20 June 2011

The Spirit of a Marine

Posted 20 June 2011 upon this website by K.S. Wood - please ask permission before reprinting!


Corporal Steven “Winnie” Winston looked down at his legs and moaned. The explosion had thrown him clear of the Humvee he was riding in, and now he could not seem to find his feet. The pain was starting to replace the initial daze of the explosion, and he shut his eyes and clenched his teeth to deal with it.

He could hear shouts and gunfire around him as his fellow Marines were being attacked by the guerillas that had bombed their convoy. For a few brief seconds, he had the gut-wrenching feeling that he was going to be left behind to die, for the voices seemed to get farther and farther away. But suddenly his unit commander was screaming into his face.

“Don't die on us, Winnie!” Lt. Dan Perkins shouted. “That's an order, MARINE!”

Steven nodded his head as he gasped from the pain. He could hear men around him, but their voices were becoming more and more muffled as his life slowly seemed to ebb from him.

He tried to fight the darkness, but it was too powerful and he succumbed to it. His last coherent thought before he passed out was that he didn't want to die before he told Alicia once more that he loved her.

He woke up in a hospital. A nurse was checking him over when he awoke, screaming. She merely blinked as she waited for him to calm down.

“Where am I?”

“You are at the medical hospital in Germany, Corporal Winston. It has been almost a week since the bombing that brought you here,” she said.

“The rest of my unit?”

The nurse shook her head. “I do not know what happened to most of them. I do know that Corporal Ramirez was brought here as well. He's been able to walk the halls and has been checking on you for days. If I am not mistaken, that should be him shuffling down the hall now.”

“Hey Winnie,” Carlos Ramirez called out from the doorway. His arm was in a sling and he walked with a cane, but the look of relief at seeing his fellow Marine awake was evident on his face.

The nurse graciously slipped form the room with a smile, leaving the two to talk.

“What happened to you?” Steven asked, finding his voice. He coughed because his throat was dry.

Carlos chuckled as he reached for the water glass and handed it to his buddy. “Took some shrapnel in the shank when the IED took down the Humvee, and then took a couple of bullets in my shoulder and chest when we were attacked.”

Most of the unit survived, Carlos told Steven. In fact, it was because of their unit commander that all were pulled out alive, for he insisted no man be left behind. The hillbilly armor kept most of them alive in the explosion. Pfc. Aiden Patterson had died in the hospital from his injuries, and Lance Corporal Sam Jorgens was still in critical condition, but he had not given up the fight

“Sammy's parents have flown out to see him. They want to be with him if he dies.”

“And mine?”

“They were notified, but have decided not to make the trip because they can't afford it. Your mother calls me every day to check on you. Alicia calls too. Man, you have quite a girl.”

Steven looked down at his feet. In the course of the discussion, he had learned he had lost both legs above the knee in the attack. He also had to have three surgeries to remove shrapnel from parts of his body. He stared at the stumps and tried to control the tumult of feelings that coursed through him. He choked back a sob.

After announcing he had to get back to his own quarters, Carlos struggled to his feet. Standing as erect as he could, he saluted his fellow Marine. The gesture was returned.

A month later, Steven sat in a wheelchair looking out at the autumnal Washington skyline from one of the waiting rooms. He was dressed in a gold and red USMC shirt and a blanket covered his stumps. He sighed. His thoughts turned to the day before, when he told Alicia he wasn't going to be good enough for her now. He had told her to keep his ring as a symbol of what they had. He did not want to lose her, but he would never be able to marry her now, not like this.

“Penny for your thought, Marine,” a voice said from behind him.

Steven turned to see a grizzled old man sitting in a wheelchair a few yards from him. The man wore a hat that signified him a Vietnam veteran and a USMC pin on his vest. He wore jeans tied where his knees should have been. The man saluted him.

“You don't need to do that,” Steven replied, turning back to look out the window. He was uncomfortable with the gesture.

“Yes I do, Marine,” the veteran returned. “The name's Ernest Kyle. I was a Gunnery Sergeant in Vietnam.”

“Then it is I who should be saluting you, sir,” Steven replied. “Corporal Steven Winston,” he reliped.

“You were in Iraq.”

“Yes. An IED took out our humvee. Most of the unit was injured, if not wounded. One in my unit was killed, one is still in Germany in critical care while four of us were sent home to recover from our wounds. The rest received medical attention at the field hospital and were fit enough to be sent back on duty. My buddy Carlos is about to be sent back, but I won't ever be able to.”

“It will get better, Marine.”

Steven spent the next weeks in rehab. Alicia kept coming back. He saw the hurt in her eyes when he told her she should go home, but she kept on coming. Every day she was there with a smile and bottle of his favorite pop. She brought him donuts in the morning. She would have to go home at the end of the week, but promised him she'd drive back during Christmas break to visit. She hoped to be able to help take him home.

He didn't see Ernest again until later in the month. The veteran sat staring out at the first snow of the season.

“How was your Thanksgiving?” the older Marine asked.

“It was pretty good. My parents were able to make it out from Iowa for the weekend and took me out around town on Saturday morning. My physical therapist said it would be good for me. I felt lousy, but my mom was able to cheer me up. They are hoping to be able to make it out for a few days during Christmas, but aren't sure with finances being tight.”

“Least you got a chance to see them,” Ernest chuckled. “The missus and I spent the weekend up in Philadelphia with our daughter and her brood. It was nice to see them. Her oldest wants to join the Marines when he's done with school. Makes my heart proud. Wish I could see my grandkids more often, but can't get up there much anymore because of my old knee problems.” He laughed at his own joke. Steven had to smile.

“You have a girl, don't you?”

“I did, sir.”

The veteran chuckled. “You keep trying to push her away but yet she still loves you, is that it?”

Steven looked at the old man in surprise.

“Son, you're wondering how I know. I know because I was exactly like you almost 40 years ago. I had just come home from Vietnam with no legs and no future. I wanted to be a lifer, and that was taken away from me. I had no way to provide for a family and had a woman who loved me more then I thought I deserved. I pushed her away and she kept coming back. Finally I gave in and let her love me, and I loved her in return. It was the only thing that kept me going in the darkest days, the love from my woman. I still have that love, and I count my blessings every single night of my life that I have been able to provide for this wonderful woman in ways I couldn't see in those first days. I may not have legs, but I have a spirit and a mind that are whole, and that is what she loves to this day.”

Ernest looked him straight in the eye with a gunny stare, but there was the unmistakable glint of unshed tears in those eyes. “Son, you take hold of that girl and never let her go. That's an order, Marine!”

With that, he saluted the young man and wheeled away to where a older woman stood, waiting expectantly for him. Even though years of hard work shone on her face, she still could be called beautiful. She smiled as she bent down to kiss the veteran on the lips and handed him his coat. They walked out of the room together.

The orderly who was sent to look for him took notice of what he was watching. “You been talking to Gunny Kyle, I see.”

Steven nodded.

The orderly laughed. “That man is a marvel. Lives about four miles from here, and for the past thirty years he is here at least once a week to talk to all the servicemen who need a pick-me-up. Past few months he has been here almost every day. Did you know he's a decorated war hero? Rescued five of his unit before the Vietcong just about blew him up. Too bad he's not going to be around much longer.”

“What do you mean?”

“He's here because he has cancer. He was told last week he only has a few more weeks to live, and he chooses to spend just about every day of those last weeks here helping bring up the morale of others. Can't kill the spirit of a Marine no matter how hard you try.”

Steven slowly wheeled his way back to his room that evening, full of thought. He thought of the words the gunny had said to him. A tear rolled down his cheek as he picked up the phone and called the love of his life. He had more then a few things he wanted to say to her, and for the first time in the past few dark months, he saw a light of hope.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great story, Kelley. Glad you are still writing. Hugs Gma Jean