The air was filled with planes, droves of them, flying in formation,
casting their shadows over the Marine Aviation Base at Pensacola,
Florida, like a great body of locusts.
Suddenly, a lone pursuit plane flew over the field like a majestic
The pilot pushed the stick forward and the plane slowly glided down
toward earth, an almost human thing, beautiful to gaze upon, graceful as
a large bird and perfectly handled at the controls by an expert airman.
As the landing gears touched ground and the plane taxied along to the
place where other ships stood idle, Lefty, who was standing with a group
of newly arrived recruits, noticed the bold, red flying devil painted
directly under the cockpit.
Presently the prize ship came to a stop and the familiar figure of
Sergeant Panama Williams crawled out of the cockpit, attired in greasy,
oil-stained flying togs.
As his feet once more touched ground, he handed his parachute to a
waiting mechanic and reached into the pocket of his blouse for a chew of
Lefty’s heart leaped with joy for here was a friend among this great,
countless group of strange, indifferent enlisted men and officers.
Here was a man, the one person in all the world who had instilled a
feeling of confidence within him when everyone else delighted in
ridiculing his unfortunate play.
“That’s Sergeant Williams,” announced a corporal assigned to watch the
new squad of rookies. “He’s the man who will instruct you fellows.”
Panama removed his Gasborne helmet and, in characteristic fashion,
crossed the field to join a group of noncommissioned officers.
“Well, there’s a new batch of students over there, waiting for you,
Panama,” a flying sergeant announced as Williams joined the group. “More
students means more work.”
“And more headaches,” Williams added. Then turning to one of the other
men, he said, “Bring that gang of frozen skulls over here.”
In a few moments, Panama was face to face with his latest proteges.
The recruits stood in a line, none daring to look their new sergeant
squarely in the eye as Williams walked past them, studying each man and
forming an opinion in his mind as to their individual characters and
He stopped directly in front of a tall, thin, and somewhat
stooped-shouldered individual with a pasty complexion and small, narrow
“What’s your name?” he snapped at the rookie.
“Steve Graham, sergy. What’s yours?”
Panama’s face grew livid with rage. He knew then and there that this
would be one unfortunate who would learn a severe lesson in Marine
“Button your lip or I’ll close it for you!”
The sergeant’s words apparently had no effect upon the recruit for his
lips parted in a challenging manner.
“I’ll bet you play a great game of pool,” Panama surmised sarcastically.
“You said it, kid,” Steve replied, not at all phased by the sergeant’s
bulldozing tactics. “Do you?”
Panama’s eyes narrowed and he bit his lip, struggling with himself to
keep from smashing a few teeth from this brazen newcomer’s flip mouth.
“You keep your trap shut or I’ll teach you how!” he roared as he walked
along, stopping in front of Lefty.
The boy was thrilled from head to toe at the opportunity of once more
standing face to face with the man who had encouraged him so that dismal
afternoon in the little New Haven railroad station wash room. A broad,
generous smile was plainly registered upon Lefty’s happy face as he
waited for Panama to display some sign of recognition.
“Wipe that smile off your pan!” Williams bellowed and passed on to the
He looked back for a moment, somewhat puzzled. Certainly he had seen
that face before and the boy’s smile was probably one of recognition,
but where, when or how he knew the recruit, he could not explain and
furthermore, made no serious attempt to.
Panama was in the midst of his element. True to his calling, this
hard-boiled sergeant had a greater penchant for talking to new recruits
He stopped a few paces back and eyed each man again before beginning to
“So you want to be flyers, eh?” he drawled in an uncomplimentary manner.
“You want to be birdies and go bye-bye in the clouds? Well—it will be a
miracle if any of you ever leave the ground!”
Every man in the line felt a lump rise in their throats that they tried,
unsuccessfully, to swallow.
Panama turned and pointed to a Martin Bomber standing some twenty feet
away as the eyes of every man followed the direction of his finger.
“That’s an airplane. Get that? A Martin Bomber and a wonderful piece of
machinery that cost old Uncle Sam about fifty thousand smackers. It’ll
be a long, long time before we get foolish enough to let you babies take
one of those things up alone for an airing!”
If Panama thought that his little heart-to-heart chat with these boys
would discourage them in any way, he was mistaken. They merely looked on
silent, each man certain of the fact that one day, they would show this
loquacious sergeant a thing or two.
“It’s up to me to make pilots of you. It’s going to be tough on me but
tougher on you,” Panama went on to explain. “But if you got guts enough
to make the grade (and I don’t think any of you have), it’ll be worth
the effort! Dismissed and report to me at six o’clock to-morrow
The men broke formation and started off toward the barracks just east of
the landing field.
Panama watched them for a moment, then an idea came to him and he called
after his charges to come back.
When they had again fallen into line, he smiled grimly for a moment and
then explained: “When I learned how to fly, I got my education in a
Jenny, and before we could take our little Jenny for a ride, we had to
give her a bath. Now you guys hustle over there and wash that plane—and
don’t use any perfume on her either!”
As the men broke rank and started off to where the Martin Bomber stood,
Lefty hesitated, staring at Panama, undecided whether or not to approach
Just as he came to the conclusion that Panama must have forgotten him
and it might be advisable to refresh the sergeant’s memory, Williams let
out a roar that completely upset the boy’s nerves.
“Over there, lame brain! Move before I come and help you!”
Elinor, along with the rest of the San Diego flying instruction group,
had been transferred to the Pensacola base, arriving the same time as
Lefty. He had seen her earlier in the day and had had an opportunity to
speak with her for one brief moment.
Now, as he stood perspiring and working over the wing of a plane with
soap and water, she walked directly by him.
Just as she passed the boy, the bottom of her regulation cape caught in
the wiring on the wing and the button at the neck fell off, dropping in
the pail of water at Lefty’s feet.
As she looked after the absent button, somewhat perplexed, her eyes met
Lefty’s and the broad smile beaming upon his face. He reached into the
pail, retrieving the lost accessory and, holding it in his hand for her
to reclaim, said, “If I wasn’t so busy, I’d sew it on!”
Elinor, remembering the incident in the Senior Medical Officer’s
reception room, smiled good-humoredly and helped along the situation by
replying, “Are you always busy?”
Lefty dropped his soap and brush, gazing down at the lovely girl
hopefully at this welcome sign of encouragement.
“Well—I’m not busy to-night!”
A mischievous twinkle shone in Elinor’s eyes and, as she started to walk
away, replied, “That’s just too bad, Private Phelps, because I am!”
“Well, how about to-morrow night?” Lefty called after her.
“Still busier!” she said, continuing on her way across the field.
“Then maybe you won’t be so busy on Saturday? That’s a good night to sew
Elinor stopped and turned back, smiling, then glanced down at the large,
black single lettered vision card she was carrying. Holding the card up
in plain view, she covered all the letters with her fingers except a
large “O” and “K.”
A big, triumphant, boyish grin spread over Lefty’s face as he sensed
Elinor’s way of acknowledging the engagement, and he returned to his
task on the plane with renewed vigor.
Elinor hadn’t gone far when she felt someone alongside of her. Turning,
she found that her self-appointed escort was no other than Sergeant
“Hello, Panama!” she greeted the Marine warmly. “Where have you been
“Oh, places!” he said, “Gee, I haven’t seen you for a long time!”
“I’ve been awfully busy,” she explained.
“I understand. But say, I’ve been wanting to ask you—what are you doing
Elinor nervously toyed with the ends of the vision card, managing to
explain tactfully that she would be busy on Saturday. Then she noticed
the evident disappointment plainly visible on Panama’s face and added,
“You see, the sewing circle is going to meet and——”
Panama laughed and interrupted by chiding, “Well, I guess I wouldn’t be
much use at a sewing circle!”
While Lefty worked alongside of Steve, washing his first plane, he bent
over to dip his brush in the pail of water and as he did so, the leather
wallet carried in his back pocket slipped to the ground, the owner being
unawares of its loss.
Steve bent over and, unnoticed by Lefty, picked up the wallet, taking
from the inside a newspaper clipping. Opening the almost faded paper,
his eyes beamed upon the telltale headline: “Lefty Phelps reminds us of
Lindbergh—he’s so different!”
Instantly, Steve recognized the caption and Lefty’s forgotten identity
as his face became illuminated with malicious glee. Brandishing the
clipping in the air, he called to the other recruits working near by:
“Hey, fellows! Look who’s here!”
Lefty looked quickly in Steve’s direction, discovering his lost wallet
in the man’s hand but, before he could act, the others had formed a
circle around them.
“Look who we have with us,” Steve continued, pointing to Lefty. “The guy
He got no further than that. In a flash, Lefty made a lunge at the man,
shrieking: “Give me that paper—it’s mine—give it to me, hear!”
A short distance off, Panama and Elinor, strolling by, talking idly,
were interrupted by the scuffle and cries of men’s voices over by the
Panama became infuriated with rage as he gazed upon his raw recruits
already engaged in a brawl that was attracting the attention of every
other Marine on the field.
In a flash, the sergeant became galvanized into action and turning to
Elinor, begged leave of her society. She smiled sympathetically and in a
moment, Panama was on his toes, running in the direction of the young
Refused his own property, Lefty made a mad rush at Steve, knocking the
weaker man to the ground and pouncing upon him.
Much to the merriment of the onlookers, these two rolled over and over
again with Lefty, pounding away unmercifully at Steve’s face and body,
crying out for the return of his wallet and papers.
Panama broke through the circle of men and, once within the center of
the make-shift ring, gazed down at the two soldiers struggling just as
Lefty cried out: “If you tell anyone who I am, I’ll kill you!”
Williams reached down and grabbed both men by the collars of their
blouses, pulling them to their feet and holding them at arm’s length.
“Here, you two mugs—lay off that kind of rough-house,” he warned. “I’ll
have no war going around here without me in it.”
“He took my papers,” Lefty explained defensively.
Panama eyed Steve and noticed that the other still held the wallet in
“Give that back to him,” the sergeant ordered, and as Steve complied by
returning the wallet to Lefty, “I’ve got a good mind to give you both a
bust in the nose!”
The group broke up as each man returned to his task, leaving Lefty and
Panama confronting each other.
“Who do you think you are?” Williams snapped at the boy, “What have you
got to hide? Get back to work!”
As Lefty slowly walked off toward the plane, Panama again became
troubled with the annoying problem of where he had seen this boy before.
He looked to see if Elinor was waiting for him. Finding that she had
gone, he called to Lefty to come back.
When the boy once more confronted him, he asked where he had seen him
Looking around first to make certain that they were alone, Phelps
brought forth the clipping that had been the cause of the recent
outburst and handed it to the sergeant.
“Well, I’ll be a ——” Panama exclaimed. “So you’re the guy what ran—Say,
what are you doing in the Marine Corps?”
Lefty moved uncomfortably from one foot to the other, hoping that the
sergeant wouldn’t betray his secret.
“I couldn’t stand the ridicule! You were the only one that was decent to
me and—well, here I am, to make them all take that back some day. That’s
Panama listened attentively with a sympathetic smile, a trifle flattered
by the praise of the college man.
He looked at the clipping again for a moment and then proceeded to tear
the caption in half handing back the part to Lefty that read: “Lefty
Phelps reminds us of Lindbergh,” crumpling the rest in his hand.
“That’s what they’ll be saying soon, kid,” he assured the boy.
Lefty, grateful beyond words, seemed to Panama like a great big,
inarticulate dog, but managed to say: “Gee! That’s decent of you. I
don’t know how to——”
“Don’t mention it,” Panama interrupted, and then assuming his
hard-shelled professional tone, barked out so that everyone on the field
could hear: “Whatinell are you doin’ here anyway? Snap into it and wash
that plane clean!”
Ten hours of intensive flying instruction pass ever so quickly for a
group of air-minded boys, determined to make a place for themselves in
Uncle Sam’s most important fighting unit, the Marine Aviation Corps.
With a good deal of practical aerial knowledge under his belt and a
pressing desire to earn his wings, Lefty skipped through his instruction
period plus one hundred per cent courage and ambition and approximately
seven days of airsickness.
On this particular day, the flying field at Pensacola was buzzing with
unusual activity due to the fact that several new students, just through
their instruction period, were ready to make their first solo flight.
A line of five pursuit planes were ready in the center of the field,
each plane attended by a mechanic.
To the left, a small observation stand had been built that was now
occupied by both officials and officers of the Navy and Marine Corps.
Directly in front of the planes, Panama had his squad of pupils lined up
for their final instructions.
As the hard-boiled sergeant went into lengthy detail on what each man
was to do, the student flyers stood at ease, attentively listening to
their instructor, all except Lefty who, as usual, when facing a crisis
in his career, completely lost control of his nerves, due to an
uncontrollable feeling of over-anxiety and a lack of faith in himself.
“Don’t forget your stuff now,” Panama finished by warning each man,
“Climb up eight hundred feet, circle the field and make a three-point
landing. Now remember—that stick ain’t no pool cue!”
Steve sensed that the last warning was entirely for his sole
With a sickening self-assuredness, he left the line and strutted
nonchalantly over to the first plane, stepping on the wing and climbing
into the cockpit.
Panama followed the man with his eyes and as Steve adjusted his Gasborne
helmet, the sergeant issued the word to “give her the gun.”
Every man’s eyes followed the course of Steve’s plane as she taxied down
the field, making a careless and sloppy take-off.
“Do you see what he did?” Panama roared angrily, turning to Lefty and
pointing after Steve’s rising plane. “He forgot everything I told him.
The lame-brained son of a half-wit tries to take off before he gets
flying speed. Now when he comes down, you take your hop, and don’t make
the same mistake!”
All eyes, including the nervous boy’s, peered heavenward, watching Steve
circle as a mechanic came running across the field to where Lefty was
“Your name Phelps!” the mechanic asked, holding out a piece of folded
white note paper.
Lefty nodded and, taking the note from the man, opened it hurriedly,
instantly recognizing Elinor’s handwriting.
“I am rooting for you. Good luck!” she had scribbled across the paper.
Lefty smiled confidently as he placed the note carefully away in the
breast pocket of his regulation windjammer. A strong feeling of
self-confidence arose within him, stifling his anxiety and nervous
He looked over in the direction of the reviewing stand and saw Elinor
sitting on the narrow wooden steps, waving to him, clasping her hands
over her head in a gesture of good luck.
Once more, his own problems took possession of his mind and he found
himself mechanically rehearsing the action of the stick that Panama had
taught him, concentrating upon each different movement.
Just then a major, in charge of flying instruction, approached and after
returning Panama’s salute, called the sergeant aside.
“Are you certain that man is ready to make his solo?” he asked, pointing
to Lefty. “He seems nervous to me!”
Panama knew what this opportunity meant to Lefty and, so long as it was
up to him, he was determined to see to it that nothing arose to prevent
the boy making his last lap in the struggle for wings.
“Just a bit overanxious, sir,” he explained, “He’ll come through O.K.,
though. He’s one of the best in the new squad.”
The major looked in Lefty’s direction again, shook his head doubtfully
and, with a slight shrug of his shoulders, said, “All right, but I am
depending upon your word, sergeant. If anything happens, the
responsibility rests upon your shoulders.”
Panama smiled confidently, brought himself to attention and saluted.
“I’ll take that chance with any man I’ve trained, sir!”
As the major walked off, the nose of Steve’s plane was turned toward the
earth. In another few seconds, he was making a three-point landing in
He taxied his ship deftly around into position and Panama and Lefty ran
to greet him. “That was a peach of a landing, Steve,” Lefty announced as
the other man crawled out of the cockpit, removing his helmet and wiping
the grease from his face.
“Not so bad, young feller,” Panama added, unbegrudgingly.
Steve looked at them both, very much self-satisfied, and, in his usual
indifferent and aggravating manner, replied, “I’m afraid you’re right,
He then proceeded to unstrap his parachute and, as Lefty walked toward
the plane, handed it to him.
“Here you are, Phelps,” he heckled derisively. “You’ll probably need
this ’chute, but when you jump, don’t forget to pull the ring!”
Steve’s uncalled-for remark completely upset Lefty’s confidence in
himself. He turned upon the now successful pilot with a menacing look in
his eye, slowly moving toward him until Panama stepped between them.
“Now be on your way,” he warned Phelps. “Remember, climb eight hundred
feet, circle the field and make a three-point landing!”
Lefty climbed up into the cockpit just as Panama came over alongside of
the fuselage, followed by Steve.
“If you fly backward, it doesn’t count,” Steve added with derision. “And
remember, you’re not playing Harvard!”
Upon hearing these words, Lefty became so rattled that he was unable to
get his helmet over his head.
Determined to put an end to this merciless chiding for once and for all,
he rose and started to leave the cockpit just as Panama intervened.
“Never mind that fresh mug. Just keep your mind on your job, kid, and
you’ll show ’em all up!”
The sergeant’s words helped to quiet the boy but he was still in
anything but a calm and collected condition.
After attaching his Gasborne helmet, his hand managed to find the
throttle and the dormant motor came into action.
All at once, that ill-fated day in the Yale Bowl came back to him,
throwing his senses into utter confusion and rattling his nerves.
He turned and caught the derision plainly visible upon the faces of all
Impulsively, his hand shoved the throttle and the plane eased forward.
His face became a blank, emotionless thing as he strived to concentrate
upon the mechanical contrivances. A sickening feeling gripped him,
making him feel that he was licked before he started.
Quickly he let his fingers drop from the throttle only to allow both
hands to “freeze” on the stick as the ship continued to rapidly gain
His eyes became blurred and his head began to swim as the plane swiftly
swerved past barbed wire fences, nurses, soldiers, some sailors and
marines and an official car.
Back in the reviewing stand, Elinor became spellbound, jumping to her
feet as Lefty’s plane remained on the ground.
She ran across the field to Panama whose face, for the first time in his
life, was a death white, dripping wet from cold perspiration.
Just ahead, in the direction in which Lefty’s plane was tearing, was a
solid concrete wall, and certain death for the pilot if he was unable to
take off in time.
Panama saw this impending catastrophe, yelled to a Marine sitting on a
motorcycle and jumped into the side car, speeding away after the wild
plane just as the clang-clang of an ambulance was heard.
Lefty saw the solid, gray concrete wall directly in front of him as a
terrible look of horror overshadowed his face.
He knew what to do and he knew what every bit of mechanism in that
cockpit was meant for but as hard as he tried, he could not bring his
hands, frozen to the stick, into action.
Suddenly all went black before him as a terrible crash deafened his ears
and he felt himself jolted forward.
The plane had collided into the wall with its tail flying in the air and
its nose buried in the ground as vicious flames burst from the oil tank.
At this same moment, the motorcycle carrying Panama, and the ambulance
close behind, drew up alongside of the burning plane with its
unconscious pilot pinned in from under.
Panama jumped from the side car and rushed toward the ship now almost
completely devoured by the flames.
Braving the flames that seared his face, hands and arms, Williams
smashed in the side of the fuselage in a supreme effort to rescue Lefty
from this death furnace.
Unmindful of his own severe burns, he dragged the unconscious boy
through the hole he had made in the side of the fuselage, almost
overcome now himself from the deadly gas fumes.
The two men in white from the ambulance ran forward with a stretcher and
lifted the boy on to it as Panama watched eagerly for a sign of life.
“Is he—he hurt bad?” Williams asked the ambulance men.
“Can’t say how bad,” one of the doctors replied, “I think you had better
hop in yourself and come along with us. Those burns on your face and
hands don’t seem to help you remain in condition.”
“I’m Okay. Just hustle him along as quickly as you can,” Panama said in
a manner of dismissal, just as an official car pulled up and the flying
instruction major got out.
“Sergeant, I thought you said that man was ready to fly?”
Panama’s eyes rested on his dust-covered shoe tops, remembering that the
major had placed the responsibility of Lefty’s flight upon his
“He’s been an excellent student, sir. I considered him ready to go.
Something must have rattled him but he’ll do better next time.”
“There won’t be any next time,” the major announced curtly. “We can’t
afford to have any more exhibitions such as this. He’s through!”
Panama’s burned hands and face were beginning to cause him excruciating
pain and he had all that he could do to keep himself collected in the
presence of his superior officer.
The major studied his noncommissioned instructor for a moment, then
noticing the severe burns, his entire demeanor changed.
“Why, I didn’t notice before, Sergeant. Those are pretty bad burns. You
had better report to the hospital immediately.”
Panama saluted and the major smiled, proud of a member of his command
who had executed such a splendid act of bravery.
“That was mighty fine work, Williams, in getting him out of that ship.
It took brains and courage to work that fast. I’ll remember this
incident in my reports to the Department.”
Panama smiled gratefully as the major acknowledged his salute and
returned to the waiting automobile.
One of the Marines, who had been an interested onlooker, walked over to
Panama with wide, excited eyes.
“Didja hear what the Old Man said?” the Marine asked, all enthused. “He
said he’d remember you in his reports. Maybe you’ll get a medal.”
Panama looked down at the man with a disgusted look of indifference.
“Yeah! Well, I’ll trade anybody that medal and a dozen like it right now
for a chew of tobacco!”
That evening, two flying Marines, temporarily inactive, sat in wheel
chairs in the cool and quiet ward of the base hospital that stood as a
silent warning just south of the flying field.
“I feel sorry for that guy, but I can’t help but laugh,” one of them
said, looking in the direction of the bed in which Lefty was sleeping.
“He didn’t even take the ship off the ground.”
The other incapacitated Marine nodded good-naturedly. “I’m not so good
but I did better than that. I got my plane off the ground but I couldn’t
get it down!”
His companion signaled him to be quiet as Lefty showed signs of coming
out of his long sleep.
As he slowly opened his eyes, Elinor and Panama entered the ward and
walked directly to his bed, standing beside him.
“How do you feel?” Elinor asked as Lefty showed signs of recognition,
and her hand gently stroked his bandaged head.
A look of abject pain crossed the weary boy’s face. “I did it again! I
failed you both just as I failed Yale. Oh, I wish I’d been killed!”
“It’s all right; you mustn’t worry,” she consoled him. “You’ll come
through with flying colors the next time.”
Panama tried to laugh and, forgetting Lefty’s condition, slapped him a
resounding blow on the shoulder.
“Wait’ll you see that concrete wall—you certainly knocked hell out of
it! I never saw anyone equal your speed!”
A month following Lefty’s accident during his first solo flight, the
Major General in command of the United States Marine forces, called a
hurried meeting of his staff late one evening.
The Chief of Staff, a pompous brigadier general, who possessed an
exceptional knowledge of tropical countries due to long years of service
spent below the equator, and the Chief of Aviation, a methodical,
middle-aged Lieutenant Colonel, responded to the Major General’s summons
as did a representative from the Navy Department.
These four men, gathered together behind closed doors in typical
Washington fashion, met to discuss an urgent problem that was inciting
the wrath of American citizens throughout the country, already placing
both the Department of State and the Secretary of the Navy in a
self-conscious embarrassing position.
Far away in the little Republic of Nicaragua, a young and dangerous
rebel had become displeased over the results of a recent election.
This man, in the guise of a patriot and self-appointed deliverer,
traveled among the ignorant peasantry, calling men to revolt against a
mythical hand that was supposed to be oppressing these people.
In time, he had gathered a fairly good-sized army which, mysteriously
enough, soon became clothed and armed, declaring open war upon the
recognized republic and its administrative heads.
For a time, the soldiers of the republic waged a losing battle against
the rebel horde, whose forces were continually supplied from some
mysterious source with funds, food supplies and weapons of war.
It soon became apparent that the men fighting under the leadership of
the usurper, Sandino, were far more interested in confiscating American
property and threatening the lives of the Northern Republic’s citizens
with interests in Nicaragua, than they were in lifting the supposed iron
hand of an unseen tyrant.
The helpless president of the little republic, divided in two through a
vicious civil war, appealed to the State Department in Washington for
aid, reminding us of a document known as the Monroe Doctrine, contending
that the rebel forces were being financed by some foreign power. It also
became apparent that Sandino was not a deliverer of his people, but a
paid dupe of some great commercial and industrial group who had promised
him a free ruling hand and financial aid in return for the delivery of
the little nation.
Both the President and the Secretary of State informed the minister at
Nicaragua to attempt to end the civil war and secure a guarantee of
protection for American lives and property through diplomatic
intercourse, but these arrangements soon proved futile. Sandino no
longer attempted to hide the fact that his purpose was directed solely
at American commercial intervention and the concessions granted to
citizens of the United States by the Republic of Nicaragua.
After great deliberation and undue suffering by American citizens
through Sandino’s practice of vicious banditry, the President ordered
the Marines to Nicaragua merely to repel the constant pilfering of
American property and to guard the safety of our citizens.
No sooner had the Marines landed at Managua, the capital of the little
nation, merely in the roles of governmental police, than Sandino
officially declared war upon them, killing three of their number in a
Back in the States, as word reached the public of the brutal murdering
of American Marines, both the press and the people demanded that
Washington either recall her sea soldiers or declare open war upon
Sandino and his rebels, sending reenforcements immediately.
With the official report of more casualties in the Marine ranks and the
further threatening attacks upon Americans that imperiled our industrial
possessions, reenforcements were sent south and open warfare was
declared upon the Sandino bandits.
When the Chief of Staff, the representative from the Navy Department and
the Chief of Marine Aviation gathered in the office of the Major
General, the Commander of the Marines explained the object of the
“Colonel, I have here a memorandum from the Secretary of the Navy,” he
said, handing the Chief of Aviation a communication typed on official
stationery. “The Secretary states that the President of Nicaragua has
made an urgent request for a squadron of airplanes.”
The Lieutenant Colonel gazed down upon the official communication handed
to him by the Major General as a sober shadow cast itself over his face.
“What is the opinion of the Marine Commander?” the Chief of Aviation
asked. “Is he in accord with the President’s request?”
“The President’s appeal meets with the approval of the Commanding
Officer of the Second Brigade, now stationed in that country, who
further advises that a squadron of planes would be a decisive help in
combating the outlaws.”
The representative from the Navy Department turned and faced the
Lieutenant Colonel, interrupting with the explanation: “It is almost
impossible to suppress Sandino and his bandits with land forces due to
the nature of the country.”
“So I have been informed,” the Chief of Aviation replied. “It is a hilly
and dangerous country, certain death to any invader unfamiliar with the
lay of the land.”
The Major General rested back in his chair. A tired, care-worn look
plainly overshadowed his face. Due to the trying events of the past few
weeks, he had aged considerably. In his heart, he wished the whole
unpleasant mess would suddenly come to an end.
“Have you a squadron prepared to depart immediately?” he asked the
“Yes, sir. Observation Squadron Ten is available at once.”
The Major General smiled complacently as his mind recollected some of
the past glorious deeds of the pride of the Marine air forces,
Observation Squadron Ten. He raised himself in his chair, once more
alive with active interest.
“The Flying Devils—that outfit can go anywhere! What will be their
The Air Chief rose, crossed the room to a case and returned with a large
map, spreading it out upon the table so that all might view the course
of his finger.
The men, attentive to detail, moved forward in their chairs as the
Lieutenant Colonel pointed to a spot on the map.
“They will fly from Quantico to Pensacola and refuel there,” he
explained as his finger followed the proposed route across the map. “A
member of the Squadron, Sergeant Williams, is temporarily assigned to
that base as a flying instructor. He will rejoin his regular unit and
their next hop will be to Havana, then to Honduras and from there it
will be only one short jump to Managua.”
When the Lieutenant Colonel finished, he looked to the Major General for
a sign of approval. The Commander responded merely with a nod of his
head as the Air Chief rolled up the map and returned it to its case.
“Any suggestions, gentlemen?” the general asked of his aides, waiting a
moment for their response.
“I believe the Lieutenant Colonel’s flight plan answers the Secretary’s
request, guaranteeing the arrival of our air forces in the shortest
possible time,” the Chief of Staff announced. “I have no further
As the others rose to leave after announcing their satisfaction with the
proposed plans, the Major General turned to his Air Chief and explained,
“You will notify the commander of the Tenth Squadron and also this
sergeant at Pensacola to join his unit for active duty upon their
arrival at his base.”
The Lieutenant Colonel saluted and left with the others to prepare plans
for the attack upon the Nicaragua bandits from the air.
The following morning, miles away at the Marine instruction base at
Pensacola, Panama Williams was summoned to the quarters of the Post
Commandant and given the official orders received by telegraph that
morning from Washington.
His entire being thrilled with the prospect of real action after so long
a period of peace-time inactivity.
His imagination became alive, visualizing all sorts of adventures he
would encounter, striking a responsive chord in his stout heart.
Sure-footed, with sparkling eyes and cheeks flushed from excitement, he
made his way hurriedly across the field to the base hospital, where, he
tried to make himself believe, he wanted to have the final bandage
removed from his burned hand, but in truth, hoped to have a few minutes
alone with Elinor at that early hour.
Upon his arrival at the dispensary, his secret hopes became justified
for there was Elinor, alone in the large room, rolling bandages in
preparation for a long day of activity just ahead.
“Morning!” Panama shouted jubilantly, “It’s a great day, Elinor!”
The little nurse turned, put down the bandage she had been rolling and
with a welcome smile, crossed to greet the sergeant.
“Hello, Panama,” she said warmly. “What brings you here so early?”
Her words completely took him off guard for a moment and he struggled to
regain his bearings, thinking fast for a probable excuse.
“Why—er—well—er—that is, I wanted you to—er—remove my—my bandage!” he
“But the dispensary doesn’t open until nine o’clock,” she said
indifferently, though secretly amused by the man’s lame excuse. “What’s
A look of pain crossed the man’s face as he struggled for words that
would convince the girl.
“Why—er—I got a busy day ahead of me,” he lied gracefully. “And unless
you remove the bandage, I can’t use my hand so I——”
“Never mind explaining the rest,” Elinor interrupted. “I guess I
She led the way to a small white table near the window as Panama trailed
Following her lead, he sat down at the opposite side of the table, never
for a moment taking his anxious eyes away from her loveliness that so
As she bent forward to undo the wrapping, he was tempted to kiss her
beautiful hair but his better judgment prevailed in time just as she
looked up into his eyes, speaking in a mockingly accusing manner: “Lefty
Phelps has been out of the hospital for three days and you are still
coming here for treatment! Your hand has been well for over a week.”
Panama grinned in a guilty fashion and dropped his eyes. Then, in an
effort to vindicate himself, he pointed to a small, red spot between his
thumb and index finger, still slightly bruised.
“There’s a little place here,” he explained as a matter of defense. “It
still hurts!” Elinor smiled, and without making comment, reached for a
small piece of absorbent cotton, dipped it with ointment and proceeded
to place it on the sore spot.
“I suppose they’ll be transferring Lefty out of the flying corps,” she
said, managing to keep her eyes upon her work so that Panama would not
detect any personal gleam of anxiety which might betray her secret
interest in the former football player, an interest that had grown to be
something more than just casual.
The sergeant’s other hand mechanically reached for his blouse pocket and
rested there. “Oh, I don’t know about that?” he replied, endeavoring to
assume a careless attitude, though his answer didn’t fool the girl in
the least. She looked up at him quickly, her woman’s intuition alive to
the fact that he was holding something back from her.
“Why, what do you mean?” she asked.
She tried to smile her prettiest and, with an alluring air of coquetry,
hoped to learn the secret Panama was keeping from her.
“You do mean something,” she persisted. “Panama, you’re keeping
something from me—you know you are!”
“I’m not!” he fabricated, secretly amused. “What would I be keeping from
“You said that they might not transfer Lefty out of the service!”
Panama was enjoying, for the first time, the thrill of having this girl,
whom he idolized, begging him to unfold to her a secret which he was
keeping all to himself.
“Well, mebbe I did, but what does that mean? I ain’t the Chief of Staff
to be saying what will or won’t happen to some dub that can’t move a
plane from the ground!”
Elinor dropped Panama’s hand and struggled with herself to hold back the
tears that she already felt moistening her eyes.
“I think you’re just perfectly mean,” she scolded; “talking that way
“Yeah?” he questioned, sensing that Elinor’s interest was becoming more
than just an impersonal one. “What’s it to you what I think or say about
The little nurse checked herself in time, and, forcing a smile, looked
up at the hard-boiled sergeant in an assumed attitude of indifference.
“Why—it’s nothing, Panama, nothing,” she hastily explained. “Only—well,
I do feel kind of sorry for the poor kid. He’s been given a few bad
“I guess you’re right, Elinor,” Williams interrupted as his eyes
softened, changing his entire demeanor to one of sympathy and
understanding. “He deserves a decent break and I’m going to help him get
Her eyes brightened and her cheeks flushed slightly. She felt her heart
beating a trifle faster at the sound of the sergeant’s welcome words of
understanding. “What do you mean?”
He smiled and pointed to the pocket of his regulation blouse from which
protruded the white corner of the order from Washington, handed to him
by the Post Commandant only a half hour previous.
Not quite fully cognizant of Panama’s meaning, Elinor, with a
questioning look, lifted her hand and with hesitance, touched the
sergeant’s blouse pocket, extracting the paper. Nervously she unfolded
the white sheet as her eyes eagerly devoured the contents.
“In compliance with the above reference,” she read hurriedly, passing
over the formal introduction at the top of the page, “upon the arrival
of Observation Squadron Ten, en route to Managua, Nicaragua, you are
hereby ordered to join the Squadron, prepared for active service.
“Three of the new Naval aviation pilots will be selected to accompany
this flight as observers. Your flight orders are continued in force for
this duty. You will select a suitable mechanic to accompany you.
“The travel herein enjoined is necessary in the public service. John
Hibbard, Chief of Staff, U.S.M.C.”
Elinor dropped the paper and with excited and grateful eyes, reached for
Panama’s hands and pressed them to her fondly.
“You will select a suitable mechanic,” she repeated, quoting from the
communication. “Then that means——”
Panama smiled broadly, too thrilled for words over the manner in which
Elinor held his hands in hers. “We’re shoving off to-morrow at daybreak
for that two-by-four comic opera republic.”
“And you’re going to take Lefty with you as your mechanic?” she
questioned, as her eyes danced for joy and her heart beat furiously with
pride and gratitude.
Panama loosened one of his hands from Elinor’s and reached for a plug of
tobacco in his blouse pocket. “Yeah. He don’t know it, but I am.”
“I think that’s immense of you,” she said, with a ring of sincerity in
The sergeant indifferently bit off a large chew of tobacco and placed
the remainder of the plug back in his pocket. “Aw, that’s nothin’. He’s
a good kid! You know somethin’, Elinor? He’s got blue blood in his
veins—an’ he’s been to college too! You should hear that guy talk! Baby,
what an awful lot of language he has parked under his bean. When we get
back, I want you to know him better, ’cause I think you’d like each
At that moment, one of the medical officers looked in and beckoned to
She turned and, seeing the M.O., rose, replying, “I’ll be right in,
Panama watched her every movement as she crossed the room to her desk
and picked up some report cards. He did not know how long it would be
before they met again—if ever, and he wanted these last few seconds to
be his to remember always.
She went to the door and, placing her hand on the knob, about to enter
the Medical Officer’s room, then remembered that this was a parting with
a good friend. She turned and came back to the little table which the
sergeant was resting against.
She held out her hand which he took and clasped warmly. “You’re going,
Panama,” she said tenderly, “I almost forgot. Good-by—and—and lots of
Williams held her hand, trying for all the world to say something but as
usual, he became inarticulate and unable to find the proper words.
Sensing his embarrassment, Elinor tried to relieve the situation by
fussing with his tie and warning him to take good care of himself,
during which time, the unnerved Panama struggled to bring forth orally
the thoughts that continually were on his mind and kept his heart alive.
Just as he believed he had found his speech, the door opened again and
the Medical Officer reappeared.
“I am waiting, Miss Martin,” he announced curtly, and then slammed the
door, disappearing back into his office.
With a hurried and warm smile, Elinor clasped Panama’s hand again and
ran to the door, opening it and entering, leaving the sergeant to stand
motionless, gazing after her.
When the door had closed again, he picked up his campaign hat and
crossed the room, intending to leave. As he passed Elinor’s desk, his
eyes fell upon the large green blotter where several snapshots of the
nurse smiled up at him.
He turned and looked back to make certain that no one was watching, then
stealthily, he reached over the desk and picked up the pictures, folding
them hurriedly in between the official dispatch, carefully placing them
away in his blouse pocket.
Once more he looked toward the door through which Elinor had passed only
a moment before. His hands touched his lips and he blew her a kiss.
Smiling sheepishly and his cheeks flushed crimson from the embarrassment
of his own actions, he tiptoed out of the room, his hands pressed
against the pocket that held the muchly-prized photographs of the woman
with whom he had left his heart.