War Sonnets by Susannah Willey

War Sonnets – A story of survival, and seeing both sides


In the war-torn jungles of the Phillippines, on the island of Luzon, two soldiers scout the landscape. Under ordinary circumstances, they might be friends, but in the hostile environment of World War II, they are mortal enemies. Leal Baldwin, a US Army sergeant, writes sonnets. His sights are set on serving his country honorably and returning home in one piece. But the enemy is not always Japanese … Dooley wants Leo’s job, and he’ll do whatever it takes to get it. Leo finds himself fighting for his reputation and freedom. Lieutenant Tadashi Abukara prefers haiku. He has vowed to serve his emperor honorably but finds himself fighting a losing battle. Through combat, starvation, and the threat of cannibalism, Tadashi’s only thought is of survival and return to his beloved wife and son. As Leo and Tadashi discover the humanity of the other side and the questionable moral acts committed by their own, they begin to ask themselves why they are here at all. When they at last meet in the jungles of Luzon, only one will survive, but their poetry will live forever.


The sea is calm; upon its boundless deep
Our troopship glides, lost in infinity.
Beneath her decks two thousand soldiers sleep,
Or, waking, wonder what their fate will be.
From my assigned position here on high
I peer ahead, and in the east I see
The dawn’s pale fingers clawing at the sky,
And then, a speck of land. The enemy
Will not be sleeping. 
Now the troops are out
And stand in little groups beside each boat.
The gunship’s roar drowns out the sergeant’s shout.
Rope ladders fall, the LCIs, afloat,
Receive two thousand men in war array.
Each boat, full loaded, quickly moves away.

Chapter 18


Leo sat against a pile of life rafts, his knees bent to support the letter he was writing. Dooley perched on a pile of rafts next to him with a handful of Aussie sailors. Their ship, the Australian transport Westralia, was part of a large convoy escorted by agile destroyers. …

“I could spend the rest of the war right here.” Dooley patted the life raft. “Whatcha think, Yankee boy?” Ever since they’d left New Guinea, Dooley had acted like his outburst at Leo’s promotion had never happened.

Leo set down his pen and took a moment to stretch his arms. “I think I’d rather be almost anywhere but on a ship.”

Dooley took a last, deep drag on his cigarette. “With our luck,” he said, exhaling smoke through his nostrils, “we’ll get sunk by a submarine before we get to Luzon.” He flicked his cigarette into the water.

“Not funny,” Leo growled.

“More likely some crazy kamikaze,” an Aussie sailor said, “locked into a bomb-loaded plane they call an Okha. But Baka is more like it: a bloody fool.” His fellow seamen snickered.

“Those mates are crazy.” The sailor propped himself up on one elbow. “One of ’em nearly sent us to kingdom come a couple of months ago.” He glanced at his fellow Aussies. “Ain’t that right, mates?”

“Yeah, up in Leyte,” said another. “Missed us by a wallaby’s tail.” He held up his thumb and forefinger, an inch apart.

“About eight of them just dropped from the clouds.” The Aussie launched into his story. “Before you could blink, one of them crashed head-on into one of our carriers. Our mates couldn’t do anything but watch.”

Sitting on the open deck, Leo felt exposed. He subconsciously scanned the sky for enemy planes, strained to hear their engines. His brain struggled with an indistinct image of planes impacting with ships—something he’d really rather not imagine.

“Instead of cats and dogs, it was raining planes and bodies, machine-gun fire and bombs. Seemed like those bloody bastards were hell-bent on dying.”

One of his mates picked up the story. “The ship next to us got clobbered. Bloody Baka took out half the crew. Men flyin’ through the air like rag dolls, others stuck with shrapnel. They said the deck was covered with Jap guts and brains, all kinds of body parts, and plane wreckage.”

That was something Leo couldn’t begin to imagine, and he was grateful for that. He dang sure didn’t want to get obsessed about being split into pieces by a kamikaze. “Sitting ducks” was a perfect description of their situation out here in the middle of the ocean. Except a duck was a lot harder to hit than a troopship.

The Aussie storyteller looked at Dooley. “You should’ve seen it, Yank. Helluva mess.”

Dooley bristled at that last remark. “Don’t call me a Yank.”

One of the Australian soldiers snickered. “Well, that accent of yours sure ain’t Brit.”

Dooley jumped to the deck, fists clenched at his sides. “You can call Sergeant Baldwin here a Yank cause he’s a northerner. But I’m from Loo-siana, and where I come from, calling a southern boy a Yank is fightin’ words.”

The Aussie held up a hand. “Don’t go getting your civvies wrinkled, mate. It’s just what we call Americans.”

“American’s full of goddamned mongrels, and I ain’t one of them,” Dooley growled. “We got Russkies and Polacks, Wops—and Yankees.” He spat out the word as if it was the sourest bit of vomit. “We got so many Nips they had to build prison camps to keep ’em outta our hair. And that don’t even count the spics and ni—”

Leo had about enough of Dooley’s bragging and bigotry. He held his hand out for Dooley to stop. “Yeah, we get it. You southern boys are some kind of special all right.”

Dooley glared at Leo and started pacing. “All’s I’m sayin’”—his deep southern drawl thickened as he stopped and pointed an accusing finger at the Aussie—” is don’t put me in the same kennel with the mutts.”

The sailor put up his hands in a defensive gesture. “Slow down and speak English, mate. Whatever language you’re talkin’ sounds more like Chinese.”

“Ain’t no goddamned Chink, mate.”Dooley put up his fists, and took a step toward the rafts.

The Aussie jumped off the raft, ready to fight. “You ain’t winnin’ this fight, Yank.”

Dooley snarled and lunged toward the Aussie sailor, who raised his fists and took a step toward Dooley.

 “Come on, fellas.” Leo didn’t want any part of this fight. Dooley was being a jerk, and it embarrassed Leo. He stepped between the two men, and cautiously put a hand on Dooley’s chest. “You’re making this a bigger deal than it oughta be. Step back and cool off a minute.”

Dooley glared, but what Leo noticed was beyond Dooley: a cloud of smoke bursting from a destroyer escort in the near distance. In seconds, the air boomed with the report of multiple firing K-guns.

The harsh tones of the General Quarters’ alarm sent the men on the life rafts scrambling. As troops en route to the front lines, they weren’t much more than cargo—there was nothing for them to do but hide.

Adrenaline surged through Leo’s body as his brain went to work. K-guns fired depth charges. Depth charges meant enemy subs. Enemy subs meant torpedoes—likely the ones the Japs called kaitens, manned suicide bombs not unlike the kamikaze planes. They were notoriously inaccurate, but how accurate did a danged torpedo have to be? His mind was spinning out of control even as he fought to stay calm.

“Leo!” Dooley shouted from under the pile of life rafts and gestured for Leo to join him.

Dooley’s shout got his attention.

Leo’s instincts took over. He looked across the ship’s deck, crowded with frantic soldiers trying to find their way, being pushed and shoved by the ship’s crew trying to do their jobs.

“Come on, Yank.” Dooley’s voice was strained and insistent. “Get in here.”

Leo scrambled under the life rafts, pushing his way well back into the pile.

All sound was muffled now, the incessant alarm, the boom of exploding missiles, the shouts of men who hadn’t yet found cover. The skirmish sounded deceptively far away.

Leo’s heart pounded. Every breath took effort in the suffocating enclosure created by the life rafts. Was that a plane he’d heard? He struggled to shut out the noise and concentrate. His body tensed, waiting for the explosion that would collapse the deck underneath him. He struggled to breathe.

This was too soon. They weren’t supposed to fight until Luzon.

Leo thought about his future, and his belief that hard work and ethics were all it took to be a success. He hadn’t counted on random things like kamikaze and kaiten. He hadn’t faced the fact that life and death didn’t take sides. He wiped the sweat from his forehead and forced himself to slow his breathing.

I’m not ready to die. Not yet.

At last, the battleships went quiet, the General Quarters alarm stilled, and the order came to stand down.

Leo pulled himself from his hiding place, watching as soldiers slowly emerged from where they had taken cover. Many of them had merely lain prone on deck with their hands covering their head.

“Holy shit.” Dooley slipped out from under the life rafts. “What in hell was that?”

Leo’s hands still trembled as he brushed off his fatigues. “Too close is what that was.” He scanned the ships in the convoy. “Doesn’t look like anyone took any damage.”

Dooley stood and turned in a slow circle as he surveyed the ships. Leo noticed that Dooley’s hands trembled almost as much as his own. The sea was quiet now, the sun bright on the water as each ship sailed on its own reflection. Neither Leo nor Dooley felt compelled to disrupt the calm.

At last, Dooley completed his rounds and turned to Leo. “Yankee boy, I think we’re at war.”

Buy Link:

https://books2read.com/u/47dpEa: War Sonnets by Susannah Willey
https://utterloonacy.com/: War Sonnets by Susannah Willey

Susannah Willey is a baby boomer, mother of four, grandmother of three, and a recovering nerd. To facilitate her healing, she writes novels. In past lives, she has been an office assistant, stay-at-home mom, Special Education Teaching Assistant, School Technology Coordinator, and Emergency Medical Technician. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Instructional Computing from S.U.N.Y. Empire State College and a Master’s Degree in Instructional Design from Boise State University. Susannah grew up in the New York boondocks and currently lives in Central New York with her companion, Charlie, their dogs, Magenta and Georgie, and Jelly Bean the cat.

  1. Cathie Dunn

    Thank you so much for hosting Susannah Willey with War Sonnets today. Much appreciated.

    Cathie xo
    The Coffee Pot Book Club