Monday, November 7, 2011

Boys in the Rain

Back in the World, back home, they would've called that kind of rain a frog choker. It was a Sunday.

He sat on a ridgeline near the Korean DMZ during that Sunday deluge. It was the fall of 1967 and he was a soldier in the 7th ID; 2nd Battalion, 32nd Infantry Brigade. He'd been put there, along with about fifty other guys spread out along the ridge, as part of a perimeter guard for a visiting dignitary; a man named Hubert Humphrey, the Vice President of the United States. They'd rolled them out of bed early that morning before daylight, made them saddle up, and trudged them out into the inky downpour with little explanation on why - the Army's usual modus operandi. The boys just did it because the person in charge was yelling at them to get their butts in gear and fall out.

They moved outside the compound, forded a swollen stream and, in grunt parlance, humped a yama (climbed a big hill), and were parked two by two about every twenty yards along the ridge. He was partnered up with a small black guy from Jersey…or maybe it was Kentucky. He finds it hard to recall; that was a long time ago. But it didn't really matter what pigment they owned or where they came from; their location at that particular time was smack dab in the middle of shared misery. They huddled together under snapped together ponchos, which was meager protection against the cold and driving monsoon rain. Besides, they were already soaked to the bone. As for color, both were tinged in blue as they shivered there. Their brotherhood wasn't a matter of race, but of disposition.

Turned out the Veep didn't show that day. One troop offered his guess that the man threw back the crisp sheets he'd slept between, looked at the rain outside his hotel suite in Seoul, and said, "I ain't getting out in that sh**. Where's my breakfast?" They all laughed, picturing the silk robed man sitting down to waffles and bacon on fine china, a nice fruit cup in a crystal goblet, a hot cup of coffee. The soldiers had broken out soggy C-rations for their breakfast. Truth is, none of them on that ridge knew what the man did or didn't say that morning, but most likely he said whatever he said while the troops were slogging up that hill to protect him. Word didn't reach them until late in the afternoon that he wouldn't need that protection after all. And the rain hadn't slackened a bucket by the time they slogged back down to thaw out, dry out, and de-mud in their hootches.

None of them got hurt that day, unlike so many others in so many other places at so many other times. Those boys in the rain suffered little more than physical discomfort, maybe some hypothermia. But no shots were fired, no mortars loosed. Most likely those on the other side couldn't see to aim through the dark curtain of rain, even if they'd wanted to, which they probably did. The privation which visits soldiers knows no ideology.

Most of us in that country at that time lived to join that vast and exclusive club called Veterans. One who didn't, a boy named Wilfred Owen who was killed in another generation's war, the one that spawned the idea to create a day to remember all military veterans, wrote this:

…Nevertheless, except you share
With them in hell the sorrowful dark of hell,
Whose world is but a trembling of a flare
And heaven but a highway for a shell,

You shall not hear their mirth:
You shall not come to think them well content
By any jest of mine. These men are worth
Your tears: You are not worth their merriment.

To my brothers and sisters who once wore the uniform, who answered the call, who paid the price; who were and are out there protecting us all, great and small, I by God salute you.


My name is Phil Truman and I write novels.
Use these links to check out:
Legends of Tsalagee
Visit my Website

1 comment:

Liz said...

Thank you for sharing this, Phil. As Veterans Day approaches, it's a good reminder that our freedoms were bought at a very dear price.