The courageous soldier boarded the landing boat and quickly found his position. The muscles in his back clenched, protesting the weight of his pack. Weeks of training had prepared him for this moment, but this time it wasn’t a drill. The constant rocking of the boat caused his latest rations to rise in his throat, and it wasn’t long before he made good use of the vomit bag he’d been given. The thunderous sound of cannon-fire filled the air, causing his eardrums to throb. His heart started pounding and, despite the chilly sea air, he broke out in a sweat.
“Lord, please bring me peace,” he prayed aloud.
“Amen,” replied several men around him.
“Move! Move!” the order finally came to exit the boat.
His body moved as if on autopilot as he followed his comrades single file to the rear of the boat. The ramp dropped and he plunged into waist-deep water. His waterlogged clothes and heavy supplies made progress painstakingly slow and he struggled to move forward through the churning sea. He searched for a familiar face and strained to hear a command among the loud artillery rumbles but nothing seemed familiar. He felt nauseous and the world around him began to spin at the sudden realization that it was now every man for himself. He looked away from the corpses floating around him and kept his eyes focused on the sharply-rising cliffs in the distance, his final destination. Each heavy step through the water made him feel as if he were walking in slow motion.
“Keep moving! Keep moving!” he heard a voice command in the distance.
He sneered and thought, As if I could do anything else.
Finally making his way to the water’s edge, he dropped to his stomach and began to slither using his elbows to propel him forward. Ricocheting bullets hit the wet sand, spraying grainy bits into his eyes. Ahead, tree limbs and pieces of steel littered the beach making it appear as if a giant game of pick-up sticks was in progress. He made his way to one of these obstacles and leaned heavily against it, hoping for a brief moment of rest. His breath came in quick gasps and his lungs felt as if they were bursting from exertion. His limbs burned and felt heavy and weak.
I’m in hell, he thought.
Shallow waves gently rocked the dead soldiers that littered the water’s edge. They were a stark contrast to the bodies still fighting for life, writhing like fish out of water. He started humming loudly, hoping to drown out the anguished screams of the wounded and dying that he was helpless to assist.
“Over here!” he heard a voice cry out.
He followed the voice to a small group of soldiers huddled together. They had found a pocket of protection at the base of a cliff.
Just a little bit further, he thought.
“Lord! Give me strength!” he shouted, his voice hoarse.
He bolted from his resting place. The deafening sound of gunfire immediately erupted from above. A heavy jolt threw him brutally to the sand and he felt a searing pain near his stomach. His eyes grew wide as he looked down and saw a dark stain spreading rapidly on his shirt. He mechanically reached for his neck and discovered with relief that his dog tags, entwined with the rosary necklace his mother had given him, were still there. Tears of regret filled his eyes.
At least they’ll know my name, he thought.
Hot, burning pain surged through him, taking his breath away. His chest tightened and his heart pounded as his body began to shake violently.
“Lord! I need you now! Help me!” he cried.
He stared at the sky, now blackened by the residue of relentless artillery fire, and saw a single ray of light piercing through the darkness. The light’s radiance grew, consuming the blackness, until the sky was completely illuminated. The panicked screams and hammering artillery sounds that filled the air gradually became subdued. Then, there were no sounds - just brilliant light.
Suddenly, he heard a loud, sweet voice say, “My peace I give to you.”
He closed his eyes. He felt no pain. His heart rate slowed and his body stopped shaking. He was no longer afraid and a sense of calm overtook him. In perfect peace, he awaited his fate.
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