If you haven’t already heard (what, you couldn’t hear me shouting from the rooftop?) the e-book version of War Sonnets is now available for pre-order on Amazon, Apple, Kobo, and Barnes and Noble. Paperback and hardcover copies will also be avaible soon.
In the meantime, here’s a little teaser: the opening chapter of War Sonnets:
LUZON, PHILIPPINES—JULY 1945
“Fuck this war.”
Even though his BAR man was a good twenty yards behind him, Staff Sergeant Leo Baldwin could hear Filipowski muttering. He should be used to the cursing by now, but that particular word would always make Leo cringe. Truth was, he felt the same. Without the expletives but, yeah, he’d had enough of this war.
“Goddamned fucking Nips.” Filipowski was louder now. Too loud for a soldier on recon patrol.
Leo turned and shot a warning look at him. “Okay, Corporal, we get it. It’s no picnic.” He twisted an imaginary key against his lips. “Now pipe down.”
Out of the corner of his eye, Leo saw Filipowski twist his fingers against his lips and roll his eyes. He’d pretend he didn’t see that for now, but they’d have words later on.
Corporal Jakob Filipowski was a city boy with light blond hair, brown eyes, and a ruddy complexion. He’d spent his youth in the Warsaw ghettos and had a scar from a street gang fight across his left cheek to prove it. His family had immigrated to the States when he was a teenager, and he’d been an auto worker in Detroit before the war.
At twenty-three years old, Leo was younger than Filipowski. He might have been a farm boy, but in the past three years, he’d seen a heck of a lot. On a good day, his brown eyes sparkled with humor, one cheek dimpled when he smiled. But today, he wasn’t smiling. His thin lips made a grim line across his face, and inside, he was fuming.
Why on earth were they out here hunting stragglers when he had a bunch of raw recruits back at camp?
Besides recon, Leo trained new recruits for the upcoming assault on the Japanese island of Honshu in the fall. Unless some bureaucrat could convince the pig-headed Japanese emperor to surrender, Leo and his men would be part of the first wave. His platoon was nowhere near ready for combat—he needed every minute of the few weeks he had left to make them battle-fit. Instead, every time some local yahoo reported seeing Japanese soldiers, the army sent his squad on a wild goose chase in search of Japs half dead from starvation. Usually, it was as boring as picking rocks in a cornfield—they’d go out, patrol, find nothing, and go back to the garrison.
Mixed terrain, mostly jungle, became increasingly steep as it made its way to the east. Occasionally, they came across flatter, more open ground like they were on now, scattered with rock outcroppings and covered with thick, waist-high kunai grass. Deep scratches covered his hands where the sharp leaves raked his skin. He barely noticed as the stinging grass shushed against the stiff khaki of his pant legs.
The day was scorching; even worse was the humidity. July was the height of the rainy season, and the muddy trail was slippery and rutted with footprints. His men’s boots sank in the muck, sucking and popping as if the sloppy earth had no intention of maintaining silence.
Leo reached under his helmet and wiped away the sweat dripping from his shaggy brown hair. Man, did he need a haircut. Mother would have a conniption if she knew.
Mother would have a conniption if she knew most of what had happened to her boy lately.
As squad leader, Leo was on the point. Ten yards to his left and a few paces back, his mate, Corporal Woody Grayson, matched his steps. Corporal Joe Russo took the right flank. Filipowski took the rear, sweeping his Thompson M1921 from left to right in search of the enemy. They were the last of Leo’s original Luzon squad. The rest had gone home, many of them in a box. He’d lost so much in these few months.
He’d thought all it took was honesty and hard work, believed “right” was on their side.
Two years of training had made him stronger. Tougher. His time in New Guinea and en route to Luzon had accustomed him to the climate and given him a small taste of war. But nothing could have prepared him for the immoral cruelty, the back-stabbing, the betrayal of soldiers on both sides—especially the Americans.
He slapped at a mosquito that had settled on his forearm. If the kunai grass doesn’t get your blood, the locals had warned, the mosquitoes will. He scanned the brush for movement, open areas with stale campsites, any lingering sign of the enemy. As usual, they’d seen nothing today. Now, late in the day, they were heading back to the outpost, and his mind wandered to the next day’s training. His men would shoot for record, an official test of their marksmanship, and he worried that too many wouldn’t qualify. Jones wouldn’t make it—he knew that for sure. How in Hades was he going to get them ready for an invasion?
What was that noise? Leo stood still. He raised his hand to his ear and then palm out to warn the others. His armpits itched fiercely from the jungle rot all soldiers dealt with, but he pushed the discomfort from his mind as he focused his senses, eyes first, watching for the slightest movement. He strained his ears to pick out any unusual sounds, wrinkled his nose in search of odd smells, acutely aware of signs of danger.
The air was still. No rustling betrayed an enemy.
They were long gone. But he reminded himself to stay vigilant.
He took a deep breath and released the tension in his shoulders. He gestured to Grayson then to Russo and Filipowski, palm in, and pulled toward himself: let’s go.
Then a fist: pay attention.
That one was more for his own benefit.
Lifting his rifle slightly to avoid more scratches, Leo took a step forward and found himself staring down the barrel of a Japanese Nambu pistol.
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