I joined the army because I thought that was what real men were supposed to do. Real men protect and serve. Real men defend their nation. Real men fight for their women and children. Real men don’t get hurt. Real men die and are remembered as martyrs.
I stepped into the base. I noticed the macho guys doing their push-ups, climbing, crawling, escaping barbed wires, and behaving like “real men”. I could feel them looking at me, mocking my skinny physique, judging me. A few seconds later, I looked forward and saw nothing else but a mountain in front of me. That mountain was known as the Sergeant. He was around 6 feet tall, with a body perhaps a hundred times more muscular than mine, if not more.
He introduced himself as Sergeant Morris. He yelled instead of speaking normally, and he spat in our faces. He had a Crucifix tattooed on this upper arm, and he repeatedly roared, “WE FIGHT IN THE NAME OF THE POWERFUL UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” and spat a little more with ever yell.
“You,” he pointed at me, “Introduce yourself, beanstalk.”
I stepped forward and opened my mouth, but couldn’t even say my name. A shivering voice finally came out, “Roger Matthews, Sir.”
He grabbed me by the shoulders, turned me around, and pushed me back to where I was first standing. The other men laughed.
I had troubles climbing the ropes, breaking free from traps, or doing anything that required physical strength. Every night I would lie in bed, bruised and scarred, praying to God and asking Him if I made the right choice. I got no answers from Him, just a remark from one of the guys in the bunk telling me to shut up. And when I whispered my prayers, I would receive a pillow as hard as concrete to the face. Last night, one of the guys undressed me while I was asleep. I can hardly figure out how he knew I was a very heavy sleeper, but he knew. I woke up the next day, without any pants on and shirtless. I shrieked. They started telling me that I was sleepwalking, and other crap of the sort. They belittled me, spat in my face, threw their dirty clothes at me, turned me into their doormat. I was despised.
I trained harder every day, cursing every second I spent in this hell, and finding new ways to run away from being “accidentally” punched in the face by one of the guys. I eventually was able to climb the rope and jump from the top of the cement wall, but I still had to master the art of holding a weapon. I hesitated at first, because I’ve always been a pacifist, you might say, but Sergeant Morris threatened to make my life even more miserable than it was at first if I don’t shoot at the target.
“WE FIGHT IN THE NAME OF THE POWERFUL UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,” he shouted again.
I shot clumsily but somehow the bullet struck the center of the target, exactly. The sergeant lifted me, suffocating me a little, called it a congratulations hug, and said that I have evolved well. He patted my shoulder. It hurt for three days.
The weeks passed by and that was when we were told that the times of safety were over. Our opponents had trespassed all of the borders. It’s time to confront the enemy.
“Roger! Leopold! Francis! Get your weapons ready!”
We ran to the tank. I didn’t know what to feel. Now began the moment of survival.
The tank was moving quickly, and all of us soldiers were being thrown from side to side inside it. None of us was able to sit still, we were all worried. The tank stopped and we all got off.
“Run for your life,” I told myself. “They hate you. I guess it’s every man for himself.” I was running madly, trying to breathe with every step I took. I found this huge rock I could hide behind, and luckily avoided being shot in the leg.
“Great, not only am I probably going to die today, but I also nearly lost a leg. It was close, Matthews. Really close,” I thought.
I hid behind an abandoned house and tried catching my breath. That was when I saw the enemy. Without noticing, Leopold stood next to me. “What are you doing?” he said, “Shoot!” he barked in my ear.
“I can’t kill, Leopold. I just can’t!”
“Do you want to come out alive, or do you want to perish?! Shoot!”
Leopold grabbed my arm, put his hand on top of mine, and made my finger pull the trigger. The soldier was shot in the back. I couldn’t believe it…I had just killed a man. I witnessed his blood pouring out. I saw his last movement; he moved a finger. The man was dead. I had just killed a man.
Leopold carried me back to the tank, shouted something about me to Sergeant Morris, and joined the battlefield again. Sergeant Morris reprehended me, but I didn’t listen; I was traumatized. I had just killed a man who, like me, was in the army to defend his nation, to be a real man.
We fought for months, barely making it out alive every day. As the war came to an end, it was clear that few were the men who remained alive. I was running recklessly, but the enemy shot me. I was shot in the head. The last thing I saw was Leopold crying.
Look, God. The war is over, but he didn’t taste victory. He fought for his country. He protected and served. He could have helped his country by becoming a writer, but no. He died during the war but, sadly, he was not really remembered.
Hey, America, is he a real man to you?
Inspired by the movie Hacksaw Ridge.