Title: “Rich Man’s Son,” Chapter 2 of 3
Disclaimer: Please see Chapter One.
Summary: Why Lewis Nixon joined the paratroops.
Snow and ice. Extreme cold. Hunger. Darkness. Sudden violence, accompanied by overwhelming noise. Tree bursts. An ever-present undercurrent of anger, frustration, and fear. Death. All of it summed up in one word: Bastogne. Lewis Nixon, having just finished his nightly checkpoint rounds, slid down into the foxhole he shared with Dick Winters. Cold as it was, it was also just after 0300 hours, so he fully expected Winters to be asleep, but a familiar voice asked him; “Anything to report?”
“Just that there’s no sign of Dike. Even Lipton doesn’t know where the happy wanderer is.”
“Perhaps I should rephrase that, Nix. Is there anything new to report?”
“That was dangerously close to humor, Dick. Watch yourself—you have a reputation to uphold.” There was only silence from the man huddled next to him. Nixon sighed, his breath visible in the freezing air. “Nothing new, Dick. Except that the men, especially the noncoms, are happy—at least as much as anyone here can be—about the fact that Lt. Peacock is headed home for the bond drive.”
“I can’t blame them,” Winters replied. “No one tries harder than poor Peacock, but the Sergeants have been carrying him on their backs ever since he was assigned to Easy.”
Both men were momentarily silent after that remark. Nixon edged closer to his shivering friend, trying to share body heat. He did not expect any more conversation. Not only was Richard Winters laconic by nature, but a frozen foxhole just after three a.m. was hardly a place or a time conducive to chitchat. So he was surprised when, after a moment, he heard his friend say quietly: “Lew?”
“Why didn’t you want to go back home?”
For a second, the question made no sense. “Home,” to Lewis Nixon, had come to mean anywhere Dick Winters was. If that consisted of a foxhole dug in the freezing earth, so be it. He seldom even thought about New Jersey any more, or about the people he had left behind. He felt closer to the man alongside him than he had ever felt to anyone in his life, even his own wife and family. The closest he could come to saying this aloud, however, was to say flippantly; “Hell, Dick. When my Kid asks me what I did in the war, I don’t want to have to tell her I just spent my time banging the drums to sell war bonds.”
“Nix.” Winters’ voice was low, but the hint of reproof in it was discernable. Lewis was lying, and Dick knew it. This made Nixon feel ashamed, so almost in spite of himself he began to give the truthful explanation.
“Because I can see my father’s hand in this, Dick. Do you think it’s a coincidence that a rich man’s son was the one pulled to perform duty stateside? He manipulates things to get what he wants.”
“Well, that’s understandable, I suppose. Anyone who has a son overseas would want to see him home for Christmas. I’m sure your family misses you.”
Winters stopped because Nixon was shaking his head. “That’s what you think. My father is all about control. He’s a very rich man, and he’s accustomed to getting his own way. That’s what this is all about, not because he has any affection for me. I’m a disappointment to him.”
Winters shifted slightly, and by the light of the moon, Nixon caught a glimpse of blue eyes staring at him. “How can he be disappointed in you?”
Nixon almost laughed out loud, because he could tell that his friend meant the question seriously. It warmed him, even in this freezing hell, to know that Winters did not consider him to be a disappointment or a failure, and did not understand why anyone else would. “Well, Dick, in case you haven’t noticed, I’m not exactly a rousing success.”
“You’re the company intelligence officer. That’s not a position they give to goof-offs.”
“Yeah, I’m the Map Guy.” Lewis Nixon shrugged, feigning nonchalance. “I ought to be good at that. At least I’m finally getting some use out of my expensive education, as my father might say.”
“Maybe you should stop listening to your father quite so much,” Dick observed quietly. “He isn’t here, Lew. You are.”
“If he had his way, I wouldn’t be here, either. And not because he’s worried about me. He’s just worried that I’ll screw up.” Nixon shifted, groping for his silver flask. He suddenly wanted a drink rather badly.
“Then he needn’t worry at all,” Winters said, his voice low but firm and clear. “You still haven’t answered my question, Nix.”
“I thought I had, Dick. Life is better here than it is for me back in New Jersey.”
Winters pointedly looked around their surroundings, then back at Nixon with such obvious disbelief that the latter could not help laughing. It was a short, hitching laugh that conveyed more pain than amusement, but it was still a laugh.
“That’s why I joined the army, my friend,” he said, taking a swallow from his silver flask and then replacing it. “To see the world.”
“You’ve already seen it. You did more traveling before you were out of your teens than I’ve done in my entire life,” his friend pointed out. “Forgive me if I find it hard to believe that this is the best part. If it is, then when the war is over, I’m heading straight back to my family’s home as fast as I can go, and I’ll never leave it again.”
“Geez, Dick. Either I’m drunker than I thought, or you’re on a roll tonight.” Nixon would happily have let the conversation die, but the blue eyes continued to regard him steadily. “All right. I joined up mostly because I couldn’t stand the way my life was going, and I wanted to change it.”
“You couldn’t have done that in a less drastic way?” Winters’ tone was neither incredulous nor derisive; he was trying to understand.
“No.” For a moment, Nixon stared up at the night sky, gazing at the stars. “You think that having a lot of money gives you more choices in life, but not always,” he said, much more quietly and without a trace of his usual mockery. “My life was decided upon and planned from the day I was born.”
“Is that why you joined the airborne, too?”
“Sort of,” Nixon admitted. “Wash-outs are sent to the M.P.s, you know that, and thanks to my father’s interference that was what I was assigned to anyway, so if I joined and then failed, I would’ve been no worse off. But I wanted to try, Dick. I had to find out if I was anything more than a rich man’s son.”
“I see,” Winters said, and was quiet for a moment.
“Why did you join the Army, Dick?” Nixon asked curiously, suddenly realizing he had never asked his friend this before. “Did you join up after Pearl Harbor?”
“No. I joined right after I graduated college, a few months before Pearl, because I had to fulfill my military service. Truthfully, I just wanted to get it over with. But when I saw paratroopers for the first time, I knew they were true soldiers. If I had to serve in the Army, that was what I wanted to be. They were lean, mean, strong, and tough—clearly the best.”
“Dick Winters had to be the best. Why am I not surprised?”
Nixon grinned at his friend, and Winters smiled back. The two men huddled close together in the dark, sharing warmth that was both physical and emotional, each knowing that he had found a brother.
Title: "Rich Man's Son," (2/3)
Characters: Nixon, Winters
Disclaimers: Nothing disturbing. I do not own "Band of Brothers."
Summary: Why Lewis Nixon joined the paratroops.