The Clinker

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: War and Military  |  House: House of Ghosts

A near-death experience.

Many years ago, in a desert country far across the sea, I met my mortality in the Clinker. 

For the longest time, I never wanted to talk about the Clinker to anyone-not even my family. It was not the most tragic of events, nor the most haunting, but to show a weakness has never been the manliest or soldierly of things I have done in the past.

The Clinker was an old, Soviet-era 82mm mortar round.

Thankfully, since the round was so old and poorly handled, it was a dud-else I might not be here today to write this essay. I call it the Clinker as a way of humorously describing what was one of the most, if not the most, terrifying event of my life.

Mind, it didn't even explode. Rather, the Clinker bounced off a concrete wall that was, ironically, there to protect me. It earned the Clinker moniker because that was the sound it made when it hit the wall: clink!

This was in 2009, the Iraq War, where I served as a communications hub technician in the Army National Guard. I was on the day shift-from 8 AM to 8 PM, and usually longer than that. Fourteen or sixteen hour days were not unusual, and to make matters worse, it was incredibly hot. Hot here in the States is ninety degrees and up. Hot over there was one-hundred and thirty in the shade.

It was also desolate: a Mad Max wasteland of rock and dirt, polluted canals where ducks ate leaves to survive and only catfish, gar and turtles eked out an existence on sparse grass and Cheerios thrown to them by compassionate people, who got the cereal for free from the dining facility. 

Imagine a place, also, where everyone is carrying rifles and machine guns, sometimes just to walk to the bathroom, since an attack could come at any minute, and the darkness gave cover to lurking insurgents and terrorists who penetrated the security layers on bases, posing as maintenance and construction contractors, just waiting to kill or kidnap some GI who had his guard down.

In light of all this vigilant madness came the seemingly random and unexpected mortars and rockets that would arc over the fences and walls and across the night sky like malevolent comets. 

The Clinker was just one of those.

I'd just gotten off shift, and was walking from my tent to the dining facility around 10 PM. There were four meals served a day during that period in the Iraq War, and that fourth was a late-evening, after-dinner meal I was going to get, when the Clinker clinked off the wall.

Now, mind that when a mortar or rocket explodes at night, there's this dome of white light that just appears, followed by a second or two of speed-of-sound quiet-then the boom.

I expected my life to pass before my eyes when I heard the Clinker clink off the wall and land near my feet. The second sound I heard was a kind of gravel-hitting crunch, from where the Clinker rolled to a stop.

I've always been an Eagles fan, and my favorite song of theirs was Hotel California. I remember standing there, waiting for the boom, paralyzed by shock and the inevitability of my demise, and remembering the line from the Eagles, "We're all just prisoners here, of our own device." To this day I can't hear that song without hearing the clink. I still love the Eagles, but Hotel California has become, in my mind, a song about living in Hell, and how transient our lives are. We're all just prisoners here, of our own device, to say. I was as much a prisoner of Iraq-Hell-as every other service member who was deployed over there, and my swearing that oath of loyalty that took me overseas was my own device.

The Clinker settled in the gravel, and after a second of unexpected exhilaration to continue living, I did what my training said to do, and found another concrete wall to hide behind.

To this day, my reaction to the Clinker-stunned shock-still embarrasses me. Our Army training is so hard, we should be able to act without hesitation, and do what is necessary without thinking about it.

I faced myself and my competency as a soldier in the Clinker. I also realized what I didn't know I didn't know: that I am not invincible, and can die at any time, with no more warning than a clink.

Submitted: June 08, 2015

© Copyright 2021 Jack Motley. All rights reserved.

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Add Your Comments:


Natasha Monique

Beautifully written! Great read.

Wed, June 17th, 2015 5:27pm


Thank you, JerzeGurl41. Wrote it for a final project for university English 101. A'd.

Wed, June 17th, 2015 3:17pm


This story hits home because it happened to my son, somewhat. It really tells the true story.

Sat, June 27th, 2015 7:56pm

Whiskey Charlie

Fantastic story, Jack. Thank you for sharing. Having survived close calls from incoming back in 'Nam, I can understand your situation with perfect clarity.

Sun, July 12th, 2015 12:06am


Thank you, Whiskey. It was helpful to get the memory out by literally getting it out on paper.

Sat, July 11th, 2015 5:20pm

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