Grace...
by sarAdora
~~~~~~~

Amazing grace!
How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

~~~

"I dunno Gunny. Chances of us gettin out of here alive don't look so good. Those guerillas know these Afghan mountains like the back of their hand. They native here. We're the foreigners."

"We'll take cover in those caves tonight," the Gunnery Sergeant responded, pointing to what looked like nothing more than black brush between high boulders on a nearby hill. His tone remained neutral but there was no mistaking the voice of command. "You want to go home in one piece, Marine, you'll follow orders."

"Sir, yes sir!" the private responded with respect. The Gunny didn't scare him - his C.O.'s size formidable and his bark about as mean as a pitbull with PMS - but he sure scared the beejeesus out of anyone who came up against him.

The Gunny caught the scent of fear emanating from the 19-year old private. It was familiar, too familiar, filling his nostrils and triggering memories of his first tour in the Middle East - a tour that tested his inner strength, his faith in God and cost far too many lives. One of those lost lives had been a cherished childhood friend.

The second tour was still a blur - his mind channel surfing the roadside bombs, death, destruction, riding shotgun on Humvees and tanks, the heat, and at night, the bitter cold and the constant red-gold flashes of mortar fire. As hard as he tried, it was near impossible to blunt the memories of his comrades in arms taking their last breaths in an attempt to bring freedoms to people who lived in an unforgiving land.

This tour, his third, would be his last. At 32 years of age, he was old in the ways of war and tired of death.

~~~
'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved.
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed.

~~~

The short stint in Somalia had scared him like nothing else ever had. War was the norm, an everyday way of life - civil war and "death to the United Nations peacekeepers" a chant that was recognizable in all the languages he heard. Insects almost as big as his hand ate everything in sight - food, the few crops that grew, the clothes off a soldier's back - and vermin and snakes. He wasn't prepared to fight nature along with the warring natives. Hunger was everywhere. Death ruled day and night.

War - Pestilence - Famine - Death - the Apocalypse.

More than once... in his mind's eye... in the desolation that filled his soul... he saw what appeared to be the Four Horsemen galloping across the horizon.

Afghanistan, Iraq, North Korea, Somalia.

It could just as easily been Hiroshima, Berlin, Anzio, Auschwitz, Seoul, Saigon, Vientiane... another war or two ago, another unit commander leading troops, following orders, fulfilling missions, and taking just one uneasy breath at a time.

Freedom isn't free.

Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come;
'Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far
And grace will lead me home.

~~~

"Gunny, I'm scared."

"Me too," was the reply.

"I never been much for God and angels and stuff," the young man added and then reflexively dived behind a boulder when mortar fire and machinegun fire blasted their eardrums and death clouds lit the horizon a little too close for comfort.

"More of us become believers in times of war," Gunny replied dryly, wiping the dust from his eyes with one hand, his other ready on the trigger of his weapon. "Those of us on the front lines need all the help we can get."

"Gunny," the private faltered. "If I don't make it home..."

"How many grenades you got?" Gunny asked, interrupting the young man's discourse.

"Four."

"Make 'em all count. Now get your sorry ass off to those caves. I'll round up the rest and follow you there. You with me, Marine?" he shouted.

"Sir, yes sir," was the dutiful and expected reply.

"Gunny?"

"Marine?"

"You'll call my mama?"

"Don't think so, Marine," the Gunny answered, his hand briefly squeezing the younger man's shoulder. "But I reckon we'll go visit her when we get back... the both of us. Now move your ass."

~~~
The Lord has promised good to me
His word my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.

~~~

Months later... through the agonizing days of blasting heat, the endless cold nights... Through the turmoil and turbulence, the bomb blasts and enemy fire... there were moments of madness. ...The surreal world of Andy Warhol intruded - giant cans of Campbell's tomato soup appeared on the horizon - Harpo Marx danced to a tune only he could hear, Marilyn Monroe sang "Happy Birthday, Mr. President" - life in black and white and reruns in the mind's eye... When sanity returned, there was the everlasting hope that God would drop a sky hook... and they would see the archangel who was the messenger of God - Gabriel - and hear the sound of his horn announcing peace...

Because every good war needs the occasional amnesty...

"I'm going home, Gunny. I still got all of me in one piece and I'm headed home."

"I'll see you there in a few weeks," Gunny replied, relieved the young man - just turned 20 - had made it, knowing neither of them was going to re-up for another tour.

Both had served their country, answered the call to arms, and thanked their God for bringing them through the worst of it.

~~~
Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
and mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.
~~~

Home... Texas... Arkansas... and every other state. Brisbane... Sydney... Maroochydore. Blackpool... Harlow... Leeds. If they were lucky and came home, they were veterans...

...And they were changed forever.

Like a blast of unrepentant heat... a blizzard of wind and sleet... war makes memories, most of them ugly. Being away from home and loved ones is always on the forefront of a soldier's mind. A heightened awareness of imminent death... disfigurement. Surrounding the edges of every soldier's sanity, the constant ice-cold slice of fear... even among the fearless.

There is one memory that never fades...

It's not the flashback that sends veterans diving for cover when a car backfires on the streets of their hometowns...

It's not the camaraderie of meeting up with old friends and lifting a pint to those that died and crossed the River Styx.

It's their faces - the death masks - that are the center of their nightmares... the faces and the unseeing eyes of a storm of human souls that passed through their lives and died for someone's freedom.

~~~
When we've been there ten thousand years
Bright shining as the sun,
We've no less days to sing God's praise
Than when we've first begun.
~~~

"Gunny, I'm scared."

"Me too," was the reply.

"When I get home, they're gonna ask me what I was doin over here, why I was here, why did I bother? Was I proud of what I did? What do I say?"

"You served your country. You did what was asked of you. You're a United States Marine. You have every reason to be proud."

~~~
Amazing grace!
How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

~~~

~End~

It's Veteran's Day. When you see a man or woman in uniform, thank them for serving their country.

~Sar~

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