I published this on another site a couple of years back and wanted to present it hear. Please enjoy and let me know how you like it.
Lee was the last one in the truck as it pulled out of the airport in the center of the Green Zone. His tour, this one his third, was coming to an abrupt end, or so the scuttlebutt said this morning. Numerous cargo planes were lined up haphazardly along the tarmac and a never ending line of support personnel were loading personal belongings and essential equipment only into the enormous plane bellies. They would be pulling out. It was sudden and the mood in the air was desperate.
One more mission out of the "safe zone" before Lee and his men could leave. A troop helicopter returning from a forward base had gone down over the city. Knowing the chance of finding survivors was unlikely, the brass was continuing the suicidal policy of "no man left behind". That meant Lee, his platoon and two other companies were going back into the jaws of the city to extract any survivors who might be left.
It was only nine o'clock in the morning and it was already hot. How these people lived with this heat and it was only June. Lee remembered last August all too well with it's multiple days in the high 90's and even low 100's. Why they were fighting over this trash country was beyond him. Soon it would be over.
The sound of mortars was prevalent. The "militants" as the media like to call them, were shelling the green zone with impunity now. Occasionally, a fighter jet up from the coast would roll in, drop a couple of bombs and move away before the AA cut in again. It was pointless.
The convoy was over 18 vehicles, both heavy trucks and light armored vehicles. Enough precautions had been taken to account for the constant IED's along the main highway into the city. But it was not enough as the lead vehicle in the convoy suddenly blew apart a half mile ahead on the road.
The convoy slowed long enough to see there were no survivors and quickly kept moving. If there was time, on the way back they would collect tags and remains. If there were any left. The natives were relentless at this point in the war.
Approaching the last known coordinates of the helicopter, the convoy slowed to a ten mile per hour crawl. Lee could feel the tension in the men as they squirmed lower on the truck benches imagining how many rifles and RPG's were trained on the convoy at this moment.
The target was a huge neighborhood of closely packed apartments. Dangerously exposing himself, Lee craned his neck out the back of the truck, to see that several had been burned and shot up. At one point, even places like these were under his army's control. That first year when they arrived and actually thought they would win this thing. Some of the natives were actually glad to see Lee and the other members of the "coalition of the willing". That was then. This was now.
The convoy sped up briefly as satellite data relayed to the commander directed them to the last visual on the bird. The vehicles rolled to a halt under dust, exhaust clouds and the squeak of overworked breaks. Lee and his men quickly bailed out and moved to opposite sides of the street. The lead trucks pulled forward and moved back to the evac area as the remaining troops, ninety six total, moved down the winding street overlooked by two and three story apartment buildings.
Lee took one last check of his rifle before keying the mike under his chin.
"Sergeant Major, take A company left at the next turn. B company! On me!
B company was about to turn north when the streets erupted around them. Small arms fire, rifles, pistols, even an odd shotgun. Guns, guns, guns. This country was plagued with guns. Men with guns, women with gun, old people, children, everyone. Guns everywhere.
Lee turned to the Sergeant Major but saw him fall to the ground with blood gushing from a neck wound. Lee quickly directed his men down the street, an alley really, to the right hoping to get out of the crossfire.
"A" company, what remained, all leaderless, must have followed along with some stragglers further ahead as there were nearly 40 men trailing behind Lee. They hurredly traversed the alley and ended in a large dusty courtyard littered with wreckage from the broken helicopter along with rusty cars, old playground equipment and trash. The air was full of acrid smoke. Something was burning just beyond the courtyard and the smell was both sickeningly sweet and foul. Burning bodies, occured to Lee.
As his men spread out, Lee moved with his section towards the opening on the other side of the courtyard. His radio was static and an occasional scream, pain or orders, coming from who ever remained back on the street. The sound of sporadic gunfire continued, but clearly this courtyard was out of the line of fire of the shooters.
Suddenly, several of the doors to the buildings surrounding the courtyard opened simultaneously. Out came a parade of colors, red and yellow. Children in bright colors. A festival. Children happy to see their liberators, smiling, waving... knives. Twelve, ten, eight years of age. Some as young as four or five. As they came closer, their screams piercing the air, Lee realized the clothes were a distraction. Hastily dyed with transmission fluid, oil or bleach, the uniforms were a cheap stunt. Each child was armed with a knife or cutting blade of some sort.
While some had proper kitchen knives or even an occasional bayonet, others had a hodge podge of garden tool blades and sharpened pieces of rusty metal. They converged on the men like locusts, slashing, gouging, stabbing, poking, prodding and driving them to the ground.
Lee shoved the private in front of him out of the way and unloaded his weapon on short auto burst into the ground and air in front of him. Primieval terror and panic set over him. He ran full force toward the opposite opening not knowing if anyone was even behind him. His weapon clicking on empty in his hands, he fumbled for a fresh magazine, dropping two, before holding on to one long enough to reach the corner to reload.
Lee hastily dropped the expended magazine and was trying to fit the other in when he looked up around the corner of the building. It was the parking lot to the building. But it has been cleared and in the center roared a huge bonfire. A long metal pole, maybe a street light or flag pole had been laid across the tops of two cars so the middle of the pole spanned the fire.
Tied to the middle of the pole, like a pig, was a soldier. A soldier like him, from his country, wearing a uniform not much different than Lee's. Still alive, the soldier's skin was blistered and blackened. Two old women were throwing buckets of water on his head and face. There were trying to keep him alive as long as possible so he would suffer. Another old woman was sharpening a huge knife next to the fire oblivious to the soldier's shrieks. She looked up at Lee and smiled a huge grin to reveal a black maw of a mouth missing several teeth.
Lee's mind slipped away from him and he tottered on the edge of insanity. Suddenly a hand pushed him forward. A corporal, his uniform sprayed with blood with one sleeve ripped wide open yelled at Lee "Move Liuetenant! They are behind us!".
Lee found his feet working, the rifle a dead weight in his hand, as he followed the corporal and remaining men across the parking lot away from the fire. A mob of old people, some barely holding themselves up, on canes, crutches, walkers and other supports, blocked the way briefly until one of Lee's men opened up with his squad weapon. Lee, taught to respect his elders his entire life was stunned to see this happen. "What are we doing here? What horror have we opened up in this place?" the voice screamed in his head.
The parking lot gave way to another short alley and then the waiting trucks. The helicopter and its crew forgotten, the remaining soldiers climbed aboard the trucks and fled back towards the highway they came from. Lee looked at the men in the truck. There were only four in the back with him and only one other truck had pulled out at the same time. The others were presumably lost.
On the way to the airport, the radio sent a coded message. Return to the airport immediately. Evacuation continues. Division will relocate to the coast. Target city near refineries. Outbound ships awaiting in harbor. Airport under fire approach from northwest.
Relocate to the coast. The brass conceding defeat and ordering retreat. Outbound ships. To home no doubt. There were not enough long range planes available to get all back. Some soldiers would be inevitably left behind.
At the airport, the truck emptied on the tarmac and Lee and his men boarded the closest transport plane. Lee looked back at the skyline and the areas surrounding the airport. Mobs. Thousands of hungry, dirty natives were converging on the field. Armed with captured weapons, stick, rocks, anything, they moved soulless and blind towards the tarmac.
The plane quickly taxied to the runway and ascended without waiting for clearance. Others were lined up doing the same. It was panic and pandemonium.
Minutes later, Lee leaned back on the hard bench against the bulkhead. He prayed the plane would not experience mechanical problems, would reach the coast and somehow, he would make it aboard a troop ship. He knew luck was on his side so far. Many probably did not make it out of the airport. Who knows what happened to them.
Four thousand dead a day. Four thousand casualties daily since the seams came apart some eighteen months ago. Their faces, some strange and some familiar replayed in Lee's mind.
A young private, no more than seventeen, sat next to Lee. His face was bandaged with a large white dressing stained with blood. He looked up and asked,
"Why did we invade this country, Lieutenant? What were we trying to do?"
"To return this country to the community of nations. To make them pay for their crimes against the world and the peoples of the world." Lee mechanically replied. "To make the world a safer place. An end to corruption and tyranny".
Lee laughed. He leaned his head back and said,
"Because our leaders, safe at home in China, said we could beat them. We never fully realized that the United States truly is a sleeping giant. A horrible giant of nightmares and childrens fairy tales. There is a god and he has cursed us. May he have mercy on us.".
Lieutenant Lee Xian of the Army of the People's Republic of China closed his eyes and listened to the drone of the planes engines as it rumbled south away from Dallas towards Houston and the Gulf of Mexico. If only to be home again.