One of the first things I noticed about Sully was that pained look about him when he shot down a running man. Originally, I was assigned to Captain Leonardo Britton the first time I was airlifted to North Korea. Goodness…that flight was simply horrid. Everything was shaking and by the time we actually landed, every damn private was groggy, sick, and seconds away from losing their lunch in front of our superiors. I was always a girl with motion sickness issues – although I grew out of it by the time I moved to the U.S., I still felt like upchucking the second Britton’s cold eyes settled on me.
Captain Britton reminded me of my father in a lot of the worst ways, but he lacked the kindness that Father often showed in private. But I couldn’t blame Britton for his nature, even when he was alive. He might have been a cold, overbearing, and incredibly unsympathetic individual I still strangely accepted his character and respected him. Not because he was my CO, but because the man knew his way around a weapon and was relentless to complete our assignments.
Hell, believe it or not, I was saddened by his death.
We were squatting in some ruins, a little south of a rural settlement, waiting for pick-up. Bernard, a red-haired kid from South Carolina, was shot down by a sniper while we were making our way up north. Our medic, a forty-something violinist by the name of Daniel Richards, managed to patch him up, but we were stuck at the ruins for the time being. Captain Breton was unwilling to move Bernard and we ended up ducking our heads several times and staying away from open areas while we waited for a pick-up. It took four bloody hours for them to get to us, and by the time they did, Bernard was half-way gone, Richards shot in the arm, and Breton dead…shot in the head by that very same sniper.
Out of the four, I got out without a scratch (well, not literally). The pilot on the helicopter said I was lucky, although I only half-believed the git. Richards got re-assigned and Bernard got sent back home without an arm. I’d hate to say it out loud, but I was happy to see the kid go; he was younger than me and certainly didn’t deserve to be fighting without living a life of his own first. And the last I saw of Captain Breton was his closed casket, about to be airlifted home with the other fallen. I didn’t cry for him, but I thought of his rarely mentioned sons and daughters. They’d have to say goodbye to their father after the end rather than before.
I saluted the airplane as it went off.
A little over a week, I met Sully, Judd, and McGuire. Captain Sullivan was a bit solemn upon my arrival and re-assignment, although not openly. I could see it in his eyes, as cheesy that may sound. He momentarily reminded of my brother upon hearing my decision that I was joining the Marines. I thought for a second if there was another soldier before me – some young poor soul whose place I’ve taken. I didn’t ask the captain though. Nor Judd or McGuire. “Less said about life’s sorrows, the better.” Father used to say, although I always thought that was half-true. Nonetheless, I never asked.
Thomas McGuire was…interesting. Funny; oddly cheery and a tad heartwarming at such a horrid time for us all, but he means well.Meant. It still feels strange and numbing to acknowledge his death, even though I was there the moment he was shot down. I’d miss him, a bit more than Richards’ warm nature, but I didn’t speak openly about it. Not to Judd or to Sullivan. Partly becauseIknew we’ve all seen death and, no matter what, McGuire was just another dead solider. Everything was just...upsetting whenever I saw dead men and women from both sides…especially McGuire’s cold and dirt-ridden face and Captain Breton’s shut eyes.
Being a part of Sully’s Squad for nearly a month, and upon McGuire’s death, Judd and I exchanged few words. Even when I informed Sull of McGuire’s death, we hadn’t said much before then.
“McGuire’s gone,” I had told Judd, spotting his buzz cut and his faint and growing facial hair from across the camp. I told myself to ignore the scars, distracting as they were.
“A gunman got behind us. I think he knew he was going to die, so he took McGuire with him.” I felt sad for the opposing solider. Going in with that sort of thinking is not a way a person should die. Even if the nameless man was fighting against us.
“Where’s the captain?” Judd asked, after staring at me for a moment or two. I tried not to feel unsettled by his presence or his glare, but that man was unbelievably tough looking and with that sort of appearance came immediate intimidation.
“He’s coming in with the next convoy, sir.” Judd nodded, and didn’t say a word after that.
It was then when the lieutenant reminded me of a guard dog. Standing to attention for hours and chasing off the nearest intruder with a frightening bark, and an even worse bite. I just really hoped he’d never use that bite on me.
Sullivan arrived not a minute too soon and I saw that solemn look again. I was seeing it a whole lot lately, but I didn’t mention this to Judd. I respected the captain enough to not speak openly about what I shouldn’t.
“Private.” He greeted and I saluted.
“Nice to see you back Captain,” I replied kindly, my accent kicking in wonderfully. I dropped my hand. “Uh sir, I have some news. McGuire’s been killed.”
He looked at me and I think I just saw that somber appearance become much more serious. “How?”
I swallowed thickly; the words hanging on my tongue were heavy and overcoming. “A shooter got behind us, sir. I doubt it was an intended ambush, but he shot McGuire in the chest before he could even blink. I took the bloody bastard to hell, but it was too late for McGuire. I’m…sorry, sir.”
Sullivan nodded again, a shared silence between us before he disappeared to inform McGuire’s wife.
I glanced at Judd, a bit tearful but I did well to hide it. “Think she’ll be okay?”
The lieutenant looked up at me. “Who?”
“McGuire’s wife…I think her name is Shelia. Do you think she’ll be okay after McGuire’s death?”
I’m not sure what it meant, but Judd looked at me as if I was some sort of oblivious kid who didn’t know what I was doing or saying. He didn’t answer me of course; I knew better than to expect one. Instead he just past a look at the wound on my arm and the large scar dropping along my elbow. “Get yourself cleaned up, Churchmen. You’re bleeding, if you haven’t noticed.”
I took it as an order and walked away. Words weren’t really needed right now.