If I Die in A Combat Zone
Box Me up and Ship Me HomeBook - 1973
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You add things up. You lost a friend to the war, and you gained a friend. You compromised one principle and fulfilled another. You learned, as old men tell it in front of the courthouse, that war is not all bad; it may not make a man of you, but it teaches you that manhood is not something to scoff; some stories of valor are true; dead bodies are heavy, and it's better not to touch them; fear is paralysis, but it is better to be afraid than to move out to die, all limbs functioning and heart thumping and charging and having your chest torn open for all the work; you have to pick the times not the be afraid, but when you are afraid you must hide it to save respect and reputation. You learned that the old men had lives of their own and that they valued them enough to try not to lose them; anyone can die in a war if he tries.
There's not much I can say to you," Erik said. "I had this awful suspicion thy'd screw you, make you a grunt. Maybe you can break a leg during advanced training; pretend you're insane." Erik had decided at the beginning of basic to enlist for an extra year so as to escape infantry duty. I had gambled, thinking they would use me for more than a pair of legs, certain that someone would see the value of my ass behind a typewriter or a Xerox machine. We'd joked about the gamble for two months. He had won, I had lost.
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