This Is What I'm Fighting For | By: Chris Evenson | | Category: Short Story - Inspiration Bookmark and Share

This Is What I'm Fighting For


“War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling, which feels nothing is worth war, is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing that is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature, and will never be free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.” – John Stewart Mill

The flight home was a long one.
I listened to the engines of the C-130 drone on and on. My fellow soldiers and I all sat there, heads hung low, shoulders slumped over dirty weapons. Boots dirty, hair messy, morals destroyed.
The mission had not gone as planned; what was supposed to be an easy guard position turned into a full out suicidal mission. Ambushed, we were outnumbered in every way. We couldn’t fortify ourselves to even hold our ground.
We lost the battle.
I briefly raised my eyes to look around. Heads were still down, eyes aimed at the floor. Some of the full grown men were welling up with tears. A drop of water here, a drop there, dirt turned to mud on the floor.
I lowered my head back to its original position and stared back at the ever changing floor.
The engines never changed their hum.

The chatter of gunfire awoke me from my pacing.
I was suddenly alert and awake. What had been pointless, repetitive walk and staring into the barren wasteland suddenly turned into a search for any sight of movement. Gun up, the hard metal pressed against my shoulder. I could feel my hands starting to warm up and moisten inside of my gloves as my finger moved from “safe” to “fire.”
I heard behind me as the alarm went off inside the walls of the fortitude. Ecstasy filled the air as I felt the stampede of soldiers under my feet as everyone armed themselves.
I heard a whizzing go right past my face. I dove into the dirt and found my first target. My finger squeezed the trigger and I felt the weapon, an extension of my arm, violently jump in excitement, trying to sacrifice the life of its target.

The landing was rough, but no one seemed to feel it. No one even moved as the plane came to a stop. The bay doors opened and almost on instinct, everyone grabbed their helmets and lazily through them on their head, everyone refusing to buckle the chinstrap.
We walked out through the back of the plane, saluting the Colonel waiting at the bottom of the doors for us. “Good job soldier.” “I’m proud of you Sergeant.” “Good fighting Major.” His compliments continued, but he had no emotion behind them. This was a man I was fighting for.
I walked towards the large building in front of me. I could barely keep my eyes aimed up. They automatically scanned the area ahead of me for commanding officers, but my brain didn’t process anything as walked from the hard and hot concrete of the tarmac to the overly-cool and air conditioned terminal.
I looked around and saw wives, saw children, saw nieces and nephews, run to their husbands as soon as they were in sight. I was left out from the abundant joy of holding a family member in my hands.
These are the people I am fighting for.

More and more targets had popped up all over the place.
Somehow I was still alive. The muzzle of my weapon had found its target, more than once, but I had stared death straight in the eyes a few times in the process. I could feel the ground shake under my body as re-enforcements came my way. I saw soldiers, half dressed, dive on the ground beside me on either sides. They immediately opened fire on what seemed like empty air. A few seconds later they stopped firing forever.
Blood stained the dirt around me.

I opened the door of the cab and walked to the trunk. The driver was nice enough to open it up for me and I grabbed my tainted bag from the back. He smiled at me, a fake smile telling me to leave as soon as possible. I paid him his fee and he greedily took it and sped off. I am fighting for this man.
I walked to the driveway of my every-familiar house. The siding had not been replaced since I had been gone, and it desperately needed replacing. I shook my head and walked up the driveway and cut through the yard.
The kids would not be home yet. It was just after noon, they were still at school. Either way, she would be home. Thursday is her day off. I grabbed a rag out of my back pocket and tried to clean off my sweaty and dirty face a little bit to be presentable to my wife.
Something wasn’t right. Something was out of place.
I stopped in the middle of the yard and looked around. The dark red SUV parked on the curb answered my wondering mind.
I wasn’t mad. I wasn’t angry. I was disappointed.
I grabbed the picture out of my back pocket of her holding my twin daughters. I grabbed a cigarette and lit it, still staring at the picture. Before putting the lighter back, I lit the bottom corner of the picture and dropped it in the bright green grass of the yard, trying to burn away my feelings with the paper.
I stood in the yard and dropped my bag on the ground to make a slouching lawnchair.  I finished my cigarette, taking my time to get every fraction of nicotine out of it. I flicked it towards the SUV when I finished and grabbed my bag, walking towards the front door.
I let myself in, the door was unlocked. I could feel the rage and fury build inside of me, but I tried to ignore it. I simply walked up the stairs. I could hear noise coming from the master bedroom.
Without even knocking, I walked in. My wife was there, covered only by a single bed sheet. Another man laid there next to her, except he wasn’t covered by anything.
My wife looked at me when I walked in. Her eyes met mine, slightly confused, surprised, and embarrassed. There was no sign of apology in her bright blue eyes.
These are the people I’m fighting for.

An all too friendly presence lay down next to me.
I turned my head slightly and saw my neighbor and best friend. We had grown up together since grade school, always been neighbors and always been best friends. He smiled while still looking down the battlefield.
“So how you doing today?” he asked. This was hardly the time for small talk and funny conversations.
“I’ve been better, but I’m doing okay. How ‘bout yourself on this lovely day?”
He just smiled back at me. I saw him squeeze the trigger but the fire from his gun still surprised me. The smile slowly faded from his face and turned into a hard gaze, all his concentration set ahead of him. I returned to my hardened condition and tried to keep the gun under control as I watched the emerging sparks from the muzzle.
After a few seconds, which seemed to last an eternity, I looked back my neighbor, my friend, my brother. He was as much model for me as I was for him. I couldn’t help but think what life would have been like without him.
I saw a red syrup exploded into the air behind him. I yelled out his name at the top of my lungs.

It was a long walk to the school where my twin daughters were still in class. I walked in the front doors. I must have been a sight to see, walking into an elementary school still dirty, sweaty camouflage caked onto my body.
I walked into the school office and saw the secretary there. She almost looked embarrassed and tried to look busy when I walked in. She quickly referred me to the principal’s office.
I knocked once and didn’t wait for a reply before walking in. The middle age man quickly slid the long bottle, half empty, under his desk out of sight. This is a man I am fighting for.
I soon walked out of the office. My little angels were eating lunch. I trudged in my heavy boots down the hallways of the school to the lunch room.
As soon as I walked into the room, most of the kids just stopped talking and stared at me. I scanned the area in front of me for my little girls. Eventually the staring stopped and the talking started again in the crowded lunch room.
I walked over to one of the advisors and they called my daughters to the front of the room to meet me. When they got there, I got down on one knee and outstretched my arms to hug them both. They just stood there and looked at me, confused.
I looked into their eyes, the same bright blue as their mothers. Neither pair recognized me. I dropped my arms and did my best to hide the tears flooding to my eyes, but nothing could stop the lump in the back of my throat or the feeling of my heart sinking into my stomach. I stood up and walked out of the room. These children are who I’m fighting for.
I continued past the office, threw my bag over my shoulder, and stood at the curb waiting for another yellow car to come pick me up.

“It’s just a flesh wound!” he shouted back at me as I was yelling his name. He barely moved as he kept the fire heading downfield. It was almost as if he hadn’t been shot. Regardless, I quickly crawled over to him to examine.
I looked over him, and saw the pool of blood gathering on his right arm. He was right; the shot had barely grazed him. It was a deep cut, barely worthy of stitches. I breathed a sigh of relief and lay back down on the ground, continuing to find and eliminate targets.
“I need a new job,” he suddenly said over the gunfire both coming and going. I couldn’t help but break a smile in the face of death. He always kept things humorous and in perspective.
Suddenly serious, I heard a continuous stream of cussing. I looked over his direction and asked him what was wrong.
“Damn magazine is jammed, and it’s my last one!” I threw him another. He dropped the one in the gun and shoved my clip in its place. “That’s better. Now I can shoot some animals, these sons-of-bitches!”
Again, I couldn’t suppress a smile. “What a smart-ass,” I thought out loud.

I got off the bus a few blocks away from the memorial. The sun was shining but humidity hung heavy in the air, hinting at a storm not too far off. I looked around. Nobody seemed to even care about the gorgeous day. They rushed around like ants on a tree, always trying to get work done, never caring about their surroundings. Nobody took time to just appreciate the gorgeous day. These ants are the people I’m fighting for.
I lit a cigarette to relax and enjoy the day before I started walking towards the memorial. The funeral service was soon to start. I didn’t want to be late.

The gunfire never seemed to stop.
A constant rain of bullets was starting to overwhelm all the troops, as well as myself. I only had a few shots left, and I knew most people had less than I did.
I looked around quickly, scouting for any type of support for the battle, but nothing could be found. Nothing had come on over the radios. It’s almost like we were just hung out to dry.
“GRENADE!” I heard as the scream echoed in my ears. I looked around and saw the explosive literally six feet in front of my face. Before I could even get up and react to what was happening, my best friend, my neighbor, and my brother, looked at me one last time and dove on top of the explosive just before it went off.
I screamed. His blood and flesh entered my mouth and splattered all over my face. I will never forget the look in his eyes that last time he looked at me before giving himself up. My screaming never stopped. I stood up and fired my remaining bullets blindly into the field before sprinting back to the encampment. I continued running through the door and would have run blindly right into a concrete wall if other soldiers hadn’t grabbed me and sat me down. All I could think of was the look in his eyes. My mind flashed back to 5 months before.
It was the day before we were going to deploy. My children played in my yard with his dog. We were sitting in chairs outside around a table in the backyard, both sipping on a beer. My wife was sitting on my lap, holding my free hand. His was cuddled up next to him. He had his arm around her shoulder. He made a joke. Everyone laughed. I took another sip of beer. His wife kissed him on the cheek, my kids…
His eyes interrupted my thoughts.
He was gone. I could not believe the man that had been with me for the last 27 years was gone. I kept saying the first article of the code of conduct in my head, trying to convince myself everything was worth it. “I am an American, fighting in the forces which guard my country and our way of life. I am prepared to give my life in their defense.” His eyes kept disturbing my thoughts.
This is the man I am fighting for.

The storm had showed itself at the memorial service. Water drenched everything in the area that was within its grasp. Caskets were all lined up on a stage, all closed. A preacher was there, reading scripture. Tears were everywhere in the audience, mixing with the rain. Men and women alike cried. Children looked at their single parent, confused. The preacher kept reading.
“As we remember the reading from the Gospel of John, chapter fifteen, verse thirteen. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” A brief pause followed, before the preacher spoke again. “Let us pray.”
I took my helmet off my head, which was still stained with the sweat from wearing it almost non-stop since I had gotten home. I flipped it over. The front was stained with blood. A piece of shrapnel was wedged into the bright red. Upon closer examination, a small piece of camouflage uniform was jammed in the helmet with it. I pulled it out. Some elderly folks snickered at me as I fidgeted with the helmet instead of appreciating the prayers. These are the people I’m fighting for.
The calmness of the crowd was suddenly interrupted by a loud group of people screaming and yelling. The preacher ended the prayer prematurely and everyone looked up to see what was going on. A large crowd, almost as large as the group that had gathered for the service, was quickly moving towards the crowd but stopped about twenty yards away, almost as if there was an invisible wall.
The yelling and screaming continued, and the pickets and posters were now in sight. “Peace, not war!” “Stop the killing!” they read. The anti-war crowd started yelling louder.
The funeral crowd also started making noise, but it was in disapproval, not response. Eventually, people started leaving, abandoning the last shot at seeing the people who used to mean the world to them. I just stood and watched both groups. Eventually police showed up and tried to quiet down both groups. They did nothing but made things worse.
The preacher soon moved off the stage, nearly slipping on the wet stairs. As soon as he was off, the large group of protesters moved towards the stage. Tension started building quicker and quicker. I was frozen in spot. I couldn’t do anything but watch in amazement as the group set the stage on fire. Caskets quickly went up in flame. Small explosions started happening, whether from the gunfire of the policemen or the small explosions of electronics on stage, I did not know.
I stood there, frozen, until the last casket was lit on fire. The slowing rain did nothing to stop the flame of the protesters. I finally turned around in defeat and walked away.
This is what I am fighting for.

The radio finally responded to the screams of the soldiers on the battlefield.
Planes and helicopters were close. Evacuation was eminent. We had lost the battle. Some of us lost more than that.

I walked down the streets of the great city. It was completely dark. I had been walking for hours. I did not know where I was going. I had nowhere to go, nothing to do. Nothing was left.
I walked past one alley. Two prostitutes were sucking on cigarettes in the back, body parts hanging out for all to see. I kept walking.
About a mile later, another alley, a gang with guns pulled pointing the pistols at two young teenage boys. My walked slowed. I did not flinch as they pulled the trigger. The look in their eyes was the same as my neighbor right before he died. Again, I kept walking. These are the people I’m fighting for.
My pace hurried and I walked into the night. I saw a building sticking up above the worn down houses of the area. As I got closer, I could read the letters of the red neon sign. “Salvation Army” they shone in the brilliance of the night. I headed that way.
Once walking inside, I saw the best and the worst. I saw jobless, drug addicts, alcoholics, homeless, hermits, and anyone who could not afford a meal. They are who I am fighting for.
I grabbed a metal tray and got in line. I dared not leave my bag at a table to save a spot in the crowded room; someone might steal every item inside of it. I tightened the drawstring and rearranged it on my back.
After following the slow line, it was finally my turn for food. A young women with short, red hair and freckles along her cheekbones looked at me with a caring, wide smile across her face. “Good evening Sir! What can I get for you this evening?” she said in a legitimately cheery voice with a southern accent.
I looked down the line. Every person was different, but so very much the same. I was taken aback by the people who were there solely for the purpose of helping those in need. They put aside their own comfort, their own beliefs, their talents, and most importantly, their time, to help others in need. They put others before themselves. They only wanted to help the helpless. They may not agree with the war, may not agree with my decision to join the armed forces, but they are willing to support a soldier fighting to keep them able to make their own decisions.
These people are what made this country great. I am an American, fighting in the forces which guard my country and our way of life. I am prepared to give my life in their defense.
This is what I’m fighting for.

“War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling, which feels nothing is worth war, is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing that is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature, and will never be free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.” – John Stewart Mill


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