The sky was clear and deep blue as I cruised across the checkerboard fields far below. Ahead of me I spotted the winding course of a large river, the Missouri, and beyond it a small city. I keyed my mike, “November Alpha Two Six, Sherman Tower, requesting approach and landing instructions.”
“Sherman Tower, November Alpha Two Six, state nature of visit.”
“Sherman Tower, I’m on a cross country test flight and have decided to RON at your field, O-5 on board.”
“November Alpha, will you be requiring services?”
“Fuel and minimal checks which I will supervise; I will need a duty officer and a security officer after I land.”
“Roger November Alpha, you are cleared for approach and landing, runway 33, winds are from the north at 10 to 15 mph, barometer is 28.8”
“Copy, runway 33, winds 10 to 15, barometer 28.8.”
“Notify when on final.”
I flew north of the small city and turned to the south east and dropped the flaps 10 degrees, getting her to slow down was still a problem and we had found flying on flaps the most effective way to dirty her up. I was down to a thousand feet and starting to turn onto the final when the tower called, “Sherman Tower, November Alpha, what the hell are you flying?”
“Sherman Tower, she’s a Pinto, I’m on final now.”
“Roger November Alpha,” I could hear the question in his voice but he didn’t ask any more questions, he did forget to let up on the transmit key, I could hear voices in the background.
“Look at that thing!”
“What the hell is it?”
“It’s got to be one of those new ‘jets’, but when did we get any?”
He finally remembered to release the key and my earphones went quiet just as her wheels chirped on the runway. The Pinto I was flying was the second aircraft off the production line; the first was parked in the lobby at the North American plant in Columbus where they were being built.
I slowed her down and turned onto the taxiway, a jeep with a checkered ‘Follow me’ sign pulled in front of me. I followed him to the front of a hanger just past the terminal building with the control tower rising above it.
I shut down the turbines and slid the canopy open; a couple ground crewmen were standing about twenty feet away, clearly unsure of what to do. I yelled over to them, “Chock the main wheels and somebody haul that maintenance platform over here!” I pointed to the aluminum stand on wheels normally used to gain access to engines for checks or maintenance.
A couple of minutes later I’d finished disconnecting myself from the Pinto and had directed the platform into position beside the cockpit. I climbed down from the plane and as I got off the platform I saw another jeep approaching, this one with a couple of officers in it. I waited until it came to a stop about twenty feet away, after a moment the two officers got out, one was a Captain with a brassard around his arm with ‘AOOD’ on it, the Assistant Officer Of the Day, the other officer was a Lieutenant with an MP brassard around his arm. They walked over to where I was standing and came to attention and saluted me, “Captain Westcott and Lieutenant Denham reporting as requested.”
I returned their salute, “Captain, Lieutenant, I’m Barbara Thompson. I’m going to be staying here over night and I’ll require a little support from you.” I got out the orders I carried to insure no one questioned my having the Pinto or the orders I gave concerning her and handed them to Westcott. “If you’ll take a look at those you’ll see I’m authorized to draw on some of your resources.”
I gave him a minute to look over the orders, when he finished he looked up at me, “Yes ma’am, what can we do?”
“If you’ve got room in a hanger, or can make room, it would be easier. If she has to sit out here in the open then she’ll have to have two guards stationed on her at all times and an officer or senior NCO will have to check her and them every hour. If she’s in a hanger then a single guard is sufficient and he can be checked by the duty NCO.”
Westcott turned to one of the enlisted men, a buck sergeant, “Sergeant Fowler, have you got space or can you make space?”
“Yes sir,” he looked at the Pinto for a moment, “we’ve got space, we’ll have to move a couple planes a little to clear an area for her but she’s not that big.”
“Okay, Sergeant, get to it.”
“Sir,” Lieutenant Denham spoke up, “If I can have the jeep I’ll go get the duty MP Sergeant and one of the men to take the first watch, it shouldn’t take but a couple of minutes.”
He nodded and handed the keys to the Lieutenant, “Make it quick, Lieutenant.”
“By your leave, ma’am,” he saluted and I returned it and he turned on his heel and headed for the jeep.
“Captain, once we get settled I need to get over to the BOQ at CGSC.”
“I’ll have a driver take you; it’s only a couple of miles, I’d take you ma’am but I’m not supposed to leave the airfield.”
“A driver will be just fine.” I glanced at my watch, it was just after noon, “How far is it from the BOQ to wherever it is they’ll be holding the CGSC long course graduation ceremonies?”
“With this weather they’ll be held on the parade ground behind the school, just across from the BOQ. I believe the ceremonies are supposed to start at 1400.”
I nodded, “That’s my understanding.”
We chatted while we waited for the hanger to be rearranged so the Pinto could be moved inside. I’d flown to Leavenworth to see Buffy graduate, she’d sent me an invitation but I hadn’t been sure I could make it, then the production aircraft started arriving and General Howard had told me to take one and get my ass to Kansas.
The Pinto was being built at NAA’s Columbus, Ohio plant and would have to be ferried from there around the country. When the production contracts had been awarded the previous month orders were sent to various airfields around the country to set up and start stockpiling jet fuel, fortunately for me Sherman Army Airfield was one of those airfields designated to become jet ready. They didn’t have any maintenance personnel assigned yet, the first classes were still in training back at Wright-Patterson, but they had reported they had the fueling facilities set up as instructed. Howard decided this would be a good test, besides if they didn’t have the refueling system working I could still make it back to Wright-Patterson with what I had in my tanks.
I had seen Buffy one evening since March. She hadn’t been able to get back during the break in early June; she’d spent that weekend helping rescue people in a small town not far from Leavenworth that had been flattened by a tornado. She did get back to Wright-Patterson for a night in the middle of August during the break between her third and fourth quarters at CGSC. We had spent the night together at the Biltmore as we had the first, making love and talking. For some reason she’d gotten the giggles when I’d told her about North American’s decision to call the jet a ‘Pinto’, but she wouldn’t say why. All I could get out of her were some cryptic remarks about her mother’s first car that didn’t make any sense to me.
Crewmen were opening the hanger doors just as the MP Lieutenant returned with two other men in the jeep, a sergeant and a private both with MP brassards on their arms. There was a crowd of ground crewmen standing in the hanger door looking over at us, I saw a Master Sergeant off to the side of the group and yelled out, “Master Sergeant!” I saw his attention focus on me, “I need a crew to move her into the hanger, half a dozen or so, get me one please!”
“Yes ma’am,” he yelled back and a moment later half a dozen ground crewmen were coming over to where the Pinto was parked. He came up to me and saluted, “Ma’am, we’re not familiar with this type of aircraft.”
I returned his salute, “I didn’t expect you were, come on.” I showed him and his men where it was safe to push her and then climbed back up into the Pinto. A couple of guys moved the maintenance platform out of the way, I glanced around to make sure she was clear and then called out, “Clear the chocks!”
A couple ground crewmen darted under the wings and reappeared a moment later, each holding a wheel chock up for me to see. I released the brakes and then yelled to the ground crew, “Ready to roll!”
I steered the Pinto into the hanger as the ground crewmen pushed her. Once we were inside the hanger I saw there was enough room to swing her around so I locked the left main brake and spun her around until she was facing the hanger door again. Once she was in position I called out, “Thanks, that’s good! Secure the aircraft.”
I set the brakes and made sure everything was secure. A couple of guys rolled another maintenance platform into position under the cockpit and I climbed out onto it. I moved down to the other end and popped the dzus fasteners on the gun compartment panel and swung it open. I’d had the rearmost magazine section removed and in the space I’d stowed a small duffel bag and a hanging bag with my dress uniform, I hoped it had come through without too many wrinkles. I got the bags out and secured the panel, and then turned and realized quite a crowd was now surrounding the Pinto.
I glanced at my watch, it was now almost 1230, I didn’t have time to deal with them now. I stepped to the edge of the platform and let out a piercing whistle that quieted the murmurs and brought everyone’s attention to me, “If anyone wants, tomorrow afternoon at 1 PM I’ll give a show and tell about the Pinto. Show up then if you’re curious; for now stay clear of her.”
I climbed down from the maintenance platform and grabbed my bags and went over to where the AOOD and the MP Lieutenant were standing with the two enlisted MPs. “Lieutenant, Sergeant, she has to have an armed guard on her at all times, no one is to approach her without my presence and approval.”
“Yes ma’am,” The Lieutenant responded.
I looked from him to the MP Sergeant and back again, “In addition, the duty NCO must check the guard at least once each hour and the check must be logged in the security diary.”
The Lieutenant glanced at the Sergeant and got a sharp nod of acknowledgment and then turned back to me, “Understood, ma’am, it will be taken care of.”
“Thank you, sorry to screw up your weekend but she’s too new; people are going to be curious and they’ll crawl all over her given a chance.” I saw the Master Sergeant that had organized the gang that had moved her inside the hanger was standing a short distance away, listening to our conversation. “Master Sergeant, you heard all that?”
I nodded to him, “Okay, so have your people to stay away from her. And tell them not to worry, soon they’ll be seeing so many they’ll be sick of them in no time.”
He looked doubtful, “Yes ma’am.”
A couple minutes before 1300 I was dropped off in front of the Leavenworth BOQ. A couple of privates were slowly raking leaves off the lawn on either side of the walkway under the direction of a corporal who got slowly to his feet as I got out of the jeep. He came to attention and gave me a slow salute, I returned it “Corporal, since your men are working so diligently would you mind getting my bags?”
I headed up the walk and into the BOQ, a sergeant was sitting behind the desk and he glanced over at me as I came through the door; he popped to his feet and came to attention, his salute crisp and smart, “Good afternoon ma’am! How can I help the Colonel?”
“You should have gotten a cable requesting a room for me, Lieutenant Colonel Barbara Thompson.”
He looked puzzled, “No ma’am… we haven’t gotten anything…” then his expression fell.
He started scrabbling around the papers on his desk as the Corporal from outside brought my bags in, “Ma’am.”
I turned to him, “Just put them on the floor, Corporal, that will be all.”
He nodded and set the two bags down beside me and headed back outside. I turned back to the Sergeant behind the desk, he had a piece of paper in his hand, “From Wright-Patterson, ma’am?”
“That’s right sergeant.”
He looked embarrassed, “Uh…”
“What is it?”
“Well, ma’am, I’m afraid there’s been a screw up. We don’t have a room available for you.”
“Didn’t you get the request?”
“Yes ma’am, it’s just that it was for ‘Lt. Col. B. Thompson’, and… uh… well we’re a little crowded what with the guests here to see the graduation and the next class reporting in to start on Monday and they can’t move into the student quarters because the current class isn’t out yet…”
“Spit it out, Sergeant!”
“They assigned you to a two man room; Major Milford is the other officer assigned to the room.”
“I’ve lived in tighter quarters than a two man room, Sergeant. I don’t think it will hurt me for one night.”
“But ma’am, Major Milford’s a man!”
Finally the real problem had come up, “And there aren’t any quarters available for a female officer?”
He shook his head, “No ma’am.”
I thought for a moment, I knew I could crash with Buffy, “Where are the student quarters?”
“They’re on the other side of the school complex, maybe fifteen minutes from here, ma’am.”
I glanced at my watch, it was almost 1300, that would be cutting it close even assuming I could find Buffy, she might, probably wasn’t, even in her quarters.
Screw it, it wasn’t like I hadn’t shared quarters with a man before, “Well, I guess I’ll just have to use the quarters assigned to me, may I have the key?”
“But ma’am! What about the Major?”
“He’ll just have to share.”
“But he’s…” He trailed off in confusion.
“Is he a rapist?”
His eyes went wide and he managed to squeak out, “Uh… no ma’am!”
“Then I don’t think I have a whole lot to worry about then do I?”
I held out my hand, after a moment he opened the desk drawer and took out a large ring of keys, after searching for a moment he detached one of the keys. He picked up a book from his desk and handed it to me, “Ma’am… you have to register and sign for the key.”
I took the book and filled in the requested information and signed my name. I handed him the book and he handed me the key, “You’re in room 227, ma’am.”
“Are there laundry services available?”
“Yes ma’am, in the building.”
“How long do you think it would take to get a uniform pressed?”
“Just a couple minutes ma’am,” He turned his head toward the room behind his disk, “Moore!”
There was the scraping of a chair and a moment later a gangly private came out of the room, “Yes Sergeant?” Then he saw me and came awkwardly to attention, “Sorry ma’am.”
“Carry on, private,” as he relaxed I picked up my hanging bag and unzipped it and got out my class A uniform, it had wrinkled worse than I thought, “Private, take this down and get it pressed and bring it back to me in room 227. If they can’t get it done in the next thirty minutes just bring it back, whatever you do don’t leave it with them.”
I handed him the uniform and turned back to the Sergeant, “Thank you Sergeant, if you’ll tell me which way to my room I’ll be out of your hair.”
“Moore, take the Colonel to room 227 and then do as she requested.”
“Yes Sergeant,” he came around the desk and grabbed my duffel and headed for some stairs off to the side, I followed along behind him.
Twenty minutes later I had showered and was standing in front of the mirror that hung over a small dresser drying my hair. The quarters were typical spartan Army BOQ quarters; two cots were on either side of the room with their heads against the wall farthest from the door, a night stand between them. A small dresser with a mirror above it was against either wall at the foot of cots. A pair of closets flanked the door into the room. On one side a door between the closet and the dresser opened into a bathroom while on the other side an easy chair filled the corresponding space. The quarters were for field grade officers so at least the bathroom wasn’t shared with another room.
One of the cots was made up and there was some personal stuff on the top of the dresser. On the other cot my duffel and the empty hanging bag lay beside neatly folded linens and a blanket with a pillow on top of the pile. Originally a couple of bath towels, a hand towel and a wash cloth had been beside them. Now one of the towels was wrapped around me while I used the other to dry my hair. The wash cloth and hand towel were hanging in the bathroom where I’d left them.
My hair was as dry as I was going to get it, sometimes I wished Buffy would go ahead and invent the ‘hair blower’ that she bitched about not having so often when she was doing her hair. At least the still damp curls weren’t long enough to hang down my back. I threw the towel over the foot of the bed and picked up my brush and started to brush out my hair. I heard the snick of a key in the lock and a moment later the door began to open. A man in shorts and a t-shirt, both sweat soaked, stepped through the door and came to a stop when he noticed my gear on the cot. He had a tennis racket and a can of tennis balls tucked under his arm, his head swung toward me.
“Guess my roommate finally showed…” he started to say and then his voice trailed off as his eyes saw me, after a frozen moment he started to back up, “… Oh! Sorry! I didn’t…”
He came to a stop and I saw him glance at the door, probably looking at the number, and then over to his dresser where his personal stuff lay. “Major Milford?”
“Who the hell are you?!?!”
I turned and held out my hand, “I’m Lieutenant Colonel Barbara Thompson; it looks like we’ll be roomies for a day.”
He stared at me in shock and finally took my hand, “Ma’am?”
“Sorry about the screw-up, hope you don’t mind but there aren’t any other quarters available so I guess were sort of stuck with each other. I’ll only be here tonight and I’m not even sure if I’ll actually be staying here. A friend and I may be going into town for the night.”
I let his hand go and he looked from me to his stuff and then to his watch, “Uh… I’ll leave you to finish up… but I’m supposed to…”
“You’re going to the graduation?”
“Uh… yes ma’am.”
“Well you’ll want to get cleaned up I imagine, go ahead, don’t let me bother you.”
“If you don’t mind me in my birthday suit it’s not going to bother me; they haven’t got back with my uniform yet.”
He slowly closed the door and then went over and dumped his tennis stuff on his cot. He went to the dresser and got out his underclothes and then went to closet and got out a neatly pressed uniform and turned toward the bathroom. I shook my head, “Major, if you take your uniform in there the steam will take the crease out of it.”
He looked back at me, “But…”
I shook my head, “You don’t have anything I haven’t seen innumerable times before - it’s not going to bother me…”
After a moment he laid the uniform out on his cot and then went into the bathroom and closed the door behind himself. I turned back to the dresser and continued brushing my hair out.
A minute later there was a knock on the door, “Yes?”
“Moore ma’am, I have your uniform.”
I reached over and turned the knob and let the door open a crack, “Put it on the cot,” and returned to getting my hair in some sort of order.
I could see the private walking toward the cot in the mirror, then he glanced toward me and he came to a sudden stop and his jaw dropped open as he stared at me. I gave him a moment and when he didn’t move I spoke up, “Private, it’s impolite to stare… especially with your mouth gaping open.”
He went bright red and turned his head away, his voice squeaked as he responded, “Yes ma’am.” He hastily moved the last couple of feet to put my uniform on the cot and then scuttled out the door with his head averted.
I finished with my hair, or at least as much as I could do given the time I had. I went to the cot and opened the duffel and got out the jewelry box I used to hold my ribbons and other devices that went on the uniform. I was pinning them onto the coat when I heard the bathroom door open and heard the Major start to walk in and then come to a sudden stop, “Oh! Sorry miss…”
I looked over my shoulder; he was standing in the doorway in boxers and a t-shirt with his eyes wide staring at my ass. I realized that bent over the way I was the towel had pulled up, completely exposing myself. Hastily I straightened up and then I had to grab the towel as it came loose. He started to turn back to the bathroom, “Major, you didn’t see anything I wasn’t showing… sorry about that.”
He stopped and turned back toward me, “Colonel… I just don’t know what’s…”
“Major, just try to ignore me; I spent a long time living in tight quarters with men where we had to share everything… showers, head… everything. Your seeing me isn’t going to bother me, the only rule is no touching without an explicit invitation – and that isn’t going to happen.”
I nodded and turned back to the cot, I tucked the towel back in so it would stay in place and then grabbed my panties and pulled them on. I reached for my bra and realized I wasn’t going to get it on with the towel on so I pulled it loose and dropped it on the bed, then put on the bra and tucked myself into it. I heard the major moving around his side of the room but studiously kept my concentration in front of me. I put my silver oak leaves on the collar points of my shirt, the only adornment it needed, and then put it on and buttoned it up. I got into my slacks and got myself all tucked in and zipped up before returning to the task of getting the rest of the devices on my uniform coat.
Once I finished with it I turned and sat on the cot to get my shoes and socks on and saw the major had his shirt and pants on and was tying his tie. I finished dressing and glanced at my watch, it was 1345, time to get to the graduation. It looked like the major was just about ready, “Major, would you care to accompany me to the graduation?”
He looked up at me and his eyes stopped on my chest and the three and a half rows of ribbons, I guess he knew how to read ribbons, or at least some of them. His eyes went wide and then he tore them from my chest and looked me in the eye, “You’re THE Colonel Thompson!?!?”
I shrugged, I got that a lot and it was really sort of embarrassing, “If you mean am I the one that gets in the news occasionally then yes, I guess I’m ‘THE’ Colonel Thompson.”
He reddened slightly, “Oh… sorry ma’am…”
“Major, quit apologizing, it’s starting to wear thin.” I looked at his uniform coat lying on the cot and saw he had a couple ribbons of his own, topped by a Bronze star, “you’ve seen the elephant, it’s not all that it’s cracked up to be in both good and bad ways.”
“Yes ma’am.” He thought for a moment, “It would be an honor to accompany you.”
“Then let’s get a move on.”
There were grandstands erected along the side of the parade ground and the Major and I found some seats in the first row not too far down from the center of the stands. An Army band was playing softly off to the side as the last stragglers climbed into the grandstand. Then they started playing more loudly, after a moment I recognized the “Caisson Song” and saw a group of officers coming across the parade ground from the school. As they got closer I recognized General Arnold in the group. As they came up the steps into the grandstands someone shouted, “Attention!”
Everyone stood, a moment later the General and his party walked by us. He caught my eye for a moment and gave me a slight nod, I nodded in return. A few moments later they were past and the voice shouted again, “At Ease!”
We sat back down on the bench and resumed our interrupted conversation but a moment later a young 2nd Lieutenant was in front of me, I saw he was a General’s aide, presumably Arnold's; he saluted me as he asked, “Lieutenant Colonel Thompson?”
I returned his salute, “Yes, Lieutenant?”
“General Arnold requests that you and Colonel Summers attend the reception after the graduation, he wants a word with both of you so don’t leave until you’ve spoken with him.”
“Thank you sir,” he turned and headed back toward the center of the grand stand where the General’s party was waiting.
The Major looked after him and then turned to me, “I wonder what that is about, sir?”
“I don’t know, but since he wants both me and Buffy I doubt if I’m going to like it.”
“You and Buf… oh… you mean Colonel Summers.”
I nodded, “Yeah, and I have the sneaking suspicion that the easy times are coming to an end.”
The band switched to a new tune and a voice came over the loud speaker, “Presenting the graduating class of CGSC class 44-01!”
Down the field I saw about one hundred officers marching in tight formation. They continued until they were in front of the center of the grand stand and then a tall man just to the side of the formation started yelling commands, “Class 44-01 HALT!” I spotted Buffy at the end of the first column, furthest from me.
“Class 44-01 left FACE!” They all turned in unison to face the grand stand, ‘Hand SALUTE!” They all brought their hands to their foreheads together and held them as they stood rigidly at attention. “RECOVER!” One hundred hands snapped back down to their thighs with an audible ‘smack’.
“Parade REST!” They each moved their left foot out about twelve inches and then crossed their hands behind their backs. The officer that had been calling the commands made a sharp turn and marched off to the side, then disappeared around the grand stand.
There was some thumping and buzzing from a microphone and then a voice blared out of the speakers behind us, “Welcome dignitaries and friends to the graduation of the Command and General Staff School Class 44-01, General Henry Arnold, Commanding General US Army Air Forces has a few words for us.”
A moment later I recognized Hap Arnold’s voice. His speech was mercifully short; a pretty generic graduation speech made maybe a little more dramatic than normal since we were in the middle of a war. After he finished the original speaker returned to the microphone, I could see General Arnold had stayed near the microphone and was standing next to a table covered with rolled up pieces of paper, the diplomas I imagined, along with another officer.
“The graduates of Class 44-01 will now be presented their diplomas by General Arnold. The Honor graduate of Class 44-01 is… Colonel Buffy Anne Summers!”
I could hear a subtle gasp go through the crowd as Buffy made a sharp left face, marched five feet parallel to the grand stand until she was opposite the steps on the far side from where I was. She made a right face and marched to and then up the steps, she made another right face when she reached the top of the steps and marched down until she came to a stop directly in front of General Arnold. She raised her hand in salute and he returned it, then took the diploma from the officer beside him and handed it to her at the same time as he shook her hand. He said something to her and she answered him softly and then stepped to the side as he released her hand and continued her march across the front of the grand stand.
When she was almost to me I spoke quietly, “Nice going, Slayer!”
She almost lost her rigid posture and her eyes swiveled to the side and went a little wide when she saw me, just a touch of a grin turned up the corners of her mouth fractionally and then the stern expression returned. I couldn’t help the grin on my features as she marched past and then turned down the stairs. As she neared the formation of students the officer in charge started calling out additional names. He was only waiting about fifteen seconds between each man, not waiting until the diploma was presented like he had for Buffy. There was steady stream of officers marching up, getting their diplomas and then marching back; it only took about half an hour for the ceremony to be completed.
When the final diploma had been given out and the last officer returned to the formation the officer waited for a few moments longer and then announced, “Class 44-01, DISMISSED!”
With a yell everyone in the class took off their hats and threw them high into the air, I was surprised that a class of senior army officers would do such a thing, but then that was sort of traditional throughout the services. The grand stand was emptying and I made my way down onto the parade ground along with the rest of the crowd, it only took me a couple of moments to find Buffy.
I stopped for just a second and then thought protocol be damned! I stepped up to her and wrapped my arms around her and hugged her, she hugged me back. Then I picked her up off her feet and started swinging her around, “Congratulations! Colonel! Sir!”
She started squirming and after a moment I heard her voice in my ear, “Damn it, Barb! Put me down!”
I set her down and looked at her, she was grinning up at me and I grinned back at her, my hands were on her shoulders and I squeezed them, “Did you ever imagine?”
She shook her head but didn’t say anything.
Two hours later we were in the officer’s club, set up now as a reception for the graduating class. We had come through the reception line, meeting the senior officers from the school and General Arnold. He’d looked severely at Buffy and I when we came through, “Don’t leave until I’ve had a chance to talk to both of you.”
“Yes sir,” we had both responded.
We had socialized for a while; Buffy seemed pretty popular with her classmates. But now we were in a corner where we could talk with some privacy and sip our wine, then I saw the General’s aide that I had met earlier making his way across the room toward us.
He came up to us and came to attention for a moment, “General Arnold would like to have a word with you sirs.”
“Lead on, Lieutenant,” Buffy said. We followed him across the large room and then down a short hallway and into a private dining room. General Arnold and another General officer that I didn’t know were in the room along with another aide.
Buffy and I came in and started to come to attention when Arnold held up his hand, “At ease, Colonels, I think we’ve had enough formality for today.”
“Yes sir,” Buffy and I responded.
He looked at us for a moment, his expression serious, “I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news for you.”
Buffy’s expression grew serious and I could feel mine start to fall before I made my face go neutral, Buffy asked, “What would that be, sir?”
“General Miller bought a piece of the farm a couple of days ago.”
I could see Buffy mask her expression but I knew it hit her, I don’t think I did as good of a job in hiding my expression, “How bad, sir?” I asked.
He shrugged slightly, “The doctors think he’ll live, but they don’t know if he’ll ever get back to active duty.”
“What happened?” Buffy asked.
“They’re having real problems with the Me-262s over there; so bad we’ve had to cut back on the missions. The only way the bombers have a chance is if we’ve got the air around them saturated with escorts and then they end up getting in each other’s way. Its cut down on the bomber losses but we’re losing escorts at an unacceptable rate. Miller decided to take a ride with the bombers to see if he could figure out a better method but they caught some flak and he was wounded.”
Buffy scowled as she glanced at me, “Shit!” Then she looked back at Arnold, “Sorry, sir.”
Arnold shook his head, “I understand and had a similar reaction. Not only because it happened to a good man but also because it really screwed up our plans.”
I spoke up, “We need to get the Pintos operational, sir.”
Arnold and the other General nodded in agreement, “That was the plan that got screwed up.”
“What plan was that, sir?” Buffy asked.
“General Miller was being called back to the states to organize the first jet fighter wing and get it back to England as fast as possible.” Buffy and I both nodded in understanding, Miller had been one of the most experienced group and wing commanders we had. General Arnold looked at Buffy, “Colonel Summers, traditionally the honor graduate of the CGSC course gets their pick from available assignments.”
Buffy looked at him, scowling slightly, “Yes sir.”
“I’m afraid you aren’t going to be given that opportunity.”
“Why not sir?! If it has to do with what’s missing between my legs I’m…”
“Colonel! You were not going to ever have that option, a war is on and you are much too valuable to have you off on some crazy assignment.”
Buffy reined herself in, “Yes sir… so what am I going to be doing?”
“You were going to be General Miller’s executive officer. Now you are going to be taking his place.” Buffy’s jaw dropped in surprise, “And I want to know who you want as your XO next week, and it is not going to be Colonel Thompson, she’s already got her next assignment.”
I looked at him in surprise; I hadn’t seen any orders for me, “Sir?”
“You’re going to be the wing’s maintenance officer; we have to get that wing operational as soon as possible.”
“Yes sir,” I said as I nodded in understanding; I would be a lot more effective as the maintenance officer than dealing with all the personnel issues the XO spends most of their time with.
Buffy gave a sharp nod, “Yes sir that would work well. I’ll have to think about an XO. Where are we going to be?”
“Southern California, you’re going to have to do a lot of flying to get ready and we can’t afford to have weather delays.”
She nodded again and then she seemed to be lost in thought. Then something came to mind and I looked sharply at General Arnold, he was watching Buffy but after a moment he turned his gaze to me. I raised my eyebrows, after a moment he nodded; it shocked me so much I couldn’t stop myself, “Really?”
“Yes, Colonel,” He emphasized ‘Colonel’ and I know my eyes went wide, “you are getting the bump.”
Buffy came out of her thoughts and looked at both of us, “What the hell is going on?”
“Buffy, sometimes you are so dense!” Buffy was still completely mystified so I asked, “who commands a wing?”
Buffy’s eyes went wide as Arnold held out his hand, “Congratulations Brigadier General Summers.”
1) I want to thank all the people who reviewed this story and all the comments that were made were appreciated. I was amazed at how accurate some of your speculations as to what was coming were. I've also thought about some of the comments about where this story may go. At this point I've only got the vaguest notion of what the next story may be about. I've got at least one other project that I have to complete before I'll even begin to write seriously on a continuation to this story, and then only if I can come up with a continuation that will continue to provide an interesting (at least I hope) story.
2) There has been a lot of discussion about technical matters in the reviews and I do appreciate the information and enjoy the interest it has sparked, but as I had commented to an early review this story was completed before I started posting any of it. The chapters have been posted as I completed a final check for spelling, grammar, and consistency errors, but even then as some of you have pointed out I still missed things. That said, I try to make the story as technically accurate, given the increasing divergence of this alternate universe, as I can but at the same time I am not a professional writer, I've got to work for a living. So I am always in a quandary as to how much time to spend trying to research some information (for example the cruising speed of an Me-262 which I guess I got wrong) as opposed to actually writing. Some of you have pointed out errors but they were just too entwined in the story to try to correct at that point, I hope it isn't too much of a disappointment.