A Tribute to the of

A quarter could go a long way in the 60s for the average comic fan. DC’s 80-page GIANTS could be purchased for that much and you could get an anthology with some great stories hand-picked by the editors that were sure to satisfy.

Since the anniversary of the United States Army was in June, it seems like maybe a good time to look at one of the venerable war titles from our favorite publisher. Our Army at War began clear back in August of 1952 and proceeded onward for 301 issues! The particular one I’m spotlighting is #164 (G-19) with a publication date of February 1966 and an on-sale date of December 16, 1965. The cover is by, who else? Joe Kubert, with editorial assistance from the ever-prolific Bob Kanigher. This duo also provided the first story, titled “No Exit for Easy” which was originally published in the same title, issue #100 from November of 1960 with an on-sale date of September 1, 1960.

One nifty detail from the anthology is the contents page. The sharp eyed will notice that the four soldiers treading water in the foreground have initials on their helmets that correspond with the creator, be it “RK” in the front, gripping a typewriter or “JK,” “RH” and “IN” for Joe Kubert, Russ Heath and Irv Novick, respectively. On to our story.

That dramatic splash page shows a soldier pleading with Sgt. Rock not to sacrifice himself on the soldier’s behalf as a German tank ominously rolls toward the pair while rounds ricochet at their feet. Rock also seems to be bandaged up pretty good on both hands and his shoulder. This should be interesting…

Things begin benignly enough with the combat-happy joes of Easy taking a well-deserved breather. Rock is narrating and informs us that they’ve had 31 tough days on the line and they’re enjoying a field shower to clean up. Unfortunately, the break doesn’t last and soon they’re being strafed by a Nazi fighter pilot. Under Rock’s orders, the still wet squad grabs their weapons and begin to return fire. With the concentrated teamwork, they take down the aircraft, but in the aftermath, one soldier doesn’t seem to be appreciating some of the light-hearted esprit de corps of his comrades, questioning how they can be so nonchalant in the face of nearly certain death.

The dogface’s name is Manny West, new to the unit and Rock thinks to himself that while he stopped the bantering, in some ways his behavior is more dangerous. Rock follows West and finds him on his belly in the forest. He asks what’s troubling him. The conversation doesn’t yield the fruit Rock hoped for, however. Manny is convinced he doesn’t have what it takes to be a part of Easy Company.

The top-kick realizes he’s got a weak link in West and he’s hoping he can strengthen it during their two-week hiatus between going back to the front lines. A sergeant’s job is never a simple one.

Things don’t go well in the war, either, as Easy has to report earlier than planned. Rock’s intuition has him move off the road during their march, moments before an artillery attack. The gallows humor returns and Manny again protests that they don’t seem to have any feelings if they can react this way to such imminent doom. Rock takes him under a wing and they continue their forward movement.

Part I ends with the other members of the company warily eyeing their new member and Rock is wondering if Manny will snap and cause a chain reaction.

Part II opens with Rock taking Manny with him on point. The Sarge explains that they have two potential pathways and the easier one is likely laced with landmines, so it’s through the swamp for Easy Company. He fires his weapon into the water to test the situation and explosives detonate, confirming Rock’s prediction. He then follows the same operation on the smoother inland road and discovers it is clear, so they begin a single file march.

As luck, bad luck at that, would have it, as they move down the road, explosions follow from the rear. Apparently, the booby traps were designed to go off after a few men had covered the area. West is on the verge of panic and wants to take off running, but Sgt. Rock stops him, demonstrating yet again that his instincts are in tune when he discovers more mines in front of them that go off under his rifle’s barrage.

As West continues to unravel, it’s time for some good old Army discipline as Rock gets in his face and orders him to walk with him, a step at a time and to fire into the ground ahead. “Walk!” “Fire!” This is the cadence and it seems to be effective.

Afterward, however, the same tensions are in place and Manny is even baiting his sergeant, telling him he’ll never make him into a regular in Easy Company. Just then, Rock’s sixth sense kicks in yet again, ordering West to flatten as a sniper’s round zings toward the pair, striking Rock in a non-lethal way. West says that Rock took the bullet intended for Manny and that he needs to just let things go. Rock simply responds to the soldier in clipped tones to field dress the wound.

They barely catch their breath when another ambush takes place from a concealed pillbox. Easy puts it down again, but their sergeant is dealing with more wounds to his hands. Rock silently plods forward as Manny West continues to plead his case, that the sergeant will die in his quest to make a proper member of Easy Company out of him.

In the next harrowing moments, a tank emerges and starts to fire on the men of Easy Company. This time Manny West snaps, but in the way that Sgt. Rock had been hoping all day. He tells his top-kick to flatten and charges the tank, firing his weapon repeatedly until he gets into one of the viewports and takes out the assailants for good. It seems that Manny West’s baptism by fire had finally kicked in and he takes his place with the combat-happy joes of Easy Company.

I’ll never figure out how Robert Kanigher could crank these things out like clockwork and still have the energy to be the purported pompous ass that he was, but ass or no, he was gifted. You cannot take that away from him. And of course, nobody could draw a war story quite like Joe Kubert. The legend lives on.

Come back on the 15th of July for the next installment in our ongoing series and don’t be shy. We try hard to be interactive here at the Silver Lantern and your voice will be heard. All you’ve gotta do is reach out and use the cyberverse to send me a note at: professor_the@hotmail.com.


Long live the Silver Age!

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