In the silence of night memories scream awake and the old man is again forced to relive the horror of that island – time hasn’t stopped the waves of panic and fear that flood his sleep. His wife had spent years patiently easing him into each morning, holding him until the crying and trembling passed, but the cancer that finally took her left him all alone to fend off the nightmares. Some how, the loneliness of his bed has made the intensity of the dreams much worse and unbearable.
Despite the years he can still see the bright orange-yellow flashes of the .50 caliber guns on the battleships and destroyers blasting the island, hear the deafening explosions of the Japanese artillery and mortar rounds that blanketed the beach, and feel the stare of every soldier who looked at him like he was supposed to get them to safety. Like his stripes gave him an ability and knowledge none of them possessed, and that somehow that was enough. He remembers rolling over the gunwales on the boat into a cold, violent surf, and the way they crawled on their bellies, inching through black sand and volcanic grit to escape that beach but there was no cover from enemy fire. The Japs were dug in, entrenched inside concrete pillboxes at the top of the ridge, laying down interlocking bands of fire that sliced apart whole companies of Marines, and there was nothing he could do to save anyone. Over and over in his dreams he hears their screams and the heart-breaking agony in their voices as blood runs into the sand. He has spent too many mornings through too many years asking why he survived when so many didn’t – searching for some kind of reason that might make sense of it all.
But it is a question that remains unanswered.
Time has created gaps, eroded details, and chipped away at other parts of his life, but the old man never forgets what he left on that nasty little nothing island named Iwo Jima.
Or how much the fight for freedom has truly cost him.