A Glibertarians Exclusive:  Sweetheart, Part I

Belleau Wood, 5 June 1918

“Didja hear?”

“Hear what?”  U.S. Marine Corporal Paul O’Doull looked over at his squadmate, Private Henry Houlihan – two misplaced Irishmen, in France, awaiting a German attack.  The two men were dug into shallow fighting positions behind the main trench line and were laying prone, bayonets fixed on their Springfield rifles, in case the Germans got ambitious again.

The two, other than both being of Irish ancestry, could scarcely have been more different.  O’Doull was a big man, barrel-chested, bullet-headed, with fists the size of babies.  Houlihan was skinny, slight, wiry and red-haired.  O’Doull came from a farm in Marshall County, Iowa; Houlihan from Boston.  But now they were effectively two of a kind, Marines of the 73rd Machine Gun Company, 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines, Over There as part of the U.S. Expeditionary Force.

“The Frenchies, they ordered 5th Marines to fall back.  One of the officers told the French General, ‘Retreat?  Hell, we just got here.’  They dug in and held.”

“Well, that’s nice,” Paul replied.  “Good to have your pecker up.  But tomorrow, sure as hell, we’re gonna have to go into them woods across the way and hit the Bosche there.”  He lifted his head for a moment to examine the wheat field between their positions and the Germans.  “That ain’t gonna be any fun.  Not any fun at all.”

Paul looked up at the sky.  A good hour of daylight was left.  He looked around for any officers.  “Seen the Captain?” he asked Private Houlihan.

“He went off to talk to the French General,” Henry said.  “Up towards the north end of the line, I think.”

“Good.”  Paul pulled his tobacco pouch out of his jacket pocket, rolled a smoke, lit it.

“Ask you somethin’, Corp?”

“You can ask.  Ain’t sayin’ I’ll answer.”

“Fair enough.”  Henry looked pensive.  “You got a gal back home?  Anyone waitin’ for ya?”

Paul took a long drag on his cigarette.  “Nope.  Was a gal I was sweet on for a while, but then I went in the Marines…  So, no.”

“That’s right.  You were in the Marines before the war started.  Me, I joined up when Wilson got us mixed up in it.”


Henry stole a look at the wheat field.  “I got me a gal at home.  Back in Boston.  Nice little Mick gal, too.  Betty O’Toole.  Pretty as can be, and built…”  He rolled on his side and traced half an hourglass shape with his left hand.  “Gonna get married, when I get home.”

“Good luck with that.”

“Wish we had better machine guns,” Henry griped.  “Damn Hotchkiss is a piece of shit.  I’d rather have our old Lewis guns back.”

“We’re relying on the French for ammo.  Gotta use their guns.  Enough trouble getting ammo for our Springfields.  You just concentrate on covering the machine gunners when they move forward, you hear?”

Henry chuckled.  “I hear you real good, Corp.  Hell, at least we don’t need ammo for our bayonets.”

“That’s the way to talk.”

Night fell.  Henry took the first watch while Paul rolled up in his blanket and tried to ignore the rats and lice long enough to sleep.

In the morning they got the Word:  The 73rd would go in with the second wave, into Belleau Wood.  Their commander, Major Sibley, came down the line, his uniform clean and – wonder of wonders – pressed.  “Damn dandified officer,” Paul muttered when the Major appeared.

“He’s got style, though,” Henry chuckled.

“That’ll do the sumbitch a lot of good against German machine guns.”

“We go in at 1700,” the Major told them.

The day slid by quickly.  Rifle and machine gun fore picked up as the Allies pushed forward.  Artillery started hammering away.  The 73rd moved up into the forward trench lines, preparing for their attack.

Finally, the time came.

Whistles blew up and down the line.  From the right, Paul heard a leather-lunged First Sergeant shout, “Come on, you sons of bitches!  Do you want to live forever?”

The Marines came out of the trenches and charged through the wheat field.  Paul ran hard, his bayonetted Springfield held ready, his equipment slapping and pounding against him as he ran.  Henry ran ahead of him, faster, lighter.  The German machine guns started hammering.  Bullets lanced through the wheat – whick, whick, whick.

Paul heard the slap of a German 8mm slug hitting flesh.  In front of him, he saw Henry go down bonelessly.  Shit, he thought.  He kept running.  On either side, Marines shouted – “Uuuurahh!”  They fired from the hip, hoping to keep the Germans’ heads down.  It didn’t work.

Then, one moment, Paul was running.  The next he was facedown in the wheat, stunned.  His left thigh felt as though someone had jammed a red-hot poker through it.  He screamed and screamed again.  He grabbed his thigh, blood pouring through his fingers, and passed out.

He awoke in a field hospital.  The burning in his thigh was still there, but different, somehow.  He shook his head and tried to sit up.

“Hey,” a medic called.  “You there, Corporal.  Careful.”  The scrawny corpsman ran to Paul’s cot and steadied him.

“What happened to me?”

“You stopped a machine-gun bullet.  Your leg…”

“What about my leg?”  Paul struggled to sit up enough to see; one foot was there, at the end of the cot.  The other?

His left leg was gone from about six inches above where his knee should have been.

“They had to take it off,” the medic said.  “Bone was smashed.  You’d have died.”

“Dammit,” Paul said.  Tears rolled down his face.  “They should have let me die.  What the hell am I gonna do now?”

“You’re alive,” the corpsman pointed out.  “At least you get to figure that out.  Plenty of Marines won’t get that chance.”

Paul let his upper body fall back onto the cot.  “Dammit,” he repeated.  “What the hell am I gonna do now?”


Marshalltown, Iowa, June 1933

The Marshalltown Daily Reporter was a typical small-town rag; some national news of the ongoing Depression, news of President Hoover’s attempts to turn things around, local farm prices and gossip.  Paul O’Doull covered local sports and social events for the paper and had done so since before the Crash.  He reckoned himself to be damn lucky to have any job at all.  Times were hard enough as it was, harder still for a man with a leg missing.  But Paul was doing all right.  He had a job, he had a wooden leg, he had a rented room on the second floor above the town’s only drugstore, and he had nobody but himself to please.

It was a warm afternoon; work was done for the day.  Paul was walking slowly from the Daily Reporter’s tiny offices to a nearby tavern and billiard parlor where he had planned to have some supper and a few beers, maybe get involved in a poker game to (hopefully) supplement his income.

He could move no other way but slowly, with a rolling gait, swinging his artificial leg forward with his hip at each step so the artificial knee joint would lock before he put his weight on it.  He got by with no crutches, just a cane, and counted himself fortunate to be doing that well.

The Great War was fifteen years in the past.  Paul was now thirty-nine.  He had recovered as much as he was going to.  All in all, things were going as well for him as he could expect.  “Things,” he reminded himself as he made his slow way down the dusty street, “could be a hell of a lot worse.”

There was the tavern, the sign out front proclaiming “Billiard Parlor.”  Two local men sat out front, each with a cigarette going.  “Harry,” Paul greeted them, “Jack.”  Both men greeted him; being on the newspaper, Paul was well-known in the town.  He chatted with them for a few moments, then went inside.

Just inside the door, he stopped.

Things were mostly as they had always been.  At a round table at the back of the place, a poker game was going – there was almost always a poker game going.  At the two tables, the click-click of billiard balls came from the two tables, both in use.

But behind the bar, now that was someone new.  A woman tending bar, Paul thought.  What will they think of next?

Paul looked for a moment at the card game in progress.  The table was full up.  Instead, he went to the bar, climbed somewhat awkwardly onto a bar stool and propped his leg against the step.  He regarded the new bartender as she finished drying a beer mug.  About his age, he thought, maybe a bit younger, slim, red-haired, a spray of freckles on her nose.  Nice figure, too.  She for a white blouse and a knee-length black skirt, and some kind of floppy sun hat over her red hair.  She put the mug away and came over, smiling.

“What’ll ya have?” Her voice wasn’t the flat Midwestern you usually heard around Marshalltown, nor was it a southern drawl or eastern accent Paul had heard from some of his fellow Marines; it was a smooth contralto, accentlessly cosmopolitan.

“Beer,” Paul said, “and a ham sandwich.  Soup if you got any.”

“Beef and barley soup today.  That all right?”  The Depression had hit lots of places hard when it came to eating, but Iowans could always get beef and pork.

Paul nodded.  “You’re new here,” he said, belaboring the obvious.

“Yup.  Just got into town.  Been working up in Waterloo, but it’s too noisy.  I like a smaller town.”

Paul stole a look at her left hand.  No ring.  He smiled tightly, inside, to himself.  “Me too.  I’m Paul.  Paul O’Doull.”

“Margarethe Dillon,” she said.  “They call me Maggie.”

“Pleased to meetcha, Maggie.”

Seems like a fine enough gal.  Pretty smile, too.  I wonder, Paul thought, what’s she’s doing in a dump like this?


Well the pressure’s down, the boss ain’t here.

He’s gone North, for a while.

They say that vanity got the best of him.

But he sure left here in style.

By the way, that’s a cute hat,

And that smile’s so hard to resist.

But what’s a sweetheart like you doing in a dump like this?