This one deserves a WARNING of a different kind. It is not the lust filled diatribes of my erotica, but it is nonetheless 100% Tara Neale. This is Sergeant Mike at his worst. A man crafted by honor and duty in the all-too-real horrors of war. War declared, planned and ordained by men and women with no concept of the realities of the men and women, whom they sacrifice like fodder to their own hubris, greed and dreams of glory.
This is the story of one man’s struggles to do what must be done and then face the impossible…live with the aftermath. Like war it is not pretty or black and white. There is no right or wrong. The only truth is red. The red blood of men and women you know and care about. The red dirt of homelands that are all you have to hang onto when the world is turned upside down.
You may disagree with the choices that Fate foists upon Mike and the tens of thousands of men and women like him. But I’ll state it plainly…who the hell are you to judge him until you have stood in those heavy boots of responsibility and been given split seconds to make hard choices that could cost the lives of men and women who are depending on you? When you have then we’ll talk.
Until then, take your issues up with the politicians and the corporations that fuel war with their greed and hubris. Men like Mike deserve our respect and the honor they can never seem to give themselves.
Today as America celebrates Veterans’ Day and my adopted homeland of Wales honors its dead with Remembrance Day, this is Tara Neale’s ineffectual salute to those men and women who make those impossible split second life and death decisions on the orders of lesser men. May the goddess bless, protect and heal you. Thank you!
Mike watched her through the window. He tried his damnedest to focus upon what Matt was saying, but he was still having trouble reconciling the unkempt and weary man in the wheelchair with the boy that they had airlifted out of Fallujah more than a decade before.
He just barely managed to stifle the chuckle as he remembered that green kid. Oh, Matt had had the body of not just a man, but an athlete in his prime. And though his arms and chest may have even grown in the girth from the daily exertion of pulling him everywhere, the long legs that had allowed him to stand toe-to-toe and eye-to-eye with Mike were nothing more than shrivelled and useless husks like the ears of corn Mike had seen sometimes on the Hall farm, stunted, they had just refused to grow, but neither would they die and fall from the stalks. No, they held fast, drain precious resources from the plant until Mister Hall had been forced to prune them back. But no one was going to prune Matt’s paralyzed legs back.
Mike found himself floating away once more to that day. It was early in the fighting. Private First Class Matthew Duggan was nothing more than the innocent green eyed plough boy from Nebraska. He had barely completed his infantry training and newly arrived in that hell hole which was like most of the others in which Mike had spent his whole adult life.
PFC Duggan had been just another young Marine with the shiny new still all over him. ‘Sis, yes, Sir,’ had been the only words the kid seemed to know. While he was more than a decent shot, having grown up hunting with his father and brothers, he was one of the handful of newbies than Mike and his chain of command worried most about. He had specifically kept this one close to his side when they deployed throughout the city.
Their immediate objective was the capture of a mosque on the south side of the embattled city. It was reputed to be anything but a holy place of worship, having become the storehouse for a stockpile of grenades, guns and ammunitions that must be captured or destroyed if they were to ‘win’ this battle. Mike chuckled as the bile of a lifetime gathered in his throat. A foot soldier knew one thing…when it came to war, you never ‘won.’
But PFC Duggan was still so new to this killing game that he had not learned that lesson yet. Mike doubted that the kid even fired a round before he took the bullet in his back that instantly severed his spinal cord and did loads of other damage that had put the young man’s life into peril.
On instinct Mike had turned. He had been in enough battles since that first one when he had lost Billy. It had become almost automatic, second nature for him to calculate trajectory on the move. He was certain that the fire had come from the dark doorway of a house they had passed only a few moments before. Most of the homes were long since abandoned by the citizens of the city who had felled ahead of the battle. So, without thought he had opened fire.
When the body of a boy little more than ten had fallen from the darkness, Mike had felt the sour taste of his last MRE rise in his throat. Not even the flashing lights and rat-a-tap-tap of semi-automatic machine gunfire of a weapon caught in the final death throes of tiny fingers could ever assuage his stained soul. He knew that on his death bed he would see the eyes of the boy’s mother as she mindlessly ran into the street, wailing as she clutched her dead baby to her bosom.
But war and battled cried out as his Corporal ordered medivac over the radio and another Marine pulled the injured man into another darkened doorway nearby. Mike was turning, orders on his lips for the others to carry on towards their objective when he saw a blur in his peripheral vision. He turned just in time to see that mother reaching for the gun that had fallen from her son’s cold dead fingers.
The thing in battle is that you must make split second decisions. Lives are counting on it. Lives of good men like PFC Matthew Duggan, Billy Hall, Manuel Hernandez and Tommy Samuels. He would never know with complete certainty the intent of that mother. His obligations to his men precluded him waiting to find out as he fired off a round that sent the soul of the woman spiralling to join her son.
Whether they were reunited in their Paradise was a theological question that was well above Mike’s paygrade. As were all the strategic ones that led them to that moment. Those belonged to men and women, who had not faced the realities of war that crippled young men and murdered women and children in many, many years. Many of those ‘strategists’, decision makers and politicians had never known these horrors that would haunt the common soldier for the rest of his or her life.
Mike came slowly out of his reverie as he listened to the man across from him detail their plans for the day. He wondered if Matt had found some semblance of peace here among these people who had waged their own battle against Mother Nature, a different type of opponent? What too had happened to that other neighborhood so many thousands of miles away? Had those people found the same resolve borne of necessity to return and rebuild their lives in homes shattered by war?
Gods, heaven or paradise forbid there should ever be a Third Battle of Fallujah where bright, talented young men full of potential saw their hopes for the future dashed by a tiny piece of metal, or mothers and sons made choices born of religious zeal or just necessity that snuffed out their flames completely.
But all of that was for another day, Mike thought as he drained the cup of those final dregs of cold, bitterness. This moment was about one thing, “So let’s get started then. Let’s get this community center of yours off the ground, PFC Duggan.”