A Hill To Die On

You can judge a man’s sincerity by his handshake. When I left, there were many firm handshakes.

Thank you doesn’t cover it, I told them. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you boys.

The most sincere words I have ever spoken. A flood of memories came rushing back. A dozen times I narrowly skinned a horrible death. One by one I shook their hands, looked them in the eye, and pulled them in for a brotherly embrace.

Faces that will remain vivid in my memory.

I close my eyes and I can hear it. Rotors whipping overhead. Somewhere, gunfire. Always gunfire. A distant explosion . . . and the chilling wait for the radio crackle.

Don’t be one of ours . . . Don’t be one of ours . . . 

“Kzzzzz-tttkk . . . That was a BIP.”

Controlled detonation. Continue mission.

They were the best worst moments of my life. The most important thing I have ever done. I remember the long days. Those long, slow walks. Pressure cooker heat. Lacking for everything but ammo.

Always ammo everywhere. Smokes and frags sitting idle in little sand-bag bunkers. AT-4s. Extra mags.

Green tips. M855. A059. The old shit.

Silver tips. Werewolf Killers. Tungsten carbide penatrators.

Loose 40 mike-mike.

We could never carry enough of anything. Batteries. Water. 90 extra rounds. Caffeine and cigarettes. But never food. I never ate. Ranger School be damned . . . I lived without food. Without sleep. Without comfort.

We lived without food, sleep, or comfort.

I felt fear. I felt it on that shabby patch of dust just inside the wire. As soon as I chambered a round, my fear vanished. It vanished in the snapping of bolts all around me.

A beautiful chorus.

My fear was for others. A fear of losing someone. Of doing it wrong. Of having to pick up the pieces and carry on as if the worst possible thing hadn’t happened.

I felt fear that first time. Then I saw their faces. Sweating. Caked in dust. All eyes on me, waiting for the word. I resolved myself that, if I was going to die, I was going to die like a man. On my feet.

I had found my place of contest.

We marched out on Hell’s anvil and stared defiantly at the hammer. We planted our flag. Every man together. No man apart.