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CASUALTY OF WAR - INSIDE THE CROSSHAIRS -THE FINAL CHAPTER
Casualty of War - Inside The Crosshairs - The Final Chapter
"Will you write about it?" Jack asked.
"Jack, what you're giving me is really just hearsay." Pam said.
Pam Baker was a reporter for the Tribune and had written several stories on the war.
"Hearsay? I was there, I saw what happened."
"Look, I believe you. Really. But I can't just write it without at least another source I can cite." Pam fumbled through some papers on her desk.
"Nobody I know will go on the record." Jack felt a bit defeated. What happened that night played over and over in his mind.
"Well, at least give me her name."
"I don't remember." Jack replied. "I think it started with an M."
"You don't remember?"
"Meyers, Meyerson…" Jack tried to remember the name of the private but it escaped him.
Pam sighed. She wished there were something she could do but she knew her paper would never print the story and more than likely no other paper would either.
"Listen Jack," Pam started, "get me other sources, another person – anyone who can substantiate your story. Then I'll write the hell out of it, I promise."
"What if…" Jack paused.
"What if I wrote it?"
"And then what? The paper still won't publish it. Not even as an editorial. It's too inflammatory. Don't you think if this woman wanted her story out that she would've come forward?"
"Would you?" Jack asked looking Pam straight in the eyes.
Pam looked down, she knew there was nothing else she could do and she felt bad.
"The war's over Jack. Nobody wants to believe this kind of shit goes on in the military. Do you know how many people would line up to crucify you for bringing these charges into the public eye?"
"Somebody's got to do something." Jack's eyes began to water. He swallowed hard and got up. "I'm sorry I wasted your time."
"Jack." Pam called after him as he turned to leave her office. "Jack get me something more and I'll help. Have you ever thought of seeing a counselor?"
"Are they going to print the story?" He asked.
"I think it might do you some good to talk to someone. A lot happened to you over there, talking about it might help."
"It'll go away." Jack knew that was bullshit, but he was uncomfortable listening to what Pam was telling him.
"Listen." Pam leaned forward and interlaced her hands on her desktop. "If you really want to do something about this, your best bet is to make a formal complaint before you resign from active duty."
"The paperwork is already in the pipeline for months, I terminate service in the next few weeks."
"Well, then you've got some work to do don't you?"
"Thanks ma'am." Jack nodded at Pam and turned and walked out of her office and headed for the elevators.
Jack sat in the middle of three chairs that lined the wall outside Major Reynolds' office. He was there for his resignation counseling interview before his resignation from the Army could be finalized.
He closed his eyes as he waited, and waited. His palms sweaty as his mind raced and memories of the war danced about in his head. For a moment he could see the private being raped, he could smell Captain Jones' sweat as he slammed Jack into the ground and kicked him. He saw the Iraqi soldiers go down that he had killed and he felt the bullet strike him in the stomach. He reached down and felt his stomach but didn't look, he was afraid his guts would be strewn about.
Jack looked down at his hands as he sat in the chair. Sweat beaded his brow as he turned towards the caller.
It was Major Reynolds.
Jack blinked a few times. "Huh?"
He quickly saw and focused on the major. He stood up quickly.
"Sir, I apologize…lost my train of thought for a moment."
"It's alright Jack, come on in."
The major sat down behind his desk and opened Jack's file. He motioned for Jack to sit down.
"Want any coffee or anything?"
"I'm fine sir." Jack replied.
"What was that out there?" The major asked.
"You feeling alright Lieutenant? You had a pretty rough go of it over there. You getting any sleep?"
"Not much sir."
"Do you want to see someone about it?"
"I'm squared away sir."
"Don't try and bullshit me son, I was there too…and Vietnam." The major motioned towards his ribbons on his chest.
Jack swallowed hard.
"Sir," Jack began, "before I resign, I need to make an official complaint."
"About what Lieutenant Hemingway?"
Jack turned and noticed the door to the major's office was open. He hesitated a moment as the major got up and closed the door. He sat back down behind his desk and leaned back.
"So what's this about?" Major Reynolds asked.
Jack thought for a moment before he spoke. He rubbed his palms on his trouser to dry the sweat.
"I uh…I want to file a complaint against an officer for misconduct."
"Captain Jones, he…I saw him." Jack choked on his words. "I witnessed Captain Jones rape a female private, sir."
The major leaned forward and put his elbows on his desk wringing his hands together. He looked down at Jack's service record and thumbed through a few papers.
"Did you make a report when this happened?" The major asked.
"I reported it to Captain Davies."
"There's nothing in your file lieutenant."
"It was a verbal report sir."
"What did Davies do lieutenant?"
"He told me to forget about it. Then he sent me out the next day with Eagle Troop."
"And…?" The major coaxed Jack to continue.
"And that's when I was wounded sir."
"So you think Davies and Jones conspired to get you wounded?"
"Sir…" Jack fought back his emotions. "I'm pretty sure Captain Jones is the one who shot me."
The major slammed a fist down on his desk. It startled Jack and he flinched.
"Dammit Hemingway! We don't go around shooting fellow soldiers, you got that?!"
"Listen Jack…" The major's tone softened. "I'm sorry you were wounded, really. So here's what I'm going to do. I'll fast track your resignation, you were wounded, I get it. You won't have to finish out your eight years. But you need to stow this shit, are you reading me soldier?"
"Sir," Jack tried to interrupt.
Jack swallowed hard.
"I mean, what do you want me to do about this? Who the hell is this private anyway?"
"Something needs to be done sir. It is wrong, he can't be allowed to get away with it."
"I hear your frustration lieutenant, but what do you want me to do?"
"Prosecute him, sir."
"Jack nobody's going to bring Jones up on charges at this point. It's too late." The major sat back in his chair and folded his arms.
"So much for justice then…" Jack smirked.
"Watch your tone lieutenant…You're still in the Army."
"I want out."
"You'll get it, believe me you'll get it. Like I said, I'm approving your resignation and fast tracking it up the chain. It'll be expedited, don't you worry about that."
Jack ever so slightly shook his head. He couldn't believe that nobody gave a shit about a soldier being raped by another soldier.
"Is that all, sir?"
"What else do you want me to do?" The major asked.
"I meant, is that all, for now, sir…can I go?"
"Catch a hop and go home Hemingway. You're on terminal leave until this processes out. Consider yourself out of the Army!" Now the major was agitated and he stood up and leaned over his desk as he eyeballed Jack.
Disgusted, Jack stood up. He turned and opened the door without waiting to be dismissed or asking permission to leave a superior officer's presence.
"Hemingway!" The major barked after Jack.
Jack stopped a few feet outside of the major's office. He turned his head back to look at the major without fully turning around.
"Fuck you…" he mumbled and he turned and walked away.
The major quickly came out from behind his desk and stood in his doorway as he watched Jack leave.
Jack never turned to look back.
Although his resignation was fast tracked, it still took time before Jack was officially discharged. He continued his convalescence back in San Diego while he waited for the official paperwork to arrive.
Each night the war would revisit him and each night he would wake up in a pool of sweat, sometimes screaming at the top of his lungs as the ghosts of his wartime experience advanced and retreated, never fully releasing its grip on him.
It was a warm August afternoon in San Diego when Jack got up and took out his full dress uniform from the closet and slowly got dressed. His discharge had come through, he was discharged under honorable conditions — a step below a full honorable discharge; a final fuck you from the military and Major Reynolds. The caveat was that within six months it was automatically upgraded to a full honorable discharge. Now he was a civilian, recently divorced and all alone — except for the memories that tortured his mind day and night.
He quietly and patiently attached each of his campaign ribbons and medals to his chest, recalling each citation and award. He wondered how many of his medals they threw at him just to shut him up.
The once proud young soldier now looked with shame and contempt into the mirror and straightened his gig line. He thought it odd the military focused attention on the alignment of the uniform shirt seam with the belt buckle and the trouser fly seam. And why did they call it a gig line? What the hell was a gig anyway?
Though his physical wounds had healed there would always remain significant discomfort when he bent over or used his abdominal muscles too much. He winced as he sat down in his car seat.
He drove down to Mission Beach and then along West Mission Bay Drive to Sunset Cliffs Boulevard. He liked going out to the cliffs at this time of day to watch the sunset. There he could sometimes escape the the pain, the memories that hung over him like the dark clouds of a building storm.
He parked at one of the less frequented turnouts along the cliffs, it was quieter here with just a handful of parking spots.
As the setting sun moved closer to the Pacific Ocean he closed his eyes and felt the warmth of the sun on his face. In a moment, a tear slowly rolled down his cheek.
He looked down at his Purple Heart medal on his chest. Unclasping the medal he removed it and looked at it. He turned it over, on the rear face he read the benign inscription…For Military Merit. He smirked, nearly dying is considered merit, is it?
He placed the medal on the dashboard and exited his vehicle. He leaned against the hood of his car and rested a foot on top of the guardrail. Just a few feet beyond the guardrail the cliffs dropped off to the rocky shore some forty or so feet below.
As the sun entered its final moments of visibility Jack stood up and walked forward climbing over the guardrail and walking to the very edge of the cliffs. He looked down at the tangle of rocks below and thought, just one more step and it will all be over.
The tears came slow at first, then came flooding down. He shook his head as the anger came. He unbuttoned his uniform and pulled the pin catches that held his ribbons and medals to his chest. He removed them all, even the ones he was proud of. He took off his gold Army ring and held everything in his right hand as he looked out over the Pacific Ocean.
He drew back like he did as a pitcher playing baseball and as he threw all his medals and ring far out from the cliffs he let out as loud of a scream as possible. He watched the medals fling out into the ocean and as they splashed into the water he fell to his knees and hunched over crying uncontrollably.
When he yelled he drew the attention of a few people nearby who were also watching the sunset. One of them was a retired naval officer who sensed something was amiss and walked over to the guardrail behind Jack.
"Hey there," the man said. Jack didn't respond. "Hey there fella, everything alright?" He asked. Jack, still on his knees turned his head toward the man, his eyes red and full of tears. He didn't reply.
"It's alright son, why don't you let me help you out of there, ok?" He reached out his hand as he slowly crossed over the guardrail. The man cautiously took a few steps towards Jack, looking over the edge of the cliff. "There's nothing down there for you son, come on back here."
"Don't worry, I'm not going to jump." Jack said between sobs.
"I'd feel a lot better if you'd come over here and tell me that." The man tried to smile.
Jack looked back out over the ocean and closed his eyes. He took in a slow deep breath and exhaled. He stood up and turned away from the cliffs. The man offered his hand to Jack as he came closer and when Jack took his hand the man grabbed it firmly and pulled Jack towards him putting his arm over his shoulder, "It's ok, let's get back over the guardrail, I don't like heights!"
Now Jack felt kind of embarrassed and shook his head as the man helped him back over the guardrail. "It's alright lieutenant, you'll get through this."
"I'm not a lieutenant anymore," Jack finally said.
"That doesn't matter, you're here, that's all that matters. You live around here?" He asked Jack.
"No, down in Chula Vista."
"I live just down here on Osprey. You feel like coming over for a drink?"
Jack wiped his eyes and looked at the man. "Sure, I'd like that."
"Jack…" Tom said putting his arm across Jack's shoulder, "welcome to the rest of your life."
Jack was grateful he had met Tom, regardless of the circumstances of how they met. They were both veterans of war and it helped having someone to occasionally meet with and talk about things they both had experienced.
That didn't keep the nightmares away though and Jack sunk into a deep depression and harbored much anger towards many people he either served with or under. He could not let go of the pain he suffered or the agony of witnessing a fellow soldier being raped. Jack desperately tried to remember her name. He wished he could reach out to her and know that she was okay.
Jack's marriage fell apart rather quickly after he returned home and it was in short order that he found himself alone and unable to properly deal with his emotions. He had no healthy release for all of the things that had built up since the war. Something had to give.
What gave was his ability to maintain self control. After a minor disagreement with a girl he met and fell in love with, he became violent and hurt her. Afterwards, alone again and still unable to deal with his issues, Jack broke down and knew something would have to change.
He knew what he had become was not the real person he was and that if he were going to change it would first have to come from within. He also knew that his issues ran deeper than any wartime trauma, he had to figure out who he really was, on the inside, and then to decide who he was going to be, on the outside.
Jack sat in the middle of a row of chairs outside the office. He closed his eyes as he waited and waited while his mind raced wildly back and forth. The war and all of its aftereffects that tortured his mind played like a movie in slow motion. Sweat beaded his brow as the door to the office opened.
"Mr. Hemingway? I'm Stefanie," she said extending her hand to shake his.
Jack entered the office and sat down as Stefanie closed the door and sat in a chair across from him.
"So," she began, "what brings you in today?"
Jack choked back his emotions and swallowed hard.
"I need some help…"
She smiled and reassured him, "you've come to the right place. It isn't easy deciding to get into counseling. I'm so glad you're here Jackie…"
And so the healing began…and the tears came flooding down…
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