• Thoughts that come and go on a day at war

    by Donal K. Sanders

    Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you find that you have a worried mind? You know that you’re going to die, but you don’t want to leave anything behind. Your mind will begin to wander where it will.

    Penny Paluska, my girlfriend in high school is with me, sitting in my lap, and drinking a Pepsi. Her tan skin in my eyes, and the smell of her hair in my nose keeps me looking up at the sapphire sky, hoping that the last plane will come for me.

    It’s like I’m standing on my toes with my head in a noose. Any minute now I’m expecting the crap to hit the fan, I’m locked in tight, there’s no escape. I check for a round in the chamber.

    I used to care but things have changed. My being in this war zone is doing no good. I should be back on the block at the Dairy Queen.

    Just for a second, I thought I saw something out there, so I’m frozen stiff, I cannot move. When I get home I’m going to take some dancing lessons, I’m gonna look real cool, when I can move.

    There’s a lot of water under the bridge, and a lot of other stuff too. I want to say that I’m only passing through, my gun is loaded, but I’m out of range.

    Back there, the rest are dead. I can still taste the vomit from his mouth as I tried to give him a last breath. The little hole in his chest was enough to make him drown in his own blood. I sat for a time and watched him go under till the blades hit the ground and the fire erupted.

    I left him there for where I am now, a little closer to the end of my road. They are walking around and looking for me. I can hear them talking but I don’t understand.

    The smell of rice on an open fire wakes me up and brings me around. I need to get as far from here as I can, it’s getting so hot, too hot to touch. I need to get outta here.

    They are so close I can smell their fishy farts. If I make the wrong move, I’m dead. Penny Paluska has found someone else so she don’t want me. I’m thinking I won’t be here anyway.

    I want to cry but I can’t risk the noise. I had plans for Penny and I. Now they too are out of range. People are different when they fall out of love, they act so strange when you try to hold them close.

    Things have changed now, Penny is at the university and I am lost in a ditch in Asia. Lost. I want to fall in love with someone new; I want to live that life.

    I found today that you can hurt someone and not even know. This time is an eternity and I think so slow and my mind is in circles.

    I think about the violent way out but these boys are not to be underestimated. I think that these men are probably the best soldiers on the face of the Earth. They live in holes under the ground that are as large as a city.

    They walked a thousand miles carrying a rifle and 100 pounds of rice. There are thousands of them and they all want me dead. Now I’m beginning to think that I want me dead too.

    I’m getting low down when I want to get high. I am searching the sapphire sky for my ride home with bugs running inside my shirt. I take the chance to move but I have to hurry. I can hear a whisper from a mouth to an ear. They are so near.

    My pistol is cocked when I put it in my mouth. I’m thinking that I won’t hear the report or see a flash. I won’t be here. I’ll be flying home to those I love and I’ll sit in a tree in their yard.

    Not even a click did I hear. My pistol is jam packed with mud and blood. I’m stuck here and I’m in love with a woman who won’t even know my name.

    I’ll go to sleep now and dream of angels with gray hair in castles above the sea. When I wake up, I won’t even be me; I can’t ever get that back. Things have changed now and that is strange. I have a round in the chamber but I’m out of range.

    Days later, I awoke in Quen Nhon military hospital, where I could cry all day, for a week, for a month. I have to look at the sapphire sky for the last plane to take me out of here.


    • I can not imagine the hell you lived through, Donald. Referencing the Dairy Queen really drives home how very young you were. Are you writing a book about this?
      I”m confused at the end of this essay and want to know more. What happened? Did you actually shoot yourself or did they shoot you? How did you get to the hospital? Did you make it home, and was Penny there for you?

    • Donald, having read your stories that you have sent me I know how tortured those times were. I am glad you survived and I think just speaking these stories is wonderful. Have you gone to VA Hospitals and talked to the young soldier coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan? I think you would be excellent and soothe some souls as well. Thanks for being my friend and trusting me to read your stories and book.

    • Donald – thank you for sharing these. How important it is to let others know that they’re not alone and let people like me try to understand what was never a part of my own reality.

      • Judy N

      • October 2, 2011 at 1:22 pm
      • Reply

      Donald this was powerful. It’s far from my experience but brought me close. It’s so important to understand the human costs of war. It’s the kind of column we should be carrying around in our heads. Really well written.

      • Dena

      • October 2, 2011 at 1:49 pm
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      THIS was so powerful. Each paragraph took me to where you were in that moment. Thank you for sharing such powerful thoughts and emotions. I have an uncle who survived Vietnam. I saw John Otis Kirtley for the first time in many years recently while visiting my father in Las Vegas. Before he left for Vietnam, he married the love of his life, however, upon his return, it didn’t work and they divorced. He later remarried and moved to Mississippi. He was later diagnosed and treated for stomach cancer. He survived but now wears a bag which catches his waste. He was so quiet as we all sat around the dining table gabbing about TV shows, etc. My only conversation with him was to ask him if he was ready to go home to Mississippi. He said he missed his “routine”…and was looking forward to going home. He never talks about what he experience during his 4 years there…I can imagine now.

      • Carolyn Wyler

      • October 2, 2011 at 2:57 pm
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      I can not even imagine going through what you have gone through and am sorry you have gone through and are still reliving the hell of your war experience. Thank you for sharing.

      • Ken Welton

      • October 2, 2011 at 3:07 pm
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      Damn! Obviously not a work of fiction. So sorry for your experience.

      • Christy

      • October 2, 2011 at 6:46 pm
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      I have no words – only tears for you my friend. Your words took my breath away and I am blown away with how you captured this hellish experience. Thank you for opening up and sharing this with us!

      • Kelvin

      • October 2, 2011 at 9:27 pm
      • Reply

      Holy shit. I’m sitting here in my big easy chair in my living room living my soft little life and I clicked on this article. My body grew more and more taut as I read it. i could feel the tension in my neck. And I can’t even imagine living this. You conveyed it so well. I’m blown away by the power of this. Saying it’s great just seems wrong. It’s hellish. Thank you for sharing this with us.

    • Donald… I can only say… I am sooooo glad you survived this. I hope life mitigates the hell you’ve been through. This column was like spending some time inside your head, in the middle of war… WOW.

      The good news is… you never, ever will be there again. You are safe.

      • Sherlie Magers

      • October 3, 2011 at 3:54 pm
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      My nephew is a Sargent in Afganahstan (sp) last week he lost 1/2 of his platoon…His Mom calls me crying discribing what he told to her in his disturbed rambelings…The terror was apparent in my baby sisters voice for her son. Just 23 years old and filled with guilt and rage he couldn’t save his Men!His “Bunkie” was dismembered, “Never leave them behind!” he says to Mom…Unless you know, you can’t know…I’m glad you are safe Donald and I know you were thinking some of the same things my “Boogie” thinks… “Known as Sgt. Marquez”, he has 4 babies and 16 days left…just a note…NEVER HEARD THAT ON THE NEWS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!I’m having some hope, of for his sanity after reading your article thank you Donald!

      • Sherlie,
        Yes, he will appear the same but he will not be the same. Make sure he goes to the VA for treatment-and to AMVETS for advice. This is very important.
        Thanks for your comments.

          • Sherlie Magers

          • October 4, 2011 at 2:30 pm

          Thank you so much, I will do that! Sherlie

    • Thanks to all.

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