Joe, The Soldier You Never Met

I share one of my writings with you in honor of this 2014 Memorial Day. Let us never forget the price paid for our freedom and how our government is willfully underwriting those freedoms. Let your voice be heard, America. If you agree, please share my story this weekend with everyone you know.

Dirty man trying to get up

Paralyzed by fear, Joe threw the grenade out of harm’s way and temporarily disarmed the enemy’s thirst for the blood of an American soldier. It wasn’t the first time he had faced death and certainly not his last.

After high school, Joe was hired as an automotive line worker, but America was at war and his age made him a candidate for the imposed lottery draft. Joe’s number came up and life as Joe knew it was about to change in more ways than he could ever imagine.

Basic training at the military base did little to prepare Joe for combat warfare. He was taught how to kill and defend himself, but was never prepared for the psychological effects that followed. All the therapy in the world can’t erase the unspeakable acts committed during combat warfare. Flashbacks of severed heads, mutilated bodies and scattered body parts never go away; the images have a mind of their own and surface at will.

The gruesome scenes witnessed were not things discussed over dinner or shared with family. His wife and children would never know the secrets that war had forever embedded in his heart, mind and soul. The horrors witnessed on the battlefield were personal demons that would haunt him for the rest of his life.

Joe hadn’t seen home in over a year, but this tour would be his last; he was scheduled for discharge in four months. At night, Joe assumed a fetal position beneath an army tank and listened to the distant gunfire. In those brief moments of reprieve, he would visualize his homecoming scenario until a nearby explosion jolted him back to the reality of his savage surroundings.

That day’s assigned ground force reconnaissance operation was no different than others. Orders were to survey the terrain and search a deserted village for a possible enemy base camp. The tanker came to a stop at the outskirts of the village. The deafening heartbeat of fear pounded in the eardrums of every soldier as they silently dispersed in every direction to scout the village on foot.

It wasn’t long before relentless rounds of ammo filled the air. Joe instinctively dropped to the ground and crawled to the nearest protected area he could find. Salty sweat beads and dirt rolled off his brow and clouded his vision but not before he saw the grenade next to him. With only seconds to react, Joe gripped the explosive device in his hand and threw it the only way he knew how; fast and furious.

An overwhelming sense of relief flooded Joe’s body as he stood to pick up his weapon; it had been a close call. There were a few brief seconds when he wondered if a homecoming party was in his future. The ongoing war had deprived him of quality time with family and friends; he was anxious to make up for that lost time.

Joe never saw it coming. The impact grenade launched by the enemy exploded without warning; there was no time to react, run or say a prayer. There would be no reception, welcome banner, flag covered casket or military dog tags. The enemy had won in their thirst for American blood. It wasn’t the homecoming Joe had imagined.

The epitaph on his headstone reads,

“I fought to my death without question. In hindsight, I wonder why.”

© 2014 This article is not to be reprinted in any publication 
without the express consent of the author (Denise Marks)

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