Was it simply PTSD, or did he truly get rescued by the spirit of his dead commander?
Three busted ribs, a broken arm, two black eyes, a concussion and a torn rotator cuff, not to mention the--hopefully--temporary hearin' loss on the right side and all the cuts, scrapes and bruises on my body. But, I am alive! Thanks to him, I am indeed alive. Him who, you ask? Why the sarge, of course. Sergeant Arlen Spectre. The man who rescued me and helped me find my way out of the wilderness. Hold on a minute…Oh! That feels better. The morphine is a real blessin' when the pain is so acute!
What's that? Tell you about him? Who, the sarge? He's a real ass-bastard, he is, that one. But, he's also the greatest man I ever knew! Hell, where to begin? Well, I suppose the day we met would be a good place. No, no. Let me tell it. Save the questions and interruptions for later. I don't know how much longer I can stay awake with all this morphine in me, so let me tell it my own way. Now, give me a quick sip of that water, then grab a seat and a pen and paper, if you like.
I was a freshie — a fresh recruit — straight out of boot camp and he was my first commander. We were deployed in the Middle East — I can't say which operation — and I was his driver. We had a sweet mother of a Humvee, all covered in battle armor and fully loaded with the latest weaponry. Jax, who manned the top-gun, sat in the gunner's seat with Rosie and Pete on either side in back. Pete, with all his cameras and communications gear, was our Com-Tech and Sam, who rode the scout moto, was a grunt, like me.
Sarge says, "The only man-jack here who has to make it back is Pete. His job is to get the intel back to HQ. Ours, is to make sure he does that, at the risk of our own lives. All other matters are subordinate!"
Well, that was a fine "howdy-ya-do", I'll tell you that! Rosie Perez, the only female sharp-shooter in the battalion, had a sharp tongue, and acerbic manner. But, she was the best sniper in the platoon, and we were proud to have her in our squad. It didn't hurt that she was also easy on the peepers, if you catch my meaning! She had this flamin' red hair that she kept cropped short, thick red-brown eyebrows over hard, quick eyes that never seemed to settle on anything directly, in particular; which was good, 'cause when they did, it was so she could shoot the eyes out of it. She was also a helluva fighter, in the ring and you sure didn't want to tangle with her outside of the saloon! And even though she was female, she was considered one of the "boys". And she wouldn't have had it any other way.
Henry Jackson, "Jax" was the biggest, burliest black man I ever met. His arms were the size of cannons and he always won the arm-wrestlin' matches in the saloon. He was a big, quiet man, who when he spoke, rumbled in a deep voice like that guy who did the voice-over for Darth Vader or the guy who sings the song about the Grinch. Anyway, he was a steady fellow we all could count on, in the field, that's all that matters.
Sam Townsend was the talker in the group. Always crackin' a joke or makin' with the wit. He also needled Rosie a lot. I guess he dug the punishment, 'cause the morning I arrived, he was sportin' a black eye, one of many he would get on account of his mouth. He was a fine-enough looking fellow, I guess, if you're into the black-haired, grey-eyed sort, with that perfect aquiline nose and chiseled chin. But in a card game, or over a couple of beers or cigars, he was likable enough.
Peter Conway was the Tech. He was a religious sort who always kept his crucifix hidden under his shirt, along with his tags. He had smallish hands that flew over the keyboard of his field computer and always wore very thin eyeglasses over dark brown eyes that were basically useless without the rims. He was a short fellow, but wiry and tough, none-the-less.
Arlen Spectre, "Sarge" was our commander. He was in charge, and he always made sure we knew it! A big, tough man, though not quite as large as Jax, he was never-the-less quick on his feet and tough as iron nails. He had blue-green eyes and blond hair cropped real close to his head. He looked a lot like that fellow in that old video game, "Wolfen-something-or-other". Anyway, he cuffs me on the top of my head and introduces me to the squad, then barks out our orders.
"Get yer shit together, boys! We're rollin' out in five!"
Ten minutes later, we were eight klicks into the desert. After a while we come up to this remote outpost, sort of a desert farming village with a few goats and scrawny hens running around. The kids of the village were quickly gathered up and spirited away by their mothers, who all dressed up in their burqas were hovering amongst the shadows of the hovels like living ghosts. Anyway, Sarge jumped out hauled his ass over to one of the three men, standing in what passed for a square there. All the while he was talkin' with whom, we assumed, was the leader, another fellow was hovering in a rigid stance just glaring at him. Over the jabber of the first fellow, Sarge bellowed out to me,
"Rook! Shoot this fucker on my left!"
Well, hell! I thought he was just jokin' to get the guy to back off.
Then he yelled, "Shoot him! Shoot him now!"
The guy looked in my direction, but otherwise didn't move. I looked around at the others, who, with guns drawn and pointing at the men of the square, were all glaring at me, apparently waiting for me to do as ordered. I looked back at the Sarge and raised my rifle, but hesitated. Like a gunfighter out of the old wild west, Sarge just whipped out his side arm, still staring right at me and fired three rounds at the tall fellow. I watched as two red blossoms formed on his chest and his face caved in from the third. Then he fell flat dead to the ground. Hell, I thought I was going to fill my jeans right then and there!
After a stunned moment of silence, in which the only sound was Pete's feet as he ran up to the Sarge standing next to the village leader, the other fellow began to rattle out all sorts of gibberish which Pete recorded on his equipment. Sarge called me over and berated me for my hesitation.
"What did you think you were waitin' for, Christmas?! You very nearly got us all killed!"
"Sarge, I… I… he wasn't armed! I ain't about to shoot an unarmed man!"
The sarge just looked at me for a second, then walked over to the dead man and using his rifle barrel, flipped his arm out onto the sand and flicked open his outer robes. Out of his hand rolled a detonator and strapped to his waist, was a belt of plastique wrapped in wire. I turned around and threw up my breakfast, right there on the sand. And I never again hesitated to act on an order from the Sarge.
Well, we toured together for several years and became quite close. We took a few hits, and even lost Sam along the way. Jax left the Corps missing a right arm, and Pete and Rosie got reassigned. I later heard they hooked up and got hitched. But a few months afterward, with Rosie states-side and three months pregnant, Pete got himself blown to hell in a fire-fight. Rosie never re-upped. Guess she'd decided the little one needed at least one parent around to care for it.
Sarge and I had us another crew and we were out somewhere in eastern Europe, tracking a terrorist cell out of the Middle East who had somehow come across a couple of old Soviet-Era nukes. William "Billy" Radcliff, was our new gunner. A gangly skin-head type, from the lower side of Liverpool, with tattoos all over his body, but mean and wiry as they came. He flashed a yellow-toothed grin at me as I fired up the Hummer for another run.
"Ooh-wee! Let's go skin us some I-sissies!" He always had nicknames for the current "bad-guys" we faced.
Joseph "Joey" Hawkeye was our Com-Tech. Half Ojibwa, half black, he had a grin that could light up the world. His dark eyes were almost always smiling and his wit, while subtle, was sharp and to the point. The Sarge jumped in and we were off. After nearly an hour of driving, the silence interspersed with the occasional comment, we came upon a forest that bordered a mountain at the beginning of a long chain leading into the dark interior of south eastern Europe as it butts up against the south-western-most regions of Russia.
Sarge ordered a halt and jumped out of the truck, rifle in hand. "Rook!" After that first time, the nickname stuck. I had made a name for myself as the base chess champion and my favorite move is the castling move, so "Rook" sort of fit. "Scout ahead into the forest and report back in thirty!"
"Aye, aye, Sarge," I barked back. As a die-hard Corpsman, I knew the Navy reference would needle him a bit.
By the time, I'd returned, with the "All clear", the rest of them had unloaded the gear and packed for an overland hike. We moved out and headed in-country. After a couple of hours hiking, we set up camp for the night. As we pitched up our tents and started the cook fire, a cold front moved in and it began to snow. We busted out and ate a quick MRE with coffee and rolled up into our bedrolls. Serenaded by the wolves, the owls and the howling wind, we slipped into a restless sleep.
When morning arrived, we awoke to eight or nine inches of the white stuff. Striking camp, we packed up our gear and moved out. We had arrived at the base of the mountain where we had been sent to reconnoiter, so on we went, into the wilderness. The heavy snow weighed down our progress and made for a very exhausting uphill climb. Two hours more and the wind began to howl once again and driving snow slowed our progress. At length, in a blinding blizzard, we came upon a hidden mountain shelf and stumbled right into a terrorist encampment. For a few moments, there was a stunned pause as they registered our unexpected arrival, and we, their presence where we had expected none. Then the guns blazed.
I made a dive for a nearby boulder, emptying my clip in mid-flight. I noticed at least two of the enemy fall from my fire. Sarge, just stood his ground, braving a hail of bullets while blasting away at anything that moved. Joey, dropped behind the same boulder I was using as I reloaded and I could hear him reporting in to HQ our position and discovery. Billy wailed away at the encampment with the big gun, but after a bit was hit by an RPG. I saw him fly apart in several pieces and knew he was a goner. Then, a massive explosion, burst from the center of the camp and right after, something hit the boulder Joey and I were using for cover. After that, everything went black.
When I came to, I was in a tree. I couldn't move from the pain and I was easily twenty feet off the ground. After a bit, I was able to glance at my wrist-com and realized I had been there for a few hours. Night was falling and I was seriously in danger of freezing to death in the boughs of a giant Norway pine. Then things got real dicey. I started to slide and knew I had no way of stopping it. In moments, I was falling again and once more passed out from the pain of hitting the ground.
Sometime later, apparently, after the sun had gone down, evidenced by the darkness around me, I awoke to the sound of gibberin' voices right on top of me. How the enemy had missed me, layin' right there on the ground, I could not, at the time explain. It wasn't until much later, after they had moved along, that I realized I was completely covered in snow. It must have covered over me from the tree as I fell and landed in the drift below. Since the snow, was keeping me from completely freezing to death, I stayed hidden in its cocoon until light began to penetrate the cover.
Using my good arm, I stuck my hand up from the drift and broke free. Then I gradually worked my way out of my little hovel, enough to drag myself onto the main trail. The pain was blinding, but I kept at it until at last I could see the edge of the forest below. It was there, that the Sarge found me. How he had gotten free of the firefight, I never learned, but he was there and helped me get to my feet. I leaned heavily into his shoulder and together we limped down that trail and off that mountain. At last, we found the location where we had hidden the Hummer and he helped me into my usual place behind the wheel.
"Go, Rook. Get help and bring them back here." He said to me.
"But Sarge, what about you?" I asked.
"Got to go check on the others," he barked back. "Go on now!"
Well, I just fired up the 'Vee and threw her into gear and bugged right out of there, as ordered. I drove like a madman and never stopped until I got back here to HQ and reported in. They sent in the reinforcements and hustled me off to the infirmary. By the way, has the Sarge checked in yet? What about Joey?
What are you saying? Wait, what? No, way. There's just no way. Sarge was there to help me get out. He was the one who picked me up from the ground and practically carried me back to the Hummer. What's this? The field report? "Dead of multiple gunshot wounds…" right at the edge of the shelf where he stood raining hell down on the enemy. Well, I'll be damned! And Joey, too? Geez Almighty! Saved by the ghost of the greatest soldier I ever knew!