Thursday, January 03, 2008



LCpl. Henderson reached out to the radio and flipped the small metal latch securing the first of two knobs. Turning the wheel to the right he stopped then set the latch back. He moved his gloved hand to the next, and repeating, except to the left this time. He settled back to his seat on an MRE box against the wall.

"…this is Charlie 5 Actual radio check."

Henderson keyed the mike. "Charlie 5 this is Charlie 3-4, read you 5 by 5"

"Nice to see you awake 3-4. Charlie 5 out"

"Fuck!" Henderson threw the mike back, "the XO sounds pissed." Looking at his watch he grimaced, 00:13 missed the change over by a bit. Enough so that anyone awake on the company net knew.

"Yeah," Came the reply from a shape against the other wall, "Sorry.""Yeah my ass. I'm going to piss," Grabbing his rifle, Henderson stomped out of the tiny bunker.

Stretching up to his full 6-foot-height he paused peering into the dark, eyes adjusting to the desert night., to notice a dark shape standing there just ten feet from him.

"Holy…Halt who goes there!" A normally baritone voice ascending the scales to a high adolescent shriek, something Henderson still hadn't out grown in his 19 years.

"Death, if I'd been a towelhead Henderson" came the reply.

Oh Fuck Gunny T.

Despite his southern upbringing, and the jokes about his accent to the contrary, Henderson was still a fast thinker. Recovering quickly he challenged, "Three".


"Advanced and be recognized," intoned Henderson.

"Nice to see you're not totally a fuck up tonight Henderson." Replied the Gunny as he stepped forward. "Now can you explain to me the little brain fart that brought me out of my nice warm hooch out here to see if you little love birds were paying grab ass?"

"Sorry Gunny, No excuse, I was on the NVGs and lost track of the time."

Nice one thought Gunny, Don't Blame the other guy just let me know that it wasn't your job… Gunny personally thought Henderson was a weasel. He never was the one who fucked up, but he always seemed to be there when someone else did, with a ready excuse.

"And what was your boyfriend doing at the time?"

"Don't know Gunny…"

"I smell a “but” in there"

Henderson stepped closer to the Gunny and dropped his voice. "It's Kinsley, He's really down today. I think something's wrong."

Oh course he's down, he's fucking 5000 miles away from home on Christmas eve sitting in a bunker waiting to get shot at thought the Gunny, Then the next thought; Maybe something is wrong. Henderson wouldn't tell me about it if he didn't think it wasn't important. Maybe you're not such a weasel. (Amazing what you can think of in a few seconds, all while staring quietly at a young Marine waiting to get the other half of his ass chewed off. One of the talents passed down through the generations of the Corps.)

"Well since I know you weren’t just going to get out and piss on the side of the bunker, and since I'm here to take your place so you don't have to call the Corporal of the guard over here to relieve you properly. You can get over to the shitters like you're supposed to instead of pissing out here in my desert like an animal. So why don't you amble off and go play with yourself while I have a talk with Kinsley"

"Aye, Aye Gunny" and with a year-out-of-boot-camp reflex and a scurry into the night went Henderson.

The Gunny watched him disappear into the night with a smirk. Jury is still out on that one. Well Ted, put your game face back on and lets deal with the other one. And with that he turned around, ducked his head, and went into the bunker.

Kinsley was staring intently through his NVGs at a bush. The only real thing to look at, but he was performing perfectly the skill of looking like you were busy when there was nothing to do. An instinctive reflex privates learned around SNCO's

"Has it moved?"


"That bush you're looking at, has it moved"?

"No Gunny".

"Of course not, it's a bush, but I bet you if you turn your head a little to the right or to the left you might see something else."

"Yes, Gunny".

The Gunny stared at the young Marine, sizing him up. The youngster was new to the unit, just out of SOI and pretty bright.

"Kinsley do you know what the purpose of changing radio frequencies at a designated time is."

"Yes, Gunny"

"Were you told by the Corporal of the Guard what time to change the Frequencies?"

"Yes Gunny" with a nervous glance at a sign above the CINGARS set that read, "FREQUNCEY CHANGE MIDNIGHT"

"Is your watch broken?" questioned the Gunny with a rising temper.

"No, Gunny."

A pause, a theatrical removal of the Kevlar and a hand run through graying hair.

"Then what happened?"

"I don't know…"

Oh, you little…The Gunny stared intently. Willing himself to calm down. His temper was his biggest failing, keeping him from becoming a Senior Drill Instructor at MCRD. Several times it had been pointed out to him both professionally and unprofessionally, if it hadn't had been for 9/11 he probably would have been "Upped or Out" by now. Calm.

"Then what is it son?" Quieter

"Nothing Gunny" with a guilty glance at a picture on the wall. The Gunny’s eyes followed and then reached out with a hand, and took a picture from the wall.

Oh Great

The picture, a Polaroid, showed a young woman that may have just been out of high school, holding a baby. She had the Midwest-poor look, a tried, forced smile on her face, A green OD colored T-shirt that said "My Mans a Marine" The baby, barely more then a handful, was crying, one hand up in a fist like a 60's radical as mommy shook it at the camera. Wave to Daddy Baby.


"Yes, Gunny my Son."

Your son, not your “Family”, not your “Wife and Son.” But your “Son”.

It was getting clearer.

"And her?"

"My wife, Gunny. We got married after boot camp, she's living with her folks now."

That's right. One of the kids with kids.

Although the average age of a serviceman in Iraq was around 24, there were still those young ones. Some just out of a trailer park in Indiana. Making more money then they have in their entire life, and itching to marry their High school sweet heart. Most did not, some did. Commandant Mundy was right, never should let kids get married. I wish I hadn't correcting That's not true.

"First Christmas?"

"Yeah, he's only 10 months, he was born a week before I graduated SOI. I wasn't there for the birth either..."

That Math doesn't add up, there a story there…

"How's she doing?"

The finger was out of the dike and the world poured out. Phone calls and emails and letters slowly getting fewer and farther between, last week a precious phone call home, to find that she had left the baby with the grandmother and gone out. "No Randy, I'm sure she'll be home soon. Can you call back later?" Later than Midnight?

Damn, Damn Damn Damn…"

And now I don't know, Gunny. I've only seen him twice." Kinsley turned away, and the Gunny knew he was crying. Still it's more about his son.

The Gunny sat down, pulling a MRE case against the wall. He leaned back against the sandbag, and reached into his breast pocket, pulling out a cigarette. Another trip retrieved a lighter.

Flipping over the Zippo and with a practiced shake he lit the cigarette and began.

"I have a son, he's 20. I don't see much of him since his mother and me split up. I write him every once an awhile, some times I get a letter back. He's going to college, a scholarship. I wasn't there much, but I see him when I can. He's smart and strong. And everything I wanted him to be. Sometimes, I thought he hated me. Some times he was just indifferent. His mother has told him stories I'm sure. And some of them are true. But he's still my son. And the best thing me or her has ever, or will ever, do."

Taking another long drag, "I miss him, And I wish things could have been different, but they’re not. I've tried to be good to him, and to his mother, but I realized early on I wasn't going to be able be like my old man, I'd have to be something else. It's important to a man, to know he's leaving something behind in this world, something better then himself. And I know I have."

The Gunny turned his eyes on the young marine and continued; "I wasn't there to raise my son, but I've tried to be a good example. I've tried my best, because that's all any of us can do. Things didn't work out between me and his mom. And things might not work out between you and your wife. But you must always remember, the most important job in the world is being a father, and if you can't be there to teach him. Then live your life as an example for him. There will be other Christmases. He won't even remember this one. But soon he will start to remember. And that's what you really will leave him. The memory of his father. A Good Man."

The Gunny suddenly jerked, reality coming back into the bunker.

"So think about what I've said, be a Good Man,"

And picking up his Kevlar, he ducked down under the canvas and walked out, passing a quiet Henderson on the way back into the shadows.

"What he say?" Henderson asked, stepping back into the bunker.

"Nothing, a lot…"

Henderson sized him up, he wasn't going to share. "Hand me the NVGs and don't fall asleep again"

"Nah I'll take ‘em, you've had to watch enough."

The Gunny moved the flaps aside and stepped into the command tent. The XO looked up from the desk, "Get them squared away?"

"I'll be picking bits of them out of my teeth for a week" the Gunny said to a chuckle.

I bet thought the XO, I wouldn't want to get my ass chewed by the Gunny. That Irish temper is all it's cracked up to be and then some.

"I'm going to turn in now Sir, if everything is secure."

"Sure thing Gunny, I'm just finishing a letter to the family."

"Good Night, Sir."

"Merry Christmas, Gunny"

"Merry Christmas, Sir."

Trudging out, feeling much older then his years, the Gunny went to his tent. Inside on his cot was mail. A Christmas card from his sister, a couple of "To: Any Serviceman" cards And a letter marked "Return to Sender" in blue ink, addressed to a Dormitory at UC Berkley.

The Gunny stripped down to his shorts and skivvies, and pulled a battered hygiene kit out from under the cot. Fighting the failing nylon zipper, he pulled a ragged photograph out into the light.

A picture of a young woman holding a baby in her arms with one hand waving at the camera. Wave to Daddy Baby.


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