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The Right Choice
Why did I always have to do things the proper way? Why couldn’t I just do it the way I wanted to? I knew there was no getting around it. I had to do everything I was told. It was a hard time. It was 1918. It was the time of World War I.
I hated living in this time. Men would leave and never come back. It sickened me so much. My father had not been drafted yet because he was blind in one eye. He got into a thorn bush and the thorn poked his eye out. I was thankful for this. I knew if my father left for war, he would never be coming home. No one ever came home. But, my brother, Conner, just turned 18 today. He would be eligible to be drafted into the war. I did not want him to go. He and I are so close. If he were to die, I am not sure what I would do.
I walked downstairs and saw my mom cooking. It smelled delicious. It was eggs and bacon. “Good morning mom.”
“Good morning Claire.”
“Do you know where Conner is?” I asked.
“I think he is still upstairs. Why do you need to talk to him?”
“Well, I want to know if he has been drafted yet.”
My mom stopped cooking and walked over to me. She put her hands on my shoulders and said, “Claire, if you brother has been drafted try to support him. He doesn’t want to go either. I know you two are close but know that he is going to have a hard time as well.”
I nodded and walked up the steps. I walked into his room and saw him sitting on the edge of his bed. He looked up when he saw me come in. He stood up and came up to me.
“Claire, I need to talk to you.”
“What do you need to say Conner?”
“Claire…I…have been drafted into the U.S. Army. I know this is going to be hard for you, but it is just has hard for me as for you. I love you so much and I am going because I have to. I will try my best to stay alive.”
I couldn’t hold it in any longer. I burst into tears. Conner wrapped his arms around me and said, “Don’t cry Claire, everything is going to be all right. I will come back safely.”
I looked up at him and said, “Conner, you can’t be sure. There is not guarantee that you will be coming home. And if you do come home, you may not be the same person. I have seen men leave and when they come back they are completely different men. I don’t want that to happen to you.”
“Claire, I have to go. There is no way I can get out of it. This is for our country. We have to protect it.”
I was silent and so was Conner. I finally broke the silence and said, “Conner, I can’t just sit at home and wonder if you will come home alive. That will drive me insane.”
“Then you must keep your mind busy. Help mom all you can. Maybe you can go and get a job. You know most of the jobs are been taken by women now. Since all the men are gone, the women can take their place.”
“That will not help. I will always be thinking of you, no matter what I do.”
“Claire, you must try. All my stuff is packed. I am leaving now.”
“No! Not now! You must stay a little while longer!”
“I cannot Claire. I have to be at the docks at 2 o clock.”
“Oh, I am sure the ship won’t leave right at 2 o clock.”
“Yes it will Claire. I have to be on the ship. It doesn’t come back to Virginia for at least three months.”
“Oh, fine then. Leave! Just go and die! That is what is going to happen to you!”
Conner looked saddened by my words. I felt guilty for what I said. “Conner I am sorry. I am just terrified of what is going to happen to you.”
“I know how you feel. Everything will be fine; you will see this in time.”
Conner walked out of his room. I heard him walk down the stairs.
I came down the stairs and saw Conner and mom hugging. He must have just told her the news. They broke from their hug. Conner looked back to me and said, “You can come to the docks if you like, but I wouldn’t suggest it. It will just make you much sadder.”
I knew he was right. If I saw him get on that ship, I would think he may never come back. I didn’t think I would be able to deal with that kind of anguish. “You are right Conner, I will stay here.”
He nodded and walked over to me. We hugged. I heard father walk in. Conner and I broke from our hug and Conner walked over to our dad. I saw my dad put a hand on Conner’s shoulder. Conner did the same to my dad. A tear ran down my dad’s eye. He knew what was happening. After this, Conner turned around to mom and me and said, “Goodbye. I love you all and I will return.”
And just like that, my only brother was gone.
It had been two days since Conner left. I already was going crazy. I didn’t know if I was going to be able to take it anymore. I was worrying myself sick. I cleaned, I cooked I tried everything I could possibly think of to get him off my mind. Nothing worked.
I lay in my bed that night and couldn’t get to sleep. Every time I would close my eyes I would see Conner dying in battle. All of my dreams were about him. I couldn’t even be peaceful in sleep. I had thought many nights of this. Tonight, I had had enough. I was going to do something, which would be risky, but could be possible. I wasn’t sure if I could pull it off, but I had to try.
I got out of my bed and opened the drawer in my end-table next to my bed. I pulled out my scissors. I let out a deep sigh and said quietly, “This is the only way I know how I can be at peace.” I then took out a rubber band and tied it in my long brunette hair. I hadn’t cut my hair since I was 12. I was 18 now. It was hard for me. I took the scissors back in my hands and cut where the rubber band was. My hair was now only to my neck. I wasn’t sure it would be short enough, but it looked fine to me. I then stood up and walked towards my door. I opened it and quietly walked into Conner’s room. I opened his dresser and took out some pants and a shirt. I then took a pair of his black boots near his bed. They were too small for him, so he left them at home. I then tip-toed out of Conner’s room towards my room. I knew his clothes would fit me because I would wear his clothes all the time. I took off my pajamas and put on the pants and shirt. I looked at myself in the mirror and I had to say I looked like a man in some ways. My hands were too soft and small to be a man’s but I just had to work with what I had. I slipped on some socks and then put Conner’s black boots on. I tied the laces and then stood up. I was still missing something. I then realized what I needed. I needed a hat. I quietly walked back into Conner’s room and opened his closet. There was a brown hat. I tried it on and it fit perfectly. After I was completely dressed I knew it was time for me to leave. I had to leave now. Mother would wonder why I cut my hair. I couldn’t tell her what I was doing. She would never allow it, nor would father.
I walked down the stairs as stealthy as I could. Once I reached the bottom of the stairs I let out a soft sigh and went towards the front door. I opened it and it creaked. I stopped and listened. I heard nothing so I walked out the door and closed it behind me.
Once I was outside, I saw that the sun was just beginning to come up. I knew I only had a short amount of time to get to where I needed to go. I ran off towards the town.
Once I reached the town, I saw people starting to come out. When people looked at me they looked confused. They didn’t recognize who I was! Usually, most of the men in the town would come up to me and talk. I had pulled it off! I looked like a man! I was so proud of myself!
I wasn’t exactly sure where you signed up for the war but, I knew that someone around town would know. I saw a man walk towards me. He was middle-aged, with soft, kind eyes. “Excuse me sir, but do you know where they are drafting?” I asked in the manliest voice I could do. I hoped it was deep enough to convince him. The man looked at me strangely and said, “Do you see that building?” he pointed to a small square brown building that was right in front of us. I nodded my head and then the man said, “That is the place. But I have to tell you that the last ship left yesterday. There won’t be another ship here until three months.” And then it hit me, Conner had told me that yesterday! I had completely forgotten! “Well, do you know any place close that is taking troops off to the war?” I asked.
“I think there is a port in Wilmington, North Carolina that is coming in about two days. If you get a horse today, I think you will make it in time.”
“Thank you so much sir. You have been a great help.”
“It is my pleasure. Boy, you look very young. Are you sure you are old enough to be going to war?”
I hoped he wasn’t on to me. “I am 18 sir. I am able to join the war now. I have always wanted to. Now, I have got my chance.”
“Well, you really don’t want to get involved with this war. Both my sons have left for the war. They left about a year ago. They still haven’t returned. I have certain they have been killed. This war is awful. You do not want to get involved in it. I know you have to, but son, it is not going to be a walk in the park.”
This frightened me beyond belief. I had heard this war was terrible. This man had sons in the war. Son’s he knew never were coming home. I knew had to be brave. There would be many perils I would have to go through. “I know it is going to be rough sir, but I can do it. I have faith in myself. My younger brother went to war two days ago. He got on the ship. I am not sure where he is.” I said.
“I am sorry for this, but I am sure you will see him sometime during the war.”
“Where are the ships going?”
“Well, I heard that a battle is about to begin. It is in Paris, so I am guessing that you would be going to France.”
“Sir, this may sound like a stupid question, but what is the day today?”
“It is June 28, 1918.”
“Thank you sir.”
He shook his head and I went to go and get myself a horse.
I went to my best friend’s farm. He was very close to the town, but not too close. I knew he would lend me a horse. He never would let me down. When I reached his farm I saw him shoveling hay for the horses. He looked towards me and looked puzzled. I ran up to him and hugged him. He pushed me away and said, “What are you doing?”
I took my hat off and said in my normal voice, “It is me silly.”
Dominic’s mouth went wide open and he said, “Claire?”
I nodded and then he asked, “Why have you cut your hair and why are dressed as a man?”
“Dominic, I am going to go into the war. They will take me because I look like a man.”
“What are you thinking? You cannot go to war! Men can only go! If they catch you who knows what will happen!”
“Dominic, Conner left two days ago. I am going crazy here. I can’t just sit around at him and wait to see if my only brother comes home alive!”
“Claire, I know how Conner and you are close, but you can’t risk your life for this! Conner would not want this!”
“I have to. Now will you please lend me a horse?”
“Why do you need a horse?”
“I have to get to Wilmington, North Carolina in two days or less. A ship there is leaving for France towards war. That is the only chance that I have.”
“Claire, this is a stupid idea, but I will lend you a horse. You have no idea how much I am going to be worried about you. If it wasn’t for my leg being broken, I would come with you.”
“Thank you Dominic, you don’t know how much this means to me.”
He nodded and then walked towards the barn. I waited for a few minutes. He finally came out with a black stallion. He was beautiful. The saddle was already on him. Once Dominic reached me he said, “This is Nanook. He is a strong horse and he won’t tire out on you. Just make sure to stop for water.”
I got up on Nanook and looked down to Dominic and said, “I promise you I will bring your horse back.”
He laughed and said with a serious face, “You better come back too.”
“Don’t worry, I will.” I looked at him one last time and rode off.
Two days later
I had ridden far to get to Wilmington. I only had to stop five times. The ship was leaving today, so I had to find the recruiter office.
I reached Wilmington and saw a ship near the loading docks. That was the ship that would take me to France. I dismounted off of Nanook and saw a building that said horse boarding. I wasn’t sure how long they would keep a horse but, I would ask. I tied Nanook up outside and walked in the building. There was a man at the front desk. He looked at me when I came in. “I need to board my horse sir.”
“How long?” asked the man.
“Well, I am going to war, so I am not really sure. Will you let me pay when I come back?”
“And if you don’t come back?”
“I want you to take the horse to Dominic Jensen. He lives in Norfolk, Virginia. I threw five shillings on the desk and said, “If I pay you this now, will you make sure to take the horse I want you to board back to this man?”
The man took the money and said, “All right, but if you come back from war, you do not get this money back. And you will still have to pay for the boarding of this horse of yours.”
“I understand this.”
“All right; so where is this horse of yours son?”
“He is tied up out front. I have to go now. Good day.”
The man nodded and I heard the man say under his breath, “Well, I hope that horse wasn’t too attached to that boy cause he won’t be coming back.”
That comment scared me, but I told myself to be brave. Before I walked out I turned back towards the man and asked, “Where is the place where I sign up for the war?”
“Oh, just go to the docks. You can sign up there and then get on the ship.”
I walked out of the shop towards the docks.
Once I reached the docks, I saw so many things going on at once. The ship was full of young men. Their faces looked brave and full of pride. I hoped with all my might that no would notice I was a woman. They were also women everywhere. Their eyes were red from crying. I hoped those women didn’t have other people that went to war that never came back. There were mothers, sisters and wives crying everywhere. I saw a man that was behind a small table. Men were signing something, so I guessed that is where I should sign up. I walked up to the table and the man behind it said, “Are you in good health son? Have you had your physical check-up? Have you served in the army before? How old are you?”
“Yes, I am in good heath. I just went to the doctor a week ago and he said I was in perfectly good condition. I have never served in the army before and I am 18 years old.”
The man nodded and handed me a pen, “Sign here and here.”
I did as I was told and then the man said, “Go ahead and get on the ship. It is taking off in about five minutes.”
I nodded and then walked away.
Once I was on the ship, I saw that there were at least 2000 men on that ship. It was astounding to me. I guess I didn’t see where I was walking because I walked straight into a 6’4 man. I looked up at him and he pushed me to the ground immediately. I landed on my elbow. I cried out in pain. I knew it made me look like a wimp, but it hurt beyond belief. This ship was hard. The tall man looked down at me and said, “Don’t run into little man. I could kill you in one punch.”
Just as the big man said that to me I heard another male voice say, “Men, what is going on?”
His voice sounded stern. He had a country accent. He must be from the south.
No one answered the man. Then the man said, “Are you all right private?”
I looked up at him and it had to be the most gorgeous face I had ever seen in my life. His hair was cut short. It was a dusty brown. His eyes were sapphire. They glimmered in the sunlight. I saw the muscles on his arms as he put out a hand. I took it and once I was on my feet I was in awe. I couldn’t take my eyes off him. He had on the traditional outfit; boots, grey pants, grey shirt, and I saw all of his badges and ranks on that shirt. I knew he had worked hard to get to where he was. He looked about 27, but I wasn’t sure. “Private, are you okay?” he asked again.
“Oh, yes I am fine.”
He nodded and then turned away from me. He then said, “Men, I am Lieutenant Carson Alexander Walker. There are about 2000 men on this ship and I will be commanding some of you. If I am your Lieutenant, you will call me Lieutenant Walker. And I also want to tell you that you should not be fighting each other. None of us on this ship are enemies. The men we will be fighting are enemies. There is no sense and doing things like pushing around others. That will get us all killed. We must stick together men, that is the only way we are going to survive this war. I want all of you to live, but I need your help in return. Am I clear men?”
“Yes sir.” said all of the men around him, including me.
He nodded and said, “We will be in Pairs in one week.”
Oh boy! I really hated being on ships. They scared me in ways. I always thought the ship would sink and then I would be in the middle of the ocean. I had a major fear of the water. I remember jumping into a lake when I was about seven years old. I thought the water was going to be shallow, but it was at least ten foot deep. If it wasn’t for Conner, I probably would have drowned.
I didn’t want to talk with any of the men because I didn’t want them to give them a chance to figure out that I was a woman. So, I sat down and looked into the ocean.
I saw someone sit down next to me. I looked over to see who it was and it was Lieutenant Walker, or Carson. In my head I would just call him Carson. It was much easier. My heart started beating when I saw him. I waited for him to say something.
“Private, I know there is no sense in me asking you this but, is your arm all right? I heard you scream when that man pushed you to the ground. I want to make sure you are in perfect health. I don’t want you to be injured when you fight.”
He was so sweet! If I wasn’t pretending to be a guy I might have just hugged him. “My elbow hurts a little, but I think I will be all right. I don’t think I was ready for it.”
“You seem very brave private. How old are you?”
“I am 18 Lieutenant.”
“You just seem so frail and skinny. Do not get me wrong though, I can the see courage in you. You do look weak, but there is something in you that is driving you to succeed.”
“Yes, there is something that is making me be so brave.”
“If you don’t mind me asking, what is it that drives you?”
“Well, my brother, Conner got on a ship in Norfolk, Virginia to go off to war. I was supposed to go with him, but I missed the ship. So, I came all the way to North Carolina to get on a ship. I hope to find him when I reach France. You see, him and I are very close. It saddened me to see him go.” I felt a tear run down my eye, I wiped it away quickly.
Carson actually looked concerned when he looked at me. “That seems like a pretty good reason. Now, can I see your elbow private, I want to make sure it looks fine?”
I was hesitant about doing this. He may notice how soft my hands and arms are. But I had no other choice so, I rolled up my sleeve and Carson pulled my arm towards him. He must have caught how soft my hands were. If I were a man, my hands should look like I did work. “Your hands are not damaged at all. Did you not do any work at your home?”
“Well, yes I did, but I guess I didn’t do as much as most men.”
“Your hands are just so soft. I have never seen a man’s hand like this before.”
I didn’t say anything. Carson then touched my elbow. He ran his fingers along it. While he did this I said, “So, where do you come from Lieutenant Walker?” I had to have some way to distract myself. He was making it so difficult. His touch made me have shivers.
“I am from Atlanta, Georgia. It is a wonderful place to live. Before I was in the army, I was a lawyer.”
“Wow that is a very nice job.”
“Yes, it was. I enjoyed it very much.”
Carson took his hand off my elbow and said, “Well, your elbow feels fine. It looks like it is bruising, but it should be fine.”
“Lieutenant Walker, how old are you?”
“I am 25 private.”
I shook my head and then Carson got up and walked off. Carson was very polite and kind. I hoped with all my might that he would be the one that would lead me and other men. I just hoped that I didn’t get any more feelings for him though. That would not help the situation I was in.
Seven days later
I must have been asleep because when I woke up I felt the ship come to a stop. I got up from where I was laying and stood up. I then saw something that I would never forget. I saw the Eiffel Tower. I had always wanted to see it. It was just so magnificent. I heard Carson say something. I didn’t hear what he said but all of the men were walking off the ship, so I guessed it was time to get off.
Once I was off the ship I saw many people staring at us. Their eyes looked frightened and saddened. They didn’t look like they had any hope. I hoped that we could give that to them. I saw Carson and he motioned to me with his hand to come over to him. I did as I was told and walked over to him. When I was up to Carson he said, “Private, I have just learned I will be commanding you and ten other men. The other ten men I am commanding will be from this ship and other areas. Men from different areas have been here longer than us, so they have been waiting for us.”
I was so happy at that moment because I could have a chance to see Conner! That would make me happy more than anything. “All right Lieutenant Walker, this will be fine. Sir, the date is July 6, correct?”
“Yes private, that is correct. Why do you ask?”
“Well, a man told me that he was predicting that a battle would be stirring up around here very soon.”
“Did he know when the battle would begin?”
“No, but he just said he knew one was coming.”
“Thank you for telling me this private. I will go and talk to Major Seders right away.”
I nodded my head and he walked off.
I looked around and saw so many men in one place. I wanted to make friends with them, but I didn’t want to get too close to where they may figure out my identity. I also knew if I didn’t talk to anyone, people would start getting suspicious.
I walked up to a man that was very tall. He had short black hair, with green eyes. He looked friendly enough. “Hello, how are you?” I asked.
The man looked down at me. I was only 5’4. “I am doing fine; you?”
“Oh, I am great. I mean, the ship ride wasn’t the best but I guess it is because I am not used to riding in ships.”
His face became puzzled and then he asked, “You mean to tell me that you have never ridden in a ship before?”
This was exactly what I was trying to avoid. “I haven’t. But I have never had a need to. I mean, I have worked on a farm all my life.”
“Oh, well I guess that would be why. So, what is your name?”
His question caught me off guard. I haven’t picked a name out for myself. I thought for a little bit and then I had picked out my name. “My name is Joshua Meyer.”
“If you would like to know, mine is, Richard Buckley.”
“Oh my goodness, I just love you name. It suits you. That is exactly what I would have picked for you.”
Richard looked at me like I was on something. When he looked at me like that, I realized what I had just done. I had talked like I was a woman. No man would say that to another man. I had to show him that I was a guy. “I mean, its fine, I guess.”
“Private! You were right!” I heard Carson yell. Once he reached me he said, “Private, Major Seders said that a battle is going on right now. They are calling it the Second Battle of the Marne. We must move out immediately.”
“Where are we going?” I asked.
“It is near the Marne River. There is a river town there that is called, Chateau Thierry. The Germans are there. We must go and protect it as soon as possible!”
I nodded and then Carson yelled, “Men, we must all move out! We are going to fight a battle right away. We are needed. Get with you regiment and move out.”
Carson walked towards me and five other men and said, “Follow me men. You will follow my orders. Along the way, we will pick up other men. Let’s go!”
After walking for hours, we finally reached our destination. I was happy to have stopped walking but the sight I saw next was way worse than walking. There were dead bodies everywhere. They air had a foul smell to it; it smelled of dead corpses. I had to cover my nose because it was so bad. There was a trench and on the other side of the land, there was another trench. Our side did not have any men in it at all. I was scared at that moment. I didn’t know it was that bad over here. I hoped that I would be able to find Conner before one of us died. Carson still needed five more men in his regiment. I hoped we would find them soon. Carson turned towards me and the other five men and said, “Men, you must have courage. I know that all of you are brave. You all have something to fight for. If you give it all you have, we cannot lose!”
I smiled and felt a tear run down my face. I wiped it away immediately. Carson just touched my heart. He believed in us and wanted us all to live. He cared about all of us as well. I then went over to Carson and asked, “Lieutenant Walker, where are the other five men that were supposed to be a part of your regiment?”
He didn’t answer right away which made me get very nervous. Finally he replied, “They were killed before we arrived here. I do not know who the men where. I wish I did. I knew you were hoping that your brother would be apart of this regiment. But do not lose hope. There are plenty of young men out there. I am sure that he is fine.”
I smiled and said, “Thank you sir.”
He nodded and then I heard Major Seders yell, “Come on men, let’s go to the trenches.”
All of the men started to walk forward, including me. It was the time that we were going to find out if we were going to live or die. There was only one choice. I hoped that I would live to see another day.
Once all of the men were in the trenches I looked up to Carson to see if he was going to say anything to us. He didn’t say anything right away so I started to walk down the trench. I hoped I wouldn’t get in trouble for this, but I had to find Conner before we started fighting. If I couldn’t find her before the fighting, he may die. I had to see him.
As I kept walking, I didn’t see Conner anywhere. I hoped and prayed to myself that he wasn’t one of the five men that died. I had to keep hope.
Finally, after ten minutes of searching, I decided to walk back to where Carson and the other guys were. There was no point in getting lost and maybe getting killed. I needed a leader to tell me what to do and when to do it.
I finally was back to where Carson and his other five men where. Carson looked at me as I came walking up. He looked pretty mad. “Where were you Private Meyer?” asked Carson, outraged.
“I am sorry Lieutenant Walker, I was looking for someone. I couldn’t find them so I came back.”
“You cannot do that private. Do you know if we had started fighting you would be somewhere far off without anyone to lead you? You must have a leader at all times. You have never been in war and it is very dangerous being alone.”
I knew I shouldn’t argue with him so I just shook my head and said, “It won’t happen again sir, I am sorry.”
“It is all right private, you are fine and I am sure fighting will be beginning anytime soon. Stay here and I am going to ask Major Seders if the Germans are going to attack yet.”
We all said, “Yes sir.” I sat down on the dirty ground and wrapped my hands around my knees. I put my head down into my knees and had made myself not cry. I couldn’t cry at war. Men never cried. The only time I remember my dad crying was when I got lost in the woods and was gone for three hours. When they found me he was crying. My mom said he cried when I was born, but I don’t know if it was true because I don’t remember being born. I felt a light tap on my shoulder and I lifted my head up. I couldn’t see who the man was because the sun was beaming into my eyes. The man then said, “Are you all right? You don’t seem you are well.”
I couldn’t recognize the voice, but it sounded familiar. I made my voice sound all manly when I replied, “Oh, I am fine. I am just a little tired. I guess I didn’t expect it to be this bad over here.” I stood up and saw who this man was. It was Conner. I wanted to hug him, but I knew that would be very weird if I did that.
“Yes this is a bad war. I left home and right now I don’t think I will ever come back. The only thing that has kept me going is my sister Claire. I promised her that I would come home safe and unwounded.”
I almost broke down into tears. “I am sure you will fulfill you promise. I can see it in you.”
Conner looked puzzled for a moment when I spoke. “You sound so much like my sister. I swear that is something she would say.”
“Well, I don’t know your sister but I am guessing you two are very close?”
“Yes we are. We always have been. I know how bad she would feel if she were to lose me. I am just glad that she is a woman. If she was my brother she would be made to come into this war. I would never want Claire to see the horrors of war. No woman should have to endure that.”
I suddenly felt guilty at that moment. If Conner knew it was really me, he would take me home that second. He wouldn’t care what his officials said. He would get me home and then fight.
“You are right about that.”
“Soldiers, prepare to fight! Crouch down by the front of the trench. Stick your guns out. Do not pop your head up until we say so. We are going to send the first line of men to come out of the trench and fight. And then we will do that for every single line. Kill as many men as you can. Do not give them any mercy, for they will give you none.” yelled Carson.
My heart starting pounding and Conner looked down at me and said, “It is going to be all right. I think I am in the first lineup, so I better go. Good luck!”
I smiled at him and nodded my head. I knew if I said something, I would surely break down into tears.
Carson came over to me and said, “Private Meyer, you and my five men and many other men are in the second line up. Be ready. I will protect you the best I can, but you must try and protect yourself as well. I can’t be by your side the whole time.”
“We understand Lieutenant.” we all said.
“First line of men, line up!” yelled Major Seders. They lined up and we went behind them. There were four rows of men. The trench was very long, so a lot of men would be coming out of these trenches to fight. I knew the Germans had forces more than we could ever imagine, but I believed that the Americans had more courage and bravery than the Germans.
Major Seders yelled, “Fire!” The air was filled with smoke. You could hear gunshots everywhere. It was actually ear piercing. Then Major Seder’s blew his whistle and all of the men in the front line got out of the trenches. My line moved up.
I heard the most awful sounds from below the trench. Men were crying out in pain and then suddenly a man was standing in front of me. He wasn’t the Germans, he was one of us. Before I knew it, the man had been shot and blood squirted onto me. I almost screamed, but I knew that would do no good. I just couldn’t believe what was happening. It then hit me that I would have to be going out there. If a man couldn’t survive out there, a woman sure couldn’t.
I saw most of the men coming back down into the trenches. There was so commotion from a ways down from me, but I couldn’t see what was happening. I didn’t get to figure out what was going on because Carson yelled, “Fire!” I cocked my gun and shot it. I actually couldn’t believe that I fired a gun. I had never in my whole life fired or held a gun. Mom or dad would never let me. I even asked Conner, but he said it was too dangerous.
After about five minutes of firing Carson blew his whistle and I put my gun behind my back and came out of the trench.
What I saw before me almost made me sick. There tons and tons of dead bodies of men everywhere. Everywhere you turned was bloody. There was a foul stench in the air. It made me gag. I looked at all of the dead soldiers and most of them looked like they were on our side. I prayed that Conner wasn’t one of these men. Carson looked over at me and said, “Don’t worry Private Meyer; you are going to be fine. You have the courage and strength to make it through this war.” I nodded and then I saw a German soldier coming towards me. He was about to shot when I fired my gun at him. He fell to the ground instantly. I knew I shouldn’t feel bad for killing someone, but I did. I felt like curling up into a ball and never coming out of it.
Suddenly at least five German soldiers were coming towards me. I shot down three of them, but the other two dodged my bullets that I fired. Carson darted in front of me and shot down the other two German soldiers.
I killed many men while fighting in no man’s land. I hated killing those men, but if I didn’t kill them, they would have surely killed me. Finally, Carson told us to go back down into the trenches. I had never been so happy in my life to get back into a dirty, smelly trench. Once we were back in the trench I turned to Carson and asked, “Has anyone been injured?”
“Yes. There are quite a few that are private. You must have seen the many that have already died. I will go and check with Major Seder’s and ask him who is injured.”
I thanked him and he walked off.
After about fifteen minutes of waiting Carson came back to me. He was silent for a moment and then said, “I just found out that your brother, Conner has been severely injured.”
I burst out into tears and said, “Where is he?”
“Follow me.” he replied.
I followed right behind Carson. As we walked up the trench, I saw many men injured or close to dying. Some of them didn’t have a leg or a foot or an arm. Some had been shot, but had not died yet. It was a horrible sight. I hoped Conner would be all right.
Finally, Carson stopped and said, “Here is your brother.”
I looked down at Carson and saw that his right leg must have had a grenade thrown at it because it was bloody and almost gone. I knelt down next to him and put my hand on his head. I stroked it gently. His eyes were closed. “Is he unconscious?” I asked.
“Yes. We don’t know if he is even alive. Some men thought they heard him breathing, but they are no doctors.” replied Carson.
I burst into tears and I just couldn’t hold them back. I guess I forgot to cry in my man voice because one guy said, “What kind of cry is that? I am sorry but it sounds like a girl crying.”
I didn’t even reply. My only brother was dead. I knew he was. I couldn’t even feel a heartbeat. Then that same man asked, “Hey, what is your last name?”
I looked up at him and said, “Me, why do you ask?”
“Well, because Conner’s last name is Williams. And he never talked about having a brother. He only talked about having a sister named Claire.”
I knew I was done for. They would figure me out for sure. I didn’t know what would happen to me, but there was no reason to keep hiding it now. Conner was dead. I was about to answer when Carson interjected and said, “Now, I don’t think you have the right to be asking that question soldier. It is none of your business.”
The man nodded and looked disgusted. Carson turned to me and said, “The medical people will be taking him soon, I would say goodbye now. And I want to talk to you when you are finished here.”
I nodded and then Carson walked away. I looked back at Conner and said, “Conner I am so sorry. I love you so much. I know you felt the same about me. I will never forget you. I will stay alive for you, I promise. It is all right, I forgive you. I know you didn’t mean to break your promise.” I kissed the top of his head and walked away.
Once I returned to where my post was, I saw Carson. He motioned for me to come over to where he was. I came over and he then said, “So, your last name is Meyer not Williams, what you have to say to that?”
“Well, my mom remarried and he became my step-brother.”
“So, he is really no relation to you whatsoever?”
“No, but we are just like brother and sister.”
“All right I understand private. You have been through enough. I am sorry for you loss.”
I nodded my head and held back the tears.
At that moment in my life, nothing mattered.
Twenty one days later
It had been a rough twenty one days. There had been relentless fighting. Many had died. Thankfully, Carson hadn’t died yet. I had grown fond of Carson. I would be very saddened if something were to happen to him. I thought about Conner everyday. I still couldn’t believe that he had died. Just like that.
We had traveled a lot during this time. But now we were back to where we started; near the Marne River. The Germans were losing day by day. We were getting the best of them The French were also helping us out as well. Carson had told me that we were not going to fight in the trenches. I was actually happy with that. I was so sick and tired of the trenches. They were smelly and gross.
We had all gone into a forest with adequate cover. There will large rocks that you could hide behind for cover. Carson also told me that he was betting on the Germans surrendering today. Their troops were dwindling day by day. It felt good to know I was a part of all of that.
While I was hiding behind my rock, Carson came over to me and knelt down. “Do you think you can do this?”
“Of course I can Lieutenant Walker. I can do anything!”
“You are a good man private.”
“Thank you sir.”
He walked away and then I saw movement in the distance. I was sure it was the German army. Major Seder’s must have seen it too because he turned around to us and said, “The Germans are coming, be ready to fire men.”
When they got close enough to us, we all fired at them. The Germans fired back and I saw many of our men start to die. I stood up and fired at a man that was about to shot the man next to me. I kept shooting whenever I saw a German soldier.
Suddenly a sharp pain went up my leg and I fell to the ground. I screamed out in pain. A bullet shot me in the leg. Everything was getting very blurry and I was just waiting for someone to kill me. Carson came over to me and knelt down and said, “Private Meyer’s are you all right?”
“No, I was shot in the leg. I cannot move it. You have to go and fight sir; you will be killed if you just sit here with me.”
“Private, I was taught to never leave behind a soldier; dead or alive. Come on, try to stand up.”
I pushed my weight against his shoulder and he pulled me up the rest of the way. I kept my left leg up and Carson and I walked away from the battle scene.
We had walked so far into the forest that I couldn’t even see the soldiers anyone. You could still hear the gunshots and screams though. Carson helped me sit down and then he sat down next to me. He looked over at me and asked, “Would you be okay if I go back to the battle, I still have men out there?”
“Oh yes of course, go ahead.” Even though inside I wanted him to stay and protect me.
He stood up and handed me my gun. “If you see any German soldier, shoot them.”
I nodded and then he walked away.
After a while of sitting, I saw a man running towards me. It was Carson. He was dark now. I was guessing it must be a new day. Once he was up to me he said, “The Germans have surrendered! We won! The men can go home! The war is over!”
“I can’t believe it! Ah!” I feel over and then everything went black.
When I woke up, I realized I was in a bed. I hadn’t been in a bed in for I don’t know how long. I looked down at my leg and saw that it was bandaged up. The doctor must have given me something for pain, because my leg wasn’t throbbing anymore. No one was in the little tent I was in. I wondered if anyone had discovered I was a woman. I am sure the doctor knew right off. I heard someone walk into the tent. It was Carson. When he looked at me, his eyes were filled with shock. He walked over to me and said, “You are a woman?”
“Yes, I am.”
“Then why in the world are you in the army? You must know women cannot join the army!”
“I know this is true, but I had a good cause.”
“What was it then?” he asked.
“My brother Conner joined the army and we were very close. I knew I just couldn’t sit at home wondering if he would come back alive. At least I know now that he is dead. If I was at home, I would have never known.”
“You are his sister! You are Claire Williams!”
I nodded my head and he said, “Well, you should be in heaps of trouble, but you are not. Major Seder’s told me to send you home as soon as possible. I hope you recover from your wound Ms. Williams.” And with that Carson was gone. I broke down into tears and didn’t think I would ever stop.
One Week Later
I finally was home; after a very long ship ride. I stood in the front of my old house and remembered all that had happened to me. I took a deep breath in and walked to the front door in crutches. I knocked on the door. I waited a second or two when the door opened. My mom stood in the doorway. When she saw me her eyes started to fill with tears. She embraced me and I did the same back. Once we broke from our embrace she told me to come inside. I came in and then she said, “Claire, what happened to you? You were gone for so long.”
I took a deep breath and said, “Mom, I joined the United States Army because Conner had gone away to war and I didn’t want to be left behind and be worrying about him. Unfortunately, he died anyways, but at least I knew what happened to him.”
“Claire, I can’t believe you did this. Wait, did you say Conner died?”
“Yes mom. He did.”
Her face looked confused. I knew exactly how she felt. I heard someone come down the stairs. It seemed like they were having a hard time, but I knew it was my dad. He always had been that way. When he was finally down the steps he walked over to me. I wasn’t looking at him. I couldn’t. He finally stopped in front of me and said, “Why are you acting so sad?” I looked up and saw that it was Conner! My little brother was alive. Tears started rolling down my eyes and I hugged him as hard as I could. “Oh Conner I thought you were dead!”
“No Claire. I just had to have my right leg amputated. At least I am alive. And I kept my promise.”
“Yes you did. I am sorry I went into war. You would know me by the name of Joshua Meyer in the war.”
“Claire, I can’t believe you did that. It was stupid, but I would have done the same thing if I was a girl.”
I smiled and then the front door opened. It was my dad. I ran to him and wrapped my arms around him. He didn’t say anything, but that was fine because I knew how he felt.
A Few Days Later
Life had gone back to normal again. My hair was starting to grow out a little. I promised myself I would never cut it again. The war was over and most of the men had come home. I made sure that Dominic got Nanook back. Dominic was so glad to see me home. I was cooking and cleaning again. Conner wasn’t able to do much work, but he did what he could. I was happy with my life, but something was missing from it. I knew it was Carson. I think I loved him. I knew he didn’t feel the same way about me, but after all the time I spent with him; I couldn’t help but love him.
While I was cooking lunch, my dad yelled at me from outside. I popped my head out the window and said, “What do you say?”
“There is someone here that wants to see you Claire.”
“All right.” I washed my hands off and fixed my hair the best I could. It was August and blazing hot these days. I figured Dominic had stopped by to say hello. He always did.
When I got outside I looked around for my visitor. I couldn’t see anyone, so I just shrugged my shoulders and started to walk back inside.
“And where do you think you are going Private Williams?” I knew that voice. I would know it anywhere. “Carson! You are here! How did you find me?”
“Oh, it was easy. We have records on most the enlistees. So, I looked you up and found you. Well, actually I looked your brother’s records up because Joshua Meyer’s does not exist.”
I smiled and said, “Why did you come here to see me?” I asked.
He walked closer to me and said, “Claire, I was very rude to you the day we were in that tent together. I should have never acted that way. I also need to tell you that well, uh…I…”
“Well, get on with it Carson!” I yelled playfully.
“Claire, I am pretty sure that I am in love with you. I always felt like I wanted to be around you when we were fighting together. I always wanted to protect you. I was drawn to you.”
“Well, you should be happy to know that I feel the same way about you Lieutenant.”
He laughed and replied, “Please, don’t call me that anymore, I really don’t want you to be taking orders from me.”
“Oh all right, but I will call you that from time to time.”
“Well, I’ll call you Private Joshua Meyer’s sometimes.”
“That’s fine.” I smiled at him. I leaned closer to him and kissed him. He kissed back. When he pulled away from each other, Carson took my hand in his and said, “Do you mind if I stay for dinner, I’m starving?”
“That would be just delightful Lieutenant Carson Walker.”