All this training, and it’s sea sickness that’s going to do me in, Elliot thought miserably as the boat tilted starboard again and he had to close his eyes against the lurching of his stomach. The troop ship that took them to England had been a piece of cake, not unlike a train really. This little skiff was rudely reminding him he was, as a matter of fact, on water.
There was a cold sweat on his skin, but everyone looked a little damp from the sea spray. He was breathing heavy but he had to or else he was going to throw up. Plus then the other men might think he was scared which, oddly, he wasn’t. He felt a troubling calmness, actually. Three years cleaning latrines and wandering the English countryside playing war games had led up to this. It wasn’t something to fear: it was just the inevitable conclusion of what they’d been meant to do.
But what a way to break your cherry.
The gunfire from the beach was already raining down around them, hitting the water and the sides of the boat with sounds only heard in movies. The destroyers out on deeper water were making a hell of a racket, with explosions sounding behind them and then again on that beige ridge where they blew sand and earth four storeys into the air.
With his eyes closed Elliot could focus on his breathing, but he couldn’t hear his heartbeat. It might have been racing but he wouldn’t know. All the men on the boat were completely silent. There was only the sound of destruction.
He felt the tension increase. When he opened his eyes he could see how close they were to shore. The body language of everyone around him reinforced it. Soon their landing ship would hit the sand, that ramp would drop, and they’d be on foot. The tanks would follow. He tried not to notice the eyes of his men turn to him, gauging his reaction. He tried to show nothing; tried to stay focused on where they were going.
A shot flew by close enough to feel. The man behind his left shoulder screamed and dropped to the wooden deck, hand to his neck. Blood was gushing between his fingers, but he was breathing.
Another man helped him to the back of the ship and he was forgotten immediately. The deck dropped into water. The first wave of men disembarked. He was in the second.
Icy water came up to his knees, and still he couldn’t feel bottom. He sank up to his chest, awake instantly, nausea forgotten. His legs pumped furiously, fighting sea water and wet sand to take him to the shore and up the embankment. He was panting by the time he dragged himself free.
The man in front of him took a bullet the second they were on dry land. He dropped to his knees, and Elliot knocked his knee on the unknown soldier’s helmet trying to avoid him as he ran. He kept his head up, looking for their targets. It wasn’t hard to find the pillbox: it was active and accurate. Another man was taken down to his right. Elliot kept going. One foot in front of the other, one foot in front of the other …
At the sea wall he took cover and waited for the rest of the company to regroup and form a line. He recognized Clyde Walton on his left. Across from him the opposite way he could see Reinhold and Cleary as well. All eyes were back on him, he realized. Where the hell was Lieutenant Davidson?
No time to worry about it. They knew what they had to do.
There was no point in being sneaky. Armageddon was bellowing around them in gunfire and explosions. “With me, we go right,” he said to Walton. He pointed to the others further down. They were still paying attention. “Flank left!” He shouted best he could. His mouth was dry. He could feel electricity humming around him from Clark and the other men on his left. He looked at Walton. “You lead.” Over his left shoulder he told the rest of his little group, “Cover us.”