An IL-2: Forgotten Battles – Aces Mission Story
One must always be careful for the unexpected in our business, no? Today, I was so reminded.
It was my turn for “the duty,” and you know what that means all too well. Yes, today I am what you Westerners call the “CQ,” the charge-of-quarters. The Regimental staff duty officer. A most imposing person indeed, the staff duty officer. I once knew an army officer who said that one automatically assumes a more dignified air, straightening up one’s otherwise sloppy attire upon visualizing so august a personage!
Or perhaps not.
I am in… I have not the words. Ah, the “doghouse?” I am out of favour with the Commander today. The last mission, to the nuclear plant at Samelelio, was a great success, despite the suicide… I can call it nothing else… of the Georgian Su-25 section tasked with us for the mission. The Georgians’ sacrifice put the Commander in a foul mood indeed, not in the least tempered by our success. And imagine my chagrin when the Commander found out that the flight surgeon had not yet totally cleared me for combat flying after my mishap at Suhumi some weeks ago. He had cleared me to fly once again. And when I was asked this at the briefing for the Samelelio strike, I told the truth indeed. However, what I did not say was that I was not yet cleared for combat missions… and thus I am temporarily… the term is “grounded,” is it not? He was not pleased. I am too eager to fight, and thus I am punished by having my wings clipped for a time. The Americans’ A-10 squadron leader, Colonel Martin, is acting as our composite Regimental executive officer. And he conveyed to me the Commander’s displeasure. Colonel Martin calls it being “benched.” This is a term from the American football game, yes? Until the surgeon is satisfied, and the report of such is actually in the Commander’s hands this time, I am “riding the pine,” as my American friends say… and even then I may find myself the duty officer for a time still, until the Commander is satisfied that I have learned this lesson well.
But I did not let this setback dampen my spirits. I passed the time in rounds of our base at Sochi, helping Vasily, visiting Kolya the meteorologist, and visiting the Americans as well. I have watched also the comings and goings of our sister unit, the 503rd, in their strangely coloured Su-33s. I even had lunch with one of them, Lt. Karmarov. He is known as a very skillful pilot. A little arrogant, perhaps, but we Russians are sometimes given to that when we are good and we know it. He is the man Vasily confronted in the dining facility before our raid on Suhumi, where I was shot down. After lunch with Alexei, I had a surprise! I returned to the operations area, and was told I had a visitor.
A personal visitor? Here?
In the dayroom, a woman sat reading, her back to me. Tall, straight-shouldered, weaing a black wool turtleneck sweater and her silver hair carefully piled atop her head… a familiar bearing. But I knew this woman!
“Grandmama?” I could not believe my eyes!
She turned, smiling, a twinkle in one clear, green eye. “Shoura, my angel. Come, give me a hug!”
Grandmama is still strong and vital, even for a woman of her age. She is nearing eighty, I think, but one would never know it. She looks twenty years younger, or more, easily. She rose and clasped me in a strong embrace.
“I came as soon as I knew, Shoura. You did not tell Dmitri that you were hurt when the terrorists shot your MiG down! You minimize too much. I knew more was to be told.”
“How did you…”
She raised one hand, cutting me off. “I may be old, but not stupid. You are Dmitri’s child, after all. And as stubborn as my son ever was. I can read between the lines of your letters. And the young man who flies on your wing, Vasily, also wrote us when you were lost, and again when you were found. So, I came to see for myself how you were, with your Commander’s permission.”
“You have spoken to the Commander?” I was horrified at that! Grandmama presumed greatly to contact him!
“Indeed. Remember, Shoura, I too flew in the 586th once. As an alumna, I have certain privileges.”
She smiled, a little smugly, I think, and grew quiet.
Shoura would never tell us if she were really hurt. Such an angel, she has always been. She does not wish to worry her family with tales of trouble. But I know better. And I have seen the face of war in the air. I see the elastic wrap on her arm. She was hurt, fortunately, only slightly. But she is as impetuous as I was, sixty years ago. Her Commander is right to temper her, for Alexandra Dmitrievna Andreeva, my granddaughter, is one who will burn her candle at both ends and willingly too. As I did — when I fought the Germans for the Rodina, so long ago.
She is not the first Sasha in our family, have I told you? Though she spells it differently, “Sacha” with a “c” instead of “s,” the young girls today want to differentiate themselves from the rest, don’t they? She was named for her grandmother, me. I too am Alexandra, though my father’s name was Petr. So I am Alexandra Petrovna. And my friends also call me Sasha. My granddaughter is also not the first of our family to fly with her Regiment, either. That honour fell to me, in the Great Patriotic War. I am so proud of her. It is not every woman whose granddaughter follows in her own footsteps!