Blood ran down my face, gushing from the wounds I had suffered from the battle. I was tired, and my vision was hazy, but nothing would let me forget the sight of blood and mud as I looked at my torn uniform. My wounds were restricting my movements as I tried to walk away with my comrades, and every movement I made sent pain shooting through me trying to force me into submission.
I did not succumb, I would not succumb.
My companions were suffering just as much as I was, if not more. It was hard to look at them, to see the pain in their eyes, the fear, but the determination they still clung too gave me strength enough to continue forward in the slow walk to freedom. Taking one last look behind us, I started walking forward, but still could not escape the feeling of guilt for leading them into this hellish battle.
Walking away from the battle, I felt as hollow as an empty tree, one without life, and without enough strength to beat off the ones who would destroy it. Sounds of the other soldiers still fighting, dying for their country rang through me. But my duty was to ensure the survival of my men, even if I died doing it.
War cries pierced my heart.
Explosions rattled my skull.
Weapon fire made me look at my own weapon, being carried in one, blood covered arm. Grunting in disgust, I threw it down into the mud before my feet and walked over it. My men followed suit. All of these sounds and all of these sights were more deadly than any weapon that could be used against us.
Our progress slowed every second. Fatigue was taking its toll on us, as was the pain from our injuries. Some fell, and were helped back to their feet. Even in the midst of all the bloodshed, I was proud to see my men helping each other.
Not while I still draw breath will I leave anyone behind.
I was out of breath, panting like a dog that had been running for all its life. What most people took for granted seemed like the hardest thing I, or any of my men, could do.
A new thought dawned on me then. All it would take is for one man to see us and we would be gone, like the sands of time. Traitors or enemies, it did not really matter anymore. Either way, we were vulnerable.
Fear of death kept us moving; determination to survive kept us from stopping. Will it be enough?
Who knew what was out there?
There was a small splash in the mud near me. Looking desperately around, I soon found the source…a gas canister, and it was already releasing the lethal, green cloud. “Watch out!” I cried, my voice was hoarse and every letter clawed its way out of my mouth painfully. “Watch out! Use your masks!”
I pulled my gas mask on easily. Looking around however, I saw how quickly the gas was spreading. It became clear how fortunate I was when the effects of the gas started to show on my soldiers. One man, the only one I could see in the smog, was coughing violently, as were others somewhere else in the green mist. His arm was severely injured, which was stopping him from putting his mask on. More coughs came, and now blood from his mouth.
He dropped his mask.
More gas was inhaled into his body as he struggled to breathe properly, and the only result was more desperate coughs and wheezes. His agonising screams came through the coughs like gunshots, tearing through my heart. It would only get worse for him.
Two other men came from the smog and picked him up by the arms, and started to walk, carrying his weight between them.
In my heart, I knew it was too late for him, but there was still the promise to them that they would get out, and I would do my best to keep it, for every soldier under my command.
I continued to walk, but his torturous screams still tore at my heart.
The green smog only intensified as we walked, and I began to worry about whether we were being followed. It was incredibly hard to see beyond the end of my mask, but still I walked forward, awkwardly and cautiously so as not to fall. More cries rang in the smoke, and I turned to find the source, but the cloud had completely hidden whoever it was from view. A few moments later, a lone figure stumbled out of the smog.
He tripped and fell onto me, grasping with a strength he should not have had. Gunfire sounded closer than ever, and the two men who had been supporting him hit the ground with a thud – both dead.
I turned back to the man holding me. Blood ran from his mouth, his nose, his ears and even his eyes, and it made me sick to my stomach, but I stared at him, straight into what remained of his blood streaked eyes. I wanted to convey confidence to him, that he would be all right, but the fear was always there.
The fear is always there.
Imagine yourself in my shoes. How would you react to this sight or the imminent death of your comrade in arms? His constant coughs adding more blood to your already tattered and blood soaked garments as you finally pull him out of the gas, the mud absorbing your feet, trying to stop you from reaching safety. Can you feel the tension in the air as the dying man is thrown violently into a horse-drawn cart? How would you feel?
A trail of blood from the dying man’s mouth ran onto the cart which then dripped into the soggy mod underneath. It was showing our path clearly but no one cared anymore. All of my men, and I myself, had lost the will to live and none of us expected to – but I intended for them to live, at least.
The man was writhing in pain, and there was nothing that could be done. The rest of us followed the cart silently, solemnly remembering the dead on both sides of this war. Fear for his life increases with every step I take, with every beat of my heart, yet aside from all the wishing in the world, nothing could be done to save him.
Have you ever felt it? The helplessness of watching someone suffer in a hellish way before the end of their life cannot be described in mere words, but only as a series of feelings that are so extreme, they could traumatise you.
To die for your country could be counted as honourable, but place yourself in that dying man’s shoes. Had you experienced what he had, gone through what he had, would you still be willing and honoured to die for your country?
The honour of dying is no honour at all.