One Cold Night
The world shook violently around me, jolting me awake. My eyes flew open and it took me a moment to remember where I was. With each ear-piercing boom that landed all around me, my heart felt like it was going to explode within my chest. Shouts for medics echoed around me. I didn’t move.
I didn’t hear the footsteps running towards my foxhole until the man stopped above me. He glared down and shouted at me, “What are you still doing in there? We’ve got men getting killed out there! Come on! We need you!”
I stared up at him, blinking at his words. I was trying to remember who he was. I felt like I knew who he was, but for the life of me, I couldn’t place my finger on his name.
He jumped into my foxhole and grabbed me by the collar, pulling me to my feet. He began pushing me out of my cover. “Come on, Jane! Let’s move!”
I scrambled out of my foxhole on my hands and knees. Firm hands grabbed my arms and pulled me to my feet. The soldier glared at me again. “What’s your problem? Come on! Follow me!”
I watched as he ran away from me, leading me into the thick of it. I took a shaky breath as I began to run behind him. With each blast that landed around us, I slowly started to remember what was going on, what I was doing in this frozen forest, and what was expected of me.
When we arrived at our destination, I saw a young man clutching his stomach. Bright red blood had begun to seep out onto the white snow. I stood there and stared at the scene before me. My mouth had gone dry and I was shaking.
The men who were surrounding the wounded man were looking at me. I could see the confusion in their faces as I stood there, staring back.
“Jane! We need you!” one of them shouted at me.
I released a heavy sigh and jumped into the fray. I began to do what I thought I needed to do. When I found the wound, I started to work on fixing the man the best that I could. The wound looked worse than it truly was and I managed to get him patched up long enough for the Jeeps to arrive. When the drivers arrived, we got the bleeding man onto the back of the Jeep, ready to head out for the aid station.
I stood there, watching as they drove him away. The men who were there with him had turned to look at me. I felt uncomfortable as they glared at me. Some were looks of sympathy, but there were quite a few angry glances. None of them said a word to me.
I walked back to my cover and hopped in. Slumping against the back of the foxhole, I looked at my hands. They were caked with blood, some fresh, but mostly old. I began to wonder just how long I had been here in this crazy cold world. Grabbing some fresh snow from the ground, I started to clean my hands off. Once I was done cleaning them as best as I could, I closed my eyes, willing myself to remember what I couldn’t. I sighed as I grew frustrated with myself.
Footsteps approached my foxhole but stopped at the edge. “Jane?”
I opened my eyes, glancing up at my visitor. The man who stood above me wore a medic patch on his jacket sleeve and had a pack slung across his shoulder. I blinked at his presence. I couldn’t remember his name either.
He knelt down beside my cover. “Mind if I join you?”
“Sure,” I replied quietly.
He slid in next to me and began rubbing his hands together for warmth. He looked over at me with his dark eyes and asked, “How are you holding up?”
I shrugged. “I don’t know.”
He blew into his hands and stated, “I just came from Captain Winters. I guess there have been a few complaints.”
“Complaints? About what?” I asked. I didn’t want to ask who Captain Winters was, but it must have shown on my face as the man next to me gave me a concerned glance.
The man replied, “The men are worried that you’re too far gone and we need to get rid of you.”
“Get rid of me?” I asked. I realized how serious this conversation was becoming but I was at a loss. I couldn’t remember and I wanted to cry.
“We’re surrounded, so we’re unable to replace you, but Lieutenant Dike has been demanding a replacement for you. He thinks you’re going to get someone killed because of what happened,” he stated.
I didn’t say anything. I had nothing to say as nothing was making sense.
“Jane, I have to ask. Do you remember anything? Or anyone?” the man asked me.
I shook my head. “I barely know who I am.”
The man studied my face before saying, “You’re Jane Finley. You started out as a field photographer for the New York Times, but now you’re a field nurse for Easy Company. You’ve been with Easy Company from the start.”
I was trying to take in what he was saying, trying to remember what he was saying and hoping that I would believe those words. My head was beginning to hurt with my intense concentration.
“My name is Eugene. Doc Roe...remember?” he asked, studying me with his brown eyes.
I met his gaze. “Eugene...Roe...What happened to me?”
He sighed. “You had an accident.” After a moment of silence, he asked, “You really don’t remember, do you?”
I shook my head again. “What accident?”
Roe replied, “During one of the shellings, you were knocked back - hit your head pretty hard. Everyone was worried for you, but you seemed to have made a recovery.”
“Now everyone wants to get rid of me,” I recalled.
He looked ashamed. “It’s nothing personal. I think they worry about your safety, especially if you don’t remember where you are...or who you are.”
“So, what do I do?” I questioned.
Roe stated, “I’m going to help you remember. I’ll do whatever I can to help you remember.”
I glanced up at him. He was sincere in his statement, almost like he had to for himself too. I offered him a half smile. “Thanks, Eugene.”
After a moment of silence, he asked, “Do you still have your journal?”
“Journal?” I repeated.
He looked as though he just remembered that I had no memory of anything and looked ashamed. He nodded. “You used to write in your journal every day. Maybe if you looked through the journal and started to write what you’re going through now, maybe it will help.”
I grabbed my bag, which had a medic symbol, much like the one Roe had on his sleeve, sloppily sewn on. I opened it to find a thick leather bound book amongst gauze, film canisters, and a broken camera. I withdrew the book and glanced over the brown leather cover before looking at Roe. “Do you really think this will help?”
“It couldn’t hurt,” he replied.
I broke our eye contact to look back at the book. I hoped that whatever was inside the confines of the book would provide me answers and a detailed description of my life to help me remember.
I sighed as I opened the book and looked at the first page of words. Roe had given my shoulder a gentle squeeze before he climbed out to leave me alone with my former self’s writings.
I walked into the editor’s office at the New York Times newspaper. He looked up from his desk while talking on the phone. He motioned for me to sit as he continued his conversation.
I glanced about the office, taking in the many photos that hung on the walls. It was filled with photos from sports to events in the city.
When the editor hung up the phone, he cleared his throat. “Ah, Miss Finley, I presume?”
I shook his hand and nodded. “Yes, sir.”
“I am told that you are interested in becoming a field photographer?” he asked, looking me over.
I shifted in my chair. “Yes, sir.”
“I don’t normally give people of your...stature, a job such as this. Why are you interested in doing such a task?” he asked.
I wasn’t sure what his first sentence meant, but I explained, “I want to help in any way that I can. I want to get those real moments behind the lines of our men as they fight for our country.”
The editor seemed pleased with my answer. He smiled wide, showing his dirty and crooked teeth. “Have you ever used a camera like this?”
He pulled out a green camera and placed it on his desk. I picked it up and looked through the viewfinder. Lowering it from my face, I explained, “Seems easy enough.”
“That there is a Kodak 35, military style. You seem pretty familiar with cameras,” the man pointed out.
I nodded. “I’ve worked with them before. My father was an avid photographer back in his day.”
“Well, Miss Finley, I think you’ll do just fine. What would you say to working for us at the rate of $5 a photo?” he asked.
“I guess that depends on how many of the photos you’ll use?” I asked.
He chuckled. “If you have a keen eye, and if you provide the photos you’re promising to take, I’ll use as many as you can take. Many of the newspapers in the country are not even sending any photographers to the lines. So, I assure you that I’ll use as many as you can give me.”
I thought about it for a moment before nodding. “How many film canisters will you be providing me?”
“I’ll be sending you replacements as often as I can get them to you,” he replied.
I stood up and stated, “Then I better get packing.”
He stood up and shook my hand. “Very good. I’ll get your film canisters together. Come back tomorrow to pick them up.”
I took my leave from his office and as I started to leave the building, I overheard a few men smoking in the hallway talking.
“Did you hear that Mr. Bradley hired some woman for the photographer gig?”
“The job for the war effort?”
“A woman? Why would he hire a woman?”
“Because he doesn’t want to lose any of his men to such a dangerous job. I guess he thinks that if a woman dies, no one will notice,” the first man explained.
I scoffed at the conversation as I was filled with anger at such a remark. Turning on my heels, I stormed back into the office of Bradley. When I threw the door open, it slammed against the wall. Bradley looked stunned.
“Is it true? Did you only hire me because you think no one will care about me if I die behind enemy lines?” I spat.
Mr. Bradley looked like a cornered rat. “What? Why would I do such a thing?”
“That’s what I want to know,” I shouted at him, crossing my arms over my chest. “If it is true, then I want no part in this. Find someone else.”
“Wait! Wait! Okay, that may have been a contributing factor, but how about I make the offer better?” he asked.
“You’re seriously going to try and make the offer better in hopes that I won’t walk out of here?” I glared at him.
“You can keep the camera! I’ll give you $10 per photo and I’ll make sure to keep full tabs on you while you’re out there. I’ll personally call my friends who work at Battalion Headquarters to get you into the best Company to ensure your survival!” he stated. He sounded desperate.
I thought about the new offer. The money would ensure that my family would survive while I was gone and it was more than I would make in a month. I felt like I was selling my soul, but I looked at him and said, “Make sure that the money goes to my family. And I want a sign-on bonus.”
“$50 bonus for signing on. Is that good enough?” he asked.
I nodded. “I’ll take that now if you don’t mind.”
He sighed as he pulled out his wallet and dug out the bill. He held it out for me to take. Once I took it from his hand, I said, “Thank you.”
“How’d you find out?” he asked.
“Small office,” I replied as I headed out the door.
I walked into my family home and could smell the amazing aroma of my mother’s baking. It instantly made me happier the moment the smell of apple pie filled my nostrils.
Walking into the kitchen, I placed the money on the counter before her.
She stared at the bill before slowly raising her brown eyes to meet mine. “Jane? What did you do?”
“I got a job. Now you and dad don’t have to worry about where the money will come from,” I stated.
She picked the bill up and placed it back into my hand. “I don’t want your money.”
“I know, but I have to do something to help out around here. This is more than I’d ever make in months. This will keep you both safe and warm for a long while, and you’ll have a steady amount coming in-” I was cut off.
“I don’t want you out there!” she shouted at me.
My father entered the room, removing his reading glasses. “What is going on in here?”
My mother left the room crying. I felt guilty for trying to help. I sighed as I glanced up at my father. I explained, “I got a job and she’s not happy with me.”
“What kind of job?” he asked, placing his newspaper and glasses onto the counter.
“It’s a photographer job with the New York Times,” I stated, putting the money back onto the counter. “That’s my sign-on bonus.”
My father looked at the bill on his newspaper. “When do you leave?”
“I have to pick up my camera and film tomorrow. I’ll probably find out where I’ll be going then,” I said. I didn’t know what he was thinking. He was hiding all of his emotions, which was something he was famous for.
Nodding, he said, “I’ll take you tomorrow.”
I studied his face for a moment. He wasn’t looking at me, nor showing that he was approving this decision.
I asked, “Are you mad at me? For taking this job?”
“No, I’m not mad, but I’m not going to tell you what to do. You want to take this job, and there would be nothing to come from an argument about why you shouldn’t go. You’ll do what you think is best, and all I can do is support you as you’ve chosen to do for us,” he stated sadly. “Now, I’ve got to calm your mother down.”
The moment he left the room, I started to wonder if I had made a huge mistake.
The next morning, my father drove me to the front of the New York Times newspaper office. We sat awkwardly in front of the building for a moment before I asked, “Are you going to wait or should I get a cab home?”
“I’ll wait for you right here,” he replied. Still not showing any signs of approval.
I sighed as I exited the car. Entering the building, I passed the same two who were smoking in the hallway before. They stared at me but said nothing.
When I entered Bradley’s office, he was already expecting me. “Ah, Miss Finley. Right on time.”
I nodded and asked, “So, do I have my assignment?”
He chuckled. “Straight to business. I like that.” Clearing his throat, he motioned to the messenger bag on his desk. “Your camera and several canisters of film. Also inside the bag is your instructions on where to go.”
I picked up the bag and started looking through it. He was right, there was a camera and some film canisters inside with a folder.
He added, “I spoke to my friends in Battalion Headquarters. They’ve selected their best outfit to place you in. Are you afraid of heights?”
I glanced up at him. “No...?”
“Good. You’re going to the Airborne training field,” he stated.
“Airborne? As in, jumping from airplanes?” I asked. I had read about this new branch in our military. I wasn’t convinced that this was the best place for me to be in.
He nodded, inhaling from his cigarette. “The same. I’ve been reassured that Easy Company is the best in the outfit. You’ll be in good hands. You’ll report to Colonel Sink and Lieutenant Sobel. Your plane leaves this afternoon. Good luck, Finley.”
I slung the bag over my shoulder and shook Bradley’s hand. “Thank you.”
I turned on my heel and walked out of the office. I was confused as to how the Airborne was the best. It was still a new concept for us, yet Bradley was convinced it was the place for me to be. I had already argued with him over my position and I knew if I were to argue with him over this, I’d lose this opportunity. I couldn’t risk that, not while my family’s well being was at stake.
As I started to head out of the building, the two men in the hallway smirked as I walked by them. I stopped and turned to face them. “Something on your minds?”
The smiles on their faces widened. “No. Not a thing. Good luck jumping from airplanes!”
I smiled back at them. “Yeah, thanks. Good luck searching for a new job.”
They looked at each other, then back to me. I turned away from them, exiting the building.
I climbed into the passenger seat of my father’s car. He asked, “How’d it go?”
“My plane leaves this afternoon,” I stated.
He started to pull away from the building, taking me home so that I could pack.
I packed my things into my father’s old duffel bag. I wasn’t sure what I was going to be allowed to take with me, but I wanted to be prepared. A gentle knock landed on my door. “Come in.”
The door opened behind me. I turned around to see my father standing in the doorway. “Got a minute?”
I stopped what I was doing to give him my undivided attention.. “Sure.”
He took a cautious step into my room and held out a package. “I want you to have this.”
“What is it?” I asked as I pulled the parchment paper away to reveal a leather bound book.
“When I served in the military, it helped me to write about my experiences. I think you should do the same,” he replied. He rarely spoke of his days in the service, so this was monumental.
I looked down at the book. “Thanks.”
He whispered, “I’m sorry that I couldn’t provide better for you and your mother.” I knew where this was going to go. He felt guilty that he had gotten severely injured at his job at the local factory when he returned from his military service and because he didn’t have a union to protect him, he was fired on the spot. He tried hard to find work elsewhere, but there were not many places who were willing to hire a man who was considered a liability.
“I’m not. You did so much for us. It’s my turn now,” I replied honestly.
He admitted, “Your mother blames me for your leaving. I blame myself as well.”
“Well don’t. This was my choice. It had nothing to do with you or mother. This is all me,” I said with confidence. He didn’t need to take blame for my actions. It was going to be hard enough on him having to feel the guilt my mother would give him every day I was gone; he didn’t need to feel it with me.
“Are you about ready? I’ve got to take you to the airstrip.” He started his exit from my room.
“I’ll be there in a moment,” I called after him. I placed the book into my camera bag and took in my room one last time. It was filled with many happy memories, but now it felt as though it would become the saddest room in the house, especially for my parents. I just prayed they would understand what I was doing.
I slung the camera bag over my shoulder and picked up my duffel. I glanced at my reflection in the mirror on my vanity. My auburn hair was slightly disheveled and worry had struck my mismatched eyes. I blew out a heavy sigh and took my leave from my room.
The moment that I stepped foot off the plane at the base in Georgia that I would be training at, I felt this wave of anxiety. I was beginning to wonder what I had gotten myself into.
An older looking gentleman in full uniform approached me. “Miss Finley?”
“Yes sir,” I replied, stepping forward, dropping my duffel to the ground in order to shake his extended hand.
“I’m Colonel Sink. I was told you’d be arriving today,” he said, releasing my hand.
Before I could say another word, Sink had looked over his shoulder. “This here is Lieutenant Sobel. He is the commanding officer of Easy Company and you will report to him while you’re here.”
“Yes sir,” I said as I reached out towards Sobel who glared at the gesture.
Sobel narrowed his beady eyes at me. “What’s wrong with your eyes?”
I knew how this would go. It never failed in the past. My left eye was brown, while the other was half blue and hazel, almost a perfect blend of my parents’ eyes. I knew that people who were not accustomed to seeing eyes like mine would ask questions or think that there was something wrong with me.. I looked between Sink and Sobel, both of whom were staring at my eyes. “My eyes are perfectly fine, sir.”
“If they were perfectly fine, then why are they different colors?” Sobel spat at me.
Sink cleared his throat, almost warning Sobel to ease up, but Sobel waited for my answer. I replied, “My vision is perfect, but the coloring is not.”
Sobel continued staring at me, making me shift in my place uncomfortably. “I want your eyes tested.”
“You sound like you don’t believe me,” I pointed out.
Sobel took a step forward and replied, “I don’t. And if you’re going to be a part of this Company, then you need to follow basic protocol. You address officers with the proper ‘sir’. Do you understand?”
“Yes, I do. However, I’m not military. I’m a photographer. Sir,” I replied with just a hint of sarcasm on the ‘sir’.
Sink chuckled. “All right, let’s get going. You’ve had a long trip. Let’s get you settled into your barracks.”
I picked up my duffel and brushed passed Sobel. I could tell already that he was going to be a problem.
After I got my things into the barracks, Sobel had immediately ordered me to follow him to the med station for examination. Along the way, he informed me that I would be expected to stay out of the men’s way while I was there. ‘Seen and not heard’, he said.
Upon entering the med station, Sobel shouted at the lone soldier inside, “Doc Roe!”
The black haired man turned around, eyes bouncing between me and Sobel as he made his approach. “Sir?”
“I want her vision checked. If you determine that they are not up to the standards of this Company, I want you to inform me immediately,” Sobel stated.
Roe nodded. “I’ll let you know as soon as I’m finished.”
Sobel looked at me one last time before taking his leave.
Roe blinked at me for a moment. “Have a seat, Miss...?”
“Finley. Jane is just fine though,” I replied.
“Jane. I’m Eugene. What brings you here?” he asked, clearly confused to see a woman on base..
“I’m a field photographer. Of course, if you ask Sobel, he wants me to be a ghost,” I stated.
Roe motioned for me to sit down. Once seated, I asked, “What does this entail?”
“What? The exam?” he asked.
“Yeah, the exam. My vision is fine,” I explained.
Roe took out his instruments and set them out on the table. “I’m sure that it is, but he’s ordered me to give you the exam. I have no choice.”
I sighed. “He seems like a piece of work.”
I could see that Roe was holding back some laughter. He nodded and started his examination. He said, “You’ve got lovely eyes.”
“Thanks,” I muttered, unsure if I believed his words. No one had ever said that to me before which made believing him that much more difficult.
Roe shined his light into my eyes, blinding me for a moment.
Bright white light filled the night sky. I blinked at the light, glancing up to see a flare falling back down to the earth. I slumped further into my foxhole.
I tossed my journal back into my bag. It was too dark to try and make out what was written within the leather covers and my head was beginning to hurt as I continued to read through what still felt like someone else’s thoughts.
I closed my eyes and released a heavy sigh. The world around me was deathly quiet. I loved and hated the quiet. It was nice to have a break from war, but on the flip side, it was when it got quiet that the enemy would attack and kill several of our men.
It wasn’t long before I felt myself drift off to sleep.