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A soldier reflects on the random nature of war while on the battlefield

All I could see was death. The constant shots of gunfire rattled my eardrums and sent chills all the way to my bones. A continuous torrent of fire came from behind every tree in the forest. And the blood, the blood was everywhere. It painted my uniform. It was on my grimy hands, and it formed a pool on the ground underneath a body. Dead and dying bodies littered the ground. Their horrible stench filled my nose and refused to leave. The wind howled, and the naked trees swayed ominously over us. I tasted metal from subconsciously biting my tongue too hard.

I saw bullets flying through the air at rapid speeds. Soldiers falling too fast and the thudding of guns next to them. Everything seemed sped up, but focusing on a single bullet almost slowed it all down.

In war, you never knew what would be your last battle. You could never be sure if you’d still be on your feet the following second. The precision of a stranger could be the difference between life and death.

I fingered my collection of photos in my pocket from dead soldiers I had found throughout the war. I caught a quick glimpse of a familiar face. He was sitting at a table, surrounded by family. Twinkling lights adorned the Christmas tree, creating a halo around the room. I could almost smell the warm aroma of fresh-baked cookies. I recognized the man, who had kept me company through countless battles. I remembered a time when we had just fought one and were sitting in the cold rain.

“It’s crazy how in a battle you never think about who you’re killing,” he had said.

“It only makes shooting more difficult,” I had replied.

What I had said stood true, but after that conversation, it was hard for me not to think about it.

But I had no time for reminiscing about the past. I regained my strength, lifting my heavy boot out of the mud and trudging a few steps forward to have better aim at an enemy. I loaded my gun again and held it up, ready to shoot, but I couldn’t bring myself to, even with my newfound strength. The pictures I had touched just seconds earlier held memories of soldiers with their families. Shoot now, and I’d be destroying another soldier’s further memories. Their family wouldn’t ever see them alive again. I’d be destroying their future, and all the possibilities that lay ahead of them.

But life on the battlefield is like that. One second, you’re alive and thinking. You notice how loose your uniform is and how tight your left boot is, digging into your ankle. You are conscious of your dirty, matted hair and filthy fingers. Then the next second, you can’t bring yourself to move out of the way of a skin-splitting, bone-cutting, life-ending bullet fast enough.

I realized what I had done before I could change my mind.

I’d saved another soldier’s life by giving my own.

The battlefield dissipated from in front of me, and in its place was a vast abyss of redness. The redness quickly turned to black darkness and then I couldn’t hold myself upright anymore. Soon, all I could see was my own death, a feeling of doom, looming over me like a gray cloud.

As my life was cut short, I was thinking, I let my own future perish in order to let another persist.