The Limit

The sun is high in the sky, it’s hot, and the mosquitoes are out in force; another wonderful day in the Marine Corps. It was only four hours ago that the two-ton trucks brought us here from the naval center, dropping us off in the middle of nowhere. We staged our gear at a back-woods community center, got our instructions for the day, and set off on this little nature hike. But let there be no mistake, this isn’t for pleasure. It’s land navigation ladies and gents, and it’s a pain in the ass.

I hang back a bit as the master sergeant – or “Top” as we often refer to the rank – confers with another corporal. I’m a corporal myself, but new to the rank, and don’t really have aspirations to take any kind of leadership position just yet. Besides, these aren’t my marines. This is a temporary squad, formed just for the day, and for this particular exercise. As luck would have it, I got on a bus with Top Gentry’s communications platoon, and now I’m trudging up and down these lousy hills with marines I don’t even know. My guys have probably broken out the beer by now, saying fuck-all to the mission, since I’m sure Top Martinez, my master sergeant and highly motivational leader, managed to wrangle all the checkpoint info out of somebody before we even got here.

Looking around, I spot a good place to park it, and take the opportunity to sit down while I can. If there’s one thing you learn quickly in the corps, it’s to “smoke ‘em if you got ‘em.” I’m using that as a figure of speech. I don’t smoke. To those who don’t speak marine, it means take a break when you see the opportunity. One has to anticipate, and find a way to merge the “hurry up and wait” regime with the “be prepared” philosophy. There’s going to be a lot of downtime, so you’d better think of something to do before it happens. Of course, I screwed up on this one, and now I’m stuck here in the woods without my practical knowledge books to study. I’m not making excuses, it’s definitely my fault. I was feeling like such a lazy bastard this morning that I just didn’t want to lug them around through the forest all day.

I pull my canteen out of its pouch, and unscrew the top. No matter how long you drink it, you never get used to the smell or taste of canteen water. The plastic taints it, making it unnatural. Taking a couple of sips, I do my best to pretend it’s just like normal water. It doesn’t work. I’ve seen marines fill their canteens with cool-aid, or in some cases, even beer. There’s a reason the words “fill only with water” are molded right into the green outer-surface of the container – whatever you fill these things with has a tendency to absorb slightly into the plastic, leaving a little of itself, both smell and taste, for weeks to come. Now I don’t know about you, but I don’t appreciate it all that much when my water has a tint of beer in it. Not to mention what happens to you if you’re caught with alcohol in your canteen. Pain. That’s what happens.

After putting the canteen away, I fish around in my pockets for any remainders of noontime chow. Usually I’ll pull all of the snacks from an MRE – Meal Ready to Eat – and save them for later. Today I lucked out and got a pack of M&Ms as well as the much coveted sawdust bar. If you’re wondering what a sawdust bar is, you probably won’t appreciate it out of context. A dry rectangular block that looks and feels like a piece of particleboard. Sounds tasty, right? Well, considering that it has the flavor of graham crackers, enough calories packed into it to last you for a few hours, and beats the hell out of anything else you’re going to find in a bag-nasty, you learn to horde them like gold. Some marines will even trade a better portion of a meal for one. I’m one of those marines.

Top Gentry gives the signal to move on, and our little procession starts forward. I put the rest of the candy back into my pocket and get on my feet. Top is explaining our course of action to the hard-charger is who’s seen it fit to put himself in the second-in-charge position, as well as whoever else will listen. I know I should, but honestly, I don’t respect him enough to put out that kind of energy. I’m usually not this kind of slacker, but when it comes to being led by inflexible, by-the-book types, I’m less than willing to put out full effort.

I’ve had a close experience with this master sergeant before, and though I try not to let it cloud my judgment, it’s difficult. It was during our last swim qualification. Technically, we’re supposed to have one every year, but in this unit it doesn’t happen. Anyway, I was appointed as one of the lifeguards, having the highest swim-qual rating one can have without specialized training. There aren’t many others in the unit at this level, and those of us that do rate it take a certain amount of pride in the matter. It came time for Top to swim, since qualification knows no rank. He made it clear to us that he was in no way comfortable in the water, had a hard time swimming, and would thus appreciate it if we kept an eye on him. No problem. That was our job, we assured him. Nonetheless, the second he got water in his mouth, he panicked. His arms flailed, and he literally screamed for help. We got him out of the pool, and I could never look at him the same way again. It may not be right for me to judge him for something like that, after all a lot of folks have phobias, but along with command there come a few expectations. One of them is control. In my opinion he needs to be behind a desk pushing paper, not in charge of a platoon.

Now I’m stuck following him through these damn woods, and I sure don’t plan to give him any more than is basically required of me. Besides, I’m grumpy because I fucking hate mosquitoes. I start to daydream, looking forward to getting back to base-camp, makeshift as it may be – we’ve commandeered the community center for the next twenty-four hours. Since I’m the company electrician, the upside of this training exercise is that I don’t have to worry about generator setup.

There’s a commotion in the group to my right, and the word “down” catches my ear. I look over, and see that someone is on the ground. Several others are starting to gather around, and one of them kneels down next to the fallen marine.

“She’s out. Top! Marine down!”

It’s the one woman of the whole squad, PFC Sang. What kind of dumb luck is that? Women have a bad enough rep in the corps as it is, and this kind of thing happening just makes it worse.

Top Gentry rushes over. “What happened here?”

“Heat exhaustion is what it looks like,” is the reply from the marine at the woman’s side.

Corporal sidekick pushes his way through the crowd and speaks with authority. “I’m an EMT, I’ll take care of this.” Damn, does this guy ever quit? The kneeling marine, a lance corporal, doesn’t move. Despite the lesser rank, he replies simply “So am I. Relax.” Turning to the marine nearest him, the lance corporal says, “Get me water. We need to cool her down, or this could get a lot worse, and we don’t have the equipment for that.”

Top Gentry leans down. “What’s the situation, and what are our courses of action?”

“We need to get a corpsman down here. If she goes into heatstroke, she’ll need an IV. And we need to figure out how to get her out of here.” The name corpsman is a little misleading. They’re the medics of the Marine Corps, but are really just navy personnel assigned to marine detachments. We don’t rate to have medics in our own service.

Turning to corporal sidekick, Gentry gives the radio order. “Get comm to send the word topside about the situation. Tell them we’ll send a man to meet them at our course entry point.” It’s the most sensible and concise order I think I’ve ever seen him give. Maybe he can perform when called to action.

The corporal, still trying to regain his dignity after being snubbed by a lance-coolie, strides off with a purpose. “Comm!”

Someone hands the EMT a canteen, which he splashes sparingly over Sang’s t-shirt, I assume in an effort to cool her down. Looking around he asks, “Who was near her when she passed out?”

“I was.” Another lance corporal steps forward. “She said she needed to sit down, and then she fell over.”

“Did you see her drink anything? She doesn’t have her canteens with her.”

“No. She didn’t ask for any water from me, and I think she said she hadn’t eaten breakfast.”

“Brilliant.”

Indeed. You have to be pretty retarded to not drink or eat anything when you’re going to be marching through rough terrain all day. I often wonder how some people even make it through boot camp. It’s a cold thing to say, but if she survives this, she’s going to have learned one hell of a lesson.

Top stands, and looks around. “I need a volunteer to get up to the road, and guide the corpsmen back down to our position.” Now there’s a lousy job for you. We’re at the bottom of a valley, and the quickest way to the road is at least a half a mile up a thirty-degree slope. No trail, so there’ll be a lot of guesswork involved in figuring out where the entry point is. Sounds right up my alley, so I volunteer. Not for Top Gentry’s sake, but because a marine, dumb-ass or not, legitimately needs help. Besides, it beats the hell out of staying down here with this group.

“I’ll go, Top.”

Gentry looks over at me. Whether or not he recognizes me from the pool incident, I can’t tell.

“Good. You know the way?”

“Yeah, I know how to get there.” Sometimes you just have to lie a little.

“Be as fast as you can. The corpsmen will meet you at the road.”

Without another word, I’m on my way. It isn’t the same as I remember coming down. It’s steeper now. The ground is covered with old leaves, logs, branches, and other assorted foliage. My feet continually slip, doubling my efforts to climb to the top of this damned hill. I’m in decent shape, which is good, because otherwise I’d be dying right about now. Even still, this is no picnic. But to hell with it, there’ll be time to catch my breath when I get to the top. I have to guess at which way to go when getting around a particularly steep section of the hill, because there’s no good line of sight. Scrambling up over the rise, I see that I’ve guessed right, and there’s a clear enough route to the top. When I get there, I’m right on target for location. The opening that leads to the road is looking me square in the face. Pushing myself a little more, I run through, surprising the group of marines who are sitting around, shooting the shit.

“Are… the corpsmen… here?” It’s tough to spit out the words between my gasps for breath.

“Uh, no. No corpsmen.” They all look a little confused.

“Damn… navy.” It’s pretty typical, really. Which on the one hand is fine, since now I’ll have a chance to catch my breath. On the other hand, there’s no reason they shouldn’t be here by now. They’ve got a humvee, I’ve been on foot, and I’m pretty damn certain that I was further away than they were.

“What’s going on, man?”

I hold up a finger, indicating that he’s not going to get an answer until I get a bit more of the sweet oxygen that my lungs are desperately sucking in. One of them hands me a canteen, which I gladly take from him. Another golden rule to always follow is this: use any other resources as long as they’re there. You may need yours later, so make ‘em last. After a minute I’m able to get my breathing back under control, and take a few sips of the water. Now I’m ready to hold a conversation.

“We have a marine down on the floor of the valley. The dumb-ass didn’t drink any water, and now she’s passed out from heat exhaustion.”

“Damn. That sucks.”

“Yeah. Not just for her either.”

“You need us to radio the command center?”

“No. We already did. At least, I’m assuming they did. The corpsmen were supposed to meet me. But… since they’re not here, maybe you could check on their status.”

“Sure thing, corporal. Follow me.” We make for the radio just as a Humvee turns off the main road, heading in our direction. It pulls to a stop, three corpsmen get out, and approach us.

“Which of you marines is Elliott,” asks one of the newcomers.

I step forward. “That would be me, doc.” And you took your sweet time getting here.

“Alright. Davis, Jackson, grab the gear.” The two squids behind the guy I’m talking to walk to the back of their vehicle, and start getting out their equipment. It consists of two shoulder bags and an archaic stretcher that looks circa world war two. Have fun carrying that down the hill, gents. They’re ready quickly, and all three of them now look at me expectantly.

“Okay. Let’s go.” I take off at a slow jog back toward the hill.

It’s funny how two different perspectives of the same hill can look so different. Well, it’s not really funny right now, that’s just a figure of speech. The traveling is certainly easier on the way down, however. And much quicker. I’m about a hundred paces ahead of the crew when I reach the edge of a rock face. Turning around, I signal to the doc to veer further north. I’ve done my fair share of hiking today, and don’t feel like climbing around the obstacle. The drop is only 10 feet or so, so I jump for it. My feet sink a good six inches into the leafy ground, and I end up sliding another six feet down the hill. Somehow I don’t fall, and with a new rush of adrenaline from the leap, I scramble around the bottom of the rocks to get the corpsmen back into my line of sight.

They’re still a good distance up the hill, but the going is a little clearer from here on out. It’s a good opportunity to gain a little further ground, and still maintain visibility with the team. When I get to the bottom it’s with a big lead, which is good since the scenery is only vaguely familiar. I decide to use a little common sense rather than waste more time, and shout out, “Charlie squad! Where are you?”

A couple of seconds go by before a reply of “Here” rings out from further north. Damn, missed the mark by quite a bit from the sounds of it. I look back toward the docs to see if they’ve heard the exchange. They’re angling in that direction, so I assume that they have. In a less than wise maneuver, I take a shortcut through the brush and tree-branches. I make it to the site at roughly the same time they do.

“Elliott!” calls out Top. I look over, and he’s beckoning me. I join him, and he continues. “Sgt Metzer is at the top of the hill. He wants someone to go and lead him to our location. Are you up for it?” Sgt. Metzer. The man is a total a badass. Formerly a Force Recon marine, he switched his specialty and now works as our armorer. He’s the one who set up this land nav course in the first place. For all I know that’s why he, or someone, wants him down here. Before I realize it, the words have come out of my mouth.

“Sure. I’m game, top.”

And so for the second time within the hour, I find myself climbing this damn hill. A little wiser about it this time, I actually look ahead to see where the medics came down previously. As I climb, one thought runs predominantly through my mind: I don’t believe this shit. What a day this is turning out to be. Arriving at the top of the hill, I see the sergeant waiting there, just as promised. He doesn’t waste any time, which means he doesn’t even give me a chance to catch my breath before saying, “Show me the way, Elliott.”

“Yes sergeant,” are the words that come out of my mouth. And I do just that.

Fifteen minutes later we arrive at the site. Sergeant Metzer makes a direct line to Top Gentry, and I collapse on a log. Fumbling with my canteen, I’m finally able to free it from the pouch, and disregarding any nonsense about how one should only sip water after serious exertion, I guzzle. The taste is delicious, and it requires effort not to drink it all. I stretch out my legs, and enjoy the rest. Looking over at PFC I-obviously-didn’t-listen-to-my-mother-when-she-told-me-that-breakfast-was-the-most-important-meal-of-the-day, I see that she’s now covered with a poncho liner. Not a very bright idea to put a blanket over someone with heat exhaustion. Curious about this, I get the attention of another corporal. “Hey, what’s with Sang?”

“I guess she got too cold with all the water they dumped on her. Now they’re trying to keep her warm so she doesn’t go into shock or something.” Jesus Christ. It’s a good thing we brought the docs down here, or she’d probably be dead by now. Mental note: don’t pass out when comm. Platoon is around.

Feeling a bit rested, I get up and meander over to where Top and Sgt Metzer are talking. “…and have them meet us there,” finishes the sergeant.

“Who do you want to take with you?”

Sgt Metzer looks at me, since I seem to have picked exactly the right moment to enter their field of awareness. “I’ll take Elliott.” Huh? Take Elliott where?

“Where’s that Sergeant?”

“We’re going to run up to the boat-house, and bring a couple of canoes back down the creek. Then the docs will move her out to the lake, and get her to a more accessible location for airlift. She needs medical attention, so they’re going to try and get the Army air medevac to come in and get her to Madigan Hospital.”

“You need me to go?”

“Always travel in pair, Elliott. Safety.” Right. “You up for this?”

“Yes sergeant.” I’m going on a mission with Sgt. frickin’ Metzer. He picked me.

“Good. Got all your gear?”

“Yes sergeant.”

“Then let’s get a move-on.”

He turns, and jogs off at a steady pace. I match it, suddenly realizing that I have no idea how far we’re going, or even where exactly we’re going. For that matter, I didn’t even know there was a lake nearby. Metzer’s good at picking the best spots to run through the woods. There is no trail, so it’s more a matter of finding areas with the least amount of foliage to break through. After five or ten minutes, however, it becomes clear that the forest is thickening, and even the sergeant’s good eye isn’t going to get us through the brambles. He stops, and holds up a hand for me to do the same. The sudden silence after the crashing of our boots on the forest floor is deafening. Only the sound of a creek, just off to our left, breaks it. Well, that and the sound of my ragged breathing. Metzer starts running again, without a word. A moment later, we break through the bushes and see the creek. It’s about ten feet across, maybe six inched to a foot deep, and runs through a ravine that time and the forces of nature have carved out of the forest. I hope to high heaven that this isn’t the creek associated with the canoe plan, because it just isn’t going to happen. But I’m too out of breath to ask such a question at this point.

Metzer looks back at me, and speaks for the first time since we’ve embarked. “This is where it gets fun, Elliott.” His words are followed by a smile that looks a little to wicked for my comfort. He climbs down into the ravine, and starts up the creek. “Now we won’t have to worry about the woods. It’s the quickest way.” I have no choice but to follow.

The water in the creek is cool, but not cold. For the sake of comfort, I wore my jungle boots today, which now proves to be a wise decision indeed. Made of a highly porous canvas, they’re made not to repel water, but to allow it to pass both in and out of a boot. This spares a marine the tragedy of trudging around in waterlogged leather boots, full to the brim. Unfortunately, the wool socks, boot inserts, and wet trousers still add up in the weight department. The first few minutes of splashing through the water aren’t bad. I look at it as an adventure. But as time goes on, the day’s activities so far begin to take their toll on my body. I’m a slightly above-average runner as far as the Marine Corps is concerned. I’ve got good endurance, and under normal circumstances a half hour run in boots-and-uts wouldn’t be a problem. But through the river and over the woods is another matter entirely. I suck it up, and push on.

After a while, the ravine shallows, turning instead into a high, rounded bank. Sgt Metzer scans the shore as we continue, looking for something that I neither see nor care about at this point. Finally, he seems to find what he’s been looking for, because he leaves the water, sprinting up the bank. Wearily following, moving much slower by the moment, I follow. A path leads through the woods. Well traveled, it’s smooth and even. A beautiful sight after the rocky creek bottom we’ve been traversing.

Turning around, Metzer asks me, “How you doing?” He doesn’t even sound out of breath.

Not wanting to be weak, not wanting to disappoint him, I answer. “Fine… sergeant.”

“Good. It should be easier from here on out. Let’s go.”

As we continue along the path, I fall further and further behind. What looked flat and even isn’t as innocuous as it first appeared. It’s a minefield of subtle rises and dips, turns and twists, and roots. My legs begin to feel the first twinges of cramps. I shift my weight, running in a different stance, working different muscles in order to give the more tired ones a rest. This lasts for five minutes at best.

“You coming?” comes a voice from far ahead, through the trees.

Mustering up the strength, I fire back a positive response, and continue to run. There is no escaping the muscle cramps now. Every step threatens to incapacitate one leg or the other. My steps have shortened so much I might as well be walking. And then I hit a hill. Falling to my knees, I begin to crawl up the slope. Unable to extend my legs fully for fear of the pain, I’m reduced to the range of motion of an infant.

“Come on, Elliott. We’re almost there.” The voice sounds even further away.

A strangled cry escapes my lips. I’m not even sure what I was trying to say. Digging down deep within myself, I search for something, anything, that might be left. My fingers dig into the soil, pulling my body forward. I crest the hill, and ignoring the protests within, somehow get to my feet. Focusing on nothing other than the ground in front of me, I plant one foot in front of the other, slowly gaining speed. And as I turn the corner, the forest opens into a clearing, onto a road, and reveals the boathouse. I’ve made it. Stumbling to a halt, I stagger. Somehow, I don’t even fall over.

In my state of minimal perception, it takes me a moment to realize that something is wrong, but it does finally come to me. There’s no one else here. Just me and Metzer. The look on his face isn’t good as he walks towards me.

“The place is locked up.” They’re simple words, but it’s the most horrible statement I’ve ever heard.

“What? Locked? But… they…”

“I know, were supposed to meet us here. Maybe they didn’t get the word.” This can’t be happening. Not after all that. “We need to head up the road and see what the problem is. Come on, if we follow it, it’ll take us all the way to the base camp.” And with that, he walks away.

I’m numb. Focusing on the gravel in front of my feet I take a step. Then another one. I continue this for quite some time. After a while, I realize that I’m walking up a hill. Looking back, there’s no sight of the boathouse. Ahead, there’s no sign of the top of the hill. The last bit of deductive reasoning in my brain kicks in, and an alarm goes off. If I keep going, my body will shut down, and things will be very bad.

“Sergeant, I need to stop.”

He looks back. “What?”

“I need to stop. I can’t go any further.”

He looks a little concerned. “Are you okay?”

“Yes. But I won’t be if I keep going up this hill.”

He pauses, looking at me while he thinks. “Well, they may not even know that we’re here. I need to get to the top to let them know the situation. Stay here, and I’ll send a Humvee for you. Okay?”

I nod. Without another word, Metzer continues up the hill. Slowly, I bend my legs, reaching out my hands toward the ground, easing myself down. I’ve stopped sweating, which isn’t a good sign. My clothes are drenched, and I’m both unbearably hot and insufferably cold at the same time. My hand feebly unsnaps the cover for my canteen, and I raise it shakily to my lips, sipping its contents. I sit like this for some time; I have no idea how long. And then I remember my food. Pulling out my sawdust bar, I slowly devour it.

Eventually, a vehicle comes down the road. It stops next to me, and someone asks if I’m Elliott. I nod, and climb in where indicated. It’s a medical Hummer, and there are cots in back. I roll onto one, and pass out.

There are voices outside the vehicle later. “Who’s that in there?” “Don’t worry about it, just let him sleep.”

I’m hungry, but don’t have the strength to go find more food.

I feel sick, but I don’t have the energy to vomit.

I want to sleep, but feel like there’s something I should be doing.

The morning sunshine finally wakes me. I’m inside of a gymnasium, surrounded by sleeping marines. The clock on the wall shows that it’s almost zero eight hundred. This is all very irregular. Reveille should have sounded by now. Quietly, I make my way out of the building. There are embers in one of the campfire pits, and here and there marines can be seen walking around. I make my way to the closest group, and greet them.

“Morning, devil dogs.”

“Morning, corporal.”

“What, uh, what happened?”

“Last night?”

“Yeah. What happened to Sang?”

“They carried her up the hill finally.”

“They carried her up the hill?”

“Yeah, I think it was about zero two hundred. I’m not sure though.”

Eventually I find out the whole story. Apparently, the boat idea was tanked because there were no oars in the boathouse. It’s just that no one bothered to stick around until the sergeant and I got there to let us know. The army flew in a helo, and in typical army fashion decided that it was too risky for them to try and lift her out. Something about hazardous terrain. More likely they found out we mere marines and, decided to say hell with it. Eventually, the group of marines still at the bottom of the hill just carried Sang out on the stretcher. Unbelievable. It only took them twelve hours to get around to doing it.

 

Morning formation is dismissed, and my platoon heads toward the shop to get started on the day’s maintenance work. I’ve got two generators to service and inventory, as well as a pile of paperwork. And I hate paperwork. Top Gentry is walking toward me, and looks as if he’s trying to remember who I am.

“Corporal Elliott?”

“Yes, Top?”

“I’m trying to put together a list of all the marines involved with the evacuation during the land navigation exercise last month. Weren’t you one of the members of that group?” I don’t know what to think. Is he just that daft? He looked me in the face, at least three distinctive times during that day, and referred to me by name after I brought the damn medics to the site. I say the only thing there is to say.

“Yes. I was.”

“Ah, I thought so. What was your role in that evacuation?”

How the hell do I summarize it? “Well, I went with Sergeant Metzer to get the canoes in an attempt to evacuate Sang by the lake, or creek.”

“Oh, so you weren’t actually there when we carried her out?”

“No. I wasn’t. I was at the top, after being picked up from the boathouse.”

“I see. Well, I’ll write your name down on an alternate list, and we’ll see if they want to take any action.”

“Action, Top?”

“Yes, the CO is submitting a request to award navy achievement medals to the group who evacuated PFC Sang. Maybe the marines on the alternate list will be awarded meritorious masts, however. Thank you for your time, Elliott.”

I watch him go. The little fucking pansy who doesn’t even know how to swim. I watch him go, all the while trying to contain my rage. Gee, thanks top. I’d sure appreciate that worthless piece of paper while you give medals to the people who did nothing but sit on their asses all day, only to carry a stretcher up the hill at the end of the night. Give yourself one while you’re at it. Your leadership was invaluable to the experience. A pillar of strength to the other marines.

I do my best to let it go, I really do. But it’s just not happening. So I storm off to my maintenance hangar.

Staff Sergeant Monroe sees the look on my face. “What’s up Elliott?”

“Nothing. Absolutely nothing.”

 

The color guard marches down the aisle, honoring the birth of our corps – November tenth, seventeen seventy-five. We’re all already a little drunk at this point. It is, after all, one of those occasions where you can get a way with quite a bit of public drunkenness, without being reprimanded. Sure, puking on the Sergeant Major’s dress blues would probably be crossing the line, but anything short of that will probably be overlooked.

Through the course of the evening, speeches are made, a poor and very overpriced excuse for dinner is devoured, and even more drinks are consumed. At one point, I come across corporal sidekick, talking to a marine from alpha company – the grunts of our battalion. The marine is enamored by the presence of not one, but two navy achievement medals adorning the corporal’s chest.

“How’d you get those?”

“Well, one of them was from a duty assignment a couple of years ago, but the second was more recent. We were on a land navigation exercise, and one of the marines went down from heat exhaustion. We organized an evacuation, and carried her out of a valley on a stretcher. It saved her life.”

I pretend to myself that this doesn’t bother me; that this peon of a brown-noser isn’t getting under my skin. It almost works, but not quite. Fortunately, I am able to restrain myself from telling the junior marine another side of the story – that the guy who directed the medics to the location, the guy who sweat his last drop and almost killed himself didn’t get jack shit for his efforts, because he wasn’t there to watch the stretcher get carried up the damn hill.

Slowly, I put down the imaginary gun, and walk away. I get myself another drink, and mingle some more. Eventually, I run into sergeant Metzer. He recognizes me instantly.

“Elliott. Happy birthday, devil dog! How the hell are you?”

I tell him, but in summary. After all, just because I’m acting like a whiner doesn’t mean that I have to sound like one too.

He looks me in the eyes. “Who cares? It’s a stupid medal. You know what you did, and I know what you did. That’s enough. Let him have his little medal if he needs it that bad.”

Damn it. He’s right. I need to be better than this. I don’t need a medal for what I did, even if others may have gotten them. If only two people ever know about what happened, the action and it’s intent still exist on their own merit. Do I need a medal on my chest, so that someday I can use it as an excuse to tell the tale of how I pushed myself to the utmost limits, and discovered the extent to which my endurance can last? All for a failed mission to save a marine who I never saw again. The answer, quite simply, is no.

 

Doesn’t mean I don’t still want one though.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.