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  • Hard Landing

    San Fernando, Pampanga, Philippines

    Pvt. Peter McCain

    April 16th, 1942


    Nearly everyone in Peter’s platoon that had survived the march now knew Peter’s plan. They were all gathered together, tired and afraid, as men before them were herded onto rail cars to be sent to Japanese prison camps. Thankfully, the generous officer, Saburō Masaki, had given the soldiers enough sustenance to stage their plan.


    To Peter’s left were Isko, the Filipino gunner who acquired the documents in the first place, and Hilario, a technician from Isko’s squad with a knack for flying and operating military equipment. To his right was Private Wesley Johnson, anxious after hearing Peter’s suicidal proposition.


    “You really think this is going to work?”


    “My last plan worked, didn’t it? Trust me, this is our only shot at getting these plans out of here. And once we are back with American forces, they will come find you guys.”


    “Three men against the whole fuckin’ IJA?”


    “If our plan goes smoothly, they won’t even notice we’ve left.”




    “Yeah, if. I can’t see the future, but we have no other choice. Don’t worry about me. I’ve got Isko and his buddy Hilario. They say he’s the best pilot on this island, and with a name like Hilario, I’m sure we’ll be well entertained.”


    Ahead at the train station, a man in high-ranking officer fatigues sat atop his horse, conversing with Saburō. The officer was guiding some men from the march into a line towards the train car furthest in the back, while a majority stayed in the straight path towards the front-most car. The men the officer chose to send to the rear car seemed almost random, and while the front cars were packed tightly, shoulder-to-shoulder, the rear car was sparse and open for the few men on-board. Unlike the other gray cars, it was painted a dark shade of red, and the side marked with more Japanese symbols than the others. The numbers ‘731 ’ were painted on the door.


    Peter could see Wesley was nervous and unsure of himself, his hands clenched and eyes blinking rapidly.


    Peter leaned in, “Hey, stop worrying about me. I can handle myself. You know that better than anyone.”


    “Oh, please, worried about you? I’m just worried how the Corporal is going to take it when you actually pull this off. He’s gonna flip.”


    Ahead in the line, the officer atop the horse was barking orders at an American being sent to the rear car who was begging to be sent with the others.




    The American begged, “Please! They’ll kill me, you’re killing me!


    The officer motioned towards two Japanese foot soldiers to force the American into the rail car. They grabbed his arms and wrestled with him to stay calm.


    “They’re gonna tear us apart! You can’t do this!


    He was now on the ground, as one of the soldiers held him down with a boot to his back, the other took hold of his forearm, and yanked it backwards, breaking bone. The American’s head was in the dirt, an agonized expression facing Peter’s group. He recognized him now: First Lieutenant Gentiles. They had never seen a man so stoic and respected so reduced. The two soldiers dragged Gentiles towards the train, tossing him into the car where he was attended to by the other Americans on board, his eyes red and spirit destroyed.


    Nearby the officer who gave the orders, sat Saburō atop his horse, eyes shut and face to the ground. He rode the horse, trotting towards his previous position in the line near Pete’'s squad, ashamed and silent.


    Peter whispered, “They won’t get away with this, Saburō.”


    Saburō chose to remain silent.


    Peter continued, “I know this isn’t what you want, but you have the power to do something.”


    Calmly, Saburō replied, “Unfortunately, I cannot.”


    Peter raised his index finger, pointing towards a Japanese soldier to his rear, “That guy, that guy behind us? He was smacking around one of us. Even though you ordered them not to.”


    Saburō was visibly incensed, and meditated for a moment to calm himself.


    “For once American, stow your tongue.”


    Saburō looked to the group of young soldiers watching over the prisoners in the back, then to the officer and the gathering of other soldiers ahead. He whistled to the soldiers in the back, motioning them towards him, as he rode his horse nearer to the front. He rallied a majority of his men towards the other officer, and raised his voice as he began speaking to them. The line towards the train had stopped, and the other officer seemed annoyed. One Japanese soldier was ordered to stay behind to ensure there was no trouble.


    Wesley put the back of his hand to Peter’s chest as he was preparing himself to run.


    “Good luck, Pete. See you on the other side.”


    The single Japanese soldier stood facing forward where Peter, Isko, and Hilario were, before having his attention drawn towards a Filipino man in the back asking in Japanese what was happening. With him far enough away, Isko barked in a hushed tone, “Now!


    Isko, Hilario, and Peter darted out of line, the crowd filling in the gap as they departed. They ran through dirt onto concrete before meeting the wall of the station, away from the view of the Japanese.


    Out of breath, Peter took a moment to rest. “Holy... shit.... that... worked!”


    Isko leaned on the wall, positioning himself towards the edge to look out on the rest of the station. There was a building that the tracks went through with an open door that was spacious enough to hold plenty of vehicles.


    “We’re not through yet! Hilario, see that building?”


    Hilario joined him at the edge.


    “I see. It could have weapons, armored vehicles, everything we need.”


    Peter now crouched alongside them.


    “I thought the idea was to get out of here quietly?”


    Isko replied, “That is ideal. But we should prepare for the worst. If we are caught, we need protection.”


    Peter interjected, “That is, if Hilario can operate whatever we find in there… ”


    “Of course I can.” Hilario stood up, ensuring he saw no one surrounding the large, open doorway, and sprinted with Isko and Peter in tow. Now crouched, they turned the corner into the spacious building, the size of a large barn.


    The walls were mounted with vehicle parts and there was a massive crate filled with ammunition boxes straight from the factory. Around the edges were rows of tanks, and on the tracks in the center was a vehicle that looked like a tank, but it sat firmly attached to the rails.


    The trio moved inside the dimly lit building, the majority of light coming from the open doors and a single window at the highest point on the wall.


    Hilario approached the tank nearest to the door, being sure he saw no one inside the building. He laid his hand upon its dark green finish, the armor completely unscathed. He raised himself up on top, chuckling to himself.


    Isko spoke quietly to him, “A tank escape is not an option. We need something fast to get to the airfield before they notice we’ve left.”


    Peter looked around the room, then to Isko.


    “These are all tanks! Nothing with tires by the looks of it.”


    Hilario jumped down, walking towards the vehicle on the track.


    “Not all tanks.”


    By all accounts, the vehicle looked like a tank, with treads, thick armor, and a hatch at the top for the crew.


    Isko approached it, ducking his head underneath to see it attached to the tracks. “What is it, Hilario?”


    So-Ki armored car. Not many made. Used for reconnaissance and armored transport. It has no weapons, but can move, I believe, near seventy kilometers per hour while on track.”


    Peter climbed atop the railroad car, looking inside the hatch at the spacious interior. “Can you get it moving?”


    Hilario replied, “Of course I can.”


    Peter looked at Isko, “I like this one’s attitude, Izzy. He’s a keeper.”


    Isko grinned before patting Hilario on the back.


    “Let us get moving. We won’t have much time soon. Hilario, get acquainted with it. Peter and I will find weapons.”


    Hilario located the hatch to enter the So-Ki as Peter and Isko approached the crate filled with ammunition. Inside were a set of pristine Nambu sidearms as well as a gun the pair had not seen before. The new Japanese weapon was roughly the size of a Thompson, with some similar components.


    Peter muttered under his breath, “Looks like the Tojos have submachine guns now.”


    “It may be useful. Take a Nambu for Hilario with magazines and what-”


    Isko stopped speaking as the sound of boot steps on concrete grew louder. The duo whipped their heads back to a lone Japanese mechanic, unarmed and frightened of the armed prisoners. 


    He yelled out, “Tasukete! ” 


    Peter dropped the gun, and bolted towards him, tackling him to the ground as he tried to run. He wrapped his arms around the man, holding him tight as Isko rushed to shut the large doors on either side of the building, keeping them shut with a pipe. Peter held down on the man’s neck as hard as he could until he stopped struggling. Peter let him go, adrenaline pumping, before feeling the man’s chest for a heartbeat. He was alive, but unconscious.


    Peter rose to his feet, the room now much darker as the doors were closed to the sunny outdoors, with only the single window’s light shining onto the tank in the middle of the room. There was a loud banging and shouting from Japanese soldiers outside, attempting to enter the building.


    Peter yelled, “Shit!


    Peter sprinted to the So-Ki which Hilario had managed to get running. Isko was now with them, the weapons loaded on board. Peter entered the car from the back, grabbing the roof then swinging himself in. It was much louder on the inside than on the outside. There was not any wasted space around the interior walls, which were covered in connective wires and components for the engine and control system. There was only a single seat, now occupied by Hilario. The view port at the front of the vehicle was so minuscule, Peter could not properly view the front facing action.


    Peter shouted, “What’s Isko doing?!”


    “Unbarring the doors,” Isko replied, “You will want to hold on to something!”


    Peter grabbed a hold of the Japanese submachine gun with one hand, while holding onto a hand grip in the ceiling. The banging from the rear doors of the building was getting louder before Isko finally pulled the door shut behind him.


    Isko shouted, “Go, Hilario! Go!”


    The vehicle lurched forward, nearly knocking Peter and Isko to the ground as it impacted the wooden doors to the building, breathing in sunlight through the tiny viewports.


    Through the engine’s gaining intensity, yelling from the Japanese could be heard. Following this came the pinging of small-arms fire on the outer armor of the tank. As it picked up speed, the number of bullets depreciated to nothing. For a moment, there was peace and tranquility in the deafening interior. 


    It was short-lived, as a hail of bullets pinged off the left side of the vehicle, leaving impressions in the metal near the viewport.


    Hilario jerked his body to a port on the left side, informing the others.


    “There is a car! Two men, one driving! They are trying to hit the engine through the viewports!”


    Isko took Peter’s shoulder, directing him to the hatch at the top of the vehicle, “Wait for a gap in their fire!”


    Peter readied himself, locating the handle for the upper hatch, and ensuring his weapon was ready to be fired. As a hail of bullets pinged off the treads and abruptly ended, Peter shoved the hatch aside, raising himself up into the direct sunlight on the tropical landscape. The station was directly ahead, but more pressing was the re-purposed civilian car, with a passenger reloading the same submachine gun Peter was wielding. The driver called out to his passenger, alerting him to Peter’s impending attack.


    Peter laid the barrel on the hatch’s rim, took aim, and held the trigger. The kickback from the foreign weapon shifted its barrel to the side, which unintentionally increased its effectiveness in throwing bullets in a wide arc. Several whizzed past the truck, until one shattered the windshield and several others hit the passenger, who dropped his weapon and keeled over. The driver panicked, now blood soaked and cut by glass, shifting the wheel swiftly causing the car that was going at top speed to spin out of control, flipping on its side.


    Peter lifted the weapon into the air, shouting as he looked back, “Ooh-rah! Hell yeah!”


    He felt a tugging at his pants from inside the car. “What? What is-”


    Peter shifted focus to the track ahead and saw a Japanese Zero whizzing directly towards them. He dropped like rock inside, heavy machine gun rounds sending dirt flying into the cabin from outside, two bullets even piercing the hull and directly impacting a fuel valve, spurting gasoline onto every surface.


    Peter exclaimed, “Fuck!” 


    The engine screeched and hissed as Hilario attempted to slow the vehicle, now within range of the airfield.


    Hilario shouted over the roaring engine, “When we stop, we run to the nearest hangar!”


    Peter nodded to red-faced Hilario, then to Isko, his clothes drenched in gasoline. Peter hoped there would be no open flames to ignite the trio as they tried to escape.


    The speeding armored car slowed continuously, eventually derailing from the chaotic halt, and veering into a row of transport trucks parked outside a hangar bay.


    Isko wasted no time in pushing open the hatch and assisting the dazed Peter and Hilario from the crashed vehicle. Rising to his feet, Peter felt the sun nuzzling his skin and heard the sound of a boisterous, irritating siren. The enemy would be coming for them, soon.


    Isko held his Nambu in his right hand, using his left to shield his eyes from the sun and see in the distance, “Foot soldiers on the tracks! They are following the rails.”


    Hilario had opened a door into the nearby hangar bay, motioning that it was clear to enter.


    Peter grabbed Isko by the shoulder, “Isko, let’s go!”


    Isko stood firm, “They will block our escape. We will be cornered inside the hangar.”


    Peter tugged at Isko’s sleeve, “We’re pretty well fucked out here too! Now come on!”


    Isko stood in place, looking around the corner of the crashed car to see the men running down the rail line.


    “There won’t be time. I will take one of these trucks, and they will believe you two are in the back.”


    Isko approached the driver side of one of the trucks, opening the door and pulling open a compartment beneath the steering wheel, revealing the innards of the vehicle.


    “Once I start the vehicle, you two start the plane and leave, fast!”


    Hilario took Isko by the shoulder, shoving him into the side of the car, “That is not happening!”


    Peter approached them, “What about me? I can stay behind, divert their attention. I’ll find some other plane.”


    “No. Peter McCain, you will return home. You are a fighter, and you will help stop this war. You have a daughter. I have no children.”


    Isko took the stolen documents from inside his uniform and shoved them into Peter’s chest, returning to the truck. Peter was taken aback by the mention of his daughter. He had only mentioned her in passing conversation during the march, and only now did he realize the respect Isko had for him in choosing him for this mission.


    Isko continued, “You care for your comrades and for your family. You and Hilario must leave this place.”


    Hilario begged with him, “Please, let me stay behind. You can go.”


    “You must fly the plane. Go home... tell mama I love her.”


    Hilario, normally stoic, was nearly in tears, “Mahal kita kuya … ”


    Isko pulled Hilario close, “You too, brother. Now go, hurry!”


    Isko had managed to start the engine of the truck, enter the driver’s seat, and hit the gas, heading towards the soldiers who were running directly towards them.


    Hilario and Peter ran for the hangar, precious cargo now in possession, and as they shut the door, the sound of gunshots and the truck now turning another direction could be heard.


    Within the lit hangar bay was an array of small attack fighters and bombers. The plane Hilario had set his sights on was near the center, a twin-engine light bomber. From what Peter could remember in his training, the plane resembled the bombers designated by the Navy as “Lily ”.


    They wasted no time walking up the ramp of the plane. Hilario located the cockpit, strapping himself in and fiddling with controls.


    He barked orders, “You will take the front gunner position. If any of them are waiting outside, give them Hell.”


    Lights began to spring to life throughout the interior, where Peter was assessing the machine gun mounted at the nose of the plane, surrounded by a thick set of glass panes to look out of the front of the plane. 


    The propellers of the plane began to spin, and the plane was in motion towards the front gate of the hangar, where it came to a stop.


    Hilario shouted, “Peter, get the doors open! We will make my brother proud!”


    Peter took to the ramp, sprinting towards the massive doorway, pushing with all his strength on the left door. The sunlight illuminated the gray bomber, armor painted with the Japanese Empire’s flag. Peter then took to the right door, pushing it open enough to reveal the runway to Hilario. There were no soldiers to be seen. 


    He bolted up the ramp of the plane, which Hilario had set in motion before Peter could arrive at the turret. Now fully exposed, Hilario turned the plane’s direction right, away from San Fernando towards Corregidor. 


    Peter shouted back from the gunner position, “Do you know the way there?”


    Hilario chuckled, “Of course I do!”


    “I don’t know why I even ask,” Peter muttered to himself.


    The plane began to pick up speed on the runway, but had attracted the attention of soldiers laying dormant near the other hangar bays. Men began to run out, unable to keep pace with the aircraft, as two transport trucks parked near the end of the runway, a dozen Japanese men exiting and pointing their rifles to the rogue plane.


    In response, Peter took aim with the turret, firing at the stationary targets. Due to the unexpected gunfire, the soldiers at the trucks began to scatter, firing back as they did so, bullets bouncing off of the wings and hull of the armored plane before one bullet impacted the glass in front of Peter’s chest. It had luckily been thick enough to stop it from penetrating. Peter did not cease fire, however, as the nose began to rise into the air. The sudden shift in altitude sent Peter tumbling backwards.


    Hilario yelled, “You may hold on to something!”


    “Yeah...” Peter muttered, tending to his arm that had banged against the wall.


    Peter grabbed a hold of a ladder rung leading up to the cockpit, using the other hand to grip his chest as he grew sick.


    The plane eventually leveled out, allowing Peter to traverse the plane on his wobbly legs. “I feel ill… ”


    Hilario replied, “No worries, it will not be long. The Ki-48 is a very fast bomber.”


    “I can tell... I’m sorry about your brother. He’s a hero.”


    “Do not be sorry. Be a better man. My brother came to respect you in the three days we have known you. I mostly found you unbearable.”


    “A lot of people do. If I’m sorry about anything, it would probably be that.”


    “In any case, Francisco Reyes will live on in our memory.”


    Peter took a seat, allowing Hilario time to mourn. To take his mind away from the altitude sickness, he took a look at the documents stolen from Saburō. They were folded and crumpled as they were shoved in pockets and passed on during inspections in the march from Bataan. The original document shown to him by Isko regarding attack plans was at the top, and only now with time could he assess the crucial nature of this information. Though the writing was in Japanese, the letter to Saburō came attached with a detailed map of the Pacific with areas marked for varied levels of attack.


    The next in the pile was, surprisingly, a letter written in English. The intricate cursive handwriting was nigh-impossible to read with the shaking of the plane, but the letter was written to Saburō and mentioned practicing English writing for a mission. The rest was too crumpled or smeared, but at the bottom, the letter was marked by its writer, Takeo Masaki. This must be the son Saburō mentioned whom he trained as a Samurai. Saburō would never know what his actions had done for the greater good today.


    The last document was completely in Japanese, but was adorned with a plethora of seals, and was typed on a typewriter. The seals were unknown to Peter, but two in particular caught his eye as they contained numbers. The two symbols were circular and highly intricate, with one simply having a large number 9, and the other the numbers 9-3-5. 


    Peter was shaken from his concentration at the sound of bullets whizzing past the plane, coming from the rear.


    “Zeros! Get on the rear gun!”


    Peter jolted up, pressing his hand on both sides of the plane to keep balanced as he made his way to the rear gun, the same type as that on the front. Hilario began to dip the plane downward to dodge the now-visible twin Japanese Zeros, which were firing their guns at the wings of the plane.


    Peter pointed the gun, pulling the trigger and missing as the plane veered to his right, out of view. He swiveled to the second, letting loose a barrage, causing the plane to spin and attempt to dodge the fire. One bullet had apparently hit, as the Zero began to dive, smoke emanating from its engine. It dipped below the clouds, unseen.


    The previous plane, however, was still unaccounted for, and Peter scoured the horizon in search of it.


    Peter called out to the cockpit, “I can’t see him! Do you have eyes on him?!”


    “No, I can’t... wait, he’s high!”


    Peter swiveled the gun skyward, setting his sights on the plane as it was now diving at high velocity towards the bomber, firing on all cylinders.


    Peter returned fire, failing to hit the significantly smaller target, but the Zero’s bullets had penetrated the left-most engine.


    Hilario shouted, “We are hit, badly!”


    Peter asked, “How long do we have?!”


    “I can make it to the island. We are close!”


    Peter searched the skies once more in search of the pursuer, spotting him in the distance. He waited, anticipating the plane making another attack. Instead, it slowed down, dipping out of view through the clouds.


    Peter yelled back to Hilario, “He’s gone!”


    He continued waiting, palms sweating and clenching the gun so tightly it began to hurt. From the cockpit, Peter could hear the sound of radio static then a distinctly Southern, American voice.


    Attention, this is restricted air space. Turn around or you will be shot down!


    They must have noticed the plane was being attacked by Zeroes, otherwise they would have begun firing at them. Peter had made his way to the cockpit, climbing the ladder and taking control of the radio while Hilario attended to the flight controls of the damaged plane.


    The voice returned, speaking in Japanese for one final warning, “Anata wa gekitsui sa remasu!


    Peter replied into the microphone, “I speak English, damn it! This is Peter McCain, United States Marine Corp. We are survivors from Bataan! We have crucial documents on Japanese attack plans. We need to land on the island!”


    The plane dipped left, as the engine began to give out.


    Hilario turned to Peter, “This plane isn’t landing on a runway.”


    The radio replied back, “Copy that, your craft is FUBARed. You need to divert to an open field or you risk hitting the base. You need to pull up, now!


    Peter held Hilario’s shoulder tightly, “You’ve got this!”


    “Get down and strap in!” Hilario picked up the radio, “We are going down at the beach, south of the base. Send help immediately!”




    Peter located a seat under the cockpit away from the glass front and rear of the plane. He strapped himself in and ensured the documents were held safely on his person. He only hoped that if they died, the precious cargo would not burn up in an explosion.


    He rattled in his seat, taking his mind elsewhere as the wings of the plane began to crumble and fall. He closed his eyes and prayed for God’s protection as they plummeted to Earth.


    Hilario screamed, “BRACE!


    No more than a few seconds later, Peter heard a hard crack as the hull impacted the tropical beach, nearly crumpling under its own weight as it was shot like a bullet through the sand. Glass flew from the front of the plane to the back, cutting Peter’s knees as he jostled in his seat. Peter could feel the plane’s fuselage beginning to twist, the wings now completely gone. The last thing he could remember was the loud crunch of the front of the plane as it slowed and came to a sudden stop at a large rock near the tree line.


    When he came to, Peter was being dragged through the sand, his view being of the wrecked, burning hunk of metal that was once a plane. He gazed downward at his legs, which were bleeding profusely, and he felt a sharp pain in his temple, where his head must have impacted the interior of the plane and knocked him cold. He could not bear to move his head enough to view who was dragging him. He placed his hand in his pocket, finding the intel safe and sound. He placed it back, trying to speak with his bloodied mouth.


    “Where is... Hilario... did he...”


    Peter felt woozy, and close to blacking out again, before he was picked up by two men and put into the bed of a truck. He tilted his head slightly as the truck began to move, and now saw the bloodied, bruised, but alive Hilario Reyes.


    “You... you did it. We fucking pulled it off...”


    Hilario groaned, “... Of course we did.”

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