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Excerpts from My War
by Derek Elkins
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May 15

We walked in total darkness again today. I could literally not see my hand in front of my face. Sometimes itís like that. But I felt the rope around my waist and knew that there was a man in front and behind me. That was a reassurance that I wasnít alone. I felt alone. I felt like I was the only one traveling this road.

The Commander told us this morning that we would be moving along a treacherous road. He was moving along ahead, scouting out the path. Iíve got to say this about the Commander: heís not like the others. Heís not afraid to get into the thick of the fight. And heíll do anything for his men. Just like now.

But somehow, that didnít stop me from feeling like I was being crushed by the darkness. It was step after trudging step, mile after slow and agonizing mile. At times, I could barely lift my feet because of the weight that the darkness placed on me. Every second felt like an hour and every minute I marched along, wondering if I could make it one more step or if I would collapse.

Finally, what seemed like two days turned out to be two hours as we stopped for a short meal. I could never relax while I ate though. I knew the enemy was out there. I could hear him waiting, fixing his sights on my heart, my head. We kept a spoon in one hand and our weapon in the other the whole time. And before it had even begun, our meal was over and the journey started again.

And the blackness overcame some of the others. Sometime during the day, I felt the man behind me release the rope from around his waist and just wander away. I called out to him to stop, to come to his senses, but he never returned. He just wandered away into the darkness.
Sometime later in the day, I tripped over something in the road. I fell forward and my hand touched whatever it was on the ground. I was certain it was a body. I know it was a body, probably one of my friends, one of my countrymen. Of course, I donít know. I still couldnít see anything.

Finally, after what seemed an eternity, we stopped for the night. We lit a small fire, just a small one though. We didnít want to attract any attention, not in this place.
Iím scared all the time, but I remember what itís like not to be scared. I remember what itís like to see whatís on the ground in front of me, to see the men who along beside me, to not have to constantly look over my shoulder, waiting and watching for the enemy to attack. I remember what itís like. But I can look forward to one thing. The Commander should be back soon. Oh God, let him be back soon.

May 23

The Commanderís been back for over a week now, and things have been bright for a while. Itís always like that when heís around. I think he fills us with some kind of hope, with some kind of faith that it wonít be like this forever. Men like the Commander are few and far. Heís got the gift to inspire us, to make us want to go on just so much longer, even when tears are pouring out our eyes and our hands and feet are raw. He knows how to get the most out of his men.

He told us there was trouble ahead. We had to travel through a deep ravine to get to the other side of the valley. But it was too soon. The memory of our walk through darkness was so fresh, so vital. Did we have to go through this soon? Couldnít there be another way?

But no, there was no other way. We knew where we had to go and we had to go through that ravine to get there. We knew that truth even while we attempted to skirt around it. But there was no getting around it. The Commander wanted us to go and so we would: anything to move forward, to get home, to leave this war.

May 24

The first day in the ravine and the enemy struck like a hammer. I was pretty far out front, when the lead man got hit. He went down quickly and the Commander called a halt, so we could gauge where the enemy stood. After a few moments, another shot rang out, another man went down, and with the sight of the muzzle flare, we knew where the enemy stood.

The Commander himself led the charge. Despite the bullets whizzing by like angry hornets, we followed. Straight into the trees, straight into oncoming fire, we charged.

When all was done, the enemy lay dead and we could move on. We had lost a few men, a few really good men, but we were still moving. They could knock us down, take a few of us out, but, with the Commander leading us, we would still continue.

August 3

It seems like weíve been out here forever.
Last night, a few of the men I had known for quite some time disappeared. They must have moved out in the dead of night: deserters.
Itís happened before, of course. Despite the Commander, despite the progress we were making, the constant forward movement, there were always deserters. I donít know what they were thinking. Maybe it has something to do with the enemy changing his tactics.

It used to be pretty simple. Weíd move along and the enemy would be waiting to take potshots at us, or theyíd booby-trap the path. But latelyÖ

Lately, the enemy started broadcasting these messages from the darkness between the trees, usually when we were trying to catch up on our rest. Theyíd say, ďYour Commander is leading you down the wrong pathĒ or ďCome join us and the fighting will stopĒ. Apparently some of the men believed the words. I didnít. I had too much at stake.

Of course, the Commander was always there, in the dead of night, in the light of day, to reassure us. But some werenít so easily reassured. Some, who had stood shoulder to shoulder with me against the onslaught of the enemy, were letting lies win out where force had previously attempted.

Maybe they were just tired. I knew I was. The calling of the enemy got to be like water torture after a time. It was that steady beat, beat, beat that eventually would wear you down or toughen you up. It was that persistent nagging in the back of your head saying, ďAm I really doing the right thing? Is this really worth it?Ē

Apparently some of the guys decided that it wasnít worth it. Apparently, some of the guys thought it would be better to lay down with the enemy rather than keep fighting with the Commander.

I know the thought has entered my mind once or twice. Iíve doubted. Iíve lied awake late at night and wondered what it would be like to just give up the fight, go home, lay down and wait for death.

But, somehow, I still get up each morning and go on. I still fight.

August 16

I got a moment to look back over my previous entries. Man, I sound like itís all doom and gloom out here, like thereís never any days like today.

We havenít seen fighting for a few weeks. We havenít heard from the enemy either. Itís just been quiet.

The countryside is quite beautiful when you get the time to actually look at it. Itís kind of peaceful. I can almost see why someone would want to build a home out here, raise a family, start a new life.

The Commander told us this would happen. When things get a little dull, he said that we would look around and start thinking that this was our home. It sure feels like my home. Iíve been here so long. I can barely remember my true home at times. I can barely remember my family or my friendsÖsome days.

But then there are days like today when I can remember everything vividly, like I was back there, like I was still there. It all comes back and I know what Iím fighting for, and itís true and right. And I want to keep pushing onward. I want to keep fighting until the fighting is done and I can taste the victory. Thatís what I want: victory, total and complete.

October 13

I didnít think it could happen to me but it did. I was doing everything right. I listened to the Commander. I didnít wander off the path or do anything stupid. I was right where I should have been. I was right where I needed to be. Itís not fair.

We were traveling along a jagged path, pretty far from any enemy activity. I had stopped for a moment to help a buddy out who had tripped and fallen on the path. And when I was stooped over, trying to help him to his feet, I felt pain in my shoulder, an intense staggering pain that knocked me to the ground.

I just lay there for a moment, dazed. The pain was amazing. It just kept throbbing, like someone continuing to poke a stick into my wound over and over. I thought Iíd go crazy if someone didnít put me out of misery soon, really soon. I think I would have rather died than go on with the pain.

Sometime later, they came and took me to the medical caravan near the rear of the unit. I felt so useless, so alone. The coppery smell of blood was everywhere as well as the hopeless groans and moans that seemed to float up from every nearby bed.

Just as I started to give in to despair, the Commander entered the tent and my spirits lifted. I attempted to sit up straighter in my bed, despite the additional pain and, as I looked around, I noticed a number of the others doing the same. There were exceptions: those who kept moaning and who refused to look at him.
Heíd pause and say something to each man, even those who continued to roll in agony.

When he got to me, he only said a few words, but they were enough. Iíll never forget a thing he said. He told me how proud he was in my efforts and how heíd be with me and would never forget the sacrifice I gave today.

After he had left, I hang onto his words like they were a life jacket, stopping me from drowning in my own self-pity. His words filled me with the hope of knowing that no matter how much the enemy had wounded me; I would live to fight another day. I was wounded, but not deadÖno, never dead.

And I would return to the fight: but not today. Today was for rest and for healing. Today, I would allow my body and mind to recuperate so I could get return. But I knew one thing more: no matter the pain of the enemyís attacks, no matter the loneliness of the struggle or the barren wasteland that I stumbled through, I would continue. I would walk through hell and back if needed because thatís where my Commander wanted me to go.

ďFor our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.Ē Ephesians 6:12

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