After the War

After the War

A Story by Kyra Owers
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"And that's the way it is" - Walter Cronkite after commenting on Vietnam War.

"

The last of the airlifts were closing in over the horizon, as if God himself had sent them from above to send us home. This war has been nothing but a loss for us Americans, we fought and for what? Peace? Honour? Dignity? Or simply force? I was only nineteen when I was chosen to fight for my country and leave my  life behind; family, friends and the girl of my dreams. I left to honour my country’s wishes, believing I was to do a great service in the war… it was anything but that. While many of the men were relieved that the fighting and loss was over, I lay by a gunned tree, clutching onto my rifle in my brooded hands, not knowing what to think about… or feel… or say…


Commander Russel came with orders. He was usually like a Jack Russel, jumping up and down while you teased him with a treat. Today, he acted as you would if you were a wretched man with only one goal in mind. “Attention!” he cried as all four of us ran into a straight line. There was nothing different there. Then silence… A silence we had never heard from Old' Russie before. No one questioned it as we all knew why he was like this… a man who served WW2 as a communications officer would have it hard if he knew he had lost to the enemy. After this silence, the commander straightened up and found the courage to speak…


“As you may know now, you are being relieved of duty and being sent home” he started; “But even though the road ahead may look like a new start… you would be a fool”. “Some men have not gotten rid of their new habits; some are poisoned with guilt; some are being cast away from the place they used to call home”. “And others...”. The silence came back. I looked at the faces of my squad; I could not tell what they were feeling. The stern looks only gave a sense that they were hiding their true feelings. “Well…” Russie spoke again in a quivered voice. “Lost the hope and will to live”. 


As shocked as most of the other squad were, nothing seemed new. I did hear rumors back two weeks ago that a schoolboy on a field trip saw a veteran try to hang himself in the woods although I don't know what happened after that part. “Believe me kids”, Russie said, bringing the talk back. “The America you knew before… is not the America that you left months ago”. “All I ask is that you look out for each other even when you are not on the battlefield; learn from your mistakes and try to grow away from this country’s troubles. This is a never-ending nightmare but together, I feel like you can try and start again”. The squad looked at each other. We weren’t the kinda guys who made friends in these terms but we knew Old’ Russie was right. We needed to try and start fresh from all the wasted years of fighting a lost cause. We can’t do it alone so we have to try together. “Those are your final orders” Old Russie concluded. “You are relieved of duty”. “Sir yes Sir”, we complied, marching to the final chopper.


I sat down with my bags on my scarred back. The first thing I was doing when I got home was booking an appointment with my doctor. The rest of the squad followed in shortly after. There was Rudy; a blunt guy with a love for fights, war or no war; John Kent; a seventeen year old, who ran away from home to join the war and there was James; a twenty-three year old African-American, who was drafted into the war by chance. Everyone on the battlefield has a story to tell on how they got involved with Vietnam… Even me. One night at dinner, my father told me I was not a man and would be a disappointment to our country and out of anger, I signed papers to join the war the next day. But now… looking back on how I got here… I’m starting to think that he was right.


“Come on! I wanna go home sometime today!” Rudy shouted at the back of the chopper. James punched his ribcage, silencing the storm. The aircraft started to rise over the forests and into the sky. We all looked over the smoke-filled woods that we had been fighting in ever since we got here and we were losing to an invisible force. John couldn’t bear the sightings and fell to his knees; I was not always with him but for a man his age, he must have seen some devilish sightings while in Vietnam. We soared higher above the cursed deathbed of many fallen soldiers, who had given up their old lives for the so-called glory of being an American citizen only to greet death and walk with him away from the Earth. ‘I need to stop’, I thought to myself. None of this was helping. I knew I had it deep but I am not the only one and I definitely won’t be the last. The best thing I could do was close my eyes and try to sleep…


BOOM! A missile narrowly missed the engine. We all stood to our feet. James got out his binoculars he would usually use for bird watching and looked back over the horizon. “Warplanes”. He cried. “Two of them; they must think we are carrying supplies”. BOOM! Another missile hit the main engine open. “Ah for crying out loud”,  Rudy typically shouted as he stuck his head outside. “Hey Jerkface, we are trying to go home!”. Mini rounds of ammo shocked Rudy back into the aircraft. “We gotta do something!” John said, getting his rifle out of his bag. “We need some sort of a plan”. I looked at the opened engine that was fuming out an endless trail of smoke, the weapons we had; short ranged rifles with the exception of Rudy’s snipe and back at the squad. The fear that was racing through our heads; the team couldn’t hide the feeling anymore. Old Russie was gone and we only had one mission left… the goal of getting home.


“James,” I cried as he quickly looked up. “Didn't you say you took an internship as an engineer for mechanics?”. “Half an internship” he called back. “It was interrupted by something called the draft”. I stopped for a second almost ashamed of my question. “Do you still know how to do it?” I cried out to him. “Of course!” James said with a smile. “I have been fixing cars all my life”. “Allright, your role is to try to fix that god damn engine”. “I won’t try, I will,” James said and started to rustle through his bag to find his tools. “Rudy, we are going to need that sniper” I shouted, almost bringing a smile to his face. He wasn't quite there yet. “My pleasure!” Rudy gruffed, already fixing the scope onto the armoury. “John, you're with me” I said, knowing how he would react to my order. He silently nodded as we all walked in and huddled up. I didn't exactly know myself would we get out alive but we all knew we had to follow Old’ Russie’s orders.


Me and John creeped up to the right side opening of the chopper with our arms loaded and ready. Rudy and James were on the left, pending on our first attacks on the warplanes. We could hear that the enemies were closing in. John and I looked at each other and knew it was now or never. We fired at the planes causing them to drift to our side. As we distracted them, James started on the engine repairs. It was a frantic race against time and our lives as we fended off against the devils of air. After a couple of rounds, John and I turned back into the aircraft and reloaded. “How is the engine looking?” John shouted towards the other side as another missile whizzed past the chopper. “I’m not a miracle worker!” James screamed back while pulling off a broken wire. John and I looked at each other again and fired once again at the enemy. 

Rudy joined in our aid by trying to snipe the pilot. He focused on his target of the first plane and pulled the trigger. The first plane started to fall. “I got one!” Rudy shouted back across to us with a laugh. I still can’t tell if that was a happy cry or the laugh of a psycho. John and I turned once again to reload. “Are you almost done now?” John shouted again as more of a cry for help. I could tell by his eyes he wanted this to stop. “Just a second,” James said, trying to pin a cable down. The enemy fired another blow of shots and caused James to lose the piece he was trying to fit into the engine.


“God help me!” James cried, releasing his anger by punching his fist to the ground. “What was that?”, now being my turn to shout over to the others. “The pin to secure the electric rod” James cried in agony. “That was the only one I had… we’re done!”. I tought for a brief second that was not helped by more gunshots closing in on our airlift. “Would a hair pin do?” I cried over to him. “I don't know”, he replied, drying his tears. “I have never tried before”. “Don't try” Rudy shouted, “do”. James stiffened from his tears. “Give me that hair pin,” James said, walking towards me as I took one pin from my hair. James ran back to his post and bent it to hold the electric rod and the rest of us fired at the remaining fighter.


James stuck his head outside of the ensuing battle. He raised his hand slowly but surely to secure the last rod. After more rounds firing back at me, John turned once more into the airlift. We were out of ammo. “Rudy!” John shouted, “get this guy off our backs”. Rudy switched posts and got eyes on the final pilot. He calmed himself down from the adrenaline rush that was about to kick in. Talking one last breath to reconcile, he fired the trigger...


The shot had been fired at the enemy. We couldn’t see where the round went but after a few seconds the plane started to fall down from the sky. We erupted with happiness and started to cheer with joy. We clapped James on to finish the engine as he pinned the rod back with ease. We all then laughed at ourselves as we sat back down from the flash from the past. “So now what?” James asked, still in denial of what we had achieved. The squad lay silent; a similar silence to the one of Old’ Russie’s speech. “Well, I don't know about you guys” Rudy said with a smile, “I’m gonna go to sleep and pretend none of this happened”. Even though the rest of us laughed, we knew he was right and if we stayed up any longer, the trauma would come back to taunt us of our losses. We may not have won Vietnam but we won our way home and the best thing we could do was close our eyes and go to sleep.

© 2021 Kyra Owers


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Author's Note

Kyra Owers
At the start of my 5th Year in secondary school, I was tasked to write a short story with the title 'After the War'. I based this story on the Vietnam War, which I was learning about in History class at the same time. I am very aware that this piece is not historically accurate, when I was writing I wanted to gain an understanding of the situation many soldiers faced in the war; from surprise attacks and the uneasy atmosphere made by the conflict.

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" I am very aware that this piece is not historically accurate, when I was writing I wanted to gain an understanding of the situation many soldiers faced in the war; from surprise attacks and the uneasy atmosphere made by the conflict."

Given your mission statement historic accuracy is pretty important. There are a jillion things in your story that are fantastically inaccurate, or impossible, or simply silly. Those things are not needed for a story about the aftermath vets faced. A combat story isn't needed at all to fulfill your task. Where you are on task is in the characterization of the men involved. If all the words used to set up the helicopter crash and ensuing battle were used to fully explore the character of the soldiers it would be a better story and one you are more likely to succeed at.

Don't get me wrong, I appreciate that you acknowledge it is a work of speculation, and it is a harrowing portrayal of danger, but what is the true danger a returning vet faced? You let us know something about this in the words of Russell and the scene of the attempted suicide. There is an important story there. You give a masterful hint at a vet's future when you mention in the voice of the narrator the scars and the intention to see his doctor upon return. That hint is the germ of a great story.

I realize this comment might be taken as harsh,and I'm sorry about that; you have in this writing the stuff of a good story, the right stuff is in there and my suggestion is to focus on that.

Thank you for sharing this.


Posted 1 Week Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Kyra Owers

1 Week Ago

Hello Delmar,
Thank you for reviewing the piece. I don't take your review as harshly as you m.. read more



Reviews

What a visceral compelling story. I have an uncle who served in Vietnam, even to this day the ghosts of those years still haunts him. He has told me some of his tales of his experience there, and I can't find the words to paint those stories. Some things are best untold and left only to experience because of the horror they define. Reading your story reminded me of the look in his wounded eyes as he told me of those times of war. The best writing makes the reader live in those moments of the characters. Wonderful work, keep writing and sharing.

Posted 1 Week Ago


" I am very aware that this piece is not historically accurate, when I was writing I wanted to gain an understanding of the situation many soldiers faced in the war; from surprise attacks and the uneasy atmosphere made by the conflict."

Given your mission statement historic accuracy is pretty important. There are a jillion things in your story that are fantastically inaccurate, or impossible, or simply silly. Those things are not needed for a story about the aftermath vets faced. A combat story isn't needed at all to fulfill your task. Where you are on task is in the characterization of the men involved. If all the words used to set up the helicopter crash and ensuing battle were used to fully explore the character of the soldiers it would be a better story and one you are more likely to succeed at.

Don't get me wrong, I appreciate that you acknowledge it is a work of speculation, and it is a harrowing portrayal of danger, but what is the true danger a returning vet faced? You let us know something about this in the words of Russell and the scene of the attempted suicide. There is an important story there. You give a masterful hint at a vet's future when you mention in the voice of the narrator the scars and the intention to see his doctor upon return. That hint is the germ of a great story.

I realize this comment might be taken as harsh,and I'm sorry about that; you have in this writing the stuff of a good story, the right stuff is in there and my suggestion is to focus on that.

Thank you for sharing this.


Posted 1 Week Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Kyra Owers

1 Week Ago

Hello Delmar,
Thank you for reviewing the piece. I don't take your review as harshly as you m.. read more

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Added on June 1, 2021
Last Updated on June 1, 2021

Author

Kyra Owers
Kyra Owers

Ireland



About
I am a 17-year-old writer from Co. Cork, Ireland. I have always enjoyed writing short stories, scripts, and poems and through this page, I would love to share some of my works with you. more..

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