Editor’s note: Welcome to Chapter One of  Kevin Wilson’s book, Sully’s Squad, a WWII epic and moving coming-of-age tale, told through the eyes of a 15-year-old Arty, who lies about his age to enlist. The story is poignant and sensitive while describing battlefield deaths and the emotions that surround them along with the impact on the families back home.


In the dark of midnight, massive guns fire simultaneously on the Sicilian shore. For a  split second after each explosion, yellow and orange light reveals the deck of our boat, flashing glimpses of hundreds of soldiers as we wait in anticipation.  

The next blast is closer, louder. It doesn’t just light up the deck. It flings me on my side like I’m one of the tin soldiers I used to play with as a kid. As I roll, I can see Coney on his knees, searching for his helmet. 

Then the night goes black again. 

My legs shake as I stagger upright. It’s 1:30 am on July 10, 1943. For the past several hours we’ve traveled through a gale, rough seas tossing our three-story vessel like a child with a  ball. The wind blows the rain in sideways, straight at you, stinging the body. I’ve been soaked for hours, and I’m shaking uncontrollably now from the chill. 

I press my palms against my ears, trying to block the sound as I stare out at the shells bursting on the distant shore. The tracks of the explosives tracing through the sky look like falling stars and meteors heading for earth. I’m in awe, but I’m also afraid. 

As the deck bucks under me, I reach into my pocket and pull out a small velvet pouch. I  untie the drawstring, open the top, and hold it under my nose to inhale the sweet scent of home.  My mother. Lilacs from our backyard on a summer evening. Just over a year ago, as I boarded the bus for basic training, my mother had pressed the pouch into the palm of my hand. “Remember,” she’d said, wrapping her arms around me in a final hug. “Home will always be with you.” When I found my seat on the bus, I stretched open the pouch and immediately smelled lilacs. The little sac was packed with fresh petals; though they disintegrated with time,  their scent had not. My mother knew I would need her words and the comforting smell of home.