This story was written as a gift for Yuletide2009. The characters aren't mine and with it being a gift you can tell I'm not making any money with it.


+++ UNIVERSAL NEWSREEL +++

The allied forces in the Pacific keep up their pressure upon the enemy, attacking Japanese emplacements on a daily basis, forcing the enemy to back up and regroup. During one of those missions, the brave pilots of the Naval aircraft carrier U.S.S. Lexington encountered strong opposition upon discovering a heavily guarded Japanese supply emplacement on Ambitau, a small island east of New Ireland. We salute those brave men who lost their lives in this battle as much as those who brought details of the new base back to their commanding officers. Allied command is now working out plans to cut off the enemy's supply based on this vital information.

ESPRITOS MARCOS

ISLAND

Allied Command

Rear Area

"I don't like this one bit, General. The Black Sheep on a Navy carrier? You must be asking for trouble."

"I don't like this any more than you do, Greg, but the Navy doesn't have any other carrier squadron in the area. They don't like the idea of having Marines on board of one of their ships either, having to ask us for help didn't come easy to them" General Moore said with a grim smile on his face.

"The 214 is our only squadron in the South Pacific that has at least some experience with carrier landings. Every other squadron would need to undergo training first and we just don't have the time for that. The supply emplacement on Ambitau needs to be taken out as soon as possible. You read the report, you know what all is down there. I hate to say it, but your meatball circus is our only chance. If the Japanese get only half of that supply to their troops at Rabaul,"he pointed out the places on the map laid out in front of the two men as he mentioned them, "they're gonna fry our fleet when it passes through the sound just like they fried the Lexington's pilots. Try to keep your men under check as best as you can. It's not for long, the Navy will have a substitute squadron taking over on the Lexington in four days. Just try to leave the ship in one piece until then..."

"No promise there, Sir" Major Greg Boyington replied with a grin on his face which made Moore shake his head in a mix of worry and amusement.

VELLA LA CAVA

ISLAND

214 Squadron H.Q.

"OK you meatheads, mission briefing in five!" Boyington yelled across the camp as he strode to the H.Q. building from the landing strip. A few minutes later the VMF-214 Squadron was gathered in the small room.

"Alright, listen guys. We're leaving La Cava for a few days. General Moore has assigned us to carrier duty on the Lexington for the next days. I suppose you all heard what happened to their squadron?"

"Carrier duty? We're no carrier squadron, Greg!" James Gutterman cut in.

"Yeah, why us? We're Marines, not Navy. Why don't they put their own guys out there?" T.J. Wiley added.

"Calm down. It happens we're the only ones out here who have done carrier landings fairly recently. The Navy is bringing in a new squadron in a couple of days, but this mission can't wait until they get their boys over here. So we jump in and kick Tojo's ass until they arrive."

"What's this mission about that it's so urgent, Pappy?" Robert Boyle asked.

"You all know what happened to the Lexington's guys?"

"Got their asses kicked badly." Don French offered.

"Yeah, but do you know how?" Heads shook all around. "They were on their way to New Ireland, coming in from the east over Ambitau. The route was considered safe by recon, only it turned out it wasn't. Tojo set up a new supply emplacement on the island, heavily guarded. The squadron took heavy ground fire seemingly out of the blue. Most made it back to the Lexington, but quite a couple of them were limping badly. The next day they flew a mission against the base with their remaining planes and pretty much got ripped apart. Only five of their planes made it back to the Lexington, some got shot down right over the island, most went down on the way back to the carrier. Luckily one of the planes that made it back was equipped with a camera so that we now have a better idea of what we're up against. It's this supply emplacement that will be our target."

"Oh, now wait a second. As little as I like the Navy, those carrier pilots are no wimps. What makes you think we'll fare better against that emplacement than those guys?" Gutterman asked.

"Jim. We're the Black Sheep, right? We fly the missions no one else can. That's what." Greg replied with a grin, causing Jim to look away with a look of half-annoyance that was so typical for him in situations like these.

"OK, everyone get packed up. We're leaving here in two hours. Casey – let Micklin know he's coming with us. On this mission I want to be sure I have the best mechanic checking out our birds. A transport will be picking him and the luggage up shortly after we're gone."

"Sure, Pappy" Larry Casey replied and hurried out of the room after his comrades who had already trickled out of the door.

U.S.S. LEXINGTON

Navy Aircraft Carrier

South Pacific

'Black Sheep Leader this is the Lexington. We have you on our radar and our deck is ready for you.'

'Roger that, Lexington. We're coming in.' Boyington replied before addressing his pilots.

'Alright, Jim – you bring in your bunch first, I'll lead the second wave in.'

'Roger, Greg. OK guys, let's get down there.'

"Welcome back aboard the Lexington, Major. It's nice you brought our planes this time, having those Japanese birds on my deck was the weirdest thing." Captain Hicks, dressed in an impeccable Navy uniform, held out his hand in greeting as the Black Sheep filed into the Lexington's mess.

"Thanks, Captain. I'm sorry about your pilots." Greg replied, shaking the offered hand.

Hicks sadly shook his head. "That's recon for you. The Japanese set up such a heavily guarded supply post right under our nose and no one knows a thing about it until it's too late. I had to send my men back in there without any real idea of what they were going up against."

"I know it won't bring your men back, but we'll take out that place, Captain." Greg was speaking quietly so only Hicks would hear him. He knew what it meant to lose a pilot, but never had he lost half a squadron. Especially not in a single mission.

"Thank you. It would most certainly lift everyone's spirits if you made the Japanese pay for what they did to our pilots. The atmosphere here on board has been rather gloomy since that fateful day."

When a young Lieutenant holding a clipboard entered the room Hicks turned to face the assembled Black Sheep. "Lieutenant Piper here will assign you your quarters. Your transport plane is on approach as well and your gear will be brought down here for collecting. This room will be your mess for as long as you're on board and will also double as conference room for your mission briefings."

"Conference, ooh. Will there be girls serving drinks?" Anderson murmured somewhere further down the room, nudging his neighbor with a grin on his face.

Hicks didn't hear or chose to overhear it, turning back to Boyington. "I'd like a word in private, Major."

"Sure." Greg followed him out of the room through a confusing maze of corridors to the Captain's office.

Hicks closed the door behind them. "Now, Major, I have heard a lot about your squadron. Good and bad. Your men have quite a reputation for both being excellent pilots as well as for being troublemakers. And while I totally approve of the first, the latter does worry me. My people are on edge because of what happened to their comrades, then there's the general and omnipresent dislike between Navy and Marines... I just hope your men won't cause more trouble than they're doing good."

"You're right, Captain. They are troublemakers, true black sheep. But they're the best and bravest pilots you'll find in the whole allied forces. I'm well aware of the tension in the air and I'm going to be frank with you: I don't like being based on a Navy carrier and nor do my men. But we're here to fly that mission and we'll do it. I can't promise none of your men will come out of this with a bloody nose, some of my guys explode easily, it's their form of stress-relief. But I can guarantee you that we'll be doing more good than bad. We're going to take out that supply post."

"These cabins are duller than our tents back on La Cava" T.J. complained to Casey, looking around their assigned cabin. "All gray in gray. I'll never complain about green again. One's bound to get depressed in here."

"Oh come on, T.J., it's not for long. And we don't have to stay in here. The mess looked OK."

"Yeah, that's true. Looked a lot more polished than the Sheep Pen. But anything else than polished wouldn't do for the Navy, right?"

"Yeah, they wouldn't be able to see their nice white uniforms reflected off every surface otherwise" Boyle threw in, leaning in the open door. "Pappy wants to see us. You guys coming?"

When the last of the Black Sheep had filed into the mess, Greg spoke up. "OK, everyone settled in? Good. Here's the schedule for today. We're going to shoot some landings before the sun goes down. None of us has a lot of experience with carrier landings and in case one of us has to limp back from the mission, every landing we've done will help to get us back down safely. Captain Hicks expects our mission orders to come through any minute so we'll do mission briefing after dinner.

And guys, none of us likes being here but this mission is important. Let's not mess it up by falling out with the Lexington's crew. We need them for this to work out. It's not like we just have to get back home to La Cava. Here on the carrier we need to rely on them. So for once - try to stay out of trouble." He looked from one of his men to the next, getting slight nods or half-scowls, but no one disagreed. "Alright then, we meet on the flight-line in ten minutes."

They did a couple of take-offs and landings each, feeling more confident with each landing. Even T.J. seemed to be getting the hang of it after having to abort on his first try. His third landing was the smoothest he'd ever done, earning him a pat on the shoulder from Boyington when he climbed out of his plane. "We'll make a pilot out of you after all, T.J."

"Yeah, now we'll only have to teach him to aim properly" Don grinned as he walked past.

"Very funny, French!" T.J. called after him.

"Come on T.J., let's see if the Navy has some booze in that mess," Jim said, wrapping an arm around T.J.'s shoulders, pulling him towards the bulkhead leading into the superstructure.

Before Greg could follow them, a young Ensign approached him. "This came through for you, Sir." He handed the Major a folded sheet of paper.

"Thank you." Boyington replied and unfolded the paper, scanning the brief text. It was their mission orders.

Boyington sat on the bunk in his cabin, a map spread out to his left, the photos of the Japanese emplacement to his right. He picked up one picture after the other, studying them closely, then checked the map again, a plan shaping up in his mind. Glancing at the clock on the wall, he folded up the map, put the photos into the envelope they had come in and took both along to the mess.

As they had the mess to themselves at least no one complained about the usual casual dress code of the Black Sheep. Jim had changed into one of his Hawaiian shirts, Jerry wore his blue sports jockey and the rest of them sported anything but a proper military uniform as well. Just seeing this wild mix of appearances made Greg smile slightly. Some young members of the kitchen personnel were already serving dinner so he sat down at a table with Gutterman, Anderson and Boyle.

"Brought something to read, Pappy?" Anderson asked, pointing at the envelope with his fork.

Jim didn't even bother to ask, he just picked up the envelope and took out the photos. "That whole place seems surrounded by flak" he remarked after glancing through them.

Greg shook his head. "No, it's not. Look closely, Jim." He took another bite of his meat.

Jim studied the photos in more detail and slowly a slight grin appeared on his face. "Yeah, you're right" he said, making Anderson lean over to take a look as well.

Once the remains of dinner had been cleared away, Boyington spread out the map and the photos over two tables that had quickly been pushed together.

"OK, our orders are to strike tomorrow. Here's the plan." He pointed to a small island to the east of New Ireland. "This is Ambitau. The supply emplacement is on the eastern side of this mountain, right at the bay. As you can see on the photos, Tojo's brought a lot of flak with him. But - they all are aligned towards the bay or the narrow strip of land north of the base that leads to the eastern hook. The flank of the mountain is uncovered. And that's what we're going to use in our favor." He looked around, making sure he had everyone's attention.

"What we'll do is come over the mountain. It's going to block the sound of our engines so they won't hear us until we're on top of them. We're also going to be coming in with the sun. Mid-afternoon will be best for us. With the surprise effect on our side, we should get in there before they can turn their guns and open fire on us. What we'll be aiming at," he turned over some of the photos for the others to see, "is the huge fuel tank here and this big stack of ammunition." He pointed at a half-covered stack of big wooden boxes. "We get hits on both and the whole camp should be gone."

There was some murmur among the Black Sheep as they checked out their targets, trying to put the layout of the camp to memory.

"We'll be attacking in two waves, one targeting the fuel, the other the ammo. And I want one plane on each wave equipped with a camera. We need to make sure we took out everything. As there never was any proper recon, we don't know if the Lexington's guys haven't missed anything. Remember, those pictures were taken under heavy ground-fire so they didn't have time for a detailed survey."

After the briefing Greg retreated to his cabin to work out the exact flight details. They would have to come in low, staying hidden behind the mountain for as long as possible, then climb to get over it and make a swift descend onto the base from there.

In the meantime, three of the Black Sheep decided to explore the ship. After walking the halls for a bit they found some members of the crew engaged in a game of poker.

"Mind if we join you gentlemen?" Jim asked, rubbing his hands in anticipation.

"You bringing some money with you or only a big mouth?" One of the crew asked.

"We're not here to bring money, we're here to take some off you lot" Anderson retorted with a grin.

"Let's see if your playing can keep up with your mouth then." Some of the crew members got up to make room for two of the Black Sheep and a couple more chairs were pulled up as the spectators made themselves comfortable behind their respective comrades.

After a couple of games James had managed to win quite a bit. Not through any foul play, just by playing his cards very well and a couple of lucky bluffs. But after a very lucky hand for him, one of the crew got angry.

"No one's that lucky, Tex." He got up and glowered down at Gutterman who looked up in surprise.

"You really shouldn't be playing if you can't stand losing fair and square." Jim looked at him with slight grin.

"There's surely nothing fair about this." The man placed his hands on the table, bending forward so his face wasn't far from Jim's.

Anderson glanced over at James, then looked at the angry man. "Time to call it a day, Jim."

The man jerked around. "You're going nowhere until we got our money back."

Now Don cut in from behind Jim. "Hey, easy. Just because you fell for a bluff once too often doesn't mean anyone's cheating." He was bending over now as well, glaring at the offender. The other crewmen were looking on closely, but so far kept out of the argument.

"Not anyone – Tex here!"

Now James got up as well, his expression totally innocent as he rolled the cigar he had been smoking between his fingers. "Me? Cheating? Did you hear that, French? Unbelievable." He offered the man a smile and followed it with his fist. As the man was thrown back from the table by the force of James' blow, his comrades jumped to their feet and surged ahead.

Though the Black Sheep were outnumbered five to three, they didn't run from the fight. Two of the crewmen tried to get a hold on James, obviously keen on offering their comrade a chance on revenge for his bleeding nose, but Don yanked one of them away and James landed a heavy blow to the other man's stomach so he doubled over. Anderson wrestled with his neighbor until the fifth Navy man grabbed him from behind, giving the other man the needed opportunity for a hit. Bob coughed from the heavy blow to his body. The other two Black Sheep saved him from another blow though by taking care of both of his attackers.

The noise of the fight soon drew the attention of others. More crewmen showed up and the Black Sheep had to take more and more hits until Captain Hicks himself came running. "Stop it! Right now! What the hell is going on here?!"

Upon hearing their commanding officer, the crewmen snapped to attention, letting go of the three Black Sheep.

Word had also gotten round to Boyington and he came running around the corner with some more of the Sheep in tow before anyone could offer an explanation. James, Don and Bob had taken a good beating as they were more and more outnumbered and upon seeing their battered comrades, the newly arrived Sheep instinctively tried to get past Greg to take revenge.

"Stop. Stay here, you meatheads." Greg ordered. "What's going on ?" He looked at his Captain questioningly.

"That bloody idiot" James pointed at the Navy man who had started the argument "shouldn't be playing poker if he can't deal with losing." He wiped his nose, smearing blood on his hand in the process.

The crew member he had referred to tried to go for James again but was held back by a comrade. "Don't. They're not worth the trouble."

"Major, I request you take your men back to your assigned quarters and make sure they stay there. For the sake of tomorrow's mission." Hicks' voice was harsh.

"You've heard it, back to our quarters." He glared at his men, the warning clear in his eyes that he wouldn't accept any disobedience on this.

The Black Sheep thought nothing of returning to their quarters and were soon all assembled in their mess. While they helped their battered friends to clean themselves up they listened to their account of what had happened, commenting and discussing all the while. Boyington leaned against the wall in the back of the room, waiting for the hubbub to subside before he finally spoke up.

"That was exactly what I meant about falling out with the crew. You guys just can't go anywhere without ending up in a fight. You're lucky Hicks let you off the hook that easily." He had walked up to the three battered men.

"But they didn't start it, Pappy." T.J. attempted to defend his friends, getting backup from the agreeing murmur of the other Black Sheep.

"It doesn't matter. Fact is," he looked around his assembled men, "we need those guys. So until this mission is over I want you meatheads to stay either here or in your quarters – away from the crew. You want a fight? Kick Tojo's ass tomorrow. But stay away from the carrier crew. OK?"

He turned and walked off as the murmur behind him rose up again. Anderson saying "At least we held on to the money" was the last he heard before he was out of hearing range.

The next morning Boyington went looking for Micklin. "I hope our birds are in good shape, Sergeant."

Micklin took his cigar stump out of his mouth and tapped Boyington's chest with an oily finger. "How often do I have to say it? They're my planes, not yours. And I don't want to have to patch them back together with these idiots, don't know what the Navy teaches their mechanics, but it seems to have little to do with machines. The planes are in good shape right now and I want them back that way."

Greg held up his hands in defense. "I'll pass word on to Tojo, but I won't promise he's not going to fire his flak at us."

The mention of flak seemed to have left some sort of impression on Micklin for he just stared at Boyington for a moment silently. "Well, at least bring them all back."

"I intend to, Sergeant."

"Don't just intend to, do it. Tell those college-boys I'll have their asses if they don't bring my planes back."

"If they don't bring them back, you can argue with air-see-rescue about their asses." Greg added while Micklin had already turned away to yell something at a Navy mechanic.

At 13:00 the Black Sheep assembled on the flight line. To their surprise Captain Hicks was already waiting for them.

"Major, I hope you don't mind the hold-up, it won't be long."

Greg shrugged and gestured for him to continue so Hicks turned to address the Sheep.

"I just want to wish you all the best of luck. I have seen what the Japanese flak can do. As a matter of fact I have seen far too much of it. So I hope I will get the chance to congratulate you all on a successful mission in a couple of hours." He nodded at the assembled Black Sheep, shook Boyington's hand and left.

"Alright you meatheads. Let's head out, we have a score to settle with Tojo on behalf of Hick's men."

AMBITAU

Japanese Supply Emplacement

South Pacific

'We're closing in on Ambitau. Is anyone having problems?'

'Negative.'

'Looking good.'

'Ready for some action, Pappy.'

'OK, get into formation everyone. Jim, you go for the fuel, the rest of you are going for the ammo with me.'

'Roger, Greg' confirmed Gutterman.

'We'll maintain radio silence from now until we're over the island. We don't want to give Tojo any idea we're coming for their asses.'

They approached the island on a low course coming in from the west, gaining altitude as late as possible on approach of the mountain. Casey and Bragg were last in the two waves as their planes were equipped with cameras while Greg and Jim each led their men in on their targets.

They opened fire as soon as they came into range. Japanese soldiers that had started running for the flak guns the moment they first heard the planes threw themselves to the ground as gunfire kicked up the dirt all around them. Some sought cover behind palm-trees, getting their guns ready and opening fire on the planes.

It was Don, flying second on Greg's wave who got a full hit on the ammo-stack. 'Woohoo, that's gonna make for nice fireworks down there!' he commented as several explosions threw the stack apart, spreading the exploding ammunition across the camp.

Just a tick later Anderson caused a chain-reaction by striking some barrels close to the big tank. As they exploded, shards of metal penetrated the big fuel tank. The liquid started running out and the rivulet soon caught fire from the burning remains of the barrels. It was a matter of seconds until the flames reached the tank, causing a huge explosion

By now the first Japanese soldiers had made it to the flak guns and began aiming at the Corsairs. Explosions began rattling the air uncomfortably close to the planes, but the Sheep just continued their swipe over the emplacement.

'Jerry, Casey, be careful when you pass. Don't go lower than you absolutely have to for the photos!' Greg ordered over the radio while pulling out of the camp in a wide arc to get a better view himself. 'The rest of you get out of there! Regroup south of the island.'

It seemed like a small miracle that none of the Sheep had taken more than a few bullet holes, all had managed to avoid the flack. As they regrouped, everyone craned their necks to see for themselves how well they had done.

'Looks like a huge barbecue. Anyone brought some marshmallows?' T.J. joked.

'Don't get too excited yet. Zeros coming in at 10 o'clock. Where the heck are they coming from?' Casey had caught up with them last and had spotted the planes coming in from the north-east.

'Right now I don't care where they came from.' Boyington replied. 'Casey and Jerry, get back to the Lexington. We need to get those pictures back to high command. The rest of you, find your wingman and we'll go play.'

'Roger, Pappy.' Bragg confirmed and closed up to Casey while everyone else paired up with their wingmen and engaged in battle with the Zeros.

'Watch it Jim, one's coming up on your back.'

Gutterman craned his neck to check for the Japanese plane approaching his Corsair. 'T.J., get your ass up here. I could use a little help.'

'On my way, Jim.'

They sent three Zeros into the ocean, two more retreated smoking after being hit and then the rest of the Japanese squadron turned around, too.

'Let them go. We'd better head back if we don't want to run out of fuel. Any damage?'

'I took some hits, got some trouble with the steering' Anderson reported.

'Can you handle it?'

'I'll try to. The flight back isn't my problem, but getting down won't be easy like this.'

'OK, keep her steady. I'll fly you back. Anyone else with problems?'

Denials came from the rest of the Black Sheep.

'Good, Jim, take them home, I'll be following with Anderson. I want you lot down before we come in.'

'OK, we're heading back.'

U.S.S. LEXINGTON

Navy Aircraft Carrier

South Pacific

Casey and Bragg were waiting for their comrades on the carrier. The films had been taken from their planes instantly after their engines had come to a full halt. For now all they could do was wait. Wait to see if their friends had all made it.

'Flight deck get ready, we have planes on approach.' The command came over the deck speakers and both Black Sheep strained their eyes to make out the dark shapes approaching the Lexington.

"They're two planes short!" Casey stated when he finally spotted the approaching Corsairs.

"Oh no, we made it through the flak and now they're not all coming back?"

Another command came over the speakers 'Prepare for emergency landing for the final plane.'

Now Jerry pointed a bit lower on the horizon. "Hey, there they are! Two are coming in lower and a bit behind. They're all there!"

"Who do you think they're preparing the emergency for?"

"I don't know. We'll find out soon enough."

'You're looking good, Anderson. You're nearly there.'

'You got to go down first, Pappy. I don't know if I can make it. We're too low on fuel for you to take any risks.'

'You're going to put your bird down there just fine, Anderson. I'll be right behind you. Just stay leveled.'

Micklin had joined the Black Sheep as soon as they got down. "Who's the troublemaker?"

"Anderson, he's taken hits to his steering" Gutterman answered as he climbed out of his Corsair.

"He'd better get that plane down or he's in even bigger trouble" Micklin muttered while chewing on the stump of his cigar.

They all stood on deck, holding out for their friends, ignoring all attempts of the deck crew to get them out of what was considered the danger-zone. Anderson seemed to be approaching in slow-motion. To the eyes of the pilots it was obvious how much he had to fight to keep his plane straight for his landing. And then he was down, his hook caught the line and it slowed him down. Everyone released the breath no one had been aware of holding and suddenly there was a lot of action as the Lexington's crew ran to get the plane off the runway and the Black Sheep ran to greet their friend.

By the time Boyington was down, everyone was slapping Anderson's back. Greg walked over with a smile. They had all come back in one piece.

Later the Black Sheep had gathered in their mess to celebrate their safe return with a beer or two. Boyington walked in, waving a set of photos.

"Anyone interested in our holiday-shots?"

The Sheep immediately flocked to their leader as he spread out the photos on a table. "That's what I call a successful mission."

"Wow, nice shot. You should be a photographer, Jerry." French smiled as he saw the result of his hit. "Banning an explosion onto film like that, impressive."

They all checked the pictures. Not much had remained of the camp. Though there was a certain amount of smoke obscuring the view a bit in places it was obvious from the visible destruction that their mission had indeed been a complete success. They all cheered. "So we wiped that emplacement off the earth!"

"On top of that, your got three confirmed kills. Congratulations."

Everyone turned around to see who was speaking. General Moore stood in the doorway with Captain Hicks just visible over his shoulder. They both entered.

"You and your men have done an incredible job, Greg." Moore continued, shaking Boyington's hand. "I'm pleased to see you all made it back."

"So are we, General."

"My congratulations as well. You kept your word, Major. My crew and I will not forget about it." Hicks added. "As you're bound to head back to your regular base tomorrow..." This got a big cheer from the Black Sheep as they had not yet heard of those orders. "As you're heading back tomorrow we'd like to celebrate your success with a small party this evening. Of course you're welcome to join us if you got the time, General."

"I think I might just squeeze that into my schedule, Captain. Thank you."

The party wasn't as good as those the Black Sheep held on Vella La Cava for the lack of nurses, but as the Navy had a good stock of booze and supplied good food, they still had a good time.

Boyington was sitting at a table with General Moore and Captain Hicks while his men finally were joking and laughing with the Navy crew.

"That was one hell of a job you did, Greg." Moore was saying.

"That's why you put us onto this mission, General." Greg answered with a grin.

Moore laughed before turning to Hicks. "I hope they didn't mess up too badly here."

"I must admit it seems it was my own men who messed up, not the Major's."

Moore looked at Hicks in surprise, then at Boyington. "You want to tell me the Major here really managed to keep his meatball circus in check?"

Boyington gave him a sly grin. "As much as you can keep a meatball circus in check, Sir."

They all laughed.

The next morning the Black Sheep looked hung over when they emerged from the Lexington's superstructure, wincing and groaning in the bright light of day. Their planes were waiting for them. Micklin apparently had found a proper mechanic or two in the rows of the Navy for even Anderson's Corsair was ready for take-off.

Boyington eyed his men for a moment before raising his voice. "OK, you meatheads, let's head home!"

"Could we maybe do it a bit more quietly?" T.J. asked wincing at the volume of Boyington's voice.

"No, T.J., we can't." Greg grinned at him before heading for his own plane.

VELLA LA CAVA

ISLAND

214 Squadron H.Q.

One by one the Black Sheep touched down on Vella La Cava. While most of them just slumped off in the direction of their tents to sleep off the remains of their hang-overs, Boyington was already expected at the flight line. He jumped off his plane with a big smile on his face.

"Meatball! Hey, have you missed me? Come here, boy." He knelt down to greet his dog who was trying to lick his hands and face at the same time, tail wagging wildly. "Yeah, I missed you, too." He rubbed the dog's head and stood up again. "Come on, meatball." He, too, headed for his tent.