'Imagine being sixteen years of age and going off to war. Imagine leaving your family and friends behind without them knowing for an undetermined amount of time. Sixteen years old and trained to use a rifle, sixteen years old and trained to take a life, sixteen years old and told to use any means necessary to overcome and kill the enemy. Signing up to fight for your country, a country you barely know or have seen. Signing up for a war you know nothing about in a country you have only read in textbooks. This is your reality now, a reality that is uncertain as the choppy ocean waves your landing craft is in.'
"What have I done" Keller murmured to himself as he looked around at all the other faces in the sardine can they call a landing craft.
- The explosions in the distance started getting louder as the destroyers behind them bombarded the fortified beach ahead. Keller turned his head to try and see them but they had all disappeared from view, there was now just a lot of ocean with the only thing in view; other landing craft.
"Keep your eyes forward!" The Sergeant immediately behind him yelled.
Keller looked forward again, taking a deep breath in, his heart slowly started beating faster and faster in anticipation for this thing they call a war. There is nothing to do but wait, wait and listen to the explosions up ahead. Keller looked over to his right as one of the other men began to vomit. He looked away but he couldn't hide from the smell warm bile and salt water, Keller gaged. A heavy hand grabbed his shoulder from behind.
"If you vomit on my boots private, I will throw you overboard with them." The sergeant growled.
Keller took another deep breath in, keeping his stomach in check. Funny how an angry sergeant seemed to be the remedy for a lot of different things. The sergeant looked back at the landing craft operator who nodded at him.
"STAND BY!" the Sergeant yelled.
- All the men on the boat, even the ones who were sick, stiffened up. They went over their kit, checking to make sure it is in working order. Then they loaded and cocked their weapons. 'The time is almost upon you, are you ready?' The hair on the back of Keller's neck stood up and goosebumps ran along his arms. 'You're scared but is it fear?' Keller noticed his boot had come untied, he bent down and began tying it back up
'Rat-a-tat-tat-tat!' The landing craft was peppered by a German machine gun.
'You're getting close.' The man to the right of Keller who was vomiting earlier screamed out in pain momentarily before being choked out by his own blood, he slumped to the floor of the landing craft grasping his neck. Keller, watching the man was frozen. His eyes locked onto the eyes of a man who was quickly dying. Blood was squirting from between his fingers, spraying the troops around him. The water in the bottom of the craft was carrying the blood over to Keller. A man behind the one who got shot, now with blood splatter on his face, knelt down to assist with the dying man. He seemed to know what he was doing; the medic. 'How convenient to be placed behind a man who was shot; Fate or punishment, the medic cannot save your life.' The dying man looked into the eyes of the medic, his mouth move to talk, but nothing came out, his blue eyes glossed over and his hand fell from his neck. He died, the blood still pouring out of his wound. 'The first casualty of this war, how old is he?'
Keller was about to stand up when a massive explosion rocked their landing craft and it listed severely to the right. Everyone from the left side was tossed into their companions on the right. Keller was now face to face with the dead man, the blood soaking into his combats; He is still warm. The boats left side slammed back down tossing Keller off the dead body and sprawling him on the boat floor. He froze, again.
"Get to your damn feet, boy!" The sergeant yelled, grasping him by his shirt and hauling him up.
"We're landing, get ready!" The sergeant screamed to his troops.
The whole craft lurched forward coming to a halt. Keller and a few men in front of him stumbled forward and fell, they were stuck on a sand bar still 50 meter from the beach. The ramp dropped. 'Who watches us? The ones not fated to die, Yet?'
- Keller could hear the screams of the men in front of him as they were cut down by machine gun fire. He could see their dead bodies through the boots of the men yet to die. 'Will you survive?' A heavy weight dropped on top of Keller crushing him into the floor; the air was knocked out of him, he gasped. Keller managed to wiggle himself forward enough to roll onto his side and then to his back. It was the sergeant, his jaw ripped from his face where a bullet had struck him. Blood poured out of his wound leaving its mark on Keller. He screamed and grabbed at anything he could to get away; darkness rolled in. He fainted. 'Why did you leave, to be a hero?'
- Keller woke up to grey Smokey skies, machine gun fire, explosions, the smell of dead bodies and salt water. 'You're still here?' Keller rolled over, grabbed his rifle, looked around and listened. Through the chaos the wind brought a faint sound, "The Bells Are Ringing for Me and My Gal…," someone was singing off in the distance. 'Your will may falter, but you must press on.' Keller rose to his feet and walked forward, stumbling over the bodies of his fallen comrades. The surf, rough from the bad weather and deep, was his first obstacle and 50 meters of it lay between him and "B" Company of the Queen's Own Rifles on the beach. Keller jumped into the water, diving under to avoid being seen and then coming up for air. The struggle was eminence as his kit weighted him down and the waves suffocated him. 'Poseidon is waiting, will you join him?' Keller fought with all his might to stay afloat, swimming vigorously towards the beach, his feet touched ground and he could now walk. Keller keep as low as he could with the water as he walked up to the shore, the waves crashing over him. He ran the last 5 meters up to the beach and out of the swash. Keller wanted to stop and catch his breath, but he knew that this would make him a target. He race forward into the hell that was before him, zig-zagging his way to the nearest beach obstacle for cover. Keller laid flat, sighted his rifle and took a deep breath in.
"Bang." A bullet left his Lee-Enfield No.4. 'Do you know the consequences of you actions?'
"Keller!" A man shouted.
Keller looked ahead to his right, and through the haze of the battle field.
"Keller!" He shouted again.
Keller spotted the man who was now waving at him and waved back; Instant regret. Keller dug his face into the ground as machinegun fire peppered his position.
The voice was cut off by a massive explosion between them but Keller heard enough. He looked around, got up and sprinted for the man ahead of him. Hot sand thrown up by the explosion burned him on its way down, the expended propellant choked his lungs and the haze partially blinded him but he kept running. Keller slide the last couple feet behind a sand berm coming to rest beside the man who was calling him; The Medic.
"Sullivan where is everyone? I thought I was the only one left." Keller Asked.
Sullivan laughed. "You're not that special Keller, the rest of the platoon is up ahead." Sullivan said.
Keller felt relief that some of his mates had made it. He looked out towards the beach, Body's laid everywhere; destroyed landing craft and tanks now littered this sandy hell hole. The rough water and the grey bleak backdrop where fitting for this miserable day that took hundreds of lives. The medic tapped Keller on the shoulder.
"Let's go! They are moving to take the Pill-Box." Sullivan yelled.
- A massive explosions rocked the ground as Keller and Sullivan ran towards the sea wall the pill-box was on.
"What was that?!" Keller shouted.
"Sounds like another platoon took out the 75-mm" Sullivan said.
The pill-box ahead of them stopped firing as they made it to the sea wall. Sullivan leaned up against it to catch his breath. Another massive explosion went off.
"There goes the 88, that's how it's done!" Sullivan yelled smacking Keller on the shoulder. "And it sounds like our boys took out the pill-box."
They ran along the sea-wall until they hit the opening, turned, and ran up the small incline leading behind the pill-box meeting up with the rest of their platoon. 'Do you believe in fate or luck? If the latter, what is your number?'
"Private Keller glad you could join the war!" A voice said.
Keller smiled grimly. "Is this all of us McKesson?" Keller questioned looking around.
"Well… Cromwell and Corporal Bell are inside the bunker looking for anything that might be useful and now with you here we are up to five." McKesson Answered. Keller's gut sank. Five, five out of 32 men in their platoon made it off the beach.
"Hey…" McKesson placed his hand on Keller's shoulder. "Don't let it get to you, we have to stay strong for them if we want to win." McKesson said.
Keller stiffened up a bit and nodded.
"You better try to get some food into you as well," Mckesson gestured. "we are pushing out soon and Corporal Bell took over as platoon leader; I'll let him know your back with us." McKesson half smiled and walked away.
Near silence fell over the beach as the German fortifications were taken out and the artillery guns were silenced. Off in the distance you could hear the war still raging on, signaling that the day had only begun. For a moment though, there was relief for the men who had fought on Juno. 'Silence is deafening'.
'They, who walk among us but are no longer here, still give us the strength in life. No longer able to talk, but have all the answers, silent listeners who are there for us in our most vulnerable times. We pray to them and for them in the hope they will hear our voice. They, in return, hope that we can hear theirs's, for they wish they could tell us to stop, stop all the war and violence, it does nothing but create sadness. Life defies them so they watch over us from the place beyond; hoping lessons will be learned as more join their fate.'
- "On me!" shouted Corporal Bell.
We all stopped what we were doing and rushed over to him.
"Listen up gents! We are behind schedule, A company has already engaged Bernieres and we are to rendezvous with them at the Notre-Dame Church, so get your kit! We are moving out!"
Keller turned around and jogged over to where he had been sitting, packed away his food items and fastened his canteen back to his bag. His hands started shaking. He took a deep breath, then grabbed his rifle, looked over it and readied it. Keller heard footsteps of someone walking up behind him and turned around, fear running up his back. Corporal Bell stared at him for a moment then pulled out his pack of MacDonald's Export "A" cigarettes.
"This will help the nerves." Corporal Bell lit one up and handed it to Keller.
Keller took a drag and started coughing, the smoke choking him..
"You'll get used to it" Corporal bell said with a smirk on his face, then, grabbed Keller by the shoulder. "Glad to have you back James." He said.
Keller took another drag and smiled."Thanks" He said.
Corporal Bell turned away and started walking up to the slight tree line where the other men had gathered, Keller followed.
"How's it look Cromwell?" Corporal Bell asked coming to kneel behind him.
"Well..." He said with a pause, taking his eye off the sights of his modified Lee Enfield. "There isn't much, just open field with a tree line on the far side, just before the town." Cromwell explained. "And…" Cromwell paused again. "It's quiet." Cromwell said, a bit worried.
'Darkness lies in wait, always watching and always ready to snuff out the light. Can you feel its eyes upon you?'
Corporal Bell stood up and looked out through the tree line and sighed.
"Listen up!" He yelled. "We are going to be moving across this field. I want a staggered line, 5 meter pacing, keep your ears sharp and your head on a swivel. We have a town to liberate." Corporal Bell took out a cigarette, lit it, readied his rifle and walked out through the tree line.
'Only Time will heal our pain, until we are reminded.'
"First man out, last man in was the way Corporal Bell lead. The rest of the men followed him, not because they were ordered, but, because he was their brother. We were all brothers, bound by the blood of war." A tear betrayed his demeanour, it rolled down his cheek and fell onto the casket. Keller turned around and left.
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