Fiction based on original art..."Reflections" by Lee Teter ... to honor those men who've done the impossible
I'd not wanted to come here at all you know; Jack, you hear me? Freddy? It's been 32 years now, you'd think I could have just ignored this monument and forgotten all about that time, and you guys... but I couldn't. So now that I'm here, what do you want to know?
I agree Bill, "why"s a good start. I don't know why, I never have. Jose, you were the guy that took the sniper's bullet for me, and let's be honest, we didn't exactly see eye to eye so you hardly had reason to protect my white bread, pasty food eating ass. Hey, I never told you but I did admire your being able to chew those jalapeños without choking to death. Hell, even your breath made me sweat; if I'd so much as touched one of those devil weeds I'd have burst into flame.
Sure, I know I was stupid, standing and gawking when I should have been crawling on my belly with the rest of the poisonous snakes, but why did you knock me to the ground at just that moment, when a piece of lead was rocketing toward my head and found your throat instead? You can’t imagine man, you can’t. I was so sorry I couldn’t breathe, that you’d died on top of me like that, that you’d saved my life, whether you’d meant it or not, and then I had to lie still while your body bled out onto me… You know what I mean guys? You guys know what I mean. You guys alone. Wait, gimme a sec…..
I haven’t talked to anyone about it since, except for the debriefing obviously and that was short since the gook offensive had pretty much eliminated the forward bases altogether and people weren’t exactly in a chatting mood. I mean you’d think they’d have been surprised that one came back from a group of six, that either a few of us would have made it or none of us. And I didn’t help my cause any; you know me, mister positive, it was all my fault and I said so over and over but they didn’t want to hear it I guess. They just stuffed me full of morphine, shipped me to the rear and medivaced my butt outa there.
Yea you heard me, I admitted my blame. I know I screwed up, I haven’t forgotten one second of that day. Jerry, you’re the jerk that talked me into it, but I could have said no. I should have said no. I should have…
Bill your legs were mincemeat, you couldn’t have walked a yard but I could have stayed and made you crutches or a cane or something; maybe we could have figured something out ya think? Jack was unconscious, Jose was dead empty, Freddy you were screaming for what must have been an hour, remember? God I wanted to shoot you, Jesus I just wanted to end your misery and you begged and begged and I’m so, so sorry…just a minute, I’ll be right back..
Ok, I couldn’t do it, I admit I was not only a fuckup but a coward I couldn’t put a fucking bullet in your fucking brain because I fucking loved you man; and your wife and your kid and your screwy mother in law that sent you mittens at Christmas and your lousy fruitcakes you’d soak in rum and your shitty card playing. I loved you brother. All you. Brothers.
Look, I didn’t want to leave at all but if there was no other way I wanted to draw straws or roll dice or cut cards or something. Screw logic, Jack was gut shot, we all knew he wouldn’t make it on my back for 20 miles, for Christ sake why the hell did we even come up with that plan? Jerry you were in the best shape with only the arm missing and the broken knee, hell you could have helped me when I ran out of gas and couldn’t make it another step. But you wanted me to take Jack. Cuz he was a kid. Fuck, we were all kids you moron! What, did you think we were old men at 22? Being eighteen does not get you a bye from life, he had no more to look forward to than any of us. And no better chance to live through the pounding of angry men with loud, heavy guns.
Yes I carried him all 20 miles. Yes, ask him. It took all night, I set him down no more than a dozen times and he never woke up. I’m not a corpsman, how the hell should I have known he was dead? I checked his pulse now and then, I swore I heard him breathing, I did my best and if I had known I would have buried him on the spot and come back for one of you others but Christ man, I didn’t know and I wasn’t about to give up on him! He was just a kid! Just a kid. He was just a fucking kid.
Think about it you guys, I carried a dead body on my back through swamps and across streams, stomping and stumbling and weaving and diving and being shot at and shooting back. And I talked to him all the way; I said “we’re gonna make it buddy, no shit you can trust me cuz I don’t let my friends down, you’re gonna get home and Bill and Jerry and I will come visit you and we’ll all get drunk and you can show us how to fish Lake of the Ozarks like you promised.”
But of course you know and I know, I didn’t keep my word. We didn’t make it. Well, he didn’t make it, though his body did and I suppose Ms. Wethers has me to thank for her sons being in the box she covered in bluebonnets and fireweed when she put him in the ground. I wish that were a comfort, that I’d done something right that day, that at least the dead were served by my hand. But it doesn’t do it guys.
You know I tried to come back right? You realize I passed out from loss of blood before I’d made it to the outside wires on my way back to the ambush site. Yea I know, some excuse. I should have been able to stay awake just a few more hours, surely I could have made it back and pulled one more out. But my body let me down, and I let you down.
I'd not wanted to come here at all you know; Jack, you hear me? Freddy? Jose? Bill? Jerry Goddamn it DO YOU HEAR ME? I’m so sorry I’m here and you’re there and I didn’t just stay and die with you instead of coming back here to get spit on and called a baby killer and be driven out of my own damn family by my own fucking friends and relatives who made me the enemy because I served my country. I’m so sorry I was too stupid to understand who my friends really were. It was you guys all along. You understood. No one else ever will.
I miss you guys, but I can’t stay here any more; I’m crumbling and I’m gonna fold and I don’t want to humiliate my outfit by weeping in your faces so just touch my hand and say it’s ok, say I did the right thing and you don’t blame me, say they didn’t find you alive while I was riding in a helicopter and torture you while I lay on crisp white sheets in an air conditioned room. Say you forgive me, please. It’s ok really, I’ll never forgive myself but I’d feel a little better if you guys weren’t angry with me.
I gotta go now. I never thought I’d salute again, but this is all I’ve got to give you. My friends. Semper Fi. Save a place for me at the bar.