“For the poor will never cease out of the land; therefore, I command you; you shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor in the land.”
- Deuteronomy 15:11
Jack saw the beggar as soon as he turned the corner from Mühlenbach Strasse to Heumarkt Gasse. The sight of him, on a street devoid of anyone else, transported Jack back twenty years to another beggar in Somalia. It was October 3, 1993 – day one of the Battle of Mogadishu.
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The ear bud in Jack’s ear came alive, “Check out the bum, Jack.”
“Roger.” Jack answered. The microphone attached to his collar carried his reply back to the team leader. He altered his course down the rubble strewn street toward the old man lying slumped against the wall of a burned out building. Behind him, his Delta Force team was arrayed in a staggered formation that provided maximum dispersion while maintaining visual and covering fire continuity with each other.
Jack approached the man cautiously, his eyes scanning the surrounding area, alert for an ambush. The bum looked harmless – an old man down on his luck – but, the Somali militia, loyal to the warlord Mohammad Aidid often used terrorist tactics, and placing a bomb on an innocent civilian was a tried and true method used by insurgent forces since Vietnam.
The man saw Jack approaching and struggled to get up. Jack stopped a couple of feet away. The bum reached up, silently asking for help. His mouth formed a broken toothed smile that extended to his watering eyes. Jack took a step backward but, after noticing that the man had but one leg, he reversed course and extended an arm for the old man to latch onto and pull himself up.
“American?” The old man asked, his voice a barely discernible and hoarse whisper
Jack nodded and turned his head away from the stink of his breath. He saw the wooden crutch on the ground and picked it up. The old man’s smile widened as he took the crutch and tucked it into his armpit.
Jack flinched as the man placed a hand on his shoulder. He caught Jack’s eyes and whispered, “Hawiye.”
Recognizing the name of the clan that was supporting Aidid, Jack asked, “Hawiye …here?”
“Hawiye,” the bum repeated and waved his free arm around. He looked over Jack’s shoulder and his eyes widened in fear. Before Jack could react, the old man’s grip on his shoulder tightened and he threw himself to the side causing Jack to spin a full hundred and eighty degrees around.
The crack of a rifle split the air and the bum jerked as the bullet, intended for Jack, struck him in the back. Jack heard his team immediately engage, laying a barrage of weapons fire on the building across from where he stood with the dying bum in his arms. He clutched the man that had just saved his life and slowly kneeled to lay him on the ground. He was only remotely aware of the sniper falling out of the third floor window and his team moving forward in search of other enemy snipers. The old man held his attention.
Jack knew that the wound was fatal simply from the bright red, frothy blood that was bubbling out of his mouth. He searched the old man’s face, wishing there was something he could say or do, some way to thank him. The light faded from the old man’s eyes, but the smile remained on the old man’s bloody lips. His lips moved and Jack heard his last words, “American...gud.”
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