Thursday, December 13, 2018

Where There's Fighting

Louis L'Amour (1908-1988) is considered a cornerstone of western fiction. During his prolific career he penned 100 novels and around 400 short-stories. While the majority of his work focused on the western frontier, L'Amour also wrote detective, adventure and military fiction. One of those is the WW2 short “Where There's Fighting”, which was originally published by “Thrilling Adventures” in January, 1942 and reprinted for the compilation book “Yondering”. 

The story focuses on an American fighting man joining a four-man British patrol in the Greek mountains. It's set in April, 1941 at a time when Germany invaded Greece. The British landed 57,000 troops to halt the advancement, but after only eight fierce days of combat the British needed to evacuate. To do so, they left behind smaller battalions to use as rear guard action against the pursuing forces.

The British battalion ultimately chosen to die is Ryan, Benton, Pommy and Sackworth. Both Benton and Ryan are hardened combat vets and know that their mountainside .30-caliber and rifles won't be enough to hold off the German advancement. They realize it's just a stalling tactic, one emphasized as certain death by the emotional Pommy and Sackworth. However, they find a soldier has approached them carrying a .50-caliber. Who is this strange man? Friend or foe?

The solider is American Mike Horne, who's survived a brutal guerrilla campaign in Albania. As Horne is explaining his fighting career, the British troops are in disbelief. Thus L'Amour's short-tale comes alive, a fitting representation to fit the story title. Horne explains that he goes “where there's fighting” and begins to list off an impressive resume that featured battles in Sicily, China and Libya while learning to parachute in England. What's astonishing to the Brits is that Horne doesn't necessarily stick to commands, which comes in handy as he explains cutting and running to the foursome after initial heavy fire with the Germans that night. The narrative quickens to a firefight in the mountains with the five holding off waves of Germans with two machine guns and rifles. 

At only 13-pages, “Where There's Fighting” embodies the spirited adventure of L'Amour, a troubadour in his own right who wore many hats before becoming a full-time writer. I think this character – Mike Horne - is the definition of our genre's hero. He runs to the sounds of battle, actively engaging the enemy in jungles, mountains and at sea. His last words echo the essence of L'Amour's universal fighting man:

“Then Africa, Pommy, or Syria or Suez or Russia or England. They'll always be fighting them somewhere, an' that's where I want to be.”