Wednesday, May 16, 2018

'Say the word, pal, and nothing will come back but me and the field order book.'

Frederick C. Painton was an air-story specialist before becoming more of an espionage writer until World War II, when he became a war correspondent. It's unusual to find him writing a Foreign Legion story, and in fact "Gold Galons" (Adventure, March 1937) isn't much of a story. It features two Americans who joined the Legion to get off the proverbial beach, one becoming a corporal, the other making sergeant and aspiring to officer's training school at St. Cyr. Corporal Lacey and Sergeant Connery remain buddies, though their different career tracks and the impact on their friendship might have made a story in its own right. The story here, however, is the threat to Connery's advancement presented by a onetime romantic rival, Lieutenant Latour. The American beat up the Frenchman off duty after Latour tried to flog the woman who had been his but had become Connery's. At first, heading into a battle, all seems professional between the two men as Latour gives Connery the coordinates for an artillery barrage. Something goes wrong, however, and Connery discovers Latour's error when he sees that he's firing on his own men. Of course, Latour insists that the error is all Connery's. "You species of merde -- you have killed twelve of my men and wounded twenty," the lieutenant protests, promising to have Connery court-martialed. The American's only hope is getting hold of Latour's field-message book, which he believes will vindicate him by showing that Latour gave him the wrong coordinates in the first place. Lacey basically offers to frag Latour to get the book, -- see the header -- but Connery demurs. After the next engagement the sergeant faces a dilemma when he discovers that both Latour and Lacey have been wounded. There's a bit of sloppy writing her that the editor missed, since Connery appears to discover twice over that Latour has been wounded. In any event the enemy is closing in with bad intentions for the wounded, and Connery can't carry both men to safety. He has to choose between his buddy and his superior officer, with Latour promising to clear Connery's name by admitting his error, even though someone has stolen the precious book. In the end, he decides that Lacey is more badly wounded and more in need of help. Taking his buddy to the medic, he leaves Latour to a cruel fate at the hands of Chlueh tribesmen, and throws away his only chance of redemption in the absence of the field-message book. It turns out, of course, that he made the right choice after all, for in the between Latour's wounding and Lacey's, the American corporal "glommed" the book off the Frenchman. Painton writes well as a matter of style, but his story is resolved too neatly for its own good. It's a story that probably could have been told in any military setting, and making it a Legion story only exposes its inferiority to the good stuff put out by the likes of Surdez, Newsom, Carse, etc. Painton was better off sticking to the genres he did well, and for the most part, with exceptions like this, he did so.

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