No one in the military took North Korea's threats seriously, yet here we were in 2014, in another war. Ever since they gained access into the pentagon and our major military computers, the president ordered a "blackout". We weren't allowed to turn the computers back on in order to allow the government enough time to catch who was responsible before they accessed anything top secret. I had just finished my training in California when they deployed me to South Korea.
"So, why'd you join?" The man next to me said in a deep voice. I looked up from my magazine and smiled nervously at him, happy for the distraction he offered me.
"I wanted to make a difference. Someone's gotta tell them we're the good guys." My voice was just as shaky as the plane. His eyes looked down at me. He had to be at least 6'7".
"What's wrong little dude? You afraid of heights?" He joked. I could feel my pale face turn green as the plane hit more turbulence.
"No, I'm afraid of falling." I squeaked. My thoughts turned grim as I thought about the double meaning. He just laughed. Every ten seconds I glanced at my watch. The plane was scheduled to land 2 minutes ago but, as if on cue, we angled downward sharply and I gripped my chair as tight as I could.
"Are you gonna make it to the ward?" He asked in a serious tone. I nodded with my eyes squeezed shut. Seconds later, the plane leveled and landed roughly. I was out of my seat with my luggage and in the isle before anyone else had a chance to get unbuckled.
I reached the opening of the door and was stunned by the amount of activity that surrounded the camp. Men ran back and forth throughout the base; some smiling and some frowning. So many people were talking, it was impossible to hear the shouts of our captains until we were within 5 yards of them. I felt overwhelmed at how many people were already here. When we left California, they told us we were one of the first to fly here since war was declared.
"Private Remmy Smith, you're with second bravo company under Sergeant David Thompson!" The captain shouted without looking up from the clipboard. He continued to shout names and where their owners needed to be.
"Yessir!" I yelled to him but he made no response. I jogged to my right and found someone who looked like he knew where he was going.
"Excuse me? Can you tell me where sgt. Thompson is?" I asked, stopping him. He looked puzzled for a moment and then recognition flashed across his face.
"Oh, you mean sgt. David. Second bravo company? Huh, good luck with him. He's up over the ridge right at the edge of camp. Might be doing some patrolling. Be careful, his company just lost someone last night when they went out." He pointed north at a hill. I spoke my thanks and ran in that direction.
I passed tree stumps every few feet. They must have chopped them down to make a base here, I thought. A couple of months ago I would have jumped from stump to stump as a game with my friends but now I needed to be serious. I was a soldier and I needed to act like one.
When I came to the top of the ridge, there was a mini circus happening. Two men were doing push-ups with a small crowd of five people cheering them on with money in their hands.
"Come on Victor! I've got my winnings from last week's horse shoe game on you!" One man yelled. I approached them and the shouting turned into chanting. Suddenly, one of them dropped down on the ground with his head in the dirt, his lungs heaving. A couple of men threw down their losses and the rest wrestled over each other for it.
"What the heck do you take? I've got more inches of muscle than you have bullets in the trees." The man who quit stood up, his face glistening in the sun. The man he was competing against was also dripping with sweat.
"It's all in the endurance." He breathed. Simultaneously, they both realized I was there. I cleared my throat awkwardly.
"Hi, I'm looking for Sgt. Thompson. Do either of you know where he is?" I asked. The man who won the match smiled widely.
"You're talkin to'im." He grinned. He reached out and I shook his hand. I looked at the other soldier.
"The name's Victor." He said, spitting on the ground next to my feet. I shook his hand nervously and nodded. He seemed like the type you just didn't want to mess with.
Sgt. David interrupted Victor’s intimidation. "You must be Remmy. How long've you been here?" He asked nicely. I smiled.
"About 15 minutes." I answered ignorantly. Victor cursed in response to my reply.
"They sent us a dull knife to a shelling contest!" He yelled. Sgt. David rolled his eyes and put his arm around my shoulder.
"Come on, you still need to meet a couple more members." His tone sounded sympathetic. We walked several meters towards a couple of tents before he continued. "Don't worry about Victor. He just wants to live long enough to brag about metals to his grandchildren. You only worry about yourself Am."
"Am? What does 'Am' mean?" I asked, curiosity obvious in my voice.
"It's a nickname we give to the ammo runners." He joked lightly. He took his arm off and grabbed a pack. He motioned it in front of me, offering. I shook my head.
"No thank you, I don't smoke." He shrugged and lit one. "What do you mean about ammo runner? I'm not an ammo runner, I'm a translator." He smirked at my argument. I looked to our left at the tree line. A gentle wind tugged at the tops of the trees as a flash of light caught my eyes and I looked away, momentarily blinded. It must be a fence in the brush, I thought. I turned back to sgt. David.
"Not much I can do for ya. What captain says's set in stone. At least we have an ammo runner that's bilingual." He laughed. "An’that explains why you're a peach." We arrived at the tents. He opened the flap and waved me in as I followed.
"Angel, this is our new am and trans. Remmy, this's Angel. She's my second-in-command." He said, introducing us. As my eyes adjusted to the darker light, I noticed that she was covered in dried bits of mud and leaves. She looked up from cleaning her gun, glanced at me, and went back to work.
"Hmph." She scoffed. Sgt. David shrugged, exiting the tent as I followed him half a second later. The light was blinding when I made it out. I was hoping SOMEONE would give me a nice welcome.
Sgt. David cleared his throat and walked quietly to the next tent. I couldn't contain my curiosity about Angel. "What's-"
"Shh!" He yelled sharply. His head turned to the side and a split-second later I could hear a high-pitched whistle in the distance.
"Get down!" He shouted. I immediately dropped to the floor. The ground erupted to our left several meters where David and Victor had their match.
I reached for the gun on my back. When I grabbed it, several bullets whizzed above my head. Small chunks of dirt peppered my back and legs.
"Keep down Remmy! Angel," he called. "I need you to get their coordinates. When you get'em, make sure the birds blow their brains out."
"Yes sir!" She yelled. I hadn't even heard her come out behind me and I didn't hear her leave either.
My eyes darted back and forth between the trees. I hadn’t been at camp for an hour before I was in my first live combat experience. The thought was both exciting and scary. Now that everything was real, I wasn’t too sure I wanted to be here. A crater formed as another shell hit the ground. This time, it was right at the tree line. David looked back at me and the camp.
"Remmy!” We both ducked our heads as bits of bark reached us. “I need you to cover me. Don't freeze ‘kay?" I nodded, my eyes wide with fear. I turned the safety off and aimed. The gun vibrated my entire frame as I shot several rounds into the bushes. David jumped up and ran as low to the ground as he could until he dived behind a boulder.
He yelled something to me but I couldn't decipher it. Suddenly, something jumped on my side and I was so startled, I nearly screamed. Before I turned around, Victor landed on the ground next to me. He pulled the radio off me.
"Rem, where'd Angel go to? She said she'd be here." He shot a clip and reloaded. I looked over to the tree where David was. I could see his back to me, Angel shouting at him. I reached over and tapped Victor on the shoulder.
"She's with David!" I yelled over the constant noises, pointing towards the tree. Victor nodded and put the radio on his back.
"Give me cover!" He shouted, jumping up. I continued my previous attack. On both sides of me the enemy's bullets missed me by inches. I reloaded my last clip. My ears rang from firing for so long and I could feel my adrenaline rush pulsating through my veins, itching to move.
I looked over to David to see him waving at me and Angel cupping her hands over her mouth, both yelling. I knew they were trying to get me over there so I took off my backpack and picked up my gun.
The rapid fire slowed and I managed to make it to the tree in time for them to continue the barrage of bullets.
"Finally! I thought you couldn't hear us for a moment there." David yelled when I reached our group.
"I couldn't. I just had an intuition." I replied without looking at him.
"They planned one heck of an ambush. They've got an entire army in the bushes to the west. We're lucky that the ocean is East, otherwise we'd already be dead. According to alpha, camp is gettin' pummeled. That's why they stopped helping us up here. I guess we were the first ones to be attacked." He briefed. I held up my last clip.
Victor held his pistol up. We ran through our ammunition list. Armed with four grenades, a clip and a half, four knives, a pistol, and a radio, we were hardly a force to be reckoned with. Then, an idea hit me.
"What if we go down the hill and find a truck." I suggested. Angel looked at me as if I lost my mind. David's eyebrows furrowed.
"What're you playin at rem?" He asked.
"Maybe if we link a few grenades together and put a white flag on a truck with no brakes, they'll think it's a diplomat or something and stop firing. I can tell them 'we surrender' and the truck will drive into the bushes, blasting a hole big enough in their lines for us to get through." When I finished, Victor laughed.
"Like that'll work! They might be beasts, but they're not THAT stupid." He looked at David for support. David stared at the ground. The bullets continued to barely miss us. They were hitting the tree so hard, I thought they were going to burst through at any moment.
Angel decided to state her opinion. "As crazy as it sounds Victor, we might as well give it a try. If I'm going out, I'm going out swingin'." She stated. Her defense for me made me smile. Maybe she wasn't always so angry. However, it was David's decision in the end that mattered.
"Lead the way, Remmy." He smiled, looking up at me. I clutched my gun in my arms and smiled with him. I fixed my helmet and loaded my last box of rounds.
"Yes sir!" I yelled. Victor, still crouching, gawked. I waited for the bullets to stop coming. When they did, we jumped up in unison and sprinted down the hill.
As I reached the edge, the sight in front of me was revolting. Hundreds of men lay dead or dying in small and large circular craters where the earth was flat.
I swallowed my nausea and jogged down the hill as fast as I could. Several of the tents had so many holes in them, I almost mistook them for mosquito nets. Part of me wanted to trade places with the men who were dead.
The men who had wives and children to go back to.
We ran across a small dig-in hut and thankfully hopped in. In it, there was a fresh supply of ammo and medical supplies, along with a medic.
"Rebecca!" David yelled, relieved. He embraced her and wiped his face. "Why are you still in here? Why aren't you helping the men outside?" He inquired. She took in a deep breath and answered.
I looked at her bloody hands as she spoke. "Because they're chopping down every American they see! I'm no good to anyone dead!" She shouted, her face red. Immediately, she looked to the ground at her right and started crying. We all looked where she did and saw the reason why.. Someone hurled behind me while I tried to get my mind off of what I just saw.
"This is Remmy. He's our new recruit and he speaks Korean or whatever. Remmy, this is our platoon medic and that," he pointed to the body on the ground. "Was our captain." Dust fell from the makeshift ceiling as a bomb fell several yards away.
"Come on, if we stay here any longer, we're gonna end up looking like Captain Rodgers." Victor said, inching for the opening with an expression of disgust. We turned around and exited the hold. What few soldiers that were fighting were hiding or had fallen.
David gave each of us orders. Victor was to find white cloth, Angel was assigned to call for an airstrike, and Rebecca and I were sent to find a truck and speaker. Rebecca found a working jeep and I found the loud speaker. We ran back to David with the amplifier.
"We found a truck!" I yelled, loud enough for him to hear. David nodded approvingly and looked for victor. Angel was yelling furiously into the radio inside. David and I returned fire into the tree-line hoping to give Victor cover. My heart was beating faster than I was firing.
Rebecca screamed loud enough for the penguins to hear in Antarctica. I turned around and saw Victor holding a white sheet with red spots in it. He took two more steps and fell. David cursed and jumped out of our ditch towards him. I almost ran after him but I stopped myself. He dragged Victor and the makeshift flag towards me and Rebecca.
"Rebecca, you know what to do." He ordered mechanically. His boots made a light thud as he jumped in. My ears were so desensitized to the sound of bullets that I almost didn't notice the absence of them. David and I looked at each other. I could hear the enemy talking amongst themselves.
"What are they saying?" David whispered. I glared at the ground and listened intently. Rebecca's quiet CPR on Victor stopped as she realized he was already gone.
"They think they killed all of us. If we move, they'll start firing again but if we don't, we'll be fish in a barrel." I looked at David for a suggestion. Angel crawled out of the dig-in.
"Air strike is on its way. But we have to last for a couple more minutes." She said quietly. Now that the truck decoy was out of the question, we had to figure something else out.
"I'll stall them." I said, another plan forming in my head. I moved into a crouch and went to climb out of the ditch when David grabbed me. He pulled me down onto my back and pointed at me as he grabbed the collar of my shirt.
"If you go up there, you're going to die. So don't be stupid and stay down here." He said sternly.
"But-" I didn't get my sentence out before he interrupted me.
"That's an order!" He whispered angrily. I looked down and nodded submissively. Just then, someone on the southern part of camp shouted and ran towards the trees. Instantly, the camp erupted into a firefight as dozens of Koreans shot at the lone soldier.
I knew that I would probably end up like him if I came out of hiding too but I also knew that they would be preoccupied with him.
I closed my eyes, took in a deep breath, and made a leap of faith.
I could feel David's hands graze the leg of my pants as I shot out of the ditch. The soldier was still running despite the several bullets that were in him. The men in the forest hadn't noticed someone running at them from somewhere else until I was already within arms length.
I pulled a rifle out of one man’s shocked hands and pushed it as hard as I could manage into his chest. He blacked out and I shot into the forest. The others realized what was happening and aimed in my direction. I dropped to the ground and pulled a grenade off my belt. Without thinking, I threw it as hard as I could in their direction.
Time slowed down as I felt my adrenaline rush come back. The grenade I threw exploded half a second after I heard the last screams come out of the men. Everything was quiet until I got up. More men rushed over to where their brothers had been.
Someone came up from behind and tackled me before the replacements could start shooting me. I struggled to escape his grasp as he pulled a knife out of his boot.
He angled and drove it downward. My hands managed to move and parry it before he could hurt me. He quickly used his other hand to punch me in my cheekbone instead.
It made me see stars but I reached for his face despite my blindness. His hands grabbed my throat and squeezed. My fingers found his eye socket and pushed. The pressure on my neck ceased immediately as he tried to defend himself. I gasped in air and was somehow able to continue. He shouted in pain and eventually gave up. I pushed him off me and wiped my hand on my shirt. My breath came in gasps as I tried to regain my sense of direction.
A whistle sounded and I hurried to roll on my stomach for protection. The shell cut through the trees and shattered the ground several feet away. Without looking, I knew the men it hit had no chance of dodging it. More sounded in the distance and I knew that our air support had finally come.
I pulled myself up and searched for the clearing. My ears rang from the bombs as my legs walked towards the direction of safety and I smiled, happy that I would make it out of my first day in combat alive. My side ached but I tried my best to ignore the pain. More gunshots sounded in the forest but I was too slow to turn around. Something lodged itself deep into my knee and I fell. I unconsciously screamed out in pain as my mind caught up with what was happening.
Dirt dug into my face when I fell. The ringing stopped and I could hear my name being called. I rolled onto my back and cradled my knee. Out of the corner of my eye, a rifleman jumped out of the shrubs and ran towards me. His body shook with an unnatural vigor as he was bombarded with American bullets. Someone’s hands picked me up and dragged me across the clearing. I didn’t realize I blacked out until I saw someone performing CPR on me. Rebecca had her attention on my ribs while David punched on my chest. I coughed and tasted metal in my mouth.
“Hey! You’re awake! Listen, you’re gonna be fine. Just stay calm and and don’t fall asleep.” It was Angel who was talking. I saw a couple of planes flying above us and blinked. Where were we? My breathing hitched as something stabbed my side. Rebecca sighed angrily.
“He’s going to bleed to death if I don’t get this splinter out.” She growled. David stopped, realizing I had come to, and moved to help Rebecca. I tried to speak but I could barely catch my breath. The pain in my side intensified and my head dug back in agony.
“Got it!” She yelled. The moment she pulled it out, David had the gauze ready. They both wrapped me as Rebecca looked at my face. When my eyes met hers, I knew what would come. She and I both knew I wouldn’t make it. She looked down sadly, knowing there was nothing she could do.
I thought of all the cheesy phrases I could have said but somehow, none of them fit. Anger gripped me as I realized that there was no way I would be able to tell them how sorry I was for not being able to do more. A chill swept up my spine as though someone put ice on it. David stopped working on my knee when he noticed Rebecca was motionless.
Panicked, he took one look at my face and started CPR again. Angel moved into my eyesight again and pulled him off me. I looked at the emotions on his face as he was pinned, helpless.
His cries grew distant as my heart remained forever still.
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© Copyright 2016 Druall. All rights reserved.
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