Saturday, May 23, 2009

Coming Soon...

The girl in the Realtree camouflage jacket leaned forward yet again.

"Shut UP, Daryl! There's cops coming in!"

"It ain't no thing. I'm gonna go over there and piss."

"Like HELL you ain't. You're damn drunk!"

"They'll never know."

"You been sangin' about beer and runny eggs since we got here. They'll know."

The group with the giant moleskine notebook started roaring with laughter again. Something about pickle races and vomiting onto Baby on Board signs.

"Daryl, shut UP! He's a Marine!"

Coming soon: "I'm Home Now."

Copyright © 2009, Ben Shaw
All Rights Reserved

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Day My Soul Died

As my whirlwind driving adventures continued eastward, I stopped in Chicago to visit my good friend Sarah, whose troop support organization kept me well-supplied through three tours in Iraq, and who has now come to be more of a second mother and confidant. She’d been inviting me up to Chicago for years, and for the first time, I took her up on the offer. She always serves good food.

Sarah has informed me repeatedly that Chicago is THE best city in the world, and that if I ever made it up this direction, she would give me a grand tour of the Windy City. I was anticipating a day of sightseeing, famous attractions, and an intimidating skyline cluttered with high rises. I was completely unprepared for what awaited me.

“When I was with my friends yesterday, I asked for their advice on how to see the most of the city in a single day. What to show you, where to go, and so on. Almost all of them said to do what we’re doing.”

When I inquired just what exactly we would be doing, she told me it was a surprise and I’d have to wait. The reality, however, is that she didn’t want me to shriek in horror, grab my bags and leave immediately. In hindsight, she was right to withhold information. While trapped on the train into Chicago, she broke the news.

“Ben, we’ll be touring downtown Chicago on Segway scooters!”

I was mortified immediately. For those who don’t know it, Segways are the strange-looking, electric, two-wheeled upright scooters that use gyroscopic balance to keep riders from wiping out (click here). They are also probably the largest source of dork jokes I have ever seen. Nobody with any shred of dignity would be caught dead on one, myself included. Yet now I was not only about to ride one, but do so in public, in a major city, while wearing a safety helmet, and accompanying a herd of other self-shaming dorks. I politely choked back my anger, as Sarah informed me of her life philosophy:

“You’ll never see these people again.”

All good and well, but I will remember being laughed at for the rest of my life. This would be better if I was drunk.

After a safety brief and helmet assignment, we all dragged our Segways outside the tour company’s storage room and commenced a lengthy operating lesson. To her credit, the tour guide made it look simple. Yet even she, petite, highly attractive, and well-attired in a short sundress, still looked like a dork. She, as an “expert,” was also not wearing a helmet. Still fighting to urge to run, I stepped on, nearly fell off once, and immediately felt my self-image deflate. As I timidly rolled forward a few steps, two Asian tourists on the walkway above immediately turned expensive video cameras on me and started filming. They were laughing. I had nothing to throw at them.

Twenty minutes later, we were rolling along the sidewalk and conducting more “training,” most of which is geared towards keeping us from panicking, which will most certainly cause a wipeout. When it was complete, we began the three-hour tour, which I would describe as an inglorious parade of a once-proud combat veteran through a sea of chortling pedestrians. I would have preferred roller skates and short shorts.

As our guide effortlessly trundled down the sidewalk, I utilized now-wasted combat observation skills to immediately notice that everybody was staring at me. Few looked curious. They were laughing. As we cut through a park towards the road, we passed several benches full of locals enjoying the scenery. They weren’t staring at the guide or the other riders, but at the 6ft 3in, helmeted man who wouldn’t look them in the eye. I looked away or down, and made every effort to pretend I didn’t notice their gaze. All I could think about was reading a fake advertisement for Segways years ago that boasted an optional “dork deflector” which projects an image of a ferocious Klingon onto nearby walls. I wanted to wear a mask.

As luck would have it, nearly every intersection was packed with cars – all of the passengers laughing. Every two or three blocks we would encounter a tour group with dozens of children. Lacking any sort of tact (and I can’t blame them), a number pointed at me directly and laughed. While I would normally glare back and intimidate them, I lacked the dignity, and a Klingon. I hung my head and tried not to wipe out, which would have been the epitome of soul death.

The picnic table loaded with young men also laughed, but with my pride completely departed, I called out to them with a cheery voice and a heavy lisp. “Oh, these things are wonderful, guys. You’ll be on them soon!”

As I passed, one muttered a reply: “Oh, I’m right behind you.” Crap. Fine.
In another park, I took my Segway up to its top speed of 8.5mph, tore into the grass, and chased away a flock of seagulls. The tour guide looked at me in irritation and Sarah asked what on earth I was doing.

“I wanted to see if SOMETHING was still afraid of me.” She cracked up and returned to taking pictures of me behind my back, no doubt for later blackmail.

When pretty girls shyly steal a look at me or smile, I usually smile back. But now, unsure if they were smiling at the humor of a tall moron on a Segway or because they just wanted to smile at me, I looked down in shame. I can’t hit on pretty girls when riding a Segway. It’s the antithesis of cool. Another group of Segway tourist passed us. The guide rolled into the middle of the intersection and hollered cheerfully at us.

“Woooo! Segways! Alright! Aren’t these things awesome? Segway nation! One world, two wheels!”

I wanted to shoot either him or myself; I was undecided. To boost my self-esteem, I attempted some offroading on a hill, almost wrecked, and received another glare from the tour guide. I don’t think she liked me. “You’re the ONLY guy who won’t admit he’s having fun,” she remarked.

How COULD I have fun? My masculinity was being sucked from my body. I missed my uniform, or any form of dignity, for that matter.

More guys pointing and laughing. I give them an extremely effeminate wave and look away before they can taunt me to my face. I didn’t want to see their reaction. Passing well-dressed professionals on the sidewalk, I concluded I was not properly garbed for such an excursion. If I’m going to look like an idiot without even trying, I should have completed the image altogether with a cape, a feather boa, or an animal costume. Maybe they’d stare at my outfit instead of my face. Maybe they’d feel sorry for the special needs man on the Segway. More pretty girls smile – probably laughing at me. Hooray. Segway Nation. I pretended not to notice them. Having a man smile at you while he rides past on a Segway is as awkward as a bezitted teenager waving adoringly at a bikini model. They’re not in the same league.

To make a long story short, I survived this undignified ordeal. I told nobody my name, distributed no business cards, and recovered my masculinity by writing an e-mail to a friend about guns, watched some videos of Marines blowing up some stuff, and later I will do some pushups. Tomorrow I will radically change my haircut, start to grow a beard, and leave the state before I can be humiliated any further.

When I returned to Sarah’s house, I checked voicemail messages on my phone. There was one from my little sister:

“Hi there! I just wanted to make sure you would be back home by Sunday. They’ll be running the Special Olympics torch through town and I don’t want you to miss your favorite event!”

Maybe I should reenlist in the military. So far, the Marines don’t use Segways. Some other special units do, but NOT the grunts. God help me; I’ve turned into a goober.

For humorous photos of Segways, see the links below:

Self-shamed cop on a Segway
Segway tourists looking lame
Asian SWAT police on Segways
SWAT officers training on Segways

Copyright © 2009, Ben Shaw
All Rights Reserved

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Ghost Chasers

On April 10th 2009, Army Corporal Samuel C. Harris Jr. of Rogersville, Tennessee was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors. He and several others had been reported missing on November 27th, two days after an intense firefight near Hill 222, Korea. He had been listed as missing in action for 58 years. The search for thousands more is ongoing.

Perhaps the most frustrating but occasionally highly rewarding areas of work undertaken by the US Department of Defense (DoD) is the painstaking search for the remains of servicemen who died on foreign soil during World War II, the Korean War, the Cold War, Vietnam, and the first Gulf War. Due mostly to the chaos of battle, limited technology, enormous troop movements, shabby records in prisoner of war (POW) camps and the passage of time, the fate and final resting place of more than 84,000 US servicemen remains unknown.

Tragically, many perished in POW camps, killed by Japanese and German captors merely to set an example, others were bayoneted during forced marches, many starved or worked to death in labor camps, and a number were killed during allied attacks on those facilities and operations. Those killed on marches were frequently abandoned when survivors, slowed with the burden of carrying their fallen comrades, were given the option to either die themselves or leave their friends’ remains along the roadways. Those killed in camps were tossed into mass graves and forgotten, and countless more were tortured, underwent gruesome medical experimentation at the hands of their captors, and later joined their brethren in the pits.

The vast majority, however, lay forever where they fell in far off jungles, on islands, or somewhere in Europe as their units pushed into Germany. From World War II alone, more than 74,000 families have been denied the right to know how their loves ones died and where they were buried – if they were even buried at all. They are ghosts, and the vast majority will most likely never be discovered or identified.

The Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) oversees investigations worldwide in the continued search for our nation’s missing men – now all presumed dead. In conjunction with archeological digs, intense interviews, and cutting-edge DNA laboratory testing, the DPMO pieces together biological, geographical, and circumstantial evidence to locate these men. As World War II quickly fades from memory and stateside survivors are dying at a rate of thousands per week, the likelihood of pinpointing the missing is diminishing rapidly. As hopeless as their efforts may appear, however, there have been a few recent encouragements that keep these men and women laboring unwaveringly.

In Vietnam, for example, as those who endured a brutal war on their soil near the ends of their lives, many have stepped forward to clear their consciences – at times confessing that they killed US troops and indicating where they buried the bodies, all with the hopes of absolving their guilt over past actions. Their admissions have proven invaluable to locating a few of the more than 1,000 servicemen still missing from the Vietnam War. Monsoons have come and gone, landslides have buried some gravesites, and many remain missing, but every so often a few more servicemen are identified and finally reunited with their surviving kin.

To lose a loved one in war is devastating enough, but to wonder for years, and perhaps even half-century the fate of a family member is a lingering pain. Though working largely unnoticed, the efforts of the DPMO and other partner organizations are followed closely by men and women eager for any news of their loved ones. They won’t see them again, most likely, but perhaps they can receive closure to years of protracted grief. Progress is understandably slow.

In order to identify with certainty the remains of Army Air Corps Staff Sergeant Jimmie Doyle, who was shot down near Japan, divers with the US Navy Mobile Diving and Salvage Teams conducted three investigative missions down to the wreckage of a submerged aircraft off the southern coast of Babelthuap Island. They resurfaced with machine guns, biological samples, and even old ID materials found on three of the crewmembers within the wreckage. With the assistance of scientists at the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) and the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratories, serial numbers from the recovered weapons were matched to those that were assigned to the B-24J Liberator bomber known to have been shot down on September 1st, 1944 and mitochondrial DNA was matched to these crewmembers’ surviving kin.

In conjunction with these data, circumstantial evidence and even old dental records, a solid conclusion was reached: after 50 years of searching and five more years of research and legwork, Jimmie Doyle had been located. The Army’s Mortuary Affairs Office soon thereafter contacted his next of kin, and on April 25th 2009, Doyle was buried in his hometown of Lamesa, Texas. The exhaustive search had taken more than half a century, but finally ended solemnly, but positively. Doyle made it home.

Few, if any countries in the world go to such exhaustive lengths to recover their war dead, yet few countries remember her heroes so fondly. Nor do many take so seriously the expression, “leave no man behind.” This nation, recognizing the sacrifice of these men, hunts for them willingly and tirelessly. These men gave us everything, so the least we can offer them is peace. They are gone, indeed, but never forgotten. We are a nation who remembers, for the nation itself was purchased at immeasurably high cost. We chase ghosts.

Copyright © 2009, Ben Shaw All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

To The Dogs

*If you have not done so already, please read the following before continuing:
"Hitting the Beaches"

At the time that Cole went through it, there were two types of dog handler training. One, conducted by the Air Force, was for sentry dogs. The other, scout dog training, was overseen by the Army at Ft. Benning, Georgia. Soon after the completion of training and now a Sergeant, Cole again found himself in Vietnam.

“We were walking along one day and I guess I wasn’t paying as close attention as I should have been. I had my M-16 in one hand and the dog’s lead in my left – and I was just sort of gazing off into nowhere. The dog sort of skirted around something, but I didn’t see, so I just walked straight down the little path. Next thing I know, I take a step and hear a loud metallic clank. I froze in place.”

Scout dogs, unlike sentry dogs, are not trained to attack, guard, secure perimeters, or even look particularly intimidating. In essence, their purpose is to replace the point man on a foot patrol. The scout dog will walk point, led closely behind by its handler. The handler, already extremely vulnerable to ambushes, booby traps and a host of other threats, intently watches the dog.

“You watch the dog for any unusual movement. If he smells something, there are probably VC waiting to ambush us. If he pricks his ears, he’s heard something, and we react accordingly.”

Handlers were trained to never remove their eyes from the dog. Cole learned the hard way that there were consequences for failing to do this. As he stood frozen in place atop the booby trap, he thought, “this is it. I’m done.” The squad’s Vietnamese scout crept forward and began poking beneath Cole’s boot with his knife. He expected to find a landmine that would detonate the moment Cole stepped forward.

“He didn’t find anything though. Just mud. The VC had dug a hole in the center of the path, put a tripwire through it, then covered it with a piece of metal and sprinkled some dirt and leaves over it. But I guess it just wasn’t my time. It’d rained the night before, and the hole had filled with mud, so when I stepped in it, the mud kept me from sinking far enough to trip the wire.”

The tripwire itself was secured to a stake on one side of the path, and a rigged artillery round on the other, hidden in the bushes. Once he determined the type of trap set, the Vietnamese scout cut the wire, disabled the detonator, and wound the tripwire up on its stick. He handed the wire and stick to Cole, jabbering away in Vietnamese.

“That night, when I was lying on my cot in the tent, some crusty old Marine captain barged in. He was the quintessential old Marine: big gut, cigar, and really old. He hollered my name.”

“Over here, sir.”

“Son, I don’t know if you’re a religious man, but I think I’d be in church this Sunday if I were you.”

“Yes sir. I will be.” Apparently the entire camp knew about his brush with death. From that point forward, he watched his dog more closely. Forty years later, he still carries a piece of that tripwire on his keychain. The rest of it, still wound to the stick, is framed and hanging on the wall in his home. Whenever his children were young, they’d ask about it. “I’ll tell you someday,” he always responded. When they were much older, he explained it significance.

Dog handlers didn’t operate independently in Vietnam. They were individually assigned to infantry units as requested.

“We’d do a couple weeks with a grunt unit and then they’d chopper us south for a couple days off. Sometimes they’d tell me to be out on the helipad at 10PM or something. I’d show up there, just me and the dog, and then a bird would land and pick us up and it’d just be us on the chopper, which was weird. I’d ask them where I was going, but they’d just say, ‘you’ll find out when you get there.’ I hated that. The longer the flight was, the more I thought, ‘shit, they’re taking me north into the DMZ.’”

During one memorable period of time, Cole and his dog were attached to 9th Marines, informally known as the “Walking Dead.”

“That was the first time I really witnessed the thousand yard stare. All the 9th Marine guys were positively listless. They’d just gaze off like they were somewhere else all the time. After a few days with them, I worked up the nerve to ask one about it. I asked him why everybody stared off into space like that. The guy looked at me forlornly and said, ‘because every one of us is going to die. It always happens to 9th Marines. They send us someplace and we get brutalized. Every time. None of us is going home again.’”

Sure enough, before long Cole witnessed firsthand the Division’s historically bad luck.

“They were doing an operation on line, and I can’t work my dog when they were like that, so me and this other guy took up rear security and started digging in. Then my buddy got bitten by a scorpion, and he starts sweating and shaking in the hole, completely miserable. I called our Doc over and right as he climbed into the hole, we started getting mortared. We couldn’t all fit in the hole either.

“Doc threw my buddy down into the hole and put his flak vest over him, and then he climbed on top of him to shield him with his body. Trouble is, that didn’t leave enough room for ME in there. All I could do was hunch in the corner and constantly turn a little bit as the rounds ‘walked’ right by us. Once again, I knew that was it.

“You ever felt shrapnel hit your flak? It feels like somebody’s throwing little rocks or something at you – but really hard. My entire upper body was exposed because Doc and the other guy were filling the hole. As the rounds walked by us, I’d rotate to keep them to my back. The whole time, I’m thinking, ‘all I have to do is hold out my arm, get hit by something little, and they’ll send me home,’ but my luck a big chunk would have come by then and taken off my whole damn arm. I just hunched down and watched shrapnel open up Doc’s arm, then my buddy’s leg got opened up. But nothing hit me, though – at least not big pieces. Again, I guess it wasn’t my time.”

Caring for a dog in Vietnam was more complex than one might imagine. Not only did handlers pack their own equipment, but they were required to carry two weeks provisions for the dog, as well as tremendous amounts of water. Cole explained the problem:

“The dog’s brain sits in the top of its cranial cavity – just under the fur and skull. They cook easily, so we’d have to keep them cool. I’d have maybe one canteen for myself, and literally fifteen for the dog. All throughout the day, I’d pour water over his head to keep him from frying. The grunts hated me for it, too. They’d get resupplied and get issued barely half a canteen per Marine, and there I was just pouring water all over my dog just to keep him comfortable. They hated me for it, but I had to do it. The poor animal still passed out once on me, which was awful.

“Other guys weren’t very nice to their dogs, though. Some of the handlers in my group would deliberately feed their dogs a little bit of C4. Of course, the dog would get sick and then the handler would insist that they needed to be relieved. The veterinarians knew about it and hated those guys for it, but they couldn’t ever prove it. It pissed me off, and I never did it. It’s pretty embarrassing to even tell you about it, actually.”

Following his tour through Vietnam as a dog handler, Cole again returned to the states.

“It was the early 70s then, when airplanes were getting hijacked left and right in the Middle East, and the US Marshalls didn’t have enough guys to plant on every flight through the area. So they borrowed a bunch of guys from the military, sent them through Sky Marshals school, and then we’d fly all over the place. The pulled about 800 guys from the entire military, and only about 88 from the Corps. They didn’t call us Air Marshalls though, but Sky Marshalls. I did a couple world tours on flights, and then I got promoted to Staff Sergeant and they sent me back to regular units again.”

Sure enough, with his extensive and recent experience as a dog handler, Cole was assigned as a “coordinator” for a dog handler unit – and shipped back to Vietnam for a third tour.

“Basically what would happen is that the handlers would get sent all over Vietnam, and then I’d just travel around and check up on them, deliver their mail, make sure the dogs had plenty of food, and coordinate their relief to give the dogs some R&R and. They had to come south every three weeks or so for vet checkups and rest. Then they’d send ‘em out again. So I’d just wander around the country trying to keep up with all of them, which was pretty fun. I’d get to bases, and the commanders would insist I stick around an extra day for the USO show or something. ‘Course, then I get back south and my 1st Sergeant would yell at me, but he was going to do that anyway so it really didn’t matter. I had a pretty good time though, just traveling around with special orders that let me fly anywhere.”

After a short tour, abbreviated because he declined to reenlist again, Cole returned to the states for discharge. He’d given the Corps seven years, three tours, and served in a myriad of unusual positions.

“I had a few hard days when I wondered what the hell I was doing, but you know, I loved every minute of it. Every single minute. And I wish I’d stayed in. I had so much fun.”

Copyright © 2009, Ben Shaw All Rights Reserved

Monday, May 18, 2009

Hitting the Beaches

“When they launched the trac [Marine Corps amphibious assault vehicle] off the back of our ship, the thing actually sunk and water started pouring in the driver’s open hatch. I have no idea why he didn’t close it. But after a moment it came back up, and we started circling in the water until all the other tracs were ready to push, too.”

Cole and his unit, as well as two other Marine Infantry battalions, were part of Operation Starlite; as General Westmoreland put it, the first hostile amphibious landing since the Korean War. It was also the first strictly US military offensive action of the Vietnam War. Intelligence reports estimated that they were attacking a Viet Cong estimated to be 2,000 strong, on the beach, with Naval gunfire sailing overhead, air support strafing the enemy lines, and under withering fire from the Viet Cong. “I was just a PFC [private first class], you know. It was ‘65 and I was only 19. I wasn’t scared, exactly. But I was thinking, ‘wow.’ That’s all that ran through my head most of the time. ‘Wow.’

“As we rode towards the beach, the trac driver still had his hatch open. We’d crest a wave, then ride into the trough and the next swell would wash over the trac. Every time, the driver would get swamped as we took on more water. He’d frantically smear his sleeve and hands across his face, fight with the steering controls, and keep on going. We were all crammed in the troop transport area so tightly that as we sat there, our knees were interlocked with the guys sitting in the row facing us. The water was so high in the back that it was soaking the seats of our pants. I figured we’d never make it to land.

“Right about the time that I’m thinking that archeologists are going to find our corpses and our trac at the bottom of the ocean 5,000 years from now, the treads touched sand and we went tearing up onto the beach.

“When we got up in the sand, the doors came open, all the water spilled out, then we came running out right after that. Under fire, of course.”

Cole’s position was on the far right extreme of Kilo Company’s inland push, bounding, taking cover, and bounding some more.

“To my right about 500 feet or so, Corporal O’Malley from India Company was winning the Medal of Honor for jumping into a VC trench and killing a bunch of ‘em – then he refused a medevac until all his squad was safely out of harm’s way. To my left, not 100 feet away, there were fierce firefights with other squads and platoons. Overhead, the jets strafed the VC positions and bass rained down through the canopy all around us. And you know what, running up that beach, stopping when they told us to, rushing forward when they yelled at us, I never fired a shot through my M-14. Not once. Our lane never had any gooks in it to shoot at. All around me, yes, but you couldn’t see through the canopy and foliage. That was their business in their lane. We just didn’t encounter anything in mine. We had to be careful, though. Most of the VC were underground, and as soon as we’d advance past their trap doors and tunnels, they’d pop us and shoot us from behind. I feel sorry for the bastards in India Company, though. They pushed right through the VC command post – and they got torn up too. Two actually were awarded the Medal of Honor in that company – and somehow lived to receive them.”

After three days of sporadic heavy fighting, attacks and counter attacks, reinforcements started to pour onto the beach. Supply convoys, however, were repeatedly ambushed as they pushed towards the front lines. Each time, Marines on the front lines further depleted their ranks and dispatched elements rearward to “rescue the rescuers” – taking heavy casualties along the way. Eventually, however, Marines from 3/7 were finally deployed to relieve the main elements of Cole’s battalion holding the front lines.

“They went forward all gung ho with their spit-shined boots and pressed cammies. Apparently they were clueless, though. Not an hour later or so, I was sitting there eating some food and resting, and Marines started walking by carrying ponchos all wrapped up. You could see clean, spit-shined boots sticking out the end. Those kids didn’t make it six hours in country.”

After completing his tour through Vietnam, Cole returned to the stateside Marine Corps and soon found himself among the first “Redeyes” of the military – a unit few are aware even existed.

“The Redeye is actually just the predecessor for the Stinger missile – a heat-seeking missile fired from a shoulder-mounted launcher. We were the first guys. Whenever we went out for a test shoot, all these Generals from the Pentagon would be there, the General Dynamics contractors that designed them, and even politicians. We always gave them a show.

“But the trouble was that all we did in that unit was conditioning humps [hikes]. We’d have to haul all our gear plus the 37 pound launcher everywhere. It’s all we ever did. When I saw that they were looking for dog handlers, I leaped at the opportunity. It looked interesting…”

To Be Continued…

Copyright © 2009, Ben Shaw All Rights Reserved

Sunday, May 17, 2009

We Brought Our Preacher

We had pulled out into the Iraqi desert for the night, scouting out a wadi far from town and hopefully also far from any night ambushes or IEDs. After we coiled the vehicles, each vehicle commander set to securing the humvees for the night as the Marines made sleep arrangements either in the vehicles, on their hoods, or dug into holes (ranger graves) around the trucks. Only a few of us had tents.

Comer, one of my vehicle commanders, directed his Marines to restow all the gear in his truck, which most of them began promptly. Wilber, his assistant gunner, had deposited half-empty Gatorade bottles and opened MRE snacks everywhere around his seat. Comer, already irritated about being wet, cold, and now about to hunker down for the night in a squalid, desolate wadi in the middle of nowhere, started yelling when he spotted the trash. As the gunner standing in the turret, he hadn’t observed it earlier.

“Wilber, clean this shit up before I kill you! Can’t you FINISH a drink before cracking another? God, you’re a slob!”

In his slow, Georgian mountain accent, Wilber mumbled something about there being no need to yell, and began apathetically picking up the trash strewn about his seat. He had never understood that silence was often the best course of action. He felt compelled to retort, in his own way.

“Corporal Comer, the Bible talks about us not using profane language,” he drawled. “We’re not supposed to use no harsh language.”

“Oh yeah? What does the Bible say about being too freakin’ lazy and irresponsible to clean up after yourself? Isn’t there something about the merits of hard work?” Comer was accustomed to these one-sided debates. Wilber always grew flustered and gave up – mostly because he couldn’t think of a retort to somebody quoting scripture right back at him.

Comer continued. “In fact, Wilber, you have said more than once that you feel Jesus called you into the Marines to evangelize us unwashed masses, but what’s your excuse? You’re the most worthless Marine I’ve ever been in charge of. Actually, I think you were sent by the DEVIL to beguile me. You’re not doing God’s work, you’re working for Satan and you’re too damn stupid to know it.”

Wilbur twitched like he’d just swallowed a mouthful of vinegar. His lips curled into a momentary sneer, and he closed his eyes. He turned his head upwards and stretching his arms towards Comer, he began to speak.

“In the name of JESUS, come OUT of this MAN!! Get behind him, Satan! Get out of his heart and liberate his spirit. Demon, you hold no power over him, or this earth, or over God. In the name of God, get out of him!” He slumped into the humvee seat and bowed his head.

Comer stood motionless, dumbstruck. “Did you just exorcize me, you asshole?”

Wilber, head still bowed, breathing hard, said nothing. Comer went to find me and apprise me of the situation.

As he recounted his apparent exorcism of a demon he was unsure he had, our platoon commander took a break from digging his ranger grave and walked over. “Sergeant Shaw, what’s going on here?”

I explained the situation: in an act of evangelical inspiration, our good friend Lance Corporal Wilbur, fighting through a thick twang, had banished the demons from Corporal Comer – demons none of us were aware he possessed. The young officer stared at me with a blank look. He turned to Comer; “are you okay, Corporal Comer?”

“I think I’m just fine, sir.”

“Okay.” He heaved his E-tool shovel and started wandering back to his ranger grave.

“Sergeant Shaw, you need to tell me these things,” he called back.

“Tell you what, sir?”

“That we have a prophet in our midst.” He resumed digging.

As I told my sister this story, she frowned and asked me an excellent question: “Do they have some sort of IQ test you have to pass to get into the Marines?”

The answer, unfortunately, is no.

Copyright © 2009, Ben Shaw All Rights Reserved