Just A Boy
Noise. Just noise. Noise composing of gunshots, screams of the dying, swears of the living, unintelligible shouts by the scum we are fighting. Noises so deafening you can’t hear yourself think, much less your commander barking orders at you. It’s just another ordinary day at war for the veterans of the group. But for the newest members of the unit, it is terrifying. Take me for instance, only sixteen, and yet already heard enough stories of death and bloodshed to cause full grown men to lose their lunch. Suddenly, from behind me a voice shouts in German.
Even though I’ve only been enlisted for eight months, yet the German word meaning “Die” has already been shouted in my direction enough that it means nothing to me. That is the callousness that comes with being in the Army.
“American scum.” I’ve heard that enough times that I figured out what it meant without consulting a translator. I would point out the obvious lack of creativity in their insults if I didn’t shout the exact same thing at them. In fact, that’s why I lied about my age and enlisted, so I could kill Nazi scum.
But now, the man is closer. So close, in fact, he jolts me out of my thoughts. In war, you can’t afford to lose concentration. I’ve seen many people die because of that. I raise my gun and fire. Direct hit. Right through the head. He is dead. Oh, God. He is dead. My gun killed him. I killed him. Oh, God.
I swear. I curse the man, now lifeless at my feet, for making me kill him. I curse the Nazi scum, who put this man into harm’s way. I curse Hitler, for starting this all. I curse God, for putting me on this earth, only to make me take a man’s life. I curse anything and everything except myself, because I think if I don’t blame myself, I’ll convince myself it wasn’t my fault that this man is dead. I say man, yet it is only a boy, not much older than myself. Sixteen? Seventeen? Certainly no older than that. Suddenly a gunshot. It hits me. I feel it pierce my shoulder. I cry out, and slowly lose consciousness.
I open my eyes and the first thing I see is light. Light that seems so bright its blinding. I struggle to get up, but as soon as I put weight on my shoulder, I feel pain. Pain like I haven’t felt since I was eleven, when I was hit by a car and virtually shattered my ulna. Pain similar to what I felt when I broke my shin playing soccer two years ago. I cry out. Suddenly I hear a shout.
Suddenly there are four people surrounding my bed, two women and two men. One of the men has a stethoscope around his neck. Then it hits me, I’m in a field hospital in a non-combat zone. Then all the memories come rushing back to me.
Then I feel a sadness I haven’t felt since I learned my Dad died in a wreck when I was ten. When I learned about that, I became an atheist. How could God forsake someone so nice, so devout? Now I know he isn’t real. Either that or he is real, but doesn’t care, in which case I don’t want to follow him anyway. How could God let someone so young die, killed by a person just as young.
Now the doctor is removing the bandage from my shoulder. The wound is bloody and sickening to look at. I turn my head. One of the nurses asks me if I need anything. I asked for something to drink and a few minutes later she returns with a cup of water. By this time, the doctor has put on a new bandage and leaves to attend to another unlucky person. However, the nurse lingers.
“Ya feelin’ okay?” She says in a twangy Southern accent.
“Except for the pain in my shoulder, yes. Where am I?”
France. Ya were sent there with all the other critical cases. You’ve been in and out of consciousness for four days. I highly doubt ya even remember any of it.”
There is a long pause. Then,
“Is there something else the matter? I was originally trained to be a psychiatrist, but the army’s recruitin’ anybody with a medical degree.”
Suddenly, I break down. I start crying like a baby. I manage to mumble.
“I killed someone. Oh God. He was only a kid.”
Immediately her face softens up and she sits on the bed and puts her arm around me. In that instant she turned from a stranger into a sort of motherly figure, even though she could only have been in her late 20’s.
“Oh, shoot. You ain’t the first to have trouble with this. How old are ya?”
“Nineteen,” I lied, badly.
“Yeah right, don’t lie to me; there ain’t no way ya’s over eighteen. How old are ya, for real?”
“That’s more reasonable. Why did’ya join the Army?”
“I wanted to kill Nazis.”
“Why couldn’t you have waited ‘til ya were eighteen?”
“I was afraid the war would be over by then.”
“God, I hope your right. There are too many young boys dyin’ out there.”
“That German boy I killed was young. He probably had a family. I took him away from them.”
“Hon, there wasn’t anything ya could’ve done different.”
“I know but that doesn’t make me feel any better.”
“Ain’t nothin’ that gonna make ya feel better. Rest up, so ya shoulder gets better.”
Then she slowly got up and walked away. I went back to sleep, my dreams filled with the image of the dead boy.
I never had another meaningful conversation with that nurse, except when she told me she was going back home to
Tennessee. I thanked her and never saw her again. One month later, I celebrated my birthday. My only birthday present was a letter from my sister, and it was two months old. Three months later I was cleared ready for battle and sent to some town in
Germany, where the Nazis had fallen back to because of a joint attack by the French and the Polish. My commander, I soon learned, was foul-mouthed, but cared about each soldier individually. I liked him as soon as I met him. I was still having the dreams about the boy and it pulled me into a further state of depression. Once, when we were all eating breakfast, my commander called me over.
He said “Private, I heard you mumbling in your sleep last night, and heard a noise that sounded like crying. Is something wrong?”
“There is something the matter, and a soldier is not at his best when he is troubled. And I will not have less than 100 percent from my soldiers. Is that clear?”
“Well, a few months ago before I got shot” I paused, because I was afraid that he would think I was unmanly.
“Go on.” He reassured me.
“I killed a man.”
“That’s what we do in war, we kill people.”
“Yes, but he was very young, maybe sixteen or seventeen.”
“So not much older than you.”
“I’m nineteen years old.”
He swore and said “You’re no older than seventeen at most.”
“Alright” I sighed. “I’m seventeen.”
“We’ve all killed someone. Every single man here. And 80 percent of them felt bad after it. It will pass.”
“I’ve felt bad for four months.”
He swore again and said in a voice that showed me he was annoyed “Was the guy going to kill you?”
“Yes” I said quickly.
“If the man was trying to kill you, you just defended yourself. It was either your life or his.”
“But still,” I try to say before my commander cuts me off.
“You are in war, private. War is killed or be killed. You joined the army to do just that. Kill people. That boy probably has a family, yes, but so do you. Are you going to let someone take you away from them?”
After saying that, he walked off. I sit down and lean against a wall. Soon I am asleep. For the first time in five months, I don’t dream about the boy. I am woken up by my commander, saying”
“Private, we just got word that Nazis are almost here. Looks like a lot of ‘em. Prepare for an all out assault by the Nazis.”
With that, he walked off and kicked a few more men awake.
Suddenly shouts come from up ahead. The Germans are attacking. Oh God, here we go again. But now I’m prepared. I tell my fellow soldiers, who are beginning to rise, last night’s guards from their card games, the rest from their sleep.
“Come on guys, it’s Nazi killing’ time.”
I see the commander smile, pick up his gun, and walk away.
All rights belong to its author. It was published on e-Stories.org by demand of Adam Bridges.
Published on e-Stories.org on 05/17/2010.