Things Go South II (short story excerpt)

Note: this is a temporary post. 

    I knew the U.S. wasn’t wanted in Somalia from the ghastly events of 1993, when dead American Army men were dragged through Mogadishu streets. Still, in 1994, American ships continued to steam in circles off the coast of Somalia into the summer.

    News that a Marine had been injured badly in an accident came late in the afternoon one day. The serious injury contributed to a pall over the mission.

    The following day we learned that he had died.

    Jones was a Marine in the Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) embarked with the Peleliu ARG. He was assigned to one of the LSTs.

    Jones was in a good mood, and he was happy.

    The steel beach picnic had been a break from the tedium of being on float. He cleaned his weapon. He did his PT and got in a run. He had a couple of sliders with fries and drank some bug juice. Mail call had come in, and he had received a letter from his parents and a recent issue of the NYT Book Review.

    Jones wrote a letter to his family. He mentioned seeing dolphins racing and leaping with the bow waves off other ships on the transit over. He wrote that one night he had been outside the skin of the ship and had marveled at an ocean of green. In trying to convey his wonder at this sight, he wrote that the ship pierced the green and that the green finally recombined in the ship’s wake.

    He still didn’t know how to tell his family about the faint sheen of oil near the Arizona there at Pearl Harbor.

    He dropped the letter off at the Ship’s Post Office. He read part of the Book Review.

    It had been a good day. It was still early, so he could get in some maintenance work on his humvee.

    Something was wrong. He parked the humvee on a vehicle ramp and got out to check the front of the vehicle. With the ocean swells the vehicle rolled forward and pinned him to the bulkhead above the ramp. The humvee slowly crushed him even as he was yelling for help and trying to push the humvee away from him.

    As we say now, back in the day humvees weren’t armored, but they were still heavy vehicles. He had no leverage, and the ramp worked against him.

    By the time another Marine eased into the vehicle and backed it away, the critically injured Marine collapsed into the arms of fellow Marines. He said something about the emergency brake, but they couldn’t understand what he had said.

    They rushed him to Medical Triage. 

    Jones was adrift in a vast sea of pain. With the morphine drip, he quieted down. He didn’t call out for the Doc or for his God. He knew he would meet his God soon enough, and he was at peace.

    In a muted fog, he remembered.

    At the beginning of float, the ARG had made an unscheduled stop at Pearl Harbor after Peleliu went dead in the water and then had to crawl into port for emergency repairs.

    With liberty call, Jones had gone to the Arizona Memorial with some of his buddies. As he stood looking over the side of the white memorial at the bulk of the sunken Arizona, he saw an oil drop break the surface and add to the faint sheen of oil on the water. He had been moved to the core of his being, and unable to speak. Marines had fought back and died that day of the Japanese attack.

    He looked up at the Chaplain – a Naval officer – and urged him closer. Jones’ speech was slurred, but the officer understood him. He said Tell Mom and Dad thanks for everything and that I love them. Tell my sisters I love them. I always have. Tell them watch out for Sailors.

    He tried to laugh, but ended up gasping for breath. When he recovered, he started talking again. The Chaplain leaned closer.

    Tell my brothers that float is nearly over and that from here on out I’ll be watching them. Semper Fi.

    He saw that the Chaplain’s eyes were wet. He told the officer Chaplain, Sir, it’s OK. And he died looking up at the older man.

    Later the Doc determined that Jones died of massive internal injuries.

    Being crushed by a humvee was a terrible way to die. The Chaplain and the Marine OIC talked about Jones and agreed that he had been fearless, and that he died as he had lived, with great courage.

    The officers knew that the CACO would be making a formal visit to Jones’ family, but felt there had to be more.

    The Chaplain wrote a letter to the Marine’s family, expressed his condolences, and recounted their son’s last words verbatim.

    The Marine officer wrote a letter too and wrote about their son and brother and of how he had admired this Marine. He wrote about how much it meant to have served with him.

     Over time the spiral of loss from a premature death enlarges until it finally reaches a point of equilibrium or steady state. Memory endures but finally fades, like the visible blue starred triangle of flag in its shadow box. Flowers and miniature flags adorn a grave at Arlington or a grave at the cemetery in this Marine’s hometown.

    His parents and sisters will remain devastated throughout the rest of their days. Birthdays and anniversaries will be the toughest. They will not believe he is gone; they will still expect him to walk in the door and crack jokes like he always did.   

    They found solace in knowing that he had been a Marine, and that he had done what he had always wanted to do. They found solace in the letters they kept – especially his final letter – and in the fact that he had been full of life, fearless, and courageous.

    Things go south.

    One soul lost.

Andrew Shattuck McBride June 28, 2010

About Andrew Shattuck McBride

I am a writer, editor, writing coach, and consultant. I work in a variety of genres, including poetry, short stories, and creative non-fiction. I also have a couple of novels simmering on back burners. THANK YOU to Nan Macy of Village Books for taking this photo (June 2011).
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11 Responses to Things Go South II (short story excerpt)

  1. Erin Wright says:

    “Over time the spiral of loss from a premature death enlarges until it finally reaches a point of equilibrium or steady state. Memory endures but finally fades, like the visible blue starred triangle of flag in its shadow box.”

    Fantasitic bit here. This imagery vivid and tangible… the stuff of poets…ah wait…you are a poet!
    I enjoyed reading your story; thank you for sharing it.

    • Hi Erin, I have arrived! When a friend of mine quotes something I’ve written, I know it! Thank you for your kind comments.

      I’ve always considered myself to be a prose writer. The poetry I never saw coming!

      Erin, I am delighted that you liked that passage and that you enjoyed reading the story. Blessings, Andy

  2. Gail Trace says:

    Great short story. Well done Andy… I really enjoyed it keep up the wonderful work you do 🙂

  3. C. R. Lanei says:

    Thank you for sharing this. At a loss for further words but really glad for the opportunity to read this.

  4. elisajeglin says:

    This piece has the potential to be very powerful, but I feel you fall just short of it. “He tried to laugh, but ended up gasping for breath…..” the whole passage could be stronger. “[B]ut ended up gaspoing for breath” is passive. Try to make it more active “He tried to laugh and the weight of the vehicle shifted, snapping one of his ribs under the immense pressure; leaving him gasping for air.” See? Show me what is happening.

    • Thank you for your comments.

      It is in the Marine’s death scene in Medical Triage where he tries to laugh after he tells the Chaplain “Tell [my sisters] to stay away from Sailors.”

      However, I get your point. Best, Andy

  5. elisajeglin says:

    I want to let you know, I understand he was in the hospital when he died, I was just using that as an example ;p

  6. Hey Andy,

    I agree with Erin.

    “Over time the spiral of loss from a premature death enlarges until it finally reaches a point of equilibrium or steady state. Memory endures but finally fades, like the visible blue starred triangle of flag in its shadow box. Flowers and miniature flags adorn a grave at Arlington or a grave at the cemetery in this Marine’s hometown.”

    Absolutely beautiful prose!

    I did have one question about the ending. “One soul lost.” When I think of a ‘lost soul’ — especially of one who has died — I think of a soul going REALLY far south (if you catch my meaning). Is that what you’re trying to say? Sorry if I’ve read too much into this.

    • Carolyn, wow – thank you so much! “Absolutely beautiful prose!” – I loved reading that! You and Erin commented on one of the key passages in the short story for me.

      In a revised version, I have “One soul lost” right after the Marine dies. No, there’s no relationship to say, death and hell for this man. He is honorable; however, he has died in a terrible way.

      In the Navy – if someone dies, he or she is referred to as “one soul lost.” A live person has been lost to the living. If there is a crash of a helicopter, and three crewmembers die, it’s “three souls lost.”

      “Things go south” is a phrase I’ve been using to describe sudden death of characters.

      Thank you Carolyn for your comment and question. Blessings, Andy

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