Foxholes – Weekly Whatever – Medium
A Short Story About One Soldier, Telling Stories Of The Past While Contemplating About The Future.
POW Camp Near Hanoi, Vietnam, 1969
“Ulysses King Eye Eye Eye.” My prison guard said.
Just say “The Third”. You don’t pronounce the I’s you fuckin’ gokturk.
Despite his English being that of a two year old, Vin (Yes, that’s his name) was quite nice to me and Private Hughes Jr…before Hughes died, anyway. Poor fella wasn’t a fan of rice. He chose the farm over the food and now he’s nothing but mere fertilizer for the rice patties.
“Lunch.” Vin said.
Through the bars he handed me a bowl of…what do you know…rice! I ate a few spoonfuls before I looked over at the fields and saw Hughes’ decaying corpse. I lost my appetite right then and there. My hands let go of the glass bowl and it smashed right on the dirt before I fell back against the wall and slid down to the floor.
Vin started yelling a bunch of rubbish in Vietnamese. I didn’t respond. I just kept staring at the deceased. I saw one of the farmers harvest that area today, and the thought of what I had just done had made bile rise up my esophagus. Vin turned around and saw what I saw. He turned back to me and saw my skin turn whiter than the horse shit he just gave me for lunch. He put two and two together and it finally hit him: I had, by proxy, just eaten my own comrade.
He was more than that. A family friend. His father fought with my dad in Guadalcanal all those years ago. Now that bloodline’s been killed off. And for what? So that the secretary of defense can get a couple blowjobs to go on his resumé?
Hold on. Am I denouncing the concept of war? No. Just this one. But what if something like this ever happens to-
“What if something like this ever happens to Barry?” Vin said, startling me. So has reading minds still not made it’s way to America or what? I had told him about Barry already. He is my son of four years who doesn’t even know how to pronounce Vietnam and is probably wondering where that big fucker he called Dad is.
Vin brought up a good point. Do I want him to weld a gun in a place like this twenty years from now? Does he need to see a childhood friend slowly perish at the hands of starvation like I did? Should I instill in him what my dad instilled in me? Or should I steer him towards something with a higher survival rate?
Now we’re talking about trashing an occupation that’s been in our family since the Germans wore spikes on their helmets.
The radio started to play music I recognized. The damn thing had been playing the sounds of some monk yelling gibberish into a microphone for about an hour before now. Suddenly, it was playing House Of The Rising Sun. Hilton Valentine played those God-like chords and Eric Burdon sang the old folk tune that made The Animals monarchs of rock while I pondered Vin’s question.
Have my ancestors ever contemplated such a concept? Did the future ever pop into their head?
Seeing as how they all got excited when I announced that I had enlisted, I’m willing to bet not.
“There is a house in New Orleans, They Call The Rising Sun”
Eastern France, 1916
In a foxhole he sits, Private King Sr.
The Germans were within pissing distance of collapsing.
The wind blew, and the sound of a helmet bouncing off of the dirt had made its way towards Ulysses. Before long, a grayish helmet caked with blood with a spike on the top landed in his lap. He examined it’s appearance, questioning the purpose of the spike.
He looked at the seemingly endless field of corpses. There were roughly a hundred people in the area that were alive. And yet, it seemed nobody had a pulse. For every lifeless body, a scene out of a horror novel was present. At one corner of his eye was a man whose arm was missing. His body had emitted this hideous odor that was sure to haunt the senses of those within a 300-meter radius. On another portion of the field, a crimson river of blood had streamed down the face of a man whose left eye was gone.
He looked back at the spike. Was it even suggested that they try not to look like terrorists?
Does it matter? When you’re mowing down hoards of twenty-somethings with tanks, is the appearance of the man responsible — on either side — the first thing that comes into question?
Most likely not, but that spike. It was as if they were warning you they were the villain. It practically screams –
Ulysses saw the fellow with the missing eye flinch a little. Probably just a faint spasm, but somewhat startling nonetheless. He didn’t even take a couple seconds to aim before he shot his pistol right at the guy.
Now, the corpse had two holes in its skull.
Suddenly, in the field — where, as far as Ulysses was concerned, nobody was truly alive — a multitude of people had stood up, staring in his direction.
What the hell did I just do?
Despite the almost insane nature of his decision, Ulysses’s kill went unnoticed after a minute. This was a war, after all, but his mind still lingered on what had occurred. It would forever replay in his mind. It wouldn’t necessarily haunt him, but it never left the corner of his brain for as long as he lived.
A few souls from the U S Of A had flown a plane down to the western front to bless the warriors of Hill Company with the fortune of going home.
Ulysses took one last glance at the battle field. Here he had ended four lives, not including the man whose last movement cost King a bullet and the man another hole in his face.
War is hell. Do I want Junior to go to hell?
Well, when you put it like that, no parent would ever be proud to have their son enlist in the military.
He glanced back at France one last time before the clouds would conquer his vision of the world below. What he saw was surprising just as it was fulfilling: Villagers, hundreds of villagers, waved goodbye to the departing company. Cheering, singing, and dancing had erupted on the ground, and for a minute, all the trauma that Hill Company had endured was momentarily disregarded.
War is hell, yes, but unlike hell, this one had a purpose. They wouldn’t be singing without us Ulysses thought. Just behind him, one comrade said “I made a good choice coming to France.”
It most likely wasn’t really his choice. The star spangled rednecks we all so charmingly refer to as congressmen probably mailed a letter to his residence demanding him to get into uniform and prance his scrawny little rear down to France because the same country that built his car is trying to take over the world.
On the other hand, Ulysses was given a choice. Live out his days on the ranch, or make sure his son doesn’t have to learn German. He chose the latter.
I was given a choice, Ulysses pondered, and so will he.
It was raining now. Vin was sipping tea under his tent, enjoying the intermission from listening to the stories of my ancestors.
The intermission had granted me not a cup of indo-Chinese Folgers, but instead time to reflect on Vin’s question: Does Barry truly need to be in the same position me and my ancestors have been in?
Barring my grandfathers story where he had become somewhat of a savior of a french village, the experiences the Ulysses Kings of the past have had are mostly drugged with trauma that erect agonizing — not to mention everlasting — memories that — coupled with my new story of being held prisoner, with my body withering by the day and my diet now consisting of my childhood friend — won’t in any way shape or form spark a desire to join the military, if my son even considers such a path in life.
Again, we’re letting go of something that has been in the family dating back to the beginning of the century.
Clouded by the sound of the rain was the radio, continuing to play the tunes that Barry was likely listening to on the way to preschool. This one was new. The duk on the radio said it was called “Fortunate Son”. One of the last lines seemed to almost come from a future Barry:
It ain’t me
It ain’t me
I ain’t no military son.
How goddamn convenient.
Once the rain began to calm and Vin was done with his tea, he lended me his ears. I gave him another story.
In a foxhole he lay, Private King Jr.
“Tea.” Said an approaching Private Hughes.
“Bless you.” King replied. He sat up to receive the beverage. King began to repeat his morning ritual of drinking the tea, burning his tongue, placing his cup behind him, and forgetting the drink altogether, before he heard a mirage of explosions in the distance.
It wasn’t new, no, not at all, but it was closer this time. Random flashes of light would come and go. Come and go. But the noises would never depart. If anything, they were racing towards him.
He hid under the tarp acting as a makeshift ceiling for the foxhole, and waited for the attack to die down. For a moment, Junior had considered retaliating. A pathetic attempt it would be. He would raise his pistol at the enemy, fire the two remaining bullets left in the barrel at the opposition, all before shrapnel most likely striped him of his life.
On second thought, let’s just hold out for a while.
Rising with the sound of exploding terrain was the terrible, heart wrenching shrieks of comrades. far and near. Chunks of debris rained on the tarp until it practically buried Junior. In the midst of his gasps for air, he noticed some of the debris wasn’t just debris. They were body parts.
Eventually, the storm had settled. In the distance, the Japs side of the Ferry had grown loud with triumphant cheers, while on the Allies half of the battle field, a river system of blood had been plastered on the dirt.
Junior lifted himself above the lot of blood and rocks that was now his foxhole. He scanned the Forrest of trees and shrapnel and brain matter until he gazed upon a one-armed Hughes. They both stared at each other for a few seconds before Hughes clumsily hobbled his way over to what was left of Junior’s hole.
Junior watched, without speaking, as Hughes knelt down beside him, picked up his half empty metal cup of tea, flashed a toothy grin, and said, ”Tea?”
Like Ulysses King Jr. before him, Vin was giggling like a school girl. He was curled up in a ball against my cell, laughing his ass off. Exactly where I wanted him to be. I snatched the pistol from his rear pocket and put a bullet in his head before he knew what hit ‘em.
He died with a smile.
I then shot the padlock on the cage-like door before leaping out of my cell. The sprinkling rain hitting my face was the stuff of dreams. I looked back at Vin’s corpse, with its grin sure to bring a slight ounce of comical relief to passerby in the near future.
I dwelled on the question he asked a half hour before I ended his life: What if something like this happened to Barry?
I looked down at my pale, thinning body, and then glanced at the rotting Hughes Jr. in the fields.
I stood up, brushed myself off, and ventured into the ever ending Forrests of North Vietnam, uncertain as to what my goal was or where my final destination would be. Just before I made way onto an old, muddy trail — that, if the map in Vin’s tent was right, led all the way down to Pleiku (A Village just an estimated 200 miles north of Saigon) — I looked back at the camp I had stayed in for four months. I stared at the lifeless set of eyes that belonged to Vin.
Will a King ever kill another soul again? Under these circumstances?
I let the last lyric of a Jimi Hendrix tune playing on the radio afar answer that question.
“No, This Will Be The Last”