Captain Jack Swaggart, feeling fatigued, yawned and looked to the east at the unfolding dawn. Although the rising sun registered with his visual senses, what he saw in his mind’s eye nearly overshadowed the splendour of cascading yellow and red colours emanating from the rising fireball.
Swaggart had already performed the walk-around, only one part of his pre-flight check. He was patiently waiting for the arrival of his co-pilot, Omaha native Lieutenant Charles ‘Chuck’ Boyer, a tall lanky man in his mid-twenties. They got along well and had developed a close camaraderie, each man implicitly trusting the other.
Jack spotted an overloaded jeep slowly maneuver around a fuel truck and come to an abrupt halt. Five men, including the driver, were cramped together in the confined space, reminding Jack of his father’s ’29 Ford Pickup back home in the States. The first to disembark was second Lieutenant Oliver Smith. Then came “Lucky”, “Shore” and “Romeo”. Each enlisted man had inherited a handle or nickname; it was a term of endearment meant to identify the bearer, but in a unique, usually humorous way.
Jack appraised his crew, still incomplete, and with a sense of pride reflected on the contribution and value of each man. Aside from the flight crew, his men had the task of manning one of the three gun positions on Lucky Lady, ensuring they had a reasonable chance of holding off enemy fighters and making it back to base. Outfitted in leather jackets and boots, it reminded him that it was damn cold—and dangerous—at 20,000 feet.
“Morning, Cap!” a voice called out, bringing him back down to earth. “Did you check on that faulty altimeter?” Jack turned around and came face to face with his navigator, 2nd Lieutenant Giuseppe Rossi, a smallish but wiry Italian. He had wisely decided to walk to the tarmac, forfeiting his seat in the crowded jeep.
“Sure, Joe,” Jack replied, preferring to use the English version of his first name. “I spoke to one of the Limey techs and he assured me it’s been recalibrated. By the way, Joe, how was your date last night?”
The little Italian grinned, the memory still fresh in his mind. “Not bad. She couldn’t keep her hands off me.”
Jack shot Rossi a questioning look and was about to respond when he was interrupted by a new voice.
“Meaning you didn’t get to first base, right?” came the unexpected response.
Joe spun around to look for the mischievous culprit, only to find their bombardier, Oliver Smith, grinning and leaning against one of the huge tires.
“Was it that obvious, Olie?” Joe replied with a wince. “Well, truth be told, we danced together for half the night and just when things were looking up, two of her girlfriends came over and rescued her. English dames!”
“Well, Joe,” Jack replied laughing, “at least you were dancing, unlike the rest of us.” Then his expression turned business-like. “I’ve done the walk-around,” he continued, “and Chuck will do it again. Joe, you and Olie get settled in upstairs and check your equipment. It’s going to be a long flight.”
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