Updated: Aug 25
Tears suddenly rolled down my right cheek. It felt as if a channel of magma was tunneling through the granite my face was supposed to be made of. Like the Old Man on the Mountain - stoic. Unphased. Disciplined in the midst of tragedy and trauma.
"Corporal Paul Nick King."
They called his name one last time. My bottom lip trembled. Micro tremors bumping away the incoming streams of tears.
Crying at the position of attention was not something I'd been trained to do. Our Drill Instructors never taught us how to grieve and mourn. It wasn't in the SOPs, an MCI, or our TTPs. Our combat instructors at the infantry training battalion never showed us how to kneel by the battle cross and talk to ghosts. I reverted back to my infancy and wept.
We were going on patrol in a few hours. Up until that point in the deployment, our company had been invulnerable. Fear gnawed at the exposed soul of the infant. The seething brutality of warfare was rising from the depths.
My eyes were red and puffy, but my dark Oakley's concealed the battered, tired look on my face. Back to being the Old Man on the Mountain. Back to the stoic, nineteen year old rifleman. The fight was calling, and there was no appropriate moment for mourning.
This piece was written during a reflective exercise at the Patrol Base Abbate book club retreat in June, 2023.