The Life O' Leroy Jackson

Chances are, you'll never meet me, and you may never want to, but I'm not so different from you, or those you're pals with. We're both crazy about the Babe, and not one of us rejoiced in this season's slump- it molests our hearts like that Panamanian plague did, when our fathers burdened with that slough.

Yes, I'm from Athens, Georgia, but until Atlanta has a team, I wave the Yankee pennant proudly. Some boys say I ain't loyal, 'cause I thought the same of Boston before the trade. And others disapprove of my following white games.
I'm Leroy Jackson, and I'm a barnstorming pilot, flying a small circuit covering farm towns east of the Mississippi- and cities of large black populous.

It seems a long time ago, but I picked leaves for Bull Durham when a Captain Loire came to the rail depot and promised a chance to "empower us against the Huns, a real scourge to the liberty of the black well-being." He brought our great reporters with him. They reminded us of the sheet-heads, heroically called "nightriders" by those Huns.
I'm not sure many of us swallowed much on German white supremacy, but the French pay matched a white man's, and we'd get fitting shoes with our free Lee-Enfield rifles!

My great Grand Mama rubbed the patois on me, so I picked up the talk fast- that's right- I joined!
We shipped out of Norfolk in the spring of 1916, and stayed in common storage crates, toughed it out.
My first duty came on that boat. See, the instructor noticed my shooting eye stood out, and that meant I earned sentry on deck. What I looked for was periscopes, belonging to German submersibles.

This amounted to nothing, 'cause our sea-lane stayed clear of England.
We docked in Marce', a French town in the Mediterranean; see, Krauts hated staying that far south, since their main goal held dear to the starving of England. Also, their submerged electric engines run out of power after a few days.
That town was a historic beaut. It reminded me of a hamlet close to home; a temperate place called Savanna.

The heroic entry challenged my impression. However nice Southern hospitality is, as a black man, Southern France felt far more welcome, no grudging about it.
These people invented the word "soiree." They threw something of a refined kegger- I don't mean "refined" in a stiff British since, either, I'm saying this was a well-oiled P.T. Barnum event. It had a freak show, from a morality standpoint. I'm not sure how many of us were God-fearing, but the Priesthood must have sold out on indulgences on our stay!

Unbelievably, the State trucked in femmes.
I-um, encountered one named Myra. Myra, she knew baseball, probably the only-uh, escort, who knew the sport. Smart girl. The Cubs, especially that Texan at third base, were her favorites.
We played catch in the morning, a real duel, like Christy Matthewson and Walter Johnson, had they been fighting this war in opposing trenches.
Baseball was a dream. Myra was a dream. This war was a nightmare in a demon's Hell.

My war buddy, Pete Madison, carried a .303 Maxim with us south of the Somme that spring. Vehicles and even man-pushed carts proved rare until next year, but still, deep ruts ridged a pockmarked landscape. I figured out why. Men, more like zombies, trudged lifelessly, their feet dragged. They seemed casings for fading embers.
I helped Pete, but we were to accustomed to Earth to take this Lunar world in stride.
Only role-playing from Stephan Crane stories and sweet memories of things like catching Myra's fastballs or rigging bicycles just right helped me unwind a fraction under the shelling. Sometimes Bertha hit us. Sometimes Somon rained on us. Or CS. Or just chlorine. Even sulfur powdered us, I swear.
What's it mater? We were Coloreds. We charged.
Man, Anglos were doing it- what's a few American volunteers?
We fought Ypres number three, right? The number was meaningless. All other attempts got nowhere, so this must be the same battle.
We broke the rules. This was a 9-to-5 front. Civilized, they said, unlike in the East, with Russians.

I once thought whites felt love and understanding among other whites, but then I learned that Russians were excluded.
Our company closed to fifty yards when Madison ragtimed that Maxim. The first chainsaw rattle zeroed under a Kraut sentry's cigarette-glow, I heard his air escape two pieced lungs. Ammo looped through Pete's piece as our fixed bayonets prodded around the lead trench.
We dropped down, feeling our blades in. These weren't the savage Huns of propaganda posters, these were meek skeletal Nancys who shy around school yards! Yet we stabbed one after another like loony hatters unleashed in a butcher shop.

We Allies honed the edge. Their eyelids stuttered, their 5 0'clock shadow harvested drool, and their knees buckled.
In short, these men felt battle fatigue, the chronic type. Pete set up at the narrow entrance of the enemy's subterranean barracks, while a new crew moved ahead up top.
The French finally bellowed in anger, and the other guy answered in kind.
At last, we did what the brass had waited for; we maneuvered. Night vision waned under the massive on pouring, so we realized our advantage by crouching north up the trench network.

Hazards found us, of course, but all enemy malice remained accidental.
Our targets stared all forward, rigidly set on the West, the one place Europe's autocratic puppet-masters approached from.
I splashed a rouge fountain on a machine-gunner's soft temple. He face-planted, while his buddies rushed a carbine snapshot. He fed the magazine wrong, fell back on his trusty 1896 Mauser. Someone planted him a third eye.
The Jerry gunners picked up the word from the guys at our nest, and going faltered again.

Pete packed up a gun for blocking an inevitable counter, while some of us prodded the Jerry away with semi auto plinking.
We made a few human geysers, but they pulled out expertly. This was a route, anyway. We moved the line five hundred yards ahead, and widened our gap over a mile.
Australian shocktroopers led an attack north of us that morning. Supported by the largest shelling a man has seen to date, they fought tooth-and-nail but no breakthrough seemed possible, because the Kaiser's army held so much depth, no open ground existed!

Impossible or not, our Sarge roused us to battle that afternoon.
"You're Kaiser's a cross-dressing monocled pansy, and your marksmanship sucks! You hear that? Your currency name misses the mark, get it? Up yours! C'mon, men, over the top! You hear me apes- you wanna live forever?!"
We rallied.

But this time, we kept our chins in the mud, and staggered ahead. Our machine-gunners covered each other in leapfrogging maneuvers, while we riflemen picked our own moments to shoot and crawl alternately.
The Sarge plowed plowed for a pre-designated objective, an 8-inch howitzer crater, blown by an English gun, displaced from the Royal Navy.
Lucky us, our objective waited just short of Jerry's barbed wire in no-man's land!
A gunner wised-up, peppered us salty Yanks, but to no avail.
For a hair moment, he got a bead, kicked that spade crowning my back like Paleolithic armor.
Sarge set on a limb there, and crosshaired the sucker. A bead of ruby blossomed out fore and aft of him, silencing that industrial crescendo.
Crack! That war angel tapped said victim's war buddy, an all too dependable avenger.
I crossed home. Sergeant kept watch as I fleshed out my spade for mole duty. No rest for the weary!
Our alley barrage trickled to a slow low-intense rate. The platoon settled in digging or plinking.
In place, we proceeded with sapper duty.

Batteries shelled batteries all night, in a duel of will. Man alive, the world shifted in a cascade for the worst. We shoveled a nice cavern and made the best of it, while an Australian team trenched their way to us.

I knew they could trench faster than tunnel, but I didn't like it, 'cause they were vulnerable. They roofed it with boards and sandbags, drawing my smile.

"And they figured out how to hang on the bottom of the world, too!"
The point men still crouched in a vulnerable fix, so our briard breed dog shipped supplies in to decoy.
"Good dogs!"
The canine's tactile feedback was a shot in the arm, redoubling our efforts.
The better part of an hour passed without a word.
"Jackson, take my station, while I prep some chow!"
"Yes Sir!"
The rifle put a strain on me, but I put it to use. I cracked the bolt and rested a digit on the steel.
Hail Mary and fire at will, that's how it was.

The silhouette of my desire I reckoned to be a forward observer. Behind proscribed range, I fired. Nothing doing. I could feel what was coming.
"Incoming!"
Our side cowered. A tsunami crashed in our ears, our teeth clattered. I understood procedure, so I uncoiled and took aim.
My second magazine emptied this time, I slid in another before more shells raked us.
Cit it close- he'll witness the correction.
Impact!
At a cost- shrapnel clattered my helmet, some cutting my skull. I'm on my back, and Sarge pulls me into the hole. I'm riding the waves of drowsiness, and my helmet's a sieve for Heinz sauce.
"I waxed a watchdog, Sarge," I felt weak, yet elated.
"A deadeye, Kid."
I surfed with the shelling, lulling me to the dark end.

I succumbed.


1The 'apes' line was actually was used in WWI, as all Robert A. Henlein fans would know.

Author's Note: This was meant as a contest entry in a magazine, but I went over the maximum word count. Leroy is narrating the tale from a telegraph office in 1925 Texas. Can you imagine Morgan Freeman narrating the movie?