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It was in the appropriate dead of night when Timmons and I watched as the 101st Airborne left for Normandy, aligned in strapping rows of 10, their heels clicking against the solid concrete airstrip. Spotlights glistened across the runways, illuminating crates filled with munitions and supplies, making it appear nearly daylight. They all seemed prepared, but my heart still went out for them. Here were a grouping of the finest military force to every grace the United States. But they were not just killing machines. They were car mechanics. They were factory workers. They were men who might never see their wives, or mothers ever again. They were sons and fathers alike. And above all, they were all brothers. They were brothers to one another. And here they were, being sent into the line of fire. I knew they didn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell to make it back. But that didn’t change what I said to them.
“For victory!” I screamed to them while holding my fingers in a “V” shape, imitating Winston Churchill’s coined signal.
All of the men cheered in unison, raising their mixed array of weapons high in the air. As they continued to pace toward the roaring transport plane, I turned to Timmons, who was showing modest signs of fatigue.
“You alive Timmons?” I said.
Timmons didn’t answer, but instead cocked his head from view, re-adjusting the rifle strap on his shoulder as to distract me.
“Timmons? What’s the matter?” I asked hesitantly.
Timmons lowered his head, and began to faintly hear signs of him weeping, though I couldn’t make it out clearly due to the nearby plane’s blaring engines. I placed my hand on Timmons shoulder to turn him around, and sure enough, two crystal drops were sliding down his charcoaled face.
“Timmons, straighten up, this is no way to act now.” I barked.
Timmons did as I ordered, sucking back the tears, but nevertheless remained forlorn.
“I’m sorry Sarge, just a little jumpy right now, I’m sure I’ll break it in a minute.”
I somehow thought otherwise.
“Sarge, I just can’t help but think that this whole op isn’t gonna turn out like we hope. I mean think about it. We might never see those guys again. I would much rather be fighting by their side than storming in behind them after all of the blood has been shed. Why do we have to wait? Why can‘t we just go with them?” Timmons explained in a dulcet manner.
I knew what he meant. I too still had a uneasy notion that this wasn’t going to work. But this was not our place to judge, we have our superiors to obey.
“You know that’s not our place son. We are soldiers. We respond without question. Those men know what they are getting in to. They were trained by the best for the best! Now get your act together.” I replied.
Timmons face of melancholy turned to deep resentment in an instant.
“I refuse to accept that Sarge! This is anything but not our place! Why must we fight the wars of the people who will never hold a gun. Never acquire chunks of shrapnel in their neck. Not even put on fatigues! Especially when we can’t use our own judgment.”
The boy was tense. He had never seen combat before, only in training. He was the brightest of them all, but he still had a lot to learn about the art of war. He reminded me of a younger version of myself, still dreaming of greener pastures and sunshine that brighten anybody’s day.
“Timmons, you have to realize that if we had to make decisions like that on an everyday basis, then we might never have started a war in the first place.”
“So why did you join Sarge? What made you do fight?” Timmons questioned.
That was the ultimate question. I almost didn’t answer, but I knew it would make not only Timmons feel better, but I knew I had to quit lying to myself too.
“I joined like most of us joined. We wanted to find a purpose in out lives, and I damn well think I have found it.”
“You haven’t any regrets?”
Timmons looked nervous, like he didn’t want to hear my answer.
“And what is that?” he asked quietly.
“That I wasn’t able to serve earlier.”
Timmons nodded, and seemed to loosen up slightly. His eyes widened with encouragement, and he looked like a soldier should now. Surprised the hell out of me.
“You’re right Sarge. I AM proud to serve, my whole family has since the Revolutionary War. I guess I still have some learning to do.”
“Damn right you do.“ I smirked.
We both chuckled together.
“Come on private,” I ordered, slapping his cheek lightly while slinging my free arm around his back. “Let’s get back to the barracks.”
As I walked Timmons and myself inside, I raised my head to the black canopy above, and saw hundreds of flickering lights followed by distant rumbles of the plane engines. Some of those boys might not make it back, but it makes me proud to see them fight with honor. I glanced over to the now conscience Timmons.
“For Normandy.” I said, while a slight smile surfaced.
“For victory!” he said, smiling with me.