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Last Man Out (e-book)
USN Lt. Matt Matsuo, sent into Japan on a secret mission under cover as a professional ballplayer, is trapped when war breaks out... and ends up on the mighty aircraft carrier IJN Akagi... steaming straight into the Battle of Midway!
This exciting action-packed adventure takes the reader into the heart of the Japanese empire in 1940. You'll enjoy insights into the unique Japanese baseball culture, as well as a provocative speculation on how early computer technology could have changed the outcome of World War II.
(also available in paperback, as the third story in Triple Play)
Read the sample text... then get The Last Man Out ebook
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----- Contents ------
Last Man Out
A War Story
East Wind, Rain
Fire On The Sea
The Last Man Out, chapter 1
A War Story
Wilmington, Delaware, 1961
My name is Jimmy Johnson.
We moved from Philadelphia to Wilmington a year ago, to a row house on a tree-lined street about three blocks from the Delaware Art Museum, where I went Saturday afternoons to look at Howard Pyle's pirate paintings.
One day when I was in eighth grade, I asked my Dad what he did in the war. This was before Vietnam, and a lot of our fathers were in World War II. Some of them talked about it, most didn't. My Dad never did. But I wanted to know, because my friend Bobby's father was always going on about how he flew over Germany in a B-17 bomber.
"I was in the Navy," said my father. "On a destroyer. In the Pacific."
"What was it like?" I asked. "Were you afraid?"
"That's hard to answer," he said. "Most of the time it was boring. But then we'd be in a battle and things happened so fast you didn't have time to be scared."
"What battles were you in?" I asked. "We're studying the war in school this year."
"Midway," he said. "Did they teach you about Midway? And Guadalcanal. The Japanese sunk my ship at Guadalcanal. But we all got off OK before she sank."
"What ship was it, Dad?"
"The USS Benham. DD-397. Nothing special, just an ordinary old tin can. "
"What did you do?" I asked.
"Well, after Pearl Harbor, I quit college and joined the Navy. They made me an officer and I went to the Benham. I was pretty good with the radio so the captain had me doing radio intercepts of Jap transmissions. But it was all in code, and we couldn't understand what they were planning. Anyway, soon after I came on board, we went with the carriers to Midway Atoll."
I remembered what my teacher had taught us about the Midway battle.
"Midway was where --"
"Where we almost lost the war," my dad said. "We were completely outnumbered. The Japanese brought everything they had, all their ships that had wrecked our fleet at Pearl Harbor only six months before. But we had to put up a fight. If we lost Midway, they would've gone for Hawaii next - to get the Navy fuel tanks they missed at Pearl Harbor. And that was it - no oil, no Navy - and the war would've been over, at least in the Pacific."
He paused. "But they'll teach you all about it in school," he mused. "It's funny, when you're in the middle of something that later becomes history, you don't know what's going on. You don't have any idea about the big picture. All you can understand is what's going on around you, your friends, your ship. That's about it. Everything else, you don't have a clue."
"The only person I ever met who knew what was happening," he went on, "And I guess the only person who knew besides the top Admirals who commanded the fleets, was this Japanese kid we fished out of the water right after the fighting died down."
"A Japanese?" I asked.
"Well, he was a Jap," my Dad said. "Except that he wasn't."
This was getting confusing. "Well," I asked, "What was he? Really?"
"He was a ballplayer," my Dad said. "Sort of like you, Jimmy."
"Tell me the story, Dad," I implored him. "Please, tell me the story."
"Don't have time now, Jimmy," he said. "But I'll do something better. I'll let you read his Navy report, which he dictated to me as we went back to Pearl. I kept a copy. But you keep your mouth shut about this. It was top secret during the war, and even now, I don't want it spread around. Understand?"
"Yes, Dad," I said. I could keep a secret. Nobody could make me tell.
He went upstairs and came back with an old paper box. It was full of page after page of yellowed typing paper.
"This is my carbon copy," he said. "What we used to say - 'your eyes only,' Jimmy. Give it back to me tonight."
He looked at his watch. "I'm late for work! Gotta run. See you later."
I opened the box and began to read.
"He's coming to."
"What's this about, Sam? Somebody said he speaks English."
I opened my eyes. Everything was blurry. My head hurt and I could still smell the fuel oil. There were fresh bandages on my arms from the fire.
"What's your name, sailor?" There were three men in the small ship's sickbay. One looked like a doctor. Another, an officer, leaned over my bed as he asked the question. And the third, a Marine, sat in a chair in the corner with an Army .45 automatic leveled at my face.
"Matt," I said. "Call me Matt." I looked around. "Where am I?"
"You're a very lucky guy," said the officer. "Our boat picked you up. You were in the water for three days. This is the USS Benham. I'm Lieutenant John Johnson. We're on the way back to Pearl and you'll be transferred to a POW hospital."
"No," I said. "I'm an American."
"He kept saying that when he was under," said the doctor. "But when we picked him up, he was wearing a Jap uniform."
"I'm Navy," I said. "Lieutenant JG Matsuo. On a detached assignment from Admiral Nimitz's staff." The room started to spin. "Radio them," I said. "Top secret ultra. They'll vouch for me."
The doctor and the officer looked at each other.
"It's a crock," said the officer. "Or he's crazy."
"I'm not sure," said the doctor. "I think he's for real. You'd better check it out."
"Where are you from?" asked the officer. "Where did you go to high school?"
"Hana," I replied. "Hana High. On Maui."
"Hawaii," said the doctor.
And I nodded as the room started to swirl and I fell down a long tunnel toward a deep and dream-filled sleep. As I went down, I could see the palm trees whispering in the wind along Hana Road, and hear the surf crashing on the beach as I came up to the plate on the little ballfield, swung at the first pitch and passed out long before I could even get to first.
FROM: Lt John Johnson USS Benham DD-397 Task Group 17.4
Midway 6 June 1942
TO: Adm CW Nimitz CincPac Pearl Harbor
Picked up one Jap survivor. Speaks English. Says is USN Ltjg Matt Matsuo. Says is on your staff. Please verify and advise.
FROM: CinCPac #090031 6 June 1942
TO: Lt John Johnson USS Benham
Confirm Ltjg Matsuo on HQ staff. Imperative he report direct to CincPac on return to Pearl. Request you take and transcribe his full report and forward it to me immediately on arrival.
C. W. Nimitz
Copy to: Combat Intell., 14th N.D. (1 copy)
[ Lester Daniels, Radioman 1C ]
My name is Keiichi Matsuo. Actually, Matt Matsuo. Because in grade school, the other kids called me "Katie" and Itchy" so I started calling myself Matt, and it stuck, all through high school and after I went to the mainland for college.
My Dad, Hideki Matsuo, came to Hawaii from Japan in 1920 and got a job at the Ka'eleku Sugar Company on Maui. That's where he met my Mom, Akimi, and I was born in 1922.
My childhood was simple: helping around the house if it was raining, and playing baseball when it wasn't. It rains a lot there, and I think I would have been a better ballplayer if I'd grown up in a place like Los Angeles. But then, LA doesn't have any place like Hamoa Beach, or hangouts like Hasegawa's General Store, or the delicious poi and roast pig you could only get at the end of April at the Taro Planting Festival down at Waianapanapa State Park.
Everybody, little kids and big kids, went to one school - Hana High and Elementary on the main Hana Highway. Since 1912, our motto: "Ka'ike a ke kulanakauhale apau he hei na ke keiki," which means something like "the knowledge of the whole village is absorbed by the child." Well, I really absorbed math, and learned how to hit fastballs, day after day, playing until the rain came down so hard we had to run for shelter.
We played in the old ballfield on the ocean side of the highway, what we call 'makai', different from 'mauka', the heading-inland side. Played pickup games with guys from the mill, played kids from other towns, played each other.
I was there one day near the end of my senior year, hitting long fly balls out to Yoshio Takahashi in deep center. Just fooling around. After awhile Yoshio took off. I hit a few more balls back into the batting cage and started walking off the field. Time to go home.
I turned around. A middle-aged man was waving at me from the rusty old bleachers along the first base line. "I'm Paul Fagan," he said. "I want to talk to you."
So this was Paul Fagan! My Dad had told us at dinner that a rich haole was coming to Hana to buy the sugar company. Coming all the way from San Francisco.
"You can hit," he said. "Some of those shots went pretty deep. What's your name?"
"Matt," I replied. "Matt Matsuo."
"OK, Matt." He stared at me for a second. "Look, here's the deal. I own a baseball team in San Fran. You ever hear of the Seals?"
I sure had! The Seals - where Joe Dimaggio ripped up the Pacific Coast League just a few years ago, with his brothers Dom and Tom.
"You can hit, kid," said Fagan. "I can spot a good swing. How about trying out for my team?"
I couldn't believe my good luck. But there was just one thing.
"Mr. Fagan," I said, "You're going to have to talk with my father. He wants me to go to college, so I won't have to work in the sugar fields."
"Do you want to go to college?" Fagan asked. "Are you doing good in school?"
"I like math," I said. "I've always liked math. Yeah, my grades are pretty good."
"Well now," said Fagan. "Maybe we can work something out. Let's go have a talk with your Dad."
So we walked back across the highway and up the gravel road, mauka-side, up the hill to my house. My Mom was out in the front yard, planting flowers.
"Hi Mom," I said. "This is Mr. Fagan. He wants to talk to Dad."
My mother smiled at the stranger. "I'll get your father," she said. "Come sit."
We sat on the porch. Fagan told my father that I might be good enough to get on the Seals.
"That's good," said my Dad. He looked at me and laughed. "He can sure hit a ball!"
"So it's OK with you, Dad?" I asked anxiously. "Geez, I could play in the PCL!"
"I'm not sure," he frowned. "Look, Mr. Fagan --"
"Call me Paul --"
"Paul," said my father. "I want Matt to go to to college. There isn't much here for a bright kid. They tell me you're here to buy our sugar company... so you know better than I do how limited a young man's opportunities are in east Maui."
"This is hard for me to say," Dad continued, "but isn't it true that most kids who try out for pro teams don't make it?"
"That's true," Fagan replied. "I couldn't tell you otherwise." He took a deep sip from a glass of pineapple juice that my Mom had put on the porch table. "This is so fresh!" he smiled. "It just doesn't taste like this stateside." He looked out over the garden, out over the trees. Then he turned to my father.
"Mr. Matsuo," he said seriously, "I understand. But maybe there's a way we can do both. You know, my Seals baseball team is a corporation. So we can give out scholarships, if we wanted to. Now, what if we gave your son a scholarship to to Cal - to the University of California - and in return he plays for us in the summer?"
My father looked pleased. But then he asked, "But what if he doesn't make the team?"
"We'll honor the scholarship," Fagan replied. "Four years at Cal. Plus living expenses and a little pocket money. And if he can't make the team, he can work for the Seals each summer... we've got a lot to do to keep him busy."
"He can sweep that new stadium of yours!" My Dad laughed. "Seals any good this year? We hear the Angels and Padres are going to be tough."
"That's for sure," said Mr. Fagan. "But San Diego, they sold this Ted Williams kid to Boston, so we should be able to beat them this year..." and then they started talking baseball.
I went over and gave my Mom a hug. She looked up at me with tears in her eyes. "You'll be going away, Keiichi. But I guess it's time. You're 18 now." She never called me Matt, since Keiichi means 'first-born son', and that's what I was. I hugged her.
"Yes, Mother," I said. "To San Francisco."
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Questions? e-mail Jon Donahue firstname.lastname@example.org