Washington, D.C. – fall 1944
Second Lieutenant Samuel (Sam) Honeycutt Bradford, recently commissioned in the United States Army, watched with interest as the weary conductor worked his way down the aisle collecting his passengers' yellow tickets.
In his cap, bow tie, and natty dark blue uniform with brass buttons, he moved with uncertain steps trying to anticipate, or so it seemed to Sam, each tortured stretch of track as the train lurched and jerked over the uneven rail bed.
Sam had boarded the Pensy's Congressional Limited Express afternoon train at New York City's Grand Central Terminal earlier that afternoon and, according to the schedule, had expected to arrive in Washington, D.C. some three and a half hours later. Inside the dark maroon heavyweight coach it was warm and stuffy and all the seats were taken. The aisle and overhead racks were jammed with Navy sea bags and Army duffel bags and most of the passengers, like Bradford himself, were in uniform.
Three years ago the coach would have been filled with suited businessmen and traveling salesmen lugging their sample cases but now the pall of war hung with great weight over the nation as the large electric locomotive with its trailing seven coaches flashed by the string of small towns lining the Eastern seaboard on its way south to the nation's capital.
Out in the countryside, idling cars and trucks spewing leaded gasoline fumes and boys on bicycles waited impatiently behind the wooden arm at the many crossings for the train to flash by. At the few scheduled stops from which it had already come and gone, Newark, Philadelphia, and Wilmington, the stations were adorned with patriotic red, white, and blue bunting and colorful war effort propaganda posters. On the platforms there was a frenzy of activity as soldiers and sailors circulated and joked and cursed, their expressions often grim and foreboding. Others sat on the floor and chain smoked in deep reflective silence, all of them trying not to think about where they were going as they awaited the inevitable trains that would convey them to the ports of embarkation from which they would sail for the war in Europe. The crowds spoke to the War Department's massive and continuing military buildup and already, according to the papers, threatening to overwhelm the railroads still the country's principal mode of long distance transport.
The sailor sitting next to Sam sighed as he folded his borrowed copy of the New York Times.
"Can't concentrate," he said in disgust, handing it over to Sam. "Thanks anyway, sir."
He shook out a Pall Mall and busied himself lighting it before exhaling a long stream of smoke then tried again to make himself comfortable on the hard, dirty, and worn burgundy-colored seat cushion.
"Where you headed, sir, you shipping out?" he asked turning back to Sam.
It was a common enough question among the servicemen traveling on the afternoon train and Sam had already been asked it several times.
"More training," he said, simply.
"Oh yeah? I hear the Army does a lot of training." He nodded, considering his answer and bit his lip. "I'm shipping out of Norfolk tomorrow." Then: "You got a girl, sir?"
"Yes, I do, how about yourself?"
"Sure do, want to see her picture?"
Sam nodded. He wasn't curious but guessed the sailor wanted someone to appreciate the sweetheart he was leaving behind.
When he looked at it, Sam thought it was a telling snapshot of the two of them, probably taken by a friend. He had seen many such photographs while in basic training at Fort Dix.
The sailor and his girl were trying to smile but they looked uncomfortable, posed as they were outside of a storefront restaurant on a brilliant afternoon. She was pretty and unassuming and dressed for an outing. He was wearing his "dixie-cup"-style white canvas hat low over his eyebrows and looked stern in his Navy blues with his left arm around her narrow waist.
Sam handed it back and said something nice and watched the sailor look hard at the snapshot for a long moment before putting it away.
The photograph prompted Sam to think again about Marjorie. They had been an item while he was at Princeton, she close by, a mere two hours away and a student at Sarah Lawrence. They had met one fall weekend at a Princeton mixer and hit it off right away. Though their relationship had cooled since graduation, perhaps because he had enlisted four months ago, he couldn't be sure. He imagined they were still close because he was still very fond of her.
Marjorie was an assistant at Harper's Bazaar magazine now, and the evening before he left for Washington they had a quiet dinner together in New York City at his favorite Italian restaurant. Over drinks beforehand he tried to explain about his new assignment and his sudden promotion from Private First Class to Second Lieutenant. And though he was short on details, because he had been barred from discussing what little he knew, he invented a story that seemed to satisfy her.
Marjorie, though, was curious about why the FBI had come around and asked all sorts of personal questions of her and her parents and their mutual school friends, and he had to invent a story about the Army field investigation required before being promoted to an officers' rank.
Still, Sam thought they had parted as friends, the relationship intact. He had kissed her cheek and vowed to write and call often, and she in turn had smiled and put one of her arms around him and hugged him softly.
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