The Souvenir

.

for Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel

Mission One: Seek & Destroy

The tranquility of the French country side air was rudely and deliberately interrupted by the sound of gunfire.  Hailstorms of artillery pierced into the mountainside followed by an earthquake of TNT and shrapnel that shook the ground.  The Normandy invasion had begun.

Finding himself suddenly separated from the false safety of his group, the young soldier frantically scanned the area for shelter.  His unit was being ripped apart by a tidal wave of blood soaked barbwire and bullets.  Gunfire crept closer and closer.  He could almost feel the rounds’ dispersed wind speeding by his fearful brow.  His mind cleared for a brief moment, which just was long enough for him to spot some cover.  An abandoned bunker’s possible safety immediately commanded the young soldier’s attention.  After the fastest run of his life, he dove down headfirst into the shelter floor.  In the bottom of the fox hole he curled up into a little ball and covered both ears.  His hands did little to keep the gruesome howls of war at bay.

The much larger enemy force took its initial bite and was now swallowing the soldier’s once proud unit whole.  Trembling hands wiped the dirt from his curly blonde hair.  This once handsome young man was now an unrecognizable laundry sack of blood, bones, and mud.  He carefully lifted his shaking head up to witness the carnage.

His blue eyes filled with tears while he watched.   Every single scream of his brothers in arms before gravity took hold of their extinguished lives, blasted  directly into his already ringing ears.  A dampened “thud”, followed by a plume of sandy smoke, became the encore of the deceased.  He knew he had to stay hidden to avoid his own defeat.

Really, there was little he could do.  His weapon had been lost on the mad dash to cover.  So there he sat.  Waiting.  Motionless.  Silent.

Mission Three: Manifest Destiny

The gunfire suddenly ceased. Calm and order were recaptured by the country side.  Silence was not what our soldier was waiting for however.  In fact, anything but silence was his secret prayer.  He knew what silence meant: the enemy had won. Vomit quickly reached its way to the back of his teeth when he realized he was the last soldier left of his unit.  It gushed out when he realized his hiding place would not last forever.

He retreated from the battle for a moment.  His mind took him away from the evil battleground and into the loving arms of his wife and daughter.  Tremor-powered fingers fumbled inside of his cargo pockets until they were able to pull out the only photograph he had ever owned.  His thumb cleared the mud away to reveal a young beautiful woman, a little girl, and a proud soldier.  They were all smiling.  It took a moment for him to define the shapes of their lips.  It was easy to forget what a smile looked like here in Hell.  There was no happiness, only death and hatred.  Even glory and celebration owed a considerable debt to hate.

The family reunion was interrupted by footsteps that were now getting too near to ignore.  The enemy was looking for any possible survivors of their perfectly executed plans.

Thoughts sprinted through the solder’s smoke filled skull: It is just a matter of time until they find me.  How could this be happening? I was going to be a hero!  They said we were unstoppable! I was lied to! All of it is a lie!  (None of those thoughts were very helpful)

Once again his mind fled the bunker and returned home.  Hundreds of miles away his wife and daughter enjoyed the comforts of home, unaware of their favorite man’s peril.  She was probably reading or sewing by now, he thought.  Her angelic silhouette graced the living room every day at this hour.  Sunrays would enter their window to cast a luminous halo around his love.  He loved his angel.  Their daughter would probably be in school, he noticed, glancing down at his rugged and now war tested military issue wrist watch.  Thoughts of his girls stood the edges of his lips at attention.  His right eye offered a tear.  He took a quick peek forward to picture his daughter as a woman reading in a living room of her own.  Another smile formed.  This one carried several tears when he noticed himself absent from her future.  She too, was his angel.

Their safety gave him momentary comfort; but he knew he could not save himself.  The advice of his loving wife crept into his mind:

“Please be careful.  We need you home with us.”

“Okay, I will.” He lied.

She did not want him to join the army.  She wanted him safe at home.   The birth of their new baby girl gave him the inspiration needed to transform from father and lover into protector and killer.  Nothing could be nobler than to be a strong, proud, victorious, soldier.  Now it felt like the biggest mistake of his life.

“I see one of them! He’s still alive Captain!”  A finger extended from the enemy and pointed directly to our soldier’s bunker.

The soldier’s heart sank into his ragged, once highly polished leather boots.

‘Shit…This is it. My time is up.’  His estimate was very accurate.

He took one last look at his treasured photograph and climbed out of the bunker.  Rising proudly to his feet, he brushed the dirt and mud from his uniform.  He wiped his face clear, and quickly returned his hands properly to meet his outer upper thighs.  During his short lifetime he lived like a soldier, and he was damn sure going to die looking like one for the apparently quite imminent execution.  In his hands he held his two most cherished possessions.  In his right hand, the family portrait.  In his left hand, his country’s flag.  He wiped the last tear he would ever shed from his face.

“You! Get on your knees!” ordered an enemy officer.

The soldier did not.

“I said get on your knees pig!” The officer was now at arm’s length.

The soldier did not flinch.

“Can you hear me, boy?  Or is there too much shit in your ears?” one of the enemy laughed.

A proud sniffle was the soldier’s response.  He was ready.

The officer raised his revolver to line the barrel up with the soldier’s blue eyes.

“I’m sorry, angels.  I let you down.  I love you.”

Starring straight down the barrel, he sent his last words out hoping they would somehow reach his family.

“Don’t worry my dear angels, I will see you up there in – “

The strike of the side arm’s hammer onto the chambered round violently echoed throughout the Normandy hillside. The young soldier fell to the ground lifeless and added the period to his life sentence – “thud”.  Smoke oozed out of the gun’s barrel and reformed into the freshly made hole belonging to the new corpse.  His body continued to slowly drain, painting the Earth.

“What’s in his hands, Captain? What’s he got there in his little piggy hands?” begged a curious trooper.

The executing officer knelt down by the dead soldier.  He unclenched the cool clammy and crimson colored hands of the soldier to reveal their prized possessions.  First, the Captain discarded the family portrait as he had done a million used Lucky Strikes.  Next, the Captain held up the soldiers flag.

“We killed us another Kraut fellas!”

He showed his troops his new souvenir:

a red, white,and black, swastika flag.

the end

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6 comments

  1. The ending was a very well-written surprise. I hadn’t expected it. But in wars, I suppose everyone’s devil comes out while everyone reflects back on what is good and pure in their lives…
    By the way, was mission two reaching home?

    • Thank you for reading! Mission two was a nod to the old cliche – 2 sides to every coin or some such derivation. Basically it was that side that we don’t see. So literally the reader doesn’t see the second side to the war. As an American we often forfeit the other side to simple evil while ignoring our own with flags and such. I really like your idea of going home, which of course the nazi doesn’t get to do.

  2. There’s something to be said about cliches though, isn’t there? They always hit home the message! I don’t know why they get such bad rep… It really is how you justify their ubiquitous-ness.

    • in fact, I will go as so far to say that every word we use is a shortened morpheme of a cliche. And so anyone declaring cliches to be incorrect is just that themselves, incorrect and ignorant. Now there are exceptions as bald cliche use is almost always tired. Like all words, some cliches are good, some are bad. No word describes “down and out” and we both catch the drift though “catching the drift” could be anything from total understanding to a superficial agreement. As any challenge goes–there is great reward in using a cliche correctly and displaying its truth in a different light.

  3. I love your blog. Thank you.

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