He would leave for the front tomorrow. His division, the 50th Infantry, had been assigned to fight Erwin Rommels’ Afrika Corps in Gazala, Libya. The ballroom was filled with his fellow officers and their partners, all trying to ignore the stark reality, that several of the men might not come back.
He looked into her eyes, and whispered ,”Darling , I might not come back from this . ” She replied,”Sure, Johnny. But know this-I will wait till the end of time if I have to. You’re not getting away from me that easily.”
“Neither will I ever let you go” ,he said. They locked in a passionate embrace, treasuring the few moments they had together.
The 50th Infantry division was held in reserve during the ensuing First Battle of El Alamein, due to the severe casualties it had suffered in the Battle of Gazala. First Lieutenant John Kendrick was one of the lucky few to have made it alive. The horrors he had witnessed in Gazala seemed to be right out of the pits of hell. The continous barrage of gunfire, shelling and grenades made him wonder what God would allow humanity to descend to such madness. He watched his fellow comrades die. He watched them lose their limbs. He watched their bodies blown apart by grenades. Deep down, he knew that his time would also come. He only wanted to take down as many of the Krauts as he could, before that inevitable bullet found him. He was lying on his bunk, staring at the letter in his hand. It was from Alice.
I hope this letter finds you alive and well.I’m counting down the days to your return. Things are in a precarious state at home.Maisie was just informed that her husband was killed in action in Lebanon.No amount of words can comfort her.She refuses to accept he is dead. Meanwhile, its all chaos in London. The Blitz is on song, and is causing destruction around here. Give those Germans my love, won’t you? Remember,I’m waiting for you.
John wanted to leave all this behind, and dash back to London that very instant. His mind went back to what Alice had written about her friend,Maisie. If he were to die, could he allow Alice to go through the same trauma? He couldn’t bear the thought of his Alice living her life as a shadow of herself.He knew what he had to do.
They were preparing to land at Gold Beach,Normandy in the Universal Carrier, an amphibious craft . The beach was in sight. John’s mind flashed back to the past few years,and the battles he had fought in Central Africa and Sicily.He thought about the brothers he had lost .He thought about Alice. He had not replied to her letter, nor the ones after that. Her letters regularly found him, but he never wrote back. He wanted her to forget him.He wanted her to hate him. He hoped that when the news of his inevitable death reached her, he would be long forgotten in some deep recess of her mind, and she would not go through what millions of other women had suffered in this tragic war.
As the beach drew ever closer, John looked sideways at his comrade and friend, Second Lieutenant Gary Bates. Over the numerous battles they had fought together, they had saved each others’ life several times. They had developed a close friendship.
“Fire away,old chap.”
“In case I die today, there’s something I want you to do.”
“We’re going to make it. We didn’t fight all those battles for nothing, you know.So why don’t we decide how many of those Germans are we going to kill-”
“Listen to me! There’s a bullet out there with my name on it.Its only a matter of time before it finds me. If I die, promise me that you’ll check on Alice. Make sure she is doing well. Don’t tell her that I sent you.”
“I still think you should have replied to her letters”, said Gary.
“Clear the ramp!Sixty seconds!”,came the cry from the Captain.”God be with you gentlemen!”
The men readied their rifles, anticipating what lay ahead.
Gary was looking at the carnage around him. His division had suffered over 400 casualties in the brutal battle at the beach. However, the beach had been secured, which enabled the Allies to establish a foothold in France. Gary found what he had been looking for. John lay on the ground, motionless.
Right after they had landed on the beach, John had taken a bullet to the stomach, and crumpled to the ground. As Gary had bent over to pick him up, John said,”Go!Don’t wait for me!I know what I signed up for!”
“I’m not leaving you like this!”,exclaimed Gary.
“You’ll get yourself killed, you idiot! Just remember to check on Ali- ”
Right then, a bullet went through John’s forehead, and he collapsed.
Gary turned towards the Germans, and shouted,”I’m coming for you, you bastards!”
Gary had killed over 20 Germans. But John still lay motionless. He stooped down, and opened John’s haversack, expecting to find the letters from Alice. He would keep them preserved, and would one day tell his children about his selfless moron of a friend.
However, when he opened the bag , he only found a single letter.It was from John’s mother.
I am deeply disheartened to be the bearer of this news.Alice was killed last night during the German air raids. I know how much you two loved each other, and that no amount of words can comfort you.Just know that we love you, and are counting down the days to your return.
Gary was shocked. The letter was dated May 1941. Had John being imagining things? Then he remembered what John had told him about his last conversation with Alice.Then it dawned on him.
John had never let her go.