Who counts casualties in a soldiers' dream; who sings the hymn of the battles end scene?
February 19, 1945
My Sweetest Grace.
Unable to press your fragile hand to my lips due to distance, imagination will have to suffice my dear. Every effort to share this epistolary, in clumsy manner, will probably lead to greater confusion, as to how we invaded a small island this day.
Darling! You would enjoy the quietness of this strategic parcel of land, a hands-breadth from the rising sun.
Ah, but the place is deserted! I can hear your laughter bubbling like a forest brook as you imagine I exaggerate. Yet, it has been so peaceful this afternoon, even as more marines arrive on the beach by the minute.
Remember the picnics, a few summers gone, my love? The mountain we can see, south of our position, reminds me of the chalk cliffs of home. There has been a restfulness in my mind, and a feeling of floating on a cloud. Thoughts of you and home bring me undone. Discouraging, you know. Around the chaps. So, I'll write you news instead.
Never fear. They say we'll not be here long. The enemy must have retreated, or be vanquished; of them there is no sign. Perhaps we'll sail for home earlier than I thought.
For a moment I thought my head was spinning, just now, or my eyes playing tricks. I awoke from a bad dream some time in the early hours of this morning.
Reveille of trumpets announce dawn across the sea. I know this is silly of me, but I can clearly discern a xylophone's stealthy resonance as it tiptoes across invasion's beach, and knocks on victory's door - the echo sounds over the volcanic ash, against the yellow rocky crags of Mount Suribachi herself.
Staccato drumming of artillery, swift mantra of Air and Navel bombardment, sweeping swathes of chattering machine gun emplacements, the tinkling of ammunition belts, and the answering menace from the crouching enemy within the pillboxes, play notes of destruction. They rain down movements, orchestral in discipline, accurate and increasing in tempo until I fear drowning in a sea, not of water but outpouring of living souls.
From whence this cacophonous ensemble is coming I am clueless, but I wish it would cease. My head is filled to bursting, I taste blood. My tongue burns with thirst. Through red mist I view a sight to terrorise any hero. The invisible concerto builds, rushing like a wall of tidal water across the Channel. Those English sand flats back home lift and converge, unseen the salty tears- as they silently suffocate any souls lost in that infernal sea fog. How many have perished in that treachery I cannot fathom, but I feel again the dread, the dream-like certainty of annihilation, here on Iwo Jima.
All around me the fog is lifting. The screaming lifts as well the hairs on my neck. My hand comes away bloody but it cannot be mine- that amount. The owner of the spreading claret could be any number of the multitude of crimson covered bodies lying abandoned, arms flung, legs twisted, faces astonished as they focus on something far beyond the ship studded horizon- the afterlife.
But I cannot stay here, calmly describing a sight you'd rather not hear. My love, there is a man nearby whose mouth is open and his face beet red, his throat open to my gaze. He screams so carefully the sound is a whisper to my ears. The head-spins are happening once again dearest darling. Grace? Why are you staring at me with such tear filled eyes?
I must help the screaming man and tend his injuries, but I'm prevented by my fellow soldiers who have their fists wrapped around a length of pipe. The angle slowly rises, as does the music, loudly announcing a crescendo in my understanding.
They are standing, pushing the pole aloft, with ensign billowing in the smoke, beats of someone's drum lending a ceremonial authority to this moment. You'd almost think it was history in the making, my dear!
And if I wasn't trapped in this cursed dream, I'd be able to help them lift that flag overhead, help them carry the weeping man, carry the wounded on the stretchers, away to a quiet place where they can shout for their mother, in private.
My head that should have bowed in respect to these brave, blood soaked battlers, does so in frustration instead. For no matter how much I try, every attempt to stand and lend assistance ends in motionless, quiet anger.
My eyes travel lower, and I'm so thankful that this, dear, darling Grace, really is a dream. The man who was screaming is trying to stand on his stretcher. His legs end at the thighs in eye closing monstrosity. There is nothing there. His legs, like my hearing, are silent and invisible. He gives a groan and the sound is the first I've heard all day. The primal utterance comes from somewhere far away, and I feel so sorry for the soldier man. If only he was like me, waiting in tranquillity where we landed this morning, on the beach of Iwo Jima.
There's nobody here. Soon we'll scout the island and declare it ours, without any banner raising bloodshed.
The puzzle I'm left with is not about dreams, or flags of victory, but refers to the paper and ink used to pen these few lines, darling Grace. The stationery was here a moment ago, I'm certain. Oh, you'll surely receive this letter in a few weeks. With luck we might even disembark before it reaches you, unlike the poor fellow lying on that stretcher in my dream, in my silence.
Now he's just a human shell, and there is no chance he survived the night with those injuries. He'll lie in stillness of death, killed by a shell, becoming a shell. A shell containing only sound. A sound shell. Sounds unable to register in human ears- if there were any left to hear.
He'll pass away a few minutes after I saw his shattered legs, his leaking torso, his bleeding heart.
With All My Love,
Your Silent Companion.
(Contest Entry. Word Count 1031)