2006 Papa Bear Awards - Nominated
Best Short Story
Deep blue eyes looked directly into piercing brown ones. “I can’t tell you how sorry I am, Rob.”
The quietness of Group Captain James Roberts’s voice concerned Colonel Hogan. He wasn’t sure where his old friend from his flying days in London was heading, and so he simply waited.
Roberts avoided The US Army Air Corps officer’s eyes for a moment, needlessly studying the VIP quarters he had been brought to at the Prisoner of War camp known as Stalag 13. Then he steeled himself and said directly, “I didn’t have any choices when we sent you and your men out on daylight missions. But I must say when your plane didn’t come back that day last July, I couldn’t have felt more guilty if I had shot you down myself.”
Hogan frowned, deep in thought. That day last July was still as clear to him as yesterday. Every minute detail had been burned into his brain—the jerking of his plane as it was targeted by enemy fighters; the shouting from behind him as members of his crew were injured or unable to get their weapons working; the sight of his co-pilot, dead beside him in the cockpit; the smell of fear and imminent disaster; the deep, numbing feeling of dread as their fate became clear; his own pain as he strapped on his parachute and jumped into a sky teeming with danger; his despair as he tried vainly to elude the Germans while suffering horrendous injuries. And while he had managed to turn that experience around and use his cunning against the enemy in their own back yard, the memories were still there, jolting him out of sleep, knocking him breathless at the most unexpected of times, leaving him in a cold sweat and feeling like he was still running for his life.
Hogan shook his head just slightly, breaking away from Roberts’s stare and looking at the floor. “It wasn’t your fault,” he said softly.
“Still, when word came back that Goldilocks had been lost, I grieved, Rob. I felt like I should have fought the brass with you on those daylight bombings. I let you down.”
Hogan shrugged. “You did what you had to do. I did what I had to do. Like you said back then, Robbie, it’s war. Losses are expected.”
“But I didn’t want to lose you.” James Roberts straightened and found his voice again. “After that mission, I went to Allied High Command and told them that they needed to find another way of defeating the Germans. I told them that the loss of good men—fine men like yourself—was not to be ignored. But they didn’t listen.”
Hogan shook his head. He had a vague memory of punishment at the interrogation center when the first all-out daytime offensive took place over a railway yard in France. He felt his stomach turn, and pushed the lingering fear away. “So I heard.”
“I must admit the amount of destruction we have been able to wreak on German military installations since then has been great. But the loss of men has been staggering. Staggering.” Roberts sat down. Hogan turned away and walked over to the window to look out across the compound.
“We’re all expendable in this war, Robbie,” Hogan observed almost wistfully. “To the Nazis… and to the Allies.”
“Your work here is very important, Hogan,” Roberts said vehemently.
Hogan let out a humorless laugh. “I’m sure it is. And I can’t make waves here, right?” Newkirk was crossing the yard, heading for the Sergeant of the Guard, Hans Schultz. He’s probably going to wheedle something out of the old boy, Hogan thought, not really concentrating on what he was seeing.
“The reports came back that you were captured, interrogated, and then sent here. I hope it wasn’t too terrible an experience for you,” Roberts said gently. He shook his head. He himself had avoided the normal route of prisoners; he knew he could only imagine what captured flyers went through.
Hogan felt the trauma of that time wash over him, leaving him lightheaded. “It was Hell on earth,” is all he could manage to say. He put his hand up to the window frame to steady himself and closed his eyes.
“Hogan, if I could have changed anything, anything at all—”
Hogan shook his head. “I know.” He sighed and turned back to Roberts. “But you couldn’t. None of us could.”
Roberts was quiet for a moment, trying to assimilate the horrors his former colleague—his friend—had experienced. “So now you’re stuck in this prison camp,” Roberts said in an obvious attempt to lift Hogan’s suddenly somber mood.
“That’s right,” Hogan answered. “Stuck here and bored to tears. There’s nothing for prisoners to do that matches being up in the sky,” he said. The Colonel gestured for Roberts to pretend Hogan was leaving, and the pair went through the charade of saying goodbye and opening and closing the door. Hogan then silently went back to the window and covered up the small microphone hidden in the drawstring for the drapes. “We’ve got to get word back to England, and we’ve got to get you out of here. Sure bet is they’re not going to hang on to you for a souvenir, Robbie. And you’re too important to have out of England for long.”
Roberts snorted. “That’s what I said about you,” he said ironically.
Hogan shrugged and offered a lopsided smile. “Yeah, and look what happened to me,” he said. Roberts shifted uncomfortably. “I promise I’ll do my best to make sure things turn out a little better for you.”
Roberts offered a small smile. “Rob, you will have the thanks of all England—of all the Allied powers—if you can pull this off and keep Sir Winston safe.” He came and stood square before his friend. “West Raynham is far too quiet without you,” he said, the words he wanted to say unable to come out. Damned reserved British upbringing, he thought, surprising himself.
“It gets a little unnerving for me here, too,” Hogan replied.
“I doubt that I could ever have pulled off what you have here,” Robert said, vaguely gesturing around the room. “Or if I could have stayed when given the opportunity to leave.”
Hogan shrugged. “General Butler seemed to think prison life would suit me just fine,” he answered.
“It’s a great sacrifice, Hogan. A great sacrifice.” Roberts tried to let his eyes express his admiration since his voice could not. “I would be proud if you could continue to count me among your friends.”
Hogan let the Group Captain’s words sink in. That he was valued so much as a friend was touching beyond words. He swallowed hard, then nodded. “I have no problems with that, Robbie,” he answered. A pause, then a smile that reached right up into his eyes. “As long as when I do get back to London, you stop me from being court-martialed when I tell Butler what I really think of his suggestion that I stay behind and run this loony bin!”
6 February 2005 Written in response to the question: “What did Roberts think when Hogan got shot down after ordering him into daylight bombings in Once Upon A Time: Papa Bear? This story takes place in the middle of Season Three episode, Funny Thing Happened on the Way to London, after the Heroes learn of the Nazi plans, but before Roberts is taken to the cooler.
Linda J Groundwater
Text and original characters copyright 2005 by Linda Groundwater
This copyright covers only original material and characters, and in no way intends to infringe upon the privileges of the holders of the copyrights, trademarks, or other legal rights, for the Hogan's Heroes universe.