This day, hell had island hopped to another tropical paradise. He lay hunkered down on the latest stretch of beach with the rest of the men. They were spread out, holding position, taking cover where only a combat veteran would see some. Like every other landing, he said his prayers.
High in the sky, the sun stood beating down, turning the black sand into a hot griddle, though that fact was the least of his concerns. The stifling sand smothered him, sticking on his damp skin and uniform, finding its irritating way everywhere. Great plumes of the black grit fountained into the air all around, raining sand from heavy clumps to drifting fine particles. An itchy, salty residue formed on his skin as seawater evaporated quickly in the inferno heat. A bullet skipped twice across the beach, hit his helmet. It rang like a gong.
Finally, the lieutenant gave the signal to advance and he was on his feet, running with his platoon, zig-zagging their way forward. With his long legs, he had always been fast and was among the first to reach the edge of the beach, where there would be better cover.
He never really felt the explosion. He just remembered running one second and ending up looking at the sky and the billowing smoke the next. His ears were ringing unbearably loud. Spitting sand out of his mouth, he realized he couldn’t hear the shouts, screams, and gunfire any longer. Then, there was a sudden pop.
“MEDIC! MEDIC!” Someone nearby was screaming. He tried to push himself up, get ready to run again, but realized only then that something was very wrong with his body.
A medic came skidding to a halt next to him. His first thought was there was some mistake. The green helmet, with the red cross painted on it, and face suddenly filled his field of vision. “Scheisse,” said the medic as he looked over his lower body under his breath.
“What?” he croaked. “Is it bad?”
“What’s your name, private?” The medic was a flurry of desperate motion and tunnel-focused entirely on the job before him. Setting down his own rifle, totally oblivious to the puffs of sand and leaves being shredded by the incoming fire all around them. He dug out his first aid equipment and got to work.
“My name is Kozwalski. It’s bad, isn’t it?” He saw the bars on the medic’s sleeve then, “Sergeant.”
“Yes. I’m from Chicago.”
“Never been there. This might hurt a little.” After a moment, “You didn’t feel that, did you?”
“No, Sarge. Can’t feel anything below my shoulders.”
“Call me Arnold. I’m going to have to roll you over.” Kozwalski tried to help roll himself with his arms and realized he was still holding a shattered rifle. He threw the useless weapon away.
An explosion went off close, too close. Shrapnel cut through the jungle bushes like a scythe. After the fact, he ducked, burying his head as best as possible. “Son-of-a…” Bits and pieces of green leaves fell at various rates through the air to the ground. More smoke climbed into the air. “Arnold? You still…”
Unfazed and unharmed, the medic leaned down and yelled at him. “Right here, Kozwalski. Can you still shoot?”
“Yes. But, I don’t have a gun.”
“Here.” The medic was handing him his own weapon and ammunition.
“What are you doing?”
“Way I see it, Kozwalski, is the more of you trigger-pullers I can save, the less trigger-pulling I’s got to do. Now, I’m depending on you to cover me. Think you can do that?” The medic winked, jumped to his feet in a crouch, and ran unarmed into the chaos of the fire fight in front of them, directly towards more shouts of “MEDIC!” Kozwalski fired and kept firing.
This is a revision of my Memorial Day post.