Saturday, April 9, 2011

Short Story - A Cough, a Gag, and Maybe a Tear

By jay Wilson ©2010

It was bound to happen. John knew it was only a matter of time before he was killed. He knew it would probably be today. The inexperienced soldier just felt it deep in his heart. He had seen too many around him die; both friend and enemy. It was the way of war. It was not the glorious fight and excitement he had heard old timers talk about. There wasn’t anything heroic about seeing the man next to him killed by a shot through his head. John had thrown up so much that there was nothing left. A cough, a gag, and maybe a tear were all that was left. This was his reward for going to war.

John was like so many who had joined the army to fight to defend his country. With his head filled with patriotism and a chest pumped full of pride, he marched off to war. They sang songs of victory and war. After all, it wouldn’t take long to whoop the enemy. They were led to believe that they were off on an adventure. And like so many it didn’t take long to find it was not an adventure; not even close. Each man had his own word for it but hell was the most common word used to describe the anguish of war. Most of the men were young; too young to experience the horrors of battle. They were not ready or mature enough to see what was to become a daily occurrence.

Early on many of the soldiers had had their fill of battle and wanted to go home. They longed for the comfort of family and the smells of home cooking. They wanted to awake in the morning to the sound of their mother’s voice calling them to breakfast. Instead the gunfire would wake them before the sun had time to yawn. The only smell was the stench of death. And there was the bodies laying where they fell; acting as grim reminders of what was in store for many more.

The enemy was less than 200 yards away, hidden in a hedge row. The camp noises rolled across the open ground between the two armies. John wondered how many of them also wanted to just stop the damn war and go home. He guessed the boys on the other side weren’t all that different from him. They would continue to fight because a man with a lot of stripes on his arm told them to just like we would. His sergeant was always pushing and yelling. He didn’t act scared at all but John knew different. John saw the look in his eyes when the enemy cannons sounded. Still he knew they would fight and many would die … maybe even himself.

In the middle of John’s silent thoughts, the sergeant’s voice boomed out for the men to prepare to charge. He thought to himself, `what men?’ He could see nothing but boys like himself. Each one questioned why he was there. Each did not view this as a way to manhood but rather as a way to die a horrible death. The call came again to prepare to charge. And charge they did.

Like two warring mounds of ants; each attacked. Black ants and red ants became mingled as a blend of the two colors. Each ant determined to kill all the enemy ants. And we were not different. Scared yes but both sides rushed together until the blue uniforms blended with the grey ones. Each side was there to win or die. And many did die. For those who survived, they would tell the story of war. How war has an ugly face that can only be seen in its mist. Stories would be told around many fires of the bravery on the field of honor. Heroes would go home with battle scars that only could be seen by the warrior who had tasted war.

Maybe some would remember the battle happened this way and yet someone else would remember it differently. And strangely each man would be telling exactly what he had seen and experienced. Many of the boys became men that day. Some brought home medals and some brought home metal still embedded in their wounded bodies.

As for John, he didn’t come home at all. He was buried in a shallow grave. His only recognition was a small white cross with a kepi on it at the head of his grave. No name identified who he was. No one could tell who he was because of the cannon ball. The burial detail, at first didn’t even know which side he was fighting for. The blood had pretty well hid the color of the uniform. It was a belt buckle that told the tale. Now you ask, was he a Reb or Yank? Does it matter? John lay in a field buried where his family will probably never visit or even know its where-abouts. He was a boy who will never see manhood. He will never experience the joy of a wife or the sound of his first born. His mother will cry as will many mothers of both sides. But John will not hear her nor be able to console the woman who gave him life.

It would seem this would be the end of the story; sad as it is. But no, there is more. There has to be.

I will close this story with a personal wish. I wish there never had to ever be another war. I wish that no young boys had to die for a piece of land, a way of life, or a flag. But alas, that is the way of the world. Since the beginning of time, war was always a deciding factor. It has never nor will it ever prove who is right or who is wrong. It only proves who is mightier. The battle might be decided by who has the biggest or the strongest army. It could be that the victor is the first to attack or use a more modern weapon like bombs, cannons, or aircraft.

Still, wars will always be. They will be a constant companion to peace and live just in the shadows waiting to be called forth.

The hardest thing to understand about war is many times it has to be called forth. Sadly sometimes war is necessary to preserve a way of life. Sadly wars will always be a part of man’s lives. Sadly there will be many, many more Johns to prove that fact.

1 comment:

  1. A great, emotional post. I must say, until you mentioned blue and gray uniforms, I was thinking to myself that this story could have been about every war to my knowledge. The young boys fight, die, and leave loved ones to mourn. It doesn't matter who wins, the individual sacrifice is the same. God bless us all and especially all who fight for our freedoms.