Right after Pearl Harbor, Jack Crane, ace war correspondent of the Consolidated Press, left Egypt by air for India. His orders were to fly to the Philippines and cover the stand of Gen. MacArthur's men.
Jack Crane's adventures begin below. They will continue in each issue of "Young America." Although Jack is not a real person, every fighting incident in these stories REALLY HAPPENED to someone during the present war. Now read on:
JACK Crane slid the possibilities back and forth in his mind ... "Get to the Philippines. Cover defense of islands." Those had been his cabled instructions from New York. Now it looked as if he'd failed.
If his plane hadn't been forced down by engine trouble, he might be with MacArthur's men by now. Even with the forced landing he might have made it if only the connecting plane had waited at Bombay, India.
Jack Crane found no consolation in talking over his troubles with the Bombay representative of the Consolidated Press.
"No one's getting through to the Philippines," Crane said. "The last plane has gone. Doesn't New York, understand that?"
"You could always resign your job."
"Not likely." Crane grinned. "I'm not that kind."
"Then look up Ike Stebbins. He's got a leaky, rusty tub of a freighter. He's going to take it through to Java. That's closer to the Philippines."
* * *
Stebbins, a small, fat man, shoveled curry into his mouth and muttered "yes" and "no" to Crane's questions. He never looked at Crane.
"Take a passenger?"
"Yup." He might have been American, British or Australian. When people live a lifetime in the East, they lose their identity.
"Subs?" Crane asked.
"Dangerous, isn't it?"
"Think you'll make it?"
"Can't say," Stebbins mumbled, taking a huge swallow of the curry.
"What'll you charge me?"
"One hundred and fifty. In American dollars." Stebbins waved a fat hand and the interview was over.
SIGHTED BY THE ENEMY
It was hotter than Crane had ever known it. He tried to sleep at night and poured sweat. During the day he lay on the deck of the rusty old freighter and wondered why a man should risk his life to get the news for $40 a week and expenses.
They coasted around India and saw nothing, but it seemed each morning it was a few degrees hotter. The ship had a crew of Lascars*; only the skipper and the officers and the single passenger were white.
A few miles off Java, the Jap dive bombers found them.
First just one, observing, swung back and forth like a kite until it had identified the unarmed ship. Then it leveled off for a moment and went into its dive.
On the ship, bedlam broke loose. The Lascars ran in every direction. Stebbins roared orders at the helmsman. Jack Crane watched. He had been bombed before; you can't run away. Anyway, a writer watched that was his business.
The Jap bomb landed amidships, ripping a raw hole in the deck. Three of the crewman lay dead. A fourth, wounded, was in pain.
Then the Jap bomber made off, lazily, quietly; there was time enough. It could return with others before the freighter moved ten miles if, indeed, it was in any condition to move at all.
The little man, Stebbins, had courage. Crane had to admit that to himself. Not too much sense, but courage. Someone else would have abandoned ship. The crew were no good now; frightened, they knew the single bomber had gone for others.
When Crane asked Stebbins, the captain said,
"Walk off my ship? What do you take me for?" It was the first time Crane had seen him display emotion.
Crane went off to the radio room, where the operator calmly tapped out message after message, as if enough words would bring help where no help was to be had. The radioman was Chinese; he had learned his trade in Australia, and he was grinning cheerfully.
"How does it look?" Crane asked.
"Not good. I keep sending, but not good."
"Won't the Dutch send out some planes?"
"How many planes you think they got?" the operator asked in his broken English. "These bad waters. Everybody want planes. We one little freighter, not too important, you get me? We don't matter too much, you get me? I keep sending but I don't think planes help us."
THE JAPS COME BACK
Stebbins was trying to help the wounded man. In the course of years, a captain picks up a good deal of basic medicine, but here it was no use. Crane could see that the man was dying.
"Help you?" he asked Stebbins.
"No just keep out of trouble."
Crane shrugged. It wasn't pleasant to lose a ship. He knew that.
And then the Japs came back. There were ten of them this time, flying four, three, two, one, as ducks fly. They came over and peeled off, one at a time, each plane with one big bomb. Explosions broke the back of the vessel and tore it to pieces.
Afterwards, Jack Crane wrote about it, but not with any clarity; it happened too quickly. The world, which was their small ship, went to pieces. There were men screaming and men in the water.
Crane reflected that the Japs had a reputation for wasting nothing, yet two of the bombs would have destroyed the vessel; ten smashed it to pieces.
Somehow, a boat was launched, and Crane swam to it. Jackson the first mate, was there, with a bad wound on his hand. He said Stebbins was dead.
There were seven in the boat Jackson, Crane and five dazed Lascar seamen. Crane and Jackson had to drive them to the oars. Then one of the Japs peeled off for machine gunning. Crane had heard of this, machine gunning men in an open boat but he had not believed it.
"Write about it," Jackson muttered.
One of the Lascars lay dead over his oar.
Things come to an end. Four hours later a Dutch patrol boat picked them up and took them to Koetaradja in Sumatra. Crane had enough strength to file his dispatch, and then he found a bed and slept.
His sleep was troubled. He dreamed about the ten Jap planes that came over so calmly, unopposed, just peeling off, one by one.
At the end of his dispatch, he had said: "Going on to the Philippines, if possible." He wondered what adventures lay in store on the way.
*Native sailors of the East Indies.
NEXT WEEK: JACK CRANE SAVES A RED CROSS NURSE IN SINGAPORE'S RUINS!