World War C: An Oral History of the Cobra War (Part 2)
[Cobra initially bypassed Peoria during its drive through the Midwest. This made the city a natural hub for refugee traffic and allowed the population time to prepare for the invasion. The mayor acted quickly and commandeered the city's entire supply of ear plugs and weapons. He created civilian militia units to supplement the police force and his ad hoc fortress provided a safe haven for military stragglers and decimated units to regroup. Looting and unrest were kept under control even at the height of Peoria's refugee crisis. When Peoria finally came under attack, Cobra found a vastly swollen population that was heavily entrenched and prepared to fight. More than a million souls from both sides died in the siege of Peoria, but the city never fell.
The post-war years have not been kind to Peoria. The apartment blocks have become tenements, crime is rampant and the city is surrounded by a ramshackle shantytown that breeds violence. During the day the struggling police force maintains a precarious peace, but at night the streets belong to the gangs. The war is not quite over in Peoria, it has just entered a new and twisted chapter.
I meet Conrad S. Hauser in one of the city's most dangerous sections. It seems terrible to see such a noble and heroic man living in poverty in the heart of Peoria, but never let Hauser know that you pity him. He has chosen the life, perhaps drawn to the flame of conflict one last time. He sits behind a worn desk in his small office area for our interview, pausing occasionally to sip from a metal flask.]
Brigadier General Hawk died on the same day as the President. Not many people really know that, because of course it's overshadowed by the President's death. He was a good man, good man at a bad time though. Within hours I was promoted from First Sergeant to Colonel and I was given full command over what was left of GI Joe. There wasn't much. We had lost a lot of good men in Yonkers and I all I could really do was try to turn a rout into a more orderly retreat. First Sergeant to Colonel. I mean, shit, you might as well make me Emperor of Rome.
I did what I could, you have to understand. My objective was to protect as much of the civilian population as possible and to spend my men's lives carefully. When we were facing overwhelming odds we had no choice but to leave the civilian population to their fate. Philadelphia, Baton Rouge, Chicago, there are too many to name. We tried, but we looked at what we had and what we were facing and all we could do was watch as those cities fell. Around the time Chicago was being overrun we resolved to withdraw west beyond the Rockies and consolidate there.
Even that was tough going. Cobra had made some inroads into Los Angeles and the Baja Peninsula was lousy with the C-Brains. Lost a lot more good men just getting the situation there under control. We were clearing out the last of them when word came down.
[He takes a long sip from the flask and stares past me into space.]
Another promotion, of sorts. A bunch of government types had got it in their heads that what we needed, what America needed, was some good old democracy. The old man wanted me on his ticket. Vice President, he said. I don't know anything about politics and I guess if I had to think about it I would have put myself in the other party, but he seemed to be the only guy left in a suit and tie who knew what was important. I told him yes.
I'd like to think it was the right choice. The right way to serve my country. Sometimes, I don't know. I should have been there. I should have been waist deep in it when my men started to fight back.
[His attention snaps back to me.]
We won the election. There was some opposition group, just a bunch of loonies crowing about how the old man had already done his two terms. Some of them even thought we were supposed to care about a blowjob he got or something while the whole world was going to shit. Didn't fly. The old man would just get up there on the stage, and I mean this was in the midst of the shit, these were refugee camp speeches. He would get up there with those big sad eyes of his and that sort of halfway smile and before he'd even talked I think everyone sort of knew everything was going to be okay.
Me, he brought me on for balance he said. He told me when he was trying to convince me to sign up that he needed someone who would tell him that he was wrong no matter how much it would piss him off.
Those first weeks, with the fighting wrapping up in the west and those goddamn broadcasts all the time from the C-Brains, it was tough. He told me his priorities were food, water, shelter and morale. Once those were under control he wanted me to have a plan ready for taking our little show on the road.
That, but it was more. We were on our last legs just about, so he knew we'd have to recruit from the civvies. He told me to make it work, don't worry about making it pretty. While the old man was running himself ragged keeping things calm and overseeing food distribution, I was planning the first phases of the offensive.
Step one was the Sigma-6 teams. Six men and women per unit, airdropped into a city that was still holding out against the C-Brains. Not all of them were military men. It was generally a Joe or a special forces type, a couple regulars and then some experts like survivalists, engineers, or whoever else we thought might be useful. One time we dropped an OBGYN into a hospital that had been overrun. They had failed to evacuate the maternity ward and they needed someone to help out.
Those people were the heart of our strategy for those early months. They were our lifeline to the survivors out there in the world. They had no guarantee of when we'd be able to bail them out and a lot of them ended up dead. Heroes. All of them.
How did the President's side of things work out?
It was tough going. The population west of the Rockies, even with all the casualties, had been doubled by the refugees. People needed food and water desperately. He did everything short of hump it to the camps in a camelback all by himself. At one point he got himself a list of camps low on water, commandeered a fire plane and one by one he flew with them, scooping water out of lakes and flying it to the locations. Dangerous as hell landing with a full load of water like that, but he did it every single time.
The old man did nothing but worry about other people's problems. He never stopped to think about his family. He had a wife and a daughter, both of them disappeared. Probably one of our boys shot them at some point, but he never mentioned it. He was old when he took office, but you could just see each week he aged another year. By the time he had sorted things out his hands were shaking and he was skinny as a ladder. Feeble seeming, but boy-o he was still sharp as a razor in those military briefings. When he thought you were wrong he would tell you so as loud as he had to and most of the time he was right.
It took us eighteen months from the time we pulled back behind the Rockies to the time we rolled out. Cobra Commander kept threatening to nuke us, but he never did. Either he didn't have it in him or he couldn't find the launch keys. He did send his C-Brains after us a few times, but he could never get enough of them together to really make it work. Besides, by that point a lot of them were starving to death or just dropping dead and he was having to figure out his own ways to keep his army alive and moving. I think he knew we'd come after him eventually, but he never expected us to do it like we did.
I watched the whole thing unfold, but I can't take credit once it started. That goes to the men and women on the ground. I just wish we could have killed that son of a bitch ourselves. That damn woman stole our final victory from us. Sometimes I think the war won't really be over until we get that son of a bitch, Destro. We know right where he is and I'm sure someone in the government is planning to take him out as I speak. Bastard has got it coming.