Sunday, December 20, 2009
Over This Hill, a WW II story (2 of 2)
I actually feel myself, leaking my wet life all over my camouflage, staining it with futility. Gritting my teeth, I reach into the unknown of my wound, feeling through my clothes to the stunned tissue.
My back’s ripped open cross-ways, but thank God the bullet’s not buried. Hurts more now with every heart beat, but scares me less. I’m more ticked that my camouflage is ruined. The first nest is spitting distance. Before I can move on them, a grenade lands right beside me. I risk a foot to save my life, punting the damned thing sideways before it blows. The bloodied hunter’s ruse falls aside.
I rise, death come from the unending whiteness, death leading to unending whiteness. I get a clean look at Nazi uniforms, details leaping from the blur, buttons drawing my eyes as I raise my arm to fire carbine rounds. The glorious myth of their racial violence is needless motivation for me. I simply want my platoon to live, David to make it back to St. Clair County. Simple as that. I toss my first grenade into the middle of the nest, amidst startled German cries I don’t understand. Got no quarrel, man-to-man, but I did not come halfway ‘round the world to wait to die. My white makeshift robe of camouflage is the last thing they see. There is no hate, only a heart colder than the French winter.
We do what soldiers do.
Rising costs me dearly in excruciating pain, but from here I can see a fourth nest set behind these three in the distance. My own men will struggle their way up the hill behind me in minutes; they might as well be like East Carondelet: a world away.
Flashes: fear is as much for what I must do as what becomes of me. All of us: trying to live, in the middle of these schemes to take over everything. I make peace with the most personal visitor to all of man, surrender moral luxuries. I choose to meet that impersonal appointment I decide now to bring to those before me. I need never die again, more than in this moment. All is peace in my mind.
Shells fall, metallic banging; machine guns thud, peeling back skin with their sounds, acrid smoke scours eyes and nose.
Weird gratitude for everything in the world fills me.
The hill pulls my steps like cement. Constant alertness, decide instantly: freeze. Dead leaves shatter from beneath the snow. Maybe twelve yards left to the top. Machine gunners open fire right in front of me. We’re ten yards apart. Charge the first machine gun nest between myself and the top, spilling fire beyond me. Their rounds silence in a split second.
I will never forget this man’s eyes. “Baby blue, wild blue yonder.” I think, as I fire carbine rounds straight into his chest. The grenade I’ve thrown follows behind his dropping body, scattering his nest mates like ten pins. If we live forever, how can anything in this world be real? I can’t even consider stopping now. The platoon charges behind me. One war cry, then the next, filters through the clustered net of shrill shelling. Americans pop out from the smoking, shredded woods. Pain stabs my back like a twisted giant.
My carbine reams cut across the top of the nearest nest, sandbags blasted. One grenade. Two. The hell of shouted tent revivals belches into reality from the foxhole dug in haste within. The gunner’s assistant dies. My carbine jams as I charge the position. I jump inside the emplacement, grab the remaining third soldier, and with both arms, back screaming, hurl him, dazed, down the steep hill: need to take prisoners, captain said.
Second machine gun, the ten’o’ clock in the pinchers, looks about fifty yards away. I pick off an M-1 from a fallen soldier, and rush straight for them, now left, now straight again, as the other nests return approaching fire. The M-1 puts the heat on their emplacement. One grenade, pin drops from my teeth; it’s barely inside before I’ve jerked the pin on a second one with a grunt, to hell with my back, the second one takes a lucky bounce for me off the mutilated sand bags. I fall down, rise again, throw another, and another, into the foxhole’s belly.
As soon as that gun is silenced forever, I see Winslett scream like a wounded beast, firing upon the third nest. The third nest, some sixty five yards off, is above me yet. Again I’m crawling, beneath an unyielding hail of ammunition. Friends’ faces, time pours like a glass of lemonade, spilling on the ground, tart and sweet, pulp from life, from the limb. I crawl, dirty snow wiping my face clean of sweat. I crawl, a slithering inevitability, within fifteen yards of the third entrenchment. I must stand, so slowly, it seems. I toss grenades again, with all my remaining strength; this is the last crew.
The fire within is silence, ashes.
I watch David charge the last nest off in the distance, as my men rush past me, Winslett with a strange look of disbelief as I collapse, heaving, sucking the cold air for life’s breath. David fires into the entrenchment, and as minutes pass, as the screams die, I see he still stands.
I feel a hand cradle my stinging, bloody back as I pick myself up to command. I stare downward, swaying, down from one smoking grave, to what, in the distance, could’ve been mine, down this hill. I am utterly spent, but I don’t want to go back.
“Men... we have so much left to do.”