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Rated: E · Short Story · Military · #2074467
A brief descriptive for a perspective on life under fire.
He woke up on his left side, his head lower than his feet. His mind reached around like a grasping hand, trying to figure out what had happened. He wanted to sit up, and he wanted to stay down as a warm numbness crept over his right side. There was a light hum in his ears as he opened his eyes to darkness...well, not complete darkness. That was when he realized his helmet was laying over his head and reality suddenly righted itself. He remembered the whine of the mortar round as it fell on his landing party, and the sickening cartwheel he'd been slung into as the shell landed less than 10 feet away from him. He knew he'd landed in the shallow ravine like an abandoned rag doll, and he started assessing his injuries mentally. As he started to sit up, he felt two sets of hands pushing him back down. The helmet slipped to the side and he recognized the corpsman kneeling beside him as he allowed himself to be laid back down. Chief McMillan was at his head, pressing his shoulders back down as he retrieved the helmet.

"It's alright, lieutenant, we gotcha. I'm just gonna put yer helmet back to keep all this crap outta yer eyes." As the light was dimmed once again by his helmet, the lieutenant continued his own inventory. He could feel field dressings up and down his right side, and a couple of places where semi-cool air blew across his exposed skin where the corpsman had cut away his shirt and a portion of his pant leg. He must have been out for a while, that much was certain. He felt a sudden twinge as a piece of shrapnel popped out, pulled by the medic's forceps. He smelled the acrid scent of blood stop powder as it was sprinkled on the wound and the dressing. The Chief pulled his helmet away and looked down at him with a crooked grin, "Well, looks like yer stayin' among the livin' fer awhile, sir. Let's get you back upright." As the Chief and the corpsman sat him up, he took stock of the ravine and its occupants. He counted 16 backs facing outwards from him, keeping watch. His brain struggled for a moment with the math...the number 20 came to mind...the medic and the Chief....

(That's 18...oh, and me, that's 19...shit...I lost a man...) He began looking around, trying to figure which one he'd lost...his frantic brain trying to come to grips with losing one of his shipmates. His voice came out akin to a croak, "Dammit Chief, who'd we lose?" The Chief's expression was a moment of disbelief, then he began to laugh. The lieutenant both saw and felt the rhythm of the laugh in the very earth itself, and then realized he was leaning against something moving. (Oh, two sets of hands laid me back down...not the medic.) Morton, the first class gunner's mate was laughing with the Chief as he held the lieutenant upright. The world was right again. And then it hit him. "You mean to tell me that I'm the only one got smacked?" The Chief chuckled, "No sir, there's a few cuts and bruises, but you're the only one got launched. The shell landed in a mudhole next to the trail and tossed you sideways like a busted puppet." his fingers rotated in the air, describing the cartwheel that had brought him into the ravine. "You've got a lotta shrapnel up yer side on the right, but none of it looks too serious. You've only been down about 20 minutes, just long enough for us to put a hurtin' on those fellers with the mortar."

The lieutenant started to stand, but found balancing was just a bit too much for him right then. They eased him back down. He knew he couldn't stop...he'd get stiff and unable to move at all if he didn't get to his feet. The Chief met his gaze squarely, understanding without words what was going through the younger man's mind. "Let's try that again, L-T, I know we need to get movin' if we're gonna finish the day on the plus side." They eased him to his feet again, a little more slowly this time, and he was able to get his legs under him. "Chief, I might need a little help getting back up on the trail if you please, then we'll be on our way." With Morton and McMillan's assistance, he got back onto the trail. He retrieved his rifle from the corpsman and asked about his rucksack. McMillan looked down into the ravine. The lieutenant followed his gaze to the remnants of the shredded pack that had surely saved his life. McMillan grinned again, and said simply, "That's one way to get outta carryin' that crap around, sir."

"It is indeed, Chief, but I don't think I'd recommend doing it on a regular basis. Naval supply would probably start getting suspicious pretty quickly, not to mention the shortage of soft landing spots out here in the boondocks." They all shared a short, quiet laugh, then turned back onto the trail, back on mission. He knew he'd just come out alright against the odds, and said a little prayer for the person who'd made out the specification sheet for every item he'd been carrying. As they all made their way out of the ravine, each man looked down at the shattered remains of the pack and shook his head. One man summed it up as they moved out again, "Thank God for MilSpec, huh?"
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