It was Falcon that damaged my psyche the most. This city destroyed my humanity. Something meaner and darker replaced the kind boy from Mississippi. Of course, such drastic change never occurred at once. It began about ten minutes after the assault on the city.
“SSG Paden, take a squad and clear the buildings. If anything, inside of the building has breath- you end it.”
“It dies. They had ample opportunity to leave, they chose to stay. Now, they reap the whirlwind.”
“Roger,” I replied. There would be no mercy shown, no quarter given. It is the grisly nature of warfare.
My heart cannot take the remembrance of what happened in Falcon. It hurt when we completed our objective, it hurts now.
Years have passed and I still cannot bear the thought of what I have done. I have used humor to cover the worst of my memories, but it has not worked.
Time has not eased the pain. ‘We liberated those who were innocent,’ people have said throughout the years. When pressed on one good thing that came from Falcon no one can name anything.
My bud Hank, nicknamed Buster, died in the horror of Falcon. We met during the briefing for our assault (he was the guy with all the questions.)
We had gabbed our gear and moved toward the trucks after the briefing. Hank stuck out his hand and said, “I’m Hank but people call me Buster.” I shook his hand. “Paden, and no one calls me Possum.”
Buster laughed. He had this raucous laugh. “Why in the world would anyone call you Possum?”
“When I was young, my parents would rock me to sleep. When they went to put me in the crib, I would wake up. My dad started calling me Possum because I always faked them out.”
“Man, that is a fantastic story.”
“Yeah, and if you tell anyone, I will make sure you don’t leave Falcon.”
“You’re joking, right?”
“Sure. I am joking. According to the briefing we are already dead, our brains have not registered it yet.”
“Do you think it’s that bad? Are we all going to die out here in this dump?”
“Only the Lord knows, Buster. It won’t be long until we know.”
We made it to a camp right outside of Falcon. Tiny hooches (rooms) were in rows, Hank and I were assigned to one closest to the end. We walked in and threw our gear on a cot.
A Marine stuck his head in the doorway and looked at us.
“Y’all with the taskforce,” he asked.
“Yeah, what’s up,” Buster responded.
“There’s a formation in front of y’alls vehicles in five minutes.”
“Understood,” I said. “So much for a power nap.” Buster scoffed. “This freaking sun is downright murderous.”
Hank was a good ole boy from Alabama, I hailed from Mississippi. Both of our accents were thick enough to cut cane syrup. Hank never missed an opportunity to smile. We walked to the vehicles.
“I guess we are about to be told what’s what, eh Paden.”
“You got any thoughts about what we are here to do?”
“I imagine it’s the same job we always do-find the enemy, kill the enemy. It’s a straightforward job.”
A Ray Ban wearing bean pole of a man stood on the hood of a Humvee, he gathered us into a loose gaggle.
“We hit Falcon in three days. They must be warned before hell is unleashed upon them. Our job here is to limit civilian causalities, while removing the insurgents by any means necessary. The dining facility is in the center of camp. A Post Exchange is not far from the dining facility- make liberal use of both.”
We were dismissed, and we walked to the dining facility.
“Hopefully, the chow is better here,” Buster said. The tent was air-conditioned. A variety of food was on the line. Hank got Shepherd’s Pie; I took Coconut Shrimp Scampi.
Hank sat down at a table near a television set. It played the news. ‘Experts’ commented on the war, many spouted their opinions as ‘facts.’ ‘This war is being carried out on false pretenses,’ one military expert spouted. Hank looked up from his plate.
“What do you wanna bet this ‘expert’ never made it to a combat zone, much less picked up a weapon and fought for what he believed in?”
I nodded my head and tried to swallow a mouthful of mashed taters and gravy before I responded.
“You’re right, Hank. It is easy to sit at home in America and spout off at the mouth while someone else’s kid goes and fights the war. These fools make me sick.”
“Me too, brother.”
“Let’s change the subject, Hank. Who’s your favorite team?”
“What sport, Possum?”
“Well, Possum, I am a huge fan of college football. Ohio State is my favorite team.”
“Ugh. That alone is worth a bullet. Why Ohio State?”
“They got cool uniforms, bro.” We laughed and Hank wagged his finger at me. “Tradition. Plus, I went to school there.”
“Who is your favorite?”
“I am an Alabama fan.”
We finished our meal and made our way toward our hooch. The night air was a cool 90 degrees, and the moon was full. It was silent, then we heard indirect fire headed our way. Buster and I hit the ground and covered our heads. The mortar landed on a building and exploded. Emergency personnel rushed to the building, Buster and I were hot on their trail.
We began to pull people out of the rubble. In some instances, it was only parts of human remains.
“They were locked in,” Hank said. “Guess they figured they would kill us before we killed them.” I looked at Hank. His eyes were cold and reptilian, his demeanor was frigid.
“Yeah,” I thought, “Hank could kill somebody.”
“Well, Buster, boredom won’t be an issue.” The medics were busy treating the wounded. Buster and I walked from the ruined building and made our way to our hooch. No more mortars fell before we made it back. I threw myself on my cot and closed my eyes. Sleep would not come. I guess digging dead folk and wounded out of a collapsed building ruined my rest.
Buster noticed my restlessness. “That was a small taste of what we are faced with, Possum. Sleep while you can.”
It didn’t take me long to figure out that hell wasn’t just a place, it was also a state of being.