They don’t tell you about this part when they sign you up.
No, they tell you all about duty and loyalty and patriotism, and all of that is true, but it doesn’t seem to matter all that much when you’re laying buried beneath the bodies of your fallen comrades with mud seeping into your clothes and the enemy jabbing bayonets into corpses.
This is exactly where I find myself now. Scared and cold, the taste of blood in my mouth that I am sure isn’t mine. Struggling to breathe and terrified of being discovered.
A year ago, I was working at my old man’s filling station, pumping gas and washing windshields. I had a normal life, a beautiful girlfriend, and my own car. Things were pretty great.
And then Pearl Harbor happened.
It was one of those defining moments that brought home just how vulnerable we were, and all of a sudden, all of those things I had taken for granted seemed like they could be taken away from me in the blink of an eye.
Like thousands of other young men, I went and enlisted the very next day. My mother wept, my father looked at me with pride, and my Janey promised she would wait for me forever. What followed next was all a blur, and when I stopped long enough to look, I found myself in the South Pacific on an island overrun by disease carrying mosquitoes and Japanese soldiers.
We thought we were prepared. We thought we had been trained to fight these men, but we were wrong. We didn’t understand them. We didn’t understand their resolve or their sense of duty.
We didn’t understand their will.
And then there was the heat. The afternoon sun blaring down on this Godforsaken piece of rock boiling our brains inside our helmets, and humidity so heavy that it was almost impossible to breathe. But we dug our trenches and built our fortifications, and we followed orders because we were good soldiers.
Then the enemy appeared all around us. Popping up out of the earth from networks of tunnels that we didn’t know were there. Pummeling us with ordinance from the high ground and laying waste to everything we had built.
We held our own for as long as we could, but we were outnumbered and overwhelmed. I watched men I had served with for the better part of a year, mean guys, fall apart and cry for their mothers. I saw horrible things happen to men standing right next to me. Talking to me one second, and exploding in a shower of gore the next.
And I saw regular men become heroes.
And now I am pinned down under the weight of a dozen bodies. Lying in filth and blood and human waste, struggling to breathe as the enemy approaches and I can hear the sound of their bayonets sinking into the dead flesh of my fallen friends.
In my hand I hold my last grenade. The pin has been pulled and the spoon clutched tight.
I think of my father and the look of pride in his eyes when I boarded the train headed for boot camp. I think of the tears my mother shed when she kissed me goodbye. I see Janey’s face in my mind and even here, in this hell on earth, her beauty calms me and centers me.
I think of all of these things, and I scream. I scream as loud as I can, over and over because I know it will bring them running.
And it does. I can hear them yelling back and forth to each other, getting closer, and then the bodies are being pulled off of me, and I am starting to see small glimpses of light coming through, and I can taste the wet and heavy air and it is sweet.
They stand above me, shouting at me, kicking me, stabbing me, but I am beyond feeling any of it. No, I am not here at all. I am back home on a late summer evening, and I am lying next to Janey in a field. I can smell honeysuckle on the air, the breeze is light and cool, and all around us, fireflies shimmer and dance as a shooting star makes its way across the sky.
I release the spoon on the grenade and I say her name out loud.
"Ordinarily, I agree with Chris" - Uncle Twitchy