"Message from the underground, Colonel," Kinch announced as he slapped the board to close the entrance to the tunnel. "They have a couple of guys who've been hiding from the Krauts. Want to know if we'll send them home."
Hogan grinned at the Sergeant. "You delivering messages is like getting a postcard back home," he teased. "The mailman always read them to me."
Kinch grinned back. "I could try writing it down without reading it…"
They were laughing as they stepped out of the barracks. It was a fine day in June and the prisoners were enjoying being outside in the warmth. After being down in the dark coolness of the tunnel, Kinch turned his face up to catch the sun and sighed.
"If I was back home," he said wistfully, "I'd be taking my girl out for a picnic on a day like this."
Kinch didn't talk a lot about 'back home', so Hogan asked curiously, "Your girl? What's her name?"
Without opening his eyes he replied, "I don't know. I haven't met her yet. But on a day like this, I would have a girl to take on a picnic."
Hogan's reply was interrupted as Newkirk, Carter and LeBeau came over to join them.
"Any news from London?" Newkirk was always anxious for any possible news about his hometown.
"Don't look at me," Kinch raised his hands in negation. "I just deliver the messages."
Hogan chuckled and shook his head as the others looked puzzled. "Nothing from London," he answered. "But the underground has a couple of passengers for us. Carter, LeBeau, will you sneak out tonight and bring them in?"
Later that night, two men followed Carter down the ladder to the tunnel, with LeBeau behind them. They made an interesting pair. The first was tall and broad, with tanned skin, blue eyes and a Texas drawl. It was not hard to imagine him back home wrestling steers. The second man was just the opposite, about LeBeau's height and of slender build. He skipped the last two rungs of the ladder and jumped gracefully to the ground. He had a quick, restless manner to him, his bright eyes taking in every detail of their surroundings.
"Colonel Hogan," Carter said. "This is Sergeant Hayes," gesturing to the tall man, "and Corporal Cohan."
"Welcome to our happy home away from home," Hogan said. "Sergeant, Corporal, you're going to be here for a couple of days while we make arrangements to get you back home."
"Aw, call me Tex," drawled the big man, putting out a large hand to shake Hogan's. "Ever'body does."
"And I'm George. Nice digs you have here," the Corporal smiled.
"It's not the Georges V, but we do our best," LeBeau answered with his typically Gallic shrug.
As the hour was late, the newcomers were given a quick bite to eat and shown to cots for the night. The next day they chatted as they were being processed for the papers and other items necessary to get them out of Germany. Even if for short periods of time, it was always a treat for the prisoners to have new faces among them. Tex had, indeed, been a cowboy before joining the Army and he had any number of humorous stories to share about the trials and tribulations of ranch life.
"What about you, George?" Carter asked as he took George's picture. "What did you do back home?"
"Oh I worked with horses too," he replied. "Only mine were a bit faster and more high-strung than Tex's. I was a jockey. Rode all over the place. I even went over to try out your tracks," he added to Newkirk as the Englishman measured Tex for his civilian suit.
"That's a bit different," Newkirk said, writing down the numbers on his pad. "How'd you get on?"
George winced in memory. "Mixed, actually. I won a few races and things were looking good but then I had trouble with a colt in a big race. Got accused of throwing the race and it took some good friends to find out what had really happened and clear my name. They said I was welcome to stay but I was missing home so I went back."
"Wow," Carter said, obviously impressed. "It's almost like a movie! So, where's home?"
"New York for me. Broadway, Harold Square, 42nd Street - when I'm not riding, that's where you'll find me. Say, fellas, how long do you think it'll be before we get home?"
"A week, maybe two," Hogan answered, entering the room. "Why? Do you have a hot date?" Everyone smiled and the jockey answered.
"Sort of. My birthday's coming up on the Fourth of July. That's why my parents named me George, for George Washington. Kinda like to celebrate it at home if I could. This flight was our last mission - Tex and I are due to rotate back to the States."
"Well we'd hate for you to miss your birthday party. We'll see what we can do."
Two days later Tex and George were smuggled out in Otto's dog truck, and the last word Kinch received was that they were safely on their way to the border. When the Fourth of July came, the prisoners lifted an extra toast to George during their quiet celebrations. (Klink didn't exactly forbid a party, but he made it clear that he didn't want to hear about one being held either.)
It was a hot day in late August when the latest batch of letters and packages from home arrived via the Red Cross. Hogan received one envelope addressed in unfamiliar handwriting and opened it curiously. The message inside was short and sweet:
"Had a piece of birthday cake in your honor. My mother thanks you, my father thanks you, my sister thanks you and I thank you. George"
NOTES: Inspired by the movie "Yankee Doodle Dandy", which came out in 1942. This fictionalization of the life of the great George M. Cohan (who was very proud of being born on the Fourth of July) starred the incomparable Jimmy Cagney. In one of George's musicals, Johnny Jones, an American jockey who goes to England, is accused of throwing the big race, and his friends clear his name. In the play he sings the famous "Give my Regards to Broadway", which includes mentions of Harold Square and 42nd Street. George grew up performing in the Vaudeville circuit with his family, and at the end of their performances (at least in the movie) he would thank the audience on behalf of his family in the words I used at the end of this little story. This is one of my favorite movies and if you haven't seen it, I highly recommend it. (Just avoid the colorized version - stick to the original black and white.)