“For the first few days,” grandpa said, “we mostly just sat around, talking, wondering, waiting, and listening to George playing his harmonica. I swear, he’d have us rolling on the ground, laughing. We still didn’t have any idea what we were in for.”
“Then we were given orders to do a ‘seek and destroy’ mission.”
“We headed out, tromping through brush so thick, we had to cut it with machetes, and there were the times we had to walk knee-deep in water, hacking our way as we went. We’d get scraped, scratched, cut and soaked, and we’d be fussing, cussing and asking each other what the hell we’d gotten ourselves into.”
Grandpa stopped and I could see the tears in his eyes as he continued. I asked him what happened. He looked away and said, “there are things that are truly difficult to speak about. I’ll just say that what we left was a piece of countryside blistered and scarred with gaping wounds that still wept bloody tears and smelled of death and decay…but we did our job. We caused ripples.”
He said, “you know, war is sort of glorified in movies and books. There’s always the triumphant end when the heroes defeat the villains. There’s always a back story where the handsome soldier meets the pretty nurse and they get married and live happily ever after. But when you’ve seen war and the bloodshed and the desolation, there’s nothing romantic about it.”
“You may have heard stories about ‘Dear John’ letters. They were true. These men would get letters from their fiancés or wives, telling them that they were tired of waiting and had met someone else. Those men would be beyond devastated. Two men in our platoon got those letters. Tyler Hawkins was one of them and he put on a brave face and acted like it didn’t bother him. The other man, Pete Crawley was completely defeated. Nothing we said could assuage his grief.”
Grandpa took a deep breath, sighed and then said, “when we were under fire one night, Pete clenched the letter in his hand and just stood up. He was immediately shot in the head. I guess he thought he no longer had a reason to live.”
“He was one of those guys who were brave talkers…you know the type. He was always saying, ‘boys…we’re going to kick some’. He’d start howling like a wild dog or something and pretend to start shooting.”
“We all liked him and he was particularly fond of George. He loved to tease him, as we all did. He would chuckle and say, ‘we don’t have to shoot any of them guys…George will kill them with ole’ tin-tin. I mean, they’ll hear that ear-splitting squawking and they’ll walk right up to us and yell ‘just go ahead and fucking kill us…please’!”
It was interesting to hear my grandfather curse. That was something I had never heard from him but I had also never heard his story.
Grandpa leaned back in his chair and said, “one night when the moon was full, we watched them walk a guy what would be almost the entire length of a football field.”
At first I wasn’t sure what he meant. I admit, I was thinking he was seeing a soldier being captured, but I soon realized what he was saying. He witnessed that atrocity and it had stayed with him all these years.
Once again, he took a deep breath and said, “there are things I saw and did over there that I can’t talk about.”
“Those ripples. Those horrible ripples.”
To be continued_____