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The Thin Red Line by James Jones (Excerpt)

The Thin Red Line by James Jones (Excerpt)

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Published by OpenRoadMedia
n August of 1942 the first American marines charged Guadalcanal, igniting a six-month battle for two thousand square miles of jungle and sand. In that gruesome stretch sixty thousand Americans made the jump from boat to beach, and one in nine did not return.
n August of 1942 the first American marines charged Guadalcanal, igniting a six-month battle for two thousand square miles of jungle and sand. In that gruesome stretch sixty thousand Americans made the jump from boat to beach, and one in nine did not return.

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Published by: OpenRoadMedia on Feb 09, 2012
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09/29/2013

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THIN RED LINEBy James Jones
THERE WAS A LONG LINE of jungle about a hundred and fifty yards from the bivouac. Off through the coconut trees and through the steaming, chill curtain of tropicalrain it looked more like a massive wall than anything else. Dense, solid, sweeping awayto the foothills and a hundred feet high, it might have been an ancient green lavaflow laiddown by some volcano centuries ago to form this flat-topped plateau: up whose steepgreen slope one could climb, to walk away over the top on a surface at least as solid asthe wet earth on which they stood. Almost invisible in the rain, it loomed there, alien,supremely confident, making them aware of it even when they could not see it, a fact of nature like a mountain or an ocean and equally as ominous to the human ego.In the coconut grove they worked doggedly to set up their camp. The rain camestraight down, unbreathed upon by any wind. A quarter of a mile away they could see thehumid sun shining brightly down into the apparently endless cocopalms. But here it camedown in bucketsful—in huge, fat drops so close together that it seemed to be a solid sheetof water which was pouring down on them from the sky. Everything not alreadyaccidentally covered up was soaked through in a matter of seconds. In minutes it hadflooded the area. To think of raincoats was ridiculous, this rain would have gone right onthrough them. Soaked to the skin, still worn out by the march, C-for-Charlie companysloshed around through the area, churned it into a thin sea of mud with their feet, didwhatever had to be done to make a camp. There was no other choice.It was so bad, everything was so miserable, that suddenly the whole thing turneditself into a lark. A hollow and pathetic lark, to be sure, when associated with the dead,dying and wounded from the air raid whom they could not forget;—but perhaps for thatvery reason the clowning and laughter rose to an even higher pitch, one that in the endresembled hysteria. Some men, less cautious and able to forget that even combat fatigueshad to be washed, were not above sitting down and sliding themselves around in the mudlike children playing in snow. In the end, however, it did not lessen their painful new
 
tension. When they had worn out their clowning, they found the nervousness still there.All their howling and laughing and sliding about had not in the slightest bit diminishedthat. Meanwhile, the rain did not cease.In the kitchen tent which had been on the way up when the rain started, Storm,cursing and swearing, tried to light his field stoves with wet matches. No one had any thatwere dry, and if he did not get them lit there would be no hot meal tonight; and Stormwas determined that there would be one. Finally he managed it with a borrowed Zippo,knowing beforehand that if he succeeded he would burn his hand rather badly, and whichin fact he did do. Stoically, he wrapped his hand in a towel and after giving orders to dryout some matches over the lit stove went on with his work, considerably prouder of himself than he would have admitted aloud. He would show these bums who it was keptthem fed. Nobody’d ever say Storm didn’t feed his people.Outside in the rain it appeared upon closer inspection that the company’sallotment of eight-man personnel tents had not arrived from the ship; nor had the foldingcots which were supposed to go in them. When Sergeant Welsh grinning with great relish brought him this news, Captain Bugger Stein did not know what to do. This was one of those little inefficiencies that could always be expected, wherever large groups of mentried to carry out a complex operation together. But on this particular day, and in this rain,it was an especially bad one to have inflicted on him, Stein felt. Logically there was onlyone order to give, which was for the men to break packs and put up their sheltertents, andthat was the order Stein gave. Logical or not, it was still an absurd order, and Stein was painfully aware of that. He was sitting bareheaded in the newly risen, comparatively dryorderly-room tent, drenched and cold, and rummaging around in his own barracks bagtrying to find a dry uniform, when Welsh came to him; and when he saw the grinningcontempt on Welsh’s wet face at the order, he became so incensed that he forgot his policy of parental tolerance toward his crazy first sergeant.“God damn it, Sergeant, I know it’s a ridiculous order, too!” he shouted. “Now goand tell them! That’s an order!”“Yes, sir!” Welsh grinned, saluting him insultingly; and did. With sardonic relish.

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