Dear Mother and Father,
The terrain around me could not be any more beautiful and could not capture our minds and hearts with any greater skill. Austria is endless in its mountains and green valleys, serving to offer respite while the war draws to a staccato close. It is endless and quick at once and while I hold no joy for my remaining here, I wouldn’t trade the discovery of scenery and tangible treasures for the world. As for the Army…
My letters have a habit of trailing off suddenly as if in a fit to show just how much the Army is fond of making us hurry up and wait. So often, I’ve had to cease my writings in order to attend guard duty or because Speirs has ordered Liebgott on a mission that becomes his own personal vendetta.
Hurry up and wait.
I regard the Army’s rooted ways with disgust, by now. I’ve done my hurrying and I’m tired of waiting, but barring those four points I need, I’m not going home. I drag myself out of my reverie, out of staring at passes and smoking decent fucking cigarettes for a change and glance over to Janovec, who put me in this line of thought in the first place. “Eighty-one points,” I inform him. “I have eighty-one points.” Maybe, just maybe, had I been in Bastogne, that batterer of spirits, that endless hell on Earth, I might have found my ticket home. Maybe if I had been in Bastogne, I never would have made it to the other side.
It’s all useless now.
The war has rendered so many pieces of us in disarray. Where has the dignity of soldiers gone? Who are these barbarians that stand where men once were, coaxed by spirits and boredom to march to a new chaotic drumbeat that leads to nothing but death and damnation? Alcohol has become a killer as much as boredom has and all I have to do is stand guard while I wait for the decree to be passed down from on high. Redeployment to the Pacific, hip-hip-hurrah. More guts and glory to be passed around, more medals to be pinned, and more telegrams to be sent home. DEAR SIR OR MADAM, it will read, YOUR SON HAS BEEN SERIOUSLY WOUNDED IN COMBAT DEFENDING HIS COUNTRY. We’ve fought the war and we’ve given enough of our lives to the archaic stubbornness of countries clinging to their bitterness over an armistice signed so many years ago and you had to wonder, you did, in a room of that many mirrors, did any of those men look at themselves and realize just what the fuck they were doing?
I’m pulled from whatever thoughts as I help the Kraut soldier with his wounded leg, the one I see a bit of myself in. Munich, he’s going to, and I don’t care about the protests of the family in their car, whining about their earthly possessions being dismissed to make room for a person. Innocents, someone in F Company had once called them, and I had agreed then.
Now, after Landsberg, I would laugh in their face at such a proclamation.
No one’s innocent. We’re all guilty of something and now that the war’s over, we all have to live with it. No one gets off scot-free. So I shove the bags to the mud and play up whatever disrespect because I’d rather get out my frustrations like this instead of with a bullet to the back and discordant shouts on Austrian countrysides. Why he had asked me…
I don’t know.
I don’t know anything, anymore, and when the sound of the car crash comes from far too close, I stop. My heart stops, my thoughts stop and I remember that I’m still just a boy trying to pretend to be a man while my life is in intermission and the second act is waiting to begin.
The horn is sounding in the distance and I run to it, run in the direction of Janovec and try to cling to the last vestiges of hope, even if hope left me back in Aldbourne before the very first jump.
It’d been easy to lose. You just count.
And there it goes.
Dear Mr. and Mrs. Janovec…
And so it trails off. I doubt I would be writing this letter in my head if it weren’t for the fact that the moment I arrived to help him, I was only able to help the medics load his body into the ambulance (dead, dead from the impact, dead) and as I hopped my way down, I’d landed in sand. I’d been in the midst of counting, that horrible habit engrained in me by the Army and landed in paradise, the expanse of sand and sea stretching before my eyes.
There’s little explanation and I’ve begun to wonder if this is a grand and welcome psychotic break to process the horrors we’ve all seen. Call it a bastion of sanity. Call it paradise lost. Whatever you call it, I can’t exactly enjoy it when only moments ago, I was feeling for a pulse and that false hope was echoing back at my while my own heartbeat rabbited and fooled me into hoping that maybe, just maybe, Janovec was still alive.
The war in Europe was over and I still thought I could hope. I suppose I only have myself to blame for thinking things would be different, but they weren’t. They weren’t and they aren’t and if this is some sort of mental trick to convince me that I’ve been pushed too far, then it’s doing a good job, alright.
“What the fuck am I doing here?” I mutter to myself and scrub a hand over my stubbled jaw, shaking my head and hitching up my rifle and helmet to figure out just how very real this hallucinatory break is.
There were boats floating on a serene crystal clear water in the distance and the calm of the moment did absolutely nothing to steady my fear.