So we’ve been waiting, me and the boys, standing still in this hellhole conflict for far too long. Five minutes in, and wouldn’t you know it? We’re right where we started: holding at the ready beside our barracks, decked out in full infantry gear and beautifully prepared to start taking some ground and blasting some filthy f*cking Nazis. Problem is, we ain’t got no orders.
No directions. No command from up above. Nobody authorizin’ us to go and secure that nice little hilltop, which is where we need to be to win this thing. That there hill’s a superior vantage over the enemy, plain to see. We could flush ‘em out and shoot ‘em down, those Jerry-wagglers! And up on that hill, there’s a flagpole to boot. We put up them flags, we win. I seen it all, and it’s simple as that.
Our Flagpole Jimmy, he loves raising him some flags. I don’t know, but that sumbitch will raise an American flag on every flagpole he finds, guaranteed. He got a billion flags stashed in that old satchel of his.
But Flagpole Jimmy ain’t put no flags up yet, because we got no orders.
Five minutes. No orders.
Off in the distance, tanks rumble through the streets. Explosions. We can hear the screams of our mortarmen. They’re running directly at the German machine guns. Been running at ‘em all day; getting cut down, dying, just like the mortarmen before them and the ones before them—disappearing when they leave too many bodies behind, of course. A line of kamikaze mortarmen, whole squads vanished into nothing. This ain’t the way wars are supposed to be.
“D’you think there’s some kind of plan up there?” says Expendable Rob. “Any strategy? How could they want this?” The mortarman massacre is getting to him, plain as gray day. He’s all nervous and twitchy, looking up at the sky, looking at nothin’.
“Shut your mouth,” I say, and I slap him fiercely. Expendable Rob sometimes tries a little too hard to be expendable. “You want to call attention to us? Want that? You wanna be the ones running at them guns, all suicide and no strategy?”
“Those ain’t the orders,” says ‘Ol Sarge. I don’t even think he’s a sergeant, but we call him ‘Ol Sarge, ‘cause he looks like one of them dogs, and ‘cause he’s the one what gets the orders. “Orders is to stay here and do nothing, unless some dirty bastards get the drop on us.” He glares at Expendable Rob. “Then we stand right here and shoot back, to the very last man.”
“Sir,” says Expendable Rob, and “Sir,” says Flagpole Jimmy.
Just then a new mortar squad comes out of the barracks, fresh as a newly-spawned daisy, all looking around and blinkin’ in the sunlight. Suddenly they stiffen and then off they run towards the town, probably to die.
“What’s your orders?” Expendable Rob yells after them, and one of the mortarmen, sprinting effortlessly with his mortar over his shoulder, yells back, “We runnin’ straight down to that city, right through the middle, and we stoppin’ to attack any Nazi that happens to step our way.”
And off he runs.
“Yep,” says Expandable Rob glumly. “Just like the last. Why don’t they set up a ways back so they can actually use the mortar?”
“Orders,” says Sarge.
“Orders doesn’t make sense,” I say. “Orders coming from somebody supposed to be a tank commander—look at them skills! All tank-related sh*t! And yet I haven’t seen one single tank. No tank factory, not even the teeny tiniest baby tank rolling out to the field.”
“Shut your mouth,” says ‘Ol Sarge, and he slaps me in the face. This is how we bond.
“Ow,” I say, rubbing my mouth. Like clockwork, we hear—once again—the mortar squad’s fearless rush cut short. Then a new sound: the ominous drone of approaching Nazi planes. Bombers, probably.
“I have it on good authority that I’ll be promoted to fighter pilot after this fight,” says ‘Ol Sarge, grinning congenially.
“That promotion don't make sense either,” I say.
“I’d like to be a sniper,” says Expendable Rob. “Pretty sure there’s a Nazi sniper out in one of them buildings, and he’s been poppin’ off heads all day. Seems like a sweet gig.”
“I ain’t never gonna be no Nazi sniper,” says Flagpole Jimmy, slapping Rob hard in the ear. “I’m gonna raise the American flag like I was meant to.”
I slap Flagpole Jimmy just ‘cause I ain’t slapped him yet today. It’s looking real likely that we’re gonna have a full-on slapping brouhaha, when a new rocket squad comes out of the barracks.
“Nice!” says Expendable Rob. “You all going after them flyers?”
“Naw,” says one of the rocketmen. “Orders are to head straight down into that town. And get this: Along the way we’re attacking any and all Nazis we see, regardless of how inappropriate they are as rocket targets!”
And away races that doomed squad.
“Jerry sniper,” Rob calls after, and I yell, “Have fun!”
But they aren’t going to have any fun, because that sniper is going to blow off their faces before they can blow up his building. Plus, you know, the ravenous machine guns. It's simple combat logistics.
Just then, “Orders!” roars ‘Ol Sarge, and he’s off and running after the rocketmen. We chase after: finally useful, newly terrified.
“What orders?” says Flagpole Jimmy. “We gonna take that hill? Put up some flags, maybe?”
“Can we flank those f*cking guns?” says Expendable Rob. “I’ll go first.”
“Nope,” says Sarge, stomping hard. “Our mission is an all-out assault. We run straight through that town, engaging any and all German opposition along the way.”
“Great,” I say, but this is surly sarcasm—our suicide orders are not great. This is a loser war, fought by some great imbecile handing out a never-ending stream of orders to feed the meat grinder, with no indication that success is viable or even a concern whatsoever. And we, the victims of attrition, jogging to our deaths.
The town’s gettin' closer.
The rocket squad goes down up ahead.
Unless this has all been some crazy plan to expend Nazi ammunition, to waste away their bullets on do-nothings so the real soldiers—me and the infantry boys—can come in and mop up.
Yes! It all makes sense now! Them other fools were just the opening act!
And I run straight into the pop-pop of sniper fire and the clatter of machine guns, just like orders says.