Even by today’s standards, the devastation was overwhelming. Bodies were strewn throughout the battlefield … some still breathing their last as they prayed for death in order to take them from the pain created by their open wounds. Moans crying for the help that never came were incessant and constant. Those who had died with eyes opened did not display any sense of peace in their demise. There were some bodies that laid atop one another in an attempt to save the person underneath from the shelling. Some of the foxholes were only partially dug because of the suddenness of the attack catching those who were digging them unawares. Others were caught in their foxholes while hunkering down to escape the onslaught. Some of the wounded just laid there quietly in the realization of the starkness of their plight … a sense of acceptance of their fate without going through the torture of believing that somehow they were going to be saved. Except for the light of the moon, total darkness covered the field.
The bombs, napalm and grenades had burned much of the growth that surrounded this battlefield. The soldiers not only tasted the dirt that lay underneath them but also the soot that the fires from hell created. Their dry mouths longed for just a small sip of water but that was not to be. The suffering took many different avenues apart from the open wounds. Sometimes, one of the soldiers would feel that the side effects were much worse than the wounds themselves… Why …? Why had all mankind set out to destroy both man and land? To what end was this violence going to make a difference? Would there ever be an ending? In addition, what about those left behind? What about the women and children whose fates would be sorely affected by this horrible tragedy without ever experiencing it? All they could do was wonder whether their loved one would ever make it back home and pray that they would do so in one piece.
Ben heard the dreaded order yelled by the captain over the din of those who were still moaning their plight … “FIX BAYONETS!” It was time to finish cleaning up those who were still alive and able to fight which was the usual procedure after an aerial attack. He did as he was ordered. Then the second command, “ADVANCE,” rang out. Despite his leg wound he rose up out of his foxhole and gingerly climbed out onto the open field ready to do battle. He ran as fast as he could in order to avoid enemy shelling and once he reached the enemy line, he jumped into the first foxhole that he encountered. Lying there, half dead with blood streaming from his face, was Heinrich. He was helpless as he saw Ben raise his rifle, bayonet pointing downward to strike the final blow.
Because of the shrapnel wounds to his mouth and jaw, Heinrich could not speak. However, his eyes focused on Ben as he was about to strike that final blow. They were eyes that were pleading for mercy and Ben clearly could sense that. He was about to plunge his sword into Heinrich’s chest when a feeling of compassion came over him. He was taught to hate the enemy as a means of being able to carry through with the kill but somehow this was different. He stopped the movement of the rifle in mid-air only to stare intently onto Heinrich’s facial contortion as he anticipated the blow. It seemed that his paused position lasted an eternity as a myriad of thoughts and feelings raced through his mind. Finally, he brought his rifle down and laid it on the ground. He knelt down over the enemy soldier and took some medical supplies out of his backpack in order to administer to Heinrich’s wounds as best he could. As he wiped the blood from his face he muttered expletives as if to condemn himself for not following through as he had been taught from the time of his induction into the Army. As he was administering, a medic arrived and took over attending to Heinrich as well as to Ben’s wounds. They were transported from the battlefield … Ben to an Army hospital and Heinrich to a concentration camp that housed prisoners of war. They never saw each other again after that episode.
It is now fifty years later. The scene of that frozen moment was emblazoned in his mind. There were times when it would appear unannounced providing the resurrection of the same agony that he had experienced along with what felt like a compulsion that he needed to do something about those thoughts and feelings. Now Ben was a good soldier and he revered his role in bringing temporary peace to the world and would go to those ceremonies that honored both the war dead as well as those who survived. This would probably be his last venture because age and infirmity as well as the old war wounds prevented his traveling much anymore. He was sitting in the audience listening to one of the many speeches that were given in commemoration of those who fought, their dedication and bravery as well as having so many give up their lives for the sake of bringing about the peace.
He had the feeling that someone’s eyes were staring at him from behind. He automatically turned to see if his suspicions were true and then, sure enough, there was a man with a disfigured face looking at him. “This couldn’t be” he thought. After the speech ended, he rose from his chair and went to the individual whom he sense he recognized as being Heinrich. Ben could speak some German and Heinrich some English although Heinrich’s speech was very labored because of the wounds he had sustained. Nevertheless, they began to communicate and agreed to go for some coffee together. They did not speak of that horrible encounter. They spoke of their families … their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. It was time for the reunion to take place, Ben thought. Yes, it was time and somehow, that experience curtailed the memory of the “almost kill.” He was now able to find some closure to the event and replaced many of those thought with the memory of the good wishes that each old warrior expressed to one another.
(11 July 2012)
Both as a consultant and author, Charles Bonasera’s story-telling have motivated people to change patterns and resolve problems in their lives. All of his books contain valuable, practical lessons that people can easily apply to bettering and managing their lifestyles. He has also written a myriad of articles which can be found on his website at www.charlesmbonasera.com.