A serial fiction story for your enjoyment
written by James Rada, Jr.
Seaman Brian Johnson hurried across the campus of Miami University to a meeting in Hall Auditorium. This was a change in his routine of learning to operate and repair radios for the U.S. Navy. Change could be a good thing. It meant something was happening.
He followed the group of other Navy seamen through the triple-arched entry into the stately brick building in front of them. It was primarily a music hall, but the Navy used it when they had large meetings of all the sailors attending radio school at the university.
He took a seat and waited patiently. Once the room was full, a lieutenant he didn’t recognize walked out on the stage. The room fell silent.
“I am Lt. Harcourt,” the lieutenant announced. “I need a show of hands of anyone in this room who can speak a foreign language. It doesn’t matter what language that may be.”
Hands went up. Not a large number of them, but more than a couple dozen out of the two hundred or so seamen in the auditorium. Brian hesitated a moment and then raised his hand.
“Everyone with their hands up, follow Ens. Greene.” Lt. Harcourt motioned to the tall officer standing off to the side of the stage.
About four dozen young men stood up and started shuffling to the ends of the rows and then up onto the stage, where they formed a line. The ensign led them behind the stage and out a back door. They entered another building, where they stood in a line as Ens. Greene pointed one after another into one of three classrooms.
Brian guessed each sailor was being interviewed about something to do with knowing another language, but each interview seemed to be going relatively quickly.
When Ens. Greene pointed Brian into a classroom, he entered and saw another lieutenant. He stepped in front of the man and saluted.
“At ease, sailor.” Brian relaxed, but remained standing. “What language other than English do you speak?”
“German, sir,” Brian replied.
“Very. My parents immigrated here after the Great War, sir.”
The lieutenant stared at him a few moments and then asked, “Would you like to try something different, sailor?”
“Would you like to become a paratrooper?”
Brian’s eyes widened. “I’m in the Navy, sir. We don’t have paratroopers. We’re… swimmers.”
The lieutenant exhaled in what might have been a stifled chuckle. “Well, this is something different. It’s a special training course. Are you interested?”
Brian was right. This change did seem to be leading to something useful. “Yes, sir.”
“What’s your name?”
“Seaman Brian Johnson.”
“Go back to your room and pack your bag. Report back here in two hours. You’ll see a bus out front of the auditorium. Give the officer who will be there your name and get on the bus.”
Things were changing quickly. Brian wondered what was happening.
“Yes, sir. May I ask where I am going, sir?”
“All I can tell you right now is that you will be going on special assignment, and you will be in the states until your training is complete. You’re dismissed.”
Brian saluted. “Yes, sir.”
He spun around and walked back out into the hallway with a confused look on his face. There were about a dozen sailors still waiting to be interviewed. He wondered how many of them would be joining him on the bus in a couple hours.
Had any of them been told any more than he had?
He walked back to the dorm room he shared with another sailor named Jack Witherspoon. Brian hadn’t noticed Jack raise his hand that he spoke another language, so Brian guessed his roommate would be remaining behind to continue studying radios.
Miami University and many colleges and universities had lost a lot of their students when they started being drafted or joining the armed forces to fight in the war. Some of the schools were lucky enough to make up some of the lost tuition by helping train soldiers, sailors, and marines in some of the academic studies they might need.
Brian stuffed his seabag with his clothes and toiletries. He didn’t have much, so it didn’t take long.
He ran down to the cafeteria to grab three sandwiches and a pair of apples. He ate one of the sandwiches in his room, but he packed the other stuff. He wasn’t sure when he would have the chance to eat again, and he appreciated not having to eat Navy chow while he was there.
He sat down at the desk and wrote out a short note, carefully considering the words he used. Then he lifted the bottom of the left curtain on his window and draped it over the curtain rod.
He clipped his seabag shut, slung it over his shoulder, and headed out of the dorm.
As he exited the building, he stepped over the side and squatted down to tighten up the laces on his boots. He quickly scanned the area around him and then quickly shoved the note he had written underneath a flat stone next to the sidewalk.
He stood up, shouldered his bag, and then headed for the bus.
He wasn’t sure what good it would do, but he needed to keep his superiors informed.
A shore patrolman was standing at the bus when Brian arrived. He hesitated for a moment, but he knew no one knew about him. He approached the man.
“I was told to report here for a special assignment,” Brian said.
The patrolman nodded and pointed to the auditorium. “You’ll need to leave your bag in there.”
“What? This is all my gear.”
The shore patrolman shrugged. “Orders. No one but sailors in brown get on this bus and only them. No gear.”
Brian sighed. This was getting weird. He walked into the auditorium and saw seven other sailors milling around.
Lt. Harcourt walked over, so they snapped to attention and saluted.
“At ease, gentlemen. Before we leave for your special assignment, we have to get you ready.” He waved at three ensigns who walked over. “These men will help you. You will change into khaki uniforms and then pack everything, including your current uniforms in your seabags, which will be sent home.”
“Sir?” one seaman asked.
“Does that include our wallets?”
“Are wallets part of everything?”
“Then what do you think?” The sailor blushed but said nothing. “These ensigns will help you get ready. I repeat, everything will go into your seabags. The only things getting on that bus are you and the clothing we give you. Now get ready.”
The ensigns each grabbed a group of sailors and headed off to a classroom. Brian walked with three other sailors into a classroom.
“Strip down and tell me your sizes,” the ensign said.
The sailors did so, and the ensign left the room. He returned with uniforms, underwear, socks, and shoes.
“These are khaki,” one sailor said.
“Yes, they are.”
“We’re Navy, not Army.”
“You’re not anything now.”
Brian saw what the ensign meant. There was no insignia on the uniform to identify the branch of the military.
What was going on?
His superiors would want to know about it, so he would need to find a way to contact them at some point, but for now, he had to discover what was happening.
He changed into the non-descript uniform, put his remaining clothes in his seabag, and then walked back out to where Lt. Harcourt was waiting. When all the sailors were changed, Harcourt led them onto the bus. Brian noticed curtains covered all the windows and blocked off the front of the bus from the passenger area. They wouldn’t be able to see where they were going.
As the bus drove, Harcourt stood in the aisle and spoke to them. “I know you have questions. They will eventually be answered, but not here and not now. This journey to your training camp will happen in stages and take most of a day. I won’t tell you not to talk amongst yourselves, but don’t voice your questions or speculation about this assignment. Also, I don’t know if any of you know each other, but from now on, you are strangers. Don’t exchange names or any personal information. None of that will matter where we’re going.”
The sailors looked at each other, but didn’t say anything. Brian wasn’t sure how long they drove because he no longer had a watch. When the bus finally stopped, the sailors exited and found themselves at a rail siding. A train waited for them, and they boarded it. They were assigned rooms and went in to go to sleep. A steward came by with a trolley cart and handed each of them a bagged meal. He also filled a cup with hot coffee for them.
Brian tried to watch where they were going through the window of his room, but the train didn’t slow for any station. He knew they were generally traveling east by the way the sun set, so he assumed they were moving across West Virginia and Pennsylvania, but he couldn’t be sure.
He also had no way to contact his superiors. He knew a number he could call, but with as strict as the Navy was being about this assignment, Brian doubted he would have the opportunity to use a telephone or send a telegram. He was going to have to play things by ear until he could get back in contact.
The train finally stopped about what seemed like a day at a small station that appeared to be in the middle of nowhere. The sign on the station read Lantz, but that meant nothing to him. He didn’t know what state he was in or even what rail line they had traveled.
The sailors were hustled from the train into the back of an Army truck with a canvas covering. Not surprisingly, when they were all in the back with Lt. Harcourt, he pulled the canvas down so they couldn’t tell where they were going. All Brian knew was that the road was bumpy.
“It won’t be long now,” was all Harcourt told them.
The truck stopped once, and Brian heard the driver speaking with someone. After a short time, it moved forward once more. When it stopped again, the driver turned the engine off.
Harcourt threw open the back canvas, turned to the men and said, “Welcome to the Office of Strategic Services. You are about to become America’s secret weapon in this war.