HONOR IN THE DARKNESS
By John Thomas Tuft
This is fiction but set in the actual historical events.
Artie used to help his mother clean houses. He started out by taking the dust rag she handed to him and running it over the tops of tables, the rungs of the chairs in the dining room, and even the windowsills. When he got older, she would make him a bucket of vinegar water and hand him some old newspapers and send him off to do the windows. (If you know, you know.) When he reached his growth spurt at 15, he became tall enough to clean the top of the refrigerator, ceiling fans, the molding at the top of the door frames, and all the nooks and crannies of the top shelves of all closets and cupboards. Mama believed in a job well done, no matter how monotonous or repetitive. Whenever Artie complained or tried to sleep in to avoid the drudgery of thorough cleaning, she exclaimed, “Don’t be clutching your mood. Moods come and go so don’t pitch your tent in one or another.” That was just Mama’s way of talking sense. When Artie went through his ‘afraid of the dark’ period, Mama reassured him that “there is honor in the darkness. Every day has some darkness.” Make of that what you will.
When he turned 18, Artie joined the Marines. He soon gained a reputation among the Gunnies as the best FNG at policing; everything from the BEQ racks and the head, down to the bumf rods, to the parade grounds and PT areas. His Battle Rattle was always tip top, the weapons cleaned, oiled and ready to rock and roll. By the time he finished basic he had acquired the Diddy Bop walk of cocky confidence of a full-fledged Gyrene, one proud member of Uncle Sam’s Misguided Children. Yet he never forgot where he came from, son of a cleaning woman who taught him about taking pride in whatever the task set before him, moods come and go but integrity lasts forever, and that there is honor in the darkness.
In December of 1992 the President ordered the Marines to go to Somalia and oversee security for getting food aid to those in desperate need. Artie and his fellow Marines deployed to a country tortured by drought and famine, civil war, and now competing warlords who tried to steal the international food aid meant for their fellow citizens of the former half British, half Italian colonial holding. In an odd twist, one of those Marines was actually the son of Mohamed Farrah Aidid, one of those warlords fighting for control of the country by using famine as a weapon. While Mama was back home getting ready for the holidays, always an especially busy cleaning season, Artie was a stranger in a strange land doing Zero Dark Thirty platoon foot patrols. Meaning they were going out in the darkest part of the night into the streets of Mogadishu as a show of force. The Somalian militia always had snipers on the rooftops along the route of the Marines, ready to try to pick off the Americans.
As the days ticked toward Christmas, the efforts of the Marines to ensure the equitable distribution of food aid to the people seemed ever more fruitless and pointless. Shipments of food were still being hijacked by the forces of the warlords and the entire place seemed to be addicted to chaos. Neither Artie nor the rest of the world could know that within a year the Marines would be rotated out and replaced by Army forces. Which would lead to the now infamous tragic events around trying to capture Aidid immortalized in “Black Hawk Down” and the deaths of 18 Americans and over 1000 Somalis. Which would lead to the infamous hesitancy of President Clinton to send troops to intervene in the deplorable genocide in Rwanda in 1994. No, all Artie knew as he stepped out in his Battle Rattle for one more patrol into the inky darkness on one more show of force among a hostile population was that he wanted to be home. In fact, anywhere but here. But home would do just fine.
Artie took the last position in the line of Marines, entrusted with watching their six as they filed along, wary of any movement in the shadows in every alleyway and up on the roofs. As the patrol cautiously rounded a corner, gunshots rang out from above. The Marine with the 240B SAW opened up and stitched an analemma pattern into the concrete at the roofline. Artie heard a noise, swiveled, and saw a young girl running up the street toward him, chasing a small dog. She froze in terror at the harsh racket of gunfire exploding all around. Artie ran to her, scooped her up, and crashed through the nearest doorway. Just as he cleared the door he felt a sharp pain in his left thigh. “I’m hit!” he cried as they tumbled to the ground, but his squad could not hear him in all the confusion. In the pitch darkness of the room, the Marine and the little girl could feel the close presence of each other. Artie pulled the Fulton from his combat vest and aimed its light at the girl’s face. Wide, frightened eyes peered back.
Artie shone the light on his leg. “Not bad,” he muttered and dug in the vest for the pressure bandage. He needed two hands to tie it down tight. He handed the flashlight to the girl and indicated where to aim it. She hesitated, then took it and watched as Artie stopped his own bleeding. Then he dug out one of the granola bars Mama had sent for Christmas and handed it, along with his water, to the child. No bright star appeared overhead. No shepherds showed up to kneel. No angels sang their glorious descant. Certainly, no wisemen from the East offered gifts. No…
But there was honor in the darkness that day.
Words are magic and writers are wizards.