In hindsight, Anakin supposes that they all should have seen it coming.
It begins mere days after the events of Geonosis. While Obi-Wan had been cleared from the Healing Halls, the injuries he sustained in combat quickly patched up by liberally applied bacta patches, Anakin’s own wounds would take much longer to heal. First there were the surgeries to repair what damage they could to the flesh where his arm now ended, preparing it for the prosthetic the Jedi Order was springing to supply. Then of course, there was the attachment and subsequent recovery. It would be weeks before the Omega was allowed back into the day-to-day life of the the Temple, but Obi-Wan seemed intent on keeping him company through it all.
Since the mid to late eighties, an unusual phenomenon had been noticed: people who had never served in the military were declaring themselves to be Vietnam veterans, and real veterans were claiming to have served with elite units to enhance their service.
One study noted that while thirty-five hundred soldiers were said to have served as LRRP/ Rangers over the course of the war, more than five thousand veterans have since claimed to have served in LRRP/ Ranger units.
So it was no surprise when attendees to the weekend event showed up with hats, berets, T-shirts, and uniform jackets bearing logos or patches of elite units. There were also a few attendees dressed in battle-dress uniforms of foreign military units, including those of the French Foreign Legion.
Behind the Lines magazine, the journal of U.S. Military Special Operations, had set up a booth at the show, and its executive editor, Gary Linderer, had invited its editors and contributors to attend. Among those at the booth during the long weekend were Gary Linderer, Kenn Miller, Reynel Martinez, Larry Chambers, Greg Walker, Doc Norton—all veterans who’d served in elite units—and others who were talking with veterans, answering questions, telling war stories, or signing their books.
As the magazine’s “humorist,” I was there as well, looking for unusual stories.
One advantage of events like that is that I knew I wouldn’t have to search very hard to find them. That time I was lucky because the story came to me.
“Magazine, huh?” one visitor asked, stopping in front of the table and checking out the booth and staring at a stack of back issues of Behind the Lines.
"Yes, we are,” I said. “Here! Take a complimentary copy.” I handed him one.
Linderer and Martinez were taking a coffee break while Kenn Miller and I manned the booth. However, much of Miller’s attention was taken up by a Taiwanese film crew whose members were surprised and pleased to find an American who was able to answer their questions in their native tongue. Two of them, in fact; Miller is fluent in several Chinese dialects.
"What do you do at the magazine?” the visitor asked, studying my name tag. “A senior editor,” I said, “which just means I’m old. You a vet?”
"Nam,” he replied. I nodded. He was overweight and balding and wore what hair remained in a ponytail beneath a battered green beret.
"Special Forces, huh?” I said. This time he nodded. “You with the Group or SOG?” I asked.
He shook his head. “Green berets,” he said.
I sighed. He was dressed in jeans, frayed jungle boots, a T-shirt that read HONK IF YOU’RE HORNY, and a jungle fatigue shirt with a variety of patches sewn on the sleeves. There were two colorful rows of combat ribbons that said he had seen combat but that he didn’t know which order it came in. That was his first mistake. The red-white-and-blue-striped Silver Star award was placed after an Air Medal, below a Purple Heart, and next to a Good Conduct Medal. His Silver Star award also had a V device indicating that the award was for valor, which was another mistake, because the Silver Star is awarded for gallantry, which in the military scope of things ranks a step above valor. It is not awarded with a V device. A blue-and-white Combat Infantryman’s Badge was pinned just above the ribbons with a flat silver oblong badge. The flat badge had a triangle in its center, and I didn’t recognize it at first. Then I smiled seconds later, realizing that I had seen it on the uniforms of the officers who manned the bridge on the television series Star Trek, either generation. The combat patch on his right sleeve was an olive drab subdued MAC-V insignia, while a Special Forces arrowhead patch was sewn on the left sleeve. On one shirt jacket pocket was a death’s-head skull; an ace of spades was sewn on the opposite pocket. A number of Vietnam War–related pins were spread out across the pocket flaps and lapels like shrapnel from an exploding surplus store, but it was his green beret that caught most of my attention. The weathered beret had a Special Forces insignia, a French paracommando crest, and the flat-black rank pin of a Marine lance corporal. The crests, patches, other insignia, and beret were an unusual mix of services, units, and time warps.
It was happening again.
Earlier that morning while Linderer, Miller, and I were seated at the table at the booth, a man approached wearing an army fatigue shirt with a generic 75th Infantry Ranger scroll on the right shoulder as a combat patch. Since there wasn’t a division or field force patch beneath it, there was no way of knowing which company he had served in during the war.
"I was a Ranger in Nam,” he said. Linderer and Miller looked up.
"Who were you with?” asked Linderer, meaning which unit and where. It was the standard greeting ritual veterans go through with other veterans to establish common ground and a bond.
"The Second Batt,” said the man. “The Second Batt” meant the 2d Ranger Battalion. Linderer smiled. Miller, on the other hand, was sneering, as I pointed out that there wasn’t a 2d Ranger Battalion in Vietnam.
"In fact, the battalions didn’t exist back then, just companies,” Linderer added, smiling.
Miller smiled, too, but it was the deranged grin of a pit bull sizing up a poodle. “You worthless piece of shit! I ought to cut your legs off,” he said, with as much diplomacy as he could muster.
Kenn Miller is one of only a handful of LRRP/ Rangers to have served two and a half years with the 101st Airborne in behind-the-lines combat. He has little patience for “wanna-be” elite combat veterans and a pathological disgust for those who’d wear a 75th Ranger combat patch pretending to have earned it.
Linderer was still shaking his head in disgust as the make-believe LRRP/ Ranger veteran quickly excused himself, realizing that he had somewhere else to be.
Throughout the previous evening and much of that morning, we had encountered other such “make-believe” veterans, including a French Foreign Legionnaire who couldn’t speak French, a navy SEAL or two who couldn’t remember which team they served with, and other pretend Rangers who wore the 75th Ranger scroll company patch over the wrong division or field force patch.
“Very Crazy, G.I.! Strange but True Stories of the Vietnam War,” by Kregg P. Jorgensen
For the anniversary of the D-Day invasion, these Pathfinders of F Company, Task Force Eagle Assault at Forward Operating Base Wolverine, Afghanistan paid special tribute to those original World War II Pathfinders of the 101st Airborne Division by giving each other Mohawk haircuts and painting their faces much like their forerunners had for a combat patching ceremony.
Another dark!elsanna one shot. More battle than romance - I’ve been rereading Gates of Fire (an excellent book by Steven Pressfield). I like the idea of doing these as quick one shots in patronustrip’s new dark!elsanna universe. Do you like the structure or do you want to see more smut?
People of all the realms whispered of Queen Elsa of Arendelle’s dark magics but the best soldiers and warriors spoke with hushed fear instead of her sister and consort. She took only the title of Queen’s Champion but she was also known as the Princess of Blades. Her duelling record was impeccable but it was when Arendelle went to war that the world really experienced her fury.
Anna struggled to find her footing on the ground which was slick with blood soaked dirt. All around her, her men lay dead or dying. Her treasured blades were broken in battle hours ago or was it minutes. Time seemed to flow erratically during battle. Anna’s hands groped around trying to find a weapon that was usable.
The ambush had happened so fast. They warned her the kingdom of Corona was not to be taken lightly. She had just laughed thinking of Arendelle’s easy victory over the Southern Islands. Ten fists of Corona heavy infantry had flanked Anna’s vanguard and decimated them under the cover of night. Morning was breaking and Anna was sure that the knights of Corona would be looking for her head to put on a spike. She did not want to go down easily.
The fighting had been so hard that the only weapon Anna could find that was remotely usable was a spear with a broken haft. The pointy end was still sharp though. Anna smiled grimly. It was a fixer upper but it would have to do. She could hear isolated patches of combat as the forces of Corona mopped up the remnants of Anna’s army. She was just glad she wouldn’t see the disappointment in her sister’s eyes at her failure. She would die on her feet fighting for Elsa rather than run away.
Anna’s face was crusted with dried blood. She guessed it was hers because of the dull pain across her temple after a blade had torn her helm from her head. Her armour was dented and battered and she gripped her broken spear. There were precious few felled enemies nearby. It seemed like Corona’s surprise attack was brutally effective. Anna didn’t dare call out as she was sure the only people that would hear her were the enemy.
“Is that you under that filth, Princess Anna?” a voice called out from behind her. It was that bitch Rapunzel. The two had met a lifetime ago at Elsa’s coronation. They had both swapped the pretty dresses for blades and armour. Rapunzel sat on horseback in immaculate plated armour. At her side were a dozen of Corona’s House Guard who chuckled from their warhorses like gossiping teenager girls.
Anna snarled in response. Mentally calculating the chance that she could drag the bimbo from her horse and wipe the smile from Rapunzel’s face with her fists. They were not good. “Blondie, why don’t you come down off your pretty horse and say that to my face.” Anna gripped her improvised weapon angrily, her knuckles were white where they weren’t shredded.
To her surprise Rapunzel began to dismount. Anna must have looked worse than she thought. People that knew about her should be scared of her. Rapunzel was acting like every man who had underestimated Anna in the arena. The blonde wielded a gleaming gilded sword and a polished shield. She looked like a warrior princess from a children’s story. Anna was the reality. Battered and bleeding with a body that roared in pain at every step.
More Corona soldiers had arrived surrounding Anna. At least they respected her enough to give her a wide berth. The ring of shields and steel created a makeshift arena. Anna’s eyes quickly darted over the ground looking for something that could give her an advantage. The only thing she noticed was the handle of a sword that had its blade shorn off. It looked like Anna would have only one shot at defeating Rapunzel. Battlefield duels were without much pageantry as the two princesses squared off against each other.
Rapunzel at least feared Anna enough to be hesitant of taking the first move despite the advantage her sword and shield gave her. Anna tensed her muscles and pushed herself into action charging the blonde and throwing all her strength into guiding her spear at the slit in Rapunzel’s helmet while taking a flying leap. She had one shot at this.
Time slowed down as Anna could see the spear make its journey towards its target. Nobody had defeated Anna. She could do this. She realised the roar she could hear was her own.
She was too slow.
Rapunzel caught the spear on her shield and easily deflected it. Anna glanced off the armoured warrior falling to the ground. Desperately trying to scrabble to her feet as Rapunzel’s sword whistled down at her. Reflexes from hundreds of fights meant Anna was able to throw herself backwards barely evading the blade. She could see Rapunzel’s blue eyes harden as she drew back her blade again. Anna’s hand found the handle of the broken blade she’d seen earlier. Perhaps that was a chance. She might at least make some of the Corona soldiers laugh by trying to parry with no blade.
The golden blade again came for Anna. Time lengthened the seconds, Anna lifted the handle upwards in her foolish attempt to buy a few more moments of breath. To share the world Elsa walked in as long as possible.
Rapunzel’s eyes widened as her blade shattered on the ice of Anna’s.
Anna smiled as she saw the sharp hard ice grow from the useless handle.
Elsa had arrived.
Rapunzel had staggered back, this time she was the one with the useless handle. Energised knowing that her Queen was near, Anna closed the gap on Rapunzel and slashed at her helmet. The flurry of blows forced Rapunzel to her knees desperately blocking with her shield and gauntlets.
Anna stood over Rapunzel panting. The blonde looked up at her face wet with blood. Anna was not known for mercy.
Looking side to side Anna saw that an icy mist had descended obscuring all but her and her defeated opponent. She could hear terrible sounds in the mist as she could only imagine what Elsa had conjured to combat Corona’s best.
The Ice Queen stepped out of the frigid mist. If Rapunzel looked like a Princess on the battlefield, Elsa looked like a goddess. Dressed in an elegant gown, her eyes twinkled as if she’d just heard a joke.
“I see you’ve found a playmate, sister dear.” Elsa’s lips twisted in a cruel smile. “Can I join?”
“No battle in history,” wrote British historian Alistair Horne, “was to
be more of a ‘soldier’s battle’ than Verdun, and it was to be these
humbler creations - more than the Joffres and Falkenhayns - that were to
be its principal actors.” The clash between France and Germany was the
war’s principal conflict, one that had already been horrendously bloody
in 1914 and 1915. At Verdun in 1916, however, both armies were at
their peak fighting strength. Here the final death struggle between
them began. Here is the state of the French Army as it prepared to defend Verdun.
Verdun in 1916 should have been the strongest point of the Entente line. Jutting out across the Meuse in a salient, it was reputedly unassailable, the greatest fortress on earth. Its history as a strongpoint dated back to the Thirty Years War. Afterwards, Vauban, that amazing French engineer, had turned it into the key strongpoint of Louis XIV’s France, besieged time and time again by forces from across the border. In 1870, it was the last border fortress to hold out against the combined German armies.
In 1914, it was all the stronger. These were not the featureless, flat plains of Flanders and Champagne. The hills bordering the river Meuse turned the area into a natural fortress, forming four natural lines of defense on the right bank of the river, which sloped gently towards the Germans, forcing them to attack uphill under withering fire, while steep ravines on the reverse sides allowed the defenders to take cover and ambush the enemy. The crest of each hill was studded with forts and bunkers: twenty major forts, forty smaller ones. On the Right Bank, they laid roughly in three rings. On the outermost rings, Forts Vaux, Moulainville, and Douaumont guarded the area, then Tavannes and Souville forts, then, on the innermost ring around the sleepy little town of Verdun itself, Forts Belrupt, St. Michel, and Belleville. The Crown Prince’s Fifth Army, attacking at the beginning of the war, smashed itself like waves on rock at Verdun, the unassailable fortresses forming a vital anchor and pivot for the French Army as it retreated towards Paris.
The lay of the land at Verdun. The pentagonal markings represent forts.
Of the Verdun forts, the key was Douaumont, north of the city, on the Right Bank. At an elevation of 1,200 feet, Douaumont looked down upon all else, dominating the terrain. In fact, each fort had been expertly built to support the others. If enemy infantry survived long enough to reach the safety of one fort’s glacis, the fort’s neighbors were sited to sweep them off with machine gun fire. For heavier fire power, each had either a heavy 155-mm howitzer, or twin short-barreled 75-mm guns, housed in retractable turrets on the top of the fort, invulnerable to all but direct hits. Machine guns and ingeniously placed blockhouses defended every side of each fort, while the larger ones housed a company of infantry safely inside. Furthermore, since the war had moved on, the French had built three trench lines on the Right Bank in front of the forts.
But since the August and September of 1914, Verdun had been one of the quietest sectors of the Western Front. The population of the town itself had shrunk from 15,000 to just 3,000, but those who stayed had never had it so good, selling their produce to voracious poilus. Besides the occasional shell, the soldiers had little to complain about either. When asked by a visiting officer why the front-line had no communication trenches dug up to it so that troops could approach in safety, an old veteran demurred: “It doesn’t matter. One can pass very easily, the Germans don’t shoot.”
French high command, GHQ, had noted the lack of operations at Verdun, and one staff officer had the bright idea of robbing Peter to pay Paul by stripping the forts of their guns, to be sent to other fronts. General Dubail, commanding Army Group East, allowed it, though the Governor of Verdun promptly objected, only to be promptly sacked, succeeded by an elderly artilleryman called Herr, who did nothing as the world’s mightiest strongpoint was turned into a gaping weak area in the lines: in the words of one French military historian, it was “an imprudence difficult to quantify.”
In February 1916, the Crown Prince’s army amassed to make the French pay for this imprudence. Only one French corps stood in the way of the Germans’ five. This was General Paul Chrétien’s XXX Corps, “comprising, (from the Meuse eastwards) the 72nd Division (General Bapst), the 51st (General Boullangé), and the 14th (General Crepey) which was to play only a minor role in the battle, with the 37th (General de Bonneval) moving up in reserve.” It was a hodge-podge formation, and many important sections of the line were held by the Territorials, elderly reservists from Brittany and Picardy, including Douaumont and some of the other forts. Many others were troops who had never seen much action, or “old sweats” inclined to try and avoid it. Behind them were North Africans in their red fezzes and khaki-clad Senegalese tirailleurs.
The exception were two battalions Chasseurs, elite light troops commanded by Colonel Émile Driant. Driant’s men were dour and a little ill-disciplined, but excellent in a scrap. They would make a vital difference over the next few days. Driant himself had been a vociferous critic of the government’s policy at Verdun, proclaiming in the Assembly that by taking away guns they were condemning him and his men to death.
The French soldier of 1916 was a far cry from the neophyte “pioupiou’ of 1914 in his dashing red and blue uniform. Now they were called “poilus”, “hairy ones”, many sporting tremendous beards. In place of the old kepi they were equipped with steel Adrian helmets, a step ahead of their German counterparts, most of whom still wore protection-less leather tops. Gone too was the old uniform, replaced with a duller “horizon-blue”, between blue and grey. In its pristine state it looked finer than any other, British troops noting what a morale booster it was to see marching up to relieve them, while after a few days in the mud it blended in as well as any other in the foggy North European climate. Usually, though, men cut a more ragged appearance. Driant and his Chasseuers in the Bois des Caures covered themselves in sheepskins and rags, barely identifiable as soldiers at all. Despite their outward appearance, they were trench warfare veterans who never neglected to put a cork in their rifle barrel, to keep the moisture out.
Most were men between twenty-five and thirty, who had seen combat and been patched up a few times, reservists in their forties with wives and children at home, or new recruits of the 1916 class, aged eighteen or twenty. Unlike their enemies or their British allies, they were sloppy trench diggers; no point in getting comfortable, because the rest of the homeland still had to be liberated. The ordinary joys of life were letters from home, a few glasses of pinard, the army’s red plonk, and a nice cat-nap in a hole dug into the trench side (a practice rigorously banned in the German and British armies).
Britons occupying portions of the French line were often aghast at the squalid conditions. The French accepted them with a little Gallic humor: “Our flooded trenches aren’t so bad,” they joked, “as long as the U-Boats don’t torpedo them!” Outside of the line, the poilu marched everywhere on his feet, weighed down with two-blankets, a groundsheet, his spare boots, a shovel or a pair of wire-cutters, a mess-tin and a large ration pail, two litres of pinard (hopefully), and his heavy great-coat, which no French soldier was ever seen without, no matter the weather. It totaled up to 85 pounds. Men who feel over in the slimy trenches needed the help of a few friends to get back up!
Interestingly, despite being the only republican state of the major combatants, a major gap existed between French men and their officers. Bivoucaing, officers paid little attention to their men’s welfare, taking the nice areas for themselves and letting the lads sort themselves out. Signs found at detraining railway stations said it all:
W.C. pour MM. les officiers
Cabinets pour les sous-officiers,
Latrines pour la troupe
French officers made up for disinterest outside of the battle with unequaled courage during the fighting, leading from the front, a practice that meant that by the end of the 1914, more than 50% of the pre-war French officer corps was dead. Courage was reinforced by severe discipline. The death penalty was pulled out for trivial cases, and the French Army composed penal battalions out of units guilty of cowardice in battle. At at least one point during the Battle of Verdun, a French unit machine-gunned fleeing African troops.
Outside of combat, there was not much respite either. French soldiers rarely received leave, permission, and when they did usually it was such a hassle to get home and back again in time that they could not go anyway. One more small comfort, then, was a soldier’s “godmother”, a woman who volunteered to write to an unknown soldier and send him knitted clothes and gifts, and perhaps a little company when he was home on leave. One enterprising French soldier managed to get himself 44 of these marraines, deserting when he found he never had enough time on leave for all of them!
If the French soldier’s existence was hardly comfortable in 1916, at least his morale was high. They were fighting to protect their homes and families; many of them were fighting to liberate their homes fallen behind the enemy’s lines. Verdun was the peak of the war for them, no longer greenhorns, not yet war-weary. The steel had been tempered, at Verdun it would show what it could do.
I was looking at picture of green day on the red carpet and then it all hit me at once, and i just looked at the screen in front of me and smiled. I realized that they taught me to be my own person, and don’t be a follower. They taught my that it’s okay to be weird and stand out. Before i started listening to them i was like people’s door mat or something. I used to not even where clothes that stood out, cause i didn’t want too much attention. But yesterday i walked around my school with safety pin jeans, combats, and a patched up vest with black smeared eyeliner. I was the only one looking like that, but i wad me. I wasn’t a photo copy of other people like everyone else was. I was different. And I’m okay with that.
So, my boys, I’m proud of u and I’m glad u are going down in history with your heroes, because u guys are my heroes.