Advent 1944BRAD MINER
The "assassin" was dropped behind "enemy" lines.
The timid jumpmaster, dithering about the drag of rushing air, hesitated and then shoved him out. A single flickering light rushed up from the haze below. And then: the ripcord, and – OOF! And then: Thud! He was hanging, spread-eagled on a steeply pitched roof.
The Airborne Ranger unsnapped his chinstrap, as was his habit, and felt in the pocket of his jump jacket for his wire-rims – nearly dropping them. Craning his neck to look up, he saw his canopy caught on a church-spire cross. His head dropped in disgust, and his helmet fell, thumped down the roof, hit a small concave space between gables over the church entrance, and landed ten feet in front of the church.
Lucky to be somewhere in North Carolina in training and not anywhere in Japan at war.
Some feet above his head a narrow ledge squared the base of the steeple's perimeter, and the Ranger wondered if he could access the church up there. I can hoist myself using the cords of the T-4 . . . . But no. To reach his objective in time to "murder" the Major, he had no choice but to spread wide his arms and legs, disperse his weight, and slide. He aimed to hit a space between those gables, straighten up, and then drop and roll. Jump school 101. The impact would probably be no worse than if he'd hit the church lawn in the first place. The commander would fume when he showed up at Knollwood sans chute, but the mission trumped a colonel's pique.
Unhooking the harness, he slid – like a rock. He hit the gable; his heels stuck, shocking his knees; he flew face-first into the earth. OOF!
No worse for the wear but for a broken nose and a sprained left wrist, he shook his head, spit out dirt and grass and blood, propped himself up on his right forearm, and looked for his helmet. He saw shoes instead, a man in them.
Standing above him was a small, elderly gent looking down along the barrel of a .22 varmint rifle.
"Hold it right there, young fella."
The Ranger saw that the man had tousled white hair and wore a white Roman collar.
"Easy there, Father. Don't shoot! I'm an American on a training mission."
"Ya need more trainin'."
The Ranger nodded ruefully.
"And before you ask, Padre, the Cardinals won the World Series last time."
"Good fer our side. But what I'm askin' is: Are ya Catholic, lad?"
The Ranger nodded.
The Ranger made a grimace. His nose, the wrist . . . .
"Sinless, are ya?" the priest asked, lowering the rifle and raising his eyebrows.
"You didn't let me answer – " the Ranger began, but the priest cut him off.
"– Ya made a face, and I know that face. Boy, if you're gonna fall from the sky like Satan hisself, ya'd better be right with JAY-sus."
"Come then," the priest said with a waving gesture. "Get yer steel hat there. Ya'll need to be getting' to wherever's the gettin' to. But yer goin' nowhere 'til ya confess yer sins and get yerself ab-SOL-ved."
The Ranger said:
"Father . . . there's no time . . . ."
The priest made the same gesture, mirrored, casting away the very thought.
"For heaven's sake. Don' take yerself so serious. 'No time.' Yer so a great sinner, are ya? Step lively!"
He followed the priest into the church, both of them limping down the apse towards the altar. The priest slid the rifle into a front-most pew. The aching Ranger – Boy, I feel it now! – sat down as the priest unrolled the stole he drew from his pocket, kissed it, and put it around his neck.
"Thought'ja was in a hurry. Or d'ja rather I not see yer mug when ya fess up?"
"Where am I, Father?"
The Ranger sighed.
"Pray for me, Father. I'm supposed to be near the lake at Camp Mackall."
"Sure you do need more trainin'! That's near a dozen miles off. Let's have the rite, and then I'll drive ya ME-self in my auto-MOBILE. I've a Buick car. In the name of the Father . . ."
Until he'd driven with Father Mackey, for that was the priest's name (of County Mayo), he'd never really been afraid. The priest drove his '28 Town Brougham, he said, like "Abcán in'is bronze boat with a tin sail!" And yet he spoke so ceaselessly and soothingly that the Ranger nodded off. He awoke as the Buick skidded to a halt.
The Ranger used compass and map to find the Major's HQ, and all he had to do was walk right up and say the code words: "I am Princip," and the "dead" officer angrily threw his own helmet to the ground and cursed:
"Well, Merry Christmas!"
And later – after Okinawa – the Ranger went to Confession at least twice a month until the day he died, which was many years later, after which he went to heaven and met up with many old soldiers and Chaplain Mackey too.
Brad Miner. "Advent 1944." The Catholic Thing (December 19, 2011).
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