Spoils of War (by Bert Silva)
The memory of another night in the rain came to mind. The incident occurred some years ago when he was young and naïve in Korea. The fighting was intense in the final days before the armistice was signed on July 27, 1953, after nearly a year of negotiation. Joe’s battalion of thirty-six heavy mortars was ordered to a location behind the Second Rock Division to provide their rifle companies with supporting fire.
Guards were dropped off at intervals to direct the convoy through the night. They were told the ambulance, trailing at the end, would pick them up. Joe was let off at a crossroads busy with traffic. When the convoy appeared, led by their battalion commander in his chauffeured jeep, Joe pointed out which of the roads to take. He flagged the ambulance, which nearly ran him down, as the vehicle raced close behind the last truck. The stressed driver apparently didn’t want to risk losing sight of the convoy in a blackout combat area.
Joe was abandoned there at the intersection in the rain. Two 6X6 trucks passed through with wounded ROK soldiers piled into the back with no covering tarp, and no regard for their comfort. The traffic slowed until late in the night no vehicles appeared and Joe was left alone—except for a Korean couple tending their rice crop some one hundred yards distant.
It seemed part of the insanity over there, a man and a woman so near the fighting out late at night in the rain laboring in their rice field. He shouldered his carbine, stood and watched the sky light up from exploding artillery shells beyond the hill. Each time one of them struck, the muddy earth shook beneath his boots. The tracers of .50 caliber machine guns looped across the black sky like strings of innocent red pearls.
Joe ran out of cigarettes. He found a shack smaller than an outhouse nearby and ducked inside to escape the rain.
Sometime later a jeep approached and stopped in the middle of the intersection. Joe walked up to the vehicle, his flashlight in hand. A Korean soldier sat mutely behind the steering wheel. In the rear seat a young girl was squeezed between two fat little men with gold bars on the shoulders of their fatigue jackets. One smiled. The other appeared less amused. The girl could not have been older that twelve or thirteen, small and thin, with the saddest round face, her eyes dull, lifeless.
She looked so tired and forlorn in her unclean gray smock. Joe couldn’t remember ever having seen anyone as pitiful. Her wet black hair covered her forehead and fell in matted strings down past her quivering shoulders.
He had a choice―might have believed she was shell-shocked after surviving her devastated village, and the hopeless look of her came from mourning the loss of her family. No one spoke. Words would not have made any difference. They appeared eager about moving on farther south away from the fighting. Joe turned off the flashlight. The driver put the jeep in gear and drove down the muddy road with the vehicle’s lights dimmed.
He was alone again somewhere near the bombardment on the edge of the 38th parallel—no man’s land. He felt it would be senseless to wander off in the middle of nowhere on a search for his battalion. They must be sending a truck to pick up the road guards eventually. The rain drummed against his helmet as he returned to the shack in the darkness.
Narrated by Nathan McMillian
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