He had just awakened from the dream when the tunnel coming out beneath Hut 109 collapsed. It was just before dawn, and it had been raining hard off and on since midnight. It was the same dream as always, a dream about what had happened to him two years earlier, as close to being as real in the dream as real was until the very end.
In the dream, he didn't see the convoy.
In the dream, he didn't suggest turning and attacking.
In the dream, they didn't get shot down.
And in the dream, no one died.
Raymund Thomas Hart, a skinny, quiet young man of unprepossessing appearance, the third in this family after both his father and grandfather to carry the saint's name with its unusual spelling, lay cramped in his bunk in the darkness. He could feel damp sweat gathered around his neck, though the spring night air was still chilled with the leftover cold of winter. In the short moments before the wooden supporting beams eight feet underground snapped under the weight of the rain-soaked earth and the air filled with the whistles and shouts of the guards, he listened to the thick breathing and snores of the men occupying the bunk beds round him. There were seven other men in the room, and he could recognize each by the distinctive sounds they made at night. One man often spoke, giving order to his long-dead crew, another whimpered and sometimes cried. A third had asthma, and when the weather turned damp wheezed through the night.
Tommy Hart shivered once and pulled the thin gray blanket up to his neck.
He went over all the familiar details of the dream as if it were being played out like a motion picture in the darkness surrounding him. In the dream, they were flying in utter quiet, no engine sound, no wind noise, just slipping through the air as if it were some clear, sweet liquid, until he heard the deep Texas drawl of the captain over the intercom: "Ahh, hell boys, there ain't nothin' out here worth shootin' at. Tommy, find us the way home, willya?"
In the dream, he would look down at his maps and charts, octant and calipers, read the wind drift indicator and see, just as if it were a great streak of red ink painted across the surface of the blue Mediterranean waves, the route home. And safety.
Tommy Hart shivered again.
His eyes were open to the nighttime, but he saw instead the sun reflecting off the whitecaps below them. For an instant, he wished there was some way he could make the dream real, then make the real a dream, just nice and easy, reverse the two. It didn't seem like such an unreasonable request. Put it through proper channels, he thought. Fill out all the standard military forms in triplicate. Navigate through the army bureaucracy. Snap a salute and get the commanding officer to sign the request. Transfer, sir: One dream into reality. One reality into dream.
Instead, what had truly happened was that after he had heard the captain's command, he'd crawled forward into the Plexiglas nose cone of the B-25 to take one last look around, just to see if he could read a landmark off the Sicilian coastline, just to be completely certain of their positioning. They were flying down on the deck, less than two hundred feet above the ocean, beneath any probing German radar, and they were blistering along at more than two hundred fifty miles per hour. It should have been wild and exhilarating, six young men in a hot rod on a winding country road, inhibitions left behind like a patch of rubber from tires squealed in acceleration. But it wasn't that way. Instead, it was risky, like skating gingerly across a frozen pond, unsure of the thickness of the ice creaking beneath each stride.
He had squeezed himself into the cone, next to the bomb-sight and up to where the twin fifty-caliber machine guns were mounted. It was, for a moment, as if he were flying alone, suspended above the vibrant blue of the waves, hurtling along, separated from the rest of the world. He stared out at the horizon, searching form the rest of the world. He stared out at the horizon, searching for something familiar, something that would serve as a point on the chart that he could use as their anchor for finding the route back to the base. Most of their navigation was done by dead reckoning.
But instead of spotting some telltale mountain ridge, what he'd seen just on the periphery of his field of vision was the unmistakable shape of the line of merchant ships, and the pair of destroyers zigzagging back and forth like alert sheepdogs guarding their flock.
He'd hesitated, just an instant, making swift calculations in his head. They'd been flying for more than four hours and were at the end of their designated sweep. The crew was tired, eager to return to their base. The two destroyers were formidable defenses, even for the three bombers flying wing to wing in the midday sun. He had told himself at that moment: Just turn away and say nothing, and the line of ships will be out of sight in seconds and no one will know.
But instead, he did as he'd' been taught. He had listened to his own voice as if it were somehow unfamiliar.
Excerpted from Hart's War by John Katzenbach. . Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.