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.