The smell of smoke hung in the air as Boy-o slumped to the hard clay ground. His feet throbbed but he dreaded removing his boots. The good Lord only knew what type of blisters awaited him. It had been a long day, and he only wanted to sleep—even for a few precious moments—but so did his brothers in the Charlie Company.
Boy-o swallowed as he gazed at the others around him. He could almost smell the gun smoke hovering in the air and taste the fear. He still struggled with the fear of walking through a field of grass because of the ingrained fear of taking the next step because of a possible booby-traps. He had to wonder if the others struggled with the memories. Boy-o made a mental note to ask the Commander next time they saw each other. He hobbled forward, leaning heavily on a freshly shaped staff, his pant leg pinned against his leg stump.
“Charlie Company, fall in!”
The order caused the small patrol to leap to their feet; Boy-o grimaced as his feet throbbed. He shouldered his rifle and fell silently into formation. Taking their time, the patrol made their way through the dense jungle. Hand signals were the only way to communicate—one spoken word at the wrong time would be disastrous.
Boy-o’s body trembled and he clung to his staff tighter. His memories were trapped in the past, even though he could hear people laughing and gossiping about some trivial matter of some sort of sale.
Boy-o crouched, glaring over his shoulder at the rookie in the patrol. “Shhhh,” the commander hissed. “Yer gonna git all of us killed.” The scout gestured with his left hand, for the patrol to move forward and slowly, the group began to inch forward towards their goal.
He slowly began to move among the forms frozen in time, touching each one’s shoulder with a ghostly hand, silently naming them: Doc, Rocket, Ace, Commander, and the Rookie. How could Boy-o forget his place with these men? He glanced up and gazed at the sun, only a few precious moments left before he had to return…
The attack happened without warning. The patrol was pinned down in the middle of a clearing. There was no where to go; Boy-o took a step off of the patrol’s path and a sudden explosion caused the battle to cease. Boy-o was down and the attackers fled during the chaos. His friends crowded around him, Commander swore loudly before calling for a tourniquet. “He got one of our own mines,” he called, yelling louder for Doc.
“We’re gonna git you home, Boy-o. I ain’t left one of my men behind yet.” Boy-o nodded, struggling to keep his eyes open.
Slowly, Boy-o worked his way towards his buddies who carried a litter, frozen mid-run--the ultimate sacrifice portrayed. There, he laid, his lower left leg gone. He clung to his buddy’s hand, his mouth pressed shut, struggling not to cry out in pain with each jolting step.
Boy-o allowed himself to once again mold into the heated bronze, memories flooding his mind of those awful last days in the jungle. Why had his memories been allowed to survive?
Two teenage boys were running across the sacred field, tossing a football and not for the first time, Boy-o wished he could speak to the people around him, and demand to know if they knew of the price that was paid for their freedom.
Maybe somewhere, these memories would live on, if only through the memorial.
The sun set, and softly, Charlie Company’s voices began to rise from the memorial, reminding anyone who was near that, "Freedom was never free..."
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