Dan Holden's Creative Writing
What I can’t shake is the sight of that Iraqi kid hopping away down the street on one bare foot, his caftan and his other foot blown off by the IED. Scared out of his mind, I am sure, but just cognizant enough to know how to get away quickly.
One minute, he’s beaming with joy as I hand him a piece of candy, and the next, blood is flying out of his leg like an open spigot and the air is full of shrapnel and burnt flesh.
He trips on some random smoking debris and lands on his shoulder, looking back at me in sheer terror.
Melton runs out, scoops up the naked kid in one hand and scampers back under considerable enemy fire. He takes a direct hit on his body armor but doesn’t even flinch, probably just the adrenaline. It all came from the other side of our Humvee, which is the only reason I’m still standing, still in one piece.
Anyway I don’t have time to make a full assessment, we’re taking on heavy fire and we need to do something about it quick or we aren’t going to make it.
I look around.
Jones and the Marshall brothers are in front of me, down low at the side of the muddy levee, a flooded rice paddy behind. They’re shaken up but okay, rifles in hand. Some of the others are taking up positions as well. Fourier has a rocket launcher. My back is on the transport’s front tire. A couple of the guys are looking above me, like something creepy is about to happen.
I bend my head sideways and squint up into the heavy downpour just in time to see Martinez, or what is left of him, sliding over the hood on rain and blood, rolling on top of me. I push him away. His left arm and most of his head are a red, unrecognizable ooze.
I’m so mad I just grab a couple of grenades and toss them as far as I can. As soon as they go off I’m up with my AK-47, firing at whatever might pass for Viet Cong. Anything with skin attached.
There must be 200 of them scampering over the rise, about a quarter mile away. I’m sure there has to be many more on the other side.
We hear them crashing through the thick dusty jungle. I turn the Jeep’s machine gun in their direction and begin firing. Guittap runs up beside me and fumbles through the pillboxes for magazines. He throws three of them over his shoulder and loads the fourth in just as my gun goes empty.
Japs are firing from everywhere. Bullets zip past my head and into the side of the vehicle, like it’s a tin can. They want my gun out of commission quick. Reinforcements are coming but not yet, our little band is the only defense for the whole Allied airstrip.
We’re fighting for three days and four nights and I’m not about to be the guy that lets it go down. Neither is Guittap, or Brown, or Loprotto. We’ll stand till the end.
Before it’s over I have two rifle rounds and six pieces of shrapnel in my body. Everybody is hit. Brown is dead, his gun still in his hand.
We hold them off for hours…how many, I can’t tell. You can never tell time in a battle.
It’s surreal, really. We expect to be overrun any minute but we just keep picking them off, one by one.
They must think we are possessed.
Every little movement, every turn of a helmet at the top of the trench, is met with a sniper bullet. The Germans can’t even light a cigarette without inviting a grenade.
By nightfall, the battle is pretty much over.
We’re pushing the Mexican army – whatever units are left – fleeing into the badlands, in complete disarray.
Stockton limps beside me, his broken rifle still in his hand, his battered horse trailing faithfully behind. There are few dead; most are still dying. Their moans and screams last well into the descending darkness. We walk like that for most of a mile, past men and horses and munitions, toward the still-standing, the unrepentant victors.
Not every Yankee is dead.
Shots ring out all through the night as the half-dead fight off Johnny and their kin trying to requisition a pair of boots or a smart coat. They may have lost the battle but they are determined to keep what little have. I never met a Union soldier what was a coward.
In the end, though, it’s Washington that saves the day. Washington himself. No one else can stop the slow homeward bleed of volunteers, or stoke the flames that keep us from dying in the snow, from losing faith in the fight.
Washington is the kind of leader who makes you feel the importance of the day. Like something much bigger is at stake. That’s what keeps us going.
We’re freezing to death, but as long as we are alive we stand for freedom.
Dawn is barely breaking over the misty battlefield. The native boy limps through the carnage on a crutch made of a snapped maple branch.
His foot has been blown off by a musketball, but he might yet survive.
There is no telling whether his tribe will take him back. Probably not. Sick natives were usually left to die, that’s the way it’s been since before we settled Jamestown.
So I leave my post and walk up to him. I place my hand on his shoulder.
He is so small, I can’t imagine that he was really in the fight. Probably just following his kin.
He looks up at me with that haunted look that comes over everyone who sees battle. The pale that follows the unimaginable.
He can’t decide whether to be afraid or angry. His eyes well up and his little body shakes. He collapses onto the road.
I pick him up and carry him back to the settlement. Everyone thinks I am crazy but, you can’t just leave a child to die.
I still remember that day, that look in his eyes.
He’s still alive, and growing. He makes work for the women, and gathers spoils to fertilize the field.
He’ll never be good or blessed in the eyes of God. He’s too angry over what happened.
I pray such fate never befalls another living child.
But I don’t know. No one knows the will of God.
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