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He adjusted his cap in an attempt to distract himself from the present situation as the rain poured down on him and the rest of the solemn crowd. The hellish weather actually made him happy; he could act like he wasn’t crying, even as the tears mingled with rain drops on his uniform. Soldiers don’t cry, it’s not allowed. Yet there he was, crying.
With good reason.
Jolene was the third of four siblings, the rest of us boys. Naturally, she was a tom-boy, growing up playing with only G.I. Joes and pop rifles, to our mama’s dismay. She was just as fast, strong, and witty, as all of us and with a sass that our mama insisted was from our daddy and our daddy insisted was from our mama. We protected her, and did our best to defend her through Mama’s attempts to make her a proper young lady.
Jo would fuss and squirm to get away as Mama would scrub her face with a rag until her cheeks were pink. “Ladies don’t roll around in the mud with camouflage on their faces and pop guns!” she would exclaim. But to no avail, it fell on deaf ears, because our Jo would be out back in the yard 10 minutes later, camo freshly painted and in full “battle gear”.
We all mellowed out a bit through middle school and high school. Jo even dated a bit, which brought tears of joy to our Mama’s eyes. “Thank the Lord in Heaven!” she said, and hugged the first man who rang the door bell to pick up our sister. She cried for hours when Jo dumped him after he dropped her back off, even though it was the jerk’s fault; he kept trying to make a move all through dinner Jo claimed.
My father beamed when I enlisted in the Marines, and two years later when Andrew joined as well. But after another year, they both knew what would happen. They weren’t wrong either; Jo insisted on enlisting. Mama cried-as usual- and Dad tried to convince her into a career of nursing, but she wouldn’t hear it. “If Paul and Andrew can go, I have just as much right!” was her persistent argument. To this day, I regret my decision to do what she wanted to do so badly. So exactly a month after graduation, Jo was an enlisted woman, with us brothers damn proud.
She sloshed around in the mud, doing endless amounts sit ups, push ups, and laps. That girl is famous as hell in the Marines now; after being screamed at by a pissed off drill sergeant, she decided she didn’t want to be talked at like that, so she screamed right back, cussin’ and spitting all the way. Well, the sergeant looked at her astonished, and then she spent the rest of the night doing 5 times what she had already done of daily drills. Drew saw her coming in at around 4 a.m. the next morning, and he said that she looked damn near unrecognizable, all covered in mud and grime, soaked to the bone. Our sister never stepped out of line again to a commanding officer. If she had a problem with one, she very calmly waited until she was far enough a way and gave them the finger. That was our Jo for you. We raised her well. Damn straight.
Of course, our youngest brother, Derek, joined up, and we have some pretty great pictures of all four of us in uniform sitting back at home on Mama’s hearth. Daddy was never so proud. Mama even admitted that she was happy with all of us.
For parents, the glory of war isn’t as glorious as it is for their soldiers. But when the U.S. wound up in Kuwait in ’92, the Marines were more than ready, us Langer kids chomping at the bit. This was the chance to do everything we pretended when we were kids. It would have been impractical to hope that we’d all be deployed together, but we wanted to at least be in two’s. Being in the service the longest, I pulled rank and was able to get us into just that. I was to be deployed with Jo, and Derek and Drew were together as well. Mama told us that if we didn’t keep each other safe, we’d have hell to pay that would be worse than anything we could imagine on the battlefield.
We managed to be in that damn desert for 8 and a half months without to much incident as far as injuries between us four. Drew broke three toes when his hum-v driver, who happened to be Derek decided to run them over. Derek’ll never live it down, but it got Drew a cheap Purple Heart, so it’ll be forgiven eventually.
It was my fault. We were all sleeping and insurgents attacked; none of us were ready for that magnitude of force. Jo was out there returning fire, and I ran in front of her, protecting my little sister. But damn her, she pushed me out of the way. “I’m fine!” she yelled over the machine guns.
The bullets ripped through her stomach, and left shoulder. She fell without even a shout; at first I wasn’t aware that she was hurt, I figured she’d dropped to reload. But I knew something was wrong when she wasn’t back in my side sight. In the pitch black, tracers lit up the sky and I saw her lying there in the sand. I was on my knees instantly, putting pressure on her stomach. I didn’t know how, but I started bawling. She actually laughed at me. She put her good arm up and wiped away the tears. “You dumbass,” she whispered in my ear. “You’re not even hit,” she laughed slightly. She coughed, and blood trickled from the corner of her mouth. “And soldiers don’t cry, Paul. It’s not allowed.” She added. I was just hugging her now; there was too much blood, and she whispered one last time. “Love you. Love all of you. Tell Daddy I love him, tell Mama the same, and tell her I’m sorry.”
I told her she wasn’t gonna die, that I loved her too, but she just gave me that smart ass smile. Then she was gone.
Two days later, I draped the flag over my sister’s casket, and watched a CH-47 take off to take her home.
Derek and Drew got word of what happened. “We’re going home. It’s Jo,” was the all I sent. It was all I could handle.
Three brothers sit together, solemn faces, solemn eyes. The first stands up, and is presented a rifle from and officer, as two more present the same to the remaining men. They all stand tall in a rank of seven, awaiting the words.
Flinch. One tear falls down
Each of the brothers are glad for the rain as they ratchet and pull the trigger over and over again. That way the tears streaming down their faces can’t be discerned from the rain-because soldiers don’t cry. It’s not allowed.