Grandpas’ voice trembled as he continued.
“I dropped to my knees,” he said. “I think I must have been screaming because one of the guys had his hand over my mouth.”
Again, Grandpa shook his head and took a deep breath. “We found George, hanging from a tree. They had peeled his skin off from his neck to his waist. I guess I was in shock, because I remember wondering why he was covered with flies. Someone started calling for a medic, and said ‘get him down’.”
“This may sound strange, but when we got him down, I remember almost desperately looking through his things for that damn harmonica. When I couldn’t find it, I was overcome with a sense of rage, regret, loss and an unquenchable thirst for vengeance. They not only took his skin and his life…they took ole tin-tin.”
Grandpas’ fists were clenched and his voice was deliberate when he said, “I wanted revenge. I wanted to go on a rage-filled killing spree. I wanted to cause goddamn annihilation. I wanted to make destructive ripples that would exterminate an entire country.”
His voice softened somewhat as he said “we were ordered to keep moving, and I left George laying there, mangled and mutilated. I glanced back as they were loading him onto a gurney, and I knew it would be the last time I ever saw him.”
“I felt empty,” he said. “Hell, we all did. I have never known anyone who was so universally liked by everyone. He was a rare find. A once in a lifetime find. A find that I would never again encounter. He left a hole in my heart and bruised my soul to the point that I thought I would never recover.”
“As I walked away with a look of retributive justice in my eyes and a burning hatred in my heart, out of nowhere, one of the guys walked up to me, put his hand on my shoulder and said, ‘you know, they say when seeking revenge…dig two graves’. He barely got the last word out when I said, tell them to start digging, because they’ll be the first one in the fucking ground.”
“We made camp that night and besides the distant crickets and the repetitive sounds of cigarette lighters, it was silent. There were no unbearable shrieks from ole tin-tin, and no laughter they had always elicited. There were no anecdotal stories about George. I think we were all too heartbroken.”
“Even our staid Sergeant Weston stopped by to offer his condolences and try to slow dance around what he had callously said about George having ‘been fragged’. I admit that I held that against him, warranted or not, but that wasn’t pressing. I was still bloodthirsty and my bitterness was so virulent, it was almost tactile. It was a dangerous place to be mentally.”
Grandpa turned his head and said, “In my crazed, almost psychotic state, I remember suddenly thinking…well, at least his mother will get a flag. That’s a fair trade, don’t you think? A flag for a son?”
“I hated the war. I hated everything it stood for, and to tell the truth, I wasn’t even sure what we were fighting for…and dying for. I just knew that it was taking a mighty toll, and all those deaths seemed to just be taken in stride. It was almost like the government of our country was saying, “oh well. What’s a few thousand lives in the grand scheme of things?”
I was surprised to hear my grandfather speak about the war and the country that way, because I knew that he was a patriot and loved our country. Maybe that’s why I never knew that he had served, or fought. Maybe that’s why no one ever talked about that war. I think, over the years, he had healed. At least I hoped he had.
“The fighting didn’t stop with Georges’ death, of course,” he said. “We still had a job to do. Blood would still be spilled. Soldiers would still be maimed and slaughtered. Death would still be fired from guns. It would still fall from the sky, and I would still carry the mantle of wrath for the friend I had lost…at least until I felt that I had avenged his murder.”
“The next few months, we saw the bloodiest fighting we had seen since we first set foot in country. You know, your mind does funny things when you find yourself teetering on the brink of life and death. While I was dodging bullets and shooting at everything I could see, I kept thinking about all the flags that would be sent to the mothers and fathers and wives of these men, but I never once thought about the one that would be sent to mine.”
To be continued_________________