Soldiers

We the Brave

We ran as fast as possible between the trees and the moss and the long green plants brushing against our skin. The sound of bombs dropping all around us rang in our ears, as we bled and sweat in our uniforms. Each with an injury, causing us to slow our pace and let the enemy get closer so they could kill us easier. A bassist. An engineer. A drag racer. A barber. An accountant. All sons. We all had an identity somewhere. In a state, in a country where this was supposed to be our choice. Not our parent’s, not the president’s, not the government’s, ours. High pitched screams sounded as bullets pierced hot exposed flesh. Several tripped because of the jungle floor, some because of a lost limb, some because we were klutzy from fear. I looked back from my fear-ridden path and saw my friends being trampled on by marching soldiers and tanks. Johnny, Biff, Rick, Tommy and even Julian. All guys I had once seen smile when I told jokes to them. I slept in the same room countless times with these guys. I watched as they spit blood from their lips and their eyes rolled back in their head. This was the glory I heard my father speak of, when bragging of military service. Protecting the promise of the promised land was our duty. Protecting the lies of the “promised” land was what we did. I ran until my body felt completely depleted. The ground exploded from underneath me and I was almost killed several times. Sweat and blood poured down my arms and legs. I panted, hoping for the breath to come back to me, but it seemed as if it would never happen.

***

We sat under the stars and clunked our canteens together. We finally had our chance. Six weeks of boot camp and immense training had our egos highly pumped up. We all stared into the heart of the campfire and thought of the riches we would receive upon our arrival home. We would be heroes, women would want us and children would want to be us. We had everything ahead of us. The fate of a country relied on us. It relied on our bravery and heroic sacrifices. We would be the heroes who helped end the evil spread of communism in Vietnam. All we had to do was win South Vietnam from communist control and we would be heroes. We sat under the bright of the full moon and talked.

“So Tommy, that career of yours is really gonna shoot off when you get back to the states, huh?” Rick asked, shoving what was left of his sandwich in his mouth.

“Oh, yeah. I’ve got a spot in Curtis School of Music, and that should open my door to a whole new world in my music,” Tommy replied.

“You’re gonna be a big shot. Save me a spot on your couch. I’ve got nothing for me when I get back. My wife will be long gone with the kids and the money. I’ll probably lose my house and the visiting rights to my kids, too.”

“Moon’s full,” Biff snarled as he passed by us. He was a gargantuan man of about 6’6. The guys would joke about how he ought to have been playing basketball. He spent the nights in camp, lying on the tree limbs of the jungle. He made his way back to his tent for a change.

“I don’t get that guy. He’s unbelievably strange and gives me weird vibes,” Rick whispered to Tommy. And they both stopped and stared at Biff.

“We must not judge him though. He may be a quite strange fellow but it is not our job to label him, as the Bible says in Matthew Chapter 7, verses 1-2, ‘Judge not, that you not be judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you use will be measured to you,’” Julian chimed in. He always had a way of chiming in on others’ conversations. That night he was reading his Bible at the fire and praying, for he knew of the trial we would go through the next day.

“Have you got to bring up that book every time we start a conversation?” I joked. I knew how to push Julian’s buttons quite well.

“I hold the Word of God above all else, Jimmy. You should as well. These are hard times coming about us, and we should enter them in prayer,” Julian said as he stood up and left to his tent.

“That guy! What can you do, ha? Don’t bother with him too much, Jim. He’s got a stick up his ass I bet’cha!” Rick snorted and began laughing to himself.

Later, as Rick, Tommy, and I sat around the fire and listened to the sounds of the Vietnamese jungle, Rick lit a cigarette. “You want one, Tommy? Jimmy?”

Tommy nodded his head no and got up to make his way to sleep. We waved him off and then it was the two of us. I accepted a cigarette. It was my first time touching a cigarette and would very well be the last. Rick stroked his black mustache.

“You worried about tomorrow, Jim?” Rick asked, a thoughtful look on his face.

“Of course I am. We’re going into a fight that we really shouldn’t be a part of,” I said, letting out a huge nervous sigh.

“Well, you need to let it go, brother. Only rookies get nervous,” he said as he stood and gave my head a big pat, mushing my brown hair. And he walked back to get some sleep for the next day. I stayed out and laid back on the moist, jungle floor. And I looked up at the stars, hoping that was a sign that the next day would not be stormy.

We the headstrong. One by one, shot to death, bullets piercing our hairy chests and our inflated egos. We dreamed we would make it to the States to become heroes and receive the glory we had been so dearly promised. But we received nothing but an unfriendly welcoming to death. We wanted to be what we were told we would be. We never asked to become a living part of the ground. Each shot. Each killed. Each a dreamer, each a fighter. Each an explorer of a further meaning than the tasks of war and love. We drowned in the sorrow of what could have been. We hoped that our death would be a quick stress-free one, perhaps like cutting a chain.

We the Dreamers. We dreamed for our wives, our brothers, our sisters, our mothers, our fathers, our sons or our daughters. All at once. We dreamed of what our lives could have been like if we had listened to them. If we had stayed home and not come out to play this game. If we had stayed in our modest homes and minded our own business.

I looked back to see the dead bodies lying motionless–Rick, Tommy and many others seeping in blood. Viet Cong had come from all corners, the trees, the plants and everywhere in between. They had shot as many as possible and ambushed all of us. I looked around, hoping to find Julian but all I saw was a Bible on the ground, six feet away from where I stood. It had a hole in the center. I was startled; most of the men in my division lay dead at my feet. With time not on my side, I ran as fast as my feet would carry me. It was then I spotted Biff. He was laying up against a tree, vastly bleeding out of his left hand, or what used to be his hand.

“Biff! Biff! What happened??” I hollered at him as I ran over.

He opened his eyes and mumbled something.

“Biff, I can’t hear you, man. Speak up.”

Biff opened his mouth but no words arose to the surface.

“We need to get you medical attention,” I said pulling off my pack so I could attempt to lift him off the ground.

He held up his right hand and waved it, somewhat of a “No.” But I didn’t dare listen. I was on my hands and knees trying to lift him when he passed. It took me a few struggling attempts before I realized I was trying to lift a dead man over my shoulder. I sat there, staring at the corpse and wondering why. Why this happened to good people. It was then I felt a sharp piercing feeling in my arm. And I fell, I slumped to my side and stayed still. A few minutes later I felt the sharp kick of a boot hit my back. I almost let out a piercing cry as it slammed into the back of me. But instead, I remained silent, so that the shooter would think I was dead.

***

I sat in the hospital for days. All bandaged up. I’m not exactly sure who found me laying there on the ground or how they knew I was alive. But somehow I was transported to a hospital. I was back in the states. I wasn’t even sure what state I was in. I didn’t care. It took me months to recover from the wounds I got. But the scars never left me. I would always remember who I got to know and what they said. They all died so I could be here. The one question I never could answer is why I was the one who survived. Why it wasn’t Tommy or Julian, the good men with purposes. I was just man hungry for the fulfillment of the all-American soldier. I guess I got what I wanted. If my goal had been the restaurant discounts offered to me.

We the heroes. Our bodies disintegrated at the hand of fate, but our spirits were set free by the hand of time, our souls to be trapped in the never-ending portal of memory. We the Immortal. We the Brave.