Introduction from Elle: Tuesday, November 11, is marked as Veterans’ Day, and as many Americans have their proud histories of military relatives, the “holiday” hits a little close to home here at Short Stack Story Time. Many veterans are only remembered by their families and some good friends, but there are so many more who are seemingly forgotten. Jesse Cole stepped up to write an original tribute to commemorate all our soldiers, all our veterans, all our military… all our heroes.
Yesterday. The word rang in his head like a shot from a .50 caliber machine gun. How many yesterdays have we gone through to get where we are? He looked over the trench into “No Man’s Land”. It was where young kids like him went to die. The space between the lines was riddled with the bodies of his best friends and the ones who cut them down without a second thought. Screaming bullets whizzed by his ears as he ducked his head back into the trench he now called home. His feet were soaked by the muddy water he was forced to stand and sleep in. His fingers were nearly frozen to the grip of his carbine. The green he wore had turned into a splattering of brown and red. He looked to his left where his fellow rifleman had just been standing, now lying in a crumpled mess with new holes where they shouldn’t be. Over the horizon, the blood-red sun had begun to rise, shedding its light on the horrific scene of humanity below. This was the “War to End All Wars” they told him. They were fighting for the safety of America and the future of the modern world. They were fighting evil men, men who were as good as machines, men who killed without a second thought.
The good Lieutenant was barking his normal orders when suddenly the phrase that no trench fighter wants to hear came echoing across the line.
“OVER THE TOP!”
Those three words spelled out D-E-A-T-H. It was that simple. They didn’t call it “No Man’s Land” for nothing. The men who were sent over either made it to the next trench or they were showered with bullets and sent to the great beyond. They were sent to whatever God was or was not waiting for them on the other side. They all had hopes of being congratulated either by God or by their families back home. The horrible truth of it all was that most of them would be arriving home in a box. The even worse truth was that some of them would never be found or they would be buried in this foreign hell hole. Our great hero took a final breath, checked his rifle, and made the leap of faith.
In unison, the squad made their leap. Bullets and mortar shells crashed around the group, ripping apart limbs and finding new homes of flesh. In a short ten seconds, the squad was cut down to half its size. In a frenzy, they ran while firing off into the distance, having no other target than the muzzle flashes from the opposing army. The enemy machine guns cut through the air between trenches like a hungry buzz saw awaiting a human meal. Twenty seconds had passed and our company finally made it to the other trench. Three had survived.
Unfortunately, our hero was not one of these lucky three. While making his deadly sprint across the killing field a round nicked his helmet, sending it flying to the ground. A second round hit its mark into his ribcage and through his lung. A third and a fourth chewed into his stomach and through his organs. As the hero of his generation lie there, fighting for his last breaths, the images of his past came barreling through in a torrent. His sweetheart, whom he left at home, was smiling at him, more beautiful than he could ever imagine. His mother, who was always preoccupied with a community function to gain status, hugged him closely. His alcoholic father, who was usually plagued with a stern look and whiskey on his breath, looked at him with softer eyes. A single tear rolled down his father’s cheek and in a cracked whisper the words rang out into the air to our hero’s ears. “I am proud of you, son.”
Our hero lying in a far off foreign land breathed his last breath with the comfort of hope. He had hope that he had made a difference. He had hope that he had served his country well. He had hope that he had made his family and the people of his nation proud. That hope had carried him through most of the worst atrocities humanity was capable of. His hope was for a better future. His hope was that was truly the “War to End All Wars”. He did what he did for us and for everyone after us. The most disgusting part of this entire story is that our hero was a boy no older than seventeen.
We have failed our hero. We have failed all of the heroes of the past generations by squandering the gifts they had given us in the pursuit of more war. We have failed our current heroes by not aiding them once they return home. We have homeless veterans. We have disabled veterans who will never walk again. There are veterans who have to live with bags on their hip to even have a hope to properly function, and we let this continue. We let our leaders and our fellow citizens besmirch the name of people who have given everything they possibly can for our well-being. You may not support the leaders that send them off but do not forget the ones who have given everything for your comforts. Do not forget all warriors of all countries who had the same motivation for their fellow countrymen.
Do not forget our hero.
© Jesse Cole Short Stack Story Time 2014