Disclaimer: Daria and associated characters are owned by MTV. This is fan fiction written for entertainment only. No money or other negotiable currency or goods have been exchanged. This is a sequel to Infamy..
Ensign Thomas Sloane leaned on the railing of the antiaircraft gallery to watch the activity below. Deck crews organized the aircraft on the dark blue deck of the USS Lexington. Each aircraft was blue/gray with large, white stars set inside insignia blue rondels on the wings and fuselage and red and white stripes marking the rudders. In front were the F4F Wildcat fighters. With only a pilot and .50 caliber ammunition on board, they were the lightest and required the shortest takeoff roll to become airborne. Behind them were the SBD Dauntless dive bombers, with a crew of two and a thousand pound bomb slung underneath. Stationed to the aft end of the large flight deck were the older, slow aircraft requiring the longest takeoff roll -the TBD Devastator torpedo bombers, also with a crew of two, and a deadly torpedo..
One by one, the pilots pushed their throttles to full power and climbed into the south Pacific sky while Tom watched and wished them well. After months of setbacks and defeats, the previous day had brought success for the US Navy and Task Force 17, the sinking of an unidentified Japanese aircraft carrier. Now, the Lady Lex's air group was joining with the USS Yorktown's group to strike again at the enemy. When the last Devastator was in the air, Tom brought his attention back to his gallery.
Fitting for one of the most junior officers on board, he came aboard the day before the Lexington sailed from Pearl Harbor. Tom was assigned to the upper gallery on the aft side of the ships large smoke stack housing. While affording the greatest elevation on the ship, it was also immediately behind and just below the stack openings, and smoke from the stacks regularly washed over the crews.
He had his crews check the two quad 28mm gun mounts, and dummy track several aircraft for practice. After that, came the waiting and hoping that they would wait in vain; that their services would not be needed that day.
Less than an hour and a half later, the warning came out: incoming aircraft at high and low altitudes. A coordinated attack of dive bombers and torpedo bombers. Minutes later came the update that the incoming low altitude attacks were coming in from both bow quarters. Tom swore, using some of his newly-acquired sailor's language. The two angled attacks meant that when the Lexington turned her bow toward one torpedo attack to reduce the chance of being hit, she would turn broadside to the other attack.
The huge ship began a turn to starboard to face the lead group of torpedo bombers. Knowing that this would place the attack outside of the firing arc of his gun mounts, Tom used his binoculars to scan the skies above and behind.
Tom breathed relief to see the torpedoes of the first attack slide past, the count-turn had worked. That relief was short-lived as the risk of the port side attack came home with two torpedoes striking forward. The great ship slowed as Tom spotted the green and gray aircraft high above. In formation, their nosed dropped as each fell into a steep dive toward the Lexington. Even at that distance, Tom could imagine seeing the bombs resting between the fixed landing gear of the attacking Vals.
Barking orders, he brought both of his gun mounts into action. Loaders hustled back and forth to the ready racks as they fed ammunition into receivers mounted atop the guns. As he feared, one gun on the port mount jammed within the first thirty seconds of firing. He ordered the crew to ignore it and continue firing the remaining guns. They could clear the jam if they survived the next thirty seconds.
The first bomb struck amidships on the flight deck, shaking the ship and knocking Tom to the deck. He had barely crawled back up when the second bomb struck the stack near the middle flue. Flame, smoke and shrapnel enveloped the gallery.
Pain seared through Tom's right arm before it dropped limp to his side. Shaking free of the shock, Tom started grabbing gun crew members and ordering, "Get down to the flight deck!" and "Carry him down to the flight deck!"
In only a few seconds, the gallery was cleared and Tom started the slow climb down the latter, using only left arm for support. When he was still halfway down to the main deck, the chain reaction of unused ammunition exploding told Tom that he'd made the right call.
After a quick bandage from a pharmacist's mate, Tom was able to somewhat move his right arm and he hurried down to the main hanger deck. There, he found the nearest officer and with a wince from the pain, saluted the Lieutenant Commander. "Ensign Sloane available for duty, sir!"
The older officer studied Tom for a moment before giving him a supporting nod. :Join damage control team three at the forward, port-side five-inch battery."
All around, damage control parties worked to bring the hanger deck back into shape to receive the Lexington's returning aircraft. Rumors said that two enemy carriers had been hit. Tom hoped it was true. Soon, the fires on board were under control and from the five-inch gallery, Tom saw the strike force return and land on the deck.
"Son, you've done enough," the only slightly older Lieutenant told Tom. "Get that arm properly bandaged. We can handle things from here."
"Yes, sir," Tom said, though reluctant to leave. But following orders, he made his way to the infirmary to get his arm checked out.
The infirmary already had numerous injured sailors scattered around while the small medical crew worked as fast as they could. Tom sat down on the deck and figured he would be in for a wait.
From above came a huge roar from a massive explosion in the aviation fuel bunker. Without waiting, Tom jumped up and hurried to help.
The next three hours became a blur of flame, steel and sound as the crew of the Lexington fought to save their home. Tom was helping man a fire hose on the hanger deck when the third and fatal explosion hit the ship. Observers in nearby ships saw a mushroom-shaped cloud the diameter of the flight deck rise above the ship and the shock could be felt.
"Back out! Back out!" Tom ordered the other seamen. Half were injured, mostly burns. Tom paired up the able body with the injured to get every man out of the expanding fire. Finally, he used his good arm to support a sailor as they worked their way forward on the slanted deck. By the time they reached the flight deck, the word had gone around to abandon ship.
Dead in the water, down by the bow and listing heavily to port while ugly black smoke poured from below decks, the Gray Lady was dying. Even though he had been on her for only a short time, he felt a pang of loss in his stomach. He would miss her.
In an orderly fashion, ropes were dropped from the flight deck galleries and the ships crew slid down into the warm Pacific waters. First went a small group of able-bodied men, followed by the wounded, with the first group ready to assist each. Finally, the remaining crew dropped to the water and swam away to the waiting rescue destroyers.
Despite his protests, Tom was ordered down with the rest of the wounded. Because of his injured arm, still only in temporary bandages, he was tied to a line and lowered so that he wouldn't risk a fall because of his weak arm. The salt water stung when he hit the water, but Tom held on as the rope was untied and he was directed to the rescue ship.
His arm finally bandaged properly and huddled under a blanket while waiting for some dry clothes, Tom watched the final moments of his ship. Like a grand lady with her head held high, the Lexington stayed upright as she slipped below the waves.
Tom blinked back a tear from his eye and awkwardly picked up his pen with his left hand.
May 8, 1942. Dear Daria,
Pardon the poor handwriting, but I've had a somewhat busy day. I can't say much right now, but most importantly, I wanted you to know that I'm okay.
Thanks to Brother Grimace for beta reading.