[SYNOPSIS] Takes place in 1970
In combat, there is a fine line between being overly cautious and cowardice. Josh Haman, a newly qualified co-pilot fresh out of the training command on his first tour in Vietnam, has to figure out on which side of the line the combat search and rescue detachment’s officer-in-charge stands. Untested in combat and unproven as a leader, Josh makes a career and life and death decision and has to live with the consequence as learns the trade of a combat search and rescue and special operations pilot. Fly with him as he leads a mission to steal a North Korean SA-2 system and on a covert, deep penetration mission into the Peoples Republic of China.
Sample passages from Cherubs 2
Taken from Chapter 3 – SINGAPORE
Same Day, 1531 Local Time, on the U.S.S. Sterett
There was none of the usual bantering that went along with the work of putting the helicopter to bed for the night. The grim faces of the detachment’s enlisted men matched Josh’s dark mood. After noting a minor discrepancy on the yellow sheets of the helicopter’s maintenance log, he hung up his helmet bag and survival vest on the rack in the little storage room next to the maintenance office. Josh left without saying a word to either Chief Slaughter or the two air crewman.
Although the ship’s captain preferred that officers not eat in the wardroom in their flight suits, they were allowed to get a cup of coffee or something else to drink from the mess. After downing a Coke, Josh grabbed a second one and headed down the passageway and banged on the stateroom door that was two down from his.
“Enter.” Higgins was already showered and changing into a set of khakis.
“What the fuck to do you want, Haman?”
“Sir, we left a man behind out there we could have rescued.”
“In my judgment, it was too dangerous.”
“In what way?” demanded Josh.
“We were taking heavy machine gun fire. And, besides we didn’t have enough fuel.”
“The enemy fire stopped when I hammered the tree line. The other A-7s could have made strafing passes. And we had enough fuel to stay in the area for the better part of an hour. So that excuse, sir, is…” Josh paused, then decided to use the word that was on the tip of his tongue. “…bullshit.”
“Watch your tongue, Haman! Your mouth may cross a line your brain knows it shouldn’t. You don’t know that your mini-gun or the A-7s could have suppressed the enemy fire. The gun could have jammed, which it has a habit of doing, then what would you have done?”
“Still tried to pick the guy up. I am confident we would have succeeded. We had plenty of time and gas. We could have saved a man from going to the Hanoi Hilton and we didn’t.”
“That’s his problem, not mine. He knew the risks when he climbed in that A-7. It comes with the job. I wasn’t going to hang around long enough for the gooks to figure out how to shoot us down.”
“We are here to pick pilots up who are shot down. That is our job and we didn’t do it when we could have. Aren’t you worried that this detachment will get a reputation as one that won’t rescue pilots?”
“No. I’m not worried at all as long as I don’t get shot up or go home in a body bag.” Higgins stood up and jabbed his finger into Josh’s chest. “I have grown weary of your desire to be a hero and in the process get me shot or killed. You’ve been out here a little over a month and don’t know shit from shinola about what we do or how we do it.” Higgins turned his back on Josh as he went to his bunk bed.
“Sir, on the contrary, I know what my job is and what our squadron’s mission is. I even have an idea of how to do it. And I will try to accomplish it to the best of my ability. Today we had a good plan and it would have worked. If it didn’t, then we would have tried something else. He bit back his next thought: From you, I’m learning how not to do this job. “If it requires getting shot at, so be it. If I get killed in the process, tough shit. At least people around me can say I tried.” Which is more than they can say about you.
Higgins turned and took two strides across his stateroom. His forefinger stabbed into Josh’s chest again, his face, less than a foot from Josh’s, was beet red.
“Let me make this clear. I don’t give a shit about making rescues, accomplishing the squadron’s mission, or this goddamn war. What I give a shit about is getting home in one piece. And if that means I don’t take risks and avoid being shot at, so be it. I didn’t ask to be assigned to this goddamn squadron, I don’t support this fucking war, and if some other poor bastard gets wounded, killed or captured, then it is too bad for him. I just want to survive.”
Josh reached up and gently removed the finger that had been tapping on his chest. I am not going to hit the son-of-a-bitch, no matter how much I want to, but I am not backing down!
“Sir, I suggest you have someone else come out here and relieve you as the officer-in-charge and that you request an immediate transfer out of HC-7. This will let the rest of us do the job we are trained and assigned to do. I’m not going to leave another man behind.”
“Get the fuck out of my stateroom before I put you on report for insubordination!” Higgins snarled.
“With all due respect, Lieutenant Higgins, sir, that would be an interesting discussion. What do you think Power House 310, his squadron mate, and the pilots in the A-7s who were overhead and saw what happened would say at my court martial?”
“What are you now, a fucking sea lawyer?”
“No, sir, but you and I both know I’m right.” Josh took a deep breath and twisted the door handle. “Sir, as the administrative officer of this detachment, I’ll have your letter requesting a transfer ready for you to sign after chow tonight.”
Higgins got squarely in front of him. “You will do NOTHING, repeat NOTHING of the sort. That is an order.”
Josh leaned back a bit so the spittle spraying from Higgins’ mouth didn’t land on him. “Sir, if you don’t sign it, I will get someone else to endorse it and send it up the chain of command.” Josh opened the door and left. When he closed it, he leaned his forehead on the cool metal bulkhead. This bastard is going to give me a reputation that will ruin my career just as it starts. What a fucking mess!
“That was interesting.”
Josh spun around and saw his roommate. Gainesville pointed towards the aft end of the ship and started walking. He waited until they reached the open main deck by the five-inch gun mount before he spoke.
“I heard most of what was said,” stated Gainesville. “Josh, the combat information center is full of enlisted guys who know what went on because they heard the transmissions. I am sure things are being said in the enlisted messes and berthing spaces that don’t make your guys happy. Anyway, the captain has the search and rescue frequency piped into the bridge, so he knows what is happening. Captain Danforth heard what went on today and Higgins is making him look bad too. To put it mildly, he doesn’t like it. I am sure that he’ll do more than endorse the transfer letter. If needed, I think he’ll have the ship’s admin officer write it. This way, you won’t need Higgins’s signature. Believe me, if Higgins or anyone from your detachment showed up on the Oriskany today or tomorrow, he might get beat up or killed.”
“Thanks for the help. I almost called Higgins a coward.”
“He is, and he’s a disgrace to the Academy and the Navy. There’s a fine line between cautious and cowardice and he’s on the wrong side. You don’t have to sugar-coat it.”
“Shit! This is not what I envisioned for my first tour. Nothing I learned in school or the training command prepared me for this.” Josh looked down at the can of Coke in his hand and took a sip.
“War is hell,” sighed Gainsville. “Sometimes the enemy is one of us. I’ve been in your shoes. When we get to Subic, let’s have a beer and I’ll tell you about the division officer on my first ship. He was another martinet like Higgins and the captain got him transferred to the Swift boats. On almost every mission, his boat had some kind of problem and he had to return to base. The commanding officer wrote him a bad fitness report and forced him out of the Navy, which I think is what he wanted. What he didn’t want was the general discharge with no GI Bill or VA benefits. But that’s what he finally got.”
Josh swallowed the rest of his Coke and crushed the can. “In the meantime, I have to live and work with the bastard.”
“Yes, you do.”
Taken from Chapter 8 – FREQUENCY PROBLEMS
Same Day, 1238 Local Time, Beijing
Raiskov had been waiting for quite a while when he finally saw General Chia enter the restaurant, one chosen by the General himself for their meeting. A sealed, four-centimeter-thick envelope was on the seat beside Raiskov. He’d already consumed the basket of crusty Italian-style peasant bread and was, when Chia showed up, impatiently waiting for a refill.
The restaurant’s location was in the small area where a few Western companies were allowed to conduct business with the People’s Republic of China, and where employees were free to walk about without either an official or unofficial escort. Nevertheless, Raiskov simply assumed he was followed by both Chinese military and civilian intelligence officers every time he left the embassy. Sometimes he spotted the tail, other times he didn’t. He was sure that by this time, the People’s Republic of China’s intelligence agency knew exactly where he was.
By the time the lunch was over, he figured most of the Western agencies would know as well. As long as they didn’t know about the contents of the conversation, they could speculate however they wanted.
“I am sorry I am late.” General Chia held out his hand as Raiskov stood up.
“Not a problem. I took the liberty of ordering us some sparkling water. Thank you for joining me.” Raiskov spoke in Mandarin; despite years of study, he knew his accent was horrible.
As a Moldavian he’d learned Romanian from his parents. Russian was mandatory in grade school. As soon as he’d known he was accepted into the GRU, he’d started mastering English, figuring that he ought to speak the language of his country’s main enemy. Mandarin had come later.
He’d spent six months at the Moscow Language Institute taking an immersion course in Chinese before leaving for his first of three four-year tours in Beijing. Unlike many of his counterparts, he enjoyed the challenge trying to use the language, even when he knew he was butchering the pronunciation of the words.
“Your Mandarin is getting better every day.” Brigadier General Dao Chia gave him high marks for persistence and trying.
Vassily waved his hand in a sweeping gesture. “This is an interesting choice of restaurants,” Raiskov commented, hoping to elicit an explanation. He’s noticed that the indirect approach tended to get better results than blunt questions.
“I thought we would try Beijing’s one and only Italian restaurant run by a good Italian communist. The man came here a few years after marrying a woman from Canton.”
Raiskov thought, this is not a country or place I would start a business. There has to be an intelligence-gathering reason he is allowed to run a restaurant. “I have not been here before. How is the food?”
“I am not an expert, but I am told it is very good and reasonably priced.”
Of course it is reasonably priced, the government probably tells him what to charge. “If it is good, I will have to tell my friends.” Which no doubt is exactly what General Dao Chia wants, so they can listen in on our conversations and record them.
Chia waited until they were almost done with their second course. The owner came out and, in fluent Chinese, told them the pasta was homemade and that he used local ingredients for his mother’s recipes.
“Did you know, Colonel Raiskov, that the explorer Marco Polo brought noodles back from China and introduced them into the Italian diet?” General Chia asked, after the owner had returned to the kitchen.
“I did not know that.”
“Yes, it is a true story. The Italians changed how it is made and added many more shapes, but think about it. Every day Italians eat pasta, they are actually eating Chinese food!”
Raiskov laughed. “I don’t think the Italians think of their food that way.”
“No, I am sure they don’t.” Chia put his fork and spoon in the middle of the plate, signaling that he was finished eating and it was time to talk business. “So, what do you have for me today?”
The name Chia loosely translated as ‘merchant’ in Mandarin. Raiskov wondered if the man’s ancestors had dealt with Marco Polo, or if their trade has always been information.
“More messages. The Americans are very interested in your trains, particularly those that enter the People’s Republic from the Soviet Union and exit into North Vietnam in the south. They are taking pictures of the Amur River region with their satellites as well. Our guess is that they want to see if we really fought or if it was just propaganda.”
Raiskov put the envelope on the table; Chia opened it and did a quick scan of their content before looking up. “The mothers of hundreds of dead People’s Liberation Army soldiers would tell them it was not propaganda. The missiles you send us come by ship. Why are the Americans so obsessed with this?”
“They are trying to figure out how the North Vietnamese get so many missiles to shoot at their fighter-bombers. They can’t believe that they are all coming into Haiphong by ship.” Raiskov paused before he asked the key question. “We understand you are trying to build a new nuclear attack submarine. How is that project going?”
“I wouldn’t know.”
Raiskov didn’t say anything in response. He had been told to ask the question and note the response.
“I have eaten too much. Why don’t we take a walk to get some exercise before we go back to our offices? They are in the same general direction and the weather is not too cold.”
“Excellent idea.” Raiskov laid enough money on the table to pay for the meal and to provide a generous tip. Chia just told me he has more to say but doesn’t want to risk being overheard. So either he knows this place is bugged or doesn’t want to take the chance.
Chia waited until they were a block from the restaurant before he turned to Raiskov.
“We have learned much from operating the well-used nuclear submarine you sold us, but we are going to build one that is better suited to our needs. I have heard that we are having problems with both the hull and the reactor. Also, our Soviet comrades promised us material and technical assistance that was not provided. It is my understanding that your country has not been very helpful, and the head of our navy is not pleased.” Chia stopped. “My good colonel, here is where we part company. Your office is a couple of blocks down that street and mine is this way. Let us have lunch again in a few weeks.”
Raiskov stood there for a few seconds watching the Chinese officer cross the street before he turned into the icy wind. My god, he used the familiar rather than the formal way to address. Was that a signal that he sees me as an ally, or contempt for a hireling? He was delivering a not so subtle second message that his government is not happy with my government because they are not delivering on their promises. But is that the truth? Was he briefed on the answer in case I asked, or did he really know?
Taken from Chapter 8 – FREQUENCY PROBLEMS
Saturday, December 5th, 1970, 1646 Local Time, Laos
The two meter wide porch that went around the entire house gave anyone sitting or standing on it a clear view of the rows of rubber trees that started fifty meters from the house. For the first two or three hundred meters, the bases of the trees were whitewashed.
Danielle could tell that not much rubber harvesting was going on. From the porch, there wasn’t a whiff of the pungent smell that she knew so well, a by-product of the coagulating sap known to the world as raw rubber.
Growing up, she had often watched the skilled workers make the cuts in the bark, tap a spout and attach a tin bowl that captured the dripping milky-white, sticky latex. After two or three hours, they would return and transfer the glob into a larger container for processing.
This time of night, it was peaceful in Champassak province in the southern tip of Laos. The nearest Laotian town of Prakse was only forty miles from the Thai city of Ubon on the west side of the Mekong. Vientiane was almost four hundred air miles to the north and west from the plantation.
The Vietnamese border was less than a hundred miles to the east, and it was common to hear American fighter jets screaming overhead as they pulled off their bombing runs or sped back at low altitude to their base at Ubon. On a quiet night, sometimes you could hear the distant crump of exploding bombs. If one didn’t know better, the explosions could be mistaken for thunder.
There wasn’t enough wind to cause the leaves on the thirty-meters-tall rubber trees to rustle. Chirping birds returning to their nests after a day of foraging broke the silence.
A series of half-meter diameter mahogany pilings sunk in the ground every three meters supported the house. Under the main floor, the neat rows were far enough apart to provide room for several cars to park. This allowed the driver and any passengers to park sheltered from the frequent rains and walk up the stairs directly into the house. Another stairway in the back led right to the covered veranda, which was five meters off the ground. The height allowed the breeze to flow under and around the house and keep it cool in the summer and dry during the monsoon. It also kept them above most of the flying insects that populated the jungle.
The frame of the house was made from sunda oak and was bolted to the pilings. The exterior walls were made from a local evergreen tree that often grew to over fifty meters in height, and from sunda oak, whose red veins provided natural decoration. Bamboo interspaced with sunda oak made up the internal walls, providing accents as well as practical structure. When it was first built, the house originally had a roof made from corrugated metal, but the noise from the monsoon rains proved unbearable, so it had been replaced with one made from plywood sheets nailed to the oak beams, over which asphalt shingles were laid.
The house had a large open area that served as a living and dining room. Three small bedrooms were off to one side and there were two bathrooms that drained into a septic tank, into which her father dumped lime and other chemicals. It was an unpleasant monthly chore that her brothers helped with, beginning at age ten. When the tank needed pumping, one of the fertilizer trucks was used to suck out the waste that was then used as fertilizer for the fields in which they, along with the families who worked on the plantation, grew much of their food.
Jacques Debenard had designed and built this house with the help of the plantation workers, rather than live in the official three story, thirty-room residence of the plantation owner. When he had taken over as the manager in 1954, shortly after Laos became independent in 1953, he’d turned the administration building into a series of apartments for the workers who had been displaced by the war. Then, as they built and moved into houses along the entrance road to the plantation, the administration building was returned to its original use, except for two rooms that shared a bathroom on the top floor which were kept for guests, and three rooms on the main floor that were used as a clinic and mini-hospital. The plantation now had a full time nurse who also taught in the local school that was about five kilometers away.
Between the houses, which looked much like smaller versions of the one Danielle grew up in, there were several sheds under which the tractors, trucks and other equipment that the plantation needed were parked to protect them from the rain and the sun. A smaller building was a combination machine shop and repair facility.
Danielle remembered moving into the house from Vientiane, which was where her mother and brothers had lived while Jacques was off with the Foreign Legion, fighting in Vietnam and Laos. After living in an apartment since they were married right after the end of World War II, her Laotian mother Dara (which translated loosely as ‘evening star’) wanted a more traditional Laotian house. What resulted was a compromise that they all loved.
To Danielle, living in the country’s capital of Vientiane was a distant, foggy memory. She knew it now as an adult who worked there more than from her early childhood.
The plantation, with its neat rows of trees and the tins strapped to the trunks to catch the sap that would ultimately become rubber, was her home. It had been, until the war became a reality, a peaceful place and the source of many joyful memories.
So far, the plantation and its workers had not been directly affected by the war. A couple of times, her father saw Pathet Lao patrols moving through the rubber trees and the surrounding jungle.
When the patrols spotted her father, they quickly disappeared to the east toward the Laotian-Cambodian border where the North Vietnamese had their bases inside Laos. Jacques was sure they were just monitoring production. The Frenchman believed the Pathet Lao were not going to do anything to affect rubber production, since it was one of the country’s most lucrative exports. Michelin paid a healthy tax on each pound of raw rubber that it exported. And, the plantation kept almost two hundred men fully employed.
From the time they were planted, rubber trees took seven years before they were capable of producing economically viable amounts of rubber. They would produce for between twenty-five and thirty-five years, at which time the trees would be cut down and replaced with younger plants. The wood was used to build things on the plantation, or sold. Jacques Debenard always gave local farmers a chance to take what logs they needed before they were trucked off to market.
Danielle liked to walk or drive around the grounds, looking at the younger trees. She loved to monitor them through growth from young saplings to mature, productive trees.
She was sitting on the one of the wicker chairs on the west side, looking at the orange ball sitting above the horizon, sipping a glass of burgundy, when she turned to her father. “Papa, when are you and mother going to leave the plantation? You and I both know that it is only a matter of time before the Pathet Lao overrun this place. They will not like the fact that it is run by a Frenchman.”
“Both your brothers and are forbidden to come back until this war is over. You are out and safe in Singapore as well, so there is only your sister Gabrielle, your mother and me here. Your mother does not want to leave, and I will not leave my workers.”
“You can’t protect them, nor can the government. The Communists when they take over will want to run everything. They will leave you alone for a while, and then—poof! They’ll take Gabrielle, mama and you away and we’ll never see you again!”
“Michelin has agreed to pay a special tax to the Pathet Lao. In return, they promised not destroy the plantations or take the foreign workers like me prisoners. We will see if they are true to their word.” Her father gave a Gaelic shrug. “And if the Communists lose, then we continue on as if nothing happened.”
“Papa, you know that the Pathet Lao will not stop until they take control of the country. Do you trust them?”
He shrugged his shoulders again as only a Frenchman can. “Officially, I must. Michelin made a deal, and I am here to make sure the company honors it by keeping the plantations running. The people who signed the papers are safe back in Michelin’s headquarters in Cleremont-Ferrand.” Jacques waved his hand. “What do they know? To them, it was just another contract. A couple of percentage points here and there won’t affect their costs so to them, it is a minor matter.”
Another shrug that Danielle knew he made when he was being philosophical. Her father nodded slightly and held up his glass of red Bordeaux and waved it horizontally. “My countrymen back in Cleremont-Ferrand are not living here. We are. And I do see the danger, Danielle. So, I have already officially requested that we, along with the families who work here, be evacuated. Their response was to instruct the office in Vientiane to provide Gabrielle, your mother and me, and any other of my immediate family members, with transportation. We can go back to France or choose another destination. I will have a job no matter where. When I asked about the rest of the workers, they said they would do the same for five families. I told them I was not Solomon. They told me to pick five, no more.”
“So what did you tell Michelin in Clermont-Ferrand?”
“I have not responded. My silence is speaking for me and telling them what I think of their answer.”
“Papa, I still I think you should leave. The Pathet Lao will not leave a retired French Legionnaire alone, particularly one who is a highly decorated colonel. They will kill you. Some people will wring their hands, and your family will mourn you, but nothing will be done and you will have thrown away your life. And what of mother and Gabrielle?”
“You have been reading too many newspapers and watching too much TV in Singapore.”
“No, father, I have been reading intelligence reports that come into our embassy. They are very pessimistic. T he Americans are doing better than France did in the early fifties, but they are losing public support for the war. President Nixon even made a campaign promise to pull the United States out of the war. And then, if they haven’t already, the Pathet Lao will take over all of Laos. If you wait until that happens, it may be too late. You must leave in the next few months.”
Danielle heard a soft but very firm female voice. “I am not leaving Laos. It is my home. If I am going to die here, then that is my karma.” Her mother came around and held Danielle’s hand before she pulled a chair close to the two of them, reach out with her other hand to hold her husband’s. “I am a Laotian. I grew up in this country and I will die here. I have no desire to live anywhere else.”
“But mama, what about Gabrielle? Staying here may be a death sentence for her as well as papa.”
“It is not. Papa knows he is free to go at any time, and if he does I will insist he take Gabrielle. I will stay, alone if I must, and face my fate.”
Danielle took a deep breath. East was now meeting west and she was caught in between. As a westerner, survival and a chance to live someplace else was the logical option. As an easterner, she understood her mother’s feelings about fate and karma. Her mother had already accepted it and nothing would change her mind. She looked at her father; in the dying sunlight his look said, “I told you that would be the answer.”
MARC LIEBMAN, AUTHOR & SPEAKER
Marc is an experienced pilot and writer whose career as a Naval Officer and Naval Aviator, business executive, consultant and entrepreneur helped him fulfill his dream of becoming a novelist. In the novels, Marc creates stories with rich, interesting characters and puts them the proper historical and operational context. His books are memorable, exciting and fun to read.
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