A Constellation of Stars
Syl Francis

Summary: With the war over in Europe, Hogan has one last, painful mission to accomplish before going home--visit Kinchloe's parents.

Author's Note: Takes place a year after the events in my story 'Just Another Mission.' And special thanks go to Zoey Tranor--for her keen and honest beta, which always manages to make me look better in the end.

Disclaimer: Hogan's Heroes is owned by Paramount, Viacom and others; this is an original story that does not intend to infringe on their copyright. Feedback is welcome!

Copyright May 2002


Wednesday, 4 JUL 1945//1945hrs local
Detroit, Michigan


The Army staff car drove up to the quiet, tree-lined neighborhood and stopped across the street from a modest home. The driver sat in the car for a few minutes, studying its warm 'hominess.' The house was small, white with green shutters. The front lawn was freshly mowed and summer green. A long shadow cast by the tall maple tree, which dominated the front lawn, reminded him of the lateness of the hour.

Maybe this isn't such a good idea. Maybe I should come back at a better time. Maybe...? He stopped and ran his hand tiredly through his dark hair. I've gotta do this. He looked back at the house.

A row of precisely trimmed bushes bordered its sides in almost military formation. A flagstone path led from a white picket fence to a shady, front porch. The porch itself was offered protection from the late afternoon sun by a vine-covered trellis.

The visitor smiled to himself. Just how you described it, Kinch. Unexpectedly, a brief shadow replaced the smile. He spotted a small banner, with a gold star prominently centered on it, displayed from the inside window. A gold star meant that a son had been killed in action.

This isn't the homecoming I'd planned for us, buddy. Feeling a slight stinging in the back of his eyes, he turned away from the house. His hand automatically went to the ignition. I'm sorry, Kinch...I know I promised, but I just can't do this. It's still too soon.

With a quick shake of his head, he turned the key in the ignition and was about to drive away, when he stopped, his words coming back to him.

"...If anything ever happens, Kinch, I promise to do everything I can. Even if I have to escape from this lousy place just to tell your folks myself."


Saturday, 6 MAR 1943//1000hrs local
Barracks #2, LuftStalag 13


"Mail Call!" Sgt. Schultz yelled from the door. Instantly, the rotund Sergeant of the Guard was buried under a mass of bodies.

"Schultzie! Anything for me?"

"How about me?"

"Hey! My turn!"

"Back! Back! Backbackbackback...!" Schultz cried out helplessly. "Col. Hogan--! Please--! Help--!"

From the back of the common area, Hogan caught Kinchloe's eye and nodded. Kinchloe immediately fought his way through the crowd of POWs, forcefully dragging and shoving men over to the side.

"All right, you clowns! Knock it off!" Kinchloe had to yell at the top of his lungs in order to be heard. At the senior NCO's angry voice most of the POWs backed off. All that is except for LeBeau and Newkirk. "I said, 'Knock it off!'"

This time, both the Allied corporals backed off.

"You okay, Schultz?" Kinchloe asked. Holding his hand dramatically over his heart, Schultz took several gulping breaths before trusting himself to speak.

"Yes...thank you, Sgt. Kinchloe," he said gratefully. And then turning to Hogan, he held out the mailbag and asked, "Please, Col. Hogan...will you--?"

"Of course, Schultz." Hogan took the proffered mailbag with an easy smile and began calling out names. Each letter was met with a cheer by the happy recipient.


Hogan smiled as he handed Kinchloe a small bundle. "Looks like your mail finally caught up to you, buddy."

His eyes alight at the sight of so many letters packed together, Kinchloe was only able to nod wordlessly. They had been at Stalag 13 since November 1942, and these were the first letters from home that the NCO had received. Taking his mail, he paused suddenly. Hogan hadn't received any mail yet, either. He wondered if--?

"Hey! How 'bout that?" Hogan said, holding up a thick packet of letters. "Guess today's my lucky day, too!" Then, digging through the pouch, he shook his head regretfully at the remaining men. "Sorry, fellas...that's all there is. Maybe next time."

Nodding disappointedly, those who hadn't received any mail returned to their bunks.

Returning the mailbag to Schultz, Hogan retreated into the private sanctuary of his quarters in order to read his mail.


Hogan reread his mother's letter. She'd sent it before his capture, and it was full of folksy news from back home:

...and the town's abuzz with gossip about the local director of the Bridgeport Zoo, Mr. Higgins--do you remember him? You went to school with his son, Henry...?

Hogan smiled. The Bridgeport Zoo was the only zoo in the state of Connecticut, a small fact for which the locals were very proud.

...Well, far be it for me to spread rumors, but the word is that Mr. Higgins was caught in a most compromising position with the wife of a naval officer currently stationed in the south Pacific--right next to the hyena exhibit!  Can you imagine?! Your Dad says that's why the hyenas are still laughing!

Hogan covered his mouth to keep from chuckling out loud. He tried recalling Henry Higgins' face but couldn't. After awhile, he snapped his fingers.

"Hank Higgins--! Of course...played right field...Not much with the glove or bat, but what a heart!" Hogan smiled at the memory. As the team captain and star player for the Bridgeport HS Patriots, Hogan had talked the rest of the players into letting Hank stay on the team. Any kid who loved the game as much as Hank did deserved to play.

"So Hank's dad is a ladies' man, huh?" Remembering the homely, freckled-faced kid, Hogan shook his head. "Maybe he takes after his mom?"

Smiling, he went back to the letter.

...and everyone in town is so proud of the Silver Star that you've been awarded for that raid over Bremerhaven. It's made all the major New England papers, even the Boston Globe. Your Aunt Kathleen bought several copies and spread them among that crowd of hers in Beacon Hill. She even sent your dad and me two clippings of the article. I'm enclosing one copy for you, and putting the other one away in my scrapbook... 


Hogan frowned. He had not been alone on the raid over Bremerhaven and had protested being singled out for the Silver Star. He would have turned it down if his commanding officer, Gen. Duncan, had not stepped in and recommended his entire squadron for a unit citation. That had mollified Hogan.

And I agreed to that ridiculous photo session with the Stars and Stripes photographer. Apparently, the story had been picked up the stateside papers and a big fuss had been made over nothing. It's a good thing I'm a POW, 'cause otherwise I'd have that photographer for breakfast.

Grumbling, he was about to return to his letter, when a soft knock on the door interrupted him. Sighing, he called, "Come in." Kinchloe stuck his head in.

"Sorry to interrupt you, sir," he said quietly, "but I wondered if maybe I could have a word with you?"

"Sure thing, Kinch." Hogan instantly jumped off the top bunk and motioned Kinchloe to the bottom one. Hitching a hip onto his small field table, he crossed his arms and raised a questioning eyebrow. "What is it?"

Kinchloe looked away for a moment, and then jumped up and paced nervously. After a moment, he paused and faced Hogan. He looked like he was about to speak, but then turned away and started pacing again.

"Kinch...what is it?" Hogan asked. Kinchloe stopped and reluctantly faced his commanding officer.

"Sir, I know that our communications with London are strictly for military business, but..." He looked away again.

Eyes narrowed with growing concern, Hogan spoke. "Kinch...whatever it is, you can tell me. Let me help." Kinchloe nodded, his usually calm eyes reflecting his worry.

"Colonel, I know that it takes time for our folks to get the word about our situation, and that the Luftwaffe has sent notification through official channels of our capture--" Kinchloe again hesitated.

"But--?" Hogan pressed. Kinchloe took a deep breath.

"Sir, it's been months now since we were shot down, and I don't know if my folks even know that I'm alive!" He held up an opened envelope. "This letter is dated October!" Kinchloe cried out in anguish. "October--! Mom says that my Dad was hospitalized for a few days. It's his heart...The doctor's told him that he needs to slow down--that he pushes himself too hard."

He walked over to the window and took out a cigarette. Lighting up, he inhaled deeply, and then blew out long stream of smoke. His back to Hogan, he leaned against the window, his shoulders slumped.

"Colonel...I'm really worried. That's the most up-to-date letter I have. God only knows what my being shot down over Germany might've done to him. I've got to know if he's okay. D'you think that maybe London could expedite word back to our families that we're prisoners of war?"

Hogan slowly crossed the room until he was standing next to his senior NCO. He didn't speak for a long time, weighing the options. He knew that London would refuse. The entire point of going through official channels was to keep up the appearance that they were normal prisoners of war. Anything else could draw suspicions to them and expose their entire operation.

In fact, Hogan himself was growing impatient with waiting for word from his parents that they knew he was alive. They've already lost one son...What would the possibility of having lost another do to them?

But what of Kinchloe? He was a good man--a quiet leader whom the others followed without question and on whom Hogan depended, an electronics whiz whose technical expertise was directly responsible for much of their early successes, and a thorough professional whose bravery under fire had been proven time and again.

But more importantly, he's my friend.

"And what if something happens to me while I'm here?" Kinchloe added. "I mean...I'm supposed to be a regular POW. How are my parents going to take it if they suddenly get word that I was killed in action? Our mission's classified...You know the Big Brass--they'll probably send a form letter and leave it at that. Mom and Dad will never know what I was doing. All they'll have left is a lousy Gold Star hanging from the front window..." He stopped, remembering. "I'm sorry, Sir...that was out of line. Your parents already have a Gold Star--"

Hogan's mouth quirked in a slight smile, his dark eyes reflecting the pain he felt at mention of his brother, killed at Pearl Harbor. 

Making up his mind, Hogan laid his hand on his friend's shoulder and squeezed. He nodded solemnly at Kinchloe's questioning look.

"Before this terrible war's over, buddy, there's going to be a whole constellation of gold stars hanging from windows back home. Lots of families besides mine lost a son at Pearl Harbor. And there's been lots more lost since then." He sighed, waving at the dismal sight of the barbed wire and guard towers outside. "We've been lucky so far, I know. But if anything ever happens, Kinch, I promise to do everything I can. Even if I have to escape from this lousy place just to tell your folks myself."

Kinchloe smiled, his relief apparent. "That's all a guy can ask, sir."

"Come on, buddy," Hogan said, his face lit in a wide grin. "Let's go talk to those paper pushers in London." He led the way to the door, but Kinchloe stopped him.


"Yeah?" Hogan gave him a quizzical look.

"You know that the same goes for me, sir...I mean, if anything ever happens to you--?"

As comprehension dawned on Hogan's face, he suddenly looked away in momentary discomfort. After a short embarrassed silence, he cleared his throat. When he caught Kinchloe's eye again, his usual impish smile was firmly back in place.

"I appreciate that, Kinch. But if you try to hug me, I swear I'll slug you."


Wednesday, 4 JUL 1945//2000hrs local
Detroit, Michigan


Hogan slowly turned off the car and sat back. He gripped the steering wheel tightly, his knuckles showing white. He blinked back the tears that threatened again.

I know I promised, Kinch...but how can I face them? How can I tell them that you died because of me?

Swallowing, he took a deep, calming breath until he felt back in control. He took out a handkerchief and looking at himself in the rear view mirror, dabbed his face. The eyes that looked back seemed older than his 38 years. The war had had not only taken his best friend, it had taken the best years of his life.

With one final deep breath, Hogan grabbed his hat and stepped out of the car. As he straightened his uniform, the bright July sun caught the single, silver star sitting on either shoulder. A Distinguished Flying Cross had come with the promotion to Brigadier General.

You're a real bona fide hero, eh, general? Tiredly, he walked up the flagstone path that to the led to the front porch. Climbing the steps, he brought his hand up to knock and hesitated...


Sunday, 20 AUG 1944//0900hrs local
The Cooler, LuftStalag 13


Dear Mr. And Mrs. Kinchloe,

It is with deep regret that I must inform you of the death of your son, Staff Sergeant James Kinchloe.

Hogan stopped writing. He read over the dry, official-sounding words. Abruptly, he crumpled the paper and tossed it on the floor. It joined the twenty or so other pieces of crumpled paper that he'd previously discarded. In a burst of sudden anger, he kicked over the small table that Klink had authorized him as a small courtesy.

Instantly, two guards appeared at the cell door, weapons locked and loaded, aimed directly at him.

"Was ist los?!" As he spoke, the corporal of the guard nervously fingered the trigger. Col. Hogan was not a man to be trifled with. Usually, he gave the appearance of a model prisoner, but one of his men--Sgt. Kinchloe--had been killed in the previous night's escape attempt. The possibility remained that the senior POW might be planning some sort of reprisal.

Therefore, the guards were under strict orders to report all incidents. The corporal ordered the other guard to phone the Kommandant, his weapon never wavering.

Hogan held his arms out in a sign of surrender. "Sorry, corporal...I, um, tripped," he said. "Clumsy of me, but y'know...these cells are kinda dark and dank. Makes it hard to see. I don't suppose I could maybe get a lamp or--?"

"Prisoners in the cooler are usually allowed no privileges, Col. Hogan," another voice replied. Klink walked up to the cell door and stood, ramrod straight, riding crop under his arm, and calmly surveyed the overturned table and crumpled papers littering the cell floor. "Any further disturbance will result in all writing materials--paper, pen, table--to be immediately removed...As well as your sentence being extended. Do I make myself perfectly clear, Colonel?"

Hogan glared at Klink, his hatred for the enemy, fueled by his rage and guilt over his best friend's death, almost overwhelming him. He just managed to respond through clenched teeth.

"Perfectly, Kommandant."

"Corporal, you will maintain a 24-hour watch on the prisoner until further notice." The corporal of the guard clicked his heels and came to attention.

"Jahwohl, Herr Kommandant!"

Long after Klink's footsteps faded from hearing, Hogan straightened the table, and taking a deep breath, picked up his pen and writing tablet and started again.

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Kinchloe,

As I write this letter, I can see your son in my mind. Kinch was probably the best friend I ever had. I remember the day our mail finally caught up to us months after we were captured...


Wednesday, 4 JUL 1945//2030hrs local
Detroit, Michigan


Hogan sat awkwardly, holding the glass of lemonade in one hand, while attempting to balance a small dessert plate on his knee. Mr. and Mrs. Kinchloe had welcomed him into their home and tried to make him feel at home. Mrs. Kinchloe had immediately brought out a plate of cookies that she'd baked that morning and a pitcher of ice-cold lemonade.

After the quick introductions, Hogan didn't quite know how to continue. The usually silver-tongued, charismatic hero, suddenly found himself at a loss for words. He sipped the lemonade to hide his discomfiture, staring at a point on the floor approximately two inches in front of his toes.

"Will you be staying for the fireworks tonight?"

Startled, Hogan almost dropped the plate of cookies. "Excuse me? What did you say?"

"I asked if you're staying for the fireworks tonight," Mrs. Kinchloe repeated. "There's always a lovely Fourth of July fireworks display over the lake."

"Oh, um...no, ma'am," Hogan mumbled. "I hadn't planned to...Um, I've got to be back in Washington by Saturday."

"So soon?" Mrs. Kinchloe said disappointed. "But you just got here."

"Yes, ma'am...I guess since they promoted me, they expect me to work or something." He shrugged lamely and took another sip from his lemonade. Another long silence hung between them.

"Why don't you just say what it is you came to tell us, son?" Mr. Kinchloe's quiet voice broke the stillness.

Hogan quickly looked up, his dark eyes filled with pain. "Son--?"

Mr. Kinchloe calmly held his gaze. "James spoke highly of you, General Hogan. He greatly admired you...looked up to you. Thought of you as his friend--"

"--As a brother," Mrs. Kinchloe added. "Please...whatever happened, we don't blame you. We want you to know that." She stood up and held her hand out to Hogan. He put down his glass and plate and slowly stood. His eyes on her kind, serene face, he took a step toward her and reached out, his much larger hand easily enclosing hers.

With a soft smile, she reached up with her free hand and gently caressed his face. The grief and guilt that he'd been battling since Kinchloe's death finally overwhelmed him. Hogan quickly turned away and stumbling slightly, put some distance between them. Reaching the fireplace, he leaned against the mantle, struggling to regain control of his raw emotions.

"It's my fault...he's dead because of me. All my fault...!" He spoke in broken, anguished tones, his back to the Kinchloes. At last, he managed to get himself under some semblance of control, and straightening faced them. "He died a hero, gave his life so that others could live. I know that's small comfort, but it's the best I can give you."

"I thought he died during an escape attempt?" Mr. Kinchloe said. "Your letter from last year said that--" Hogan shook his head.

"No...that was just the cover story." He hesitated. Hogan's covert operations from inside Stalag 13 were still classified Top Secret. Technically, he wasn't supposed to talk about them. To hell with that!

"What I'm about to tell you is still classified. I won't insult you by swearing you to secrecy, but I hope that you won't repeat what I say..." Seeing that he had their full attention, Hogan explained the extent of the mission he and his men had been assigned behind enemy lines.

"You mean that you could've escaped any time you wished?" Mr. Kinchloe asked, stunned. Hogan nodded, shook his head, and then shrugging, nodded again.

"Yes and no. We were under orders--no escapes. An escape would've compromised our whole operation. But we were all volunteers, so if any of us wanted to call it quits, we had that option. None of us ever did--although there were times that one or another of us came close."

Mrs. Kinchloe stood up and walked towards the patio door. She stood, silhouetted in shadow against the late evening twilight that had descended on the backyard. In the ensuing quiet, they could hear the happy laughter of neighborhood children at play, oblivious to the wars, the pain, and the anger of men.

"My James could've come home any time he wished...?" Mrs. Kinchloe spoke softly, almost wistfully.

"Yes, ma'am...I'm sorry. I know how this must sound, but--"

"No, General Hogan...you don't know." She turned and faced him fully. "You don't have any children, do you?" Hogan shook his head, 'no.' "Then you can't possibly know how I'm feeling right now."

"Now, Hattie! Is that anyway to talk to a guest?"

Mrs. Kinchloe glared out at Hogan a moment longer, and then, just as suddenly dropped her eyes, deflated. "I'm sorry, General--"

"Please...my name's Robert," Hogan interrupted. Mrs. Kinchloe nodded.

"I'm sorry, Robert. I had no call to speak to you in that manner. You didn't have to come here today. You did your duty when you wrote that letter last year..."

"No," Hogan said with a brief shake of his head. "I did have to come today. Y'see...I made a promise to a friend." He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a small, brown leather case. "I promised him a long time ago that if anything ever happened to him, I'd do everything in my power to let you know why and how he died. More importantly, that I'd try to make you understand why he volunteered for the mission in the first place."

As he spoke, Hogan opened the leather case and held it out to the Kinchloes. "This is your son's--the Distinguished Flying Cross with 'V' cluster--for valor. The nation's second highest award."

"For valor..." Mr. Kinchloe repeated, running his finger lightly over the medal. "My little boy...a hero." He looked up at Hogan, his eyes bright with unshed tears. "You're right, son...It's only a small comfort, but I know James died doing what he was believed was right." Overcome with emotion, he turned and held his wife close.

"Mr. and Mrs. Kinchloe...I'm very proud to have known your son and to have served with him. But I'm prouder still to have called him 'friend'...and 'brother.'"

At Hogan's words, Mrs. Kinchloe moved from her husband to Hogan and closely hugged the younger man to her, kissing him lightly on the cheek. Mr. Kinchloe reached over his wife, and shook hands with Hogan. Shrugging, he said, "Oh, to heck with it!" and hugged him, too.

Shortly thereafter, Hogan bade his farewells, which led to another round of hugs, kisses, and handshakes.

"Thank you, ma'am...sir," he said. "I'll never forget you or what you said."

"Now who said anything about forgetting?" Mrs. Kinchloe asked. "Robert, this is your home now, and you will always be welcomed here. You're family, and family is never turned away from this door."

Smiling, Hogan made his way back to the waiting staff car, his step lighter than when he'd first walked up the flagstone path. Pausing at the driver's side door, he turned for one last look around.

I did it, Kinch. I kept my promise.

At that moment, a bright constellation of manmade stars suddenly exploded over the treetops, illuminating the night sky. Hogan ducked automatically, only to straighten up again, feeling slightly embarrassed.

Must be the 4th of July fireworks display. The initial starburst was soon followed by another and another. The wind shifted momentarily, and in the distance he could make out the sounds of a brass band playing 'The Stars and Stripes and Forever.'

Hogan stood a moment longer, watching the fireworks and thinking of Kinchloe. Because of men like you, buddy, there are millions of people free today who weren't free last year. He thought of the thousands more who had given their lives so that others might live in peace and freedom.

Because of men like you, today really is Independence Day.


The End

Text and original characters copyright 2002 by Syl Francis

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.