The moon was still high in the sky when the small boat launched. Looking back over the choppy waves she could see the ghostly outline of the steel ship that was her home. For the first time she felt apprehension for what she was about to see, what she was about to do. She had never seen war before. In part she was afraid that it would look like the movies, but worse was her fear that it would be worse than any movie could depict. She sat in the corner of the boat, hunched down to keep as much of her body out of the wind as possible. Glancing around she saw the same apprehension on the faces of her crewmates. As they drew closer to shore, more destruction became visible. What had looked like the outline of a ragged cliff, was in fact the ragged ruins of a large building. The new morning light continued to reveal images from nightmares. She looked down into the water saw the rotting carcass of a dog, bile surged in her throat, but will power kept it at bay. After an hour that felt like a week, they docked at the skeletal remains of a pier. Suddenly flood lights snapped on and a giant in cammies emerged from an awaiting humvie, he hefted an intimidating looking rifle to his shoulder. Smoke billowed from his form as he approached the launch. He tossed a cigarette to the ground.
“I’m Sergeant Ramirez, your escort”
One by one the sailors climbed to shore. The smell of decay and wet ash mixed with the lingering scent of tobacco. The bile that had so valiantly been kept in submission threatened to make an appearance again, and again was subdued. No one spoke as they piled into the transportation truck that had been obscured by the humvie. Sergeant Ramirez stood at the back of the truck, vigilant, as they began the second stretch of their journey.
Daylight was fully upon them and the extent of the destruction became apparent around them. Families had begun to emerge in preperation to the day ahead. Conspicuously absent were the men. Children were already at play, women clustered near communal laundry facilities, large trough’s of dank water could be called facilities. Ever present were the cammie clad soldiers on patrol through the streets. They came to a halt at a large tent that could only be assumed to be the military headquarters. Not a word was spoken as both driver and sergeant departed their company. They disappeared into the tent and she saw a wall of soldiers close ranks around them. She wasn’t sure if she felt safe or as though she were about to face a firing squad. Before she let out the scream she felt in her bones, another cry drew her attention. The familiar sound of a baby seeking food brought her back to sanity. Beyond the soldiers she saw a mother struggling with a baby and two small children. Fear and exhaustion were apparent on the woman, even from a distance.
Finding a boldness she did not know that she possessed, the American sailor pushed past the guards. Taking the baby from the woman she held him close to her heart. He stuck his tiny fist into his mouth and closed his eyes. With one final shudder and wail, he fell asleep. Tears of gratitude streamed down the mother’s cheeks. She tended to the other children and sat down on a tree stump. She put her head in her hands while the American sang a lullaby to her sleeping baby. The American felt a tugging at her pant leg. She looked down, over the head of the baby, and saw a scrawny little boy.
Mister, mister…. my name is Rojellio, I am four years old, and I am free”
The boy ran away and the American joined the grateful mother in relieved tears.