Read The Naked and the Dead Online

Authors: Norman Mailer

The Naked and the Dead (98 page)

            "All right, sir."

            "Okay, do something about it." He waited until O'Brien started collecting the plates, and then walked across the bivouac to the operations tent. He saw a few enlisted men lying in their pup tents, and it irritated him. He was wondering which platoon they were in when he remembered the report. He moved toward the operations tent, picked up the phone, and ordered Windmill to send a platoon fully equipped up to the deserted Jap bivouac. "And lay some wire right with them. I want a report in half an hour."

            "They won't get there till then."

            "That's all right. The moment they occupy it, you let me know."

            Time dragged by under the heated canvas. The Major was desperately uneasy, hoping secretly that the platoon had to turn back. But still if they were able to move in, what then? He called up the commander of the reserve battalion from the 460th and told him to alert a company for movement within an hour.

            "I'll have to take them off the road."

            "Take them off," the Major growled. He swore quietly. If it all came to nothing, the work of a company of men would be lost on the road for a half day. And yet there was nothing else he could do. Because if the platoon could occupy the center of the Toyaku Line he would have to exploit it. The Major was working on axioms now.

            Windmill phoned him forty-five minutes later and told him that the platoon had advanced without incident and was holding the Japanese ground. Dalleson picked his nose with his thick forefinger, trying to see across the jungle through the foliage heated by the intense morning sun.

            "Okay, move up the rest of your company except for a squad, and you can leave the kitchen behind. You got rations?"

            "Yes. But what about my rear and flanks? We're going to be stuck a thousand yards ahead of Charley and Fox."

            "I'm taking care of that. You just move up, you can get them all there in an hour."

            After he had hung up, the Major groaned to himself. Now everything would have to be moved around. The reserve company he had alerted from the 460th would have to fill in the flanks and rear of the salient and would be spread thin. Why had the Japs left? Was it a trap?

            The Major remembered a heavy artillery barrage the night before on that empty Jap position. It was possible the CO of that Jap company had pulled out without letting anybody know. There were cases where the Japs did that which he had heard about, but it seemed a little unbelievable.

            If it was true he'd have to get some men through that breach before Toyaku discovered it. The troops were supposed to have this day quiet, but if he ever got his men through he'd have to begin a frontal attack again, and he'd have to work fast if any results were to come of it before nightfall. It meant he had to alert the entire reserve battalion now, start some of them moving right now because there weren't trucks enough to bring them all up at once. The Major plucked abstractedly at the wet cloth under his armpits. The whole day would be wasted on the road now. Nothing would be done there. And he'd have to use every truck in the division to bring up new rations, more ammunition than had been planned for today. The transportation would be wicked. He had a flare of hatred for the squad leader who had started all the trouble this morning.

            He called up Hobart, and told him to make a transportation schedule, and then he went over to the G-2 tent, and talked to Conn, explained what had happened.

            "Bygod, you're letting yourself in for a noose," Conn told him.

            "What the hell can I do? You're intelligence, why is that bivouac empty?"

            Conn shrugged. "The goddam Japs are settin' a trap."

            Dalleson walked back to his own tent, abysmally depressed. It would be a trap, but still he had to go into it. He groaned again. Hobart's men were trying to make up a transportation schedule to supply the new positions of the line companies; Conn's section was going back over old intelligence reports. There was something messy somewhere. Well, he'd have to blunder through on luck, send most of the ordnance to the new hole in the front, hope the other sectors would have enough to get by.

            Dalleson alerted the reserve battalion, ordered the first movement of their troops. It would be time for lunch soon and he would have to miss it. His belly knotted into cramps from the iced beer. He thought with distaste of the tinned cheese in the blue K ration. He would have to eat that instead to bind him up.

            "Any paregoric in the tent?" he bawled.

            "No, sir."

            He turned to one of the clerks and sent him to the aid tent. The heat dripped languidly about his body.

            The phone rang. It was Windmill reporting he had moved his company up. A few minutes later the CO of the initial reserve company phoned that his men were digging in on the flanks.

            Now he would have to send the battalion through. Dalleson had a headache. What would they do? He had had some precedent for everything up until now, but this was a vacuum. The main Japanese supply depot was about a mile and a half behind E Company's new positions, and maybe he should try to capture that. Or he could roll up the flank. But the Major could not imagine that. The hole was a hole on paper. He had visited all the positions, he knew what the bivouacs looked like, but he had never understood exactly what went on. There were spaces between the companies. The front was not a solid line -- it was a string of dots separated from each other. Now he had some men behind the Japanese dots and he would have more later, but what would they do? How did you go about rolling up a flank? He had a picture for a moment of the troops moving sullenly along a jungle trail swearing at the heat, but he could not connect that to the figures on the map.

            An insect crawled sluggishly over his desk and he flicked it off. Just what in the Sam Hill was he going to do? By tonight everything would be a shambles. Nobody would know where anybody else was, and they'd never get all the wire laid straight. The radios would probably be out from static or some lousy hill. They always were when you needed them. Until now this thing had been kept within bounds but he would have to bring in Mooney, the signal officer, and G-4 was already tied up with transportation. Intelligence would have to stay up all night with him. Oh, it was a mess. Of all the days to have to put in a session of work like this. If it came to nothing he'd never hear the end of it.

            The Major felt like laughing. He had the involuntary stupid merriment of a man who has pitched a pebble down a hill and watched it magnify itself into an avalanche. Why couldn't the General be here? As a corollary of all this he could feel the added activity about him. Everyone was working in the operations tent, and he could see men moving back and forth through the bivouac all obviously on errands. Far away, he could hear the rumble of a convoy of trucks disturbing the languid tropical air. He had set all this in motion. He could not really believe it.

            The cheese he munched was dry. Looking out from the tent he could still see some men drowsing in their pup tents, and it enraged him. But there was no time to fix that. Everything was getting out of control. The Major felt as if he were holding a dozen packages in his arms and the first few were beginning to work loose already. How much would he have to juggle?

            And the artillery. That would have to be co-ordinated too. He groaned. The machine was coming apart, gears and springs and bolts were popping out at every moment. He hadn't even thought of the artillery.

            Dalleson held his head and tried to think but he was blank. A message had come through that the advance elements of the reserve were already at E Company's new positions. When the rest of the battalion got there, what could he do? The Jap supply depot was back of a hill, stored in caves. He could send the battalion on to there, and then what? He needed still more men.

            If his head had been clear, he might have hesitated, but all he could think about was moving men. He gave an order for Charley Company to join the reserve battalion, its positions to be taken up by Baker Company on its left. It simplified things for him. Two companies would be holding down the normal positions of three, and so they could remain put. He wouldn't have to worry about them. And the right flank could attack frontally. Let it all pour down, let the artillery take care of itself. He could give them a battalion mission for the supply depot, and after that it would depend on liaison and targets of opportunity.

            He phoned Div Arty and told them. "I want you to keep your liaison planes up all afternoon. Both of them."

            "We lost one the other day, don't you remember, and the other one's grounded."

            "Why didn't you tell me that?" Dalleson roared.

            "We did. Yesterday."

            He swore. "Well, then, assign your forward observers to Able Baker Charley and Dog Companies of the 460th and to Charley of the 458th."

            "What about communications?"

            "That's your worry. I got enough goddam things to think about." His back was itching from perspiration. It was one o'clock already and the sun was smoldering on the canvas slopes of the tent.

            Slowly the afternoon wore by. It took until three o'clock for the reserve battalion and Charley Company to complete their movements, and by that time Dalleson hardly cared any longer. He had almost a thousand men posted at the jumping-off point and no real idea of where to send them. For a few minutes he thought of turning them to the left and having them bear down to the sea. It would isolate half of the Japanese line, but he remembered too late that he pulled out a company from his left flank. If he squeezed the Japs there, he might endanger his own front-line positions. The Major felt like butting his head against the desk. It was such a blunder!

            He could send them to the
right,
toward the mountain, but after they cut off the Japs it would be difficult to bring up ordnance, and the troops at the end of the advance would have to be supplied over a long route. He had the same kind of panic Martinez had felt on his solo. There were so many obvious things he was forgetting.

            The phone rang again. "This is Rock and Rye." (The commander of the 1st Battalion, 460th Regiment.) "We're going to be ready to jump off in fifteen minutes. What is our mission? I have to brief my men."

            They had been asking him this for the past hour, and each time he had roared back, "It's a mission of opportunity. Wait, goddammit." And now he had to give an answer. "You're to proceed in radio silence up to the Japs' supply depot." Dalleson gave the co-ordinates. "When you're ready to attack, you're to send a message back, and we'll bring artillery down. Handle it through your FO. If your radio won't carry, we'll let go on our side in exactly one hour, and you're to go in afterward. You're to destroy the depot, and you got to move goddam fast. I'll tell you what after that."

            He hung up, and stared at his watch. Inside the tent the heat hung in heavy draperies. Outside the sky was darkening and the foliage yawned flaccidly in the turgid suggestion of a breeze. The front was silent. On an afternoon like this, a half hour or so before a downpour, it was usually possible to hear every sound, but now there was nothing. The artillery was waiting, plotting their concentration targets, but he could not even hear a machine gun or a rifle. The only noise was the occasional jarring of the earth, the scattering of dust, when a tank moved by. He could not use them at the breach, for there were no roads, so he was sending them to cover up the weakened positions on his left flank.

            Abruptly Dalleson remembered he had given the attack battalion no antitank support and he groaned aloud this time. It was too late to get them up in time for the attack on the supply depot but perhaps he could send them in time for a Jap counterattack if it were to develop. He alerted the antitank platoon of 2nd Battalion, sent them after the first units. How many other things would come to mind?

            And of course he waited, swearing to himself as he grew more nervous. He was at the point where he was convinced everything would go wrong, and like a small boy who has kicked over a bucket of paint he hoped feebly that he would get out of it somehow. What bothered him most at the moment was the thought of how long it would take to get all these men back and reasserted after the attack failed. It would be at least another full day -- two days lost on the road. That was what bothered Dalleson most. With surprise he realized he had mounted a complete attack.

            Ten minutes before the hour was up, the radio silence was-broken. The attack battalion was two hundred yards from the supply depot, still unnoticed. The artillery began to fire and continued for a half hour. At the end of that time the battalion moved forward and captured the supply depot in twenty minutes.

            Dalleson picked up the story by degrees. It was discovered much later that two thirds of the Japs' supplies were captured that afternoon, but he hardly thought about that the first evening. The important news was that General Toyaku and half of his staff were killed in the same advance. His secret headquarters had been only a few hundred yards past the supply depot, and the battalion had overrun it.

            It was too much news for Dalleson to assimilate. He ordered the battalion to bivouac for the night, and in the interim moved up every man he could find. Headquarters and service companies were stripped of everyone but the cooks. By the next morning he had fifteen hundred men behind the Japanese lines and the flanks were rolled up by afternoon.

            Cummings returned the same day from Army. After much pleading, after giving his considered opinion that he could not end the campaign quickly without invading Botoi Bay, he was granted a destroyer. It had followed behind him, was supposed to reach the peninsula by the following morning. It would be impossible for him to order it to return now.

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