It began in a London air-raid shelter . . . .
“Lord Ha-Ha’s Last Laugh”, from Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos # 4 (Nov., 1963), is best known for being the story in which Howler Junior Juniper was killed in action. The death of a regular featured character stunned the readers and signified a shift in the attitude of the series. Awash in the shock of that development, most fans probably paid little attention to another milestone of that story. Yet, it was one which would have even a greater impact on the character of Sergeant Nick Fury than Junior’s death.
While on a pass to London, Sergeant Fury and his Howlers are sent scattering for cover by a sudden air attack by the Luftwaffe. Fury’s dash to safety is interrupted when a pretty girl in a Red Cross uniform demands his help in rescuing a boy buried by rubble. The burly commando quickly frees the stricken youth and they duck into the nearest air-raid shelter.
Nick prepares to head back out to find his men, but a sharp word from the girl halts him in his tracks. She’s refined, cultured, but there is steel behind her gentle tones. Despite himself, Fury is impressed with her. Yet, when the “all clear” sounds, he is off like a shot, before she can thank him for his help.
No, people, it’s not that Fury has spent too much time in foxholes. He knows a pretty girl when he grunts at one. It’s just that he thinks, not unreasonably, that a classy dame like her wouldn’t have much to do with a low-brow slob like him.
Fate, however, has other ideas. When Fury returns to his base, Captain Sawyer, his C.O., informs him that their presence has been requested by the local squire, Lord Peter Hawley. When the pair arrive at Lord Hawley’s manor, “the American sergeant” and “the Red Cross gal” meet again, as she is Pamela Hawley, the lord’s daughter. No-one is more surprised than Captain Sawyer to see the usually loud-mouthed sergeant actually tongue-tied in Lady Hawley’s presence.
Lord Hawley pleads with Sawyer to send the Howling Commandos to Berlin to rescue his son, Percival Hawley. Percival, known as “Lord Ha-Ha”, has been making propaganda broadcasts for the Nazis. Lord Hawley believes that the Nazis have tortured his son into working for them. Fury knows better---Percival Hawley is a “crummy traitor”---but holds his tongue when he sees the anguish in Pamela’s eyes.
At the tragic climax of their mission, Percival Hawley’s cowardly actions to save himself and betray the Howlers result in his own death and, indirectly, Junior Juniper’s. Yet, back in England, the grizzled commando cannot bring himself to tell Pamela the truth; instead, he tells her that her brother died heroically.
In a final bit of foreshadowing, Fury realises, “I’d rather face a regiment single-handed sooner than hurt . . . this one girl.”
By the next story, “At the Mercy of Baron Strucker”, Sgt. Fury # 5 (Jan., 1964), Fury and Pamela have started dating. In fact, they are comfortable enough together than Pam begins to make attempts to refine the rough-hewn sergeant. Incredibly, Fury tolerates her tea-drinking lessons and instructions in etiquette.
Lady Hawley’s constant efforts to make a silk purse out of a G.I. uniform create in some of the lighter moments of the series. But Stan Lee, who was writing the series at the time, had more in mind than just laughs for this “Lady and the Tramp” rehash. Undercurrent in Fury’s relationship with Pam was his insecurity over not being elegant enough, educated enough, handsome enough, or just plain good enough for a noblewoman of Pamela’s bearing.
Fury’s trepidations were misplaced, though. Pamela Hawley adored her “American sergeant”, scuffed edges and all.
Fury and Pam appeared together next in issues # 6, 7, 9, 10, 13, and 17, enjoying warm interludes, usually just before or after a Howlers’ mission. These were pleasant occasions for the reader, as well; they allowed Fury to step out of his depiction as broadly-written “hard-as-nails fighting man” whose exploits bordered on the super-heroic and show him as an intimate, human character.
Then came issue # 18 (May, 1965). The title said it all---“Killed in Action!” The cover blurb announced “Once again, sudden death claims another victim!” Ever since issue # 4, Sgt. Fury fans knew that was no mere hype. The regular players wouldn’t get an exemption. Fury had to survive, of course---it was his series. And we wouldn’t find out for another three months, after the “Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.” series debuted in Strange Tales, that Dum Dum Dugan and Gabe Jones had made it through the war.
But, as far as Marvel readers knew at the time, every character’s head was on the chopping block.
Stan Lee wrote the story craftily. He included all the Howlers and most of the recurring characters, including Captain Sawyer, Bull McGiveney, and Pam. And each character had his own brush-with-doom episode, intimating that he might be the marked one. The grim lottery began on the splash page, as Fury and Pam find themselves caught in another air-raid on London. In the confusion of death and destruction, Nick loses track of Pam. Several pages go by while Fury agonises---as do the readers---until he learns that Pamela is safe.
Their close call and Pam’s obvious distress over Fury’s welfare encourage Nick to finally overcome his insecurities. He lays down a few months’ pay on an engagement ring and plans to propose to her that evening. But before he can do so, Captain Sawyer sends him and the Howlers on a mission to Norway. There, each commando has his own dance with the Reaper, but all of them make it back to London intact.
As soon as his feet touch British soil, Fury changes to his “class A’s”, commandeers a jeep, and heads out to the Hawley estate. The Nick Fury we see here---certain that Pam loves him and looking forward to their future---is one rarely seen, and it’s one of his truly happy moments. Lord Hawley answers the soldier’s impatient knock on the door, but bars his entry. Puzzled, Fury announces that he is here to ask the lord for his daughter’s hand in marriage. Then, he sees the strained expression on the old man’s face, and misreads it.
“Mebbe I ain’t Lord Montbatten,” he protests, “but I eat with a knife an’ fork!”
No, Lord Hawley tells him, you misunderstand. The impatient Fury is ready to hoist the nobleman up by his lapels unless he comes clean.
While Fury was in Norway, Lord Hawley explains in halting tones, London was hit by another Nazi air-raid. Pamela was helping the wounded in a hospital when it one of the bombs scored a direct hit on it.
Next issue’s story, “An Eye for an Eye”, showed the aftermath. Defying Captain Sawyer’s orders, a coldly vengeful Fury seeks vengeance on the man responsible for Pam’s death, the Nazi officer who ordered the fateful air-raid on London. From a W.A.F. officer in G2, he finagles the name of the man he wants---General von Krummpt, a German ace of the first World War. Von Krummpt is a heartless butcher who orders his planes to deliberately bomb hospitals.
Pulling some strings with a sympathetic Army-Air Forces officer, Fury and his squad hitchhike on a bomber and bail out near von Krummpt’s base in occupied Holland. With the Howlers running interference, Fury finds von Krummpt. When the Luftwaffe general attempts to escape in his old bi-plane, Nick latches onto a wing strut.
Despite being shot in the arm and leg by von Krummpt, Fury hangs on as the aeroplane soars to a dizzying height. The revenge-driven commando makes his way to the open cockpit, ignoring more slugs from von Kremmpt’s Luger. Desperately, the German general attempts to fight Fury hand-to-hand, and winds up plunging to his death.
As in the case of Junior Juniper, Pamela Hawley continued to influence the series after her death. Nick accepted Pam’s death, but would mention her just often enough to show that he never got over her. In the story “The Cry of Battle . . . the Kiss of Death”, from Sgt, Fury # 55 (Jun., 1968), Fury is captured behind enemy lines and imprisoned in a military hospital for treatment of his wounds. There, he meets a German nurse, Irma, who is a dead ringer for Pam. Claiming to be a member of the German resistance, Irma helps Fury get away from his captors. After Irma tells him that she desires to flee the Nazi oppression, Fury leads her to a cell of the French underground. Nick’s infatuation for this woman who looks so much like his lost love blinds him to obvious signs of her true nature, and he is crushed when the French fighters reveal her for what she is.
Rarely was Fury not the prime mover in the events of his life. But here, his resurrected love for Pam allowed him to be led along by Irma, with the final resolution brought about not by Nick, but by the members of the French resistance.
Sgt. Fury King Size Special # 4 (Aug., 1967) primarily tells the story of the Howling Commandos at the Battle of the Bulge, but it is framed as a narrative by Nick Fury, told at a then-modern-day Christmas reunion of the Howlers. Surrounded by his old comrades and their wives and children, the ex-three-striper reflects on the meaning of family.
“Maybe I was wrong not to get married and have a family myself. There ain’t no doubt but that I’m missin’ out on one’a the best parts of life. It would’a been different if Pam hadn’t been killed. We’d probably had a whole house full’a kids by now . . . but Pam is gone, and I have to live with it.”
And even death could not prevent Pam from touching her American sergeant’s heart one last time.
"Downtime", from the 1994 Marvel Holiday Special, spotlights Nick Fury, showing how the Christmas season intensifies his feelings of isolation and loneliness. He tromps out of the S.H.I.E.L.D. Christmas party like a bear awakened from hibernation. Looking to drown his loneliness in a near-by bar, Fury suffers a stinging irony when he overhears a couple of WWII vets reminiscing. When the colonel tries to join in, the old vets reject the idea that he was one of them, due to Fury's relatively youthful, Infinity-Formula-preserved appearance. ("Wha'd you do," cracks one of the old-timers, "read about the Big One in a book?")
Dum Dum Dugan invites Fury to spend Christmas Eve with him and his wife. Nick turns down the invitation, growling “I don’t need a baby-sitter!”
Christmas morning finds the glowering Fury in his office, still spreading holiday gloom. On his desk he finds a yellowed envelope with a note attached to it. The note reads: "Colonel Fury: When our local postal office was razed, the enclosed envelope was discovered behind a file cabinet. We sincerely hope its late arrival will cause no misfortune."
The return address on the envelope is a blur, but the postmark is dated "1943" . . . .
That evening, a curiously cheerful Nick Fury arrives at the Dugan house, arms loaded with gifts for everyone. He has warm, heartfelt greetings for each of his friends, who stand there, completely befuddled at his new-found holiday spirit. Then, Nick takes Dum Dum aside and hands him a dried, faded Christmas card. “Give this a read,” Fury tells his oldest friend.
We live in uncertain times. Who knows what tomorrow will bring -- let alone the new year? Let’s live in the day, for the moments of joy we have in the here and now -- and as for the rest, let it go.
All my love,
Lady Pamela Hawley, Requiescat in Pace