Captain Marvel may be the world’s greatest hero, but as Billy Batson visits a military installation, he learns what true heroism is from the story of an ordinary U.S. Army corporal.
Despite being able to transform into the world’s mightiest mortal, Billy Batson was still a teenage boy. And, as was typical among boys of that particular age group, he felt an incredible thrill at riding around Fort Parker Army Base in an olive drab jeep. With the wind tousling his hair and tugging at his red shirt, the boy wore a grin that the rush of oncoming air couldn’t blow away as the vehicle sped past a row of M-1 tanks.
The jeep’s driver, Major Daniel Hutchinson, was smiling as well. He had purposely taken this longer route to their destination, remembering the joy his own son had felt when he saw his first tank at was Billy’s age. He felt that familiar swell of pride as he thought of his son, who was now a lieutenant in the U.S. Army.
Glancing over at his young passenger, the major couldn’t help but admire the boy. Almost everyone in Fawcett City and the surrounding area had heard about the tragedy he had faced and overcome. Billy’s parents had been killed, but rather than sink into despair and succumb to the many vices that could have easily led him to ruin, young Billy had tried to live his life in a way that would have made his parents proud. He had gotten a job at WHIZ, the biggest local radio and television station, and was now one of their most popular on-air personalities. He had also discovered that he had a twin sister and had reunited with her.
Billy smiled at the major. “Sir,” he said, loud enough to be heard over the wind and the engine’s rumble, “this is awesome, and I really, really appreciate you showing me the base like this, but I think we should head to the hospital. I can’t wait to interview Corporal Grant.”
Major Hutchinson returned the smile and nodded. “We’re almost there.” He turned his eyes back to the road, but his mind was on the boy. With his commitment to duty, the major thought, he would make a great soldier one day.
True to his word, two minutes later the jeep was pulling into the hospital parking lot. As the major shut off the ignition, another civilian approached the vehicle carrying a video camera.
“Major Hutchinson,” Billy said, hopping out of the jeep, “this is Pickett Jackson, my cameraman.”
After shaking hands, Pickett told Billy that he had already peeked in on the corporal, and he was awake. “The nurse chased me out; she was going to give him a quick sponge bath so he’d be ready for the interview.” He checked his watch. “But she should be done by now.”
With the major in the lead, the three entered the hospital and were met by the chief administrator. “I have just spoken with the head nurse on his floor, and she said that Corporal Grant was ready to receive visitors. If you all will follow me.”
A short elevator ride later and a quick walk down a wide hallway, and Billy was standing outside the corporal’s room. The administrator stuck her head in first to make sure the patient was ready, then stepped back and motioned for the others to enter. Billy was not prepared for what he saw.
Fresh blankets covered the corporal from the stomach down, and a hospital gown covered his chest. Extending up under the gown’s sleeves, the young man’s arms and hands were wrapped in loose bandages. Even though they were newly applied, the bandages were already starting to darken in spots where they contacted his severely burnt arms. Several of the corporal’s teeth were missing, and most of his head, including his left eye, was also swathed in bandages. There were several tubes and wires running from a half-dozen machines that monitored, fed, and medicated the patient, their hums, clicks, and beeps filling the room.
As they entered, Corporal Grant’s right eye focused on them and followed their progress until they stood by his bedside. He tried to raise his arm and salute the major, but the medical equipment impeded such actions. Regardless, the major returned the salute as though it had been successful.
“Billy Batson,” the major said, “allow me to introduce Corporal Sherman Grant.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” Billy said. He started to extend his hand, then realized what he was doing. “Sorry.”
“That’s ‘kay,” the corporal replied. “F’give muh speech. It’s da pain meds.”
“The corporal has had extensive reconstructive surgery done on his mouth,” the administrator said.
Billy smiled. “Don’t worry about it. I can understand you just fine.”
The corporal smiled. “So yer Billy Bats’n,” he said. “I’ve heard about ya.”
“If you are up to it, I’d rather hear about you,” Billy said.
“Aw,” the corporal said, causing the administrator to lean over and wipe a bit of slobber from the corner of his mouth, “I’m nob’dy special.” He looked up at the administrator. “Sorry, ma’am,” he said. “I leak.” He tried to laugh at himself, and only managed a grunt and a grimace of pain.
“You’re a hero,” Billy said.
“Not… me,” Corporal Grant insisted. “I jus’ did what I had to.”
“Without taking time to consider the consequences to yourself,” Billy added.
During their brief exchange, Pickett had worked his away around the room so that he could get both Billy and the soldier in the frame.
Billy noticed the red light that indicated the camera was recording. Knowing that many of those he had interviewed became nervous once the camera was rolling, he decided to let the conversation flow freely.
“It had to be done,” the corporal said.
Billy thought about that phrase, “It had to be done.” Before he could ask why, the corporal spoke again.
“I couldn’t just stan’ there and not do someth’n’. That would have been wrong.”
“Would you mind telling me exactly what happened?” Billy asked.
“My unit was in the field,” Corporal Grant began, his voice becoming clearer as he spoke, “when we heard what sounded like an explosion. Immediately, we began to try to locate da source. We saw a plume of smoke rising over a bunch of trees and ran to see what’d happened.”
He paused to take a deep breath, which brought another grimace of pain. Major Hutchinson took the opportunity to add a little more detail.
“As you no doubt remember, a couple of months ago, that crackpot Sivana made yet another attempt to take over Fawcett City and kill the Marvels,” the major said.
Billy knew more than the major could even suspect about what had happened that day. Sivana had unleashed a dozen robots on the city to lure the Marvel Family out and destroy them. It was a trap that made their strength useless. The kinetic energy generated by each punch, kick, and slam was converted and absorbed by the robots, increasing their strength. It had taken the wisdom of Solomon and the speed of Mercury to finally defeat them.
The major continued. “When the Marvels flew the robots into space and tossed them towards the sun, they missed one.”
“But Captain Marvel and his companions rounded up all twelve of them,” Billy said.
“Apparently, there was a thirteenth one,” Major Hutchinson responded.
“As we were comin’ through the trees,” Corporal Grant continued, “we saw the robot. It was tryin’ to advance on a group o’ new recruits, so we tried to draw its fire towards us. We began firing at da thing until it decided we were the bigger threat and started movin’ in our direction. It paused less’n thirty yards from us and raised its right arm. An opening appeared in its palm, and a round projectile was fired in our d’rection.” He paused while the administrator wiped away another stream of drool.
“We scrambled back into the trees for cover, and were somewhat surprised when da thing didn’t explode right away — there was about a three-second delay. Leaves and tiny limbs rained down on us from the concussion of the blast. We risked another volley and received another projectile for our efforts.
“Marsh — Private Marshall — said that according to the news, the Marvels flew the robots into the sun because they couldn’t damage them, so we had to think of a way to stop the thing. Before we had a chance, the robot crashed through the trees, and then we were into it up to our necks.
“Its chest opened up, and a gun barrel began to spray the area with lead. I caught two slugs in the arm, but some of the others were hit a lot worse. I told the others I would try to lead it off so they could evac the wounded. I grabbed up a fallen weapon, fired a couple bursts at the thing, then moved off to the left; the others didn’t move until after I was gone. Where we were wasn’t too far from the motor pool, so that’s where I headed. The only thing I could think of was to slow this thing down. Well, that and to try not to get shot again. When the guys in the motor pool heard me coming, and then saw what was following me, they scattered.”
“Why the motor pool?” Billy asked.
“We’ve got a pit there that all of the used oil goes into,” the corporal said. “Once it’s full, then it’s pumped out and taken away to be disposed of. I’ve got a buddy that works there, and I remembered him telling me that the pit was getting full. I thought if I could lure the thing into it, we could immobilize it.
“Like I said, when they saw me and the robot coming, they scattered. There is a chain that hangs down over the pit — they use it to lift the oil drums from around the base and dump their contents into the pit. With the robot close on my tail, I jumped for the chain, hoping to swing across the pit. When I jumped, it fired, and I took three rounds in my legs. Luckily, the robot hit a patch of oil that had been spilled and slid into the pit. I hit the floor on the other side of the pit. I remember screaming, and then I blacked out, but only for a second. I opened my eyes in time to see the robot fire another projectile at me. I don’t know why, but I caught it and threw it back. About the time it hit the oil, it exploded. That’s all I remember until I woke up here.”
“Because of Corporal Grant’s quick actions, the robot was stopped with no loss of life. If he hadn’t led the thing away from his buddies, we could have had several fatalities,” the major said. “Apparently, the robot couldn’t handle a combination of the flaming oil and the explosive projectile is used, because it took enough damage to shut down — permanently, I hope.”
“I’ll see if I can contact one of the Marvels,” Billy said. “They should be able to dispose of the robot properly.”
Major Hutchinson smiled. “We’d appreciate that.”
Billy looked back at the corporal. As Captain Marvel, he had faced threats that he thought no normal man could stand up to, but here, lying in a hospital bed, was someone who wasn’t blessed with the gifts he had — no super-speed, no powers of flight, and most of all, no invulnerability — but, still, he had stepped out to protect his friends, knowing that his life could easily end. People called Captain Marvel a hero, and maybe he was, but it was people like Corporal Grant who were the true heroes.
“Thank you for talking to me,” Billy told the corporal. He turned to Major Hutchinson. “Major?” he asked. “Could you do me a favor?”
“If it’s possible,” the major replied.
“I’ve done numerous stories about Captain Marvel and the other costumed heroes that protect our world,” Billy said. “Do you think you could help arrange it so I could interview more members of our military? I think it’s time that I started showing the world who the true heroes are.”