Ever get that feeling when you see an element of your past come face to face with you at the worst possible time? That’s the feeling that I got. My latest assignment was one that I and everyone else who was given it with me dreaded – security. See, because our organization provides “solutions” to high-profile clients who have the money, we sometimes end up having to do security for people who don’t deserve it. Rich assholes who feel the need to flex their financial power over others. It’s boring. We end up standing around in our uniforms, showing off the insignia, and making everyone believe that this person that we are hired to protect is some Eastern European dignitary. It’s pathetic. What’s worse – almost all of the people who hire us for this are Americans. I hate working on American soil. It’s insulting. After what these bastards did to me, every time I breathe the toxic fumes that come from pretty much the entirety of its land, I feel like I am doing a disservice to the people who died in that prison with me.
But here I was, getting out of customs. We caught the flight out of Home Base, and were going to meet with our client later that evening. He was catering some big event. Bad people were going to be there. Lots of them. Our job was to provide security. Security for some of the most corrupt people on the planet. Arms dealers (and manufacturers), military contractors, owners of various companies that all had their hands in the pies of war. Enough of those to go around. No wonder they wanted to feel safe. Probably any number of these people were being watched by the CIA and FBI. We had gotten the layout of the area, and our mission commander would disperse us as needed, for the duration of the night. Once everyone went home, our contract was done. One night, to protect people who were all involved in doing horrible things. Not secretly, mind you. Not all of them, anyway. Sure, some of them, but not all. Some of them were able to do their villainy right out in the open. Lobbying, as Americans call it. When I was growing up, we called it “protection.” You pay and make things happen. How do the criminals in Sicily feel comfortable calling it that, while Americans don’t? Oh, right, pride. Americans are dripping in that. Red, White, and Blue limp-dick fuckers.
Having gotten out of customs, I was headed down with Sister to grab my bag. I could tell that she wanted to hold my hand. To show affection. But she knew that I am not the type, and it was an odd time to do it. So we just walked together. At baggage claim is when it happened. A ghost from both of our past reappeared. It was a man, high in age, and wrinkles. He was dressed in red and black. His attire looked very formal. A religious man? But who wears those colors? That’s when I remembered growing up. You live in a community filled with Roman Catholics, you know what to look for. This man was Catholic. More than that, actually. Sister stopped cold when she caught sight of him. Her eyes went huge. It was then that he saw us. He was with an entourage. They were escorting a man, dressed all in white. The Pope?! Well, this was an unexpected honor. Why were they here in the States? An odd choice. Since when was the Vatican on good terms with the United States? This was very new. The man we were looking at just stared back at us. His jaw open and his vision wide. It was like a mixture of fear and horror. Memories were surely coming back for him. They were for me. Indeed, all I could think of was times long gone by. The war, that scarred my childhood. It was the first place I met this man.
Our orders came down from Command. They told us about a Catholic church that was being used as a field hospital. They claimed to be treating both sides of the conflict, yet we understood that there was a command post of the enemy not far from that location. Our mission was to move in and destroy the entire area. Our own soldiers were to be rescued, while the enemy was to be slaughtered. We would kill their wounded, secure their supplies, and destroy the command post. It could deal a crippling blow to the enemy. At least, that’s what we were told. The truth was…well, I was too young. I just pointed my rifle at who they told me to, and fired. It was a simple truth. Being a child in war is never complicated.
We deployed under the cover of darkness. Trucks got us as close as they could without being noticed. We kept low, moving through the forest. Most people think that a rainforest has to be a jungle. Not true at all. This is a rainforest, with oak trees. It was fast going. The rain was pouring down. The lot of us were ghosts in this. I had my rifle by my side, keeping pace with the rest. The lights of the church soon greeted us, along with the sound of activity. There were a TON of tents around the church. Some sort of triage, perhaps? Again, I didn’t think much of it at the time. Just a child in war. You aim your rifle at the enemy and killed them. It was a simple life.
Coming in close, our commanding officer took out his binoculars. He sighted a number of patrolling guards. They were the enemy. So it was true. The enemy was protecting this place. So the claims about it being for both sides was a lie. This place had to be destroyed. Might as well be us who did it. This had to be quiet. If we drew too much attention to ourselves, they would raise the alarm and the fight would be hell. If we could kill the patrolling guards, that would give our artillery time to set up. We could blast this place to rubble in minutes, then move in to mop up. But the trick was to take care of those patrolling guards.
We were split into three teams. Each team consisted of three people. I was with a boy and Sister. We moved to the left, told to keep to the treeline and take out the guards at the far end of the church, by the main road. It had to be done in such a way as to make sure none of the bodies were by the road. Easy enough. We also couldn’t use guns. Even in this rain, a gunshot would still be heard. Drawing my knife, I was at home in the undergrowth. Three of us, three guards. One each. I took the one furthest from the others. He was undoing his fly by a tree. Planning on relieving himself, I guess. Too bad. It made slipping the knife into his neck so easy. Right by the shoulder. The artery was severed, and he fell to the ground. Dead in seconds.
The others had done their part, so we went back to the rest of the unit. The enemy was suddenly moving around a lot. Did they suspect something? These guards likely had radios. If they all went silent at once, I suppose they would suspect something. This was bad. We had to move. We had a couple of RPG launchers, and one mortar. That was the extent of our artillery. Our CO ordered two teams, my own included, to move to the other side of the church, and await command. We were to cover what would be the enemy’s only retreat path. Any who fled, we were to drop. Clean, simple, easy. Back to moving fast and getting into position. Had to move quicker this time. The enemy was moving a lot. More soldiers were moving around. If we didn’t start firing soon, they would disperse to find us. That would be bad. Right now, they were bunched up. Spread out, that was a bad thing waiting to happen. It increased the likelihood of our artillery being seen.
Once we reached the indicated point, we called in. The other team had done the same. All paths of retreat were being watched. Now was the time. The first RPG went flying at a tent. There were screams from soldiers. But it was more than that. I heard women screaming. Grown women. Civilians? Why would civilians be here? Mortar fire. A wall of the church was blasted in. Even more screams. Soldiers coming out, shooting into the trees. A waste of bullets. They were firing blind. The RPG teams would keep moving. The mortar could fire for hours in the dark and in the rain and they would never see it. This was a one-sided fight if there has ever been one.
Five of the longest minutes I had ever had passed by as more rockets and mortar shells impacted around them. Wasted bullets. Screaming. Death. The church was now hanging open like a rotting wound. So grotesque, it all was. That’s when the vehicles started to head our way. They were going to try and get to the main road, then flee. My team stood up, opening fire. We took aim at the tires of the trucks. It was not pretty. Two vehicles went rolling, while a third smashed into a ditch so hard that the front burst into flame. Someone went flying out at that point.
Those who tried to escape the vehicles were met with our gunfire. What was going on here? For being a command post of the enemy, this place was almost completely undefended. Why were the guards here? Had it truly been for both sides of the conflict? So many mysteries, but we had our orders. Finally, the firing stopped. The enemy had either been killed, or disabled. Our demolitions were spent. Now was the time when we would go in and clean up.
You ever see something so awful up close, that you know will never leave, but it’s so terribly amazing that you have to keep watching? That was the aftermath of what had happened here. Corpses everywhere. Crying people. The occasional gunshot. Orders were orders, after all. We were purging this place. Something didn’t sit right with me. Why had there been civilian screams? Once I got to the church, I understood why. It wasn’t civilians. It was people associated with the church. They were helping people. Staying behind, to help whoever they could. There were food stores in the church. Supplies of kinds that aren’t bullets. And the “command post?” It was just a place where soldiers could know where to go to get back to their own forces. We had just obliterated this place for nothing. God knows how much of their medicinal supplies we destroyed.
A sound from below. A basement? Bringing my rifle to bear, I decided to head down. No reason that I couldn’t handle this on my own. I found the door beneath some rubble and made my way down. It wasn’t a long journey. Opening the basement door, I shined my flashlight around. There was nothing but pews, Bibles, hymn books and other things here. Nothing that would even qualify as interesting.
Right as I was about to turn and head upstairs, there was another fall. In a flash, I had my weapon and light turned. It was facing down a man in black, with a white collar. A priest? So this church still had parishioners. He held up his hands, blood running down his face. Just the sound of the rain above, and the dulled gunshots. The fear in his eyes, it was intense.
“Please…” he begged. “I don’t want to die.”
There was no weapon on him. He was a total non-threat.
“I only help the sick. You don’t have to kill me.”
Orders were orders. Weren’t they? The longer I stayed down here, the worse my situation got. I had to kill him. Had to fire. The man was so thin. So little threat. Blood was on his face, and he was at my mercy. What was the right thing to do?
“Please, child, don’t do this. You have no reason to kill me. Please…”
How could someone this afraid be a threat? I lowered my weapon.
“Stay in here until morning. Then leave. Don’t come back.” I turned to leave.
“God bless you, child.”
“Doubtful, Father. He hasn’t yet.” The last thing I said to him.
Back up top, I told my CO that there was nothing down there. We brought in trucks, loaded up what we could, and left. It was the last time I would ever see that church.
Here I was, over ten years later, looking into the eyes of the same priest. The man in white stopped, looking at him, then at me. I only nodded, then shouldered my bag. I made sure he saw the insignia of NASSAU. The man looked so hurt and stunned. Did he think I had died? Who knows. Who cared. Sister was about to say something, but I motioned her off. It wasn’t something I wanted to talk about. Turns out, the man was now a bishop, on his way to becoming a cardinal. Good for him. Glad to see that nearly dying in a civil war hadn’t hurt his career. It was just another ghost from my life as a soldier, finding me here. How many more ghosts would find me? I hadn’t seen it, but the man apparently wanted to come talk to me. But someone in the Pope’s entourage told him not to. I wonder what he wanted to say…
Until next time, a quote,
“Not the power to remember, but its very opposite, the power to forget, is a necessary condition for our existence.” – Sholem Asch