This story is by S.M. Sykes and was part of our 2023 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Joseph Colon Carmine joined the United States Army on March 15, 1941. While he knew there was a war he still volunteered. He wanted his life to hold meaning. He was told that he was not built for the Army, he was too short, too skinny, and too weak. While these may have been true, it showed heavily in boot camp, he graduated and impressed the drill instructors with his drive, tenacity, and intelligence. Joe proved himself to be more than his small stature. He pushed himself to be the best version of himself so he could go out and protect his country. He never wanted anything more than to be known for his good deeds.
After boot camp, Joe was assigned to the 261st Coast Artillery Battalion C. This was the first battalion assigned to guard and man the 11 watch towers that were being built in Cape Henlopen State Park in Lewes, DE. These towers were going to protect the inlet and bay from Nazi attack. It was nice being assigned to the newly named Fort Miles, yet still close to home to spend his time off at home. Joe loved his family and wanted to be close to them.
Nothing much happened over the next year and the soldiers spent most of their time just talking and taking watch. It wasn’t a bad way to spend your enlistment but Joe always wanted more. Joe didn’t want the war to come to the coast of Delaware like it did to Hawaii. He just wanted to be able to do something that would make his name memorable. He wanted his life to be meaningful.
A year in, the battalion commander got word that instead of looking for battleships the brass was now worried about German U-boats sneaking in under the water.
“There ain’t nothing we can do about that sir.” said another private. “We cain’t see under the water. It’s too murky.”
“Yes, soldier. You are correct and the brass knows this. Starting tomorrow we are going to put magnetic coils around the cape. This will warn us if any type of vessel tries to pass over them.” The Lieutenant explained.
“How are we going to do that? The wire has to go more than 50 feet deep.”
“That is what the Navy boys are for. Y’all are just going to run security for them. Hell, they might even throw out a few mines in the waters for good measure. Don’t worry Conner. We won’t make you swim, we know city boys don’t like open water,” The LT laughed.
Some of the soldiers were bent out of shape for having to run security for a couple of Seabees while they installed some underwater wires but Joe saw this as a great opportunity. He usually looked on the bright side of things.
This being the case, Joe usually got assigned to run security. He didn’t mind. He just made the day by talking to the Navy sailors working on the wires. One day one of the seamen was talking to Joe and asked him if he had ever heard of the ghost light that appears on the Cape. Joe hadn’t so the guy told him the story.
On Christmas Day 1665, a ghost light appeared on the cape looking just like a lighthouse. Unfortunately, the Devonshire was traveling in and did not know that the cape didn’t have a lighthouse. The pilot followed the light in and crashed into the rocks. All 200 crewmen perished in the cold waters. They say that the light is a curse from the Native Americans who were slaughtered by the invading British during a wedding ceremony on the cape.
“There have been other instances of this corpse light as they call it, but nothing as tragic as that night. Weird, huh? Do you believe in that stuff?” He asked.
Joe didn’t answer because he wasn’t sure. But he did feel that if his people were slaughtered by invaders he would stay behind and curse them too.
A couple of weeks later, with the ghost story long forgotten, Joe and his friends were enjoying a night at the campfire before turning in for the night. As they were about to turn in an alarm rang from tower 12. Help was needed as they were under attack. Joe and his buddies grabbed their gear and hightailed it to the tower.
As they approached slowly, they could hear someone speaking in German ahead of them. Suddenly, their world was chaos, Joe wasn’t sure what was happening. His side was firing and being fired upon from an unknown location. Joe who had never been in a firefight before had his back to a tree and tried to decide what needed to be done.
“Get to the tower!” He shouted to his compatriots, just as a bullet ricocheted off the tree behind him.
Joe was trying to find his fellow soldiers when someone cried out in pain. He needed help but there wasn’t a medic nearby. Joe wasn’t sure where anyone else was so he needed to help. Trying to find him in the dark may be hard but Joe set out to do just that.
Joe ran out from behind his tree and decided that this would be his time. He would find his soldiers and they would hold this line tonight. A few minutes and more than a few close calls later, Joe ran upon the injured soldier. Unfortunately, he was already gone. Joe hung his head in prayer before he settled himself and tried to see where his other buddies were. He waited for them to fire and worked his way to their position.
“Carmine! Holy shit you’re alive. When you yelled out like that I thought you were a goner for sure.” Said Jones.
“I am fine. But Jennings is dead.” Joe replied.
“Yeah, O’Donnel and Burrows too. I think there are only three of us left. Hopefully, with all the shooting someone will send help.”
“I am not sure. But why don’t you head back and get us some support? We all ran out here without a radio and we can’t call for help. I’ll find Joyner and get to the tower to help them. As long as the door isn’t breached they will be fine.” Joe ordered.
Jones hesitated like he was going to say more then just nodded his head and ran back to the Fort.
Joe waited for him to disappear into the night and then pressed forward. If he knew Joyner, he was trying to get behind the enemy. With that in mind, Joe would have to keep them occupied up front. It was weird but at that moment Joe remembered the sailor’s story about the corpse light and the Indians.
“Not sure why I thought of this now, but if you are here and don’t want these invaders on your shore, then I could use your help right.” He whispered into the night.
Minutes went by as Joe tried to find the enemy. Suddenly, a light appeared in the woods. Below that light was a German soldier aiming right at Joe. Joe took the shot and killed the soldier. As he looked around there were now eleven other lights surrounding the tower. Joe took his time and worked his way through the enemy. Somehow it seemed that only he could see the light.
As he approached the last soldier, Joe over-exposed himself and was shot in the chest. He was able to return fire and kill the enemy soldier too, but he knew it was too late. This would be his first and final battle.
Joe worked his way to the tower door but could barely speak, let alone yell. He slumped down in the doorway and waited for death. He had done good and protected this land. He would die honorably, yet maybe not in a meaningful way.
Just then a light appeared and twelve Native Indians appeared in front of him.
“You have honor young man. We have watched you and know it is true.” They spoke another language but Joe heard it with his heart. “We offer you a choice. Take on our burden and watch over this land. Keep it safe as we have tonight and many nights before. Or take your reward and pass on to the other side.”
“If I stay will I live?” The leader shook his head.
“I’ll be a ghost like you?” The leader nodded.
“But I will be here to protect this place as you have?” Joe asked.
The leader nodded.
“And you will be allowed to pass on to your reward?”
The leader hesitated then nodded.
“Then I accept and I will bear your burden. You stand relieved.”
Those were Joe’s last words as he died in the doorway of Tower 12. Yet, if you watch in the dead of the night he is still there standing guard to protect from any who wish to invade our lands.