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Light clouds sailed under the bright tangerine sky, and Thad Freeman lying on the grass outside his home, looked upwards. The Alabama heat warmed his skin, and his thoughts were right at home. This would be the last evening he could enjoy before he was sent to war, for it was tomorrow he would be suited up, sat in a plane, and flown thousands of miles away to fight in a situation he most certainly did not start. Once the sky was dark, and burning magnesium bright stars shone through, Thad ventured in to the comfort of his home. He got no more than six feet away from the door, and he hollered “Mama!”
“What is it Thad baby?” his mother said with her gentle southern drawl.
“What truly is the difference between war and slavery? In both, you get sent away, separated from the ones you love, live in tight quarters, do what others tell you to do, get hurt…”
“Thad, love, times have changed. There is most definitely no slavery and the war nowadays is like a vacation! Plus, there wasn’t no tanks in slavery!” He heard her loud and clear and her intentions were good, but there was a loud ringing in his ears, and a pain in his chest. He went to bed and knew it was not going to be any vacation, but he didn’t know the extent of his endeavor. The next day Thad awoke in his beloved Alabama, and slept in a war zone.
The air there was heavy, so thick that one could feel the weight of it. The sun had a funny way of not wanting to reflect off the skin, it just sank right in. Every UV ray penetrated the skin, and the real damage wouldn’t be apparent until nighttime when dreaded, blistering sunburn would torment the soldiers. Peeling arms, faces, noses, and hands were common ground until one’s body could adapt to climate, and gain the all too noticeable red and sun damaged “Indian skin”.
To Thad though, this was just another reason why he stuck out from the rest, but he kept telling himself that it didn’t matter, and he was here to be a soldier. The color of his skin should not determine how he is treated, and he is a human being just like all of the other soldiers. He knew he wasn’t alone though, there were many others like Thad, but he needed to maintain a kind of individuality, he had eternal pride.
In the army, there is no individuality. A person is not an individual; they are a paid, government-hired killing machine. “Get in, get out, get on with life,” the words sounded melodic, “Hell of a motto don’t you think Thad man?” These were the words of Johnny Relic. Relic came from the east coast, a very outspoken individual who had a knack for reading and music. “Man, they got us in here, in the jungle, having a battle-royal with who? I’ll tell you who, and that’s someone who is just as scared as we are. They are just as scared as we are Thad! Don’t you see?! Race, religion, and sex have no significance on the battlefield. Everyone is the same when they are about to die, they are alive and then they are dead man, and there is no in between. When hot metal is piercing your skin at hundreds of miles per hour, what is the difference?”
Thad took this in, and let it revolve in his mind. He put his cigarette up to his mouth, took a drag, and went back to cleaning his firearm. Little known to Relic, he had just released a new type of thinking into Thad’s mind. Thad knew that there were African Americans, he knew that there were Caucasians, but what he didn’t realize until now is that they are all the same. There is nothing special about either race; they are just beautiful human beings. What lies beneath the camouflage is just a soldier, regardless of the shade of skin.
The time had come to assemble and the leader of Thad’s company, Delta Company, came before them. A thundering, powerhouse of a man walked up to the group, a big wad of brown chew in one cheek, and a pair of aviator sunglasses on the bridge of his nose. Sergeant James J. Glasser of Dallas, Texas had a booming voice that could fill up any unoccupied space. The company stood upright, no one moving a muscle. He walked up and down the rows, staring into the back of the men’s skulls. “Do you know why you’re here soldiers? To protect every freedom that was granted to you since the day you were born. To fight in the trenches just so your old lady back home can cook a decent meal for the family! This is war soldiers, and…” Thad trailed off as he was listening to his hammer of a voice, Sgt. Glasser had the men scared. What he said next Thad knew he was going to hear, from the moment he landed in this place, he knew the line in the speech would come. “…no matter creed, race, Jew, beaner, n-----…” Thad’s heart stopped. Right when Sgt. Glasser said that word, he looked him directly into the eyes with an evil grin, and at that moment, Thad knew utter hatred. “…You will fight for your country to the bloody end of the knife sticking out of your stomach! Now suit up, and don’t say a word!” The men moved out, and Sgt. Glasser pulled Thad aside and said “Boy, you’re a long way from ‘Bama, and mama isn’t going to be here to save your butt from a mortar shell taking both your legs off! Stay the heck out of the way, or I will use your ugly carcass as a human shield, promise.” Sgt. Glasser turned and walked off, and the blood pumping through Thad’s veins was red hot.
The jungle was horrid, and the humidity was unbearable. The only thing better then the lung-collapsing humidity would be the scorching sunlight outside the dense green forest. It seemed as if every five steps one would sweat about a pound of water or so, the moisture would just drip off onto the steaming ground beneath, evaporate, and then condense again on ones brow. The miles of dense jungle included snakes, insects of every species, lizards, blood-sucking ticks, monkeys, and deathly smelling air. This jungle was the closest to hell any of the men had been, and all this without a hint of battle.
A little after midday Delta stopped, and set camp for the night. An eerie silence was swarming over everyone. Thad had taken to the trunk of a big tree, and was sitting there with a smoke, putting smoke rings into the windless ozone. “Hey T man,” It was the welcome voice of relic, who had been behind Thad the whole journey into the jungle, “What do you think about all this? It’s a mind blower isn’t it? It really is, just thinking about how far away from home we are, the new places we are going to see, the new things we will hear, this is our life right now.” Thad nodded his head in agreement, putting a bit of the moist, red dirt beneath him into his hands.
“Johnny, you can actually feel the blood in this ground. I know back in my sweet Alabama that the dirt doesn’t feel like this. No, not this moist, not this red. Many have died here before us Johnny, and I don’t plan on being another statistic.” Thad chuckled at this thought, because after all, his statistic would differ a bit from Relic’s.
“Man that smoke is going to kill you before a bullet will get the chance to!” Thad took his smoke from his mouth, pinched it between his fingers, looked at it, and then threw it down and the two got ready for sleep. The laughed together now, but knew they might not live through tomorrow.
The soldiers were awoken to Sgt. Glasser’s voice screaming, “Get up! Men get up were goin’ in!” Sgt. Glasser walked over to where Thad was sleeping, and kicked him in the side, “Today is going to be your day to catch a bullet with your teeth boy, just don’t take me down with you.” Sgt. Glasser's hatred made Thad scared. How could one person, a military sergeant nonetheless be filled with such racism? How could a man hate someone primarily on the color of their skin? Thad knew it wasn’t Sgt. Glasser’s doing though, because after all, we are a product of our surroundings. Thad told himself that this wasn’t the time to think about such things, it was battle time, and battle he would.
The men approached their position, and Relic was right beside Thad the entire time, they were the only friends they had. The men got down, and right then Thad smelled something entirely new to him; purple haze. The term purple haze comes from military issued smoke bombs that emit a thick, solid, and blinding cover for the men for a period of quite some time. It was the brightest purple that Thad had seen in his entire life, beautiful almost in a way. But once the smoke screens were laid down, it was time to fight. Bullets whizzed past in every direction, the sound of shells hitting each other was deafening. Pings off of soldier’s helmets brought fear of ricochet. The men open fired into the great unknown. They just started unloading their clips as fast, and as accurately as they could. There was no target, this was jungle warfare, and the goal wasn’t to injure, it was to kill. Grenades thrown, and thrown back, shrapnel blowing into the sides of men, men being struck in the shoulder, legs, arms, head, torso with bullets. Men dying, screams, pleads, prayers, sights that Thad would never forget, ever.
The firing stopped all but a .50 caliber machine gun manned by none other than soldiers Freeman and Relic. Relic had been shooting, and Thad had been feeding the murder weapon bullets from a case. They were the only ones shooting, and they knew that they had won. The smoke cleared, the job had been done, the enemy had been run off, but there were only about five men standing. Then, the moans began, and these were the moans and screams of the wounded. About 13 bodies lay around the remaining standing of the company. Limbs scattered about, this was war, and they all knew it. Relic got on a communication link, and called for an airlift; help was coming. Not that the bodies were recognizable, but the moment Thad looked at them, he knew someone was missing. Thad heard screaming in the distance, and he found Sgt. Glasser’s body had been carried about 40 yards off site by an explosion. The explosion left him with all but one arm, a good chunk out of his side, and a mangled face. Thad looked into Sgt Glasser’s eyes, and he saw fear. Sgt. Glasser had gone into shock, and his cries for help stopped, and his body was thrown into an epileptic state. Thad could easily leave him for dead, go back to the remaining company and report it as a wounded and dying enemy. They were alone, they both knew it.
Sgt. Glasser’s life was in Thad’s hands, and would Thad choose to save this man---this man that had disgraced Thad’s being, tore him down from the first time he laid eyes on him because of the color of his skin. This man that had hated Thad and people of Thad’s origin for years and years, this man that had not accepted freedom and equality for all...Yes. Thad kneeled over, and injected Sgt. Glasser with a dose of morphine, picked him up, swung him over his shoulder and shouted “MEDIC!”
Thad arrived back at the site with Sgt. Glasser, and the men were shocked. The air support came, and got the men out of there as quickly as possible. Thad insisted that he be on the same flight as Sgt. Glasser, and he was. Thad looked out the side of the helicopter, the jungle hundreds of feet below him, soaring by, and then looked down at Sgt. Glasser who was in a stretcher. Sgt. Glasser’s head was turned away from Thad, and the sun was warmly reflecting partially off of his face. “Sgt. Glasser, you will forever remember this day as the day that a good man saved your life. Not a man of color, not a man with different beliefs, not a man who was not given the same opportunities as you, not a man who was poorly educated, not a man with a different upbringing, but as a man, soldier, and a citizen of the United States of America.” Sgt. Glasser painfully turned his head toward Thad. His eyes looked directly at Thad’s. He smiled a smile Thad could never forget; a thankful, loving, caring smile. Sgt. Glasser then calmed his breathing, closed his eyes, and to his surprise there was a beautiful array of colors before his eyes. Bright oranges, fire filled reds, deep transcendent blues and purples, greens as grassy and glowing as can be, yellows that could brighten any day and any room, and these were the colors of life. Life which had been granted to him that day by Thad Freeman. The helicopter sailed through the sky past the forest below, past the clouds, past the fighting and hate, and towards love and freedom.