I was so caught up in reading the letter that I barely heard my friend say,"Come on come on we gotta go." I carefully put the letter back in the envelope and stuffed it in my jean's front left pocket fully intending to read it when I got home. By the time I went to bed my pockets were filled with stuff. I am one of those kinds of people who fills their pockets with stuff they pick up through out the day without thinking about it too much. I usually just dump it all on my desk before I go to bed and sort it out later. Most of the time I sort it out within a day or two but this time I was extra busy for a few weeks. When I finally got around to it I had a mess on my desk and pushed most of the stuff in to the trash can including the envelope. Just before I took the trash out I looked down and saw the envelope and rescued it once again. Before I went to bed I took the letter out and continued to read.
I had barely found my tent and put my bag on my cot when I heard someone yell, "Grab your gear we've got a job to do." I raced to my platoon and began marching the 8 miles to the battle front. You could not believe the emotions racing through me. I felt pride that I was going to do the job I was trained to do, fear for so many reasons and nervous energy.
As we entered the battle I got in to position. Before I began shooting I was aware of the many loud noises and stinking odors all around me but as I began to do my job I stopped noticing the noises and odors. When the shooting stopped the quiet seemed deafening. As we marched back to camp it occurred to me that I had survived my first day on the front. Now if I could only survive to the last day.
I have an idea that you already have some buddies that watch your back. I know that I did in basic training. In battle when the men you are fighting with regularly save your life you become closer to them than your own brothers. In those days I had five good friends that when we weren't fighting we did nearly everything together. They were all my good buddies but among them was my best friend Jim. Everyone called him Diamond Jim.
Diamond Jim had to be the smoothest character that I have ever known. I am not sure what he was like before he was married but from the time I first met him he sure had a way with women. Even though he told every woman that he knew over and over again that he was married to the most beautiful girl God ever created, it didn't stop them from getting as close to him as they possibly could, kind of like moths to a light bulb.
The thing is it wasn't just the ladies that were drawn to him either. He had a kind of charm that drew everyone to him, men and women. He had a way of making you feel so good no matter how bad things were, laugh so hard at things that normally you wouldn't think were funny and see such beauty in areas that until he arrived seemed to have no beauty at all. He could push you further and harder than you ever thought you could. He had a way bringing out the best in all of us. To have him as your friend was great but to have him consider you as his best friend like he did me put you in to a league of your own. He was my sergeant. That made our platoon several notches above everyone else's platoon, because of him we were considered elete. He could have risen up the ranks but he never wanted to. He wanted to be with his boys.
We became best friends I think mostly because we had a lot in common. We were born and raised about 50 miles from each other, were farm boys, loved our horses, liked baseball, hunting and fishing. He was someone I could always talk to who listened without judging me. When I made stupid mistakes especially with women he was there not to beat me up but to help me not make the same mistakes again. He had a way of making you see the good in everything even when you couldn't. I lost track of the times that he saved my life. If he didn't like something about you changing it was just something you did. For some reason he hated smoking. He said when we were fighting the light from my cigarette would give us away. I quit smoking because of him.
When you are on the front lines rumors fly all of the time. For a week we had been hearing rumors of some sort of big offensive. We knew that if there was that we would be part of it. Diamond Jim and I got talking about the offensive and where it might be. After a bit we got tired of talking about it and grew quiet. Jim looked at me and said, "Danny Boy if something happens to me I need you to promise that you will take care of my wife and my new baby. You are the only one I trust to take care of them." I laughed and said, "Jim you ain't never going to die. You even got cats beat. You went past nine lives long ago." Jim replied, " Seriously Danny you gotta promise me that you will take care of them. I got a feeling......." His voice dropped off and I said, "Jim you are my best friend. You know I will do whatever I need to do for you. I promise." Jim grinned and said, "Thanks Danny Boy I knew I could count on you."
We got silent for a few minutes and then I said, "Hey wait a minute, you never said anything about having a baby before. What gives?" Jim chuckled and said, Yah how about that. Last leave we spent nearly the entire leave in bed. If there was ever a chance for me to be a father it was then. I found out about a year ago that my beautiful wife was pregnant and then about 3 months ago she sent me a letter telling me that I am a daddy. It's the best letter I have ever received. Danny Boy see how important your promise is to me? Don't forget!"
We had been fighting for three days and were all so tired. The fighting went on day and night with only a few breaks. Diamond Jim seemed to be everywhere always being where he was at the right time. It didn't matter if one of us needed more ammo, another weapon, moral support or if one of us got hit Diamond Jim was there.
One of my buddys got a shrapnel wound, serious but not life threatening and Diamond Jim was running to help him when he tripped and fell not ten feet from me. Just as he fell an enemy soldier from who know where charged him and fired his gun when he was at point blank range. I sat there in the fox hole watching my best friend get killed and there was nothing I could do about it. I watched the enemy stand over him with a huge grin on his face. It was an act of a second to drill him between the eyes. One bullet was all I needed but it was not enough. Unlike the enemy I did not smile, my grief was far too great.
Until that moment the battle was pretty much at a stand still. We would advance a little and then they would advance a little but for three days there was almost no change. The death of Diamond Jim did something to all of us. It caused us to reach in to ourselves to find determination that we didn't know we had, pushing us harder than any of us had ever known that we could. We were like an angry mess of hornets biting and stinging everywhere we turned.
We won a decisive victory but you know we didn't win that battle, Diamond Jim did. When he died everyone of us held a part of him in our hearts. I still do.
The letter was so real that it was almost as if I was in a time warp. I felt as though I was not reading the letter but I was living it. From a distance I heard, "Honey are you coming to bed?" Now who in a war zone would be asking that? When I heard it at least one more time I realized that it was quite late. My wife and I both had early meetings to go to in the morning. I had no choice I had to stop reading the letter. I carefully put the letter back in to the envelope and set the envelope next to my laptop. I was not going to lose that letter. I had to finish reading it as soon as I could. I was too much caught up in it not to.