Courage, duty, honor, heroics, money, tradition. Just a few reasons why a man will go out and risk everything. These have often been thought of the true reason many are so willing to kill their fellow man. But is it really? Movies, games, books all brainwash and twist our sense of war. Men always shoot to kill, battle is always honorable. They don’t like to show you the true grittiness of it all. The violence of extremists, the hate, fear, and camaraderie that is forged in the hellfire of combat. No, for none of it is true. Men do not willingly kill their fellows. They do not want to pick up a gun and kill. And for what reason? The above? Maybe. War is the steam, the coal, the oil, the industry of Earth. We would crumble without it, but flourish for we would have made the greatest stride in human history. We carefully craft our tools, train our men, dedicate years to strategy. We brainwash innocent men, turn them into killers, we spend trillions every year. For death. Yes, war has been the birth of men whose names shall always be in history books. But it is these men who wrote the history books. Alexander, Patton, Schwarzkopf. They all achieved domination and victory on the field of battle. But their men are the pen, ink, and paper. And these men are the ones who are left behind. People…politicians, government officials threaten war, yet the ones who threaten war are…sometimes the weaker. It can take the bigger man to not start a war. To not start a massacre. But there has always been one thing in human history that can unite all. This is a rare occurrence, and one that can allow humanity to stumble into peace. A common enemy. Not just an enemy who wants a resource or a labor force. But someone who believes in genocide.
So what secrets are, really hidden from view?
The wind swept the hill top. Birds sand and chattered, flitting from tree to tree at the base of the hill. A regiment, or better yet what was once a regiment stood at attention. They faced the monument in front of them with stone cold faces. Unmoving lips, unblinking eyes. But their hearts were ready to spill out.
The monument was a large crescent shaped wall, much like the Vietnam memorial. It was adorned with 2,954 names etched into a small brass plaque. The marines had not taken casualties like it in forever. The last time being before Riley was born, in the last battle for Earth. Riley had friends he had made on the wall, forever remembered.
O’Brien stood next to him, his chest puffed out. He didn’t like to admit it but he was a big lovable softie. And Riley could see the beginnings of tears in the corners of his stony blue eyes. They were dressed in traditional attire. Dress blues with a blood stripe down the trouser seam. Riley had three stars on his collar, indicating his rank. Along with fifteen ribbons. Twelve for military campaigns and one for something he was never to speak of. O’Brien had his Sergeant Major on his collar. The rising sun shone off the golden emblems.
But what Riley found most disturbing were the wives, children, husbands, mothers, and fathers behind them. 2,954 to be exact. They all stood stoically trying to hide the sadness and fear that lay behind their false emotions. It wrenched his heart. Some of the children, some not even older than five, didn’t quite understand. They had been told their loved ones had been killed in a massive rebel bombing. Riley hated having to lie about it. But they said it was better for the long term.
Now the awards ceremony. “The 14th Marine Expeditionary force, 2nd Division, 3rd Regiment,” The Commandant stood at attention in front of the large group of people that had amassed to see the ceremony. “After showing courage, bravery, and leadership under enemy fire is awarded the sixth campaign ribbon.” The ribbons had already been placed on their chests. It was black with a XI device placed on it, to indicate the regiment’s sixth campaign.
Then the personal awards came next. A Private First Class was awarded the Medal of Honor for pulling ten other wounded marines out of a firefight. He walked to the stage, he had been hit with a bolt of plasma to his forehead. Even the best reconstructive surgery had proved futile and he was left utterly disfigured. A couple more marines received their awards or promotions. “Sergeant Major O’Brien!” O’Brien straightened up. He walked forward then made a right face. He approached the Commandant. “For showing daring, devotion, bravery, and extreme leadership under dire circumstances,” He looked at O’Brien in the eye. He had not been told of this. “We bestow upon him the rank of Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps.” An Oorah echoed through the ranks. O’Brien backed away then saluted. His arm came up quickly and sharp. Then he about faced. He stopped in front of the memorial did a right face and slowly raised his hand in another salute. The awards were over. And somewhere deep inside the men knew it was time. Seven shots rang out, then another volley and another. “Present ARMS!” Riley yelled out.
The marines raised their hands and saluted. Taps began playing. The mournful wail of the bugle and the shots fired from the rifles rang in everyone’s ears for what felt like forever. The bugle stopped. “Order ARMS!” They brought their hands back down. The sun had fully risen. An eagle flew over the hilltop. He swooped down, seeing, inspecting. He circled another time then landed on the top of the memorial.