To My Love...

April 26, 2017
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I was sitting just outside the large, canvas tent trying to compose a letter to my wife. The faint and sporadic sounds of gunfire in the distance echoed throughout my brain. As I glanced down at the pen and paper in my hands, I let out a shaky breath and checked my watch - it read 22:07. I had 86 minutes. The General had just given my company the order to carry out a mission; to extract a trapped foot patrol, commencing at 23:33 sharp. I had been on many missions before and was never nervous, but recent attacks and rebellions near base and my gut were telling me this one would be different and that I might not make it back to base that night. I decided to write my wife one last letter, just in case. The faint sounds in the distance made me shudder, but I finally found the words to scratch onto the paper, “To my love, Lynthia…”
“...your husband who loves you dearly, hugs and kisses, Johnson.” I finished the letter, folded it neatly, and placed it in an envelope, which I then placed inside of my trunk where it could be found if necessary. By then, the other members of my company had started to trickle into the sleeping quarters. We all shared the same nervous silence until someone, I can’t remember who, cracked a stupid joke.
“Hey mates. What kind of a bagel can fly? A plain bagel.”
For some reason, that broke the tension in the room and we all started to talk and joke around again. I turned to my mate, Simon, who was the gunner assigned to the Warrior I would be riding in.
“Ya feeling strong today, my friend?” I asked him.
“Like Superman,” he replied, posing like a superhero.
“Oh yeah, of course. That’s who you are,” I said. Just then, our commander came in and announced that we had three minutes to finish getting ready, packing our supplies, and to head off to the Humvees. My heart began to speed up again and I had to breathe slowly a few times to calm myself down because there is no place for nerves on a rescue mission.
Just ten short minutes later, I was seated in the passenger seat of a Warrior, with my company’s commander, Liam, at the wheel and Simon at his position as gunner. We began the journey to the inner city where the rescue would happen. However, something was wrong. The city was too quiet and empty, it was too perfect of a situation. I knew something was going to go wrong.
I was right. Just seconds after we stopped, an RPG hit the ground next to our vehicle. It was an ambush. Chaos broke out as communications between Warriors broke and the sound of gunfire started. I heard a scream and watched Simon fall from his position, a bullet wound in his shoulder. My heart stopped for a second. My best friend had just gotten shot and I couldn’t help him. My thoughts were quickly interrupted when Liam let out a similar scream. He had been shot as well and couldn’t drive the Warrior to safety.
As soon as I realized the extent of the situation, my only focus was to get my fellow soldiers out alive. I closed the hatch where Simon was just standing, moved Liam to the back with Simon, and positioned myself in the driver's seat, just in time to get hit with another RPG.
The sounds of the blast were resonating in my ears and I was having trouble focusing on everything around me, but I knew that I had to get my crew to safety no matter what. I tried my best to block out everything, the gunfire, the screams, the fear, and only focus on getting to safety. Everything around me seemed like it was in slow motion as adrenaline pumped through my veins. We were hit with another RPG, which further injured Simon. I heard him cry out again which only made me move faster through the ambush. A bullet pierced through the window and into my helmet, but I was not affected at all. I hardly noticed something hit me and only realized I was shot after completing the mission a few hours later.
When the procession of Warriors I was leading reached a safer zone, I got out and ran to the back, opening it up and carrying Simon and Liam to a safer vehicle. I was about to get in one myself until I remembered the burning one I had just left. I could not allow the enemy to get hold of our technology, so I went back to the original vehicle and followed the rest of the Warriors to safety.
Once we reached base again, my adrenaline rush stopped. I began to feel the effects of what had just happened and I was dizzy. A group of soldiers opened the door of the drivers side and I stumbled out.  I saw before passing out was Simon and Liam being tended to just a few feet away and thanked God they were safe. The last thing I thought before slipping into unconsciousness was ‘well, at least I don’t have to give my wife that letter’.
After the incident, I went home to my wife for a few weeks to recover, but it didn’t feel right that I was home and all of my friends were still fighting. I wanted to get back to the base as quickly as possible and get out fighting again as quick as possible. When my doctor cleared me I prepared to head back to Iraq for my second tour.
The war had been quiet for a few weeks. Not much was happening and that was starting to worry some of us because that usually meant the enemy was planning something. So when the commander announced that some suspicious activity had been going on and my convoy was going out to investigate, it was almost a relief.
It was the early morning of June 11. I was driving a Warrior out to the inner city with five other men. Everything was going smoothly, I didn't see any activity other than the occasional woman or child walking the streets. Just when I was about to call the mission off, the peace turned to chaos in a split second.
My gunner yelled something and suddenly ducked down into the vehicle to avoid something flying towards him. I watched in horror as a grenade flew through the top hatch of the Warrior. Everything was moving in slow motion and I could do nothing about it. The grenade hit the back of my seat, just six inches from my head, and exploded.
In a split second I lost almost all of my senses. I couldn’t hear anything, I could barely see, and my body felt as if were on fire so every time I moved it was agonizing. I sat in the driver's seat and felt as if I wanted to quit. I could feel my body telling me to stop with every movement.
“Beharry!” My gunner snapped me out of my trance. “Do ya need me to take over the wheel?”
I thought about letting him drive us to safety, but then I remembered that he had no experience in driving through these conditions. I was the only option.
“No sir! I got this! Just let me know if we are gonna be hit again!”
“Yes sir!”
I grit my teeth through the pain and pressed my foot to the gas pedal. Adrenaline started to kick in and the pain began to dull slightly so that it was mildly bearable. The ride back to base was short and we were able to get there with no more casualties. Once I made sure that my crew was safe, my head began to throb. I saw black spots and looked down to see the blood the covered my uniform from the explosion.
Just before I was about to pass out, my gunner came up to me and pat me on the back saying, “Thanks mate, your the reason we are alive.” Then, the black completely filled my vision and I fell unconscious.
Three weeks later, I woke up in a hospital room back in London. I blinked my eyes a few times to let them adjust to the light. What I saw was surprising. Not only was my wife sitting in a small chair near the door, but the Head General himself. I turned my attention to my beautiful wife as she ran to my bedside, giving me a quick kiss. She told me she was going to get the doctor and rushed out. I then looked at the general.
“Commander Johnson Beharry, I am here on behalf of the english military and the Queen of England. Your recent heroic acts in your first and second tour have qualified you to receive the Victorian Cross. It is the highest military honor and should not be taken lightly,” he stated stiffly, almost as if it was rehearsed. He then relaxed a bit, “Mate your a legend. Congrats, you really deserve it. The ceremony is tomorrow. You should probably make a speech. I better get going, see ya later.” He saluted, returning to his militarized stiffness, and turned out of the room.
I sat in the hospital bed with wide eyes. I was going to receive the Victorian Cross? I didn’t deserve it at all, I was only doing my job. At that point, my wife walked in with the doctor.
The rest of the day and the beginning of the next was a blur. I don’t remember much about the ceremony. They said a citation of my acts and I was given the reward. When it was time for my speech I stood up.
“Ladies and gentlemen of England. This is a great honor to receive this today and I will be forever grateful…” I continued on recited what I had practiced in my head. I said my thank yous and spoke about how I would not have been able to get through the missions without my fellow soldiers. Eventually, the ceremony came to an end, and I went home.
When my wife and I layed down for bed that night, she looked at me and said sternly, “Honey, unless you have to, you are staying right here.”
“That’s my plan Lyn, I won't be leaving you soon.”
And that is exactly what I did.

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