DG Hear and I worked together doing the "Back Up Buddy" and "Hey, Joe!" stories and then collaborating on "Wish Me Luck, The Sequel." This was in addition, of course, to our stories in the two writing invitationals I put together on "This Bed of Rose's" and "El Paso."
So we decided to try it again. DG is writing a story based on Gretchen Wilson's great song, "When I think About Cheatin'" and I am doing one on Tanya Tucker's classic, "Almost Persuaded."
The theme is temptation and how two women deal with it. We hope you enjoy the stories.
This story is very loosely based on the classic song by Tanya Tucker - written by Billy Sherrill and Glenn Sutton.
Thanks to Techsan for his astute editing assistance.
THE TALL TEXAN - KITTY
Last night, all alone in a bar room, I met a man with a drink in his hand
Almost Persuaded by Tanya Tucker
"Hey, pretty lady, how ‘bout a dance?"
The band was playing "Georgia Rag," an old song by Web Pierce that hardly anyone plays anymore. It was a great ragtime number with a strong beat – perfect for dancing – and a catchy melody. I looked up and saw a cowboy dressed up in his dancing finery: he had on a new looking Stetson hat, well worn but clean Levi's and Justin boots and a pale blue shirt with red trim around the collar and pockets. The buttons on the shirt were mother of pearl with a faint pinkish tint.
From my viewpoint sitting down, he looked rather tall, with big brown eyes and coal black hair that looked more than a little curly where it poked out from under his hat. He stood with a bottle of Shiner Bock in his hand, waiting for my answer, a smile on his face that any girl would understand.
I hesitated for a minute, shrugged my shoulders, and stood up. He put his beer on the table and promptly started whirling me around the room … I felt flushed and a bit dizzy but somehow exhilarated. The band went into the chorus and I smiled as I listened:
The Georgia Moon it was shining It seemed to smile from above But now my heart keeps on pining To tell her once more of my love.
Two or three more songs went by in what seemed a moment. The band leader announced that after a slow song they were going to take a break. They kicked in with a slow ballad and I started to walk back to my table but Glenn – that's what he told me his name was – put his strong arms around me and pulled me close.
I resisted half-heartedly, then put my head on his shoulder and let him lead. Lost in the moment … I remembered.
I had known Billy all my life. His dad and mine were both oil riggers and we were neighbors in two small houses on the outskirts of Bartlesville, Oklahoma. When Billy got to high school he spent summers working with his dad and when we graduated he started working for the same company as our dads. We got married as soon as he started working and, with our folks' help, we were able to buy a small one bedroom place of our own, a couple of miles from where our parents lived.
We were happy and had a good life even though Billy worked hard and often came home exhausted. It was dangerous work and I worried about him all the time. I got a job working part time in the office of the same company where Billy and our dads worked. It was a small company, family owned and operated, and they made everyone feel like they were part of the family.
About eighteen months after we were married we had a baby girl. We named her Sara after Sara Carter of the Carter family. We listened to them on the radio all the time and I loved her voice. I stopped working and life was pretty good for us.
Then the war came. The main effect on our families was that the need for oil was critical and a lot of pressure was applied by the government to discover new oil fields and make them productive as soon as possible. Everyone had to work more hours and I started working full time with either my mom or Billy's mom taking care of Sara.
It put a strain on our lives and our marriage. We were too tired to go out much and Billy was takin' to falling asleep on the sofa right after dinner. We weren't worried too much about the war taking our men from us because oil was a critical industry and not subject to the draft.
Then in the spring of 1943 Billy and I had our first big fight. He came home one night flushed from a couple of beers. The damn fool had enlisted when he didn't have to!
He was adamant, "Kitty, I have to do this. This is my country and I want to do my part."
"But, Billy, you have been doing more than your share just in helping with the supply of oil!"
"Honey, I'm gonna go – just help me on this."
We went to bed mad at each other and didn't make love. The next morning Billy was quiet and left with a quick kiss and a hug.
"Kitty, I won't be able to live with myself if I don't do this. I'm sorry."
Another kiss and Billy said goodbye to Sara. And then he was gone. When he got to the reception center they assigned him to the Marines. He didn't even get a chance to come home before he shipped out to the Pacific Theater. He didn't even know where he was going – just over the ocean somewhere.
I missed him. I was by turns angry with him and wanting him something fierce. I hadn't had a kiss or hug – let alone more – in almost six months.
Glenn took my arm and said, "Hey, are you okay? You went away somewhere."
I looked around and we were standing alone in the middle of the dance floor. He held the chair out for me then went to the bar for a couple more beers. He came back and sat down without asking. I didn't mind. I was lonely and wanted to have someone to talk to, to dance with.
Glenn placed his hands over mine - holding them while looking at me. I found myself wanting to kiss him. I'd heard an expression once: " … temptation was flowing like wine." That was how I felt. Just Glenn holding my hands made me feel like I'd had one glass of wine too many and my temptation was making me feel … lethargic, my eyes felt heavy – like nothing mattered.
I was almost persuaded to strip myself of my pride … to push my conscience aside. We danced again – I don't know how much later it was. It was a slow number and he pulled me close and whispered in my ear.
"I need you! Let me take you away and be your man tonight."
I stepped back and looked into his eyes and I saw it … the reflection of my wedding band. I turned and ran out the door to Billy's truck. I sat there crying for a long time. I had almost been persuaded to let strange lips lead me on … but Billy's sweet love made me stop and go home.
The next morning, early, on Tuesday, November 23, 1943 my life ended. The boy delivering the telegram couldn't have been more than sixteen but he brought a message older than time, "Your husband, William James Dixon, is missing in action and presumed dead."
The telegram went on to say that, during the invasion of an island in the Pacific, Billy's squad was separated from the company and caught in a mortar attack by the Japanese. They had found all the bodies but Billy's and he was assumed to have died in the attack.
I collapsed to the floor, crying hysterically, my pain made worse by what I had almost done the night before. I didn't know what the time differences were or anything, but I was convinced that Billy had been killed while I was dancing with Glenn. I had killed him!
I was still laying there, sobbing, the door still open, when my mom came.
"Laws a'mercy, child, what's the matter?"
I handed her the telegram and started crying again.
She sat down and hugged me. "Kitty, I know. I know how it is for you."
"No, it's worse that that, ma. I killed him. I did, I killed him."
She let me cry for a while, holding me and saying soothing words while patting my back.
"Kitty, child, go put some coffee on and I'll take care of Sara."
A few minutes later, Sara – now two – was fed and playing on a quilt on the kitchen floor.
I told my mom what I'd almost done at the tavern the night before, of how I felt I had killed my Billy.
"Kitty, what you done was wrong, I cain't say it weren't. But, child, you didn't kill Billy. The war killed him. I'm glad you came home when you did – thanks to God for that."
We sat and drank coffee, Sara blissfully ignorant … and happy playing on the floor. I started trying to put my life back together … hating myself for my almost betrayal.
BLOODY TARAWA – BILLY
"Casualties many; percentage of dead not known; combat efficiency, we are winning."
Colonel David M. Shoup (Tarawa) - 21st November 1943
I hated the way I left Kitty and little Sara. I know she was upset but this was something important to me. The night before I left we stopped at the bar and my buddies brought me a few beers. We were having fun but truth be told, I think most of them wished they were going with me.
A guy at the bar asked me, "Are you one of those patriots?"
I know he was just jawin' at me but I gave him a hard look and said, "Yes, Sir, Mister, I love my country and I'm proud of it." He turned back to the bar – I guess he was embarrassed.
I was sure surprised when I got to the reception center and after all the testing and such I was told I was going to be a Marine. I hadn't thought about that but it sounded fine to me.
They sent me on the train to San Diego for boot camp – there was a group of about thirty of us from Texas and Oklahoma. When we arrived in San Diego we jumped off the train singing the Marine Hymn. We were proud to be Marines! There was a group of battle-seasoned noncoms standing there and they quickly disabused us of any notion that we were real Marines.
Looking back at it, the two most important things in boot camp were our rifles and our drill sergeant. We had to immediately memorize our serial number and woe be to the man that forgot it. I remember one thing I thought at the time was funny. One of the recruits goofed up and called his rifle a gun. The sergeant stared him down and then grabbed his rifle from him.
"I'm gonna tell y'all once and once only." Alternately holding up the grunt's rifle then pointing to his groin, he shouted, "This is my rifle, this is my gun. This is for fighting, this is for fun."
Then he took us for a long run with our rifles at port arms. The poor guy that dared call his darlin' a gun wound up sleeping with it for a week.
I was in good shape – working as a rigger is hard work. But the physical effort they put us through left me sore for weeks. We learned the usual things I would have expected and some I didn't. For example I learned an amazingly rich vocabulary of words I could never say around mom. Within days I was cussin' up a storm with the best of the Drill Instructors.
The first day, when our DI told us how it was going to be, one thing he said stuck with me. He walked up and down the rows, staring each of us in the eye. Standing in front again, an unmistakable look of disgust on his face, he said, "Okay. I want everyone that thinks he is a man to take two steps forward."
We nervously looked at each other, and then en masse we all took two steps to the front.
"Goddammit! You all are just boys. There ain't a man among you. I'm gonna break you down in pieces. Then when you are nothin' I'm gonna put y'all back together again. When I'm finished you can be proud to say that you are both a man and a Marine."
One thing I learned early is that a recruit could never win. Every day there would be an inspection by the DI. He always gigged me on something, and I swore to myself that before boot camp was over I'd pass inspection. I worked really hard at it and gradually I did better and better. I knew I was close when the only thing he found was a tiny bit of brass polish on the inside of my belt buckle.
The next day I knew I was going to be the first one in our training group not to be gigged. He checked everything and then made me take my belt buckle off. He held it up to the sun and looked inside and I could swear he smiled a little. He handed the buckle back and I put the belt back on while he stood there waiting. I knew he was going to say something to the recruits and use me as a good example.
Now, the DI was a big guy, maybe six-two and running a lean two-twenty. He put his face in mine and yelled, "Have you been sleeping with my wife?"
This scared the hell out of me! With his spittle all over my face I tremulously answered, "No, Sir! I wouldn't touch your wife." I knew as soon as I said it that it was the wrong thing to say.
"What? My wife isn't good enough for you?"
I did lots of extra running that day. I learned from that it was better to be almost perfect but leave one obvious thing and take the punishment.
We learned what they told us we had to know to survive. Most of the boys from Texas and Oklahoma, except for the ones from the city, had no trouble shooting expert with our Springfield '03 rifles. We had endless training on bayonet drills.
Finally we were Marines. Several weeks later I shipped out, headed for New Zealand to join the 2d Marine Division, thirty-five miles from Wellington by train. They were recuperating, refitting and training after the intense fight at Guadalcanal. It was a beautiful place and the residents loved us. Quite a few of the men that had been there for some time married local women before we shipped out on the troop transport.
I guess the troops that were in New Zealand before us had it pretty easy and had a lot of fun. At about the same time I got there, Colonel Edson came in as chief of staff for the commanding general, Julian Smith. Edson immediately implemented a rigorous training program to put us in peak fighting shape.
He focused on several areas he thought were critical: individual initiative, fire discipline and above all keep moving forward, always forward. By late October when the training ended, over fifty Marines died from training accidents or overexertion. But morale was high and we knew we were ready for whatever awaited us. At that time we had no idea of where we were going.
Just before we debarked some mail caught up with us and I had three letters from Kitty. In one there were several pictures of her and Sara. Reading the letters gave me a strong dose of loneliness … but still; I knew I was doing the right thing for me.
At last we got on the troop transports and started towards whatever destiny awaited us. It came to us that it was serious business when the platoon leader came around and made sure we all had wills. We stopped at Efate in the New Hebrides Islands to practice beach landings.
Somewhere in the middle of the south Pacific we finally found out where we were going. For years afterward I could still hear the briefing officer:
We have been assigned the task of taking Betio, an island in the Tarawa Atoll. Let me tell you about it and why it is imperative that we take it. Before I start let me tell you one thing. It has been said that it would take a million soldiers to take that island; it is so heavily fortified. Well, we don't have a million soldiers … but we do have a division of Marines!
Betio is a small island, about one square mile. It's seven hundred yards wide – at its widest, and about two miles long. For those of you from New York, it's about half the size of Central Park. There is no point on Tarawa more than ten feet above sea level.
Now we had no interest in taking this island. It had no strategic importance so we were just going to bypass it. Then the Japs built an airstrip and everything changed. That fifteen hundred foot long landing strip controls thousands of square miles of ocean around the Tarawa atoll.
They have almost five thousand troops guarding Betio, with guns up to eight inches and a large number of antiaircraft guns and entrenched machine guns.
He went on to talk about specific assignments and various things he felt we needed to know. Later our company commander went over our part in a lot more detail.
What all of our intelligence gathering hadn't discovered was what was camouflaged or underground, and how erratic the tides were. Both of these were to cause us a large number of fatalities.
The date of the assault, November 20th turned out to be a neap tide for the island. Neap tides occur during the first and third quarters of the moon and generally have less water than at full tide. This meant the expected five feet of clearance over the reefs guarding Betio would be more like three feet and not enough for the landing crafts.
The first wave was to use amtracs; they could crawl over an exposed reef. The later waves of the larger landing craft would have to let their troop wade ashore the five hundred yards from the reefs to the beach. So it turned out that the bulk of the Marines landing were exposed to a withering fire from machine guns we thought had been cleared by the earlier bombardment.
They served us breakfast at 2000 hours on the 19th. They served us steak and eggs, a New Zealand custom. We got in our landing craft and I was standing, looking to the east as the sun started peeping over the horizon. With no warning, a shell hit the water about fifty yards in front of our landing craft, scaring the hell out of us and drenching us with water. I spent the rest of the trip ashore huddled against the thin plywood gunwales.
I was in I company and we were on the early amtracs. We were to land right where Red Beach 1 and Green beaches intersected. Our target was the pair of large fourteen-centimeter guns on the northwest point of Betio. My platoon, the 3d, and several others had no trouble reaching the beach but when the command tractor with the company commander on board was a few feet from the shore the Captain was shot in the forehead and died instantly.
The 1st Lt that took over told our platoon leader to move forward and to the right to provide protection for the flank. We moved over, staying low. The Japs had turned their antiaircraft guns level with the gun and were raking the beach with devastating effect. We moved about a hundred yards to the right and the 2d Lt positioned our squads. My squad under Cpl Betterman was the farthest inland and about even with the big guns.
A runner came up and told Betterman to try to circle around behind the big gun. We very slowly crawled up the beach, hiding in depressions when we could. We got to our position in a low area that was about a foot lower than what was around us. We were taking a breather, looking at each other – surprised I guess that we were still alive. What no one told us, in all the training, in all the scuttlebutt and war stories we had been subjected to – no one had said how horrendous the noise was.
It was disorienting and sapped the strength from us. We huddled there, awaiting instructions, when I felt a tremendous pressure … then things went black. I came to, hours later and felt an intense pain just below my left knee and I had a tremendous headache. My left ear was bleeding but numb. It was almost dark and I looked around. It looked like everyone in the squad was dead – at least no one was moving and there was no question about most of them.
In the faint light I took could see part of my shinbone sticking through my pants, gleaming white in the faint light. I was able to get to my medical kit and I taped up my shin as best I could. My ear was now starting to hurt but wasn't bleeding too much. I struggled to get my helmet off and saw a huge dent on the left side, above where the ear would be. I put my hand up and felt what seemed to be an egg.
I dragged myself over to the two Marines that I wasn't sure about but they were all dead. I drifted off for a while but awoke to hear talking nearby by. I was shocked to hear them speaking Japanese! They seemed to be coming my way so I slipped over the edge of the depression and started crawling away from the sounds.