Generic Radio Workshop Script Library (BACK)

Series: Columbia Workshop
Show: Nine Prisoners
Date: Feb 20 1939

CAST
PELTON, the Sergeant
WADE
MUNDY
NUGENT
GORDON
INABINETT
CAPTAIN
FOSTER, the Corporal
DRURY
QUALLS
SCHMIDT
VICTOR
PRISONER

ANNOUNCER:

The Columbia Workshop presents "Nine Prisoners" by William March, adapted for radio by Brian J. Byrne.

MUSIC:

PENSIVE, FOREBODING ... FOR AN INTRO ... THEN FADES OUT WITH

PELTON:

My name's Julius Pelton. That don't mean a thing to you. It don't mean a thing to anybody else -- and it means less to me. There was a time when I was proud of that name, proud of a lot of things -- my background, my character, my country. My country! I guess that was my greatest pride. But all that's changed. Now I'm proud of nothing. I'm interested in nothing, because-- You see, I'm a body. That probably sounds screwy to you, but that's what I am. A body. A thing without a soul. It wasn't always that way. I had a soul in those days when I had something to be proud of. It was my pride that lost me my soul, my pride of my country. That's why I enlisted and did my bit in the war. (SHORT LAUGH) The war! I came out of it all in one piece. I was a lucky guy; that's what they said. But I lost more than an arm, a leg, a head, or my life.

It don't make much difference where it happened. It was a long way from here, on the edge of a wood. To our left was a gravel pit, long abandoned, with one narrow opening. Back of that, a ravine ran straight for a hundred yards; then it stopped blindly against a bank of clay. That's where I stopped, too. Where I stopped being the man I was. Where I lost all that makes the flesh more than so many pounds of beef. I'd just ordered my men to dig in. Our First Battalion was to pass over our heads to continue the attack. In the gravel pit were twenty-two prisoners, taken that day. We'd just about finished digging in when the first men started to jump over us.

SOUND:

HEAVY GUNFIRE, OFF ... SOLDIERS GRUMBLING AND DIGGING, ON

PELTON:

All right, fellas, that's deep enough.

WADE:

Here comes the First Battalion, Sarge!

PELTON:

Well, get your heads down or those guys'll kick your brains out when they go over!

MUNDY:

Watch it!

SOUND:

SOLDIERS RUNNING ON, JUMPING OVER TRENCH ... CONTINUES IN BG

PELTON:

Down, everybody!

NUGENT:

Boy, they seem to be all legs and arms, jumpin' over our heads like that.

GORDON:

Yeah, they're nimble, sure enough. But most of those legs and arms'll be slung all over the countryside in a few minutes.

NUGENT:

How many of them guys you figure'll come through?

GORDON:

In a fight like this, there's only one out of every three.

NUGENT:

Geez! One in three. Two down for every one up.

GORDON:

Look at them go. Like they're in a hurry to get it over. Funny when you think of it, isn't it? Two out of three. (AS SOLDIERS JUMP THE TRENCH) One over. Two over . . . for keeps. Here comes the lucky stiff; the third. One . . . two . . . lucky three.

NUGENT:

Gee, it's like there was a big grave on the other side of this trench and every two guys was jumpin' into it.

GORDON:

Yeah. One . . . two . . . lucky three.

NUGENT:

Wonder why they made us dig in here?

GORDON:

Don't know but thank your stars you're not going on with the First Battalion.

NUGENT:

We done our share.

GORDON:

That's what you think. Don't worry, they'll fix up some sort of a mess for us.

NUGENT:

We're detailed to guard them prisoners we got over there in the sand pit.

GORDON:

Here come the last of the battalion!

SOUND:

FINAL SOLDIERS JUMP TRENCH ... DISTANT GUNFIRE CONTINUES IN BG

NUGENT:

That's good. My neck's gettin' stiff from bein' cramped down in this shallow trench.

PELTON:

All right, men. You can relax now.

SOUND:

PLEASED REACTION FROM SOLDIERS AS THEY GET UP

INABINETT:

Hey, Sarge! When do we eat?

PELTON:

That belly o' yours sure gives you a lot of trouble, Inabinett.

INABINETT:

Well, I'm hungry.

CAPTAIN:

(APPROACHES) Sergeant! Sergeant Pelton!

PELTON:

Yes, Captain Matlock?

CAPTAIN:

Have you counted noses yet? How many men have you lost?

PELTON:

Four, sir.

CAPTAIN:

Hm, that's not bad. Could be worse.

PELTON:

Yes, sir.

CAPTAIN:

You've nearly two dozen prisoners in the sand pit, haven't you?

PELTON:

Exactly twenty-two, sir.

CAPTAIN:

That's bad. We're taking too many prisoners, Sergeant. They're a problem.

PELTON:

Yes, sir, they sure are.

CAPTAIN:

What do you think we're going to do with them?

PELTON:

I was wonderin', sir. Some of them're pretty badly wounded.

CAPTAIN:

I wasn't thinking about that much. Healthy or otherwise, they present a problem. We can't take them along with us, and we can't let them roam behind our lines.

PELTON:

No, sir.

CAPTAIN:

Something has to be done.

PELTON:

Couldn't we send them back with a guard, sir? The wounded ones especially.

CAPTAIN:

No, that's impossible. We're moving up pretty soon; we'll need all of our men.

PELTON:

Brophy and Carter'll have to go back anyway, sir. They're pretty badly banged up. They could take the--

CAPTAIN:

No, Sergeant. (PAUSE, QUIETLY) There's a very simple solution to the whole thing.

PELTON:

Yes, sir?

CAPTAIN:

The easiest thing would be to shoot them.

PELTON:

Shoot them, sir?

CAPTAIN:

Yes. We could train a machine gun on the gravel pit. That's the simplest way.

PELTON:

(LIGHTLY, WITH A CHUCKLE) That'd be simple enough, sir, and it would get them off your hands.

CAPTAIN:

Yes, it would. (MUSES, TO HIMSELF) I'm afraid the gap is too narrow, and the sides are dug in. Pretty hard for our gunners. Well, that won't do. Can't do it in the sand pit. (TO PELTON) You better take them up the ravine and do the job there.

PELTON:

But, Captain, you're-- You don't mean that, do you, sir?

CAPTAIN:

Don't mean it? What do you think I'm talking for?

PELTON:

But they're prisoners. Unarmed, helpless.

CAPTAIN:

Well, what would you do with them? We're going to advance in a few hours.

PELTON:

Why, I-- Well, I - I don't know right now, sir.

CAPTAIN:

Then mine is the only solution. Take the men up the ravine and--

PELTON:

(UNNERVED) Good God, sir! That's murder! Cold-blooded murder!

CAPTAIN:

It's war, Sergeant. It seems to matter little which way men die. The fact is that they must die in war.

PELTON:

But not like that, sir! Why, I couldn't--!

CAPTAIN:

(FIRMLY) Sergeant!

PELTON:

(RECOVERS COMPOSURE) Yes, sir.

CAPTAIN:

How long have you been in the service?

PELTON:

Twenty years, sir.

CAPTAIN:

Long enough to know that you should obey orders without questioning them.

PELTON:

Yes, sir.

CAPTAIN:

You'd better take Corporal Foster and his squad. Use automatic rifles. I think Foster's the right man to do it.

PELTON:

Yes, sir. Foster's just the man for a job like that.

CAPTAIN:

Then you'd better tell him right away. Have him finish the job before nightfall. (MOVING OFF) Good luck to you. Do a clean job.

SOUND:

CAPTAIN'S FOOTSTEPS TRUDGE AWAY

PELTON:

(LISTLESS) Yes, sir.

NUGENT:

(APPROACHES) What's the matter, Sergeant? You look blue around the gills. Captain give you some bad news?

PELTON:

Yeah. (DEEP BREATH) Yeah. (TO HIMSELF) Lord help me, I've been in the army since I was a kid. I've seen plenty to turn a man's stomach. But this is raw. This is the rawest thing I ever heard of.

MUSIC:

SOMBER, SHIVERY BRIDGE ... FADES OUT WITH

FOSTER:

My name's Clarence Foster. I was Corporal Foster then. There's a big difference between Clarence Foster and Corporal Foster. In fact, I'm hardly able to hook one up with the other now. You see, I cut my teeth, almost, on war propaganda. I was told how glorious war was. Heh! They played a dirty trick on guys like me. They led me to believe all the stuff they wrote. Now, they say just the opposite. The propaganda is for peace. So war is a terrible thing. The things that were so right then are so wrong now. It makes a guy feel that nothin' at all is right. It ain't a pleasant thing to be turned from a hero to a beast just by the things that guys write down on paper. It's taken me all these years to understand just how Sergeant Pelton felt when he came to relay the Captain's orders. I couldn't understand then. He was pale and tremblin'; actin' like a human bein', and him a soldier. I didn't get the guy at all. He called me aside out of earshot of my
squad. He looked so scared, I wanted to laugh.

SOUND:

HEAVY GUNFIRE OFF ... IN BG

PELTON:

Good God, Foster, don't stand there like I'd only told you it was time for grub. Don't you realize what I said?

FOSTER:

Sure, sure, Sargent. You just told me the Captain wants me to kill twenty-two unarmed prisoners.

PELTON:

And it means no more to you than any order? Like any other order?

FOSTER:

Certainly not. They're the enemy, ain't they, the guys we're fightin'?

PELTON:

We're not fightin' the men in that sand pit. They're helpless; they can't do no harm any more.

FOSTER:

That's what you say, Sarge, but it ain't so. Don't you realize what they're up to? The enemy send a lot of men over to give themselves up. Then when they get enough men back of our lines they start a drive, and the prisoners attack us from the rear. It's an old trick, Sarge. I'm surprised you ain't heard about it before.

PELTON:

I've heard a lot of hooey in my time.

FOSTER:

But this is straight goods, I tell you. I read all about their dirty tricks even before I came over.

PELTON:

Do you believe all the tripe you read?

FOSTER:

You don't think they'd go to all the trouble of printin' it, if it wasn't true? Aw, say, Sarge, you're gettin' chicken-hearted. You got to realize that in a war anything you do to the enemy's all right.

PELTON:

You believe that, too?

FOSTER:

Why, sure I believe it. Don't they burn down churches and dash the brains out o' innocent babies? Aw, gee, now look. Don't you go gettin' yourself in an uproar about this. Just leave everything to me.

PELTON:

I sure will. The captain said you're just the man for the job.

FOSTER:

Sure. He's got confidence in me. Why, Sarge, war's war; it ain't no tea party. Those fellas in the sand pit are dirty, and you gotta treat 'em dirty.

PELTON:

We're doin' that, all right. This is the dirtiest thing I ever heard of. And I hope somethin' 'll happen - to stop it.

FOSTER:

That's the way you feel about it, and I guess you can't help it.

PELTON:

Well, the Captain wants it done before dark. (MOVING OFF) So you better get your men ready.

FOSTER:

Okay, Sarge, we'll be ready, all right. (CALLS) Hey, you guys!

SOUND:

REACTION FROM MEN ... MURMURS CONTINUES IN BG

FOSTER:

Load your automatic rifles, and make it snappy!

DRURY:

(MOVING ON) What's up, Corp?

FOSTER:

We got a little job to do.

INABINETT:

What do you mean, a little job?

FOSTER:

We're takin' the prisoners out of the sand pit.

MUNDY:

Where to?

FOSTER:

Up the ravine.

NUGENT:

Yeah? What's the idea?

FOSTER:

We're gonna shoot 'em.

SOUND:

REACTION FROM SOLDIERS ("What! Shoot 'em?") ... CONTINUES IN BG

MUNDY:

Shoot 'em? What for? What have they done?

FOSTER:

There ain't nothin' else we can do with 'em. We gotta get rid of 'em.

GORDON:

Well, what kind of a gag is this, Foster? What're you givin' us?

FOSTER:

I'm givin' you the Captain's orders and I don't want no arguments out of you guys.

MUNDY:

The Captain must have gone off his nut.

NUGENT:

If he expects to go through with this, he's sure crazy.

FOSTER:

No, he ain't! He knows what he's doin'! People who don't understand that this is necessary may think the Captain's wrong. But I understand. I think he's doin' the right thing.

DRURY:

Well, I ain't gonna do it.

FOSTER:

What?

SOUND:

MIXED REACTION FROM SOLDIERS ... INCREASINGLY ARGUMENTATIVE, IN BG

DRURY:

I don't mind killin' a man in a fight, but I ain't gonna shoot him down in cold blood.

FOSTER:

You'll do as you're told.

DRURY:

Nobody's makin' a murderer out of me.

FOSTER:

If you don't obey the Captain's orders you'll get court-martialed, and maybe we'll have to shoot you, too.

NUGENT:

But the Captain don't dare do a thing like this. He don't dare, I tell ya.

GORDON:

He can't make us do it.

DRURY:

Why don't you do it yourself, Foster? You could, with one machine gun.

FOSTER:

That's enough gab! Get your guns and start movin'. Now, I ain't goin' to fool with you guys any more. Quiet! You go, or you'll get court-martialed. Pipe down!

SOUND:

SOLDIERS FALL SILENT ... DISTANT HEAVY GUNS CONTINUE

FOSTER:

Now, who wants to be the first to disobey orders? (NO ANSWER) I'm waitin'. Who's the first? (NO ANSWER) Okay, then, let's get goin'.

MUSIC:

FOR A MARCH ... DARK AND MARTIAL BRIDGE ... FADES OUT WITH

QUALLS:

My name is Qualls, Everett Qualls. They told me like they told the others that we were fighting a humanitarian war -- a war to save the world, a war to end wars. And I know better now. There's no such thing as a humanitarian war. I know, too, that wars never end -- not for some, anyway. They go on and on. You can forget the war as a whole, sure. But there's always some incident that sticks in your mind. You live and relive that incident over and over again, until you know that - there is no end.

I was a private in Corporal Foster's squad. I was detailed to guard the prisoners in the sand pit. They were mostly young boys with fine fuzz on their weary faces. They looked sick and hungry. There was one among them, a little man, with the clearest blue eyes I'd ever seen. He was much older than the others, and he seemed to be the leader. His name was Schmidt. I found out that he was a cabinetmaker like myself, and we became good friends. We talked a lot about what he was gonna do when the war would be over. At that time, we didn't know anything about Captain Matlock's order. In fact, we had forgotten all about the war, for the time being. He told me some darned interestin' things about cabinetmakin' where he came from. We sat there on the side of the pit. Far off to our right, the heavy guns were coughin'.

SOUND:

HEAVY GUNS ... THEN IN BG

SCHMIDT:

The minute I saw you, Qualls, I knew you were a builder of things, like myself.

QUALLS:

How did you know, Schmidt?

SCHMIDT:

Your hands. They still have the stain of your trade. You zee? Mine have, too.

QUALLS:

(AMUSED) Yeah. Nothin' can wear that off, I guess.

SCHMIDT:

I nefer vant it to vear off. I am proud of my trade. I am proud of my hands. Mit dese two hands I vonce made a music cabinet for a prince.

QUALLS:

Your hands're not like a tradesman's at all. They're long and thin, like a musician's or an artist's.

SCHMIDT:

Well, dat's vat ve are, Qualls. Cabinetmakers, dey are artists.

QUALLS:

I guess you're right, there. Darned few people can even make a box, much less a cabinet.

SCHMIDT:

I learned my trade from my father. Und he learned it from his father.

QUALLS:

It's funny how a trade can bring people together. Why, I don't feel that you're like a foreigner at all.

SCHMIDT:

That's just it, Qualls. If ve could only stop and realize that the man ve fight is a man just like ourselves, then there vould be no wars.

QUALLS:

You're all right, Schmidt. Have a cigarette?

SCHMIDT:

Vat? You want to give me one of your cigarettes?

QUALLS:

Sure, go 'head, take it.

SCHMIDT:

Oh, so long since I haf a smoke. I bet it make me sick.

QUALLS:

Here ...

SOUND:

MATCH STRIKES

QUALLS:

... Light up!

SCHMIDT:

(AFTER A PAUSE, EXHALES HAPPILY) Ah, that's so good.

QUALLS:

(CHUCKLES SOFTLY)

SCHMIDT:

Oh, Herr Qualls, please. You vouldn't mind if I pass the cigarette among my men. You zee how dey look at it!

QUALLS:

No, no. Go right ahead.

SCHMIDT:

(TO PRISONERS) Hier. Hier, Jungens.

SOUND:

REACTION FROM PRISONERS ... NO WORDS DISTINGUISHABLE

SCHMIDT:

(IN GERMAN) You all can have one puff. Then pass it on to the next man.

SOUND:

PLEASED REACTION FROM PRISONERS

SCHMIDT:

(TO QUALLS) Ah, thank you. Thank you. I thank you for all of my men. They cannot speak in your language.

QUALLS:

(TO PRISONERS) That's all right, boys. (TO SCHMIDT) They sure go at that cigarette like they'd eat it.

SCHMIDT:

Ah, most of dem have not had a smoke in months.

VICTOR:

(MOVING ON) Schmidt! Schmidt.

SCHMIDT:

Yes, Victor? Vass iss now?

VICTOR:

(WEAKLY) I can't stand it much longer. De pain is too much.

SCHMIDT:

Oh, it won't be long now, Victor. Soon dey vill take us out of here, und you vill go to a hospital.

VICTOR:

You think so, Schmidt?

SCHMIDT:

Yes, my friend.

VICTOR:

Soon?

SCHMIDT:

Now, now, you save your energy. Here. You have a smoke, too.

QUALLS:

What's the matter with that youngster, Schmidt?

SCHMIDT:

Oh, he vas shot in de stomach. Only his youth keeps him alife.

QUALLS:

How old is he?

SCHMIDT:

Sixteen years.

QUALLS:

A child.

SCHMIDT:

Comes from de same town as I. He thinks that I can help him. I vish I could.

QUALLS:

He should be in a hospital. He looks so pale. Can't have much more blood left. Wish they'd make up their mind what they're gonna do with you men.

SCHMIDT:

I am afraid poor Victor vill not be able to vait much longer.

QUALLS:

Things must be pretty bad in your country when they send babies like that out to fight.

SCHMIDT:

It means that the var vill be over soon. Dere's no more men. And I vill be glad to get back home. How ve used to haf such goot times before de var. After de day's vork vas done, ve got together und ve'd drink beer und ve'd zing zongs und - I vonder if ve'll ever zing again.

QUALLS:

Oh, sure. Soon's it's over, you'll forget all about it.

SOUND:

PRISONERS MUTTER EXCITEDLY ... CONTINUES IN BG

QUALLS:

Hey. What's up? What're they talkin' about, Schmidt?

SCHMIDT:

Why, dey're excided because dey see a squad of your men coming through de woods. You zee, over dere?

QUALLS:

Ah? Oh, yeah. That's Foster's squad. He's my corporal.

SCHMIDT:

You - you dink dat dey're going to take us back behind de lines now?

QUALLS:

I reckon so. It's about time.

SCHMIDT:

Thank God. (TO VICTOR) There, Victor, you zee? Dey're coming to take you to de hospital.

VICTOR:

(OFF) Good. Maybe they'll fix me.

QUALLS:

Gosh, I sure envy you fellas. The war is over for you. No more fightin', no more sleepin' in muddy trenches, no more smellin' dead flesh.

MUSIC:

TOPS EVERYTHING FOR A SOMBER BRIDGE ... FADES OUT WITH

DRURY:

Walter Drury's my name. I just got out of military prison. I served twenty years. I thought I'd be able to start life all over again. I'm only forty-two now. But there ain't no startin' life again.

I thought I'd forget in those twenty years, but - I didn't. It's twenty years o' thinkin'. Thinkin' o' what had happened before I was court-martialed. They say I'm a little queer now -- stir-dippy, they call it. (CHUCKLES DARKLY) Nobody wants to have anything to do with me. Eh, I guess I am a little queer. So is life. I remember when they put a soldier's uniform on me. I thought I looked swell. I did, too. It was a great thing that uniform. Fitted me like a glove. I was so anxious to prove myself worthy of it. They don't think I did. That's why they threw me in prison. But I know I proved myself worthy of myself. When Corporal Foster marched us in to the gravel pit, I was thinkin' o' the same things every other one of the men was. But I put my thoughts into action. We was lined up in front of those twenty-two frightened prisoners. There was nine o' us and the nine was just as scared as the twenty-two.

SOUND:

DISTANT HEAVY GUNFIRE ... PRISONERS MURMUR EXPECTANTLY

FOSTER:

Qualls, you're dumb. How many more times do I have to explain this to you?

QUALLS:

But I can't believe it, Foster. Such a thing has never been done. Why, I've been tellin' these men that they were goin' back behind to have their wounds taken care of.

FOSTER:

Well, you didn't lie to them. Their wounds'll be taken care of, all right. (CALLS) Hey, Drury! What's the matter with you?!

NUGENT:

Pick up your gun, Walt. Ain't no use gettin' yourself in trouble.

FOSTER:

What's the idea of throwing your rifle away?

DRURY:

I didn't get into this war to do things like this.

FOSTER:

Well, if you thought it was gonna be a child's game you shoulda brought your dolls and dishes along with you. Now pick up that gun.

DRURY:

I ain't never gonna touch that gun again. I ain't gonna have nothin' to do with it.

SOUND:

PRISONERS MURMUR EXCITEDLY ... THEY SENSE SOMETHING WRONG

QUALLS:

Look, calm down, Walt. You're gettin' the prisoners excited.

FOSTER:

You got a date for a court-martial, Drury.

DRURY:

I don't care. I don't care what they do with me! I'm gettin' out o' here!

GORDON:

Don't be a sap, Walt.

DRURY:

You can do it if you want to, but I ain't even gonna look at it. I'm gettin' out of here! (MOVING OFF) I ain't gonna have no part of it! I'm gettin' out of here!

NUGENT:

Hey, Walt! Walt! Come back here!

FOSTER:

Let him go. He won't get far. The military police'll pick him up. Then he'll get his.

INABINETT:

He sure is scared.

WADE:

Scared? He's got more guts than the whole bunch of us. He's got nerve enough to do what we'd all like to do.

FOSTER:

Well, quit the bellyachin' and get those men out of the sand pit. We gotta be at the ravine before dark.

GORDON:

It's dark now, Foster.

FOSTER:

Dark? You're nuts. The sun's still shinin'.

GORDON:

The sun's shinin', all right. But it's the darkest day any of us'll ever know.

MUSIC:

TOPS EVERYTHING FOR A DARK BRIDGE ... FADES OUT WITH

GORDON:

I'm Charles Gordon. I've been around the world a couple o' times. I don't know what else to do with myself. But of all the traveling I've ever done, the longest trip of all was the track from the gravel pit to the ravine. The prisoners came out of the pit stolidly, looking neither to the right nor the left. The wood had been raked by artillery fire. They glanced apprehensively over their shoulders at us and began to mutter excitedly.

SOUND:

DISTANT HEAVY GUNS ... PRISONERS MUTTER EXCITEDLY

SCHMIDT:

(REASSURING, TO PRISONERS) Don't be afraid, men. Ve're all prisoners and ve all must do as ve are told.

FOSTER:

Come on! Down in the ravine there!

PRISONER:

I don't like this, Herr Schmidt.

SCHMIDT:

It's all right, Ernst.

FOSTER:

Here, here, here! Cut the gab. Get in there. You men, prod 'em along.

SCHMIDT:

(TO FOSTER) Please, Korporal. Dey are frightened. Please be patient.

FOSTER:

We can't wait here all night. You tell 'em in your own lingo to get into the ravine.

SCHMIDT:

All right, Korporal. (TO PRISONERS) Jungens, habt keine Angst. Diese Männer tragen eine andere Uniform als wir und sprechen eine andere Sprache. Aber sie sind vom gleichen Fleish und Blut wit wir. Kein Grund für Furcht, Kameraden. Sie werden uns nichts antun. Es mag sein, dass wir hier in diesem Hohlweg warten müssen bis sie uns hinter die Gefechtslinie nehmen können. Nun, bitte . . . geht ruhig. Tut was euch geheissen wird, und alles wird in Ordnung sein.

NUGENT:

(OVERLAPS WITH SCHMIDT ABOVE) What's he tellin' 'em, Jim?

WADE:

(OVERLAPS WITH SCHMIDT ABOVE, SLOWLY TRANSLATING) He's tellin' 'em that ... we wear different uniforms ... and we speak a different language ... but we're made of the same flesh and blood. (DISBELIEF) He's expressing his faith in men, and we're getting ready to kill them.

SOUND:

PRISONERS MUTTER AND MARCH INTO RAVINE ... ROCKS SLIDE, ETC.

SCHMIDT:

Dere, Korporal. Now dey go in.

FOSTER:

All right. Thanks. Now get in yourself.

SCHMIDT:

(MOVING OFF) Yes, I vill go, too.

QUALLS:

(QUIETLY) Hey, Foster.

FOSTER:

What do you want, Qualls?

QUALLS:

Do we have to go through with this thing?

FOSTER:

Sure, unless the Captain shows up with a change of heart in the next few minutes.

QUALLS:

Well, if we have to do it, I want a favor.

FOSTER:

What is it?

QUALLS:

That little old fella with the blue eyes. Will you let me take him back in the woods and shoot him myself?

FOSTER:

What's the matter? Got a grudge against him?

QUALLS:

You wouldn't understand. He would. I don't want him to see what we do to his comrades. I don't want him to get hurt.

FOSTER:

Ah, can't be done, Qualls. The Captain said here. Here, it's gotta be.

QUALLS:

But, please, Foster, you've got--

FOSTER:

Shut up! Get in line!

MUNDY:

(PANICS) God, I can't do this! I can't do it!

SOUND:

PRISONERS MURMUR NERVOUSLY, OFF

FOSTER:

Mundy! If you stampede these prisoners, I'll blow your top off. Now get yourself together. (CALLS) Hey! You prisoners! Get all the way back in there. Clear over. That's it. Now close in. Keep together. (TO SOLDIERS) All right, now, fellas. When I give you the signal, let go quick. Spread your fire. Spray 'em from side to side. Ready now. Let 'em have it. Fire!

SOUND:

BURST OF RIFLE FIRE ... PRISONERS SCREAM AND MOAN ... CONTINUES IN BG

NUGENT:

(HYSTERICAL) They won't go down! They keep gettin' up!

FOSTER:

Keep firin'.

NUGENT:

Good God! How long will it take to kill 'em?

FOSTER:

Pick up the rifle, Qualls! What're you starin' at?

QUALLS:

Schmidt! Schmidt! Schmidt!

FOSTER:

Spray from side to side! Come on there!

SOUND:

GUNFIRE AND SCREAMS INCREASE FOR A MOMENT

MUSIC:

TOPS EVERYTHING FOR A BRIEF, INTENSE BRIDGE ... FADES OUT WITH

MUNDY:

I'm Dick Mundy. I've always been considered a pretty hard-boiled guy. And I guess I was. I never saw men die just like that before, and it did something to me. I never thought it'd take so long before they stopped kickin'. I was in a tough spot. Bill Nugent was screamin' on one side of me. On the other side was big old Everett Qualls. After the first burst of rifle-fire, the gun dropped out of Qualls' hand. He stood there starin', wild-eyed, at that little blue-eyed cabinetmaker. He had shot that little guy right off, but he didn't go down. Everett Qualls seemed like he was ready to go berserk. Then the little guy looked straight at Everett, turned his head away, dropped on his face, tried to get up a few times, finally flattened out and was still. Corporal Foster marched us back toward our trench. We stopped in the woods to eat grub.

SOUND:

CANTEENS, CANS OPENED, ETC. DISTANT HEAVY GUNS, IN BG

FOSTER:

Pass that monkey meat along to Mundy, Bill.

NUGENT:

Here you are, Dick.

MUNDY:

I don't want any.

FOSTER:

What's the matter?

MUNDY:

Nothin'. Nothin' at all.

FOSTER:

Aw, come on, you guys. Snap out of it. You act like they were your own brothers.

QUALLS:

They were. More so than you.

FOSTER:

Hey!

QUALLS:

They were men like us. Farmers, painters, bricklayers, cabinetmakers. And we slaughtered 'em.

MUNDY:

(BREAKS DOWN AND CRIES) Oh, God!

NUGENT:

Aw, forget it, Dick. It wasn't your fault.

WADE:

Come on, get up off the ground, Dick. Have a swig of this.

FOSTER:

Hey! What's happened to Inabinett? Where'd he go?

WADE:

He dropped behind, a little way back.

FOSTER:

Nugent, you go back and see what happened to him.

NUGENT:

Okay, Corp.

SOUND:

HEAVY GUNS UP FOR A FEW MOMENTS ... THEN FADE TO BG

NUGENT:

I retraced my steps back through the wood, looking for Inabinett. I was thinking of the twenty-two prisoners in the trenches. Prisoners they were, just a few minutes before. They were free now. But what of the nine of us? I knew we'd never know freedom again. We were nine prisoners ourselves now. Men whose hearts and minds would be forever locked in our own conscience. A thing such as we had done could never be forgotten. And the ghosts of the twenty-two will walk with us forever.

Before I realized where I was, I stood on the edge of the ravine. There they lay -- where we had left 'em. Twisted into grotesque knots, like angleworms in a can. Then I became aware of something moving among them. I looked more closely, and there was Roger Inabinett going through their pockets. I shouted to him, (CALLS, FURIOUS) "Hey! Inabinett!"

INABINETT:

(OFF, PLEASANT) Oh! Hello, Bill. (CLOSER) What are you doin' here?

NUGENT:

(INCREASINGLY UNHINGED) Suppose you tell me what you're doing here?

INABINETT:

(ON, CASUAL) Oh, just lookin' for some iron crosses, that's all.

NUGENT:

Put that stuff back.

INABINETT:

Now, Bill, don't be like that. They ain't no good to them squareheads any more. We might as well have 'em. I'll split 'em with ya.

NUGENT:

What've you got in that other hand?

INABINETT:

Huh? Oh, those're just some regimental rings and stuff. Nothin' of any value.

NUGENT:

Why, you dirty louse -- robbing the dead. Well, I'm gonna leave you here for somebody else to rob your carcass!

INABINETT:

(STUNNED) Bill. Bill, for God's sake, don't. Bill, that's - that's murder, don't you realize?

NUGENT:

(HYSTERICAL) Murder? Why, sure it's murder! That's my trade, ain't it?! That's what they've trained me for! Well, I'm gonna do well by my teachers!

INABINETT:

Bill! For God's sake! No!

SOUND:

SEVERAL RIFLE SHOTS ... OVERLAPS WITH BELOW

INABINETT:

(SCREAMS)

NUGENT:

(SAVAGE) Murder! Murder! Murder!

MUSIC:

TOPS EVERYTHING FOR AN ACCENT ... FADES OUT WITH

WADE:

My name is James Wade. I was the youngest in Corporal Foster's squad when we went into the ravine. But I was the oldest man in the world, coming back. My father was a clergyman, and I was going to be a clergyman, just like him. But I knew I could never preach to men about justice, love, and mercy. Those things had vanished from the earth. They were no more. If, indeed, they ever existed as more than ... words. Perhaps it wouldn't have shaken my faith so if Captain Matlock hadn't lined us up, next day, and marched us all to chapel. I could never trust men again.

I've - I've been back to that ravine, once, since that day. The pits and scars have all gone from the land. Abandoned trenches and shell-holes are now a solid mass of gently sloping vines that ripple all day in the wind. You can tell the places where the men died. The grass is more green. Poppies grow more red and - cornflowers more blue. Perhaps that's because the soil is fertilized by the blood and bodies of those who fell.

MUSIC:

SNEAKS IN

WADE:

More likely it's because God is so sickened with the things men do to each other that he covers the places where they've been as quickly and completely as possible. They say that war makes beasts of men. But I say that beasts of men make war.

MUSIC:

UP, TO A GRIM FINISH ... THEN OUT

ANNOUNCER:

You have been listening to the Columbia Workshop's production of "Nine Prisoners," the celebrated American short story by William March, adapted for radio by Brian J. Byrne. Special music was composed by Bernard Herrmann and the production was under the direction of Earle McGill. Next Monday night at this same time, the Columbia Workshop will present an original play for radio entitled "Jury Trial" by James and Elizabeth Hart. This is the Columbia Broadcasting System.

MUSIC:

A FINAL MARTIAL CUE, FOR PUNCTUATION