By Ronald Huereca
Written in Creative Writing at Springfield High School
Date Published: 11/3/2001
Advisory: Please don’t read this if you don’t like mild violence and language.
They were getting young, younger everyday. As days pass I see future and past generations lunged into the militaristic destiny that accompanies them with death. They don’t know what to expect. They have no experience. Everything we have taught them to respect, such as human life, is thrown out the window. They are thrown into another world, a sick world. One human is against another, and both want to take each other’s life.
The Japanese are almost defeated as World War II comes to a close; however, the tasks on the agenda will produce a lot of bloodshed. The Japanese will obey their emperor, and they will defend their homeland to the death. The Japanese are suicidal maniacs that would rather take their own lives than surrender. To be picked for the first wave of the invasion of the Japanese islands would be more than certain death.
The atmosphere on Okinawa Island is a mixed version of relief and discontent. After months of fighting, we have finally captured the island from the Japanese. The young recruits are arriving in masses to be briefed on what some call the greatest land invasion of all time. Word is that Olympic, the code name for the invasion is schedules to occur in two weeks. I am in the first wave of the invasion, so I only have two weeks to live.
I’ve been fighting in this terrible war since 1941. The attack on Pearl Harbor dragged me into the fight that was inevitably coming our way. I’ve fought in such battles as Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa, but I know I won’t survive this one. I’m not made of metal, and even metal can’t survive this war.
The statistics don’t help any of us. The expected casualties to take Japan are estimated from a hundred thousand to five hundred thousand. The new recruits don’t know this. Any soldier who has fought in just one battle can immediately tell a new recruit. Their faces are still filled with color and life. It hasn’t been sucked out of them quite yet. It will happen, but they won’t expect it. They have no idea what they are getting into.
I am a Captain, a leader of my own men. I have been given the rank to lead over all of the futuristic dead bodies that will come in the next few weeks. I am going to lead some of the bravest men to ever fight in war to their deaths and there is nothing I can do about it. I will show these men how sick this war is and expose them to the booby-trapped world of battle. There might be one lucky one, but I doubt it.
First, we will be taken a mile or two near Kyushu Island, the Japanese island closest to Okinawa. There, we will await deployment of our amphibious landing craft. If the submarines, sea mines, kamikazes, or onshore batteries haven’t sunk our transport ship, then we will deploy our landing craft. On the long journey to the beaches of the island in our landing craft we are in danger of the Japanese navy, airplanes, sea mines, and onshore gunfire. If we have still survived, we will reach our destination on the beaches under extremely heavy fire. If we survive the beach, we must survive the conquering of the island. If I survive the island, I have to survive the conquering of the rest of Japan. Like I said, certain death.
The training is vigorous on the island. We have no idea what to expect from Japanese resistance, but the Generals “know it all.” Frankly, I don’t want my life in charge of some chump with a pointer in a lounge chair, but that’s one of the things I have to deal with here. I am in charge of my division, and I oversee that all the men are trained properly. I wouldn’t want them to die in shame. I need them to keep their composure. They can kill themselves, but if they kill me along with them, it better happen painlessly. I don’t want to watch myself bleed to death in dire pain. Every soldier wants to die in the back of the head. Any other death is torture.
I try to tell them that war is cruel. Their buddy may lose his arm, intestines, head or worse. As all this mutilation occurs, my men need to keep a clear head and focus on their objective. If we don’t complete our objective in the first wave, then the second wave will have to make up for what we didn’t accomplish. In another words, more life will be lost. We must die for our buddies behind us.
My best man is Sergeant Will Paxton. Although Sergeant Paxton isn’t a high-ranking official, he has the courage and strength of a million-man army. Paxton was a clean soldier, or at least as clean as you can be in a war. He was well shaved and still had some color in his eyes. His hair was dark brown, although dingy and dirty. We were given a chance to change uniforms after the Battle of Okinawa was over; therefore he had on a clean uniform with the usual military add-ons.
My post was at the northern end of the island armed with an anti-aircraft battery and a machine-gun nest on a neighboring hill. Next to us was a small but steady stream that supplies us with drinking water. The island, besides the atrocities of war, was beautiful. The grass seemed go blow in a giant ocean of waves up the hillsides as the mountains, once filled with Japanese, erupted from the horizon in a jaw-dropping spectacle of nature.
Training occurred both day and night at the post. Recruits were trained for jungle warfare, which was a new kind of war for the U.S. We had to brave the elements of snakes, mosquitoes, heat, disease, and other natural occurrences. This was leaving out the enemy, which was also present in assisting nature in our deaths.
Paxton’s unit was the strongest and bravest. Although Okinawa was his first battle, he proved his leadership capabilities over and over again. He saved my life as well as countless others, but all of it is for nothing. We will be dead in two weeks.
I sat down in my “captain’s” chair, a lawn chair with a pillow. I rested my view on the mountains before me, and pulled out a cigarette and lit it. Almost everyone in the army smoked because they felt if they were going to die anyway, what harm would cigarettes do to them?
My best sergeant approached me, and without a word sat down on a log-stool next to me. A lit cigarette was already in his mouth as he blew out a thick cloud of smoke accompanied by a sigh. His face had lost its color. I knew something was up, but I remained silent. He pulled out an opened letter from out of his pant pocket with a shacking hand. He hesitated as he opened it.
“Letter from your girl?” I asked blowing out a puff of smoke.
He blankly stared into the open letter and slowly turned to face me.
“From yours captain.” He mumbled lowly.
“What was that?” I asked.
“From… From yours captain.” He let out a long pause, “I… I opened it by mistake sir.”
I smiled to let him know it was ok, but he still held his head low.
“So?” I asked.
“So did you read it sergeant?”
“I… I did sir.”
He slowly shook his head, “No sir.”
“What’s it say?” I asked hesitantly.
He started to hand it to me, but I wouldn’t accept it. “You read it.” I said.
“Sir, I can’t… I can’t read it again.” He said in a low tone.
“Read it sergeant. It can’t be that bad.” I said gently.
His head hung lower and I could see his eyes start to water. He held out his shaking hand with the letter still in it and placed it in mine. “I can’t sir. I… I can’t.”
I saw a tear fall from his eye and slowly move down his cheek. He quickly wiped it away and inhaled loudly through his nose.
I hesitated as I opened the letter. The curiosity inside me boiled over as I started to read the words. “Dear Bobby, the war has been too long. I can’t stand here and be alone anymore. I’ve found someone else Bobby. Someone who knows better than to join a stupid war. We’re in love Bobby. I’m sorry I had to do this by a letter, but it isn’t my fault you’re thousands of miles away. I know you’ve been through a lot, but…”
My stomach dropped to my feet as the sense of unbelief came over me. I crunched the letter into a little ball and threw it away as hard as I could. The sergeant looked at me with his blue eyes full of moisture and once again held his head low.
“That woman has no idea what I’ve been through!” I said as I almost joined the sergeant in his shower of tears. I tried to regain myself. “That woman is feeling lonely? What the heck have I been feeling for the past four years?”
I put my head down as the sergeant rested his hand on my shoulder trying to comfort me. I calmed down slowly and I put my head up and looked at the sergeant.
“I don’t even know what I’m so upset about sergeant. Olympic’s going to kill us.”
The sergeant hesitated and looked me straight into my eyes. “What if my lady feels the same way Cap?”
I could see Paxton’s pain as he continued, “Your letter has made me realize something. No one cares we’re fighting over here. No one cares if we die. No one cares if we win this God-awful war. All they care about is themselves.”
I inhaled sternly trying to regain myself. “Shape up soldier.” I explained, “As hard as it at home, we need to keep our minds on what’s going on over here.”
I could tell by his body language that his feelings could not be dismissed so quickly, “I mean, what the hell are we doing on this island? What makes this world so great that we’re fighting to save it? When I die, who remembers me? We’re just here to fight, get shot, and be forgotten.”
“Look sergeant, this is what happens in war. War is cruel and unforgiving. The only friends you have are your instincts, your gun, and your fellow soldiers. The rest of the world hates your guts.”
Sergeant Paxton unexpectedly stood up and picked my crumpled letter from the ground. He stuck it in plain view of my face and said; “When you die… will she care?”
He walked away to the river a hundred feet away from my chair. He bent over to fill his canteen with water and then looked back at me. He stood up and yelled, “When I die, no one here is going to be alive to remember me!” He walked into his tent and remained there for the rest of the day and night.
I felt his pain. I didn’t know why I joined the army. Maybe I did it because everyone else was doing it. Maybe I did it to get away. Whatever the reason, I had no idea I would be sitting right here feeling the way I do right now. I felt empty and abandoned. I felt that I was in some mirror trying to find my way out with everyone on the other side having a good time. I watched the camp with all the smiling faces drinking beer, smoking their cigarettes, and trying to get laid from the native women. They had so much color.
I sat there until the darkness of night swallowed my precious view. I retired to my tent that I slept in every night. I couldn’t sleep. Paxton’s words haunted my thoughts. My death soon approaching kept me wondering if I would be remembered. I stepped out of my tent and once again got into my chair. I lit a cigarette and stared out at the stars. The stars, twinkling and shining, hypnotized me as I fell into a deep sleep.
“Captain Jones, wake up, Sir!” a blurry figure screamed in distress.
I rudely awoke half knowing the emergency and where I was. I was yanked up off my lawn chair and briefed on what happened. I was walked over to a tall coconut tree two hundred yards from my position. I was sprung immediately awake as my friend hung lifeless above me.
My stomach did hula-hoops around my body as the sickening smell and the sights of flies feasting on my friend overcame me. The chunks of the evening’s dinner rose up and splattered on the ground as the soldiers around me watched in fear. I was the Captain and I had lost my mobility. I recovered quickly and I tried to ignore the bad taste in my mouth. I finally felt the leadership sink in and I again looked up at my dead friend.
“Get him down from there!” I ordered.
Two volunteers quickly climbed the tree and began to lower the sergeant to the ground. I began to wonder what example I had made in front of my men. I was supposed to be strong. Perhaps I still was, but in their eyes I was just one of them.
As the men grounded the dead sergeant I noticed a letter sticking out of his shirt pocket. One of the volunteer soldiers grabbed the letter and began to read it. The letter dropped to the ground. The shocked and colorless face was enough to show me that the letter was a suicide note. I retrieved the letter from the ground and read it.
“Dear comrades. I have done this for my own good. When I supposedly returned to my girl, I wanted her to recognize me. I didn’t want her to see in my eyes the horrible acts I have committed. I will not be mutilated or killed on some gook’s island. My life is in my hands, and if I am dead, I have proved that. Good luck on the invasion. God be with you. Sergeant Paxton. P.S. – Will you remember me now?”
My eyes began to water as a tear struggled to break free from my eyes. I wouldn’t let the tear fall. I swallowed the pain and anguish and buried it, just as I had done the pain from the war. The shock quickly set in. Paxton would rather kill himself than get killed in Japan.
The spirits and moral around the island quickly diminished. There were still fun parties, but there was a tenser atmosphere. Every soldier looked at one another as if they were dead.
The next day the invasion was postponed indefinitely. This was just delaying the inevitable, however on August 6th, 1945, the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. A second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki on August 9th, 1945. The bombs produced the most beautiful sunset man has ever seen. The green, blue, and red mixture spread across the painted sky in a fiery spectacle. We all celebrated and waited for the Japanese to surrender.
On August 14th, 1945, I was awoken from my bunk and informed that the Japanese had surrendered. I was overcome with joy. I was able to go home. What did I have to come home too, however? I didn’t know and I didn’t care. I wasn’t going to die. The fate that plagued me since I stepped on this island was released. I was going to live!
No one quite knows what it is like to be saved from certain death like I do. I feel I have a new beginning; like I was born again. Things I had once taken for granted, such as nature, life, and people will never be brushed over again. However, Sergeant Paxton never lived to see the end of World War II. The war ended early for Paxton, but never in peace. Paxton had a girl to go to, but he wasn’t strong enough. Not many are in this hellhole. I wasn’t strong, but God felt that I deserved to go home.
Having a second chance at life was the greatest thing that God could bring me. I was going to get off this island. I was going to sleep in a nice warm bed. I was going to leave behind this humid heat. I get to go home. I was going to live.
Paxton, I will remember you as a casualty of war, a man who saved my life, and as a friend… Forever.