An aviator in WWI finds himself awake and pondering the war he is about to enter.
Am I really the only one with this fear, or is it the naivety of the others which allow them all to sleep peacefully? That must be it; they must all be blind to what is about to happen to us. The basic raw emotions of war are feigning bravery in the face of danger while being sick with fear. This fear can be anything from the pain of an injury, being crippled from a wayward bullet, the fear of dying that even the most devote Christian has? Or perhaps it is the fear of living?
Yes, the fear of living; that is my greatest fear of this war. I do not fear death, for death is an inevitable journey which we will all embark on. Pain one can learn to ignore, to tuck it away into the recesses of the mind. Living after surviving a war is a different story.
My grandfather’s letters to my grandmother during and immediately after the Civil War bear my fear within them. The anguish of watching your friends die around you, the look in another man’s eye after you have taken their life from them, and seeing their faces in your dreams to forever haunt and torment you, being ready to confront you when judgement day arrives.
Living with the images that will haunt you at every turn. A horseless carriage backfiring as it rides by you on the street, sending you to the ground grasping and clawing yourself into the dirt to escape the next impending bang. The fear of living while trying to suppress the primal instincts of survival one experiences in battle; fight or flee, all day, every day. Instincts that once turned on are impossible to turn off. What is that snapping sound? Is that the wind, a gasp of pain, or someone taking a deep breath before plunging their sword into me? Am I being too sensitive, a bit over-reactive maybe?
My grandfather was an infantryman, where as I am an aviator. I will take pictures of the ground from such high elevations that a man cannot be seen. Maybe...maybe on occasion I will encounter a Hun pilot and his observer flying over the lines, doing the same as I am doing. Both of our observers will fire a few short machine gun bursts at one another, then head back to our respective aerodromes. This is probably one of the safest assignments one could have in all of this mess, so why should I worry?
I am much more fortunate than my dough-boy brother is. I have a comfortable bunk on which to sleep and a solid roof over my head. My meals come three times a day in the aerodrome’s mess. I get to shower and shave each day, and have use of an indoor latrine. My brother is in the trenches that I will be crossing many times daily. He will eat, sleep, fight, and live in the mud. He will see the wounded, the dying, and the dead first hand. His every breath will have the smell of battle in it; every morsel of food will taste of this war. Yes, I have it very easy, do I not?
I wish I knew what time it was. My dime store watch failed me soon after I signed up for the Flying Corps, joining my hopes and dreams of living a peaceful life. It feels as if I have been awake for hours, pondering my fate as well as the seeming lack of awareness of my squadron mates. Is it 1am? 2am? Is the 5am revelry right around the corner? I need to clear these thoughts from my head. I need to empty my mind of these things. These thoughts can only serve against me when I am in the air against the Hun. Thoughts such as these can only be my undoing, my greatest enemy.
I need to become blissfully unaware of what is to come.
What is that? Did I just hear...?
BANG! BANG! BANG! “REV-EIL-LEE! Rev-eil-lee is sounding....let’s get moving chaps!”, the officer on duty was yelling as the sound of an ungodly hammer banged away unseen in the barracks.
“Fall in for inspection in five minutes!!!!!” the officer screeched with the loudest, shrillest voice one could imagine at 5am.
As I prepared myself to leap to the floor and begin another day, the cause of my anxiety filled night suddenly and harshly became clear. Today was the day we were headed to France. Today was the day I, and the rest of the men in this room, now join the battle against the Huns.
I could feel myself grow pale and dizzy at precisely the moment the room began to spin. My surroundings suddenly went to a blurred vision of white followed by a loud thud and darkness...