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Aftermath

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Amateur

All characters in this story are fictitious and bear no relationship to any person, living or deceased. The setting for the story is based on historical events but no event reported in the story is based on any specific historical occurrence. The activities described in this story are not necessarily either recommended or condoned by the author. With these considerations in mind, enjoy.

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Lieutenant Jeffrey Wilson checked his cockpit one last time before giving the thumbs up, feeling the immediate response as his F2H Banshee was flung off the deck of ‘USS Essex’, cruising out of missile range off the North Korean coastline. He joined formation with the remainder of his flight and headed inland to the Yalu River. The sortie went normally, with the aircraft encountering a small amount of inaccurate groundfire, which caused little concern.

After fifty minutes the target zone was in sight and each pilot took his turn in dropping his six 500 pound bombs, watching as they hit their targets in support of the South Korean infantry. They then all used their 20mm cannons to strafe enemy positions.

‘Poor guys,’ thought Jeff as he watched the bombs explode and cannon fire sweep the devastated countryside, ‘Pleased I’m up here in the clear air.

He checked behind and did a gentle turn to form up with his flight for the return trip when he felt rather than heard a thump from somewhere below him. Quickly he checked his instruments. Everything seemed normal, engine revs unchanged on his two jet engines. He checked outside, below and behind and noticed a thin trail of white vapor streaming behind him. Fuel, he immediately surmised. He checked his fuel gauges and noticed that the main tank was noticeably lower than a few seconds ago. His wing tanks were empty, not being required for such a short sortie, so he only had the 877 gallons in the main tank. Already he noticed that he was under half full now, although he should have had several hundred in reserve once he returned.

“Damn,” he muttered under his breath, before thumbing his mike button to report the situation to his flight leader.

Once that was done, he had to work out the best strategy in the hope that he could at least reach the coast, ditch in the sea and be collected by a rescue helo. ‘Height,’ he thought, ‘I need to use my fuel to gain height so I can glide further once the engines cut.’ He notified his intentions to his flight leader then broke formation and headed skyward. He noted that he had less than a quarter of a tank of gas left; ‘200 gallons, only just enough to reach the carrier even without a leak,’ he thought.

He climbed at an economical rate, ascending at around 45 degrees until he reached 47,000 feet, just above the plane’s normal operational ceiling, when he leveled out. There was little to do now except fly towards the coast and hope.

The port engine stopped first, the whine of the turbines deepening as they slowed, followed a few seconds later by the starboard engine. The sudden relative silence with just the deepening turbine whine was oppressive. Jeff pointed the nose of the Banshee down the minimum amount necessary to allow him to still have sufficient speed for the controls to operate. He moved them the bare minimum but they still felt floppy and unresponsive. He jockeyed the plane along, balancing minimum rate of descent against speed. He saw his flight heading home far below and a long way ahead. The safety of the coastline was just visible in the distance.

Gradually Jeff watched as the coastline became closer and clearer, and the ground rose to meet him. ‘10000 feet, not enough,’ he thought as he worked a few figures on his calculator. He tried to ease the nose up a fraction more, but quickly dropped it again as the stall warning horn sounded in his ear. He might just make it, he might, he had to. His very survival might depend upon it.

The coastline was only a few miles ahead, but the ground was very close and a low range of hills might just prevent him from reaching safety. ‘So close,’ he thought. ‘Well, the next few minutes will tell.’

As the ground seemed to rise quickly to meet him he dropped below the crest of the hills and knew he would have to land on the ground. There were no flat, unwooded areas he could see so he chose a copse of low trees, hoping that the branches would soften his landing. He had a few seconds to think of his gorgeous wife, Marlene, waiting for him at home and then he focussed once again on the landing, timing it perfectly so that he touched the trees as he raised the nose, bleeding off as much speed as possible. The last thing he heard before he passed out was a tearing, screaming crash.

He awoke sometime later, suspended in his harness on his side. He could see the ground a few feet below the torn off wing root. He released his harness, braced himself against the edge of the cockpit, thankful that the canopy had been torn away, then climbed into the low tree, down its branches and dropped the few kütahya escort feet to the ground.

He took stock of his situation, checking himself for injuries; nothing except a bump on the head, presumably when the canopy was torn off. He listened for any sounds. “Damn,” muttered again, he heard sounds of people moving quickly through the forest and by the volume of the sounds they were approaching quite rapidly.

He headed off towards the coast, away from the sounds, keeping as close to the trees as possible in the hope of reaching the coast before being captured. He hadn’t gone far when he heard similar sounds in front of him. He was surrounded, quickly taken prisoner and marched away.

************************

“Nana,” began Emily, “I’ve got a class exercise for my journalism class. We have to interview a member of our family and find out as much detail as possible about our family history and ancestors and then write an article about it. It’s worth 30% of the marks for the course so they’re expecting something quite detailed. I was wondering if I could interview you please.”

Marlene looked at Emily’s eager shining, smiling face and her mind drifted back to when she also had been 19 and studying at college. She gazed at her for a long while before replying, the years parading behind her eyes, memories as vivid as when she lived them so long ago.

“Yes, of course, sweetheart,” she replied. “You’ll have a lot of writing to take it all down though because it’s a long and complicated story.”

“Nana, I don’t need to write it down now, I’ll simply record what you say on my smart phone and then I can select and write what I need to later.”

“Oh I forget you youngsters have all these gadgets. OK, when would you like to start?”

“Well, if you’ve got time now, so have I.”

“OK, sit yourself down and get your smart phone ready. Make yourself comfortable and could you please bring me a glass of water; my throat gets quite dry and husky when I talk a lot, as I will be today.”

Emily brought Marlene a glass of water, set up her phone, ensuring it was plugged in to the mains so the battery wouldn’t die part way through, then signaled that she was all set.

Marlene went back through her memories, then remembered the stories of other members of the family. Where to start? The years melted away as she thought back . . . . .

********************************

Marlene finished her shift at the hairdressing salon where she worked and caught her usual bus home. She entered her empty house, missing the sound, smell and, yes, mess that were there when Jeff was home with her. After only being married for 16 months, they really hadn’t had time to settle down as a married couple before he was posted as a Banshee pilot on the ‘USS Essex’ stationed off the North Korean coast. ‘Oh well,’ she thought, yet again, ‘The war can’t last forever.’

She prepared her dinner, placed it on the range to cook, poured herself a glass of the cream sherry she loved, turned on the television and then heard someone knock on the door. She went to answer it and was concerned to see two naval officers standing there.

“Mrs Marlene Wilson?” inquired the more senior officer.

“Yes,” she replied nervously. He stomach was churning and she was suddenly very afraid.

“I’m Commodore Fitzgerald and this is Lieutenant Molloy. Is it OK if we come in please?”

Marlene stood aside and let them precede her, closing the door before following them into the lounge. She turned off the television, waited until they were seated and then sat in her chair.

“I have some bad news for you, Mrs Wilson,” began Commodore Fitzgerald, “Your husband is missing in action. It appears his plane did not make it back to the ship and crash landed in the trees close to the coast. A rescue helicopter visited the area and found his plane, which had a wing and the canopy missing, but there was no sign of Lieutenant Wilson. I am really sorry to have to break this news to you.”

Marlene sat, stunned, without responding for many seconds. She was too shocked to cry.

“W-w-what happens now, then?” she asked.

“To a large extent we just have to wait and see. We don’t know where he is, we don’t know if he’s injured and we don’t know if he’s been captured. There have been patrols of North Korean soldiers in the area but we don’t know whether they came across him or not. I’m sorry, but at this time we know nothing at all really except that he’s MIA.”

Marlene covered her face with her hands, sobbing gently, then with a supreme effort pulled herself together and looked back at the officers.

“So will you be searching for him? When will you know? Will you keep in touch with me and let me know any progress?”

“The main problem we have is communication with North Korean authorities. They are supposed to notify us of any prisoners captured but usually don’t, so it may be a long time before we know for certain if he has malatya escort been captured or not. There are also reports of unofficial militia type groups patrolling in the area. But we will keep in touch with you and as soon as we hear anything we’ll let you know,” reassured Commodore Fitzgerald.

“Thank you,” said Marlene. They all stood and Marlene escorted the officers outside. She closed the door gently, turned off the range in the kitchen then threw herself on the couch and burst into tears, sobbing her heart out, beating the cushions on the sofa.

“It’s so unfair,” she screamed, “It’s not even an American war. Why did he have to go? Why did he have to join the navy? Why couldn’t he just get a nice safe job here in Tacoma instead of flying off around the world? . . . . .”

After several more minutes she calmed down. She had the realization that she was, no, is the wife of a US navy officer and this was no way to conduct herself. But another part of her continued to rage as thoughts flew through her head: “He’s not just an officer, he’s my husband, my lover, my best friend; we have plans to have children together, raise a family; we have dreams and plans; hopes and most of life to live ahead of us both. I’m only 22, far too young to be a widow.”

The thoughts and emotions inundated her, rendering her unable to think clearly. A long few minutes later she pulled herself together and stumbled to the phone, where she dialed the number of her friend Jen.

“Hi Jen,” she said when Jen picked up, “I just had a . . . .”

Marlene burst into tears, sobbing into the phone. She heard the voice from the phone vaguely.

“Marlene, honey, what’s wrong? Tell me, what’s the matter.”

Between sobbing Marlene managed “It’s Jeff. He’s MIA.”

She heard Jen’s reply “I’ll be round in five.” Then the phone went dead.

Four minutes later Jen’s car screeched to a halt in front of Marlene’s and Jen ran inside to sit on the floor next to Marlene and cuddle her as her shoulders heaved with deep, heartfelt sobs. She just held her, rocking gently, as Marlene wept out her grief. Eventually the tears ceased and she reached a more peaceful place.

“What am I going to do?” she asked when she could speak again.

“I don’t know,” replied Jen, “But what you’re not going to do is to assume that just because he’s MIA, he’s dead. That’s highly unlikely. He’s either reached the coast and evaded capture, in which case he’ll undoubtedly be rescued, or he’s been captured, in which case he’ll be returned after the war or as part of a prisoner swap. It’s far too early to just give up on him.”

“I guess you’re right,” conceded Marlene. “Like a drink?”

“I think we both need a stiff whiskey,” agreed Jen standing up and collecting glasses and a bottle from the cupboard. “Lemonade or water?” she asked.

“More whiskey,” replied Marlene with a slight grin, reassuring Jen. “I’m sorry, Jen. It’s just the shock and suddenness of the whole thing that really unnerved me. I’ll try hard to stay strong.”

They drank their whiskey in silence for a while then Marlene said she was tired and was going to bed. “Jen, you go on home; Arnold must be wondering what’s happened. Thank you coming so quickly. I’ll let you know if I hear anything.”

“You sure you’ll be OK?”

“Yep, I’ll be fine,” she replied, forcing a smile.

They hugged goodnight then Jen returned home while Marlene showered before climbing into her large, empty bed. Oh how she wished Jeff could be safely lying beside her right now.

Arnold and Jen collected Marlene from the front door and they headed off to the Independence Day celebratory fireworks near the Naval Base Kitsap at Bremerton. It was nearly two years since that horrible evening when she had heard that Jeff was MIA. Since then there had been no news. North Korean authorities denied any knowledge of him. To all intents and purposes he had simply disappeared off the face of the earth.

Marlene had leant heavily on Jen for support and was extremely grateful for her being there. Jen was also concerned, feeling that Marlene needed to move on. It was obvious to her that Jeff had been killed; nobody could really be missing for nearly two years in this day and age of modern communications and technology, could they? She was continually trying to bring Marlene back into the social scene so that she could at least start to reclaim her life.

The fireworks were, as always, spectacular. Marlene found herself next to a very personable young naval officer who introduced himself as Lieutenant Ted Martin, working at the Naval Base and living fairly close to Marlene in Tacoma. They chatted amiably during the display, Ted expressing sympathy for Marlene in her current situation.

“You know,” he said, “I might just be able to help you. How about I make some inquiries from friends who have access to, let’s say, less than official channels. Sometimes the official channels don’t have all the information manisa escort we hope they would.”

“That would be wonderful if you could please,” agreed Marlene hopefully.

They exchanged addresses and phone numbers, as well as Marlene giving Ted Jeff’s details. As the show finished Ted told Marlene he’d be in touch regardless of what he found out.

On the way home Marlene told Arnold and Jen all she knew about Ted and what he had offered to do for her.

“He’s a really nice guy and we got on so well together,” she enthused. “He told me he’ll see what he can do to find out if Jeff’s still alive and if so where he is. Apparently he has channels he can use that are not the official channels; he wouldn’t elaborate on these. We got on well and he’s going to call me regardless of what he finds out.”

“That’s wonderful,” replied Jen, sensing more than just a casual friendship was developing here. “It will be terrific if he can bring you a sense of closure. That’s really what you need to be able to move on instead of simply marking time with your life.”

Two weeks passed before Ted phoned Marlene.

“I’d like to tell you what I’ve found out in person if you’re willing; a bit difficult on the phone. Can I come around and visit you this evening please?” he asked after the usual pleasantries.

“Yes, of course,” replied Marlene, “How about 7pm?”

“Great by me. See you then.”

When Ted arrived Marlene took him in to the comfortable lounge and poured him a whiskey and herself a cream sherry. Once they were settled Ted broke his news.

“The news is not good,” he began. “Nobody I asked has any knowledge of Jeff, at least none that they are prepared to divulge. I’m afraid we really must conclude that he has been killed in action.”

Marlene eyes started to tear and she wiped them away angrily.

“I’ve made some other inquiries about having a memorial service for him,” continued Ted. “This is similar to a funeral but without the coffin, obviously. It is more or less a formal and official recognition that Jeff has died and it will allow the legal formalities to proceed that are required before your marriage can be annulled and you can start your new life. You’re still young and I really would advise you to take this opportunity, but I do realize it’s a huge decision for you to make. What it really means is that you have to face the prospect that you will never see your husband again. I can’t make that decision for you; it’s something that only you can decide.”

Marlene burst into tears, sobbing inconsolably as she confronted what she had been avoiding for nearly two years: that she would never see Jeff again and, worse, would never learn how or where he had died. Ted placed his arm gently around her shoulders as they sat on the sofa. After a few minutes her wave of grief passed and she turned to him and embraced him, burying her face against his chest. She continued sobbing, racking her body as she pressed against his warmth and comfort. Ted sat, continuing to hold her gently.

After about 15 minutes or so she relaxed against him, her sobbing had ceased and he felt the tension leave her body. She opened her eyes and looked up at him.

“Thank you for all you’ve done,” she said quietly. “Sorry I’ve made such an ass of myself. It’s just been so long without knowing, living in forlorn hope; it’s both traumatic and a relief to have a little more certainty in my life. Thank you for inquiring about the service. You’ve been a wonderful helpful friend and I really value that.”

Marlene reached up behind his head and drew him down to her, giving him a chaste kiss on the lips. Ted blushed noticeably under his tan.

“That’s OK, Marlene, I’m sorry the news couldn’t have been better.”

Marlene disentangled herself from Ted and refreshed their drinks, pouring at least doubles for them both. They sat at the ends of the sofa as they discussed their lives up until now. Ted realized how much Marlene had loved Jeff, how they had plans for children, a better house and for travel later in their lives. He in turn talked of his life as a shore based naval officer in intelligence, hence his ability to access alternative sources of information. Marlene refreshed their drinks several times as they were emptied while he talked a little of his personal life, of the relationship he had with his prior partner, recently ended after three years due to a lot of petty quarrels, and her finding another man, of the loss that he felt now that she was no longer in his life..

Time passed quickly and before long it was late.

“I need to work tomorrow,” said Ted, “So I’d best be leaving.”

“Are you sure you’re OK to drive after drinking that much?” asked Marlene, knowing that she was feeling decidedly tipsy and would be very reluctant to drive in that condition.

“Hmmm, probably over the limit, but I do need to go home to sleep.”

“Well, you could sleep here if you wish,” suggested Marlene tentatively. “There are two spare bedrooms.”

“That does make more sense. I could leave early in the morning to go home and change before work.”

Marlene showed Ted one of the guest bedrooms, gave him a towel, showed him the bathroom and prepared to leave him. As an afterthought, she turned to him and reached for his hand.

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