SOME stories of bravery in battle are given to war correspondents almost ready-made. A man who has taken part in a heroic action may be brought in for an interview and photographs. Then a public relations officer will outline the details of what occurred.
Like other correspondents, Jack Crane covered such stories. Yet he always preferred to send the news he could obtain by his own efforts. Being able to write the word "exclusive" at the head of a dispatch was, to Crane, full compensation for many hours of hard work.
There were times, too, when through luck and the natural curiosity of a good reporter an exclusive story seemed to drop right into Crane's lap. Such a story was the adventure told to him by Private Jim Scott, an ambulance driver in North Africa.
* * *
Crane was hitch-hiking his way forward in the Mateur sector of Tunisia when he met Private Scott. A jeep was to have taken a party of correspondents up to a command post, but it had not arrived.
Scott must have noticed Crane's non-combatant armband, marked "C" for "correspondent." He slowed his empty ambulance and stuck out his head with a grin.
"I'll trade with you," he shouted. "I'll take you up to the front. But you must include my name in your story, so my mother and dad will know that I'm O.K."
Crane smiled. "It's a deal," he said. He climbed in and wrote down Scott's name and the address of his parents in a southern California town.
"You'll have to take a chance, you know," Crane said. "I can't be sure your name won't be cut out of my story in New York."
The ambulance driver grinned again. "That's our daily life here," he said. "We all of us take chances."
IN THE EARLY DAYS
Daylight fades quickly into night in North Africa. Soon the two men were sitting in almost total darkness, with the headlights of the ambulance blacked out. They were talking freely now, and Crane was questioning Scott about the early days in North Africa.
The ambulance driver, Crane found out, had been with one of the first medical units sent to the central sector. It was there, in the border country between Tunisia and Algeria, that American forces had seen their first action against the Germans.
A sudden Axis tank attack, Scott said, had made our forces fall back. When Scott reached his unit, with four wounded men in his ambulance, he found the medical camp in German and Italian hands.
There had been no way to evacuate the wounded. In order to give them proper medical care, our physicians and technicians had stayed on when the Axis took over. Scott found these brave Americans still at work, watched by enemy guards.
He asked, and was given, permission to take the four men from his ambulance into the hospital tent. Then he was taken prisoner, with an Italian soldier holding a bayonet about an inch from his ribs.
"I didn't like it at all," he told Crane. "I made up my mind to get out of there as quickly as I could."
Scott knew that to make plans was useless until he could tell what his captors intended doing with him. He decided to wait his time and watch for an opportunity.
THEY ADMIRED THE JEEP
There was a jeep in the camp that seemed to fascinate the enemy officers and men. In those early days of the African fighting, it was doubtless the first one they had seen.
Scott noticed that the jeep was piled high with things which the Italians and Germans evidently intended to take away as loot. There was a portable X-ray apparatus piled on the front seat. Several cases of medical supplies were loaded in the rear.
Scott didn't like to see valuable equipment going to the enemy. He began to make plans to take it with him when (and if) he made his escape.
"It was easier than I expected," he told Crane. "When the officers were gone, some of the enemy soldiers began fooling with the loaded jeep. They were trying to get it started.
"I told my guard, in sign language, that I would show them how. I started the motor and showed them how to work the gear-shift.
"Soon all of them, including my guard, were taking turns to drive the jeep up and down. They were as excited as a pack of monkeys.
"They were doing all right, too, until an officer came out to see what all the noise was. When he saw what they were doing, he called them down in two languages for wasting gas and endangering the X-ray apparatus.
"I could hear the jeep's motor, still running. I could see all the Axis soldiers standing to attention and listening to the officer.
"I knew it was the best chance I would get. I started running....
"I was in the driver's seat before the enemy caught on to what was happening. The jeep was in high before they could get their guns and start firing. It was too late, then, to stop me."
* * *
Scott turned to Crane again with a smile. "That was one time I lived to fight another day," he said. Crane looked at him in the darkness.
"You wanted your mother and dad to see your name in the paper," he said. "Tomorrow they'll read how Private Jim Scott, in a jeep, fooled Hitler's once-proud Afrika Corps."
NEXT WEEK: JACK CRANE MEETS THE MEN WHO FLY THE ARMY'S AIR FREIGHTERS