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Stars and Stripes

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October 1945

“Dad, Dad! It’s almost time. Can I turn the radio on?” Molly ran down the stairs and into the living room, where Dad was sitting with the newspaper.

“Is it that time already?” Dad asked, folding the paper down. “All right, you may. Where’s the rest of the crowd?”

“Ricky and Jill are out with friends, and Linda and Susan had to finish schoolwork. Are you going to listen with me?” Molly asked. “It’s going to be really good one. Betty is stuck in a caved in field hospital and the Nazis are coming and everyone’s left her behind.”

“A field hospital was a tent, honey,” Dad said. “Can’t she just climb out?”

“No, because this one was set up in an old stone church,” Molly explained. “Only Cap is strong enough to save her, but he’s not there and doesn’t know everyone left her.”

The theme music swelled and Molly bounced. “Oh, Dad, here it is!”

“The Roxxon Motor Oil Company brings you…... the Captain America Adventure Program!” The announcer’s voice deepened. “When last we met, Captain America and his Commandos were on a mission when they discovered Nazis were marching towards their camp. Meanwhile, a plane crashed into the 107th field hospital, causing a cave in! Brave nurse Betty Carver was tending to her patients and dreaming of Captain America’s return when the ceiling crumbled on top of her, trapping her in the rubble. We return you now to the scene of the disaster.”

“Oh, Captain America! Please come save me!” Betty’s voice was breathless with fear.

Molly listened with rapt attention, biting her lip with fear for Betty. When the announcer came back for a commercial about the Commandos badges for sale, she rolled on her back and looked up at Dad.

“Did you ever meet Captain America?” she asked. Dad had only been home for a few months, and he didn’t really like talking about his time in England. And he usually didn’t stay to listen to this program, because they all really liked the show and made a lot of noise listening. Ricky and Brad liked to fight with the Commandos while Jill yelled at them to be quiet.

Jill would probably be telling her to be quiet right now, too. But today it was just Molly, and she’d been wondering because Nurse Betty worked in a hospital in London some of the time. Maybe he’d talk about it if it was just her.

“I didn’t,” he said, after a pause, and her shoulders slumped. “I did meet some of the Commandos, though,” he offered. “And other soldiers from the 107th Infantry.”

“You did?” Molly asked, sitting up so fast her braids bounced. “Really and truly?”

He nodded. “A few of them came through my hospital in London during the last year. The Captain visited them, but not when I was on duty.”

“Did Nurse Betty work there?” she asked eagerly.

“Nurse Betty wasn’t actually a nurse,” he said and Molly frowned. “She was, I think, a soldier named Peggy. I met her, too. She was British and had been fighting a long time. She and Captain America worked together leading the Commandos.”

“Was she his girlfriend?” Molly asked, darting a glance at the radio, which was back on her show.

“Listen to your show, Olly-Molly,” Dad said. “I’ll tell you later.”

Molly listened, but was too excited at this news to really focus. She clapped when Cap came and rescued Betty from the rubble of the hospital, though, and punched Nazis until they saw stars and stripes. But just as he was sweeping Nurse Betty into his arms to carry her to the new hospital, a gunshot rang out!

“Be sure to follow "The Captain America Adventure Program," brought to you by Roxxon Motor Oil,” the announcer cut in, and Molly groaned.

“It always ends at the good parts,” she said and Dad smiled at her. “Will you tell me about the real Nurse Betty? Did she have beautiful curly blonde hair? And was she Cap’s girlfriend?”

Dad folded the newspaper and set it aside. Molly scrambled up to sit on the arm of his chair. “Well, her name was Agent Peggy Carter,” he said. “I only met her a few times, but she had brown hair, just like yours, and she did have some curls. I don’t know if she was the Captain’s girlfriend, but I know he liked and respected her very much. All of the Commandos did. They told me about her. She was fighting in the war long before we were, and she was still there when I left.”

“But why would they change her name? And make her a nurse if she wasn’t really a nurse? They didn’t change Captain America’s name.” It didn’t really make any sense.

“I don’t know, sweetie. Maybe she didn’t want to be very well known, because she was still fighting in the war when the show started. And there were more women nurses than soldiers, so I guess they thought listeners would like her as a nurse more,” Dad said.

“I’m glad she’s a nurse. Nurses were brave, too,” Molly said, and her dad agreed. “Maybe that’s what I’ll do when I’m older, and help soldiers like Captain America and his Commandos, too.”

“That would be a very good choice,” Dad said softly. He kissed her head. “Now did you get your room cleaned like Mom asked?”

“All clean,” Molly reported. “I think I know who I want to be for Halloween, too.”

“Nurse Betty?” Dad asked.

“Yes! I’m going to go plan my costume.” She slid off the chair. “Thanks for telling me about the real Betty.”

She ran up to her room, getting out her notebook and pencils to draw and plan. She hoped Linda and Susan liked her idea.

The next day at lunch, the girls gathered excitedly to talk about Betty’s rescue and the new cliffhanger.

“I had the perfect thought about our Halloween costumes this year,” Molly said, leaning forward. “We should be nurses again! But this time, we can be army nurses. There’s Sue Barton, and Wonder Woman is Nurse Diana, and then Betty. Wouldn’t that be fun?”

“Ohhhh,” Susan said, bouncing on her knees. “Yes! Nurses wear the cutest little caps, and I loved wearing the cape.”

“It’s not a very pretty costume, though,” Linda said, doubtfully. “I thought we were going to be princesses after the war.”

“You could be Wonder Woman,” Molly suggested, heart beating fast. “Then you could wear a tiara and maybe part of her costume and part of her nurse uniform. So everyone knows who you are.” And it would be one less person to convince to let her be Betty!

Linda considered that. “Maybe,” she said. “A tiara would be fun to wear. And we both have black hair.”

“Are you planning your Halloween costumes?” Alison came over and stood behind Molly. “Are you a princess?”

“We’re going to be army nurses,” Linda said, after looking at the other girls.

“And we’re going to collect Halloween treats for the soldiers coming home,” Molly said, inspiration striking. “I mean, extra treats, besides the ones for us. Dad can help us deliver some of them at the hospital.”

“Oh, Molly!” Alison said, clapping her hands. “You always have such good ideas. My mom said I can walk with other girls this year, and she already started working on my costume. I’m going to be Betty Carver! Can I walk with you? I’d like to collect treats for the soldiers, too.”

Alison looked excited, but Molly was too dumbstruck to answer. Her stomach had fallen and she swallowed hard.

“I wanted to be Betty, though,” Susan said, frowning. “She has so many adventures.”

“It was my idea,” Molly burst out, putting her hands on her hips. “I wanted to be Betty.”

“My mom already started working on the costume,” Alison said, biting her lip. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”

“Maybe she would change it? You could be Sue Barton.” Molly offered hopefully.

“I don’t think so,” Alison said, looking down. “She’s very excited. And she’s making it special to look like she’s Captain America’s nurse, with red, white and blue.”

“That doesn’t sound like an army nurse at all,” Molly said, although she thought it sounded really neat anyway.

“No, I know,” Alison said. “It was her idea.”

“I guess I could be Sue Barton,” Susan said, not sounding very excited. “She has the cap, and we have the same name, so it makes sense. But who will you be, Molly?”

Molly tried to think. Everything had gone so wrong, though, and there weren’t any other good army nurses. She avoided the girls’ worried looks, not liking how they made her feel. “I’m not going to be a nurse,” she said, straightening her back. “I’m going to be a soldier, like the real Betty Carver.”

“Who’s the real Betty Carver?” Susan asked.

“My dad told me about her,” Molly said, importantly. “Her name was Agent Peggy Carter and he met her in England. She worked with Captain America leading the Commandos and I’m going to dress up like her. She’s a real hero and had real adventures.”

“Wow,” Alison said, eyes wide.

The bell rang before Molly could explain more and they ran towards the door.

Linda leaned over in line. “Is there really a Peggy Carter or were you just mad about Alison? Soldiers aren’t called Agent, even in England.”

“She’s real,” Molly said. “Dad told me about her yesterday. Come over after school and we can ask him about what she wore.”

Dad was happy to describe Agent Carter’s army uniform. He even offered to talk with the nurses at the hospital where he was working, and they let the girls borrow uniform parts to be very official.

He helped Molly put her costume together that weekend--an olive green suit, a cream blouse she borrowed from Mom, a tie from Dad’s closet and little Flag pins on her lapels. One was American and one was British. Dad said Agent Carter had an English accent, so Molly practiced talking like Emily.

While they worked on making the skirt fit her, Dad told her stories about Agent Carter and the Commandos, and about other people he had met at the hospital and in the city. It was the first time he talked so much about about England and Molly was glad it was just the two of them. Mom watched them sometimes from the door, but she didn’t interrupt. She just smiled a lot.

After lunch, Jill, Ricky and Brad sat with them to listen to the stories, too. The boys were working on their own costumes--Ricky was still a pirate, but Brad had decided to be Captain America’s sidekick Bucky. Dad explained that Bucky wasn’t really a boy like the comics or radio show, but Brad didn’t care. He liked his mask. Jill wasn’t dressing up, but she and Mom helped with everyone’s costumes. It was the first time that Molly felt like her family was back, like before the war.

She could hardly wait for trick or treating on Wednesday. Linda and Susan still needed to finish their costumes, though, and they worked on them after school on Monday and Tuesday until they were perfect.

Molly was walking home from Linda’s when she saw Alison swinging on her front gate.

“Hi, Molly,” she said, slowing to a stop. “Is your costume finished?”

“My dad helped me this weekend,” Molly said. “Did your mom finish yours?”

“Yes, and I’m sorry I took your costume idea away,” Alison said, all in one breath. “I felt really bad when you looked so upset.”

Molly shrugged. “You had the idea first,” she said. “It’s okay. I like being Agent Carter. And none of us would have thought to dress Nurse Betty like Captain America.”

“I don’t look like an army nurse,” Alison said sheepishly. “I sparkle. A little.”

“Cap’s nurse is special, so her costume should be special,” Molly reassured her. It wasn’t as hard to be nice to Alison when she really did like her own costume.

“Did your dad meet Captain America when he met Agent Carter?” Alison asked.

“No, but he did meet Commandos,” Molly said proudly. “They told him stories about Cap and Agent Carter. Like how she trained him and other soldiers. And she helped plan missions and fought with them. She was a good leader.”

“I bet she would be impressed with your idea about treats for the soldiers,” Alison said.

She looked a little sad and Molly realized they hadn’t ever told Alison she could walk with them. She hoped Linda and Susan wouldn’t be mad, but she felt guilty and knew she had to fix it. “Are you going to walk with us and help us collect them?” she asked.

“You don’t mind?” Alison asked, looking surprised.

“Army women stick together,” Molly said firmly. “You’ll like walking around with us. We’re meeting at my house after dinner, okay?”

“I’ll see you then,” Alison said happily. “Bye, Molly!” She ran towards her house and Molly walked home.

Linda and Susan weren’t happy the next morning when they dropped off their costumes and Molly told them the news.

“She’s no fun to be around,” Linda protested. “You know that, Molly!”

“I think she was feeling really sad and left out,” Molly said. “If she doesn’t walk with us, she has to go with her mother.”

“I wouldn’t wish that on anyone,” Susan said, shaking her head.

“She’s coming over after dinner. If you don’t want to walk with her, then you two can walk one way and we’ll walk the other way,” Molly said, sounding braver than she felt. “We could get lots of treats for the soldiers that way.”

“Gosh, Molly, I don’t want to trick or treat without you,” Susan said.

“Me, either,” Linda said. “I wish Alison wasn’t coming, but it wouldn’t be right without you.”

“Army women stick together,” Molly said, repeating what she told Alison, and the girls nodded.

That night, Alison arrived with her costume on and the girls were all impressed. Her nurse’s cap, perched on her blonde curls, had a sequined red cross and the pocket of her pinafore had a small version of Captain America’s shield made of sequins, too. Her cape was blue with a sequined star on the back.

“You look just how I imagine Nurse Betty looks,” Molly said, a little jealous. Mom wouldn’t let her curl her hair in case she got sick again, so it was just rolled up. Jill had put in a victory roll, though, and she patted it to make herself feel better.

Susan was wearing several pieces she had borrowed from the nurses who worked with Molly’s dad plus parts of her old nurse costume, but Linda’s had taken a lot of work. She had on Wonder Woman’s tiara and star spangled skirt with Diana’s nurse’s cap, cape and pinafore and carried the Lasso of Truth.

Molly felt very grown up in her uniform. Jill had put makeup on her, and Brad had leant her a toy gun. She happily posed for photographs with the girls and Mom took one of just her to send to Emily. Molly thought Emily would like the idea of an English lady who was working with Captain America.

Even though the war was over, sugar was still rationed, so their treats weren’t very different from the years before. Families were happy to put extra apples and popcorn balls into the special bags they had for the soldiers, though.

The girls giggled as they ran from house to house, calling each other by their costume names. No one they visited knew that Molly was a particular, special soldier, but they still saluted her smartly. Molly really liked that. It reminded her of summer camp and leading the Blue Army.

At the end of the night, the girls left the bags for the soldiers at Molly’s. Dad was going to pick them up after school the next day to deliver treats at the hospital. Another doctor was going to bring some to Camp Grant, too, for other returning soldiers.

Alison left last, giving Molly a big hug at the door. “This was the best Halloween I’ve ever had,” she said, beaming. “Thanks for letting me trick or treat with you.”

Dad gave her a hug, too, when she closed the door. “I’m proud of you, Olly Molly,” he said. “I heard you standing up for Alison this morning. I know that wasn’t easy, but you did exactly what a good leader should do. The right thing, no matter what your friends thought.”

“Just like what Agent Carter would do?” she asked hopefully.

“Exactly like her,” Dad said.

“Good,” Molly said, satisfied. “I’ve been thinking and I might want to be like her when I grow up, instead of Betty,” she said. “I want to be in charge of the adventures, even when it’s hard.”

Dad kissed her head. “You’ll be the best of the best,” he said. “Agent Carter would be lucky to work with you.”

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October 1955

A woman, immaculately dressed in a blue skirt suit, marched into the office, stack of folders in hand. “Miss McIntire?” Her voice held a crisp English accent.

Molly straightened her back. “Yes, ma’am.”

“Welcome to SHIELD.”