How Johnson Got Out Of the War
by Passenger Creek
There Johnson was. He knew it would come to this. Standing there with tears from the teargas, standing there without his gun, he knew it would come to this. He’d always been this way. If he put a tool down he couldn’t find it. At the instant of letting it go his mind never recorded the event of setting it down.
“I’m not a soldier, dammit, Damn you Johnson”
He knew he’d have to go back to the teargas station. He knew his “weapon” would already be in the drill sergeant’s hands.
He remembered running out of the gas mask training, tearing, and falling on the ground and shedding the helmet. He didn’t remember setting the M-16 down.
He liked shooting the thing. In the practice round he came close to a perfect score. He wondered why he tried so hard since the war was on. He had trouble keeping it up and down range and he kind of pointed the barrel at the Lieutenant when he was supposed to show the breech and yell “All clear sir”
Needless to say, Johnson had already been noticed. He’d heard one of the sergeants say “That one is jumpy”. They were on to him. They knew he was scared of them. Now he was a coward who lost his gun.
“Sarge have you seen my weapon” , he rehearsed
Years later he’d think of those faces in that Basic Training photo and wonder which of them never made it back from that war.
They never sent him. Maybe they knew Johnson would charge that cannon when he shouldn’t because he was “jumpy”.
What would Sneaker say. Johnson’s mind raced through the days.
Yo left, yo left, yo left right left. Yo left, yo left, yo left right left.
Ain’t no use in going home
Jodey's got your girl and gone
Ain’t no use in looking back
Jodey’s got your Cadillac
Sound off one two three four one two THREE FOUR
Forced marching, learning to chant and run, learning to breathe on a step, learning to be a bonded unit, learning to charge the cannon.
There was a problem with blackbirds that year. Their numbers outreached their food supply in this region. In the morning mess line the sky had been black with them for an hour.
Johnson’s mind raced to the image of their wings roaring, the men staring incredulously into the air as the mass of birds passed noisily overhead. The sky was black with them. Johnson’s mind raced to the blackbirds, through the marching to the barracks and to the men, to Sneaker.
Johnson and Sneaker were squad leaders. Johnson didn’t want to be a squad leader. He hated being drafted, he hated the war, he hated being restricted, he missed his girl. He wanted to go home.
Sneaker didn’t say much. Sneaker looked like the Hollywood rugged staunch black soldier, coarse stubble, square jaw. He didn’t say much. They became quiet friends, brothers. Brothers endure hardships together. Basic Training was about enduring hardships together, becoming brothers. Johnson might not charge the cannon for country but he might for Sneaker and the rest. That was the basic of the training.
Johnson’s mind raced to the barracks with many bunks in a long wooden room, a long wooden building up on stilts. He and Sneaker had been cleaning the latrine. The line of commodes was just behind the sinks, no stalls.
Johnson said, “I’d have made sharpshooter but the damn rain fogged up my glasses.”
Sneaker’s rugged faced would be fused into Johnson’s synapses at that moment.
Sneaker said, “I want you to know I think you are the best squad leader”
Sneaker hated the war. He missed his girl. He missed home. He wanted to be a good leader.
Johnson turned back toward the teargas station. He was back in the moment. He didn’t know he would stay in that moment. He didn’t know.
The words “years later” usually appear in our life stories and they appeared in his. Some, like Johnson, don’t go to war. Someone goes in their place whether the war is just or not.
Was it a better man, almost certainly, was it Sneaker?
Years later Johnson would think, “I’d have charged the cannon for Sneaker.”
Johnson arrived at the teargas station. The sergeant was there.“Sarge do you have my weapon?”
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