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Four Years at the Mount

This month, our writers wish to memorialize Independence Day with a few creative pieces focusing on the men and women in the armed forces. We also wish everyone a safe and happy Fourth of July.

Independence Day

July 2017

Soldier, soldier

Angela Tongohan
MSM Class of 2020

The topic this month is very close to my heart, because of what I was taught about the sacrifices and sufferings of soldiers in war.

During World War II, the United States of America suffered tremendously as well as the other countries that fell under the shadow of this tragedy. Millions of lives were lost. While many are familiar with the Holocaust and how Adolf Hitler, the German dictator, sought out Jews and killed them, not many people are aware of the Battle of the Philippine Sea.

According to my mother, my grandfather did not speak much about the war. He was in his late 30s when the war began, and he already had three children. Because of his weak joints and his successful citrus farm, he was not qualified to serve, but rather, helped the war effort from afar. His farm was successful and he sent money and food monthly to nearby troops.

My mother said that before the war, my grandfather was a happy man. He smiled often, and rarely ever complained about how tired he was. But as the war went on, he became more silent, more distant, more closed off.

My aunts say itís because many of his friends that never made it home. He hated watching his neighbors sit out on their front porch all day, waiting for their sons or husbands who would never come home.

It got even worse on December 7, 1941. Many people know of Pearl Harbor and how Hawaii endured the worst of the attack, but for my grandfather, that was the day when all his hard work was blasted to bits. The Japanese had also dropped bombs on the Philippines, and my grandfatherís once beautiful and fresh citrus farm was now a pile of rubble and dirt. It was the first time my mother ever saw my grandfather cry.

With the news that the Japanese were starting to invade the islands, he busied himself by adding more protection to the family house. Our family lived in a small town in the province of Laguna, just a few hours away from the countryís capitol, Manila. Fortunately, our familyís town was not too affected by the Portuguese invasion a few years before. But day after day, my grandfather would wait for news of the Japanese. He feared invasion and not being able to protect his family.

The Japanese were fierce, and strong. Before long, they had forced the Philippine government into exile. Along with the rest of the nation, my grandfather lost hope. The Philippine culture was so important to him, as it was with the rest of the citizens of the country. They were a proud people, and they were a people that prioritized their individuality.

There was a rejoicing and no small amount of relief when the Philippines realized that the United States was fighting on their side. Together, the Philippines and the United States succeeded in forcing the Japanese out of the country.

My grandfather taught my mother the importance of becoming a strong, kind, and caring individual. She idolized him and despite the fact that he was unable to fight directly in the war, he was her hero. He lived a life filled with an unconditional kindness towards the troops, no matter the side on which they fought. He provided food and money although he had very little to give to begin with.

Because of him, my mother was able to appreciate the sacrifices soldiers make to honor their country and to protect the people and their freedoms with their lives. When she came to the United States, she often prayed for the unknown soldiers buried in DC. The ones who were never identified, and who had no one visiting them.

The fact that soldiers are brave enough to sacrifice their own lives for the people of their country, people that they will probably never meet, is incredibly courageous and oftentimes sadly under appreciated.

This month, Iíd like to remind you of the valiant and fearless efforts that soldiers make fighting wars to protect our lives and freedom. It is too often that I hear of a veteran left on the street or treated less than they deserve. Without second thought, these men and women were willing to give up their lives for the honor, dignity, and safety of the own people. And while Iíd love to go on more about how important and wonderful soldiers are, I do not believe anything I write will do their sacrifices justice. So, I would like to end this article with a prayer written by Lewis Millet.

"I have fought when others feared to serve.

I have gone where others failed to go.

I've lost friends in war and strife,

Who valued Duty more than love of life.

I have shared the comradeship of pain.

I have searched the lands for men that we have lost.

I have sons who served this land of liberty,

Who would fight to see that other stricken lands are free.

I have seen the weak forsake humanity.

I have heard the traitors praise our enemy.

I've seen challenged men become even bolder,

I've seen the Duty, Honor, Sacrifice of the Soldier.

Now I understand the meaning of our lives,

The loss of comrades not so very long ago.

So to you who have answered duties siren call,

May God bless you my son, may God bless you all."

Read other articles by Angela Tongohan


The Forgotten War

Michael Kenney Jr.
MSM Class of 2019

January 23, 1951: They say this war, like all others, is a spillover from the last. But Iím not too certain about that. Iíve thought about it a lot but thatís not what keeps me awake tonight. I canít stop thinking about how weíre finally here. Iíve tried nearly everything to still my nerves and get some form of sleep, but alas, all has proven unsuccessful.

I finally decide to creep over and snatch the newspaper lying beside Martinís rack. Maybe reading will tire me out. The paperís front headline screams in big, block lettering: Boy Takes Contentious National Spelling Bee Title. Itís meaningless to me, but I suppose it must have meaning for others. Why else would it be on the front cover? I skim through the article not because it interests me, but because I canít sleep, and I hope reading will do the trick. An 11 year old boy won the National Spelling Bee by correctly spelling the word "halcyon," which as a noun means a tropical Asian kingfisher and as an adjective denotes an idyllically happy and peaceful time in the past. Though particular words were randomly selected and administered from a pool of possibilities, critics contend that the 11-year-old boy from Los Angeles was given substantially less difficult words than the runner up, and thus, called into question the validity of the random process. Shouldnít everything be calculated? Shouldnít everything be fair? It would make sense.

I slip the paper back near Martinís rack, curl back beneath my blanket, and try to shut my eyes. But I canít. Iím not sure how the others can. In too few hours we will land someplace I canít pronounce to do whatever it is we do here. Iím not entirely sure, if Iím being honest. My thoughts about the unknown keep me awake. I begin to wonder about the inevitably less troublesome thoughts that swirl about the heads of my sleeping comrades. Theyíre a random bunch. Martin, he was an accountant for 18 years, not a soldier. Maybe heís dreaming about sitting on piles and piles of money, about the spoils of war he can win in a few days, how this war effects the stock he bought way back when. The man in the rack above him, George, he is not any sort of soldier either. Married three times and woke up one day and thought of why not join the war effort. Maybe he dreams about his kids or of falling madly in love with a Korean woman in a few days. Don says heís 18 and has convinced no one, but Uncle Sam. No one knows much about him, other than the fact that this is his first rodeo. Maybe he dreams about holding a rifle for the first time and becoming a man. Thereís only one real soldier here, and even sometimes I question if heís here entirely for "the Great Cause." Could he just love carnage? Or perhaps he wants reparation from something he did in the last war. Maybe heís got nothing better to do. Who knows? Everyone is here for their own reason. Iím neither entirely sure how I got here in the first place nor could I adequately describe the objectives of our war. Certainly, we hope to contain communism, whatever that is, but then what? Do we just go home happily ever after? Start new careers and join right back in with our families? And what if none of that happens? What if everything turns for the worst...? No. I stop this thought upon its conception.

I stop thinking about the thoughts that have kept me tossing and turning for weeks. I drift back to the newspaper article. Halcyon. How do you even pronounce that? Halcyon, halcyon, halcyon. I wonder if halcyons look different than regular American kingfishers. I suppose Iíll find out soon enough. And boy oh boy it also has a random adjectival definition: an idyllically happy and peaceful time period in the past. I bet Iíll hear a lot of that in a few days too.

I donít really think they should change the rules. Sure, the runner up didnít have such great luck, but thatís life. Lifeís all about throwing random bits of good and bad and not bothering to wait as you readjust to the new state of things. Youíve got to learn and learn fast because sooner or later the penny drops and everything comes at you in one definite stroke. Sometimes you lose and sometimes you win. But youíll always have bad luck. Think of the citizens in South Korea. Think of the midshipmen on this boat!

Iím quite frankly impressed by my ability to come full circle and conflate a stupid spelling bee to the deep thoughts that provoked me earlier. I get up and accept the fact that I wonít sleep tonight. I walk to the bathroom and rinse my face off. As I pat my face dry with my shirt, I decide that I can consider my correlation between my anxieties and halcyons to my own advantage. When I become fearful of the unknown, Iíll think about the idyllic experiences Iíve had. When I see the bird, Iíll think of it as a placeholder for the bald eagle and a representation of the universal right to freedom. When I fail, Iíll think of the advice Iíd tell the runner up, that life sometimes is a lot of "random," but resilience is key. This plan already proves to be tremendously rewarding. For some reason, without even knowing exactly what problems I will face in Korea or why Iím even fighting, Iíve just decided how I will cope with the unknowns, my fears, and my anxieties: halcyon. This revelation puts me at tremendous ease, and finally, I can fall asleep for a few hours

Read other articles by Michael Kenney Jr.


Before and after

Sarah Muir
Class of 2018

"Who were you before the war?" asks a young boy. He is young enough that the war has become a fireside story; simple black and white with a golden valor lining. The battles have become factual signposts and the bloodshed, merely statistics. Since then there has been a tense peace, a settled anger felt only by the ones old enough to remember and headstrong enough to hold on to those grudges.

He was a farmer, he tells him, born and raised alongside his brothers in some rural part of Northern Kentucky. He tells the boy of a rosy, wholesome, youth with the smell of hyacinths across a garden and tuffs of loose cotton bouncing away on the breeze. Halfway through, he convinces himself that this was someone elseís history; a history that did not end with one brother dead and the other two stubbornly pulling away in opposite directions. He does not tell the boy about how the flash of the musket blinds you for a few seconds, or what it feels like to have waded through mud and blood and hope you do not come face to face with kinsfolk on the other side of the enemy line, or how it felt when you did. He never told the boy about what the world was like without anesthesia or what it feels like to have an itch in a leg that is impossible to scratch.

"Who were you before the war?" It's a young girl that asks him and he could remember a bright past where a little boy had the same curiosity. He wonders if he was as young as the little girl asking him or if he looks as old as the man from a life time ago. At first, he does not know what to say, but he answers her, of course, keeping it simple. He worked at a little hardware store nestled between a corner grocery and a flower shop. He remembered hearing folks complain when the prices pitched up. He tells the little girl about the poster calling men to take up arms, the pull to serve his country and travel abroad. How the siren song of duty and honor washed over him and a great many others. Some of his friends joined, he tells her, and they mostly came back home, more or less. He doesnít tell her about the walls made of mud, between which puddled water and far less pleasant things. He never spoke of the flash of a gold clock, the sound of the charge, the mad fury of man-made hail, or the frustration of gaining an inch of ground a month. He doesnít tell her about the newer and cleverer ways men killed each other, how the shockwave runs through your body like some invisible creature, and why he still flinches when a car backfires.

"Who were you before the war?" Asks her daughter at bed time. She had talked of little else since she read a chapter on it in class and her mother had to hold back some of her amazement at the fact they managed to cut it down to just one chapter. She supposes she was just a teenage girl in high-school, the future then was optimistic and so far away. But that was such a long time ago when the war was a separate entity, wreaking havoc on only a few pages and paragraphs in her fatherís newspaper. She remembers the stamps and the cook books with rationed recipes and the complaints at these inconveniences shared between friends. Then she remembered the day the war came far too close. She talks about the walls of posters the WANTED ads in the newspaper. She tells her daughter of the rivets, machines, and war effort; of the feeling of needing to do more and of the Womanís Army Corps. She briefly mentions becoming a nurse and leaves it there. She does not talk about the sound a bomb makes when it strikes too close for comfort or what a fifteen hour straight run in the hospital as heavy causalities flood what makes do as a hospital. She never tells her daughter of the chaos, the cries of desperate, frightened people, the fetid smell of wounded, or why her hands shake a bit when she passes by a memorial or why she saves even the smallest morsel of food.

The next time her daughter hears that question, is at a commemoration ceremony honoring those who served and those whose lives were lost in the Korean War. She knows her fatherís name is somewhere and she is relieved that at least now she has somewhere to go and place flowers. She overhears a reporter ask a veteran the same question she asked years ago. She doesnít listen to the reply, trying to think of who she was before the war and is shocked that she cannot remember. What she does recall is the nuclear drills in school and wondering how a desk was going to help. She remembers commercials on the television enticing people to buy war bonds and the argument her parents had before her father enlisted; the knock on the door a year later with the news that he was missing in action. The reporter has moved on to ask his questions elsewhere and she overhears a small voice ask, "Would you do it again?" She hears him reply the same way her mother did "For you? Yes."

When you look back at history there are always points in which the world changes. Moments after which there is no turning back to how things used to be; a definitive before and after. War, or moments of extreme violence create this definition and such moments bring out the best and worse in humanity. This July marks The United States of Americaís 241 anniversary of our independence. Since then, we have lived and survived through many of these moments and we owe this to the men and women who have sacrificed their lives and livelihood to protect the people of this country. I am, along with so many others that owe you for protecting our freedom, forever grateful for your service and wish you a Happy Fourth of July.

Read other articles by Sarah Muir


Petersburg 1865

Leanne Leary
MSM Class of 2017

"During the Civil War, Ulysses S. Grantís Army of the Potomac and Robert E. Leeís Army of Northern Virginia collide for the last time as the first wave of Union troops attacks Petersburg, a vital Southern rail center 23 miles south of the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia. The two massive armies would not become disentangled until April 9, 1865, when Lee surrendered and his men went home" (History.com).

Normally, Iím the first one up.

Normally, I stir before daylight, my body responds to the temperature rising, and normally I have time to sit up and just look around before my battles start to toss around and groan about the rising sun.

Today I woke sharply as I felt my buddyís hand rock my shoulder back and forth: "Hey, Carter, get up," he shouted through a whisper, "theyíre here again."

There is no way I slept through the sunrise or stand-to, I thought, as I opened my eyes slowly and most unsure. It was still dark outside; the stars still hanging in the sky.

"Theyíre here early today," I thought as I flipped onto my stomach and pulled myself up. About 35 seconds later, my sack was stuffed into my ruck and I was pulling on my Kevlar helmet. I turned to my right and counted, "one, two, three guys Ė all mine." I turned to my left and found my squad leader. I called to him, "Alpha is all good, ready to move."

Eighty-five seconds later and the squad was ready. We knew the plan. The last few months had been the same, from morning to night, they just got here early this morning. I started out, slightly crouched, and made my way through the hatchery, nine guys followed me. We were ready.

Day in and day out nothing had changed much, I didnít really expect today to be any different.

I heard the crack of the stick breaking under my left foot before I heard the loud bang of the artillery off in the distance Ė it meant go time.

For the last three months we spent every morning at the hands of their artillery. They shot past us, around us, and fifty feet in front of us, but somehow, so far, we had zero casualties. The companies to our left and rear have each taken some, but we have somehow slipped by Ė today would be no different.

My mind flipped quickly from routine to reaction as I scanned the face of Brown, who stood right behind me. He reached out and grabbed my forearm, "Sergeant," he whispered, "that was close."

"I know," I answered quickly as I turned to count once again, "one, two threeÖ"

Another bang went off, this time closer. I have no way of telling where they are landing through these wood lines, but closer was my best guess.

I turned back around and started pointing, my mind at this moment is working.

Where are the closest known friendly elements?

Where is my squad leader?

Where do my guys need to go?

Will the next bang be closer?

"Okay, be productive."

How much closer was the last one?

Can we exfil at 180 degrees?

I donít see any enemy in uniform

Iím not paired with any artillery or heavy weapons, Iím out here with nine guys walking and feeling like an exposed nerve.

As the recon team, our job is to evaluate the area, examine any suspected enemy activity, remain invisible; nothing, but undetectable ghosts and shadowsĖ thatís really all there is to it.

However, with the crack of every branch I step on Iím breaking one of the few rules, and in so doing, I risk the lives of all nine of these my unit. At this moment, I know I need to move closer. I have answers to zero of my questions and though I only paused for 60 seconds, itís feeling like a break that will never end. Before pushing forward, I looked back and see my guys looking restless, but ready to go. I sighed the smallest sigh before once again pushing myself up and pulling my Kevlar helmet forward on my head.

"Letís go," I waved my left arm forward. In the few milliseconds, it took to turn my head back around I knew I had to turn my focus back on Ė watch my step, ears open, eyes peeled, head on a swivel. I have one job.

The next bang came then, and it hit close.

Before I could turn to count I heard another Ė "Get down!" I heard someone else shout for me.

I fell to the ground and rolled over to count, "One. Two. ThreeÖ," then itís all good. Well, here at least.

They all looked at me with varying expressions, the most common being carefully veiled fear. But they all looked to me for answers I didnít know.

"Get it together," I scolded myself, and seven seconds later I was setting up a security formation and moving around to find my squad leader.

-----

We returned later that day as lucky as we left. All fine and all together. Seven seconds of hesitation and a crack of a branch could have changed all of that, and Iím feeling much luckier than the rest.

Tomorrow will be more of the same, but tomorrow I will have to be smarter, quicker, and better. Strange, though, because as the days drag on I feel slower, less able. I donít even know what side Iím fighting for anymore.

Read other articles by Leanne Leary

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