Friendship In Times Of War

June 22, 2014
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Even during our long training, we didn’t have many free exchanges, but there was a brief moment in which we sort of looked at each other, slapped each other on the shoulder and said, “We made it. Good show.”
It was while we were stationed in Iraq that we really talked for the first time. We were in the mess hall, and he, seeing that all the other tables were occupied, came over to my table.
“Can I sit here?” he asked, before seating himself, irrespective of my answer.
I extended my hand. “I’m Jim Baley,” I said.
We shook hands, but he didn’t reply for a while. After finishing his food, he burped soundly, took a large gulp of water and announced, “I’m Brody. Max Brody.”
I immediately liked him. Within a few weeks, we became close friends. We soldiers never make friends easily, which is why our friendship was marvelled at by many. We often used to talk late into the night, after lights out, because that was the only time you could talk—apart from the impossibly short lunch breaks, or if you were one of those people who could hold a conversation while exercising to death. Not me, sir. Not Brody either.
He used to tell me about his wife, Susan. She was four months pregnant, he told me. I could see that he was really excited about being a father for the first time. He told me that he actually wanted a daughter, although he always told whoever asked him, that he wanted a son—it was just something a man was “supposed” to do.
I don’t know why he told me these things; the fact that he was sharing his little secrets with me made me feel awkward. But all the same, seeing his trust in me, I began to trust him, too. I told him about my early life, in which I’d lost my wife, my sons and countless jobs owing to my drunkenness. I was a hopeless drunkard back then.
At 26, with nothing left to lose, I had joined the army, and here I was, swapping life stories with this bearded guy.
One day, during our morning drill, I sprained my ankle. I tried to go on, mindless of the pain, but the pain was unbearable. I couldn’t imagine how people go on in the movies after getting shot. Surely a bullet wound must be more painful than a sprain?
Finally, limping painfully, I retired to a bench. All the boys in the squadron teased me mercilessly, calling me a “delicate darling”. Brody joined in, too.
I felt bad, to be quite honest, but I later realised that this was to be expected. I mean, I’m a soldier in Iraq, and if I sprain a foot, then I can’t expect sympathy from my fellow soldiers. We have been trained to not show sympathy for bullet wounds; a sprain is almost humorously girly.
That night as I was shifting around in my bunk, trying to get comfortable, something smacked on to my chest. Alarmed, I immediately got up.
Just then Brody whispered from his bunk, which was right above mine, Don’t move, you fool. Spray it on your foot and cover it. Took me all hell to get hold of this can. It’s a luxury.”
God knows I’d never admit it to anyone, but my eyes felt moist. I smiled in the dark at my buddy, sprayed on the relaxant, covered my foot and went to sleep.

It happened towards the end of June. Our squadron was stationed to the Southern side of town and one day, without announcement, a large team of Iraqi terrorists appeared in front of us. We hadn’t seen action in years, and so were slow to react, but they were as fast as lightning.
They opened fire. All of us quickly dashed for cover. Then it happened. I saw it happen as if in slow-motion: One of them pulled out a grenade, took off its pin and tossed it straight towards me.
I was rooted to the spot, paralysed with fear. Suddenly Brody, who was to my right, jumped on to me to protect me. I heard a deafening band. Then darkness.

When I woke up in a hospital two days later, I was told that I had lost a leg, and that I was lucky to have had a friend like Brody. He had thrown himself over me moments before the grenade exploded right above him, sending thousands of shrapnel into his body. He’d never had a chance of surviving.
I won’t lie; I cried. I cried for the friend I had lost, for the husband Susan had lost, for the soldier the country had lost, and for the amazing human being, Max Brody, the undeserving world had lost.

Four days later, strapped into a wheelchair, I flew back to the US for Brody’s funeral. It was a small, quiet occasion at the local church.
There, I watched Susan’s hopes, aspirations and happiness cascade down her cheeks in a flood of tears. Feeling unshed tears sting my eyes, I hurriedly put on sunglasses, which I had brought for this purpose.

A few months later, I went to his grave to pay homage. I put a bunch of flowers down and, smiling, wished him a good stay in heaven—or hell, which is more likely where he’d be, being the profane little bugger he was!

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