood all over my face and chest. Burns like hell when it gets into your eyes. Managed to get the tip wedged into his cervical process and rather than try to wrench it out I drew my .45 and my Air Force survival knife and started running down the trench towards the breakthrough.

    Another Carlos (Spanish for Charley don't you know) hit the bottom right in front of me and I shot him from a range of about six inches through the face. The trench was beginning to fill with men and my troops were beginning to cut and run. A cold spike went through my gut and I knew we'd all die here if that wasn't stopped so I shouted in my very loudest range officer's voice "THE NEXT MAN TO CUT AND RUN GETS MY BULLET IN HIS BACK!!!" when a redheaded trooper leapt out of the trench just ahead of me. I only have one red head in the unit so I knew it was McDaniels, a kid who had showed up for last Saturdays muster, just out of high school and had been enrolled in Santa Fe Community College before the war. I brought my pistol up and shot him between the shoulder blades and thought my pistol had misfired because I heard a double crack. It quickly dawned on me that I wasn't the only one who'd shot at my fleeing trooper as I caught sight to the left of me of a Cuban with a pistol in his hand who had just seen me and who was bringing his piece to bear when I put a bullet through his face. Having supplied my own ammo the 200 grain hollowpoint rendered the need for a follow up shot moot. I didn't see anyone else in our trench running away and I was soon too busy shooting people at much too close a range to pay much more attention. I didn't know where my O3 was, I was down to my last full magazine and I couldn't see any of my troops in the trench with me. I was just beginning to come to the realization that I was about to finally get an answer to the question of whether there was life after death when God himself got angry and started tearing his robe asunder in his wrath. Well, that's what it sounded like anyway when the Apaches came in and opened up with their miniguns. I'd swear that some of those rounds hit close enough to kick sand in my face.

    That gave us enough of a breather for Tyree and some of the squad leaders to leap into the gap in the line with troops following. That God*mned Tyree is so big he was waving the M60 around like it was made of balsa wood and the ammo belts crawled across his chest, back and arms like brass centipedes as he fired. I holstered my pistol (it was so hot it scorched my brand new holster damnit!) and snatched up a fallen AK47. It would take too long to undo the harness with the extra mags from the body that wore it so I just started shoving loaded mags in my pants waistband and pockets. Took a moment to remember how to keep it to two and three round bursts. I could hear the Apaches working their way up the canal towards the east and like a wave that has receded as far as it's going to on the beach the next one came across. This time their luck had run out. The bridge cannon had finally cleared it's obstruction and just as the first of the enemy reached our end of the bridge it fired and swept it clean. We still were stopping them only after they reached our side but they never quite managed to make it into our positions again. I think the sudden appearance of the choppers had taken the heart out of them because the waves gradually grew less. Eventually whistles started to blow and no more men exposed themselves. The did keep up a steady rain of fire from under cover as they retreated but their ammo was wasted.

    I had no interest in chasing them.

    I heard screams of "medic!!!" from up and down the line so I knew we'd taken casualties. What a stupid thought I suddenly realized. They damn near overran us and I'm surprised we'd taken casualties?! I walked back to my command post in the house near the bridge. The place was wrecked from all the gunfire it had taken from the fifty or whatever it was but who cares? Tyree came in about then and I told him to get me a casualty list as soon as possible so I'd know how bad we were. I also told him to have the platoon ready to move as soon as possible because if we hadn't hurt the Cubans really bad they might try to just flank around the lake to the west of us if we stayed boxed here. His face was even blacker than its natural color with powder smoke, grease, sweat and other unidentifiable substances so when he grinned at me he looked like some demon out of Hell and said "Lieutenant, I can give you a partial casualty list right now - YOU. Look at your crotch!" Well, that gave me the cold sweats right then and there as I slowwwllly looked down to see blood from my zipper to my ankles with a bullet hole plain as day through my trousers. He said, "I think you're missing a piece of your left ear lobe and you've got a good crease on the left side of your neck" which turned out later to be a knife or bayonet cut that I don't remember. Continuing on he said, "Let's see how bad it is" as he took off my web belt and unbuckled my trousers. I managed to maintain a remarkably even voice if I do say so myself when I told him this was not ordinarily not the kind of thing I'd allow a large black man to assist me with but just then my hands were shaking a bit too much to get the damned buttons in my fly unbuttoned. At least I managed to get it all out before having to turn my head and forcefully vomit.

    Fortunately what it turned out to be was a good deep cut along the inside of my left thigh. We poured feed store veterinary sulfa wound powder in it, I practiced every profanity I'd ever head and he wrapped a pressure bandage around it. He wanted to send for the medic but I said that having been one in a past life the medic was probably busy triaging the more seriously wounded and I could wait. He rubbed some of the sulfa powder in the cut on my neck and I sent him out to see about the condition of the unit. Now that I knew about my hit and could feel it I wasn't walking too good. Amazing what shock can do for you. My pocketwatch told me it was just then 6:00 a.m. and for reasons that I do not understand it suddenly popped into my head that today is my wedding anniversary which makes it May Day.

    About seven that morning the medic was able to make it around to me. He unwrapped the thigh wound, cleaned it (I only thought it had hurt before!) and stitched it up. He said an inch one way and it would have cut my femoral artery and possibly shattered my femur and an inch the other way would have removed one or both testicles. I told him that I was plenty grateful it had not strayed as Mrs. Hagan would be very put out to have her husband come home shy his balls or a leg. The neck and ear wounds he examined, said they’d do and left them alone. Tyree came in about then with my casualty report: 9 dead, 13 wounded, seven of which were serious enough to have to be evacced, the remaining still partially effective. Shelby had taken a cut to the face in a bayonet fight in the trench but had killed his opponent and another that was attacking his partner. Probably just make him look more handsome than he already is, women were always his undoing.

  18. #18

    Day Forty - Wednesday, May 2nd, 2001, 6:00 a.m.

    <strong>Day Forty
    Wednesday, May 2nd, 2001, 6:00 a.m.</strong>

    I don't even recall falling asleep yesterday morning around eleven after the battle so was a bit surprised when Korsakov shook me awake at about 2:00 p.m. to tell me that the Colonel's runner had just dropped by with orders for an officer's meeting in his command tent immediately. I needed the sleep but when I awoke I felt like someone had sapped me so I had to pour water over my head to clear it. Naturally I remembered the neck wound as soon as the water hit it so had to put a dry dressing on it. Washed my face and hands as best I could and started down the road when Tyree spotted me and hollered for me to stop. I waited for him to catch up and told him I needed to get over to the Colonel's tent for the meeting and he said that's why he hollered. With the thigh wound I shouldn't be walking so he had "acquired" motorized transport which was rounding the corner even as he spoke. It was a battered Jeep CJ-7 but it looked good to me because my damn leg was throbbing again.

    I got in and started reviewing the brief notes I'd made before breaking out this journal yesterday. Once the wounded were attended to we gathered our dead, made sure they were all properly identified and wrapped them in tarps for transport home. Colonel Parker insists we do not leave our dead behind. Looks like I’m going to have to write some letters - hadn’t ever really thought of that before. With our own attended to we began to police the enemy dead. My official report will state we found no wounded. I ordered that all enemy weapons, equipment and footgear were to be collected. We’re so short on everything we have to use what we can where we can find it.

    Glad that Tyree came up with that Jeep because it was a two mile walk to the command tent. Officers were still filtering in when I got there so I reckoned I wasn't late. A few seemed to have vehicles and drivers but most walked though a couple came in on bicycles. Didn't Sweden have bike mounted units during the Second World War? I looked around for Randy, Prentice or Hickok and didn't see any of them. Wasn't enough chairs for us all to sit so I stood in the back leaning against a post near the tent flap. The regimental XO came in, turned slowly to see who was there, noticed me and said, "is that a leg wound, lieutenant?" I admitted as much that it was so he said, "get over there and sit down. I don't want you making it worse by standing, we're short on officers." Well, an order is an order so I sat. Randy came in about a minute after the major did but by then the only space left to stand was by the door. He was filthy looking but didn't appear to have taken any hits.

    The Colonel came in right after that with a large rolled up chart and everyone leapt to attention (I tottered to attention) and he told everyone to be at ease and to sit if we could. Time was short and there was much to do so he cut right to the point. We'd fought the Cubans to a standstill and they had retreated back towards Sebring. Contact with the forces who'd been forced to retreat out of Sebring earlier had been established but they wouldn't be joining us until today (Wednesday). Casualties had been heavy but we'd inflicted at least several times as many on the enemy due to our superior positioning having forced them into a number of bottlenecks in their attempts to breach our lines. The limited artillery available to the enemy had been heavily used in trying to clear a path through the main area of battle on U.S. 98 which is where our heaviest casualties had been taken. Our forces had been well dug in including two of the Bradleys so the enemy had never managed to punch through - not quite anyways. One Bradley had been destroyed. We lost no artillery pieces and even managed to gain one of the enemy's that he'd been forced to abandon due to mount damage and which had not been properly spiked. Ammunition was critically low but he had been given reassurances via radio that trucks carrying more ammo and weaponry like machine guns and rifles were rolling down from Ft. Stewart even as we spoke along with more artillery. Unfortunately, very few personnel other than drivers and necessary security for the convoy could be sent and they were under orders to return with the trucks. We'd have to collect as much man power as we could from where ever we could find it. Orders had been given that no able bodied man of military age was to be allowed to move north with the refugee stream. Like it or not they were all to be drafted for the duration.

    Aerial reconnaissance reports the Cubans are regrouping in the Sebring area so we were to stand ready to move on short notice but unless forced to move we would be staying here in Avon Park until we could integrate the Sebring forces into ours. Their total losses over the last ten days or so were such that they were to be used to flesh out our own empty slots. Intelligence thought it was unlikely for the Cubans to try to come through this same area again but expected another thrust through a different area, possibly to the west. Another Cuban thrust on the east coast was still moving north but slowly since our brother regiment engaged them the day before yesterday with some limited support from naval gun fire. Hadn't managed to convince them to stick their heads in a meat grinder like we did with ours but they were at least slowing them down.

    The colonel then mentioned a number of units that had done well in repulsing the attack. Didn't recognize any of the names so won't cover them here but the Ocala battalion did well by themselves. He moved over to the west wing where my unit is and mentioned that although the enemy had not shelled much of our line (hadn't shelled my positions at all) saving what he had for the main thrust we had done well in repulsing the armor attack that had been made on us particularly given how thin our lines were. The homemade armor the enemy had used was as much a surprise to us as it had been to the Sebring force but fast thinking had slowed the attack enough that the enemy had only just managed to get into our trenches by the time the Apaches had rolled in. We were only a side mission for the choppers, their main mission had been to take out the enemy artillery supporting the main thrust which they had done. They very nearly punched through.

    He congratulated Major Hall for how well his battalion had behaved considering that only a third of his men had ever seen real combat before. He also congratulated the 2nd and 3rd company commanders then congratulated me for stopping the breakthrough in my position which my brother platoon had not quite managed to do and was in fact being overrun when the choppers came in. He said, "Captain Hagan here showed some real inspiration in the way he wired his bridge with incendiaries to deny it to the enemy. Some of our more by-the-book officers might consider thinking outside of the box once in a while." Now this military business is still pretty new to me so I suppose it should be understandable when I felt the need to point out to the colonel that I was only a brevet second lieutenant, captain Hickok was the company C.O. The colonel glanced at the X.O. and replied, "Son, it's called a battlefield promotion. Your reward for having kept your platoon intact is that you can now do the same thing with a whole company." My stomach rolled over - the Peter Principle in action! I made one feeble attempt at protest by pointing out the 1st lieutenant Prentice ranked me and the honor should go to him. The colonel frowned and retorted, "Lt. Prentice was killed when his C.P. was overrun. Captain Hickok is officially listed as M.I.A. pending further investigation. You're it, Captain. There's always a certain degree of luck involved in any military operation and you've just used a very large share of yours so keep that in mind for the future. Dismissed."

    Well, that was that. I get the sh*t shot out of my people so he gives me even more people to get killed! I limped back out to my Jeep and came home. Tyree met me at the C.P. and said "Welcome back, Captain" to which I replied "how the Hell did you know? I just found out not ten minutes ago!" Tyree said that knowing such things is part of his job which is not really any answer at all but I let it go.

    Tyree followed me into the C.P. where I found sgt. McWhirter, platoon sergeant for first platoon, and I took their reports. First platoon's casualties were 19 dead, 21 wounded, eleven of which were serious enough to have to be evacced, the remaining still partially effective so out of 96 men the company started out with I'm down 28 dead, 18 wounded seriously enough to evac them and 14 more on light duty. Half of the company dead or evacced. I told them to improve our trenches and bunkers in case we didn't move out soon. As bad as we were down I expected we'd be getting some replacements before long.

    They handed me categorization lists to review and sign before sending them up to battalion HQ. Most of Mc Whirter's I didn't recognize so I just took his word for it. My platoon's list I read more thoroughly. Pretty straight forward until I got to McDaniels, Peter, A., Prvt. - killed in act of desertion. I took out a pen and drew a heavy line through it and told Tyree, "Private McDaniels was killed in action from a pistol shot by a Cuban officer in our lines. That is what I want the official report to state." He gave me a level look and said, "Just as you say, Captain." McDaniel's folks will have tragedy enough as soon as word gets home without compounding it. If Tyree knows about it then I'm sure word has gotten around - it's not an incident I'll ever be proud of - it was just necessary.

    With the necessary (?) paperwork out of the way Tyree and McWhirter looked at each other sideways and I felt my gut tighten as Tyree said, "Captain, could we have a private word with you?" I nodded and shooed out Korsakov and Jimenez who were cleaning their rifles and lowered the tent flap. "OK, spill it." I said.

    Tyree said nothing but reached into his trouser pocket and pulled out a handful of stuff and dropped it in my hand. Right off I noticed two $20 double eagle gold pieces, something that looked like a gold Spanish doubloon and a half-dozen gold/gold-diamond rings. "What the Hell is this?" I asked. It seems that many of the Cubans, at least the ones who were better armed and equipped had quite a bit of this kind of stuff on their bodies when searched, enough so that word really got around and the troops went into a frenzy searching the dead looking for it. Tyree, McWhirter and the platoon sergeants for the other companies immediately clamped down on any arguments over who got what but the fact of the matter is there's quite a bit of this stuff out there - apparently the more valuable portable loot of South Florida taken by the Cubans. Tyree spoke up, "Captain, it's like this. For those of us who were already in none of us have been paid since the war started over a month ago. For the new recruits no one has even mentioned paying them anything, either in wages or as a benefit for their families if they're killed or seriously wounded. There's a Hell of a lot of valuable sh*t like this being found on these Cubans and you can bet that the troops are going to be looking for it. If we don't get it under control it's going to lead to trouble in the ranks and right quick too. What do you want we should do about it?"

    Never a "normal" problem in the box it seems. I reached into my bag and pulled out a bottle of bourbon, brought from home, and passed it around between McWhirter, Tyree and myself to give me a few moments to think. "Well, gentlemen," I observed, "you're right. If the troops start getting booty crazy they're going to be hard to control. If they never get paid they're going to start thinking of deserting to go home and support their families. If they never come home at all then we've left a lot of women and children in a bad way and that ain't right. So here's what we're gonna do. We are, make NO mistake about it, still a part of the Army of these United States but until the Army in its infinitesimal wisdom sees fit to tell us if we are ever to be paid I think it best we see to it ourselves. Starting right now I want both of you to very quietly get word out to the troops that ALL non-military loot taken off of any enemy dead is to be turned into the two of you immediately. Anyone taking loot off of our dead will be courts-martialed. Once it's all collected it will be inventoried by the two of you AND a committee consisting of an enlisted men from each platoon chosen by the men and one person selected by myself. You will all sign the inventory lists. I want to make it very clear that I don't want even the appearance of impropriety when it comes to the unit treasury otherwise the men will never trust it and will begin to withhold loot and the entire thing will break down."

    Continuing on I added, "Once we have everything inventoried and valued by some competent person we will disburse it like so: Each persons right to any funds will date from the time they joined the unit. Each person will receive funds in accordance with their rank with a buck private starting at one and each rank above that receiving some fraction more than that to reflect their rank. Half of the funds owed to the individual may be paid to the man as wages while he is still with the unit and the remaining half will be held until such a time as they leave the unit, retire, are killed or wounded to the point of no longer being able to serve and will be paid either to the individual or their recorded next-of-kin. There will be a tax of 20% off the top of anything coming in to support the company. Any trooper found in possession of unrecorded valuable loot will have it confiscated and will be fined ten percent of his worth in the unit bank. That ought to discourage any hold outs. I vaguely recall this used to be a practice of the Army back in the 19th century and I'm fairly sure it was practiced the same way among medieval mercenary units and the Roman legions so there is precedent. Do you two have any problems with this system?" They looked at each other and said on the face of it the plan seemed workable so I told them to write it down, fill in the details and start collecting the loot before it began to cause real problems and to report back to me this morning (Wednesday) with a progress report. Dismissed. They both stepped out of the tent and I put the bottle away.

    I left the tent myself and went out to speak with the company wounded and the sergeants and squad leaders of A company, afterwards I inspected the trenches and bunkers. I decided the houses nearest the canal that weren't too badly shot up would serve as bunkhouses so we can keep everyone out of the dirt as much as possible. There's so many enemy dead that I was at a loss what to do with them. Can't leave them laying out in the open and there's too many to bury by hand but McWhirter walked up about then and said that regimental HQ was sending trucks and work crews to load the bodies (pieces of bodies and unidentifiable gobbets) to be taken somewhere to be burned. They're already starting to stink.

    We had hot chow that night about eight p.m. and you know, it was pretty good. The company dog robbers had come up with all sorts of cooking gear, probably out of the surrounding houses. Supper was a stew made out of local alligators, swamp cabbage (heart of palm for you non-Southern readers) and potatoes. Quite good actually. The regimental surgeon, a Captain McIntyre (I kid you not), came by saying he'd heard I'd been hit and wanted to examine the wound. I told him one of the medics had seen to it and that it was alright but he said to drop my pants before he had to call for assistance. Uhh, OK, I've worked with hardheaded doctor types before so figured it was easier to just do what he wanted rather than get into some asinine head-butting contest. He'd probably claim some silly thing like date-of-rank or some such. He unwound the bandage, examined the suturing said it didn't appear to be too serious (I told him that!), that the company medic had done a good job of suturing it but that it was bleeding again and would get worse if I didn't stay still for a while to allow it to clot up properly and then ordered me onto the sick list! I told him this was too much, that I had men more seriously injured that this who were still working and he replied "they're not bleeding all over the place either" as he snatched up my trousers and threw them to McWhirter who'd just walked in. "Sergeant", he barked, "see that someone gets the captain a clean uniform and burn those pants", the captain here is medically ordered to stay on his butt until no earlier than 8 a.m. tomorrow so that his wound can properly stop bleeding. I'll have your company medic reexamine it then." He walked out of the tent.

    I told McWhirter to give me my pants back and he said, "Sorry captain, you heard the man. He is the regimental surgeon and he's got the authority. If you buck him he'll go to the colonel and you wouldn't want that…" OK, OK, I'll sit on my butt then. I'm sure you and Tyree have probably got stacks of paper I'm supposed to look at or something so trot it in here. He saluted and left - with my pants. I was waiting on him to get back with the paperwork when I fell asleep sitting at the table. I don't know how I ended up in my sack but that's where I woke up the next morning at 5 a.m. when some fool with a bugle started playing reveille.

  19. #19

    Day Forty One - Thursday, May 3rd, 2001, 6:00 a.m.

    <strong>Day Forty One
    Thursday, May 3rd, 2001, 6:00 a.m.</strong>

    Wednesday saw no action for which I think everyone was grateful. The task force that got their ass waxed down in Sebring showed up yesterday and was integrated into the regiment. We're now officially the Third Florida Regiment of which I'm in the second (Alachua) battalion, first company commander. I think that makes me the first of the second of the third or something like that. Regimental HQ sent me thirty four men as replacements, to include two lieutenants for my platoons. Lieutenant Stilson came out of the task force and Lieutenant Strickland was another "irregularly commissioned officer" like myself who'd showed up with twenty five men yesterday afternoon, just come down from the Panhandle. About half of them have previous military experience. The colonel questioned him for a while, commissioned him and sent him and his men to me. Mc Whirter took the worst losses in his platoon so I put him and most of the men he brought with him in first platoon. Stilson and the rest went to second platoon.

    Sergeant Major Fairbanks (regimental sergeant-major) showed up yesterday with a flat bed truck loaded with rifles. Word has come down from the colonel that every trooper be armed with a rifle capable of accepting a bayonet in one of three calibers - .223, 7.62 NATO, or 7.62 x 39mm. All other caliber weapons but those belonging to snipers and those that would not accept a bayonet were to be turned in for regimental armament reserves. I said I could certainly see why the colonel would want to simplify his logistical problems but I had the impression from captain Hickok and lieutenant Prentice that bayonets were not looked upon as "modern weapons." The sergeant major grinned and said that the colonel wanted to make sure the next time Kaiser Carlos paid an uninvited social call to our trenches he could be shown proper Southern hospitality. Several sections of the lines yesterday had come down to knives, pistols and clubbed rifles when the enemy got into our lines and he wanted to be sure we were better ready for it the next time it happened.

    No one complained when they were offered an M-16 in return for their hunting rifles so that part went smoothly. I declined to turn in my O3-A3, it's an old friend, but I did take an M-16 myself. Tyree and McWhirter showed up to supervise issuing the weapons and saw me with the M-16 and said they had something for me if I were interested. I followed them into the command tent while Tyree explained that seeing as how I seemed to like first and second world war weaponry that perhaps I'd be interested in setting aside my "antique turn bolt" in favor of an "antique sub gun like an officer would carry." With that McWhirter pulled out a 1927A1 Thompson submachine gun with the classic finned barrel, Lyman sights, straight forearm and Cutt's compensator. He also set a fifty round drum and two 20 round stick magazines on the table next to it. I said, "where in Hell did you get that?!" and Tyree allowed as to how one of the troopers had taken it off a dead Cuban officer. They figured it must have been stolen from some Class III weapons dealer down here in South Florida somewhere. They even had the magazine pouches for the two stick magazines to fit my M1923 web belt though I'd have to come up with something to carry the drum in when it wasn't in use.. McWhirter said that I seemed to have better luck with shooting people than trying to bayonet them so perhaps the subgun would be my best bet. I nodded my head and said, "OK, I'll take the Thompson but I'm not giving away my O3!" Tyree said he thought he could get it smuggled home if I really wanted to. Now I'll admit I never had any formal training with a bayonet but I did manage to take out my man. Getting it stuck was a newcomer's mistake that anyone could have made but they're right, I'd much rather shoot than stick if given the choice.

    We spent the rest of the day integrating the new troops into the company. Seeing as to how the rest of the company hasn't been together a week it was actually the entire company integrating itself as a whole. The troops that received new rifles were given intensive familiarization with them, including me. I'd fired a Thompson several times, have lusted after one for years, but wasn't really familiar with stripping one or cleaning it. Turns out neither was anyone else in the company but fortunately Sgt. Hollis had carried one for a while on a TDY mission some years back. Looked up Shelby to see how he was doing and he was detail stripping an M-16 and said he was pretty happy with it.

    Transport had finally been arranged for the less critically wounded to be sent back north so over chow I got a letter off to Ann. The most seriously wounded went up yesterday so by now news of the battle is probably getting around so I figured I'd best get a letter off to let her know I was OK or she'd have the whole family riding down here on their bicycles to look for me. I mentioned the battle in passing, told her of my promotion, that Shelby was well, that I'd taken a minor wound but would recover and that we'd probably be here for a while but might move out at any time. Late that afternoon the trucks from Ft. Stewart finally arrived and there was much rejoicing when we saw all of the ammunition being unloaded along with four more M2 .50 caliber machine guns, twenty M60's, a dozen cases of rifles, the first grenades I'd seen, six light and three heavy mortars and three towed howitzers and ammunition supply. Apparently the continuing successes of the Cubans had really upset the Pentagon and they made getting our supplies down here a #1 priority. Word has it that we're supposed to be getting another four Apaches down out of Ft. Rucker in Alabama but they're having fuel shortages so no definite ETA yet. I'd have thought we'd get more but most of what they have was sent west before the invasion here. Once the weapons and supplies were offloaded our wounded were loaded up and the trucks pulled out again.

    Had a chance to shoot the sh*t with the drivers while the unloading/loading was going on. I hadn’t wanted to take one of the family shortwave radios with me (we have only two) and down here we don't pick up anything on the AM/FM but Cuban stations so we've been starved for news. Situation is mixed. The Mexican border is anything but stable and the Army is having a hell of a time controlling it. It's not so much a military invasion as just a national looting spree. There have been some militants and scattered military units claiming themselves as "Aztlan", all of whom have been waxed whenever they declare themselves but most of what is being seen is just armed groups of Mexicans and Central Americans military or otherwise flooding the border stealing whatever can be carried away. Quite a lot of folks getting shot up but it's like fighting the sea. The government has ordered an buffer zone fifty miles deep on both sides of the border and anyone seen moving in that area who is not military is fired upon. One of the drivers said that even if you are military you can get fired on - apparently some pilots don't look real close before shooting.

    Foreign aid is starting to arrive from Brazil and Argentina. Well, at least they're trying to help us rather than pick our bones the way some of our nearer neighbors are doing. Still, it's damned galling to me to be obliged to accept foreign aid. Oh, how the mighty have fallen. It seems they are the reason that many in the eastern metropolitan areas are eating. The government thinks in another few months we should be reorganized sufficiently that we won't need any more international charity. The government has told us all kinds of things and look where I'm at now - in the Army fighting to repel an invasion from my state! Japan is pulling itself together. Had a lot of casualties from the infrastructure crash resulting from the EMP splash that got them but they are such a regimented and disciplined culture that they didn't lose nearly as many as I'd have thought though many are borderline starving now and may well perish before they can turn things around. Gardening has become the new national mania there and every open space that can possibly support growth is being pressed into service. Tokyo from the air supposedly looks rather green now from all the roof top gardens.

    Europe is pulling itself out of the rubble as well. More than a third of the total population of western Europe has perished so far and many more are in danger of it from starvation, exposure and lingering radiation effects but you can now get shortwave broadcasts of the BBC, the French National Radio and a station claiming to be the national German radio. Quite a lot of fighting in the Balkans (big surprise there), in Italy, Greece and Turkey. Seems like every culture and ethnicity who have ever wanted their own homeland are fighting for it now.

    To my surprise Israel is still a going concern and has even entered defensive alliances with Jordan and Lebanon. With the Russian/Chinese/Indian/Pakistani nuclear shootout some political alliances have changed. There's no question any more whether Israel really has nukes or not as she pretty thoroughly zapped Iraq. It seems this was done with the knowledge and complicity of Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia. She'd take the heat for using nuclear weapons if the three other involved nations promised to not assist any nation in attacking her and they could have those portions of Iraq that weren't too irradiated. That came to billions in oil in the ground and Turkey and Iran saw a way to allay their Kurdish problem who were then presenting a serious nuisance to them both. They took what oil fields they wanted near to their borders and told the Kurds they could have anything they wanted inside of Iraqui boundaries for their own. Syria was having some internal problems of her own, took one look at the board and wisely decided to bide her time. HAMAS is screaming but Syria went limp on them and Israel and Lebanon struck a mutual technological cooperation deal so HAMAS is being squeezed out of southern Lebanon into Syria who is moving them straight into camps in the desert. No super powers are going to come tell them to play nice now and Israel has made it clear she'll nuke anyone who can seriously threaten her. I think perhaps many of those Middle Eastern nations are going to realize them that no one is going to be selling (giving) them high tech weaponry now so if they want to keep what technological base they do have (and thus protect themselves from their own internal problems) then perhaps Israel is their best bet to do it. I think religion may start to take a back seat to realpolitik now.

    None of the trucks stopped in Alachua county so there's no news from home but we're all hoping mail will get through somehow in the near future. Haven't been gone a week yet but it seems like months already.

    Need to get out and inspect the company before chow call. Hated that crap when I was in and now I'm doing it. I find it difficult to keep a straight face.

  20. #20

    Day Forty two - Friday, May 4th, 2001, 3:00 p.m.

    <strong>Day Forty two
    Friday, May 4th, 2001, 3:00 p.m.</strong>

    Things stayed pretty calm yesterday until about noon when a single engine plane started circling the area to the south. Wasn't sure if it was one of ours or not until I saw a missile contrail rise up from south of town to meet it and the plane fell in flaming wreckage. Reckon with all the private air craft down here in south Florida it only stands to reason the Cubans would use them for aerial recon too. We've only got a few of the shoulder fired ground to air missiles that just came in from Ft. Stewart and Carlos probably has even fewer but now we're even - they got one of ours and we got one of theirs. Aerial recon has just become much chancier. Our advance scouts report that Carlos is withdrawing towards Arcadia which will put him in a better position to thrust east or west but at the moment he seems to be interested in heading west now since we've denied him U.S. 98. and a route into the Lakeland/Orlando area. I'm concerned that he might decide to head off towards the town of Okeechobee on the north shore of the lake to hit U.S. 441 and drive right up through Kissimee/St. Cloud into the Orlando area but Intelligence and the colonel think he'll head west and join up with their cohorts coming up the Gulf coast.

    The Air Force has a U2 coming out of …somewhere… that is doing regular over flights of Cuba now. The only place in the state that I knew of flying U2s was Patrick A.F.B. over in Brevard county but I'd have thought that base would have gone with the Space Center and Trident turning basin but they can fly a Hell of a long ways so perhaps they're coming out of the interior U.S. somewhere. The photos it's shooting indicate that the Cubans aren't sending any large ships over anymore (reckon the Navy convinced them about that) but there are dozens to maybe hundreds of smaller craft ranging from cabin cruisers to coastal schooners going back and forth between Cuba, Florida and the Bahamas. I doubt they're bringing much over in the way of heavy artillery or armor but they damn sure seem to be bringing over more men and likely smaller supplies such as ammunition. The Soviets probably left megatons of their stuff there over the decades and it all seems to be coming over here now. Judging from what the Navy and Coast Guard is finding the return trips are laden with Florida loot.

    We had some good news yesterday night about 6:00, the First Florida regiment along with mixed local militias and some federal units gave Carlos a good thumping at the Sebastian river in Indian River county to the south of Melbourne. They don't think they've stopped the advance but it did cause the Cubans to fallback, regroup and think about the situation. They're expecting he'll make another stab north in a day or two. Used to be a lot of high-tech companies in Melbourne and it's an easy trip into the Orlando area from there.

    We're still managing to hold the line of state roads 64 and 62 from Avon Park to the Gulf coast. Another regiment (Fourth Florida out of the panhandle) pulled in yesterday early afternoon to take over our positions. They're still organizing themselves and have not yet seen combat though fifty percent or better of their men supposedly have some form of military experience. HQ is thinking that they can garrison Avon Park, finish getting themselves together and maybe serve as reserves for the units moving west. Once they offloaded we packed up and started loading supplies up in the semis that brought the Fourth down and loaded troops onto the yellow school busses which seem to have been collected from all over North Florida and the Panhandle. Second platoon's bus came out of Dixie county and even still had its original Dixie county school board bus driver! She's a 50 year old grandmotherly looking lady and when I asked why she was driving her bus in a war zone she pulled out a Colt New Service in .45 ACP and said this was by God HER bus and she wasn't letting anyone take it so now she's driving troops! This ought to gratify Ann at least, she was fit to be tied when I told her I wasn't taking any women with me to volunteer for service.

    Carlos seems to have taken an interest in the unirradiated parts of the greater Tampa/St. Pete/Clearwater metropolitan area. Used to be one of the major population centers of the state, quite a lot of old people there and the pickings would be good. They're already pretty well into Port Charlotte, Venice, and Sarasota but only on the outskirts of Bradenton. The Second Florida regiment is there along with a lot of local militia and the remaining federal units and are being pushed north through Bradenton now. They're pretty sure they can keep them from crossing the lower Manatee river where it's nice and wide once they drop the rail and vehicular bridges but if the Cubans move east and join up with the force coming out of Arcadia heading west they'll be able to come around the upper Manatee near to some little dot on the map called "Rye" and then whatever forces we have there are going to have to beat feet up the coast or cross the bay on the Sunshine Skyway before they get cut off and trapped in Palmetto. St. Petersburg sits right across the bay from there. There's only the one bridge cross the bay that far south so they could either hold it or drop it in the bay if they had too but they're reporting unidentified watercraft coming up the bay even now so they're worried about having a landing behind them. What with the warheads that vaporized McDill A.F.B. and the other one that did the same for Tampa International Airport most of Tampa itself is burnt, blasted or contaminated but most of what fallout there was blew northeast which left the entire peninsula with St. Petersburg and Clearwater undamaged. If they can't get across the Tampa Bay they'll just sweep around the bay and come down from the north. They'll be getting uncomfortably close to Central Florida then.

    Somewhat to my astonishment I saw that we were loading up the old muzzle loaders too so I wandered over to ask Randy about it. I noticed then that he was wearing a major's oak leaves so ended up asking about that first. Seems the original regimental artillery C.O. was killed in the main battle and he was just appointed to take his place. Well, advancement is a lot faster in war time as I just found out. I asked why we were still bothering to carry those old Civil War cannon with us and he said that the more modern artillery and ammunition were still in critically short supply and the muzzle loaders had already shown they could do OK in fixed position defense and they weren't nearly as particular as to what they fired so long as it would fit down the bore. We are starting to run low on black powder though. Personally, I think it's because Randy always was a Civil War nut and can't bear to part with the guns.

    We finally got the loading finished about nine p.m. and we pulled out. I decided to hang onto the battered CJ-7 that Tyree had boosted so appointed Private Carter as my driver and radioman - he has a general class HAM license, is an electronics nut and babies our radios for us. I told the men to get what sleep they could on the busses because when we got to where we were going we were likely to be digging and cutting for a while. The regiment took s.r. 64 to s.r. 636 and arrived in the small town of Wauchulla without event. The entire town was dark and we saw no people at all as we passed through, I think everyone had probably fled. There were a few burnt buildings but if that was a result of enemy action I cannot say. We left Third Battalion (Lake, Sumter and coastal counties) there in case Carlos decided to take U.S. 17 north We took a brief jog north on U.S. 17 to catch s.r. 62 and headed due west again. We stopped again between Duette and Peacock Hammock just east of the north fork of the Manatee river when our advance scouts reported enemy contact. Apparently it was one of their advance patrols. That wouldn't do, we can't have them shadowing us while we're on the move so the colonel sent a group of his irregulars out to chase them off or put an end to them.

    After having fought Carlos to a standstill at Avon Park we've been starting to gather men one or two at a time up to sometimes sizeable groups. Many had been attached to the earlier task force that took it in the ear in Sebring and others were just folks from the local area who wanted to fight. Yesterday morning a group of Micosukee Indians came in followed by a group of horse mounted men who turned out to be ranchers and cowhands from the Arcadia area. The colonel decided they'd be most valuable as scouts and irregulars so he rounded up horses for those that didn't have them and trailers to move the horses in for the move west. When the advance motor scouts encountered Carlos's ambush the mounted scouts offloaded their horses and went south in an attempt to cut them off once we'd run enough forces up the road to force them to retreat. As expected Carlos broke off contact as soon as we brought force to bear and took off south where they ran straight into our cowboys and Indians. We're still not sure if they got them all but no more contact with the enemy was made after that. Those Indians must have been a real sight to Carlos - the scalps hanging from their belts when they came in to Avon Park yesterday were real.

    Several miles east of the town of Parrish we turned south onto a tertiary county road, caught another one slightly southeast and eventually came to set about two miles east of Rye at the bridge over the Manatee river. Second (Alachua county) battalion set up camp north of the bridge while First (Marion county) battalion set up two miles east of us at the bridge on s.r. 675. The regiment is a good deal more spread out than we were at Avon Park but the terrain somewhat works in our favor. The river runs on to the east getting progressively smaller and there's a lot of swamps, creeks and ponds with a few rugged Jeep trails through it all of which we have under observation and the irregulars are boobytrapping. Beyond that there's only woods and swamps until you get south of Duette again many miles to the east. West of our position they'd have to attempt a river crossing. Unless they're going to try going up the middle of the peninsula again Carlos has to come through us. A National Guard engineering unit says they brought down explosives from the phosphate mines up in Polk county and will drop the three vehicular and two rail bridges into the Manatee river if and when we can no longer hold in Bradenton. So far as I know if hasn't been decided if Second Florida will then join up with us or pull into the St. Pete area.

    The ground around the bridge area runs swampy with the only areas able to bear any sustained vehicular traffic being the raised bed roads that we're defending. Dismounted troops can come through the woods pretty good but they'll have to cross the river to get at us. If we can't hold them here we'll fall back to the Little Manatee river to the north. Artillery ammo is still in short supply but we have sufficient cannon to provide at least a little support and Randy has about two thirds of the regimental guns set up in a grass airstrip that is about two miles the other side of First Battalion which puts them about four miles from us. Lot of creeks and swamps to the south of the airstrip and the only road access is off of s.r. 62 which we used coming in so he feels the guns out to be pretty safe. The remaining cannon are with Third Battalion back in Wauchulla.

    We reached the Rye Road bridge about two in the morning and offloaded at once. While in Avon Park we managed to come up with two front end loader/backhoe combinations and two small bulldozers. One each went with First Battalion and we have the other two. Took the brunt of the digging and earth moving for us but there was still plenty of shovel work involved along with cutting and hauling dozens of trees. Major Hall had about forty irregulars which he scattered up and down our side of the river, thirty to the west, ten to the east to make sure Carlos didn't sneak up on us and we put pickets out two miles down the road on the other side of the bridge. We all worked like we'd been possessed until about ten in the morning to get the trenches, firing positions and bunkers in and properly roofed over. There's still work to be done but the most important parts are in, the heavy weapons are sited and have sighted in their main firing areas. No word on the enemy but the major thinks it won't be long now so he ordered the battalion to stand down and get some shut eye.

    The rest of the unit except for the guard force is still asleep. I was asleep but have way too much adrenalin pumping through me now because of that damned snake! Now I'm NOT afraid of rattlesnakes but only a fool would fail to respect them so when I felt something moving across the top of me and opened my eyes to see a five foot diamondback crossing my ankles I made a heroic effort to be as still as a corpse. I slowly eased my pistol out from under my folded jacket but the damn thing decided to go over Stilson too so I had to wait until it was clear. By that time my heart had stopped pounding enough that I thought better of suddenly firing the pistol in the middle of camp, no telling what that would set off so I just watched it crawl away. Stilson never even stirred. I was too wide awake then so decided to catch this thing up and now I'm beginning to wind down I'm going to try to get some more shut eye. That damned Carlos may decide to show up in the middle of the night or something.

  21. #21

    Day Forty three - Saturday, May 5, 2001, 10:00 a.m.

    <strong>Day Forty three
    Saturday, May 5, 2001, 10:00 a.m.</strong>

    I really shouldn't be wasting time writing in this book but if we have to quickly pull out again I have no idea when I'll get another chance.

    The long and the short of it is that we ended up doing the bug out boogie last night and have been bumping along trying to find a place to light ever since. We've got the battalion out, most of it anyways, but we have no contact with First Battalion nor any idea of what may have become of Third Battalion over to Wachualla. Carlos gave us a surprise last night that caused us considerable indigestion. Colonel Parker was with First Battalion and is missing so Major Hall is acting regimental commander now. We did eventually meet up with Randy and the part of the regimental artillery he had with him and have got scout screens out looking for any of our troops that they can find to send them in our direction.

    I got another hour or so of shut eye after I got yesterday's entry in and then got up. Don't know how he came by it but McWhirter had a large pot of coffee boiling which is what woke me up. I put the troops to any finishing touches on the bunkers and trenchwork, spoke with the river watch and basically figured we had things as squared away as we could make them for the moment. Major Hall had assigned third company to the west side of the road, second company to the east and my first company as reserve. A slow moving storm front blew in around 7:30 p.m. and the bottom fell out with considerable rainfall, strong wind and lightning which pretty well grounded any aerial recon we might have put up. Intelligence told us that the Second Florida was still tied down in North Bradenton and steadily withdrawing over the I-75 bridge. The other bridges to the west had already been breached though with some difficulty.

    About the same time a LRRP team reported a large number of trucks moving north U.S. 17 about 80-100 in all expected to reach the area of Wauchulla around 8 p.m. The Fourth in Avon Park was notified to be ready to send reinforcements. At 8:15 p.m. Wauchulla reported itself heavily engaged and requested reinforcements. Roughly about the same time First Battalion began to report movement in its outer pickets when the first shells fell on their bunkers at the s.r.675 bridge. Upon reflection I can only come to the conclusion that our LRRP team on s.r. 70 was captured or killed because we had no warning of any traffic heading in our direction from Arcadia and it developed that First Battalion was squarely in the path of the main enemy thrust. Nearly all of the trucks that left in the direction of Wauchulla were empty and the attack there was only a feint. A force of several thousand had left Arcadia when the storm rolled in driving without lights for the last ten miles or so and at what must have been high rates of speed to reach our area as fast as they did. At first the colonel's forces were holding their own pretty good then the artillery barrage greatly increased. The First was compelled to fall back to the north side of the bridge and they breached the bridge in the middle (all they could do with the explosives they had on hand). Randy started dropping rounds on the bridge itself which kept the enemy engineering unit from being able to put across a temporary bridge but it was only a few minutes later that one of the Indians along the river reported a large group of troops on foot fording the river about a mile from Randy's position heading towards the sound of the guns. There is a jeep trail that comes off of s.r. 675 that comes up to within a half-mile of the river and from there it's only another mile or so from the air strip. We figure they must have been working from the aerial survey photos seized from the county office in Bradenton to have found the right Jeep trail so quickly and to head towards the airstrip so unerringly. No matter how they knew, Randy didn't have much in the way of troops with him to guard the guns so he had to up stakes and pull out in a hurry or risk losing the guns. The aggressors didn't have any motor transport or anything so he was going to try to find another position far enough they could not reach him quickly but close enough he could still give supporting fire.

    The second company commander (Captain Xavier Bradley), third company commander (Captain Bruce Wilson) and I were discussing with Major Hall the advisability of detaching third company to send via road to reinforce First Battalion when Private Carter ran in saying he was in contact with one of our Indians. The scout had found a canoe in the backyard of one of the riverfront houses and had gone downstream to reconnoiter and was presently at the Ft. Hamer landing about three and a half miles down stream from our landing. He said there were about 20 boats ranging from john boats to bass boats tied up at the landing there, all on the north side with a couple of dark skinned individuals with AK-47's guarding them. We grabbed out a map and sure enough the Ft. Hamer road could reach the Rye road. Major Hall told me to grab a truck and some men and get up the road to investigate. I took Carter with me to run the radio, Tyree, first and second squads of second platoon because they happened to be nearest to hand. We hopped into a two ton stake bed Ford and got.

    We were about a half-mile up the road when the first shots were fired on the bridge. It seems that Carlos in Bradenton had divided his forces. Half continued to force Second Florida across the bridge into Palmetto (they are in a bad way for supplies) and the other half came our way to go around the river and meet them on the other side in a squeeze play and ran smack into us. I don't know if this was intentional or not but it made for a situation that First Battalion was on their own with no artillery support. Major Hall figured there was perhaps 500-600 enemy troops on the other side of us so there no way we could now send third company. The feint at Wauchulla had committed the battalion there so they couldn't easily detach to come down the road to assist them and Fourth Florida was just too far away.

    In any event I was soon too busy to think about the larger picture because we made contact with the boat force. I don't think they had planned on making contact just then because they were still on the road heading towards the Rye Road & s.r. 765 junction when we spotted them. Tyree was driving with this lights off and the wind was blowing from the Cubans towards us so by the time we were even aware of each other we were just about close enough to spit on them. There was no way they weren't going to see us now so Tyree flipped on the head light and clicked the highbeams which fairly well blinded them but damn sure gave them something to shoot at! I got off a long burst with the Thompson into the middle of them and then incoming fire shattered the front and rear windshield. I was the last one off the truck since I stopped to shoot first, everybody else bailed out like it was on fire. Carter took a round through the big gluteus muscle in his left ass cheek but he'll probably be OK. Won't be walking for a while though.

    Frankly, we were lucky. My burst into the middle of the group of men seriously hit only one but he was the one holding the heavy machine gun. Before the others could recover the gun the rest of my crew opened up on them. The debate was brief, but hot and in the end they found our logic overwhelming. We recovered their heavy machine gun but the truck was shot to Hell. We also discovered the radio had taken a round as well, likely the one that hit Carter in the ass. I was trying to decide what to do when Shelby pointed out that if the scout counted 20 boats there sure as Hell weren't twenty boats worth of men here, maybe four or five but not twenty. Where were the rest? That decided it for me. 18 men, one wounded, no radio and no truck was were not going to wander the roads in the dark looking for a force of Cubans of unknown size, location unknown but almost certainly outnumbering us by at least two to one. We headed back towards the bridge about three miles away. We'd just gotten back when the major charged out of the tent, screamed "where the hell have you been!?" and told me to get my company loaded now, now, now!

    Major Hall quickly apprised me of the situation. Randy had found another location to set up the guns, in the middle of s.r. 26 itself but it had taken so long that First Battalion was loosing their grip and already had Cubans on their side of the river. The colonel was calling fire directly on top of his position and had ordered Second Battalion to pull out or risk being trapped if the enemy breached their position and got to the north of us. Of course, pulling out was very problematical since Carlos coming out of Bradenton showed up but it was being painfully accomplished. Randy had detailed two guns to drop phosphorus on the far side of the river which was setting the woods on fire and slowing the enemy advance. The Cubans hadn't brought up their heavy stuff on our position yet so we figured it hadn't arrived and was further back. While the phosphorus was burning the enemy wasn't trying too hard to cross the bridge, I think they were waiting for their artillery to come up and shut it off. The mortars were far enough back that we were able to get them packed and loaded without too much trouble but the muzzle loaders presented difficulties. There was no way to get them on the trucks without exposing ourselves so we ended up quickly tying them and their limbers to the bumpers of the trucks and busses and getting on down the road with them far enough that we could then get them onto the trucks to make better speed. Randy told us he was down to his last two phosphorus shells so we poured all of our spare motor oil into our spare gasoline and poured about a hundred fifty gallons of it on the road slope leading down from the bridge and set it afire with a flare pistol. Took a total of fifteen killed, mostly because we had to expose ourselves to pull out, 21 wounded to some degree or another. There wasn't time to wait for the scouts out on the river, they'd have to catch up as best they could but they were not likely to be taken anyway.

    We got up the road as fast as we could. We'd lost contact with First Battalion a half-hour before. Our last contact with Wauchulla said they were holding their own but not long after we lost contact with the colonel we could not raise them again. We found the rest of the Cubans from the boats in the little town of Parrish at the intersection of U.S. 301 and s.r. 675 about five miles due north of the Ft. Hamer landing.

    The party might have been a real surprise because they'd hidden themselves pretty well but an old man sitting on his front porch smoking a pipe stood up as we came up the street and walked towards the road like he was going to check his mail. As soon as we were within shouting distance he raised his hands and cupped them around his mouth to shout "IT'S AN AMBUSH!!!." It couldn't have been two seconds that we heard a muffled shot and trucks started going in every direction with men jumping out looking for cover. Maybe a second or two after that several machine guns opened up but we'd stopped about two hundred yards too soon. They could not get a good angle of fire at the entire convoy from the upper story of the main street buildings they hid the guns in. They did manage to shoot up my Jeep and the first school bus pretty thoroughly with a heavy machine gun. In less than a minute the entire battalion had bailed out of their various vehicles and first company flanked to the west, second company to the east with third company keeping the windows from which we'd been fired on under fire. If we'd actually been between those buildings at least a part of the convoy would have really been shot to sh*t instead of just my Jeep and one school bus. It took about fifteen minutes to clear them all out with an end result of 2 of ours killed, 4 wounded and twenty Cubans killed and an unknown number who died in two of the buildings that we burned down rather than fight our way into.

    When it was all over I found Major Hall talking to the old man who'd warned us. He was holding the body of an elderly woman whom I took to be his wife. She had a bullet hole in the back of her head. It seems the Cuban officer in charge had held her as a hostage to make the old man sit on his porch so things would look unsuspicious so that we'd drive into the trap and when the old man had warned us he shot her. It so happened the officer had probably run into one of the two buildings we'd burned so maybe it was him who we heard screaming before the roof fell in. The old man is William Jacob Pendergrast, a veteran of the Korean War with a Silver Star and two Purple Hearts. He recovered an M1 carbine that the Cuban had taken and pulled out eight twenty round magazines and a belt to carry them on and told us he was going with us. Major Hall said, "what about your wife?" The old man said there wasn't time to bury her, the Cubans might show up any time, she wanted to be cremated anyway so they'd lay her on her bed, cover her with her quilt and burn the house. The major looked and me and I said, "Major, we're not far from taking twelve to sixty five year olds now. He's willing, bring him with us." Mr. Pendergrast went in the house to arrange his wife and I went out to see to our wounded when I saw McWhirter and Tyree carrying a body out of the shot up bus. It was Mrs. Dorothy Clark, the feisty school bus driver. Well, she said she'd rather die on her feet than whimpering in bed so I guess I shouldn't be too upset but I was anyways. I spoke with the major and we had our dead taken into the house with Mrs. Pendergrast. At least the godd*mned Cubans wouldn't be able to loot their bodies.

    We set the house on fire with the fuel oil from the house furnace and started to load up when Mr. Pendergrast took a long look at me with my Thompson and asked us to wait a minute. He went over to the detached carriage house, swung open the doors and drove out in a Willys Jeep in dark olive drab, white star on the door and hood and cav markings on the bumpers. He pulled up and told me, Carter and the major to get in! It seems Mr. Pendergrast had been a sergeant in Korea and had driven a Jeep just like the one he had there the length of the peninsula for a Colonel who'd carried a Thompson submachine gun everywhere he went. I told him, "well, I'm not a bird but if you'll settle for a lowly captain I think we can make quite an image here" as we drove off.

  22. #22

    Day Forty six - Monday, May Seventh, 2001, 7:00 a.m.

    <strong>Day Forty six
    Monday, May Seventh, 2001, 7:00 a.m.</strong>

    Been a few days since I’ve had a chance to pull this thing out and add anything. Seems like I haven’t slept at all since the last time I opened this book.

    I’m probably going to forget some important details perhaps I can get Shelby or Jim later to go over this with me and fill in anything that’s missing.

    We managed to get away clean that night after shooting our way through the ambush in Parrish and headed for our fall back position on the Little Manatee river. It was plain that what had happened was a combination of running into a Hell of a lot more Cubans than we had troops to resist and an acute failure in intelligence at the worst possible moment. We did eventually recover scraps of First Battalion but nothing more than scattered remnants, the rest were all either killed or captured.

    As soon as Second Florida got the word that we’d had the sh*t shot out of us they evacced out of Palmetto as fast as they could get the last of their people across the I-75 bridge. They tried to blow the bridge but it seems blowing up a U.S. Interstate Highway bridge is a job of work and the quarry explosives their engineers had to work with didn’t quite get the job done. The south bound bridge did fall but the northbound stubbornly kept the right hand lane up. It had to have been seriously weakened and there’s no way I’d have driven a truck over it but when they last saw it there was a long line of Cuban trucks stopped on the bridge with men probing the damaged span. Not that it matters much whether it stood or not, with us having fled the upriver area they could simply go around.

    We stopped on the north side of the Little Manatee at the U.S. 301bridge around two or maybe three and immediately started working up defenses. With just our one battalion we certainly weren't going to stop Carlos coming out of Bradenton by ourselves and sure as hell didn’t have what it took to stop the other Cuban force out of Arcadia if he joined up with him (which he did). Second Florida rolled over the bridge to join us about 8 p.m. or so. Second Florida’s regimental C.O. bought it in a rearguard action getting the last of his unit across the bridge so Major Hall took them over and merged them into us until such a time as we can get sufficient replacements to flesh us out again. They actually managed to get all of their artillery out which came to a fair amount though they’re very low on ammo. They came in with three M1 Abrahm tanks and a half-dozen Bradley APC’s as well, also nearly out of ammo. They’d started out with twice that much armor and had lost it to Carlos and his rockets and artillery in the first days of the invasion when they were just a collection of thrown together National Guard and Army Reserve units scattered across South Florida. First Florida over on the east coast is in no better shape though they did manage a resupply just before Carlos reached Melbourne. The major lost no time in sending off Second Florida’s engineering people to drop the U.S. 41 and I-75 bridges across the lower Little Manatee. He told them he didn't care if they had to use sledgehammers to do it, he wanted those bridges DOWN! There wouldn’t time to set up defensive fortifications to protect them while they did it so Hall sent the M1’s and Bradley’s to provide cover.

    We’d gotten out with our construction equipment since we’d parked it way back down the road when their excavating work was finished and we put them right to use. While they were doing this we had people scouting the riverbanks on both sides up and down stream for every boat they could find and either bring them back or sink them. We still had a lot of our people scattered around down there as well as locals coming across so we both wanted some way to get them across the water to us without having to go to east of Parrish Lake to do it and to prevent anymore surprise parties like the one at Parrish and the Rye road.

    Frankly, the Little Manatee was not the best defensive position and we figured Carlos would eventually push us out so were already looking for other fallback positions such as the Alafia river but that’s getting into the outskirts of Tampa. What we were really hoping for was reinforcements.

    We decided to hold the U.S. 301 bridge and drop the others farther downstream because it would force Carlos to move east to get around us and by doing that would expose his flank to the Fourth Florida and our Third Florida Third Battalion which had temporarily joined them. If we could catch him between us and them he just might feel pinched enough to withdraw southwards. He took his time moving north apparently consolidating his gains and exploring putting troops across the Sunshine Skyway directly into St. Petersburg. There just wasn’t much we could do about them getting across the bay like that other than get a call into the Air Force and the Army Aviation unit with the Apaches (they’d unfortunately been tied up supporting the First Florida in the battle of Melbourne while we were getting our asses waxed). The gods finally deigned to smile on us and the Air Force sent several B-52’s in and dropped the middle span of the Skyway into the bay, apparently the very span that fell into the bay once before in that accident some years ago. There were vehicles on it this time too – Cuban vehicles heading into St. Pete. We don’t know how many got across but intel thinks not enough to make for a credible military force - against us - though they'll be a terror to the surviving residents until we get forces in there to quash them. We asked why if the Air Force had godd*mned B-52’s to bomb a bridge why couldn’t they give us some air support once in a while?! The only answer we got was “priorities.”

    We put the breather we received to good use in fortifying our side of the bridge and even received replacements. They had been on their way down to meet us at Avon Park but had been held up due to transport shortage so finally met us at the Little Manatee. To my astonishment Jim was one of the troops! I asked him what the Hell he was doing here?! Why wasn’t he at home watching the family?! He said he wasn’t about to have to listen for the rest of his life while Shelby and I told war stories over and over while he sat home and besides my father and uncle John were keeping an eye on the family. I was getting wound up into a good rant and nearly missed that. Took the wind right out of it. “They’re at the house?” “Yes, he said, they showed up about a week after you left. They looked like Hell but your dad, his wife, your uncle John, his wife Cathy and their daughter Heather all came in. The place is pretty crowded so Lisa moved in with Ann and I gave them the Bishop house and enlisted. Here I am.” I was elated that more of my kin had survived and appalled that Jim was here and didn’t know whether to whoop or burst!

    I think the momentum of the war is finally beginning to swing in our favor. Fourth Florida moved out of Avon Park, incorporated our Third Battalion and settled into Ft. Meade on the Peace River south of Bartow. This allows them to cover the Lakeland/Orlando approaches while still being close enough to give our pincer movement on Carlos's northern thrust a chance of working. The day after we reached the Little Manatee river the Fifth Florida joined them. It's built out of volunteers from among the South Florida refugees, panhandle and northeast Florida coast volunteers. It's even newer than the Fourth but with a leavening of active duty sergeants and officers out of Stewart, Benning and Bragg. Seems like the DoD is finally sending us some real help down this way instead of concentrating so heavily on the Mexican border. That same day the First Georgia met us at the Little Manatee with news the First Alabama was making its way south to us as well. Our career military officers got a little upset with it but I suppose it's to be expected under the circumstances when the Confederate First, Second and Third National flags began to appear as well as the Battle Flag. The Confederate States are marching to war and will not be denied. Major Hall (now brevet full bird Colonel) finally threw his hands up in the air and accepted it when two all black companies in the First Georgia said, "with all due respect sir, THIS time it's OUR flag!!!" He did manage to get them all to agree that the U.S. flag would always be flown in the superior position. Our surviving Washington fatcats had better give careful consideration to this because the nation is undergoing a political paradigm shift whether they like it or not.

    What with so many people having been pushed out of South Florida and the Cubans continuing advance into Central Florida there are a lot of people on the move trying to get away or coming to the realization that they'd better be getting down here to do the fighting or they'd be doing it in their front yards. It hasn't been terrific hordes coming to volunteer but there has been a steady stream. Regimental staff being nearly non-existent (most had been with the First or the Third Battalions so were either dead or out of contact now) Colonel Hall has impressed us surviving company officers into service. "Captain Hagan," he said to me, "I realize that you came to the Army in a non-traditional manner but so far you've done a tolerable good job. Nevertheless you need more education in the workings of an army regiment. I can't send you to a school for this but I can give you on-the-job training therefore I'm appointing you battalion executive officer." My heart sank. My first reaction was "no good deed goes unpunished." I've just got to the point where I'm not in a panic at the thought of leading 80-90 men into combat and now this! "Thank you, sir", I replied, "Thank you so very, very much."

    Part of my job since then has been to accept or reject any new volunteers (if they can see a hundred feet and pull a trigger I accept them!) and I have to admit it's been interesting in just the two days I've been doing it. That morning a group of twenty young men marched in (I do mean marched too) half wearing Confederate Gray and the other half wearing Union Blue. It seems they'd been active in Civil War recreation and since none of them had sufficient camouflage BDU's to outfit them all they chose to wear their historical gear all the way down to their knapsacks. They weren't carrying muzzleloaders though but AR-15s, SKS's, AK-47's and one .30-30 lever action. What really gladdened my heart was that they'd brought their black powder with them! They thought it might be useful for bomb making. It was granulated for use in rifles so the gun commanders will have to modify their loadings but between the twenty of them they had near to a hundred pounds of powder! I'm not sure how much the average cannon charge uses but this damn sure extends the useful life of our pieces. I asked them if they had any experience in laying, loading and firing Civil War era cannon and they all said they'd at least watched gun crews do it many times before so had some idea of how it was done so I said, "Good! I'm assigning you all to the regimental artillery. It just so happens we have six muzzle loading cannon that we use for fixed position defense and the gun crews suffered heavily when we had to pull the guns out in a hurry down on the Manatee river. Y'all all even look the part!" I think they were happy with the assignment - probably had been envisioning Gettysburg style charges with fixed bayonets.

    Another seven or eight men in various camouflage and blue jeans came in all with their own rifles were assigned to fill holes and late that afternoon a Weremacht SS sergeant walked up to volunteer. I'm not really up on authenticity but the uniform certainly looked accurate and he was carrying an STG-58 in 7.62 NATO. Turns out to be another historical recreation enthusiast. He was accompanied by a fellow in a Second World War U.S. Army uniform down to web gear with corporal's stripes carrying a Garand . I'd heard before the war that First and Second World war historical recreation was becoming popular but hadn't seen a battle or anything. Even had a dozen Western Action Shooters come down from the club over to Eustis on horseback. I decided to go with the flow and sent them over to join our Micosukee Indians and Arcadian cowboys in the scouts. They traded in their lever actions for M-16's but they all kept their six shooters. We've got a lot of Vietnam vets who brought old tiger stripe camouflage and other uniforms of their era. We don't have sufficient uniforms to equip everyone so they're having to wear whatever they came in. At the rate we're going now the regiment is going to look like a time-warp run amok.

    The incoming volunteers did spark a bit of controversy though. Just after the Civil War unit marched in six women in full BDUs marched in, with M-16s slung and in full kit. Seems they were in the ROTC program at USF in Tampa and had been on an exercise in the Withlacoochee forest when the bomb dropped along with another four or five other females working on various field skills they needed. The others had eventually gone back to find their families but they had stayed together, first because their families lived near to either Mc Dill A.F.B. or Tampa International Airport and then later when the Cubans invaded they'd done guerilla work against them. Seeing has how they were trained, equipped and a part of the military already I didn't think twice of accepting them. This set a precedent that was soon going to cause me considerable heartburn.

    Late that afternoon several more women showed up with a large group of men. I took the men but was mulling over the idea of the women. They all had firearms but none had previous military training. One of the female ROTC members approached me (Hawkins is her name. Not sure if they're supposed to be called cadets or what), saluted and asked if she could speak with me in private. We stepped out of the tent and she spoke her piece, "Captain Hagan, I realize that it has been Army policy in the past not to place women in direct combat units so I can understand your natural reluctance to accept them now in a combat regiment. I think it important though to point out that we have been accepting men with absolutely no military training, unequipped and some as young as fourteen years of age (I didn't know about that!) so I would like to respectfully request that you accept these women who have come here to volunteer. They're of age, in no worse physical condition than many men who have been accepted, have supplied their own weaponry and they're not only willing, they want to be here! It's their homes, their families, their state and their nation we're fighting for, why should they not be allowed to fight for them as well?" I mulled it over for a while but had to admit they had the right to fight for their homes as much as any man so I'd accept them. "You realize," I told her as we headed back to the tent, "there may well be Hell to pay for this but what are they going to do, courts martial me?"

    I took those three women, assigned them first company under Stilson where I'd put the ROTC cadets. He was nonplussed about it but didn't raise a fuss. The next day several more female ROTC cadets formerly of the University of Florida and the University of Central Florida volunteered and were accepted along with their male counterparts. I'm sure Ann and Lisa would be proud of me but my gut says I may well rue the day the first time battle is joined. Colonel Hall has made no comment positive or negative about my decision but has made it clear that I am responsible for maintaining discipline in my company as well as keeping him apprised of any problems in the rest of the regiment. Well, if things work out OK that will be good. If disaster strikes at least I'll hang for something that was worth doing.

    Word just now came in that the Second Alabama is also on the way but HQ is sending them down the St. Petersburg peninsula to see what the Cubans who managed to get across the Sunshine Skyway are up to and put a stop to it. The Second and Third Georgia are also on their way to back up the First Florida. There's even a regiment coming down out of Tennessee and scuttlebutt says the Carolinas are mobilizing. It'll be days before they all get here but I think the time has come for Carlos to begin to sweat rather than us.

  23. #23

    Day Forty nine - Thursday, May 10th, 2001, 2:00 a.m.

    <strong>Day Forty nine
    Thursday, May 10th, 2001, 2:00 a.m.</strong>

    Mail call was a little while ago and I just finished reading my first ever letter from Ann which reminds me that I haven't made any journal entries these last few days. She says there's an elderly black gentleman who lives a mile or so from the house whose wife just died. The wife was a diabetic and took a pretty stiff insulin dose every day and eventually the steadily warming weather spoiled her supply with the inevitable results. Will and Uncle John dug her grave for him and helped him bury her. Turns out that he used to sharecrop many years ago with tobacco, corn and sweet potatoes being the major crops so he's helping Ann and my dad cultivate the tobacco plants they grew from the seed Richard gave us. So far she says it's doing great and they've already had several offers to buy the crop! Uncle John says Mr. Satterwhite reminds him of Uncle Remus in <I>Song of the South</I>, an observation that would have been politically incorrect to mention in public before The Day. He never went to high school and mainly did agricultural labor all of his life but the man knows how to farm using horse drawn agricultural implements and hand tools and has been a real boon so far. His kids, grandkids and great grandkids had long since all moved to Atlanta and Birmingham before the war and likely did not survive the nuke attacks. When his wife died Ann thought he would pass soon as well but the neighborhood kids took a liking to him because of the stories of the Great Depression he'd tell and it was by happenstance that Amanda mentioned we were looking for information on how to grow and cure tobacco that led them to discover this gold mine of pre-modern agricultural knowledge.

    Last Monday and most of Tuesday went by pretty much as I indicated in the previous entry with First Alabama joining us early Tuesday afternoon. A Major-General Zachary Dawson was supposed to be coming down out of Bragg with a staff to take overall command of the regiments here and was expected in sometime this Friday or Saturday - transportation permitting. We were starting to have more and more encounters with Cuban patrols probing the length of the Little Manatee so we expected Carlos to move soon. With the resupply that came in with the two new regiments for our artillery and armor, plus what they brought in with them we felt confident that we'd have no problems holding the U.S. 301 bridge and were now starting to think of taking the offense.

    Intelligence estimated that our present combined forces here in Florida were now approximately 1:1 with the Cuban/Nicaraugan effectives for the first time since the invasion began and that if Carlos put off attacking for another two weeks or so we'd be closer to 1.5-1.75 to 1 when the other regiments still in transit arrived. Colonel Hall was in no hurry to launch an offensive against Carlos before we improved our troop advantage and, in fact, had been officially discouraged from doing so by HQ. In the Tuesday afternoon staff meeting I observed that perhaps we should take a lesson from William Tecumseh Sherman in the way he marched across Tennessee and Georgia, namely building defensive fortifications in a place so strategically sensitive that the enemy simply has to attack them. With the defenders advantage we could then allow Carlos to break his balls against our fortifications rather than having to risk invading his territory. This was chewed over a bit and ultimately decided to give it a try. Even among the officers there was a strong sentiment to get some of our own back from Mr. Carlos. That was the last control I had over the idea but at least they used it.

    We all studied the aerial survey maps we liberated from the Hillsborough and Polk county offices plus what topo maps could be located and finally decided that there were two points on the Alafia river that would serve us so that night we sent every bit of construction equipment and engineering man power we could find up to get started.

    The plan is basically this: Carlos is running out of time and he knows it. Unless he can quickly inflict severe damage on us sooner or later the rest of the Southeastern U.S. is going to recover sufficiently to be able to organize enough regiments to kick him the Hell off the peninsula. Whatever else he is going to do here he must do soon. He's already got most of the southern part of the state on a line running from Palmetto to Sebring and then curving up to Melbourne. That's a vast treasure of loot but some of the very best disappeared in the nuclear attacks on Miami/Ft. Lauderdale. What was left still amounted to quite a lot but he's on the outskirts of Tampa/St. Pete and not all that far from Orlando right now. If he can cut off, encircle and destroy the line regiments here on the Little Manatee he'll have both coasts from Melbourne to north of Tampa and both will then be able to drive towards Orlando with the Ft Meade units cut off from supply and isolated. This will set us back enough that he'll have time to load up with probably as much loot as he's already taken in the lower peninsula before we're finally able to bring enough forces to bear to kick him out - if we can kick him out. It's still not clear how much we can count on the non-coastal states for help.

    We don't think he can do this but we want him to think so. If he's going to strike north again he either has to come up between the Second and Third Florida and First Georgia here at the U.S. 301 bridge on the Little Manatee and the Fourth and Fifth Florida (actually somewhat over strength) in Fort Meade or go way to the east and try to go north that way again through Wauchulla and Avon Park. It's unlikely he'd expose that much of his flank to us trying to do that.

    If he's going to come he'll have to come between us and if he does come that way he's going to have to cross the Alafia river near to a little wide spot in the road on s.r. 39 called Pinecrest or cross at the bridge near to Lithia Springs. Any further to the west and the river is wide enough that he would find it difficult to cross under fire if we dropped the bridge and any further to the east puts him in the Bone Valley area of Polk County (so named because of the fossils found in the phosphate beds) with it's vast wastelands of loose tailing hills, and flooded mine pits where maneuver would be extremely difficult and usable roads very few. If he can cross the river he'll probably try to cut a hard left and catch us between the lower Alafia and the Little Manatee where we won't be able to cross either and force defeat in detail upon us.

    Once we analyzed the terrain and geography to the point that we could settle on the two areas that would give him the most likely chance of breaking through Colonel Hall conferred with the other regimental commanders who agreed to the plan and we immediately got all the construction equipment off to the crossings that we could and sent engineering parties to forage the phosphate mines for all the usable equipment and explosives they could get their hands on. Fuel is a problem for running heavy equipment but we're managing to find enough of it to get things moving. There is quite a lot of large earth moving equipment available in the phosphate mines and we have at least forty or fifty troops who used to work in them who know who to run it so we put them into a high-priority move to the area to locate the equipment, get it running and get it to the Alafia not very far away. Speed was of the essence because if we could see the obvious on the map then so could Carlos and he may already have patrols heading for those bridges even now to put them under surveillance.

    By daylight Wednesday morning the engineers had already gotten a rough survey completed and berms were going up on both sides of the bridge and bunkers going in. They estimated they could have good fighting positions in place by midnight but really wanted until at least noon on Thursday to do a proper job. Colonel Hall told them to put every possible man on the work and that he didn't care if they were comfortable or not, just effective because our long range recon were already reporting Carlos was sending recon east on s.r. 62 preparatory to heading north on s.r. 39. Army aviation was able to come through for us by doing a blitzkrieg raid into Bradenton with their four Apaches before dawn Wednesday morning while a storm front passed through. They shot up some trucks but could not locate the Cuban artillery. Luck was with us and they also hit what turned out to be a fuel dump. Truck fuel has to be as short for Carlos as it is for us since the Navy thinks that no significant supplies are coming in from outside so we're hoping that between the loss of the shot up trucks and the fuel that Carlos will be slowed enough to allow us to really get our defensive positions ready. There was/is so much population on the coast from Bradenton south that replacing the transport probably won't take long but scrounging the fuel should take him a while.

    Wednesday around dusk long range recon reported a line of Cuban trucks turning north ton s.r. 39 and several of our indian scouts who'd penetrated to the outskirts of Bradenton to the Cuban marshalling yards reported that hundreds more trucks and their artillery were prepping for a move out as well. Looks like Carlos is getting out his big hammer this time. If he can break us here he'll be home free for at least several more weeks and will be able to do what he will with pretty much all of Central Florida until then.

    We left the Second Florida regimental artillery to cover the U.S. 301 bridge and about half of the Second's troops taking the rest with us. We felt that the river there was wide enough that the replenished artillery for the Second could prevent a crossing there for long enough for us to move troops back if he really decided to make a play there. The remaining part of the Second and the First Georgia (who had not yet seen combat) would be put to covering the bridge near to Lithia Springs while the Third would cover the bridge near to Pinecrest. We had all of our artillery and First Georgia's to cover the bridges and this time they we wouldn't be having to fight in such an ammo depleted condition. The artillery from First Alabama was diverted from their trek onto the St. Petersburg peninsula to cover us as well so we were actually artillery rich for the first time ever. The M1s and Bradleys of the Second Florida were stationed with the First Georgia's armor at the little town of Bloomingdale where their artillery park was located. This was done both to provide security for the big guns and to given them a central location to Lithia Springs to react to any breakthroughs that might occur elsewhere in the line. The areas near to the bridges were too swampy to allow for much use of armor. Third Florida's and First Alabama's artillery (excluding our point defense muzzle loaders) was stationed at a road junction of s.r. 39 and an c.r. 263 about two miles north of the bridge. Not having any armor of our own anymore Fifth Florida sent us four Bradleys and an M1 to provide security and to guard against breakthroughs.

    Before they'd been sent out our cowboys and Indians (our scouts and irregulars) were issued LAW rockets and quarry explosives and given some fast training in how to use them.. To my surprise Shelby turned out to be in one of the scout groups. Said he was bored being in the larger units and wanted a chance to have some freedom of movement. I told him the life expectancy of scouts wasn't good but he said he knew woods, marshes and groves and thought he'd make out alright. Well, he's an adult so there wasn't much I could do. Glad we gave them the rockets because we had some more minor luck when some of our cowboys and Indians pulled a rocket ambush on that first Cuban convoy on a bridge over a small lake in the upper reaches of the Little Manatee river just south of Ft. Lonesome. They had allowed half of the convoy to cross the bridge before using LAWs rockets to destroy vehicles at both ends of the bridge, the lead vehicle in the convoy that had already crossed the bridge and as luck would have it a gasoline truck in the center of the bridge. The unit leader reported considerable blockage of the bridge which should take at least several hours to adequately clear. He estimated casualties to be between several dozen to fifty. Carlos would now be moving much slower now in anticipation of further ambushes, particularly since the road crossed several more streams and passed by quite a lot of woods, marshes and orange groves. Unfortunately, our irregulars took three dead, six wounded due to heavy machine gun fire.

    At about 9:00 p.m. a LRRP team reported that a force of Cubans estimated between 5,000-7,000 with a large artillery train, six tanks and nine APC's had passed their position at Peacock Hammock at the intersection of s.r. 62 and s.r. 39 and were now heading north on 39. We've instructed all irregulars to make taking out as much of their artillery as they can their top priority and to slow the remainder as much as they are able.

    Spent the next four hours reviewing my company's positions and working out commo details between those of us at the bridge and the artillery/armor site. Casualties in our scouts have been heavy but they've managed to stop the Cuban movement twice and have taken out some of his guns.

    Staff meeting now in twenty minutes. Need to go dig up sgt. Pendergrast and pvt. Carter and get up the road.

  24. #24

    Day Fifty one - Saturday, May 12th, 2001, 11:00 a.m. (part one of two)

    <strong>Day Fifty one.
    Saturday, May 12th, 2001, 11:00 a.m. (part one of two)</strong>

    This old book is starting to look rather tattered for having traveled with me no longer than it has. The cover has a bad cut that I've taped over with "hundred mile an hour" tape as a result of a bayonet slash which fortunately turned on this book rather than chopping my left lung out. There's also bloodstains front and back (mostly mine, alas). Still haven't used half the pages in this volume (I started a new one when I left to volunteer, the original is back to the house) but I think I'll have to retire it soon before it comes apart completely.

    It was too damn early in the morning when Sgt. Pendergrast rolled up with Carter in the jeep. The sergeant is on the far side of sixty five and not really in condition for military service anymore but he's very hard-core and dedicated so no one wanted to tell him he couldn't come and get killed with us. Colonel Hall says since I have a thing for antique weapons I could have an antique Jeep and driver to go with them so the sergeant is at my disposal. I know he must be feeling it but he always manages to look fresher and more gung-ho than I do. I think he's actually enjoying all of this! These old Willys Jeeps are neat old creatures but they do not give a smooth ride. The thought of spending a career bouncing around bruising my kidneys in one is not my idea of a good time. Enough mooning, gotta get back to my muttons.

    The staff meeting was at a house we'd taken over near to our regimental artillery park at the road junction. It was central between the bridge forces and where our cannon and armor was located and had a large "Florida room" meaning it was a large airy room with many of the older jalousy (sp?) windows that you seldom see anymore. A ping-pong table in the room had been pressed into service as a map table. Three Coleman lanterns were providing light. One over the map table and the remaining two in opposite corners. Made for good light but it was damn hot in there.

    The meeting had been underway about a half-hour or forty five minutes covering contingencies in case Carlos did something unexpected. The Colonel and the First Battalion c.o. (major Ricard) had just stepped outside to use the latrine and I was over near to the wall of windows overlooking the backyard which even after close to three months of neglect was still quite nice to look at. The owners really had a thing for tropical landscape. I was just moving my Thompson to get into my map case when we all heard voices coming in from the living room where we had the radios set up. "Hey! Who the Hell are you?", thup, thup, thup, thup, a sound I recognized immediately from the Class III weapons shoots we used to hold on the Sportsman Association shooting range as some form of suppressed weapon. I snatched my subgun up as others drew their sidearms and was straightening up to head for the door into the living room when the door flew open and at least two hand grenades flew in heading for opposite corners. Too late! I immediately leapt backwards and went back first through the jalousy windows falling several feet into the yard outside. I don't think I was even quite finished falling when the grenades detonated and blew out the windows with a tremendous blast followed by a large fireball coming out the now missing windows. Only thing I can figure was that the grenade fragments hit at least one of the hanging lantern's fuel tanks and sprayed pressurized highly volatile lantern fuel out into the room to be quickly ignited by the burning lantern mantles.

    The Florida room was immediately awash in flame and there was screaming from inside. Only two of the other room occupants made it out after the blast and both were on fire. No time to assist them, I leapt to my feet (I could feel I was cut across my back) and ran for the back door of the house. I had just released the bolt on the Thompson when the back door flew open and three men in black clothing ran out - not ours, had to be some of the Cuban spec ops or whatever who were attacking - and I gave them a raking burst that dropped all three of them. There were more shots inside the house so I figured we might still have some of ours alive inside. I dropped behind a large live oak and was just considering how best to approach the door when another black clad figure ran out. A three round burst dropped him and then the bark on the tree leapt off and stung me across the face from the fire coming through the kitchen window next to the back door. Dropped flat on the ground behind the tree and put a couple of bursts into the window and the window on the other side of the door. I could hear firing on the opposite side of the house and a lot of yelling from far away heading in my direction. The sound of several men running hard behind me reached me and I rolled over to see who it was. The light of the burning house showed them to be not ours and I put a burst into the group of three men. I was in the light shadow of the fire so they never saw me even though we weren't twenty feet apart. My burst caught two of them and then the subgun ran dry (I had one of the stick magazines in because they're lighter).

    Naturally the muzzle flash gave away my position and the third man fired. His rifle bullet passed so close to my head that I felt the wind of it on my left ear. As soon as my gun went dry I had started leaping to my feet. He fired several more times but I was still in the dark and moving so he could not place me exactly once I'd stopped firing. I was fumbling for the other stick mag when he came around the tree and I just managed to get the barrel of my subgun up to deflect the bayonet thrust he made at my throat. For a few seconds he cut and thrust at me with his bayonet while I desperately parried (we were too close for him to be able to lower his rifle sufficiently to shoot me) when he caught me out with a feint and chopped me hard across the left chest knocking me down. My breath came out in a big "woof!" when he did this and I knew he'd put an end to me. He must have thought so to because he turned his attention in the direction of the corner of the house and ripped off a long burst in answer to several shots that sprayed bark off the oak tree onto him. I came to the realization that I wasn't dead (at least just yet anyways) while he was still firing and started reaching for my sidearm. I'd just drawn it when he realized I was still moving and before he could bring his rifle back around I shot him three times in the chest and once through the groin as he was falling backwards. I lay still long enough to get my wind back and looked around the tree again. The house was well and truly on fire and it sounded like the battle had moved to the front of the house where they spec ops must have entered from. Looking around I could not see any of ours on this side of the house so I stayed in the shadow of the tree and sat still. I put the drum in the gun so figured I'd could put down a plentitude of fire before I ran dry.

    The fire fight to the front intensified and the remaining Cubans inside must have decided that it was better to try to make a run for it out the back door again even though they'd already had several cut down that way rather than continue to try to hold the house. Several grenades came out the windows on either side of the door but being behind the tree they did nothing but cuts twigs and leaves to fall on me. About three seconds after the grenades detonated the four surviving Cubans hit the door running straightaway for the nearest tree which just happened to be the one I was behind! I dropped the first two quickly, the third traded several shots with me before I dropped him (I was mostly still the shadow of the tree so he could not clearly see me) and the fourth took off at an angle while I was shooting it out with the third man. He quickly reached the trees when I heard a "braaapp" sound unlike what an M-16, AK-47 or my Thompson makes. I stayed behind the tree unwilling to expose myself before I knew where the last man was at and things grew slowly quiet except for the shouting of men in the house and to the front and the sound of the steadily growing fire. I don't think the entire fight from start to finish cold have taken three minutes. Maybe not even that long.

    After a while I heard Pendergrast's voice in the tree line to my left where the last Cuban ran off to, "Captain Hagan! You alive!? I know I heard a Tommy gun and it has to be you. Captain Hagan?!" There wasn't any shooting so I got hunched up behind the tree and called back, "I'm here sergeant. There was a Cuban ran off in your direction in that last group that made it out of the house. Did you see him?" He replied, "I saw him captain, and got him just as he reached the tree line. He's dead." I stood up and staying in the dark of the trees moved to Pendergrast's position. He had his M1 carbine in his hand. He said, "Do you think there's any more of them?" "No," I replied, "not unless they're still in the house but it sounds like we've retaken it already. That was a full-auto burst I heard from your carbine sergeant, I don't recall you saying it was a Class III weapon." Pendergrast grinned at me and said, "Captain, I learned as a recruit that the government doesn't need to know everything about a man's life to get their job done." I grinned back at him, "well, I don't reckon the ATF is gonna be coming around now to haul you off. Damn glad you had it."

    Men started pouring out of the back door, ours, so we stepped into the light so they could see us. "Anymore back here?" called a voice I recognized as the colonel's. "No sir," I shouted back, "I think Pendergrast and I got the ones who came out the back door and the ones who came up from back yonder to support them." "Good," he shot back, "report back to your company. Regimental C.P. is transferred to the command tent at the artillery park. You're to take acting command of your battalion. Major Johson (Second Battalion C.O.) is severely burned and I don't think he's going to make it. Second and Third Company C.O.'s never made it out of the house." He walked over to me so that only he, Pendergrast and I were close. "I know you feel unqualified to lead a unit as large as a battalion but the battalion is already in place and ready to go. They need a familiar face and voice. You've been fully briefed on the plan and the backups so just keep your unit together, fighting and in communication with me. You'll do OK", he reassured me.

    We saluted and walked around to the front of the house towards the jeep. Pendergrast said, "As soon as I heard the shooting I told Carter to get on the horn to the artillery park and get more men down here. I'm fairly sure none of the Cubans managed to get away and it sure looks like they just burnt up all the maps! Captain, we've got to get you to Dr. Mc Intyre! You're a mess of blood and cuts all down your back! I knew I was cut but had been too busy killing rather than being killed to even think about it. I sure started feeling it then! Shock does funny things.

    We got back to the bridge area and found the aid station. I shucked out of my BDU shirt and undershirt and Mc Intyre started probing. I had about two dozen cuts of varying lengths but most were fairly minor even if they did bleed a lot. I had four that had to be sutured for a total of about eighteen sutures. McIntyre is a real hardass and refused to use any anaesthetic saying it was in very short supply and had to be saved for the more seriously wounded that would be coming in when the Cubans finally got around to throwing their big party. He gave me a stick with a towel wrapped around it to bite on while he probed the worst of the cuts for embedded glass and then sutured me up. That son-of-a-bitching Pendergrast said I screamed through four octaves and that I missed my calling - I should have gone into opera! I gave him the best cussing I could come up with but he just laughed and laughed saying if I wanted to give him a good cussing I'd better pack a lunch because he'd been cussed by the best in the business!

    McIntyre finally finished probing, cleaning and suturing and had a medic bandage me up. I had so much tape and gauze on my back that it felt like I was wearing a quilt. I asked McIntyre if he didn't have some better way to bandage me up and he said if I didn't want to wear a bandage coat then I shouldn't go leaping through windows. Stunts like that were for Hollywood. If he weren't such a damn good doc I'd kick him squarely in the ass!

    Here comes Kowalksi with what should be the captured property report. Will finish this up when I've reviewed it.

  25. #25

    Day Fifty one - Saturday, May 12th, 2001, 11:00 a.m. (part two of two)

    <strong>Day Fifty one.
    Saturday, May 12th, 2001, 11:00 a.m. (part two of two)</strong>

    Have reviewed the captured property report and given the portable loot (precious metals, jewelry and the like) that we've recovered from the enemy dead, wounded and captured in relation to the number of our unit members it appears that we may actually be able to pay the regimental troops a meaningful amount or at least give something to their survivors. Carlos did very well for himself from Naples to Bradenton. There used to be some pretty high class communities down there. Reports from refugees fleeing the areas have it that there is precious little there now.

    By the time the staff meeting ambush was over and I got shut of Dr. McIntyre it was going on 7 a.m. I got ahold of Stilson, Strickland, Tyree and McWhirter and gave them a brief run down of what had happened at the staff meeting and that I was temporary acting head of the battalion. As such I was detailing Stilson to take the company for the minute to minute details and that I wanted all of them to get out right now and see that the rest of the battalion was squared away into their positions, that they all had sufficient ready ammo and water and that the battalion radio net was up and working properly.

    Carlos had had a slow time of up coming up s.r. 39 what with the ambushes and having to check every bridge quite carefully (one had blown up on him when he was in the middle of it) before he crossed it. He was reported now to be just seven miles to the south and had finally eliminated enough of our irregulars in the area that he could set up his artillery so intel expected we'd start taking incoming any minute now. Our artillery was already working out fire plots for counter battery but wanted to wait for Carlos to commit himself before they opened up so they'd have the best chance of taking some of his guns out.

    Our river scouts reported increasing contacts from west of the U.S. 301 bridge to well east of our position into the phosphate mines and in fact Carlos was having an early party in the mines as we spoke. Intelligence thinks he was looking for heavy equipment for fortification and bridge building. Too bad for him we got to it first! My wife used to teach down here at Bartow and Mulberry some years ago and I'd run into several of her old Latin students and the principal of the high school in Mulberry where she'd taught. They were all part of a local militia now and had agreed to secure the mines for us since many of them worked there and knew the place like the backs of their hands. Her former Latin students gave me the Roman salute and shouted, "WITH our shields or ON them!" Colonel Hall saw them doing it so he now probably thinks I'm a nut but then I’ve had folks think I’m a nut for years so it’s nothing new. What’s he gonna do, throw me out of the Army? Her students were always a strange bunch but they were good kids. Smart too - I'd be willing to bet they'd come up with some surprises for Carlos.

    About 10:00 a.m. or so the first rounds started to fall. The Cuban scouts had done their jobs well because the very first shell that went off knocked me flat on my ass in the C.P. and us underneath damn near eight feet of dirt and tree trunks! About six more rounds fells at various points over the next minute or so when our arty opened up in rebuttal. It wasn't but a few minutes later that word came in that one of our Indians had killed an enemy trooper with a radio in a position that overlooked the bridge whom he thought was an artillery spotter. The Cuban fire didn't get any better for a while after that so we figure he was right. We had an artillery duel for a half hour with our guns shooting at their guns and their guns shooting at the bridge positions and at where they thought our guns were. I don't suppose I'm the first one to observe it but sitting in a hole and having some fella pound the snot out of you with artillery while not being able to do anything about it is a fast road to madness!

    Around 11:00 a.m. we got the first direct sightings of troops on the road leading to our bridge. I heard our heavy mortars open up behind us and some of the artillery shifted to the road as well. Scouts reported that most of the enemy troops were in the woods on either side of the road. The width of the river being what it is we had not put anything but scouts on the other side of the water because retreating troops would be exposed to enemy fire for a long time getting back across. Nothing vehicular was really trying to come down the pavement, they just seemed to be hanging on the far edge of visibility, to draw our fire I think. The scouts were reporting the troops in the woods all seemed to be carrying slabs of some light, white colored material they thought was styrofoam. Well, it didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that it was to be used for floats to get across the river. Just before they should have reached the river's edge the Cuban artillery shifted entirely from shelling our positions and artillery to dropping smoke rounds along a broad stretch of the river. Carlos wanted to obscure visibility to protect his troops crossing the water.

    The air above the river quickly filled with thick smoke. As soon as the reports came in that the water was full of floats heading over to our side Randy switched his shelling and started dropping phosphorus and cluster munitions along the same broad front and the woods caught fire. With the shells no longer falling on our heads I went up to the top of the bunker with my field glasses to get a visual on the bridge and the part of the river that could be seen from my position. Perhaps the professionals can run a battle from inside a bunker relying on just radio reports and maps but I feel more confident when I can see at least a part of what's going on.

    The smoke from the phosphorus and the forest fire also began to fill the river valley so Carlos eventually shifted his arty again to dropping his own phosphorus and smoke on the bunkers on our side of the bridge. A white hot splash just missed my left arm as I dove down the hole. That was probably as mistake as it felt like I'd torn the sutures in one of my cuts and it started bleeding again. We'd brought in sheet tin pulled down from hay and equipment barns all over the place to place over the positions for just such a contingency so we actually had very few casualties from the incendiaries unlike the Cubans who had to run exposed through the stuff to get at us. On our side of the river battle had been fully joined on both sides of the bridge as more and more of the enemy successfully made it across before being cut down.

    Just as the first phosphorus shells fell on the bridge bunkers Carlos sent in a vehicle force. The first six vehicles were heavy trucks in the five ton range that had been fitted with heavy steel plate over the grill, tires, motor and windshield without even a vision slit. The drivers couldn't see so must have been using some form of mirror arrangement or watched the pavement edge to move forward which they did at a fairly high rate of speed. Carlos must have known these trucks didn't stand a chance of penetrating the bridge barricades, I think he was using them to force us to reveal the locations of our heavy machine guns which opened up on the trucks at a range of several hundred yards. A light mortar got lucky and made a direct hit on one but the rest eventually were taken out as the AP .50 bullets punched through the grill armor to wreck their motors. The Cuban mortars opened up then and starting walking in towards our heavy machine guns. Our heavy mortars started looking for their mortars.

    Enough troops were getting across the river that a few had actually made it up onto the bridge. It would take blasting or heavy equipment to clear the barricade and apparently blasting was exactly what they had in mind as several produced satchel charges and tried to place them. One muzzle loader each on opposite sides opened up and swept the bridge. A close range hit on humans with grapeshot from a cannon cannot be described in words. Some portions of the line with the poorest visibility were reporting enemy troops getting to within 50 ft of the trenches before they were taken out. I notified several reserve platoons to be ready to respond to those locations. This time I ordered everyone to fix bayonets in advance.

    Carlos shifted his artillery again once he'd put enough phosphorus and smoke on our positions to degrade visibility in the area of the bridge. This time he started the shells coming in right at the edge our first row of trenches. I consulted with the colonel and we both agreed that Carlos was about to make his first serious push to gain a toehold on our side of the river and would walk his arty right up the riverbank just ahead of his troops. We'd decided in advance if he did this that we'd let him overrun our first row of trenches then we'd pull our own special surprise to pay him back for his that he'd given us at the staff meeting.

    When colonel Parker (the previous regimental C.O.) had come down from Ft. Stewart he'd brought little more than communications gear and intelligence people with him because of the difficulties of transport then (not that it's easy even now). Quite a lot of that gear was for radio intercept and all of those intel people were not only fluent in Spanish, they were fluent in Cuban Spanish. We knew what frequencies Carlos was talking to his forward observers on and had either deduced or broken some of his codes. Not all of them, but maybe enough. Our plan was to wait until he had well and truly committed himself to a thrust across the river when traffic intensity was highest and it would be the most difficult to detect any hanky-panky in their radio traffic we would begin to insert our own into theirs. Carlos really, really pushed hard just then in an effort to get his people across the river and the shells were falling like a hailstorm on our positions. The colonel gave the intel people the nod and they begin to call in their own predetermined artillery spotting reports while attempting to jam the frequency when they weren't actually keying the mike to keep the real spotters from being able to give the game away. We knew it wouldn't last long but hopefully it would last long enough!

    They didn't make any major shifts in the fall of shot reports, just gradually started reporting that the shells were overshooting and started slowly marching them backwards as if the Cuban troops were not advancing as fast as they had originally thought. This meant that not only were our artillery was shelling the enemy troops but their own artillery as well. This slowly happened on both sides of the bridge and the river crossing force began to come apart as multiple blasts churned the entire river into a froth of foamy mud.

    Not to be outdone Carlos sprang a little surprise of his own. Another line of vehicles started coming down the road which was still fairly clear. In the first vehicular attempt as each truck had its engine shot out its driver would steer towards the road shoulder with the remaining momentum. Only the truck that had taken the direct hit from the mortar was still on the pavement and it was simple to go around it. His mortars had taken out half of our heavy machine guns but the remaining ones opened up and the mortars started working on them too. This time, however, they were moving too fast to have any chance of being able to hit them with anything but machine gun fire. They'd have never tried this if we'd had anti-vehicle mines but that was one munition we did not have. The lead vehicle, a T-60 tank, had to be one of the few survivors of what Castro managed to send over. On the front was welded a massive steel plate with a narrow slot that the driver could look through with the vision slit of his tank. His field of view had to be quite restricted but he could see the road well enough dead in front of him. Even over the shooting I started to hear the sounds of the tank engine. He must have had it at its maximum RPMs from the sounds of it and the velocity at which it was moving. I wondered if he would throw a rod or something over running the motor like he was. A couple of LAW rockets floated up from the banks of the river to both sides of the bridge but were ineffectual. Just before he would have reached the bridge span (I thought he'd planned to ram) he suddenly whipped off to the side and the Brinks armored car he'd been shielding passed him accelerating for all it was worth and directly rammed the bridge barricade. About a heartbeat later it vanished in a brain-stunning blast!

    We thought Carlos might try to blow the bridge obstacle but we hadn't expected this! The blast was so powerful that when the shock wave hit the C.P. it blew us all into the back of the bunker slamming me into the rear wall. Damn sure reopened those cuts now! If I hadn't been wearing my helmet I'd probably have fractured my skull. As it was I was blast deaf and had double vision. My eyes cleared in a few minutes but I had only partial hearing for hours after that. I clawed my way back across the bunker to see what the bridge looked like and was appalled. The bridge barricade was simply gone.

    The barricade was gone, both the bridge railings for much of the length of the span and there was a hole about six or seven feet wide through the bottom of the bridge itself. I'm not sure that anyone could have gotten a four wheeled vehicle across the bridge now with that crater in the center like that but they damn sure could get across on foot! I leapt for the radio that was now laying on the floor in a welter of tables and chairs and started calling for reserves to center on the bridge, then switched over to the artillery frequency to tell Randy to start laying fire directly on the span. Maybe he'd be able to actually drop it into the river. Unfortunately, about this time Carlos began to figure out that we were screwing with him and his artillery and decided that if he couldn't trust what he was hearing on the radio he'd simply shell those areas that he knew were of importance and started into shelling our bridge positions again.

    The nearest bunkers to the bridge had collapsed and it seems that no one in them survived. The muzzle loading cannon were somewhat further away but half the gun crews were either killed or disabled from fragments and concussion with two of the six gun carriages smashed as well. I sent runners to check every bunker that could cover the bridge to determine readiness with orders to get somebody, anybody, into each usable bunker they could find and get every belt fed weapon and muzzle loading cannon manned. The push across the river was still heavily underway and with Carlos no longer shelling his own troops they were fast reforming for another try.

    It wasn't but another few minutes that Carlos started dropping smoke with about every other round he fired on the bridge bunkers and on the bridge. Someone must have been able to physically reach the gun area to tell them of the truck bomb's success. Smoke started swirling heavy and thick on the bridge and between the bunkers and the bridge. A dark shadow began to move out from under the treeline on the opposite side of the bridge and I knew that Carlos had just decided to commit his reserves. It looked like a locust swarm approaching.

    I was on the horn talking to the armor officer at the artillery park telling him to be ready to roll out when he suddenly said they were taking fire. It was sometime later that I found out it was another one of that bastard Carlos's spec-op teams. We think they'd been coming up the bay in boats and then cutting inland behind us. They never managed to do anything more than produce a few casualties among the artillery crews but it kept the Bradleys and their troop complements tied up defending the big guns. I was able to get our one M1 Abrams down to the bridge just in case Carlos tried to put any armor across. The T-60 at the bridge was out of commission as we found out later. The blast wave from the exploding truck had hit it so hard that it broke the driver's neck.

    Two of the muzzle loaders opened up on the bridge, POUMM!!! POUMMM!!! and it looked like a scythe cutting through grass but new blades continued to spring up. The remaining Cuban armor began to roll up to the bridge approach to lay down direct fire on the muzzle loader and heavy machine gun bunkers. Enemy troops reached the hole in the bridge and started to go around the edges. POUMM!! POUMMM!!! Once again the bridge cleared but more were coming as well as the troops crossing the water on floats. Our mortars began hunting the enemy armor which necessitated the drivers constantly shift their positions while their gunners laid down fire. The rate of fire on the muzzle loaders slowed dramatically and I knew the gun crews must have suffered but they did continue to fire regardless. LAW rockets started arcing out of the trees on our side of the river bank and two APCs went up in flames and exploded but the others kept on with it.

    Two of our bunkers blew out taking one of our muzzle loaders and another heavy machine gun out of action. I'd ordered half-the battalion reserves to deploy into the bridge area and they arrived just after the explosions. The sounds of grenades, subgun, rifle and pistol fire increased loudly as the advancing reserves encountered the enemy among the bunkers. I was on the radio talking to the colonel asking for reinforcements to be sent over from the Lithia Springs units (they were engaged but not heavily) when the radio went dead, the antenna had been severed.

    The amount of shellfire outside increased as the artillery from the Second Florida and First Georgia at the other bridge came to our assistance. The Cuban armor at the bridge blew out two more bunkers leaving us with just the one muzzle loader. They seemed to be concentrating on them in particular. Picked up an alternate radio to get scout reports and they said that Carlos seemed to be fully committing himself now and that more trucks were heard coming up from the south.

    With so much armor trying to maneuver in the relatively restricted area surrounding the bridge our forces were steadily reducing their numbers. APC's burned, taken out by hits from LAW rockets and mortar fire. Even three of the six tanks had been taken out, either in the initial bridge blast or hit by artillery/mortar fire. Unfortunately, even burning they provided cover for troops rushing the bridge making it more difficult to stop them before they actually made it onto the bridge itself. We were slowly losing control of the bridge.

    Through the smoke I saw one of the remaining tanks pushing something onto the bridge. It took me a moment to make out what it was then I realized it was a bridge patch! Simply put it was a welded together frame of heavy steel I-beams covered in plate steel on top. Must have been ten or eleven feet wide and a good twenty feet long. The patch was only about ten or twelve inches high with ramps on both ends to allow vehicles to drive up onto it. Carlos must have expected to need something like it when he removed the bridge barricade. The driver simply slid the thing down the bridge and stopped when he'd covered the hole and then began to back up leaving the patch in place. My two remaining heavy machine guns flayed its sides but couldn't penetrate. A mortar round ripped metal off the front left corner but it still moved backwards and then finally a lucky LAW rocket hit blew the left track off its drive sprocket and it fouled. The tank was now immobile but there was still plenty of room for another one to get around it. It couldn't move now but it could still put its main gun to good use in bunker busting and took out my last muzzle loader. Seconds later a heavy mortar round hit square on top of the turret and the tank exploded quite spectacularly.

    Even as the first tank was backing off the bridge the remaining two were advancing. Troops concentrated behind them as they came on. I was down to one fifty cal heavy machine gun, three or four M-60's and whatever shoulder fired weaponry the troops had. No more LAW rockets flew and I was pretty sure we were out of them - we never had all that many to start with. The lead tank reached the bridge patch, mounted it and started across. There was a terrible groaning sound and I prayed it would fail but it held and the armor rolled off the other side heading towards our positions. I noticed that the enemy artillery had ceased and I wondered if it were because he didn't want to drop rounds directly on his troops. The lead tank rolled off the bridge itself and onto the ramp leading up to the bridge span and started down. It's turret revolved to the left and I realized I was staring straight down the bore of the main gun and started to run for the bunker exit when a tremendous booming KRANNGGG!!! sound filled the air. I didn't stop to look but went right on out the door into the trench outside. I could see the enemy tank then and saw that it was burning and the turret blew off with a stupendous bang as its ammo load cooked off.

    The second tank had quickly revolved its turret around to point straight down the road and fired its main gun. I couldn't see what it hit but a loud KRUNGGG!!! filled the air. Before it could fire again it suddenly bucked and jumped as a another tremendous KRANNGGG!!! rang out, I saw a hole appear in the front armor and the turret blew off so hard it landed in the river. It had to be our M1 but I couldn't see him yet.

    While I was preoccupied watching the armor battle Carlos was busy getting his ass across the river. We were hurting him badly but no longer had enough heavy weaponry to stop large numbers from getting across. Several bullets thumped into the dirt near to me where I was standing in the trench and I saw a half-dozen men in the wrong uniforms looking my way. I dove back into the C.P. calling out to the other troops to cover the doors while I snatched up the radio and dialed in the artillery frequency. I told Randy we had heavy troop concentrations all over our positions and were about to be overrun and directed him to start air-bursting rounds directly on my position. I was hoping most of our surviving troops would be in covered bunkers so anyone in the open could be assumed to be enemy. Once again I noticed that the intensity of the shelling had decreased quite a lot and I wondered where the Cuban artillery had gotten to? Had they finally run out of ammo?

    I had just set the radio mike down when a grenade flew in the bunker opening. It was only by great good luck that it hit a young trooper directly in his chest and without even thinking he flipped it back outside where it detonated. The Cuban who had tossed it in hadn't cooked it quite long enough. Fragments flew back into the bunker with us and hit the kid, the trooper next to him and myself (in the back of my right thigh) but none were really serious (not that I was going to be running anytime soon). It did kill the fellow who'd originally thrown the grenade though. Everyone came to the same realization at the same time that we couldn't just wait for the next fellow to come along with a grenade - he might have a better sense of timing - so we jumped around the openings and started shooting. Damn good thing too because the kid who'd thrown the grenade back and myself leaned out and saw another Cuban pulling the fuse on a satchel charge. We each gave him a burst then fell back inside. The charge exploded about five seconds later blowing dirt and debris all over the inside of the bunker but the main force of the explosion stayed safely outside. The echoes were still reverberating when we leaned back outside and shot several others that were still moving. We didn't see anyone else in the immediate vicinity and I ordered everyone to stay in the bunker as I expected Randy to start dropping rounds on us any second.

    The first four rounds airburst over the bridge and they progressively walked closer and closer. We could hear muffled thumps and feel them through our boots so figured it was other bunkers being taken out by satchel charges but they quickly came to an end as Randy sleeted shrapnel over our positions. This went on for another minute or so and Randy called for a situation report. I had a trooper go outside and climb the bunker. He reported that he could see no Cubans on our side of the bridge around our positions and that we now seemed to be the bunker nearest to the bridge still functioning. All of the closer ones were defunct. I went outside and climbed up myself for a look see. I could see our M1 at the base of the bridge ramp working his machine gun into the tree line off the other side of the bridge. He had a long gouge down the left side of his turret where the T-60 had shot at him. Anything that came across that bridge was going to do so straight into his main gun. I called back to Randy and told him that the bridge position was secure for the moment but to keep his antipersonnel rounds loaded, Carlos may not be done. I could still see movement across the river.

    I told the remaining troops in the bunker with me to get out, check every bunker to recover all the machine guns or other weaponry they could find that were still intact and whatever troops they could find and fall back to the last line of bunkers. We'd make our stand there . I told Carter to grab what radios that still worked that he could and fall back with me. I snatched up maps and what radios that Carter couldn't carry and headed out. I saw there were enemy advancing on the bridge. I called Randy back and told him to start laying anti-personnel on the far side of the bridge because we were in disarray still and not prepared to fend off any advances. Randy came back that he was running pretty low on ammo but he'd space out what he had to try to buy us some recovery time. He also said that the colonel reported our air support had come through and caught Carlos with his pants down at his artillery destroying a good deal of it though we did lose one of our four Apaches in the attack. I told him that was the best news I'd had all day!

    I'd just reached the last line of bunkers when the wave of Cubans reached the bridge. Their mortars were thumping all around with ours answering. The first artillery started coming down. I didn't think Carlos had any more armor to send but we did see several of his ersatz armored trucks come slamming down the bridge. The first one to hit the top of the ramp on our side blew apart when the M1 put a high explosive shell into its motor and the remaining two screeched to a stop with troops bailing out left and right. The second truck came apart a few seconds later just where the bridge railings stopped and effectively blocked the bridge again for vehicular traffic. The third truck put it in reverse and started backing down the bridge and the M1 took it out directly on top of the bridge patch. Between Randy's airbursts and the exploding trucks the number of enemy crossing the bridge was held down long enough for us to set up our recovered guns. One fifty cal heavy machine gun and three M60's, none of which had a terrible lot of ammo left. The Cuban mortars began peppering the ground all around the M1 so he was obliged to move but he'd accomplished his main task which was to deny use of the bridge to any enemy vehicles.

    Carlos made one more hard push across the bridge which we were able to stop with what we had and the mortars. He made a good try out of it but it was plain that his heart wasn't as in it as it had been just a few minutes prior. I think our reforming in the last bunker line and our M1 had dispirited him. His troops began to pull back though most of the ones already on our side of the river never made it back across again. He did keep up his fire on our mortars as his troops pulled back down the road. Eventually we saw trucks coming out from under the trees where they'd been concealed and head south. We gave them a send off with our mortars but the heavies were now out of ammo and the light mortars soon were out of range. Randy quit soon after as well citing lack of ammo.

    I kept half the force in the bunkers in case of this being a ruse and had the other half get out and start looking for the wounded. I then got on the radio and contacted Colonel Hall to tell him of the enemy pull out. He decided to press our advantage by pressing the enemy with units coming over from Bradley Junction and the Lithia Springs units. They were to keep Carlos in flight for as long as possible but not to allow themselves to be drawn into a pitched battle. Carlos was hurting but he wasn't dead. For our part the battle was over. There was nothing left but to count the dead and wounded, regroup the survivors and our remaining equipment and wait for new orders.

    The Alafia river was as far north as Carlos was going to get on the Florida west coast.

  26. #26

    Day Fifty two - Sunday, May 13th, 12 noon

    <strong>Day Fifty two
    Sunday, May 13th, 12 noon</strong>

    We spent the remainder of Friday and Saturday recovering ours and the enemy dead and wounded, collecting salvageable equipment (our and theirs), and generally pulling ourselves back together again. Six deserters from our side were caught late Saturday morning and I sent them up to Colonel Hall to deal with. I suspect they'll probably hang. I suspect that at least a few of our casualties were killed in the act of desertion but I am officially not going to inquire. There's no denying that Carlos hurt us pretty bad, our casualties amount to better than a third of the total forces here at the Pinecrest bridge but we had to have hurt him even worse. Perhaps not mortally so but he's not going to be going on the offensive for a long time - maybe ever.

    Once the battle was over I had the engineers finish destroying the bridge. It's purpose in drawing the enemy had been served and was now no longer needed nor was it ever really going to be safe to use again before it was rebuilt. With it down we could get by with fewer troops to watch this part of the river. If we had to cross the Alafia we could go over to the Lithia Springs bridge or the bridge on U.S. 301.

    Our dead were wrapped in tarps and transported. The enemy dead were buried in mass graves dug using some of the earth moving equipment out of the phosphate mines. We discovered very few enemy wounded. Another matter that I will not officially inquire about.

    For the time being we are going to be staying in the general area until resupply catches up with us. The rainy season is starting down here and the lack of decent shelter is becoming a problem so it was decided the 2nd Florida & 1st Alabama would operate out of the town of Ruskin, the 3rd Florida & 2nd Georgia would operate out of Bartow and the 4th & 5th Florida would return to the Avon Park area. This would allow for decent shelter and resources while leaving large enough forces across any possible line of march the Cubans might try if they should strike north again.

    Major-General Zachary Dawson showed up Saturday afternoon so the latter part of the day was lost in making reports on this, that and the other thing. I have to admit to having little patience with that sort of bullsh*t since I'd already gone over it all in depth with Colonel Hall but in the Army mine is not to reason why but to give a blow-by-blow account to someone who wasn't there for the battle. He's a Pointer and I started getting the distinct impression that he doesn't care for the idea of us "irregularly commissioned" officers even if he does have to admit the army had little choice at the time. He quickly had one of his officers that came south with him to take over the battalion. I was a bit irked in the way he offhandedly dismissed me but I was nonetheless glad to give the battalion over to someone who was supposed to know what he was doing with a group of men that large.

    In reviewing the casualty lists I noticed sgt. Pendergrast on the dead list. Upon investigation I discovered that he had died in battle, not by enemy action but of an apparent heart-attack or stroke when we were defending our bunker in that last enemy rush on us. Of all the people here now he was probably the only one to die happy. He'd told me that he'd never been as happy as when he'd been in Korea and if it hadn't been for his wife he'd never have gotten out. Half his ammo was gone when he was found and his gun had seen some use so even if an enemy bullet didn't kill him he died fighting. Pvt. Carter said that Pendergrast had told him he was taking medication for a cardiac condition and had run out several days ago so I suppose it was to be expected.

    On the wounded list I see Jim has taken fragment hits in both thighs but is expected to recover quickly and won't be shipped home (to his relief and my disappointment). Shelby is listed as missing in the scouts unit but quite a few were forced to head much further southwest to escape detection so may not have been able to make it back yet. I refuse to believe him lost, at least not yet. In a week, if he's not back I'll feel different. I had some of our personal effects shipped home after the battle so we wouldn't have to lug them around. One of the bus drivers taking wounded back to the hospital in Gainesville said he'd contact someone at the house to come get the boxes.

    Our faithful muzzleloaders have fallen on sad times. Two of them had their carriages smashed, one took serious damage to the gun tube itself. The other three are repairable. Only one gun crew survived and a part of a second. We're virtually out of black powder and with the arrival of more modern weapons it has been decided to retire them (again) from service. I'm going to try to see if I can get at least one of them mounted in the trading area at Newberry as a commemorative.

    I'm wrapped up like an unraveling mummy and not getting around too well today. The shell fragment I took in the back of my right thigh and several of the glass cuts that I reopened in the battle have become infected. Dr. McIntyre thinks he has the infection under control and they're not that painful but I’m stiff as a board. Reckon in a few more days I'll be able to move around better.

    Our LRRP teams report that Carlos has fallen back to Bradenton. He's not pushing a lot of patrols north just now but from their reports he's making it very difficult to get far enough into the town to really see what's what. The 2nd Alabama has completed their push through St. Petersburg. It doesn't appear that more than a couple of hundred enemy crossed the Sunshine Skyway. They got up to a lot of mischief but not at much as we had feared. The St. Petersburg area was always one of the most popular retirement areas in the country for military personnel due to climate and proximity to VA and base facilities at McDill. They may have all been old and half-starving but once the Cubans made it across the bridge many of them started organizing and fought them to a standstill in several areas of the city. They also cobbled up an interesting contraption for chucking firebombs of thickened gasoline that is pneumatically fired. Boat landings on the St. Pete beaches began to plummet once they fielded a few of their anti-boat cannon. I'd like to see that contraption sometime.

    Friday night 1st Florida and the Georgia units managed to bushwhack Carlos on the St. John's river west of Cocoa in his drive for Orlando. It was a near thing but the arrival of the three remaining Apaches helped turn the tide in our favor and we delivered a resounding defeat to the Cubans at the s.r. 520 bridge which just happens to be the site of the mythical Fort Repose in <I>Alas, Babylon</I>. Carlos was forced to retreat and is now holed up back in Melbourne putting out feelers in the direction of the little town of Holopaw on the U.S. 441 route into Orlando. The 1st's C.O. thinks Carlos no longer has sufficient armament to make another strong offensive move, particularly not with the Tennessee regiment due to arrive there any day now. In another week to two weeks I think the Cubans will be on the defensive and we can start to push them off the peninsula entirely. That's likely to take some time but we'll do it.

    Time for another staff meeting.

  27. #27

    Day Fifty five - Wednesday, May 16th, 2001. 7:00 a.m.

    <strong>Day Fifty five
    Wednesday, May 16th, 2001. 7:00 a.m.</strong>

    I'm happy to say we've had a surprise visit from the U.S. Army Department of the Fairy Godmother. The Sunday afternoon staff meeting informed us that those regiments most heavily involved in the recent unpleasantness with Carlos were to be granted a week's R&R (Recuperation & Rebuilding - the Army would have us believe otherwise). I'm not sure how the social life is for the Second Florida over in the greater Ruskin metropolitan area (lots of tomato farmers at least) but comparatively speaking it hasn't been too bad here in Bartow - for a post-nuclear war society that is. You don't dare go anywhere without a sidearm and it would be better to take a buddy or three along but there hasn't been any open fighting that I've seen. The roving bands of M.P.'s patrolling the town might have something to do with that. Some of them boys seem a bit uptight at having missed out on the fighting (fools that they are) and are a bit quick on the trigger with suspected looters, criminals, "Cuban sabooteurs" and such.

    Once we'd recovered as much of our equipment as we were able and saw to the dead and wounded the 3rd Florida packed it up and moved over to Bartow. We're bivouacked all over the place but they did it by company so at least the basic units are in relatively compact areas. Town hasn't changed much in the three years or so since I was last down here. Monday morning the new battalion C.O. (Major Michael R. Franklin, USA) reviewed the unit, his first time seeing all of us in one place at the same time then gave everyone their liberty.

    I had a pile of paperwork waiting on me but I was feeling stiff so I went for a walk, wearing my .45 so wasn't particularly concerned about safety since it was still daylight. I went by the carriage house apartment that Ann used to rent way back when and it's still there. Naturally there's someone else living there now but I was half expecting the place to have been burnt or something. The young attorney who owns the place that she was renting from has gone into the army and to my surprise I later discovered he was another of us "irregularly commissioned officers" and a brand new platoon leader over in 2nd company. I didn't recognize the name earlier and I'm not sure he ever knew my name but when I walked past the house his wife happened to see me and ran out to ask if I were in the 3rd Florida because that's where her husband had volunteered.

    I walked downtown and as I expected most of the shops were closed and boarded with a few looted. To my astonishment the Silver Ring café was still open! There are very, very few restaurants open anywhere in Florida that I know of - food is just in too short of a supply to support such. More curious still because the Silver Ring primarily serves Cuban food, a very politically incorrect cuisine just now. Curiosity got the better of me and I went in. Still looked as I remembered it, worn booths and tables, stools at the bar, the original early 20th century pressed tin ceiling and general atmosphere of busy old age. The menu was very brief, essentially black beans, yellow rice, eggs and a couple of kinds of guava sweets but there were several people inside. Prices in Federal Reserve Notes (paper money) were steep but a note at the bottom of the board said "other currencies negotiable." Had a bad moment there, thought they were talking about Cuban currency (can't recall what it's called now) or Mexican pesos or something but then I saw a fellow walk up to the cash register, pull out a roll of pennies and start dickering with the girl behind the bar. Everyone doing legal business has to be willing to trade in FRN's but it's common practice to have two different prices. One in paper - one in anything else. I wasn't too concerned, we'd paid out the troops before releasing them on liberty so everyone had at least a little something in their pockets in the way of negotiable money. I'd drawn a part of mine as a $20.00 Double Eagle gold piece and was carrying it as a luck piece in my pocket. I liked the heft of it in the hand but it's not the kind of thing that could be easily spent unless you were buying something very expensive or a very great deal of something less costly.

    I went inside, sat down to the bar and ordered - what else - black beans over yellow rice and guava custard for dessert. Still tasted damn fine. The cook behind the bar (who is also the owner) served me himself and started up a conversation, "We don't see much service people in here lately, what with the war and all." I replied, "Well, I suppose Cuban food is probably not very politically correct just now but I used to eat in here whenever I came down to visit my fiance'. Since I just spent the last couple of weeks getting my ass shot off by Carlos I could not care less what anyone thinks of my taste in food. I like black beans and rice!" He grinned and said, "I fought across half of Vietnam it seems like when I was drafted and I still like Vietnamese food! I hope you shot those communist bastard's balls off! My older brother never came back from the Bay of Pigs." He was still grinning as he walked down to serve another customer. Been Cubans all over south Florida for over a century now so I suppose he'll make out OK.

    He wouldn't let me pay for the meal but I did manage to sneak him a tip under my napkin (cloth now, paper napkins are better used for other purposes) when I left. Not much else to see downtown so I walked back to the high school were the company was bivouacked. I had lodgings with a family who lived next door as did the platoon leaders in other houses. Walked into the lunchroom and found Tyree, McWhirter and a couple of the other sergeants in a poker game. One of the sergeants was just standing up to leave so I took his place and sat down. Tyree looked at me and said, "Captain, you play poker? I figured you for a bridge player or some such." I grinned at him and said, "the wife's been trying to get me to play bridge for years but I grew up in a railroad and newspaper family so poker is my game. What's the house rules?" McWhirter had the cards and answered, "Dollar ante, ten dollar limit on raises, three raise limit, no wild cards." Looked like all paper money on the table so I reached into my pocket and pulled out $100 and put in my ante. McWhirter handed me the cards and said, "Your deal." I took the deck, shuffled and said, "Gentlemen, the game is draw. Five card draw." The game went until two in the morning and I was so stiff in the chair I wasn't sure I was going to be able to walk back to my bunk but I came out $25.00 ahead and had found considerable pleasure in the game.

    Spent all of Tuesday morning trapped in a morass of paper. With paper being as scarce and hard to come by as it has been ever since the beginning of the war if baffles me how the Army can waste so much of it on minutia! I was beginning to remember why I got of the service in the first place. Nevertheless, as company C.O. and regimental exec I'm stuck with it otherwise it just hurts the unit. Of course with most computer technology fried and electrical power scarce the paperwork all has to be done by hand because manual typewriters are scarce as hen's teeth. A man with a working manual typewriter and a box of ribbons could just about name his own deal with the Army right now. I think I'd happily trade a howitzer for an old Remington or Smith-Corona.

    Had a noon staff meeting to go to so I gratefully threw my pen down and got ready to leave. Tyree poked his head in and asked for a word before I left. He shut the door on his way in and I knew I wasn't going to like it, whatever it was. He told me that Major Franklin had just found out about the company bank, ours and the other companies, and was all bent out of shape about it. Just wanted to give me a heads up before the staff meeting so I wouldn't get blindsided. I thanked him for the tip and headed on over. Knew it was gonna be trouble and I was not disappointed.

    Staff meeting was somewhat interesting. Several regiments had formed in the Carolinas but it wasn't clear yet where they'd be sent. The government is still having difficulty pacifying some urban/suburban areas and it was thought they might be used there. Another regiment was coming from Tennessee and another one each from Georgia and Alabama. The Mexican border was becoming very serious so the DoD wanted the Cuban problem wrapped up quickly. Nothing was said but I'm beginning to get the impression that president Bush is thinking of invading Mexico as the best solution to our problems in the southwest.

    On the home front it seems that we gave Carlos a real black eye over there to Cocoa but he's not out of the fight yet. He's reforming and seems to be getting ready to make another attempt on reaching Orlando. Seems a little crazy to me, I'd be thinking defense about now but then maybe that particular commander didn't get enough to suit him. Carlos over in Bradenton was still licking his wounds and regrouping. We had a LRRP team watching Sarasota Bay which reported increased boat traffic coming and going so he's probably getting some resupply but most of what's coming in is too small to carry artillery or armor. We're going to have to go down there soon and kick him out but we're still awaiting resupply ourselves. Now that we've finally got him between a rock and a hard place the Army is having fuel and transport difficulties again!

    We ground through the rest of the battalion business: Troop dispositions, logistics, maintaining order and discipline among the troops on liberty (someone always seems to be able to come up with an alcohol supply!) and so on. Nothing new, nothing particularly interesting, just the necessary business of running a military unit. We got through it all and put it behind us and Major Franklin finally go to it.

    "Gentlemen," he said, "it has come to my attention that the troops have been looting the enemy dead, wounded and captured of valuable items. What's more, I understand that this has been an organized activity condoned by unit officers! To make it short and sweet THIS HAS GOT TO STOP! Starting today, right now, all property taken from enemy dead, wounded and prisoners is to be surrendered. Any questions?"

    No one looked at me but as I had conceived the idea in my platoon which was quickly copied by virtually every other unit in the 3rd Florida (and soon spread to other regiments) I knew that the other officers were expecting me to speak up. Nothing for it but to have it out and get it over with.

    "Major," I said, "with all due respect, the Army hasn't paid any of my men a damn thing since they've enlisted. What's more, the active duty personnel under my command tell me the Army hasn't paid them since the war started. Our volunteers are here because they're defending their families, their homes, their state and their nation. No one drafted them to be sure but if you expect them to fight without paying them anything at all then you're sadly misjudging human nature. What's more, what are we to tell the families of the troops who are killed? 'So sorry your husband, father, son or brother was killed. We have nothing for you.' Patriotic fervor is one thing but these men have supplied their own weapons, their own clothing, their own gear, their own virtually everything because the Army had nothing to give them and now you want to take away what little they've been able to come by? How long do you think it will be before desertion becomes a critical problem? If we can't pay for the food and other supplies we simply must have from the local economy how long do you think it will be before our own countrymen start hiding their goods from us like we were common bandits? What little gold, jewelry and other small portable loot that we come across that is easily carried is all that we have to promise the men for their sacrifice and all that we have to pay for what my company and all the other companies who are doing the same needs to even function. If you have a better solution I'd be happy to hear it."

    As I was speaking my piece I could see Major Franklin getting red in the face and I knew that he was fixing to unload on me. "CAPTAIN Hagan, I realize that you came to the Army in an unorthodox fashion due to the needs of the moment but you have to realize that you are lacking a good deal of the education that a professional officer would have ordinarily received in the process of becoming commissioned. This organized, wholesale looting that you have caused to come into being is quite simply in contravention of military regulations. It is ILLEGAL. With the banking system in disarray it is my understanding that special pay units have been formed and will be making the rounds of the major units once a month to pay the troops in cash. The regional Federal Reserve banks have been instructed to disburse cash money to the Army for this purpose. I realize this places us in a difficult situation but that's the way it is. The battalion will just have to cope until the Army can get our pay situation straightened out. There is to be NO MORE looting. Have I made myself clear?"

    I stood up so that I could look him in the eye and wondered what it was like to be shot by a firing squad. As is my usual habit when I'm angry I spoke in a low, even tone. "Major, it is true that I have not received a professional officer's education but I am not entirely uneducated. I also have two eyes to see with and a brain to think with. The Army can play bookkeeper all it wants but if they think the troops are going to be satisfied with paper dollars that lose value by the day then it is fooling itself. I had lunch in town yesterday. A simple plate of <I>black beans and yellow rice</I> was <b>$25.00 in Federal Reserve Notes.</b> That same plate cost the fellow in line ahead of me a grand total of 27 cents in pre-1982 copper pennies. You want to make a small wager that that meal will cost in a paper dollars or copper pennies <b>next week?</b> The average soldier is not a rocket scientist to be sure but you can damn sure bet that the units have the same ratio of bright ones to dull ones that the world around them has and the bright ones are going to explain the concept of inflation and how it works to anyone who hasn't yet figured it out for themselves. You try to confiscate the unit banks and you'll run a serious risk of mutiny. Now is the Army more interested in kicking the godd*mned Cubans out of this state or in enforcing their precious regulations? "

    As I was speaking Major Franklin had been playing with the flap of his sidearm holster and I was beginning to wonder if he would pull his Beretta and what I'd do if he did. When I finished he looked around the table. Just over a third of the officers sitting at the table were "irregularly commissioned officers" just like myself and they were watching our interplay intensely. The remaining professional officers (mostly Guard and Reserve with a sprinkling of active duty types) were also paying close attention. They all knew the score. His hand suddenly came away from his holster flap. "Well then," he said in an even tone, "I think feelings have become a bit inflamed here. Let's table the idea for a day and we'll get it squared away tomorrow. I want to speak with the colonel about it." You just do that, I thought, you just do that.

    The unit bank matter never again surfaced in a staff meeting.

    Sometime later I heard from McWhirter (how do these old non-coms manage to find out everything?) that Franklin had, in fact, spoken with the colonel. The regimental C.O. explained to him in short, simple sentences the realities of human nature and what it takes to keep an effective army in the field and that the next time he had an idea of treating one of his combat battalions like a bunch of garrison troops he'd find him some garrison troops to command! I may not be a professional officer (as has been repeatedly pointed out to me) but even I know that promotions come much, much faster in the units seeing action than those just doing little more than guard duty. This had to be particularly keenly felt by Franklin in his conversation with Colonel Hall since Franklin actually had a longer time in grade than Hall as a major but Hall was now his C.O.! Incredibly enough Franklin had requested permission to take the matter up with the General and Hall had granted his request but the major seemed to have a seizure of intelligence and thought better of it before actually making the appointment to go over his C.O.'s head. McWhirter said, "Captain, it's your business and not mine but I hope you know Major Franklin's gonna be all over your ass like stink on sh*t now. You were dead right but he ain't gonna forget it." Thanks McWhirter, tell me something I didn't already know.

    I had such an adrenalin dump from the staff meeting I went back to the school and savagely attacked the paperwork until I had it all finished. My damn hand was cramped from writing so much (I'm not sure if I miss hot showers or keyboards more! I've always had bad handwriting!) and my back stiffened up as well so I left to take a long walk before it got dark. On the way out the door Tyree observed that know that he knew the secret of getting me to do paperwork he'd have to make sure I got pissed off more often! I growled back at him that some of that paperwork might be his transfer to guarding a sewer! He just laughed.

    A couple of miles worked the kinks out and some of my anger passed so I decided that it would be safe for me to come back to civilization (such as it is just at the moment). Found the perpetual poker game in the lunch room (the players change but the game never stops) and took a seat. Played past midnight till corporal Carter (I'd promoted him after Pendergrast died) cleared his throat enough behind me to remind me how late it was and said, "Begging the Captain's pardon sir, you're supposed to be going over to Ruskin tomorrow at 0630 for your liaison's meeting with the 2nd." Sigh, Hall still has me pegged as regimental exec so I suppose there's no getting out of it. One more thing to piss Franklin off about. Poker game was fun. Only came out $5.00 ahead but the pleasure of seeing the look on Tyree's face when I trumped his aces over kings full boat with a straight heart flush in a big pot was worth gold to me!

  28. #28

    Day Fifty eight - Sunday, May 20th, 2001. 7:00 a.m.

    <strong>Day Fifty eight
    Sunday, May 20th, 2001. 7:00 a.m.</strong>

    I regret to record that our idyllic life here in the sub-tropic paradise of Bartow is drawing to a close. Orders came through yesterday – we’re going to chase Carlos further south. A bit of unpleasant business to finish late this morning and then we’re to move out.

    I spent Wednesday morning after getting back from Ruskin (a waste of time in my opinion) wrestling with more paperwork. It seems no matter how much I do in a day there’ll be just that much more tomorrow. I strongly suspect it spontaneously generates. Had lunch over to the Silver Ring again and the owner, Raoul Martinez, sat down with me to eat. He’s got a leg off below the left knee from his tour in Vietnam and is a crusty bastard but he’s interesting to talk to. His family has been here since the cigar factory days of the early twentieth century in Ybor city later moving to Bartow to open the café. Lost family and friends in the Bay of Pigs fiasco and is very passionate about killing communists. I asked him how he managed to keep his restaurant open when virtually every other commercial eating establishment I’d seen had been forced to close. It seems the only way he could keep his place profitable before the war was to buy his storable staples and such in very large quantities. Rice he bought by the ton and beans by the pallet load. He owns the building and stores the stuff in plastic drums in back. He’d just taken delivery of an order three days before the Russians nuked us so had a considerable quantity of stock on hand. He’d ended up donating half of what he had for local relief but the other half he kept. Just like before the war he’s only open for breakfast and lunch and things are tight so he’s not covered in customers but he’s squeaking by. The eggs and guavas come from his place. He’s always had a flock of hens and guavas damn near grow wild around here. He’s got a flock of roosters near to butchering size so will again be able to offer aroz con pollo (chicken and yellow rice) again and is working on acquiring pigs. He’s also got home grown vegetables near to harvest so he’ll be fleshing his menu with those as well. It’s not much but it’s keeping his family busy (a wife and six kids!) and they’re not destitute. More than can be said for many.

    Wednesday afternoon was yet another staff meeting. The Army seem to thrive on this crap. One good thing came out of it – we’re finally getting resupply. Other than that there was nothing worth mentioning. Franklin was distant and formal with me but I suppose that’s just the way it’s going to be. If that's all it turns into I can live with that.

    Took a good walk to burn off some of the tension. Decided to go through one of the neighborhoods that Ann and I used to stroll in. Some of the houses had an abandoned look to them (in fact we quartered troops in every abandoned house we could find but they didn't take good care of them if the sergeants didn't stay on top of them), most looked inhabited but slowly running down and maybe a third still had a neat, trim appearance to them. One nice two story Victorian place that I remembered had one of the most beautiful flower gardens in front and there was a white haired elderly lady weeding the beds. She said hello as I walked past so I replied with my own and complimented her on the beauty of her efforts. She said that at her age there wasn’t much left for her other than pottering about with her plants, her quilting and her embroidery. After the war her son and daughter came to live with her (they’d lived in Tampa and had been fortunate to not be home on The Day) so they kept the place up and saw that everyone ate. Her son is a doctor and his wife a nurse-practicioner, so both are still quite gainfully employed.

    She asked me if I were with the Third Regiment stationed here in Bartow now and I allowed as much that I was, 1st company commander in the Second Battalion. This seemed to delight her and she asked if she might speak with the regimental C.O.? The Colonel had told everyone to be sure they made nice to the locals so I said I’d see what I could do, she gave me her name and address and I took my leave. Gave the note to Carter when I got back and told him to see that the Colonel got it with the message it was from the mother of one of the local medicos. Might be a good public relations opportunity or something. I didn't think anything more of it after that.

    Spent the rest of the afternoon and early evening working over my Thompson and other gear and shooting the breeze with Jim. Haven't seen much of him lately. Still haven't given up on Shelby but the days keep passing without word. Got the weapons and gear squared away so we went over to the perpetual poker game and lost a little money. Tyree was on the warpath from last night and managed to take me for about $20.00 this time.

    Thursday morning a supply convoy came in. No new artillery or armor, it seems that the Mexican border situation has become a real push and there's something going on up in the northwest. Don't know for sure but the scuttlebutt has been kind of dark. It occurred to me that we were just staying in a perpetually news starved state and I don't like that. Back before the war if something like this had been happening I'd have read at least six reports about it on the TB2K board before the end of the day. Resolved to speak to Tyree and McWhirter about it later. The rest of the resupply was OK. Brought our ammo loads back up to normal, finally getting enough BDU's to outfit the regiment at least with BDU shirts, medical supplies and so on. Had the platoon lieutenants scare up what troops they could find to get the supplies for the company squared away. Most of them are just goldbricking now anyways having exhausted the social possibilities - not that any of us are complaining.

    Getting the regimental supplies and the accompanying paperwork taken care of pretty well shot the entire day for me so when 1700 rolled around I threw my pen down (just then it felt weightier than a sword too!), strapped on my .45 and shook a leg. Spent an hour or so walking the stiffness out and headed back to the school with the thought of supper on my mind. Got back and Carter gave me message that I was wanted up to regimental right away so we got in the old Willys that Pendergrast had left us and headed up. Colonel Hall was just getting ready to eat his own supper and invited me to sit with him. Over the meal he told me he wanted me to have the entire regiment stand formation Saturday on the high school activity field which should be big enough for our present complement of 850 men (we'd had some replacements but not quite enough to get back to full strength). There were bleachers there that people could sit in while he reviewed the troops. Hall never impressed me as the parade ground type but orders are orders so when I left I had runners notify the battalion commanders to have their troops on the activity field by no later than 1100 hours tomorrow for a regimental formation at noon.

    Of course one can't have a formation with a bunch of sloppy looking troops so at 0600 the next morning Franklin had the entire battalion getting ready for it. No way to have a proper formation inspection, just wasn't enough gear for that. The best we could do was to have everyone in a BDU shirt, their personal gear as clean and repaired as it could be made and most especially their weaponry. The unit barbers were busy all morning giving hair cut after hair cut. Even had mine trimmed since I was going to be up front. There was no end of bitching and moaning going on but it got done. I haven't done this kind of thing since I was in the service (the first time, many years ago) so had to have the active duty types who'd done it more recently give us all a hand in getting the unit in proper formatory order. We sure as Hell hadn't been spending anytime on drill so I was praying he wasn't going to expect us to march or anything. We could all see the bleachers from the football field were starting to fill up with locals and wondered what the Colonel had in mind.

    1200 hours rolled around and the regiment was called to attention. The Colonel came out and addressed the troops, orders had come in, the situation was still grim but things were beginning to swing our way and so on and so on. Still couldn't see any reason for this formation. He finally finished and then turned and invited a delegation of women up to the podium with him. I recognized one of them as the lady with the flower beds. The were carrying a staff with something wrapped around the upper end. The Colonel announced that the Bartow Women's Club in appreciation for successfully defending Polk county against the communist Cuban incursion had created for the Third Florida regiment a unit standard and they unfurled it. It was a Florida state flag about four feet high by about seven feet long. On the left between the two arms of the St. James cross was embroidered a large red "III" and on the right hand side between the two arms was "Regiment" also in red. Below the flag was a streamer banner in rich green with the words "Avon Park", and "Alafia River" embroidered in brilliant gold. An honor guard marched up and they presented the banner to them. They marched to the far end of the field with it and took up two other flags, turned and marched back across the front of the assembled regiment. On the right was the U.S. stars and stripes, in the middle was the Florida Third Regiment banner and to my gratified surprise on the left (on a staff slightly shorter than the U.S. flag's staff) was the stars and bars of the Confederate First National. The regimental sergeant major barked out "SALUTE!" and everyone managed to present at least a semblance of a salute as the colors passed (we hadn't been practicing saluting either).

    A piece of fabric is a silly damn thing to get emotional over but I wasn't the only one with tears in my eyes when the colors passed. Stupid thing to die for as well but men had rushed to certain death in the past to be certain their colors never hit the ground. Humans are not rational creatures and those things that will cause a man to face his death without flinching surpass understanding sometimes. A rational man would run away!

    The colonel then dismissed the regiment.

    I spent the rest of the day clearing away ever more paperwork and seeing to my company. I wanted to give the men Saturday evening for a last blow out before we pulled out. Spent a bit of the company funds and bought three slaughter pigs and whatever local foods we could come up with and had the company cooks put together a barbecue. Some of the good old boys really know what to do with a pig!

    Saturday morning was another staff meeting. More preparations for the move and intelligence reports. A brief allusion to whatever it is that's happening in the northwest as being the reason we weren't getting any more armor or artillery. I think the colonel knows more about this than he is letting on.

    We covered the general movement plans as well. It seems that HQ has finally decided it's time to show Carlos the egress. The Ruskin units will be heading south to cross the upper Manatee (at the site of our debacle at Rye) to start putting pressure on Carlos in Bradenton. He'll start doing this Monday. Today (Sunday) we're pulling out and heading south with the objective of retaking Arcadia. Intel reports that Carlos has the town and Sebring to the north only lightly manned with the majority of his strength in the Sarasota/Bradenton area. The units in Avon Park will move south, push out the Cuban guard force in Sebring and retake the Lake Placid area. This will allow us to anchor our southern flank on lake Okeechobee. Once this has been done Carlos will be boxed to the north and to the east and will be obliged to retreat further south or try to defend a fairly long eastern flank. There's a risk he might break through our lines but he won't be able to accomplish much this time if he does. If he strikes north and cuts off the 2nd Florida and supporting units it leaves the Bartow and Avon Park units to his south athwart his lines of communication. If he cuts off us he's got the units from Avon Park on one side and the Ruskin units on the other. If he cuts off the Avon Park units he's got the Bartow units to his north and his back to lake Okeechobee. I think the best he can do this time is to try to eliminate some of our equipment and manpower but he's not going to reach Tampa/St. Pete or Orlando no matter what he does. There is the possibility that he could attempt a link up with the east coast force but it's a long way from Bradenton to Melbourne and it would be just one long dogfight getting there. If he doesn't come up with some real surprise this time Carlos is going to have to head south, way south.

    The meeting let out and I spent the rest of the morning on working through more perishing paperwork. Went over and had lunch at the company mess and reviewed the preparations for that evenings blow out. The pigs were all cooking nice and slow in the barbecue pit, there was a mighty mess of swamp cabbage, corn bread and there was even going to be iced tea!

    Had a mail delivery for the first time in days and had two letters - one from Ann and another from John, the retired Marine down the road. Curiosity got me so I opened John's letter first. Seems the community has nicely organized now with the radio nets really pulling people together. Most folk's gardens are doing well, the drought seems to have broken (it rains a lot here in Bartow as well) so field and hay crops are now taking off. Then he finally got around to the real reason for writing. It seems that last week dad and uncle John had struck north on a trading expedition into Union county looking for something they'd seen on their trip down. They were kind of mysterious about what it was saying that they didn't want to get anyone's hopes up in case they weren't able to trade for it. They expected to be gone at least two days, maybe three. The first night they were gone highwaymen came in through the woods bypassing the roads and attacked the house. They were smart about it, apparently they'd studied the area quite a lot. They knew there were no men actually in the house and they severed the cable to the exterior CB antenna so the women wouldn't be able to call for help. They'd even fed the dogs some poisoned meat before coming in so they wouldn't give them away. Fortunately Ann & Lisa had locked the doors before going to bed like always so the bandits had to take the time to break in and this is what woke the women. They must have been really shocked when they finally did get the door open and rushed in only to be met by a load of buckshot from Ann's shotgun and Lisa in the kitchen with the carbine had them in a cross fire. There were apparently four men. Two died in the crossfire in the house, they killed a third on the porch (Lisa got him) and the fourth temporarily got away but was later tracked down since he was wounded (buckshot) and losing blood. The shooting woke up the neighborhood and when no one could raise Ann or Lisa on the radio the alert force responded to the house. They turned the wounded highwayman over to the sheriff. He was tried in Newberry the next day and hanged on the gallows erected near to the trading area at the Little League field. John wrote and told me about it because he thought I ought to know what my wife had been up to in my absence and because he knew that Ann was not going to mention it.

    I couldn't decide if I was glad to know or not! They're all safe and I'm very proud they were able to cope with the situation. Damn shame about Shade though, she was a good dog. I imagine the incident ought to deter any more burglary or home invasion attempts. Damn glad they're safe.

    I opened Ann's letter and got another shock. She thinks she's pregnant! Her period was over a week late and she's starting to get those weird feelings like she got with Katie. To top it off she thinks Lisa is pregnant as well. Not entirely certain, they have no pregnancy tests or anything but Lisa has been nauseous in the mornings for three days now (when the letter was written). She didn't want me to tell Jim, Lisa would do that herself. Sure hope we can finish Carlos off in time to be home for the birth(s). I know those women are going to want to have them at home so I hope Carol is feeling up to the job otherwise I'll have to do it if I can't find a midwife or doctor to come to the house.

    Other news is that the county decided to site one of the new Maddox hand pumps at our house since we were already serving as the community water source for our half of the Buffalo Pond area. The deal is that we get to keep the pump but we have to agree to allow the community to use it for their water supply for at least two years. She said that dad and Uncle John reran a bit of fence and moved a piece of stone wall so that you can now reach the pump from the road without having to come into our yard to do it and we have a gate right at the pump area to go through for our own water. They put a sign up that the pump was open for use ONLY between the hours of 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. to which the county was agreeable. The county had sent a crew out once she agreed to the deal and they pulled the old electric submersible pump and installed the handpump (it's a deep well pump). She says it's a workout on the arms to get many buckets of water but it pumps great, is quiet and doesn't use gasoline which is now beginning to run quite low. The generator is now used solely to charge batteries. Dad rounded up all the batteries in the family and wired them into a bank and charges everything at once to put enough load on the generator to make it run efficiently.

    She also said that the garden is coming along well and they're harvesting the first greens and the like now with more substantial vegetables to come soon. She thinks they'll be able to take some to market. The corn is doing well and they've had little in the way of losses thanks to Amanda's and Cheryl's traps and snares. Apparently their successes at small game catching has really put a burr under the saddles of Will and Chuck so the boys and girls have a rivalry going between the genders to outsmart each other and be more useful. It got out of control for a bit with they started sabotaging each other's efforts with some resulting equipment damage. Subsequent investigation laid the situation bare resulting in Carol and Mary taking switches to all four of their offspring's fannys which brought the matter to a close. They're still trying to outsmart each other but there's been no more sabotage.

    The letters prompted me to get off one of my own so I related that we'd been in another battle, that we'd won, both Jim and I had take minor wounds but would soon heal and were now in Bartow on R8R. I'm not going to mention Shelby until I know better one way or the other. Filled the rest of the letter up with harmless minutia, sealed it up and dropped it in the company mailbag. With all necessary work completed (I wasn't going to go looking for more) I wandered over to the perpetual poker game until the feed was ready to put on. This time I came out with $50.00, mostly McWhirter's and Tyree's! An expensive way to learn that I don't bluff.

    The barbecue was declared officially ready at 5 p.m. and I sent runners to invite Major Franklin and Colonel Hall if they were so inclined and it seems that they were. I was a little surprised that Franklin accepted but perhaps he's trying to put things behind him. The pigs had been basted with melted lard and sour orange juice and were falling off the bone tender. The swamp cabbage had been boiled up with some onions and a bit of side meat off the pigs. Damn, it was all good! I hadn't eaten like that since I was a boy over to Cocoa. Come to think of it, where the First jumped Carlos sounded like it was damn near on top of the house my parents had there. I wonder if it's still standing?

    It was probably about 7:30 or 8:00 o'clock or so when an MP came up to the unit area. He walked in, looked around and came over to me. He said, "Are you Captain Hagan, the Third's exec officer?" I took a good sip from the bottle that the Colonel had brought with him, passed it on and allowed as much that I was. He replied, "I have a matter that needs your attention right away concerning one of your men. I'm afraid it won't wait." "Well, damn.", I said, "OK, you've got me. I'll come peacefully." I looked at Tyree and said, "Don't eat ALL of that pig sergeant, I'm going to want seconds!" and walked off with the MP corporal.

    The matter must have been important because he had a Hummer parked outside so we got in and he drove us over to the city jail. Turns out that one of our troopers out of 1st battalion, 2nd company got stupid drunk and raped a sixteen year old Cuban girl, then panicked and strangled her. Yep, it was serious alright. I went in to interview the boy (he's not but nineteen). Name is Alexander Watson, PFC. The girl's body had been brought to the jail preparatory to taking it to the city morgue so I examined her. Not much doubt about the strangulation and her clothes had been pretty well torn off but I'd leave it to the medical examiner to go beyond that. I introduced myself to Watson as the regimental executive officer and asked him if he wanted to say anything to me about the incident.

    He was still pretty drunk and belligerent so I let him waste his breath for a while before I cut him off, "Private, unless you've got something better than what you've told me so far you're going to face a courts martial tomorrow on charges of rape and murder. Do you realize what the penalty will be if you're found guilty?" That seemed to cut through his alcohol bravado and hit home a bit. "But Captain!", he protested, "she was just a godd*mned Cuban! We've been killing those spics all over the state! She's one of them!"

    I didn't say anything immediately but reached over to the desk and picked up a file folder. It had pictures of the murder scene and the body before it had been moved along with the relevant personal information on the victim and the suspect. I looked over the top of the folder at him and began to read selected passages aloud from it, "Victim's name: Wanda Rodriguez. Age:16. Place of Birth: Tampa General Hospital, Tampa, Florida."

    "Private", I continued, "Wanda Rodriguez was an American citizen. She is of Cuban extraction to be sure but there have been Cubans in this state for over a century. I think you'd better think carefully about this before tomorrow morning. I'll have a military attorney in touch with you as soon I contact him." I put the folder down, stood and walked out of the room. I could hear the trooper begin to sob behind me.

    The MP returned me to the high school and I walked back over to the barbecue. Just as I got there McWhirter handed me a bottle and I took a long pull. I hate gin but the fire felt good going down. I asked the colonel if I could have a word with him in private so we picked up a bottle and headed for an empty playing field where I briefed him on the situation. He was silent for a spell and said that before the war this would have been taken care of through regular military channels but now we'd have to do it. He told me to contact the third battalion commander and that he, the 3rd commander and myself would sit on the court and to find the boy an attorney and that Major Kennedy the First Battalion commander would serve as prosecutor as he had experience in such matters. It occurred to me that Lieutenant Rackham (Ann's former landlord) had been an attorney in criminal law so I suggested him and the Colonel concurred. Corporal Carter showed up about then so we sent him back to tell McWhirter to send word to Lt. Rackham to get over to the jail and to get us a plate of pork and corn bread when he was done. The Colonel and I sat under the stars there on the activity field talking about science fiction until nearly midnight when Corporal Carter came to nudge me in the direction of my bunk.

    I walked into the lunchroom on the way back and found McWhirter and Tyree at the poker table. "Do either of you know of a drummer in the unit?", I asked. Tyree said that he thought one of our Civil War recreationists had said he'd been his unit's drummer for a lot of their battles. "Good," I said, "then he likely already knows the tune I want. You two find him a drum. There's to be a court first thing in the morning and the entire regiment will be turned out afterwards in the activity field out there. Tell him he'll be playing Danny Deever."

  29. #29

    Day Fifty nine - Monday, May 21st, 2001. 7:00 a.m.

    <strong>Day Fifty nine
    Monday, May 21st, 2001. 7:00 a.m.</strong>

    “Private First Class Alexander Jeremiah Watson in accordance with the evidence and testimony presented before this court we have no choice but to find you guilty of the crimes of rape and murder in the first degree.” Colonel Hall gave a momentary pause to allow the import of his pronouncement to sink in and continued, “As a result of this finding this court sentences you to be reduced in rank to private and then to be hung by the neck until dead. Sentence is to be carried out immediately. May God have mercy on your soul.” CLACK!

    The trial had been brief. The evidence and the accused’s own admissions left Major Kennedy with little to do but to lay out the evidence, circumstances and chronology. Lieutenant Rackham tried his best and actually made a good case for reducing the murder charges to second degree in that Watson had only decided to kill the girl in a moment of panic but it was for naught. The regiment had to pull out on time this morning and Colonel Hall did NOT want this matter left unresolved when we left. The entire thing was over and done in an hour.

    When the gavel had clacked its finality the sergeant at arms came forward to collect the condemned man. Watson was plainly fighting back tears but he made no sound, stood and walked out with his guard under his own power, his back straight. I had horrendous heartburn at what had been happening for the last hour and what we were about to do but there was nothing for it but to play it out to the end.

    The prisoner and guards marched through the double doors of the high-school lunch room that had served as our ad hoc courtroom. As they stepped onto the pavement outside a slow drum began to play and a moment later I heard the regimental sergeant-major shout “ATTENTION!” and the sounds of hundreds of feet stamping to attention could be heard inside. The three officers who’d sat as judges marched out with the prosecutor and defense attorney following and the remaining personnel behind. No civilians but the victim’s parents had been allowed inside but when we cleared the overhead outside the lunch room I could see the bleachers were full of local townspeople. I suppose they wanted to see for themselves if we’d really dispense justice to one of our own.

    We marched up between the battalions approaching one of the goal posts at the end of the playing field where the gallows had been arranged. The regimental color guard stood nearby. Our regimental colors were furled and tied in black. Just got them and we’ve shamed them already - wonder if that’s a record or something? A local civilian minister of the condemned man's denomination stood next to the executioner who was wearing a black hood. I thought the hood thing was going over the top but the Colonel had insisted, stating that it wasn’t fair to the man doing the deed to be marked by the entire regiment. Only I and the man himself knew who was underneath it. I knew because the responsibility for finding someone to do it had fallen to me. I have chosen not to record his name.

    The condemned man and his guards stopped in front of the noose hanging down from a pulley bolted to one of the horizontal arms of the goal and then turned to face the regiment. The sergeants at arms ripped off his sleeve stripes and stepped back. The minister came forward and said a prayer with Watson and then stepped back. The executioner came forward. He asked if the boy had any last words and he shook his head, “no.” A cloth sack was placed over his head and then the noose fitted and snugged, the hangman’s knot just behind his left ear. Not having been done in decades no one has any experience in the proper way to hang a man. I had absolutely drawn the line last night about simply hoisting him up and allowing him to strangle. Eventually we worked it out that a post would be sunk in the ground a few feet behind the goal with another pulley on it near to the top. A sandbag of about 200lbs would be tied to a steel ring, the rope tied to the ring opposite it and then fed through the pulleys. The rope was approximately two feet too short to allow the sandbag touch the ground. A heavy steel eyebolt was set through the post and the ring the bag was tied to hung on the protruding bolt. When the noose had been properly snugged the executioner stepped back to the post, placed his hand on the eye of the bolt and turned to face the Colonel. The drum went into a fast roll, the Colonel nodded and the bolt withdrawn. The sandbag hit the ground and I heard a sound like a green branch bent past its breaking point. Watson turned in the air a half-turn to the left, legs twitching. It was over.

    The Colonel turned to the assembled regiment to address them. “We are a regiment of SOLDIERS. We are NOT a band of savages. Savagery to non-combatants must and will be dealt with whenever it occurs. We pull out in one hour. Dismissed.” He stepped down from the podium and we followed behind him. The small garrison we would be leaving behind would see to the burial.

    With all of the major equipment and supplies already loaded we did, in fact, get the regiment loaded up in one hour. The usual joking and horse play that takes place at times like this was missing, in fact the entire affair was rather somber but I suppose it’s to be expected given the circumstances. Twenty five yellow school busses came in for the troops to board along with our motley assortment of trucks and we were off. We already had scouts working our route down U.S. 98 looking for any little Cuban peepers with no reports of anything having been spotted north of Wauchulla. The Colonel wanted to discuss regimental matters so he rode with me in the Willys along with Corporal Carter who drove. Just before we left McWhirter handed me a package and told me it was a late birthday present, something I’d asked for a couple of days ago. I had put it in the Jeep and opened it once we were on the road. The package contained a well used Sony 7600G shortwave receiver with the reel antenna and 12 volt power adapter in a homemade zippered leather pouch. Probably don’t want to know where or how he came by it. I was just putting it back in the pouch to put it away when I realized the Colonel was staring at it. I asked if he’d like to look at it and he said no, he actually had one of his own but since I had one now there was something he’d better tell me.

    I really wasn’t sure how to take that so I said nothing. “Captain Hagan,” he said, “I suppose you’re probably as news starved as everyone one else in the regiment and probably the whole southern end of this peninsula which is why your company dog robbers boosted that radio for you.” I admitted that I was, having grown tired of hearing nothing but rumors and third hand information about what was happening in the world around us. He admitted that he felt much the same way. “I’m sure you’ll recall I mentioned in yesterday’s staff meeting about where our artillery and armor that we’d been expecting went – a long haul to the northwestern states. I didn’t mention why it was going there and frankly the General would prefer I didn’t mention the situation at all. Were it possible to keep a lid on it I might agree with him but if it’s not all over the shortwave bands by now it will be any day now and because of who you are and how you came to be here I want to speak plainly with you. I’m going to have to ask Corporal Carter here to keep whatever he's about to hear in confidence.” I looked at Carter who nodded. I turned to the Colonel and said that I thought we could speak now if he wanted to.

    The Colonel said nothing for a moment and then said, “To make it short and to the point there are several states in the northwest that have decided to leave the Union. Unlike the Aztlan revolutionaries down in the southwest who primarily come from outside the U.S. the NorthWestern Confederacy is homegrown. Basically they comprise a fair part of the states of Washington and Oregon east of the mountains, most of Idaho and the western half of Montana that wasn’t too irradiated with strong sentiments for the NWC in many of the surrounding states. You may be aware that there have been certain elements in these areas for many years wanting to leave the Union and form their own all white nation. These groups are certainly playing a key role in fomenting the rebellion but it’s not nearly as simple as that. Many other groups are also playing active roles as well, groups that have no interest in racial issues but rather have become hostile to the Federal government across the years over a vast range of issues. Now that the U.S. finds itself in a very weakened position after being involved in a full-scale nuclear war and simultaneous invasions on two fronts these groups have made common cause to further their goals. I’m sorry to say that they’ve enjoyed a degree of success to the point that the Department of Defense and the President now puts them on the same level of importance as the Mexican border and the Cuban invasion here in Florida. We now find ourselves in the unenviable position of fighting a three front war. Actually it would be a four front war if you consider we’re still technically at war with the Russian Federation though they have not involved themselves in further hostilities against the U.S. since they did the Cubans the favor of eliminating our radar at Tyndall A.F.B. for them.”

    “The effect this has had on the military is bad. In some of the affected states entire major units went over to the rebels. In other areas individual troops and even small units have deserted to go to the NWC. This has all weakened us at precisely the point we most needed to husband our strength to fend off the foreign aggressors. There were already strong rumors of the impending rebellion at the time the Alabama and Georgia regiments were enroute to here so you can see why we career officers felt as strongly as we did when the various Confederate States flags began to fly. I know there hasn’t been any talk of secession here but the flying of those flags could easily be interpreted as such. They caused General Dawson considerable consternation when he saw them. It's because of this and what you're likely to hear on your radio there that we are having this conversation. I must ask you, is there a strong sentiment among the locally recruited military personnel to support the secession of the states of the Old Confederacy from the United States?"

    I didn't say anything for a moment or two as I digested what he'd just told me. My first reaction was that two or three major problems weren't enough, we had to go looking for more! My second reaction was that perhaps the NWC had the right of it and we should do the same thing. I was just about to say something along these lines when I realized that saying such might not be personally healthy so I reconsidered. While I was rethinking it occurred to me that most of the real root reasons that I would want Florida to leave the Union had vanished in a nuclear fireball, namely the vast hordes of lemming like citizenry who seemed intent on giving away their rights (and mine with them) in order to gain illusory security. They were already dead directly in the nuclear attack or would be dying over the next year or so from the destruction of the national infrastructure. By and large the U.S. (what remained of it) would almost certainly undergo a major shift to the conservative/libertarian now that the major metropolitan areas had been vaporized or proved to be unlivable.

    Like it or not the only thing that allowed the United States to maintain even a tenuous claim on the title of "superpower" was that we still had some nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them. In every other regard we were now on a par with the likes of Brazil, so much so that even an invasion by a banana republic like Cuba was causing us considerable difficulties in dislodging them. If we allowed ourselves to fragment how long would it be before an alliance of our envious neighbors to the south decided to grab a piece of the former United States for themselves? Could we trim the Federal Government sufficiently to keep them from threatening our rights and liberties while still maintaining sufficient strength to protect ourselves from our very real enemies? This is what the entire matter really seemed to come down to.

    "Colonel," I said, "I have not heard any talk among my brother officers or the enlisted men about whether the old Confederate states once again should attempt secession from the Union but I think it very likely that as soon as word gets out about the NorthWestern Confederacy it certainly will come up. The general direction the nation has been going in these last seventy years or so and the actions of the Federal Government in particular during that time period has really not set well with many people. Until now they've largely been outnumbered by the citizenry who didn't feel that way so the dissatisfaction of these people has been effectively masked by and large. Now that the war has happened most of the status quo types either died in their urban/suburban areas or will die over the next year as the effects of the collapse make themselves felt. They won't go extinct by any means but their relative numbers will be sharply reduced. The perceptible impact of the collective opinions of the dissatisfied will make itself felt like it hasn't been able to do for many decades now. With so many of their relatively liberal urban/suburban areas devastated leaving the more conservative rural areas more or less undamaged I think it highly likely that many of the southeastern states will seriously consider leaving the Union. If the Federal Government wants to keep this nation from coming apart at the seams I think they'd better approach the problem on two fronts: One front being that the U.S. has very real enemies who'd only be too delighted to see us fall apart from within and the second front being to deconstruct many of the laws and policies that would motivate the surviving citizenry in the concerned states to leave the Union."

    We rode on in silence for a while after that, passing through Homeland and approaching Pembroke outside of Ft. Meade. The Colonel broke the silence and said, "Alan, I think you're right. As a professional soldier I've learned over the years to keep my political opinions suppressed but I think that many in the undamaged areas have been dissatisfied for a long time. You're not the first to express an opinion like this but you have reinforced what has been forming in my mind and the minds of many in the career officers corp since the war started. You seem to be fairly representative of the type of men who have dedicated themselves to the cause here in Florida so I think it important that the DoD and the President give what you have just said serious consideration because it is likely being pondered by many here in the southeast. Congress is eventually going to reform itself, perhaps as early as this Fall and the political landscape is probably going to look much different. If we don't want to see a replay of the events of 1861 then the government had better be thinking of ways to forestall it. We're coming up on Ft. Meade now so let us speak no more of this matter just now and get back to the business at hand."

    We didn't speak anymore of the matter but I certainly was thinking about it. Was the nation going to fragment? What would this mean for our ability to defend ourselves from the likes of the Cubans or some other hungry aggressor? I was sorely regretting not having been able to keep up with radio these last several weeks. I resolved to speak with Randy about this at the first opportunity.

    We passed through Ft. Meade without incident and went on down to Wauchulla. Had several stops to give the engineers a chance to reinpsect a number of bridges and road culverts for hidden surprises. Carlos supposedly didn't have enough troop strength in Arcadia to stop the regiment from taking it but he could certainly use the same delaying tactics on us that we used on him on the Alafia river. It was going on five p.m. by the time we got to Wauchulla where we stopped for an hour to give everyone who hadn't gotten off their transport an opportunity to stretch their legs. The little town looked pretty stricken from the earlier assault.

    It was six p.m. when we pulled out and headed south once more. We passed through Zolfo springs and sent out advance motor pickets to back up our scouts. Units of engineers went out with them so that each bridge and culvert could be carefully inspected before we got there without the regiment having to stop every couple of miles. Forward movement was still slow and I found myself wondering if it would be faster to walk.

    The Colonel had elected to ride in his own Hummer back when we remounted in Wauchulla. We were getting well into Cuban held territory now and once in a while we'd see a burned area of the woods, a dead vehicle or a hole in the road that testified to the minor firefights that had passed along this road in the weeks previous. I talked with Carter about what the Colonel had discussed and he said he sure regretted not being able to keep up with the news! I agreed and said that I'd like him to make it part of his daily duties from now on to monitor the little shortwave receiver I'd just received which he said he'd do.

    He also said that he'd been thinking about it since the Colonel brought it up and that he thought it would perhaps be best for the state not to secede. Whatever political differences we might have with Washington (or wherever the new seat of government is now) could probably be worked out now that the political landscape has changed so much and that for a few states to go it on their own in the damaged condition we were all in seemed to be just setting ourselves up for infighting and perpetual difficulties with international vultures on the borders. I am inclined to agree but whether we can get the Federal Government to change its trifling ways or not yet remains to be seen.

    It is too much to ask to have just ONE life-or-death problem at a time to cope with?

    We finally reached Arcadia at eleven p.m. We'd taken the town without firing a shot. Our scouts and the survivors in the town report that the few hundred Cuban troops garrisoning the area had pulled out and headed west on s.r. 70 & 72 an hour before we arrived.

    It's just as well they did flee before us because had we known what we were to find they'd likely have been massacred by the enraged troops.

  30. #30

    Day Fifty nine - Tuesday, May 22nd, 2001. 7:00 a.m.

    <strong>Day Fifty nine
    Tuesday, May 22nd, 2001. 7:00 a.m.</strong>

    Carlos knows we have him boxed and has decided to move further south in order lessen the amount of exposed flank he must show to us. Intel reported in about noon yesterday that when the Ruskin units made the move across the upper reaches of the Manatee river they encountered little resistance and occupied Bradenton without difficulty. Plainly Carlos was reluctant to allow himself to be drawn into battle with us here in Arcadia positioned to jog west and cut off his engaged units. Intel also reports that boat traffic has greatly increased and he seems to be shipping out as much loot as he can while he can. He knows the party's over and is now trying to pack up and go home before we can really drop the hammer on him. Before yesterday we might have been willing to just let him go but after we entered Arcadia any thoughts of letting him get away unscathed evaporated.

    We think we've found all of the bodies and have backhoes digging graves now. For a while last night I thought we were going to lose control of the men when we reached the town center and saw the women and children hanging from the telephone and lamp poles. Reports collected from the survivors indicate that when the Cubans first took the town there had been quite a lot of guerrilla resistance. This is not surprising considering the amount of cattle ranching that’s been centered around Arcadia in the Peace river valley for over a century, they wouldn't submit easily. When other methods of quelling the guerrillas proved ineffective Carlos had resorted to a tactic used by other occupying armies in the past. Every time a Cuban soldier was killed they rounded up and executed ten men. The attacks continued, men became difficult to find so they started hanging women and children. That really tore it and the fighting became savage and without quarter after that. The Cubans may have had military control of the area but they could not pacify it well enough that they could safely leave their base areas after dark in groups of less than five armed men. A number of the Cuban garrison left as a rear guard never rejoined their units. I won't describe the conditions of their bodies. If ever we manage to take them alive the Cubans based out of Arcadia will never be repatriated back to Cuba. It may come down to a fight simply to be able to hang them.

    The plan is now for the units in Bradenton to stay put and make no further move to the south. We're also staying put until the units in Lake Placid can make a run as fast as they can to take Punta Gorda and the lower reaches of the Peace river at Charlotte Harbor. There's Cubans down in Ft. Myers but supposedly not so many as to be able to deny them taking the river bridges. Once they're in place we'll make our westward push. Everything is rushed because we want to get in and take them before Carlos can get his people out. We'll have him cut off north and south and his back to the Gulf. Those that haven't already boat lifted out will have to stand and fight or surrender. The Navy and Coast Guard report sinking more boats than usual but we're still desperately short on warships and a lot of what the Cubans are using just doesn't track well on radar, being mostly fiberglass or wood. Nevertheless, we think if we move fast we can catch Carlos with a good number of his troops still here. So just for the moment we sit and wait here in Arcadia until we get the green light and make our dash for the Sarasota area.

    Got a real earful of news last night off the little shortwave receiver. Too bad Japan took it in the ear so bad from the EMP burst, the Sony is an excellent piece of work.. The atmospheric hash from the nuclear detonations has largely cleared out now and with so many broadcasters off the air the remaining stations come in much clearer and are easier to find. Carter's working up a list of stations that he'll check regularly. Colonel Hall is right, the northwestern rebellion is all over the airwaves. So far there's no actual fighting (much anyways), mostly just posturing on each side. The federals are moving to prevent the loss of any further territory or equipment and the rebels are moving to consolidate as much as they can and reaching out to form diplomatic ties with whoever they can. There's already one station out of South Carolina and another out of Alabama plainly sympathetic to their cause and not being terribly covert in agitating for the southeast to do the same. This is going to be trouble and no doubt about it.

    International news is mixed. There seems to be a new government in Russia. The Army has ousted Vladimir Putin and his secret police cronies and now have some general that I've never heard of as acting president and everything is now "under control" though stations in the nations bordering Russia are reporting mass liquidations. Sounds a lot like Russia under Stalin during the Second World War - the bombs didn't kill enough, they're going to kill millions more. There's still trouble on the Chinese-Russian border and everybody's praying they don't go to nuking each other again. I'm finding it hard to believe they have any credible targets left to use a nuke on but with both sides being so desperately wounded that war may not be finished until they go at each other with knives. There's civil war across India and the Indonesian Archipelago. Japan is still internally consolidating but reports that starvation death rates are beginning to decline. Israel and her middle eastern neighbors are still in a delicate détente. No one is attacking her, she's giving technical assistance to a number of nations but no one's really friendly with each other either. The fundamentalists have finally gotten their second wind and are beginning to preach jihad against the Zionists. The Middle East is still very much unsettled.

    The rebuilding situation on the East Coast is still grim but is steadily improving. We're receiving fuel from Venezuela and thanks to on site generators a limited amount from the partially rebuilt refineries on the Gulf coast which is allowing for sufficient trucks to move the foreign aid we're receiving from Brazil, Argentina and several other South American nations to where it needs to go. Rebuilding rail lines and terminals to move more supplies more efficiently has become a major priority. Many are still starving but most of the metropolitan areas are receiving at least a basic ration every day, sufficient that the factories producing vital necessities can restart as power is available. Nothing is coming in from Mexico which I suppose is to be expected given the border situation. President Bush plainly sounds out of patience with their unwillingness to even try to control cross border raids into U.S. territory despite their repeated statements to the contrary. I think when we finally bring Carlos to ground and dispatch him that the federal units here in Florida will likely ship out immediately for Mexico and probably as many of the state units as they can convince to go with them. No one has said so but between the rebellion in the northwest and the Mexican border situation the feds have to be worrying about the possibility they may lose the entire west coast. So far Bush seems reluctant to engage in open warfare with the rebels but he's certainly showing no reluctance about shooting up anything crossing the border and it's become more plain every day that we're going to cross the border in force.

    Aurstralia and New Zealand are shipping food aid to devastated Europe (and a little to us). This time I think perhaps the European Union may really mean something. They've been so badly damaged that consolidation may be their only choice if they are to survive at all. In a couple of years I don't think Western Europe will have a fifth of their pre-war population. South Africa is embroiled in internal fighting. It seems after the war broke out that certain of the radical groups decided there was no longer anyone to stop them from driving out the remaining white farmers and Afrikaners and taking what they've got. In some areas they managed to do just that and there are rumors of massacres. In other areas the Afrikaners had been expecting this all along and have successfully resisted with the assistance of some black African groups who could see the handwriting on the wall of them being next once the Afrikaner's had been done in. So far no side has the clear advantage and the whole situation sounds like it's going to drag on for a long time. Many of the other African nations that had been showing some signs of economic health are also now embroiled in fighting now that global trade and international aid has collapsed. I'll be surprised if the Dark Continent doesn't slip all the way back into the Dark Ages thus setting the stage for the entire colonial expansion cycle all over again.

    Carter just got word over the radio, we're pulling out and making our run for Sarasota. The units coming out of Lake Placid ran into heavier resistance than they expected getting to Punta Gorda but they have all of the bridges in artillery range and are vigorously shelling them to slow Carlos getting over. He seems to be trying to get across as hard as he can go. If he can get a large part of his forces across the lower Peace river we'll have a difficult time crossing under fire so the time has come to turn up the heat.

  31. #31

    Day Sixty - Wednesday, May 23rd, 2001. 7:00 a.m.

    <strong>Day Sixty
    Wednesday, May 23rd, 2001. 7:00 a.m.</strong>

    I must be getting better at this soldier’s game because here I sit the day after the battle without so much as a cut. Admittedly this was as much by blind luck as any skill I possess but it is the same result nevertheless. With luck this will have been my last major battle, the rest will be mere police actions running to ground the remnants of Carlos’s forces who managed to fade into the swamps whilst their brethren were being slaughtered or surrendering on the beaches and docks. No matter, they will sooner or later be brought to justice as we discover them.

    We pulled out of Arcadia finally about 9:00 a.m. for our trot over to Sarasota only to get radioed orders half way there to turn back and cut to the south. The units coming down out of Bradenton had reported that Carlos had pulled a fast fade and slammed into the bridges over Charlotte Harbor at U.S. 41 and I-75 resulting in the Lake Placid units being caught betwixt and between and more hard pressed than we had originally believed would happen. As a result the 3rd Florida was directed to come down into Port Charlotte to join up with the units coming south out of Sarasota and Bradenton and the 2nd Georgia was directed to cross the Myakka river via the bridge on s.r. 761 to support the 4th & 5th Florida on the south side of the harbor. With three regiments on the south sides of the bridges they would be able to fend off the relatively small Cuban forces in Ft. Myers/Punta Gorda and prevent Carlos from crossing the harbor. With us coming in from their west, the 2nd Florida and 1st Alabama pushing from the south we would have them boxed between Charlotte Harbor and the Gulf beaches and could force defeat in detail on them. For once, that is more or less the way things worked out.

    Once it became plain that we were coming in from the west Carlos realized he was not going to have time to win the harbor bridges and withdrew further to the west crossing the lower Myakka river on the s.r. 776 bridge into West Port Charlotte which created a bottleneck small enough to effectively shut us off until the northern units were able to come far enough south to bring pressure to bear. It was becoming plain that Carlos was declining battle as much as he was because he had little in the way of artillery for support, we must have gotten most of it in the Alafia river battle when the Apaches ambushed him. What he did have he put to good use to slow our advance but it just wasn’t enough to stop us and he knew it. Aerial recon over the Gulf reported hundreds of small boats in the cabin cruiser class off the beaches heading for the general area of Gasparilla island at the end of s.r. 775. It was there that Carlos chose to make his stand while he got as many people off as he could. Given the circumstances it wasn’t a bad choice. There was only the one bridge to the island and he was able to cover it well and get many of his people across it before we could force the issue on the Myakka river. It finally took our faithful M1 pushing disabled trucks over the side on the bridge while mortar rounds fell all around to get us a path across. What little artillery Carlos still possessed was being used to slow the advance of the northern units. Once we reached the west bank of the river we met up with small advance units of the 2nd Florida. It became a race then, the 2nd Florida sprinting down s.r. 775 along the inland waterway and the 3rd Florida running down s.r. 771 east of the Rotunda both trying to reach the little village of Placida where the two state highways merged before the bridge spanning the sound to Gasparilla island. Before we’d reached the village it had mostly been a matter of engineers looking for boobytraps (and they found quite a few), mortar and artillery duels and armor forcing an advance.

    Outside of Placida it turned personal. Carlos still had a thousand troops or better waiting to cross the bridge and many dozens of vehicles so they bitterly contested every house and street corner. We were moving fast to cut off as many as we could so would occasionally run into an ambush in our haste. This caused us to take more casualties than we'd ordinarily have taken but with the concentration of troops in a decreasing area any ambush was quickly crushed by simply rolling enough troops over them. For a brief time the southern advance stalled at a canal bridge just north of Placida and we ran into difficulties at the bridge over Coral Creek just outside the village. The old Willys did a good job as we rolled through backyards and lawns bypassing roadblocks. We once again had to use the M1 to push disabled vehicles off the bridge and then lost it just before it got the last truck out of the way when a lucky mortar round pegged the engine hatch. There was a slot just wide enough for a truck to get past the tank and last disabled vehicle so we ran up as many machine guns as we could and started laying down covering fire while one of our five ton flatbeds shot the gap. We'd took a page from Carlos and welded heavy steel plate over the front of the truck to protect the motor and driver. They managed to riddle the motor with a heavy machine gun anyway but not before he was able to reach the other side and coast to the side leaving the slot open for the next truck.

    Two more trucks shot the gap and then Carter and I in the Jeep. I'm afraid it's going to need some bodywork because a Cuban machine gun managed to rake the side with six shots as we cleared the other side. The shooting was intense as there were troops in every house on the other side shooting at the troops and trucks crossing the bridge. Carter gunned straight for one house as I started raking the windows on the front with the Thompson and he did the same with his M-16 one handed laying it across the hood. I had the drum in and shot it dry, the gun was so hot that the lube oil was smoking, but we managed to make it to the front of the house close enough that I could toss in a bundle of four sticks of dynamite taped together with a blasting cap and a fuse which I lit from a cigar I was puffing away on. I don't smoke and the cheap cigar tasted damn nasty but it was the best way I could think of to light fuses quickly. The dynamite went through the living room window as Carter threw a grenade in through the front door and then punched the Jeep into reverse so hard he nearly threw me over the hood. The grenade went first and blew out what little glass remained in the dining room windows. I saw a trooper inside the house pick up the dynamite bundle to throw it outside but it blew just as he was bringing his arm forward in the throw. I cut the fuses shorter after that. The block walls of the house contained the blast but the remaining windows in the front of the house blew out and there was no more shooting coming out of it. Within seconds the other positions able to cover the bridge were also reduced and we had a straight path into Placida. Mortar rounds still burst on both sides of the bridge.

    We waited a few minutes to allow more troops to cross the bridge. A mortar hit took out one truck in mid span requiring it to be tipped over the side. Once we got a hundred across we advanced on the village while more troops crossed behind us. There were burning vehicles of every description all the way to the road junction and beyond to the Gasparilla bridge. No choice but to dismount and go on foot. I took the M60 out of the back of the Jeep and told Carter to load up with belts. We used the trucks in the road for cover as I and the other troops raked the windows of the houses that had troops firing at us with everyone doing leapfrog advances. At the second house I did this with a round hit my helmet at a shallow angle so hard that it turned it nearly a quarter turn to the side and it strapped to my head! My neck still hurts from that and there's a hell of a gouge down the left side of the helmet right over where my temple was. Carter took a little shrapnel in his back but the radio mostly caught it all.

    We finally cleared enough houses that we were able to see the bridge over the sound. It was packed from end to end with vehicles and troops heading towards the island. There was over a hundred yards of clear ground between the last objects that would serve as cover and the base of the bridge where Carlos had set up at least a half-dozen machine guns which laid heavy fire on anyone who cleared the houses. Not being in any big hurry to cross that Carter and I set up in a house that had sight of the bridge and starting laying our own fire down. I laid the M-60 across a bar in the dining room of the house which kept it about ten feet back from the exterior window but still with a view of the bridge and started raking the trucks on the bridge itself hoping to disable one or more and block the span. Staying away from the window allowed us to get off most of a belt before the crews at the bridge base finally figured out where we were and lay suppressing fire on us. It was so heavy the window was visibly eroding and we had to abandon the position.

    As we fled the house we could see other troops setting up positions and firing at the vehicles on the bridge. A mortar soon began to rain shells and the first one to actually hit on the bridge killed a truck. Three more rounds and they got another truck nearly beside it and the bridge was momentarily blocked. Return fire was heavy but slowly we took out the machine guns at the bridge base and began working on the vehicles still on our side. Many started jumping into the water and swimming towards the island. A few more minutes and the remaining troops on our side of the bridge (about a hundred) threw down their weapons and started raising their hands and walking out. A few of our more excited troops shot a number of them before we got them under control.

    As soon as we had control of the mainland side of the bridge we stopped shelling the bridge itself and started concentrating on the island. Gasparilla is a typical Florida coastal island, about seven miles long and very narrow in spots. We now had control of one end of the only bridge so the only way Carlos was going to get off was by water which was exactly what he was doing. The Coast Guard and Navy reported running battles with Cuban warships off the southwestern coast, apparently Castro was actually going to commit some of his naval resources to the evacuation. He'd been reluctant to do this before but now it tied up what naval resources we had which could have been sinking the boats evacuating the troops and their loot.

    Except for the guard forces covering the bridge Carlos moved most of what he had left to the south end of the island into the town of Boca Grande where there were dozens of docks that boats could tie up to for loading This put him out of range of anything but our artillery which started laying fire on them. We got a plane up for aerial recon but it had to stay at a fair distance for fear of missiles. At least it was able to tell us if our shells were landing in the dock areas.

    As soon as it started to look like Carlos was heading for Gasparilla we got on the horn to the units south of Charlotte Harbor to move their artillery over to the north end of Pine Island north of Sanibel so they could start shelling the same area we were but this took considerable time because of the distance they had to travel and the fact they were still providing support to the units defending against the Cubans to the south. We also had scouts out looking for every boat big enough to take out into the Gulf that they could find but it was slim pickings there, the Cubans had thought of it already. We did manage to come up with two cabin cruisers that we outfitted with M-60's and radios and used them for artillery spotters.

    It was nearly dark by the time the units across the harbor were able to open up on the Boca Grande docks and Cuban artillery. During that time we'd been steadily working on taking out the machine guns and mortars that protected the bridge. This took some time because the bridge is actually three bridges connecting Gasparilla to the mainland via two smaller keys in the middle with the big island being nearly two miles from Placida. Our mortars and artillery would eliminate the positions defending one bridge then we'd send the armor from the 2nd Florida ahead to push disabled vehicles over the side while mortars from the more distant positions and artillery from Boca Grande fell around. Fortunately, the bridge was narrow enough that most of the artillery fell harmlessly into the water but between the two we lost four APC's and one tank clearing all of the bridges. The spans themselves took serious damage but we were able to cross them.

    While the bridge clearing was going on we managed to get sufficient traffic lanes opened to allow our trucks and vehicles to be brought up so Carter went to retrieve the Jeep. About an hour after dark we cleared the last vehicles off the last bridge and drove onto the island. We finally had Carlos in a corner and were about to crush anything that hadn't managed to get off yet. We brought forward our remaining two tanks, three APC's, several ersatz armored trucks and rolled south with the thin skinned vehicles behind. The Cuban artillery had fallen silent which we later found to be because they'd run out of ammo. We'd only gone two miles or so when we started encountering vehicles blocking the road again. This time we didn’t fool with them but split up and drove down the beaches on either side until we reached Boca Grande' itself. The fighting gradually grew less as the defenders saw that we were in strength and many began throwing down their weapons and raising their hands. It didn't get stiff again until we reached the dock area when several machine guns opened up on us and were silenced when the APC's were able to bring their chain guns to bear. The docks themselves were in a frenzy as boats pulled away with people still trying to board. I opened fire with the M-60 as soon as we could see the docks themselves and started raking docks, boats or whatever I could see. Everywhere that the water could be seen the troopers set up and started firing on whatever they could see. Seven or eight boats burned and there's no knowing how many more were damaged but still managed to get away. I didn't have a spare barrel for the M-60 or I'd have changed it out because the last fifty or so rounds started tumbling shortly after they exited the muzzle so I finally just stopped. A few minutes later and orders went out for artillery and mortars to stop firing on the fleeing boats as well so as to not waste ammunition. The Cuban invasion on the Florida west coast was at an end.

    I see Carter coming so it must be time for the staff meeting. I'll finish this up later.

  32. #32

    Day Sixty one - Thursday, May 24th, 2001. 7:00 a.m.

    <strong>Day Sixty one
    Thursday, May 24th, 2001. 7:00 a.m.</strong>

    Spent the day yesterday seeing to ours and the enemy wounded (we took more this time than the previous battles), policing the dead and participating in the Arcadia investigation. The west coast Cuban commander (Colonel Carlos Rafael Alvarez) got out just ahead of us so we're all hoping the Navy or Coast Guard got him but with his luck he probably had a quiet trip all the way home. Strange how I've been calling the Cubans Carlos all this time because it's the Spanish version of the name "Charles" which came from the name "Victor Charley" that the Viet Cong were tagged with in Vietnam and then discover the name of the west coast commander really was Carlos. From what we've learned from the prisoner interrogations so far it seems the commander for the Cuban units that came up the center part of the state (a Lieutenant Colonel Juan Marcos de Bolivar) was killed in the assault on the Alafia river so it seems we won't have the pleasure of hanging him. The highest ranking officer we took was a major and we're pretty certain he was never in Arcadia. Colonel Hall had a dozen survivors from Arcadia brought in and they viewed all of the 553 prisoners we took. There were twelve that more than a few could agree had been there during the worst of it and those we separated from the others.

    It's been near to ten days now since the Alafia fracas and still no word from Shelby so I might as well face it and accept that he's gone. Rumor has it that the Cubans have a POW camp at the state prison in Belle Glade which we haven't reached yet but I don't think there's much hope. From what we've been able to discover it seems that most who surrendered were simply executed after interrogation. It may take twenty years but perhaps one day I’ll ride up San Juan hill myself with a rifle in my hand.

    To our intense disgust the Cuban government contacted the Federal government yesterday to inform it that their troops who were taken should be given the treatment dictated by international treaties for the handling of prisoners of war so the Feds contacted HQ who contacted us to be sure that we did in fact do as we should by them. Chances are most of them are going to be repatriated eventually but we made it clear that the twelve we could identify (so far) as having been in Arcadia were going to be tried for murder of non-combatants and if found guilty would hang. Those soldiers that fled before reaching Gasparilla will be given an opportunity to surrender, placed into custody with the other POW's and eventually repatriated unless they commit some crime after the battle ended yesterday. In those cases they'll be subject to arrest and trial like any other criminal. If they're smart they'll surrender to Army units such as the 3rd. Some of our local militias aren't too keen on the laws of war. Given what we've seen of what was done I can't say that I really blame them but we can't let that kind of thing get too far out of hand.

    Today is probably going to be spent recovering as much military hardware as we can. We captured quite a lot of Cuban weaponry, most of it with little or no ammo except for rifles and machine guns. As soon as we've policed up the last of the dead and all the salvageable equipment we'll pull off of Gasparilla. The water situation here is bad with this many people so we'll pull out with most of the regiment heading back to Bartow with a sizeable detachment of us going to Arcadia to finish the investigation. The Port Charlotte/Ft. Myers area is too heavily populated and the weather is getting hot. There's already reports of cholera in St. Petersburg and typhoid in the Orlando area so we want the units in a lower population density area where we can better control any outbreaks that may occur. With most municipal water and sewage treatment systems being offline, the population density of the state, and the weather turning hot I think communicable disease is going to be a real problem this year.

    Had some more good news yesterday evening. It seems that the Cuban commander on the east coast finally came to the realization that the Alafia river battle had changed the tenor of the invasion situation and the morning before our battle here decided to turn around and start looking for an exit. He pulled his units in Holopaw back to Melbourne and started heading south. The nearest sea access to the Indian River lagoon was back down to the Sebastian inlet but the nearest truly useful sea access was considerably further down the coast which is where he headed since Port Canaveral was pretty well blasted in the nuke attack. Both the Ft. Pierce inlet and the mouth of the St.Lucie river at Stuart had previously fallen to the Cubans and were both being used for sea traffic by them. A running dogfight ensued with the 1st Florida and accompanying Georgia units snapping at their heels. Carlos lost a fair part of his strength in the retreat but did manage to make it Ft. Pierce where he got part of his units loaded and heading for open sea before being compelled to retreat from the dock areas and head further south. Yesterday in the early afternoon as we were fully engaging here at Gasparilla Carlos made it to the docks on the St. Lucie river and loaded up with a strong rearguard holding us off to buy time. A number of Cuban gunboats and even a small destroyer (frigate?) came into the mouth of the river to provide cover when our three remaining Apaches jumped them along with some Navy aircraft (type as yet unknown) and a tin can of our own. By midafternoon the Cuban warships were on the bottom, dozens of other Cuban vessels had been sunk and many others surrendered. Four hundred prisoners had been taken. No estimate has been made of the number of ships that made it out to sea but the Coast Guard reports continued engagements and our destroyer put out to sea to assist. The invasion of Florida was at an end.

    Last night after we had the last of the wounded seen to and the dead policed up for transport the colonel gave the regiment some time off to recover themselves. I was exhausted but still too nervy to get to sleep so I sat in on the perpetual poker game that had reformed in the lobby of the Boca Grande' Hotel where we had our company headquarters. Lost about $50.00 this time because my mind kept wandering off to listen to the radio that Corporal Carter was scanning the bands with over at the check in counter.

    It seems that the talk of secession is really spreading. Close to half of the Ham and other shortwave stations that Carter could identify as coming from the southeast at least mentioned it and many stations coming from the rest of the nation were discussing it as well. No real consensus seems to be developing yet but it is certainly getting some folks fired up. A Ham out of Tallahassee says there's talk of calling a special session of the state legislature to consider the matter. That could be interesting from a legal point of view. Would a living house rep or senator be able to sit if his district had been wiped out in the nuke attack or the following invasion? How about those districts that weren’t wiped out but whose representative or senator had been killed with the district presently in too much disarray to select another? So far the Feds haven't taken a publicly stated position on the secession talk here but I can't imagine they'll wait much longer. I have to admit I'm beginning to worry about this, the last thing we need right now is to begin fighting amongst ourselves.

    Other news indicates the standoff in the northwest is intensifying. Apparently the commanders on both sides are trying to avoid open conflicts but small spontaneous gunfights between opposing sides of the secession keep breaking out. The Federal government is offering to “open a dialogue” and the NWC spokespeople keep saying the Federal government doesn't want to talk, they just keep reiterating their demands that the rebels stand down. Just to make matters worse the state of Alaska has formally declared for the NWC and it seems there is considerable tension now in British Columbia, Canada to join them. This is coming at a bad time for the Canadian government as the Quebecois are pushing hard for independence again. Units of the Canadian army are reported heading west.

    The new Russian government has indicated they're willing to open negotiations to bring about an ending of the hostilities between them and the U.S. Intelligence reports indicate they have become preoccupied with a half-dozen active independence movements across the Federation. We don't have what it takes to go over there and conquer their territory and they can't come conquer us so I think we'll probably just settle to the bottom like two ships with their hulls broached below the water line. No surrender, no victory. Just everyone forget about it and get on with trying to stay alive. Well, at least we didn't have to do that with the Cubans.

    Mexico is screaming because the Army moved in force to occupy Tijuana which is about what I expected. No word what the Mexican response has been so far. The president seems to have decided to take the fight to the Mexicans.

    The only other news from last night of interest was Carter picked up a Ham out of Micanopy in the south end of Alachua county. Very frustrating that we couldn't respond to him but we did pick up that there hasn't been any rioting lately in Gainesville or Ocala, that food shipments have started arriving regularly and the fact that he didn't mention any disease outbreaks leads me to believe the home area is free of them as of yet. Sure wish I’d get another letter from Ann.

    I'd really like to discuss this secession mess with Randy but he's with the artillery back on the mainland. There wasn't much point in bringing it onto the island so I probably won't see him before we get back to Bartow.

    Time to go see about salvaging some of the abandoned trucks.

  33. #33

    Day Sixty three - Saturday, May 26th, 2001. 7:00 a.m.

    <strong>Day Sixty three
    Saturday, May 26th, 2001. 7:00 a.m.</strong>

    Once again we have a spot of unpleasant business to finish this morning and then we'll be pulling out to head back to Bartow.

    Spent all of Thursday salvaging whatever we could of the supplies and equipment the Cubans left behind. More vehicles than the regiment will be needing anytime soon so the Colonel decided to send them up to Camp Blanding in Starke. I suppose some effort is going to have to be made to find the original owners if they are still alive. I arranged to have Jim drive one of the trucks so he could drop off a couple of crates of personal effects by the house on the way up.

    Thursday evening the rest of the regiment pulled out to head back to Bartow. The staff involved in the Arcadia investigation loaded up in four trucks and headed back to there. The Colonel elected to ride with me in the Willys. The Jeep is not the smoothest riding vehicle ever to come out of Detroit so it had become apparent that when the Colonel wants to ride with me it's because he has something he wants to discuss in confidence.

    We discussed various incidentals until we were in the middle of Port Charlotte when he finally came around to what he wanted to discuss. "Captain Hagan," he said, "I'm sure you've probably heard that the NorthWest Confederacy and secession talk has been all over the shortwave bands these last few days. I'm wondering if you've heard the feelings among the men about it all?"

    I didn't say anything for a moment then replied, "Yes, Colonel. I've been paying particular attention ever since you first told me about it. So far there's been considerable jawboning going on but there doesn't seem to be any consensus forming yet though I don't think it's going to be too terribly long before one does form. I find it rather puzzling that there's been no official statement from the Federal government concerning the matter here in the southeastern states."

    "I've been wondering about that myself, Alan.", he came back, "but I think it can't be long now. It may be that the President and his advisors haven't really been able to settle upon a workable answer yet. Perhaps the number of shortwave operators filling the bands talking about secession don't really reflect the actual numbers of people wanting to leave the Union but there's enough of them that it ought to be addressed. For the moment we're at a standstill until something moves one way or the other."

    We drove on in silence for a while longer when he spoke again, "Alan, have you considered what you're going to do now that the invasion crisis is at an end? You haven't had any formal training as a line officer but you've done better than many green lieutenants fresh out of school have. Your handling of the enemy's loot and unit pay problems showed real ability. You could have a future in the military. Once we've put the last wraps on the Cuban situation I think the Army will be pulling its troops out pretty quick to move them west. You could probably have a battalion of your own before long."

    I gave the offer a respectful silence before replying, "Colonel, with all due respect to the Army, the soldier's life is not for me. Were it not for fear that the Cubans were going to literally be on my doorstep I would not have signed on. I've got a wife and daughter with another child on the way waiting for me back home and I've had a bellyful of killing people. Your offer is appreciated, it really is, but I must decline. As soon as we can wrap all this up and get it over with I'm going to go home and raises babies, livestock and crops and do my part in putting civilization back together."

    The Colonel was not going to be put off that easily, "Don't you think that preserving the nation is an important part of putting civilization on the North American continent back together?"

    I pondered it for a moment and answered, "Well sir, I see it like this. Even allowing for the death toll of the nuclear attack California and Texas must still be the top two population states in the Union. If they can't muster enough men who care to seal off that border then I suppose Florida had better consider putting together a trade delegation to Aztlan. Desert climates do not agree with me. As for the NorthWest Confederacy I think they'd be making a mistake to leave the Union but if they're bound and determined to do so then I feel it's their right providing they don't molest or interfere with anyone who decides they don't care to be part of that new nation and wants to leave. Now if the Russians or Chinese were to invade that would be different. So far as the fracas out west is concerned my dog is not in that fight."

    The Colonel replied with a simple, "I see" and said no more about the matter. We rode the rest of the way discussing the upcoming trials and various regimental matters.

    We got into Arcadia about eight p.m., put a heavy guard on the prisoners (the Colonel was concerned about lynchings) and got some shut eye. All of Friday was spent on the trials of the twelve Cubans accused of murdering non-combatants. Lieutenant Rackham again stood for the accused and did a pretty fair job of it. Major Kennedy played the role of the prosecutor. Once again the Colonel, myself and Major Pinkham (3rd battalion commander) sat as judges. Things did get emotional as the witnesses were examined and cross examined and several times the Colonel had to order the sergeants at arms to silence a number of people but we slowly ground through it all. By the end of the day seven men were convicted of the charges against them and the remaining five were found to have played insufficient roles in the atrocity here in Arcadia to be found guilty. For a moment there we thought there might be an attempt to seize and lynch the acquitted defendants but it petered out. The executions were scheduled for nine a.m. this morning and, in fact, there are men are outside preparing the gallows now. When the courts were finished the prisoners were resecured (we increased the number of guards, just in case) and sent everyone else home.

    I gave Carter the night off from the radio and was sitting in the lobby of the city hall where the 3rd's officers were bunking learning the intricacies of the little Sony receiver when the Colonel came in with a bottle of bourbon and sat down next to me. We listened to the New BBC and worked on the bottle when Majors Pinkham and Kennedy came in and joined us later to be followed by Lieutenant Rackham who had a bottle of Scots whisky. We worked on the bottles, talked politics and listened to the various shortwave broadcasters that we each knew about until late in the night. Rackham and I, and the professional soldiers sipping good whisky and talking. No doubt about it, each and everyone of us thinks the U.S. is about break apart and no one has any idea of how to stop it short of another civil war.

    I wonder if the officers of the U.S. Army had similar conversations in the winter of 1860?

    A half-hour until show time. Better go get some chow, the whisky last night has given me a wicked acid heartburn.

  34. #34

    Day Sixty four - Sunday, May 27th, 2001. 7:00 a.m.

    <strong>Day Sixty four
    Sunday, May 27th, 2001. 7:00 a.m.</strong>

    We're back in Bartow now, bivouacked at the high school again for the time being. We'll be pulling out and heading north before too long (I hope). HQ is setting up company sized units staffed with men from the local areas with a sprinkling of more experienced men who volunteered from other areas for policing up the remnants of the Cuban forces. Nothing official has been said yet but it seems like I'll be in uniform at least part time for longer than I originally thought, the present active units will be reformed to represent men from a given geographic area and will be kept intact as reserve State Guard forces something like the pre-war National Guard. Don't know why they don't just call us the National Guard but there seems to be some political tension about that which may be driving what's happening. There's also some talk about keeping us on active service which is really going to piss me off if it happens but it may yet come to nothing.

    We hung the seven convicted Cuban troops - one captain, a lieutenant, three sergeants, a corporal and a private yesterday down in Arcadia. There was a crowd of at least several hundred people there to watch with a lot of shouting about hanging the five who were acquitted as well but the Colonel had shipped them out in the middle of the night after allowing everyone to see them being locked up with the condemned men. One fellow who was particularly loud about lynching them got himself arrested by the local sheriff who showed little patience with such stuff. Five of the seven went smoothly enough but two didn't work out and they strangled. Not a pleasant scene but there was no one calling for the execution to stop. We buried the bodies before we left and the sheriff said he'd see to it no one desecrated the graves. Short of invading Cuba (one day, maybe) I don't know what else can be done to remedy the situation.

    Jim came back last night from having run the trucks and captured equipment up to Camp Blanding. He brought back a letter from Ann that she'd given him when he stopped to drop off my stuff. He just found out that Lisa is pregnant, the letter she'd written to him earlier had failed to make it. He's at that stage still where he's not sure whether he's appalled or delighted but once the shock wears off I'm sure he'll be happy. Glad to see the family expanding.

    While he was there he got a chance to look at the secret that dad and Uncle John had gone to Union county to barter for. I'll be damned if it's not a steam engine! He says it's not much bigger than the generator (except for the firebox) and the fellow who they bought it from says it develops about twelve horsepower at normal working pressure. The price was steep: A rifle, three hundred rounds of ammunition, one of our shortwave receivers, and three of the hen chicks for the engine. Five pounds of soap and twelve rolls of toilet paper to deliver it in his wagon from up in Union county to our place. Well, that hurt but I suppose we can make up the loss of about everything but the rifle and ammunition. It seems the fellow had decided before the war that he was getting too old to fool with using it anymore and have gone over to photovoltaic. Dad found out about the steam engine when they stopped by the fellow's house to ask for water on their trip down. He helped dad outline and do the basic set up before he went home. They've got the alternators out of the Crown Victoria we took off the highwaymen and the one out of White's ratty old Toyota and are using the steam engine to spin them. They think they may be able to wire in a third alternator later. With a battery wired into the system to supply the necessary initial current the set up puts out considerable DC power which is being used to charge the battery bank. The fellow they bought it from wants to trade us some deep cycle batteries for my several year file of <I>Home Power Magazine</I> which Ann says they may do once they've finished copying everything useful out of them for our own use. Dad, Uncle John and Stu are reading them all right now to learn the ropes of maintaining our own alternative power system. He says they're working with Stu to design the fire box in such a way as to use it as a cook stove when they're running the engine to get double duty out of the heat and maybe even to heat water with. I'm really excited about seeing this thing. Hope they don't blow it up before I get home! I’ve already started wondering if perhaps the Maddox folks couldn’t duplicate the parts to build more.

    Uncle John and Richard have drug out my old forge and blacksmithing equipment from where I had it all packed away and have been reading my blacksmithing books with the idea of setting it all up. We have no coal but smiths have used homemade charcoal for centuries so I suppose they can learn. I've had that equipment packed up for going on fifteen years waiting for the day we bought our own property to set up my shop again. I'll have to write to them and suggest that they may want to ride over and visit my friend Bill Hardy in Gilchrist county for some basic lessons. If he's still alive he ought to be doing well. He's a master smith and was doing some wonderful blade work before the war. Always did want him to make me a sword.

    Ann relates in her letter that she’s certain Lisa is pregnant now. She’s nauseous half the day and spends the other half of the day eating. Carol and Ann have pulled out all of the family medical books and reviewed them. Ann studied midwifery quite a lot in the years before we met and has examined herself and then Carol examined her and both of them looked at Lisa. As near as they can tell both pregnancies are progressing normally. We’re going to have to do something about making more diapers. When Katie was born we bought and put away three dozen cloths diapers, pins and plastic pants but with two babies coming so close together I don’t think we’re going to be able to get by. Come think of it, some years ago at the Heritage Fair at O’Leno state park I saw a fellow with a hand cranked cotton gin but unfortunately I can no longer recall clearly what the mechanism looked like. I wonder if anyone in the area or at the university would have a drawing or schematic of such a thing? Hopefully it won’t come to us having to make our own cloth but just in case it does a mechanical gin would be a damn sight better than picking those seeds out by hand!

    She also says that three of them take produce to the market twice a week. Still not a terrible lot of it but enough for everyone at the house to eat what they want and have some to trade. She’s incubating two dozen eggs in the oven and says they’ll soon hatch. If we can increase grain production enough then eggs and surplus roosters might be good trade items. The sorghum and millet we planted out of that bucket of bird seed is growing nicely and they think it will make excellent chicken feed.

    The state government has come up with a scheme of getting people settled into home ownership and promoting upkeep, maintenance and rebuilding of abandoned properties. Anyone living in property that was abandoned (as in no one actively asserting ownership) may file for ownership of that property and if no one with a better legal claim (live owners, heirs and so on) comes along before three years are up they will receive clear title. If the original owner or heir does show up between one and three years after the claim was filed they will have to pay the occupants a portion of the value of the property to compensate them for their sweat equity or accept joint ownership. Probably not going to be the mostly smoothly working system but it’s a way of allowing legal use of abandoned property. Dad and Uncle John’s families are living in the Bishop house and they’ve already filed their claim. Carol has filed jointly for her and Shelby on the White place. Ann says she'll file for us on our place next week. Dr. Verdi, the property owner, had gone on a cruise the week before the war with his wife, daughter and son-in-law and so far have not been seen. We have no idea of where the cruise was supposed to be so I suppose that if they're still alive they could be just about anywhere on the planet.

    Katie is now starting to use sentences when she talks and is thoroughly in the middle of her "terrible twos" and it outgrowing her shoes. We have just one pair left that will fit her and then we're going to have to come up with some way to cope. Ann and I have footgear to last for at least several more years but this is going to be a present problem soon not only for Katie, but for Will, Amanda, Chuck and Cheryl as well. Hopefully some one in the area will recognize a market there and start manufacturing shoes soon. While the weather is warm I suppose the kids can largely go barefoot but come next winter we'd better have something for them to wear.

    Carter just pulled up in the Jeep, time for the staff meeting with the General.

  35. #35

    Day Sixty nine - Friday, June 1st, 2001. 7:00 a.m.

    <strong>Day Sixty nine
    Friday, June 1st, 2001. 7:00 a.m.</strong>

    It's been an eventful week these last five days or so. At last Sunday's staff meeting we received our orders to pull out and head north to Camp Blanding at Starke. It was pretty crowded since the 1st and 2nd Florida regiments were here before us.

    It seems the Feds finally decided what they were going to do about moving troops west. They had a bit of a contention over the matter with the Governor which was one of those "truth is stranger than fiction" moments considering that the Governor and the President are brothers. Jeb seems to be feeling a bit sensitive about pulling out too many troops. Maybe he's afraid the Cubans will come back. It was eventually worked out that those troops on active duty before the war and the troops in the reserve units would ship out. Those troops in the pre-war National Guard units and all who volunteered after the nuclear attacks would stay unless they wanted to volunteer to go with the active duty troops. Perhaps about a fifth chose to do so. The pay is lousy, you might get killed but just at the moment a chance to eat regularly is very appealing to some. I think it will likely be the same deal offered to the other Florida regiments. When all is said and done the five regiments that were formed to fight the invasion will probably shrink down to just three unless the government starts actively recruiting. The regiments from the other states will probably go home though I imagine the Army is going to grab of much of them as their respective states will allow. Those of us remaining will serve at least another two years in the Florida State Guard which will answer to the Governor and will not be directly answerable to the President. That is a very significant development and I'm not sure how it's going to play out in the long term. That can’t be sitting well with the Feds.

    Colonel Hall made another attempt at talking me into shipping out with the Army and for a little while there I was considering it. That period of time between the turn of the 20th century and the First World War when Blackjack Pershing was chasing Pancho Villa through Mexico is very appealing to me. Unfortunately, I've got responsibilities now and can't take off on romantic adventures like that anymore. If I were a younger man I think I'd have jumped on it but then if I were a younger man I probably wouldn't have done as well as I have in the Army.

    We spent the week reorganizing and condensing the regiment so that it could continue to function. The plan is that the 4th and 5th Florida will be consolidated into the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd to bring us back up to strength and there's been considerable transferring between us to get everyone into the proper unit for their geographic home area. The 1st regiment will cover south Florida to just north of Orlando, the 2nd regiment will cover all of the Panhandle to the Suwanee river while the 3rd will have all of north Florida between the other two. Regimental HQ for the 3rd will be here at Camp Blanding.

    When we finally stand down to reserve status the local unit meetings will be company or even platoon sized to minimize travel burdens with regimental training once a year for two weeks and battalion training another week six months opposed to the regimental schedule, something like the pre-war National Guard and Reserve units used to do. Each man will keep his own weapon and a reserve ammo issue which he will have to produce for inspection at each unit meeting. Light machine guns will stay with the gunner but all heavier weaponry will kept in the company armories in the way this sort of thing used to be done before knocking off National Guard armories became a sport among radical groups. I suppose if we start having losses out of the armories again they’ll probably go back to keeping the heavy weapons in the regimental or battalion armories but for now the upper command levels are very conscious about the way we got caught with our pants down when the Cubans surprised us and the troops could not get quick access to heavy weaponry or ammo for what they did have.

    The Federal troops pulled out last night so yesterday afternoon we cashed out the unit banks. Since the artillery, mortar and other such indirect fire crews that fought in the battles with us didn’t have a chance to collect “contributions” for their own unit banks we company commanders tendered a suggestion to our respective units to kick in a contribution to them so that they could be paid out an amount equal to the average for each rank and time served. Took some fancy accounting to get it all figured out but everyone came out OK. The respective bites out of everyone’s share wasn’t that large and the troops who actually were in the trenches know exactly how important those guys are to keeping them alive so there was no real bellyaching about doing it. Besides, the loot that came off the dead, wounded and captured at Gasparilla came to a considerable amount! I drew my pay mostly in U.S., Spanish, and Mexican gold coinage with some U.S. silver dollars to round it out. Flashy gold jewelry is not for me and it’s a pain to barter. I think I may use most of it to buy land but I’m going to think on it a spell. I also drew Shelby’s payout which I will give to Carol though I can’t help but hope he’s still alive somewhere. I don’t know what Jim intends to do with his. Buy baby clothes?

    Just as Major Franklin (now on his way west) said the Army pay unit came through and I drew my pay for time served to date which came out to $1966.38. I had a meal at the Silver Ring Sunday before we shipped out for the last time and that plate of black beans and yellow rice was up to $32.50 and rising. The Continental Dollar is once again on its way to not being worth a Continental Damn.

    As we were carrying out the consolidation and transfers I got a surprise. I received a major’s oak leaves after all. The regimental C.O.’s, of course, were all active service men as were all but three of the battalion C.O.’s who promoted to the three regimental heads answering to the brigadier in Tallahassee. This meant that new battalion C.O.’s had to be found from among the company grade officers and I am one of them. Close to half of the company C.O.’s chose to ship west as well so there has been considerable promotion opportunity. This will mean spending probably a week out of every four on military duty of some sort but it does have the perk of a gasoline ration to allow me to travel from home to Blanding as necessary. They’re quite serious about who has those cards, mine has my photo and signature and I’ll have to account for how much I use but it’s better than having to ride a bike!

    Randy is now a lt. colonel and deputy artillery commander for the State Guard. We’ll probably ride to duty together to save gas. I’m sure he’s going to spend the next two years trying to convince me to re-up when my term expires. He lives for this stuff. There’s talk about deploying us down to Orlando or St. Pete to help with the epidemics but so far nothing solid.

    The stand off between the Federal government and then NorthWestern Confederacy continues. A part of California calling itself "the State of Jefferson" has declared for the Confederacy and has ejected (peacefully) all Federal government employees who chose not to swear allegiance to the Confederacy. There is a standoff in British Columbia between Canadian army troops and local militia forces declaring for the Confederacy. Hard to get a feel for the amount of support the NWC there is up in British Columbia. Can't tell if it's just a few cranks or some sizable proportion of the population. It appears that Canada is once again threatening to come apart at the seams.

    U.S. troops crossed the border again and seized Juarez. It seems that we're going to take control of the Mexican border cities as part of a general campaign to stop the flow of illegal immigrants, looters and bandits across the border. State militias have formed in New Mexico, Arizona and Texas and are combating the bandit groups and various military units "acting without orders" that have been crossing the border. Interestingly enough we’ve heard of no such militias forming in California. Not sure what that means. The whole thing sounds like Pancho Villa. A number of Aztlan activists were hanged in New Mexico. It may be that the reason for the Mexican government’s inaction on the border situation is that there’s a rising power struggle going on. Still not much in the way of details about that yet but I’m sure they’ll start coming out soon.

    Malnutrition and the cholera outbreak in St. Petersburg is cutting a real swath through the population. Given the high numbers of elderly folks who live there I suppose it's to be expected. Malnutrition and typhoid is doing the same thing in the Orlando area. So far those are the only two areas with wide spread disease problems but that probably won't last. Fuel and fertilizer shortages are hampering the spring planting efforts across the nation and a fair part of the best wheat growing land in the northern U.S. will be dangerously contaminated with radioactive fallout for years to come from the groundbursts on the ICBM silos. Eventually other areas will be able to take up the slack but for the moment it means that not much wheat is going to be planted this year. What fuel is available is being directed solely to agriculture, industry vital for the national recovery or war effort, and the military. Being in the military I can say that we're not getting much. I suspect that we'll have lost close to half the national population of the U.S. by this time next year. Some areas will make out OK on what food they had on hand or can produce themselves but a great deal of the national population was in areas that cannot support the numbers living there. Many of them are still alive now because of the foreign aid we’re receiving from South America, Australia and New Zealand. When your kids are starving it’s hard to be too proud to accept charity.

    Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

  36. #36

    Day Seventy two - Monday, June 4th, 2001. 10:00 a.m.

    <strong>Day Seventy two
    Monday, June 4th, 2001. 10:00 a.m.</strong>

    Worked my ass off Friday, Saturday and half of Sunday but managed to get the groundwork laid down for the reconstituted regiment and my battalion so we'll be able to properly assign personnel as they come in from their present assignments. Word came down Friday afternoon that the Governor wants a fourth regiment raised but no details as of yet.

    Got a week's leave Saturday so Sunday about noon I and three other troopers from the Buffalo Pond community managed to hop a ride with a supply truck heading south on I-75 and then we walked the rest of the way home getting in about 9:00 p.m. Sunday night. Feels good to be home. The whole family turned out and then half the neighborhood and everything turned into an impromptu party. The place looks great, everything is neat, the gardens and grain fields doing well, the chicken flock is expanding, the cows getting bigger. This morning I checked out the new water pump and dad fired up the steam engine. That thing just blows me away. With two alternators on it the only limit on our electrical generation is our storage capacity. We've only got just the one cheapo 300 watt inverter but most of what we truly have to have power for can be run off of DC so it's not all that important. Dad tore apart the old dead high wheel lawn mower and used the rear wheels and axles to build another bike trailer giving us three now. Bicycles are now the preferred non-pedestrian means of transport given the near non-existence of petroleum fuel. There are those using horses but many folks don't have the agricultural capacity to maintain a horse, at least not yet, and what a horse can carry on its back is pretty limited. Eventually buggies and wagons will be built but just now they've pretty scarce.

    I haven't really been gone all that long but Katie seems to have grown at least an inch. She sat in my lap or rode on my shoulders all night last night and that was just fine. Ann looks a little different in the face again, like she did when she was pregnant with Katie and it's wonderful. Lisa has developed that pregnant woman glow as well. I don't think I quit grinning from the time I got the house until we all finally fell into bed somewhere around three in the morning. In just the short time I've been gone I've seen enough of dying and misery, it's great to be someplace where there's a feeling of hope.

    Ann & Lisa are in the kitchen cooking up a late breakfast. Katie is out here with me on the porch with her coloring book while I make this journal entry. Once breakfast is over we'll work in the garden until about 1:00 p.m. when there'll be a general community get together at the church so everyone can see those of us who came back last night and make us repeat everything all over again. That's not the real reason for the meeting, it was actually called to discuss the community school that Ann & Lisa are spearheading. Ann has her teaching credentials still and Lisa has considerable coursework in elementary education. There's one science teacher from the area high school living about a mile from here and a history teacher from the junior high school between us and him. The plan is for two of the four to teach every weekday here at the church in rotation. How many hours a day hasn't been worked out yet nor how the teachers are to be compensated, curricula and all that but it'll get done. The high school that served the Buffalo Pond community is fifteen miles away, the junior high school is twelve (think they call them middle schools now) and the closest elementary is about eight. With no motor transport that's just too far to travel for kids who all have responsibilities to take care of at home. The county school board is working out a situation where qualified teachers can institute community schools and borrow school board resources like books and so on to use in them. If the community can't produce a certified teacher they'll work with the best qualified people in the area to get the school set up. Even the kids are excited about going back to class. There'll be a strong practical skills component in the curricula so everyone in the neighborhood with a valuable skill or trade will have an opportunity to show their stuff in addition to reading, 'riting and 'rithmatic (and as much science as we can produce and teach). If we can't educate our kids there's not much point in rebuilding the country.

    National and international news has not been good. The Army took Matamoros, Nogales and Piedras Negras over the last four days. We seem to be well on the way to controlling all of the Mexican border cities and towns. The power struggle in Mexico city is on the verge of breaking out into civil insurrection. Haven't been able to catch enough English language broadcasts to understand all of the issues but I'm sure the border situation has to be a big one.

    The U.S. and the Russian Federation has signed an armistice which may be the fastest agreement ever reached between the two nations. When you boil it all down it basically seems that we've both agreed to quit attacking each other and to go home. That is a very unsatisfactory ending but I don't have any ideas of how to improve it. The Russians and the Chinese are still going at each other with a report from a Japanese station of continued nuclear bombing. At the rate they're going much of the northern half of the Asian continent is going to be uninhabitable. The civil war in the former nation of Indonesia rages on. It seems to be completely fragmenting which I suppose will result in some of the surrounding nations picking off the little islands at their leisure.

    There are some dark stories on a couple of the stations transmitting from nations bordering the Russian Federation of some sort of virulent disease outbreak. I seem to recall that one of their biowarfare research installations is in the Ural mountains (or was it the Caucasus?) which may now be in the middle of one of their hot little civil wars. Sure hope some revolutionary didn’t unwittingly release some superbug. Things are bad enough with living in an <I>Alas Babylon</I> world without blending in Stephen King's <I>The Stand</I> as well. One good result of the nuke attacks may well be that international travel, particularly transoceanic travel, is now almost non-existent. Hopefully whatever has gotten loose deep in the heart of Russia will be a long time crossing the Atlantic.

    The NorthWestern Confederacy situation has intensified. There is open fighting (thankfully limited so far) in British Columbia between the rebels and the government. The state of Alaska has asked all Federal employees (to include military) who will not swear allegiance to the Confederacy to leave the state and is providing ferry service down to the lower 48. They are making an exception for government personnel involved in strategic early warning so I suppose that's a good thing.

    The President has finally spoken to the secession issue, if not particularly clearly. He's requesting that all surviving Federal Congress members who can be located and all surviving state governors or representatives in their stead convene at some as yet undetermined location in the midwest, somewhere along the Mississippi (to make it central to everyone)to discuss the issues and try to find some sort of common ground. Sounds like a way to have your ears go numb from listening to all that chatter but I suppose it's better than shooting at each other.

    Typhoid has spread to the communities in Brevard county and is now working its way down south. The governor has made it a crime to offer unsanitized drinking water to anyone and the state is redoubling its efforts to educate people to boil or otherwise sanitize the water they drink, cook, or bathe with. Cholera has crossed the bay into Bradenton as well. Two cases of typhoid showed up in Ocala but local authorities think they have it squelched.

    There's the call to breakfast.

  37. #37

    Day Seventy five - Thursday, June 7th, 2001 12:00 p.m.

    <strong>Day Seventy five
    Thursday, June 7th, 2001 12:00 p.m.</strong>

    I regret to record that my homecoming has been marred by the death of one of our own. Carol Strickland was raped and murdered just outside of Newberry Wednesday night. We think we've apprehended the perpetrators but there may well be further problems. I'll cover the details in proper chronological order below when I come to Wednesday.

    The Buffalo Pond community meeting Monday came off very well. I only had to repeat everything I've done since I went south twice which was better than I'd feared was going to happen. On the way to the meeting John showed me where they'd buried the bandits that had tried to rob the house and got themselves killed by Ann and Lisa. The school issue is still not entirely settled but the major details were discussed and voted upon. For the moment there will be school four hours a day (weekdays) in the mornings at the church for any child in the Buffalo Pond community and even those outside the community if they want to travel that far. Ann and the science or history teacher will take the shift one day while Lisa and the other teacher does it the next. Every family sending a child to school will contribute money, goods or services to pay the teachers, maintain the church and acquire more necessary educational materials. There's talk the county will pay the teachers but so far nothing solid has materialized. Classes will start next week.

    Monday night the whole family had supper together on the back porch of Dad and Uncle John's house (formerly belonging to Daniel Bishop). Carol was late coming in as she was out several miles the other side of the community doctoring someone's horse. She didn't quite get to finish her veterinary schooling but she was the nearest thing we had to a veterinarian. For that matter, she doctored people too when requested. The nearest doctor to us (that we know of) lives ten miles away and practices in Gainesville. We had fried chicken from the surplus roosters that had been butchered out that day after the meeting. Gonna be a while before we have more chickens to butcher but what we had were mighty tasty. Several folks in the community are raising rabbits and expect to have the first fryers ready before too long. Lately I've really been craving a fresh, juicy steak but it's going to be a while before we can butcher a beef and the meat we canned is doled out sparingly to make it last so we have a lot of soups, rice w/beef, noodle casseroles w/beef and that kind of thing. All very tasty but not the same as setting one’s teeth into a thick chunk of red, rare meat!

    Tuesday being a market day Ann, myself, Will and Amanda rode into town to trade at the market. It's grown quite a bit in just the last month with the trading lasting longer into the day. County government still has their booth their, there's a fair sized shack with several state offices sharing space, the State Guard has a recruiter there (and I saw two young men go in while I was there so I might seem them professionally soon) and a heck of a lot of traders. I understand that the pre-war flea market at Waldo is serving a similar function on the east side of the county. It wouldn't be any big deal for Randy and I to go through Waldo to get up to Blanding so we might be able to have part of the family trade there once in a while. Have to see how it plays out but I imagine we could probably drop a couple off at the market on our way up and pick them up on our way home that day, maybe the next.

    Quite a few folks with vegetables to trade so they don't bring in any great price but there is a steady trade in it. Far fewer folks trading in eggs, milk products or meat but it's not non-existent (just very expensive). I'm sure over time that will change but I think when our new hens come online we'll have no trouble finding a ready market for their eggs. I probably paid high for it but I bought an entire fresh cowhide that I'll trade to John for some finished leather or maybe a finished pair of shoes since he's experimenting in that direction now.

    My main reason for heading in to trade was to research the county office to see who owns or is claiming the forty acres of land adjacent to our place now and to find out if I can file for a piece of the Whitehall Cattle Corporation's pastures on the other side of the trees from us. It turns out that the Whitehall family is still very much extant and defending their property holdings so I let that one go. The forty acre parcel on the other side of us is registered to a Roger A. Holman of Miami. It's just pasture and woods with no houses or anything but I want it for hay and pasture as well as expanding our grain crops. Never thought much about the piece before because we had no interest in it. Now the family needs more space and in the nearly four years we've lived here pre-war I've never seen anyone on that piece of property. The pasture is pretty badly over grown but still renewable and we'll eventually need the wood with enough being there that with Jim's good management could probably keep us in firewood right on when combined with what we already have. I put in an abandoned property claim on the parcel with the necessary attendant promise that we would immediately begin to improve the property and put it to verifiable continuous use. Filing on abandoned property isn't difficult but the state wants to see immediate improvement and continuous use, they're not going to create any land barons.

    The land quest was a mixed bag but I had some luck in trading. Compared to what they were worth pre-war I paid dear for the two scythe blades the antique seller had but I got them. Neither had handles or grain cradles but I've got pictures and schematics in books here at the house that show what they look like and the blades themselves are in good shape. Cost me eighteen grams of coinage grade gold to get them but at least we won't be having to cut hay with butcher knives. I think it may take a while to do it but I'm going to start looking into what it's going to take to buy or build a horse drawn sickle bar mower. Sharon can help me choose a good horse or mule. He made change out of the rest of the $20.00 Double Eagle gold piece with a clamp on clothes wringer, a large iron bell that can be mounted on a post and a handful of wood bits for my brace. The rollers on the wringer are old and cracking but I think if we can't come up with rubber rollers that we could certainly fit two hickory rollers and its beats Hell out of wringing all of our clothes by hand, to say nothing of the wear on the clothing that hard hand wringing produces.

    As a present I gave Will & Amanda a silver dollar apiece. Amanda decided to hold on to hers but Will went and bought a shoat. It's female so he plans to breed her to one of Mr. Satterwhite's boars (he's the elderly black gentleman helping us with the tobacco) and then sell some of the pigs here at the market next year. We discussed what's involved in raising pigs and how he was going to feed it and he seems game to try. I suppose if the project is a bust we can always eat the thing but I'm curious myself to see if he can make a go of it. He's going to have to hustle to feed the thing until the acorn crop comes in this fall but it'll be educational.

    Spent the rest of Tuesday after we got back hoeing corn and tobacco. The girls had taken another armadillo that was getting into the sweet potatoes and we had him for supper in a purloo. Fortunately, I wasn't home when they took the three possums they've caught so far. Corn looks fine and I think we'll get some good seed out of it this year. Probably be another two years before we'll have enough to spare for the experiment but I've a mind to try producing our own sour mash whisky. Should be no problem finding a market for that at all, at all.

    Wednesday was fairly unremarkable. Dad, Uncle John and Will built a pen for the pig. He'd been hilarious getting home. At first Will had tried tying a rope around its neck and leading it while he rode his bike but a pig isn't going to trot tamely beside you like a dog, most especially not for five miles. After the shoat spilled the boy off the bike three times he decided there had to be a better way. Actually, after the third time I had to calm him down enough not to turn him into pork there on the spot! Eventually it was decided to bind the pig's feet and lay him in one of the bike trailers and Will could pull him home. The pig is around forty pounds or so which made for a good load for the boy to pull but he did it.

    For myself I spent the day working on creating the handles for the scythes. Takes a fairly long length of decent hardwood bent into some odd angles for a proper scythe handle but we figured it out. Used a length of stove pipe suspended over a boiling pot of water to steam the wood soft enough to bend properly. We steamed it then put it in the jig we'd built for the purpose and left it in the barn where it would dry slow. Dad will have to finish the project but I'm satisfied we'll have two working scythes for hay cutting. He's going to build grain cradles later for harvesting the millet.

    Evening came Wednesday and when it got dark Amanda came to the house looking for her mother. It quickly developed that Carol hadn't returned yet. It's a family rule that no one goes outside the common family area without letting someone in the family know where you're headed, most especially after dark. Lisa usually kept up with Carol's veterinary itinerary and she said that Carol expected to be home before dark. She told us the last three places that Carol expected to go so Jake (the mechanic), Uncle John and myself got on our bikes and headed out to all three places each with a radio. About an hour or so after dark (just past 8 p.m.) I got a call from Uncle John that he'd found her sunglasses on the road coming out from the last house she'd gone to (Mrs. Ida Feller and her dairy goats). We headed that way, getting there about 20 minutes after he called and started to search the area. We found a shoe about ten minutes later so we put a call into the house to have the reaction force sent out who all arrived within the hour.

    An organized general search was commenced and about forty five minutes later in a stand of trees about a quarter mile from Mrs. Feller's property line we found Carol's nude body tied to a tree. There wasn't any question that she'd been molested nor how she'd been killed - her throat was cut. Her clothing, vet's bag, bike and all were gone. As soon as the word came in her body had been found I ordered everyone to stay well away from the scene and went over to channel 9 on the CB to call the sheriff, carefully explaining who I am and who Carol was. I didn't want any futzing around with priorities. ASO dispatch said they'd have an investigator and a dog team out right away. The investigator showed up about a quarter till eleven and stayed out of the scene itself until the dog team showed up. Took about ten minutes for the dogs to pick up a trail and we were off. Most of the community reaction team were on the Sheriff's Posse and with myself being a serving military officer the investigator took us along. The perpetrators took a circuitous route and even crossed two drainage ditches full of water, one of which they'd walked a hundred yards down the length of the ditch in the water. That threw the dog time for a while but they finally picked the trail up on the other side. Finally about 1:00 a.m. the dogs led us to the back door of a ratty looking house on the edge of Newberry in one of its "economically depressed" neighborhoods (as if the entire nation isn't economically depressed now!).

    We had been trying not to cause too much of an uproar but a group of strange men with two strange dogs in the neighborhood aroused every dog in the area and set them to barking so there probably wasn't anyone who didn't know we were there. The investigator knocked on the back door the dogs had led us to and a load of buckshot blew a hole through the door in answer! Despite its weight I'd carried my Thompson with me and when the blast came through the door (the investigator stood to one side of the door before he knocked) I put about fifteen rounds in a spread through the door blowing the knob out of the door in return while three men ran to the front of the house. I crouched down behind a tree somewhat off to one side to cover the door while the investigator and one of the dog handlers got up against the wall on either side and pulled the door open (it opened out). Just as the dog handler leapt inside off to one side and the investigator right behind him to the opposite side we heard shooting in front of the house. Very quickly after the shooting in the front I heard shots from inside near to the back door and I started to sprint in that direction when a large black man burst through the back door. Since I was heading for the door we were running right towards each other. I think at least one of the shots fired inside had hit him which might explain why he didn't see me until we were hardly twenty feet apart. I'd stopped as soon as he came through the door and brought the Tommy up. Incredibly, as soon as he saw me he came up with a machete' and kept right on coming! Maybe he didn't think the gun was real, or was too addled by the gunshot he'd taken to realize his danger or maybe he was just in a blind panic. I don't know why he charged me like that but I put a three round burst into him and he dropped. There was no more firing after that. Naturally we woke up pretty much all of the east side of Newberry by that point so the investigator called in for a tactical team to get to our location right away. Things were already tense in these Newberry neighborhoods from some previous police shootings (one of which did seem to be very questionable) so they wanted to take no chances. The reaction team and the dog handlers (with their dogs) secured the outside of the house while the investigator and I went inside. Right there on the back porch was Carol's bike, an old Jamis Dakota that Jim had rebuilt and repainted a bright red. We found her vet's bag and her outer clothing in the front room.

    We'd killed four men in all and there is reason to believe there might have been a fifth at least peripherally involved but last I heard it couldn't be firmed up. An ASO tactical team showed up about ten minutes later, twelve men in body armor with M-16's. The investigator told us it would be better if we didn't hang around as the situation would be tense enough since none of us were in any sort of uniform, it might look like we were a group of nightriders or something. We'd all left our bikes back at Mrs. Feller's so we cut back across the fields to retrieve them. There was a crowd of fifty or better neighborhood residents gathered out on the street already with more coming and as we left I heard the investigator call for more men. We walked out weapons openly displayed in guard positions and treated our return across the fields and woods as a patrol in hostile country. No one bothered us and we retrieved bikes, headed home and got there about four in the morning.

    I'd been really hoping Will & Amanda would be asleep so I could tell them in the daylight but they were both up waiting with Ann & Lisa. There just wasn't any way to hide it so I told them they were both old enough to be spoken to adult to adult and I gave it to them as gently as I could. Amanda burst into tears but Will took it very stoically. After about twenty minutes Lisa was able to get a sedative into Amanda and put her to bed in her room. Will refused and came out on the porch where the men were. Hard lines for a boy just turned thirteen to lose his last parent and have a younger sister to look out for. We sat out there with him in a companionable silence. My dad pulled out a bottle and passed it around. I took a sip, took a long look at Will and handed the bottle to him. He look surprised but said nothing, put the bottle to his lips and took a foolishly generous swallow. Did a good job of not coughing and managed to get it down. He said nothing and passed the bottle on. He turned and looked at me and said, "Uncle Alan, what am I going to do now? How am I going to look out for Amanda?" The bottle came back to me and I took a sip and passed it to Will. He took his sip (much smaller this time) and I replied, "Son, you became a member of this family the minute you walked through that door with your mama and sister and my brother. You're a member of this family still and will be for as long as you want to be a part of us. You can stay right here, you and your sister, and we'll make out as best we can. I'll be proud for the two of you to be my children. I can't undo what has been done but I can make sure it doesn't get any worse. Your place and your sister's place is right here." I stuck my hand out and he sniffed back tears and we shook firmly on it. The bottle came to him one more time and the whisky had its intended affect as he drifted soundly off to sleep with his back against the wall of the front porch. I carried him into Lisa's room and put him down on the bed next to his sister.

    The rest of us sat on the porch and watched the sun come up. The family had taken another hit and it was going to hurt for a while but we'd regroup and go on. What other choice do we have? Our duty is to the living.

  38. #38

    Day Seventy eight - Sunday, June 10th, 2001 - 7:00 a.m.

    <strong>Day Seventy eight
    Sunday, June 10th, 2001 - 7:00 a.m.</strong>

    Well, my leave is at an end. As soon as I have breakfast I'm going to shove off. I'll be taking the truck to Blanding since I have the fuel ration card now. We've got a bare three and a half gallons of gasoline left which should be just enough to get me and a couple of the other Buffalo Pond troopers back to camp with perhaps a quart or two of fuel to spare.

    Having been up all night Wednesday everyone was late getting up Thursday. We'd just finished lunch when the ASO investigator (Sgt. Clarence Henderson) came up to get the rest of the follow up details. I asked him how things went back in Newberry after we left and he said "tense." So far no open violence has occurred but there's a high potential for it. I think the family will be sending a larger group to trade at the market now and all of them will be conspicuously armed until matters calm down.

    We covered the details of how we came to realize that Carol had disappeared, our search for her, what we'd done when we found her and what Carol's usual itinerary was. I hadn't known she was making vet calls, that was something that had started after I'd gone south. She always openly wore a 6" Taurus .357 magnum revolver (one of the guns we'd taken off the highwaymen we killed at the gate) but it was not found among her effects in the house. The investigator thinks the fifth person who was involved had probably taken it. They're not sure if this individual had actually participated in the crime or came along later but their sources in the community says that word of the crime had gotten around from somewhere and there was one person who hadn't been in the house at the time of our arrival.

    We're bringing her body back here for burial, likely at the church. They'll probably hold on to her effects for a while but we'll get those back too. With her apparent murderers now dead there just wasn't anything else we could do that ASO wasn't doing better than we could so we went back to work. We're turning into a farming family now and there's never a lack of work that has to get done.

    Dad, uncle John, Will and I walked over the Holman parcel that we'd just filed on examining the fences, condition of the pasture, trees and so on. There must have been a home site here many years ago because there's a couple of mature pecan trees and an old pear tree all close together. Looks like there'll be a good nut crop this year. The pear tree needs severe pruning but I think it can be rehabilitated. There seems to be enough salvageable fence left that we could probably adequately fence off about fifteen acres for pasture which should be more than enough for what grazing livestock we have so far. The rest of the pasture area we'll clean up and use for hayfields. Plenty of oak trees in the remaining areas so eventually we'll want to fence those as well to allow the pigs to feed off the mast. Once we pull the fences we'll keep the property lines cleared and well marked so we won't have any problems with the state.

    Once we'd surveyed the land we got out the tools and started moving fence. Getting the staples out of some of those old lightered fence posts without tearing up the fence turned out to be a job of work. It was dark by the time we laid tools down and went to supper. After the meal we had an extra long story session with dad reading aloud from one of his westerns which worked well to lighten the mood in the place. Never much cared for those old horse operas but it was pretty good last night. I think he's getting a kick out of being the grandfather in the family. With grandpa and uncle William gone he's the family patriarch now.

    Friday was more fence work. They'll be working on this for some days after I have to report back but it's getting done. We broke for dinner at noon and sat down in the shade of the two pecan trees to eat. Will started poking around and found the foundations of the house. Probably just a small cracker farm house but from the age of the pecan trees it has been here for a while. It's the kind of place that pre-war I'd have wanted to run a metal detector over because there's no telling what could be found. We're not that far from the Yulee Plantation where legend has it that the Confederate treasury was buried somewhere near in the closing days of the war. Folks have probably dug up most of the west half of Alachua county over the decades searching but no one's ever found it. Makes a good yarn for the kids anyway.

    The news has been mixed. The governor, senator Graham and about five our of surviving house reps have gone off to this grand council meeting of the nation thing. Bill Nelson, our other newly elected senator, had been in Washington the morning of the attack. Our senator is a yellow dog Democrat and the governor is the brother of the president so God only knows what they'll get up to. The exact location of the meeting has never been announced publicly which seems rather nonsensical to me because if that many politicians know then it's certainly not a secret to our enemies. I read the TB2K forum for so long that I suppose I'm paranoid enough now to wonder if maybe the president wouldn't try just grabbing the whole lot for some nefarious purpose. Fortunately, that wouldn't work, it would just blow the bottom out of keeping the country together. Supposedly they've only just gotten to where ever it is they went so no word yet as to any decisions. Probably take them three days of arguing just to decide on who sits where and the shape of the table.

    There is definitely something gotten loose in Russia. You can take your pick of where and how the bug came from, some say the Chinese did it to them, others say the Chechens blew up a biowarfare lab and released it, others say it was an accident in one of their labs, still others say it's a natural epidemic and then there's the stations claiming it's all an NWO and/or Illuminati plot! However it got loose the disease is spreading across Central Russia and according to one broadcaster, who has not come back on the air since, it's spread into northeastern Kazakhstan. There were scattered reports that it been found in Ukraine as well but later reports stated it had not. Authorities in the afflicted areas report the pathogen is some form of staphyloccocus which consumes keratinaceous tissue such as finger and toe nails and the sclera of the eyes before the victim lapses into a coma and a lethal fever. Onset of symptoms (eyes turn dark yellow) to death is three to four days. So far it seems to require direct contact to communicate itself which gives some hope of containing the disease. Between the U.S., the Chinese and whoever else may have nuked Russia it seems incredible that there's enough population left there to support an epidemic but it's there.

    The cholera problem is no longer spreading in the St. Pete peninsula. Word seems to have gotten out about the necessity for sanitizing drinking and cooking water. The food situation is still bad and many of the elderly are slipping away as the affects of running out of vital prescription medications are showing themselves. Sharon's still got another four months or so of insulin and has lost and is still losing considerable weight so we're hoping that her dependence on it will fade away with her excess body mass. The typhoid situation in Orlando rages on and it's beginning to creep down the east coast. Dysentery, cholera and typhoid all have broken out in random spots from West Palm Beach around to Sarasota. Communications and transport that far south is only just now beginning to come back after the invasion. I suspect we'll be heading south again before too long to try to get the epidemic situation under control It just seems incredible to me that so many, many people don't know any better than to drink unsafe water or know enough even to boil their water when there's a cholera epidemic raging!

    The NorthWestern Confederacy situation is steadily degrading. There's been only a small amount of open fighting in the Lower 48 States but British Columbia has heated up. Canadian government troops were well on their way to crushing the BC rebels when elements of the Alaskan National Guard crossed the border in their support and forced the Canadian army into a retreat. The Alaska governor made a public statement that this action had been undertaken without his order but since Alaska had already formally declared for the Confederacy I'm not sure if anyone really believed him or not. Negotiations between the two sides so far have been fruitless though several South American nations are now offering to serve as mediators.

    The Mexican situation has broken out into open fighting and at least from what we've been able to pick up the situation is very confused in Mexico City. No matter who comes out on top until he does and can take control of the country the border situation is going to remain a problem. The Army took Mexicali yesterday and now seems poised to cut off the Baja peninsula from the rest of Mexico altogether. So far we seem content to just take control of the area immediately adjacent to the border.

    Relayed radio reports from the Windward Islands indicate the first weak tropical storm of the season is moving in. They're very far south into the Caribbean so there's no telling where the system will go to but it's a good reminder that we don't have NOAA and the National Weather Service anymore to give us heads up on storms. Fortunately we're in the center part of the northern end of the Florida peninsula where it's rare for hurricanes to cross over but even a grazer up the coast can present serious problems from tornadoes and heavy rain. South Florida and the Keys are going to be in danger. We're going to have to go back to the presatellite and hurricane hunter aircraft days of relayed radio reports and careful monitoring of barometer and winds. I moved our barometer into the living room last night and mounted it near to the back door where it can be monitored a number of times a day. Dad will set the pin every morning so it'll be easy for anyone looking at it to tell if the pressure has risen or dropped. Fortunately we've got the shelter in the barn in case of tornadoes, presuming we get enough warning that one is approaching to make it outside!

  39. #39

    Day Eighty - Tuesday, June 12th, 2001 - 7:00 a.m.

    <strong>Day Eighty
    Tuesday, June 12th, 2001 - 7:00 a.m.</strong>

    Reported back Sunday about noon or so. Took longer to drive to Blanding than it used to pre-war. Since there is virtually no motor vehicle traffic it's necessary proceed more slowly as a precautionary measure against running over cyclists, pedestrians, horses, the occasional buggy or wagon, or even a herd of cows. As I expected there was a copious pile of paper work waiting to be done. Colonel Pinkham met with me, he'd gotten in earlier that morning. Our orders had come down and rather than assist with the typhoid epidemic, 3rd regiment is heading to the southeast coast with second battalion going all the way down to the Keys. 1st and 3rd battalions will be on the east coast from Homestead up to Melbourne. 2nd regiment will be on the west coast up to Bradenton. 1st regiment is still spread out all over the place chasing down the remnants of the Cuban invaders and dealing with general banditry. The governor is going to use other state agencies to cope with the epidemic problem, at least for the time being. I'm sure the division of forestry is thrilled at being pressed into service like this but it is giving a lot of stranded university students at FSU, UF, UCF something to do (USF campus was largely lost in the attack on Tampa). Doesn't take long to train them and they're mostly young and healthy. There's quite a few students at the various universities unable to go home or having nothing to go home to so I suppose it's better than simply leaving them to shift for themselves. Something of a Peace Corps in the U.S. kind of thing.

    It seems that Carlos isn't entirely out of our hair yet. After he fled with all the loot he could carry units of the 1st regiment in South Florida started mopping up the remnants that hadn't managed to get out. There's been no further large scale military activity but there has been landings in many of the keys and other little towns and villages along the South Florida coast by armed groups looking to grab what they can. Given the nature of Cuba these groups have to have been armed by the Cuban military but we're to treat them as bandits which gives us a greater latitude in dealing with them. The coast guard and navy has sunk quite a few but just like before they're mostly small boats difficult to pick up on radar and we don't have enough warships to adequately patrol the area. HQ wants us to head south and assist as many of the communities as we can in setting up their own defensive reaction forces (we're not to call them "local militias") to cope with the situation. The enemy landings don't usually involve more than 12-15 men at the most and they're not generally heavily armed so a local reaction force armed with rifles and perhaps a light machine gun ought to be able to cope with them. We'll be taking a half-dozen truck loads of captured Cuban light weaponry to issue to the teams we put together that don't already have weapons of their own. We're also taking communications techs and specialists to assist in setting up commo nets among the communities using whatever assets we could lay hands on to do so since the state has very little in the way of this sort of equipment to pass out. I told Corporal Carter that he'll probably get sergeants stripes out of it if we can show some success. He's a long time Ham with a fascination for tinkering so this ought to be right up his alley. Not sure how well this is all going to work but it beats hell out of teaching people how to dig latrines and sanitize drinking water.

    I had thought I'd get a chance to sit and talk a spell with Randy but he turned out to be in Tallahassee at the State Guard HQ. For a man who is as big on things military as he is he was less than thrilled with his promotion to lieutenant colonel and becoming the deputy artillery commander for the entire Guard. Could be something to do with the fact that the position is mostly occupied with administrative work! Might be why the artillery officers more senior to him went west with the Army (I'm beginning to get the idea that I'll be warming a chair more than taking to the field myself.) Ah well, I'll have to catch up with him when I can. I'd wanted to head over and visit with Sharon and see the baby but the situation with Carol had come up before I was able. Jim had gone south to check on his parents for his leave and stopped by the house on his way home after I'd already left and didn't get back into camp until nearly 2200 hrs due to the fact the supply truck he'd been riding in blew a water pump. He'd worked it out with some of the supply truck drivers for lifts both ways.

    Spent the rest of the day Sunday seeing to transport and supplies for the unit. Leave didn't technically end until 1800 Sunday evening and I expected we probably wouldn't get all of the men back until quite late. The plan was to be on the road heading south at 0800 Monday and we did actually pull out on time. We headed down U.S. 301 until we reached Wildwood where we picked up the Florida Turnpike and then managed to make it as far as Winter Garden to the northwest of Orlando before stopping. Last year at this time we could probably have made it all the way to Miami at least before we had to stop with a group this large but everything moves more slowly now because of non-motorized traffic and debris in the road. The Department of Transportation has been slacking in road maintenance these last several months.

    Finally knocked off at 2000 and not being in the mood to socialize I spent the rest of Monday evening with the Sony. With no Internet anymore I seem to be turning into a short and medium wave radio aficionado. Caught a live one on the west coast and spent an hour listening to him until he fuzzed out. Never did catch who he was (FCC rules seem to have gone by the way in the post-nuke environment) but he could have given Art Bell a run for his money. Listening to the laundry list of conspiracy theories he covered made me nostalgic for TB2K. Finally had to go looking for some real news after I lost him.

    The keratophagic staph epidemic continues to spread with confirmed cases now in Ukraine in the town of Kharkiv near to the Russian border. The Western European nations have gotten the wind up them and have banned all travel and commerce from Russia and I'm sure Ukraine will soon be added. The disease is also reported to have made its way into Uzbekistan. It seems the pathogen takes a week to ten days from infection to the first definitive symptoms. Perhaps about half will survive the disease though are usually left irreparably blind and the remainder will die within three to four days. The feds have announced that they were sending reps from the Center for Disease Control to meet with whatever public health and epidemiological authorities as have survived the war in Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and the Western European nations to discuss means of coping with the epidemic and possibly developing a vaccine. Have to admit that I'm somewhat surprised at this, I would have thought the CDC largely defunct with the war and all but they did have facilities scattered across the country. Sure hope they're being damn careful about who gets to come back to the States (as in NO ONE). This epidemic is turning out to be something to watch. If the war hadn't fairly well destroyed global travel and made even regional travel difficult it might be halfway across the planet by now.

    We're having problems of our own with disease. With the summer heat and humidity compounding the problems of no electricity and dysfunctional municipal water and waste handling systems typhoid, cholera and dysentery are breaking out in spots across Florida. The state government, local governments and private individuals are out educating people left and right about the necessity of sanitizing drinking and cooking water and using proper waste handling and disposal methods. While I was at home I dug out the box of 500 flyers I'd printed out pre-Y2K covering expedient drinking water sanitization and waste disposal methods condensed from my book. Didn't need them for the date roll over so I just stuck them in the supply cabinet and forgot about them. Now the family is going to hand them out at the market in Newberry. So far the worst of the disease problems have been confined to the higher population areas to the south but if we don't get a handle on educating folks it sure won't stay that way. Cholera has broken out in the greater Atlanta area and possibly Charleston, S.C. now as well.

    No news on the NWC situation. The Canadian army hasn't renewed its attacks on the rebels in British Columbia since the Alaskan National Guard forces intervened. I can't imagine either the Canadian or U.S. governments will let that pass so they may just be biding their time at the moment. There's wide scale rioting in Quebec as the separatists put pressure on the government to allow Quebec to secede. The Grand National Council (the name seems to have struck a chord with broadcasters) is still chattering away but no results yet. Probably take weeks if the previous actions of Congress and the state legislatures are any guide.

    The rebels in Chiapas in Mexico have decided they'll never get a better chance than now to accomplish their goal of leaving the Mexican nation and have renewed open fighting. The beleaguered national government in Mexico City is now beset to the north and south with open rioting in Mexico City itself. I expect Vincente' Fox will fall soon but who's to replace him is not clear to us here on the other side of the Gulf.

    Just to make the situation even worse the national government in Colombia has finally fallen to the rebels there. With no U.S. assistance for over two months they were no longer able to hold out. There have been reports of massacres but also reports that the fighting has ended. Nothing much we can do about it now, they'll have to resolve the issue for themselves. Sure hope we didn't lose too many people down there but given the level of our involvement in that nation I suspect we did.

    Time to get this show on the road and head south. Our Florida Keys vacation awaits.

  40. #40

    Day Eighty two - Thursday, June, 14th, 2001 - 7:00 a.m.

    <strong>Day Eighty two
    Thursday, June, 14th, 2001 - 7:00 a.m.</strong>

    Here we are in beautiful Key Largo. Well, it would be beautiful if a nuclear war and an invasion of Cubans hadn't swept through the place. Landscape and sea look pretty nice, buildings look pretty desolate. Mostly a matter of cleaning and painting rather than repairing and rebuilding but who's going to do it? Anyways, back to the matter at hand.

    We made it out of Winter Garden Tuesday and continued south. The Turnpike passes only a few miles from Orlando International Airport and even with the spring plant growth one could easily see the burn damage from the bomb. Other than fire damage which only minimally affected the roadway the Turnpike was in fair shape but for debris in the roadway. Fortunately the rad count had dropped quite a lot so by the time we rolled through it was negligible for the length of time we were in the area. Orlando is such a sprawl that when the bomb went off it only managed to wipe out a fair part of the southern metropolitan area. Everything is so spread out that the firestorm resulting from the bomb was fairly small and burned only for a short period of time. A more built up area like Atlanta or Chicago would probably have burned a wide area.

    Once we got south of Orlando and the Kissimmee/St. Cloud area the population density drops off and the road rolls through mostly flat open territory. Still had to clear vehicles in places left over from the bug out of the cities when the nukes went off but we'd brought two heavy semitractor type wreckers with us for that purpose. Things were still cluttered in spots because no one had really attempted to use much of the turnpike since the night the nukes blew. Mostly we were able to go around dead trucks and cars so we didn't lose too much time. Eventually they'll all be policed up and recycled for their metal. We finally stopped at a service plaza on the turnpike itself north of Palm Beach. The Colonel did not want the regiment getting off into the urban areas. Between the nukes going off at Miami and Ft. Lauderdale International Airports and the destruction resulting from the Cuban invasion the urban areas down here on the southeast coast have devolved badly and things are mighty primitive. The state was sending what aid and assistance it could but that was not our mission so we were not to go into the cities before the regiment was properly deployed.

    The next day 1st Battalion stayed behind since they'd be deploying from Palm Beach north up the coast. Making further southern progress proved to be tedious. Once you reach West Palm Beach the population density alongside the Turnpike begins to spike and there were a great many more abandoned vehicles but we finally cleared at least a one lane path until we reached the Sawgrass Expressway west of Deerfield Beach were I took 3rd Battalion on a jog to the west to reach I-595 for a further jog to the west to reach U.S. 27 and then turned south again. Once we got nearly into the Everglades progress became easier. 3rd Battalion with Colonel Pinkham elected to leave the Turnpike on the Sawgrass Expressway as well heading east to drop down into Ft. Lauderdale from the north closer to the coast.

    We continued south on U.S. 27 until it turned east and we took the left hand fork of s.r. 997 continuing south through largely empty areas until we began to hit the outskirts of the suburban areas of South Miami were the highway turns into Krome Ave. I had the machine guns mounted to the tops of the trucks with belts in place but made it clear that no one was to be fired on without orders of a company officer. With luck we got through without excessive difficulty. I wouldn't have wanted to go through that area without plenty of visible firepower though. We continued on s.r. 997 straight through Homestead until we picked up U.S. 1 on the south side heading for the end of the peninsula. We rolled into Key Largo about 1700. From what I've seen so far on the way down I think in a few years there won't be a tenth of the original population left on the southeast Florida coast. No electricity, destroyed infrastructure, fires, looting, violence, and disease will all do their work. Those who survive are going to be some tough S.O.B.'s just like the original crackers were back before there were good roads, electricity and air conditioning. I also think the Guard had better come up with some yellow fever inoculations and some malaria prophylactics because the mosquitoes down here are quickly becoming the true victors in this war. Between the pre-war recent immigrants and the post-nuke invaders just about any disease that is common in the Caribbean, Central or South America is probably going to be showing itself soon if it hasn't already.

    With my total area of responsibility being some 100 miles or so long I'm going to try to headquarters on Big Pine Key. I'll be leaving third company on Key Largo where they'll have responsibility for everything from Grayvik on the north end of Largo all the way to the south end of Islamorada. They'll be sending two squads by road to the little coastal town of Flamingo over on the mainland coast. It's not all that far from Key Largo as the crow flies but it's way the hell and gone by road mileage being necessary to go back to the outskirts of Homestead and then go deep through the Everglades to get there. We've sent two radios with them and an extra machine gun. The little town is very isolated so if anything goes sour it will take time for us to get any relief to them. The sheer smallness of the place makes it unlikely for any real problems to occur thankfully.

    We bivouacked overnight in the local high school and as soon as chow is finished we'll be pulling out again. Spent most of my off duty time walking around the beaches (with the Thompson, thank you) and refreshing myself with the local tropical flora, most of the tropical fauna having been eaten by the starving natives. Only spent a short spell combing for news but it seems that Vincente' Fox was assassinated yesterday about noon. Still don't know how yet but several broadcasters have reported it. Looks like it's going to a free for all in Mexico now.

    Overseas it seems that HAMAS launched a cross border raid out of Syria into Israel and got their asses waxed the day before yesterday and now the Syrian government is cracking down on them hard. I suppose they don't want to push the issue with Tel Aviv too hard just now with the craters in Iraq still being so hot. The staph epidemic is well into Ukraine. The tropical storm that hit the Windward Islands is now crossing Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Wind speed was only about 65 miles an hour before it hit the island but with so little warning now even that will cause problems in a place like Hispaniola. Were I not sitting here in the Florida Keys I'd wish for the storm to blow up into a hurricane and stomp Cuba but we're all very nervous about these things down here. With warning likely to be only short hours rather than days if we catch a strong storm here we're likely to have to shelter in place and weather it out. Once the Colonel told me where we were headed I rummaged all over Blanding and finally came up with three barometers, one fairly good one, the other two ought to at least show major changes. I also had a photocopier powered up and made copies of some basic weather prediction information I found in the camp library to give to the company C.O.'s Between that and listening to radio reports I don't know what else to do. If a hurricane heads towards the Keys we'll just have to cope.


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