Gerard was always in his brother shadow, but with the Korean War on the horizon can he finally prove himself? R&R please, !st fic on this site!
I joined the Marines as soon as I could and was sent straight to boot camp. The Drill Instructor that greeted all of the new recruits was a strict, but good natured man with blonde hair and blue eyes that gave the air of the calm before the storm. His name was Sergeant Robert Bryar, from Chicago. He herded us like sheep into a room where they shaved off our hair. I remember looking down at my ebony locks, the same color as my mother’s, fall onto the floor only to be swept in a pile of many colors. Sgt. Bryar then moved us along to another room where clothes were given out before sending us to our barracks.
Everyday we had some sort of training. Whether it was being on the shooting range, watching films, learning war tactics, or even eating the food, we were always training for something. I remember Sgt. Bryar’s voice repeating over and over again “kill or be killed.” It saved him and hopefully it would save me if ever needed.
Boot camp was only eight weeks long, but the time it felt like varied from man to man. In a letter from home I learned that my brother, Michael, had re-enlisted. Once again my brother had outdone me. I was just a new recruit and he was a celebrated soldier, a hero.
I was a loner usually, but the Marines gave me a sense of family. At boot camp I made friends for the first time. Not acquaintances, but actual friends that were closer to me than my own brother. Frank Iero, Ray Toro-Ortiz, Bert McCracken, and I made up one of the most stubborn and proud group of Marines there ever was. We were arrogant. We believed we were invincible. In a way I guess that would help us not to doubt our abilities when we actually had to fight.
They sent us off to Korea in September, 1950. The air was tense as we made our way there, but Frank always had a way to cheer everyone up. He was short for his age of 19, somewhat scrawny too, but he was one of the toughest fighters I have ever met. He came from an Italian-Irish family like I did. That fighting Irish blood mixed with an Italian’s spirit was a deadly combination.
Ray was fresh out of medical school when he enlisted. A hopeful, young doctor with a promising future career waiting at home for him. Like myself, Ray had always wanted to enlist and the chance came when the Korean War started. He was 22 and had a girl waiting for him.
Finally there was Robert “Bert” McCracken. We used to call him Bert, but that was until Sgt. Bryar heard us and thought we were disrespecting him. After the 20 miles he made us run we never called Bert, Robert again. Bert and Frank grew up together. Their families owned land next to one another and they were the two biggest pranksters I have ever met. I can not imagine anyone else being as sneaky as those two used to be. Bert and Frank grew up when America was paranoid about anything and everything. So both boys decide to till “secret markers” into the fields that pointed to a nearby airfield.
Soon the whole state thought that Nazis were guiding enemy bombers to targets in and around the country. Nobody ever found out that it was just two local boys looking for a good laugh and that is what made the prank all the better.
Now here we were driving north in a weather so cold, so frigid, that it reduced tough soldiers into shivering little boys. It was dark out when we set up out tents. I was glad to know I would be sharing a tent with my friends. I climbed into our newly erected tent hoping that it would shield us from the sharp winds that seemed to cut right through our clothes and into our bones. Our first night a couple men from the enemy, I believe they were Chinese, were caught in our camp. They seemed to be probing out the area. When they captured these men I remember my nerves going away and it was then that I realized that I was hungry, very hungry. I now regretted eating my rations because my stomach didn’t really want the food which ended up with me vomiting in my foxhole.
There were only two of us in our foxhole; Ray and I. I felt bad for vomiting, but Ray said he probably would have done the same to me. I didn’t know whether to be touched or insulted. That night more Chinese soldiers came and Ray got hit. I was in shock. Blood came poring out of the hole in his chest, he could hardly breathe and neither could I at that point. With the last of his strength he handed me over a locket. I recognized it as the one with the picture of his girl in it. Inside her name was engraved; Maria, it read. I looked over to Ray once more only to see his eyes, once bright and sparkling with what seemed to be mystery, now glazed over and unseeing. I passed out soon after that.
I woke up in my foxhole hours later. My body felt numb and heavy. When I turned around I discovered the weight pushing down on my as a few tears escaped my eyes. Ray, bright and always sarcastic Ray, was frozen solid. His body was beginning to turn black with frost. I quickly climbed out of my, no, our foxhole. I fisted my hands trying to fight back the tears that were threatening to spill. I felt something hard in my hand; I was still holding the locket Ray gave me. Opening it I discovered the most gorgeous girl I had ever laid my eyes upon. She had long, dark hair and eyes that were full of light. Her skin was porcelain and her body slim and slender. So this was the infamous Maria that Ray had always talked about. I suddenly felt guilty when I realized I was starting to fall for my late best friend’s girl.
Darkness overcame my vision once more, but this time when I awoke I was on a ship with Frank and Bert beside me and my brother before me. I looked to my brother and he looked at me and told me that we were going home. I was later informed that I had been in a coma for about two weeks.
We arrived home after two weeks on a ship, but as soon as we arrived in my hometown of Belleville, we departed to the nearby suburb of Bloomfield to inform Mister and Misses Ortiz of their son’s untimely and unfortunate death and the extend our condolences. When they let us in a girl was there. I recognized her as Maria. She was even more beautiful in real life. She was shuddering and sobbing so much that I decided to take her out for some fresh air. We ended up at the diner where it all began.
Looking back to ten years before I realized that war was both the best and the worst thing that ever happened to me. I found someone to love, but for that to happen I had to lose one of my best friends. Maria and I are now expecting our second child. We have one son who is 9 and hopefully we’ll have a daughter for Maria now. I still keep in touch with Frank and Bert, and my brother and I have renewed our bond. The Chosin Reservoir was not a pleasant place at all, but it made me the man I am today.