Wednesday, May 20, 2009

STAR SPANGLED WAR STORIES 197: "The Henschel Gambit"

An Arab in collusion with the Nazis named Hassan Ben Haroun is captured by covert guerrillas at an airfield. The rebels are led by a white woman. Hassan is actually the Unknown Soldier in disguise, who has been sent to North Africa to take Hassan's place and sabotage the Nazis last line of defense in the desert: a set of three Henschel HS 129 experimental bombers. Without these bombers, Rommel and the Afrika Korps will be defeated and the desert war won.

However, the unknown white rebel with the Arabs is determined to take Hassan back to face justice. The Soldier manages to escape by alerting the Nazi guards, but the white woman, still believing him to be Hassan, tracks him for the kill. The Soldier, meanwhile, recalls more information regarding his primary orders, preventing him from killing the white woman.

Back at Allied HQ, the Soldier was introduced to a Senator Evans, a brusque, entitled man whose daughter Jeannie is the white woman leading the guerrillas. Being a woman, Jeannie has a need to join the war effort, and has fled her father's political world for something real. Senator Evans has assurances from the Soldier's superiors that the Soldier will find and return Jeannie to the States. Obviously disgusted by such pandering and the Senator's short-sightedness (as the Soldier points out: "Seems I do remember rumors concerning a white woman leading a band of guerrillas. Only from what I heard, she's doing an excellent job.") the Soldier will perform his duty.

Back in the present, the Soldier as Hassan is about to be executed by Jeannie Evans, and he turns the tables on her, still disgusted by his orders, and renders her unconscious. Taking Jeannie to one of the Herschels, the Soldier fires up the bomber and flies from the airfield. The other two Herschels take off in pursuit, but they are ill-prepared for the Soldier's dive-bombing of the airfield, using the mounted 75mm anti-tank gun to destroy the other planes.

After that, the Soldier flies the limping Herschel several miles before it crashes in the desert and itself is destroyed. The Soldier carries the still-unconscious Jeannie Evans from the wreckage. Soon he discovers she is dead, however.

The story ends on the Soldier's righteous anger at the Senator, and his lament that he would not be able to forget Jeannie's face, "in restless dreams."

It's interesting that writer David Michelinie never explicitly states whether Jeannie has been killed by the bullets of the Nazi soldiers during the escape, or more darkly whether his own blow to Jeannie's head to knock her out might have killed her.

I didn't catch this subtle hint the first time around. Though obviously easy enough to suspect Jeannie was collateral damage during the Soldier's mission, still the Soldier's deep regret seems especially poignant...and I wonder. Was the Soldier's blow the moment Jeannie Evans died? Either way, the Soldier holds himself and a selfish bureaucrat responsible for the loss of a spirited fighter with integrity.

This is a quick little story, hardly a story more than an incident, as most of the tale occurs in the past. The Soldier's determination to follow orders, no matter what, has killed Jeannie Evans, whose own contributions to the War effort had been immense. It's a bleak look at the Soldier's military strength and human weakness, at how what he became to end the War seems to erase whatever he knew of decency prior to his horrific scarring.

Out of Five 3D Men.

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