Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Courage and Cowardice


OUR ARMY AT WAR #248 (Aug. 72)

Sgt. Rock is ordered to bring his best marksmen to a specified location. Once they get there, they find out they’ve been assigned to be the firing squad for three guys convicted of cowardice under fire.

But when a German raiding party attempts to land nearby, the three convicts might get a chance to redeem themselves.

A lot of this story is predictable. But two things make it stand out. First, it’s yet another example of Russ Heath’s superb storytelling skills as an artist.

Second, there’s an incident near the beginning of the story that gives the clich├ęd plot some emotional resonance. On the way to their assignment, Rock and his men are ambushed. They’re trapped in an old farmhouse, with grenades being tossed in at them and a flamethrower really heating things up. The veteran soldiers, all proven to be brave men in countless battles, nearly panic.


Rock gets them out of the house and they pull themselves together, counterattacking the Germans. But all are aware of how close they came to losing it.

This adds to the emotional impact when they find out they have been chosen to execute three supposed cowards. Each of them is vividly aware that under the right circumstances, any of them might panic under fire.


It’s a short but well-constructed short story. There’s actually one historical point that’s interesting to note. Notice the German raiding party comes ashore in what looks like an American-designed Higgins boat.


Even though the action in the DC war books was usually over-the-top, Heath always did an excellent job of portraying the weapons and equipment of the war accurately. I wonder if he might have been momentarily stumped when he had to draw a German landing craft. The Germans didn’t have any landing craft. That’s one of several important reasons they were never able to invade England.  I have no idea, of course, but I picture Heath gritting his teeth and thinking “The heck with it! I’ll give ‘em a Higgins boat!”

Oh, well. It was probably a captured Higgins boat. Actually, that makes sense, doesn’t it? The Germans captured an American landing craft and that’s what gave them the idea to stage a raid.

Problem solved.

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