Flynn was a tall, strapping redhead, always grinning to himself, as if he'd seen the Sergeant-Major's fly gaping open as he called the parade to attention when the brass marched on. His size and strength helped a few of us in our early days, when he'd intervene in the inevitable hazing all roofies (novices, 'newbies') had to endure, to keep it to a tolerable level.
I remember the faraway look that would come over Flynn's face when he'd receive a precious letter from his girlfriend, a thousand miles away in what we called 'the States' (South Africa). She tried to write something each day, and post the cumulative output every week, along with a cassette tape of music she'd heard and liked, and a few photographs, and perhaps a couple of packets of hard candy. (Soft candy would melt all over the other things in the envelope in the furnace-like heat of a Namibian summer. Flynn found that out the hard way when her first letter arrived. How he cursed - and how we laughed!)
. . .
I remember Flynn's face, agony in his one remaining eye, jaw set in a rictus of unimaginable pain, coughing blood through his set teeth, half his left cheek torn away, left eye dangling from its socket, shirt turning bright red with the blood gushing from his punctured and shredded chest, a gurgling, gasping, groaning, never-ending moan torn from his throat as he gargled his life away in the sand . . . and all I could do was inject a syrette of morphine, and hold his hand, and watch - feel - his life slip away between my fingers while the ambush roared and raged all around us.
I had to let go of his hand, and grab my rifle, and return fire . . . and as I did so, I remember hearing the last half-gasping, half-choking rattle in his throat . . . and by the time I could look around again, it was too late. Just a couple of flecks of African dust, lifted by the last breath through his lips, drifting lazily before his mouth, then slowly sinking down to the ground once more, into the muddy blood that spread slowly from beneath him . . . and his one good eye, staring blankly into the dust, and the blood, and the darkness that had taken him from me.
. . .
That night I took a writing pad and pen, and went outside, and walked over to the mortuary tent. I knew Flynn's corpse was in a body bag inside, waiting for the morning convoy to start its long journey back home. I sat down outside, and leaned back against the tent, and tried to write to his girlfriend, to tell her of his death. The words wouldn't come. Now and again a tear would fall on the paper, crumpling it, smearing my scribbles, and I'd curse softly, tear off the page, crumple it up and throw it away. I wasted half the pad that night.
It must have been one or two o'clock in the morning when I finally gave up. I muttered to myself, something about, "How the hell can I make her understand? She never will. All she'll remember is that this [several expletives deleted] war took her man away, and he'll never come home to her now."
And somehow, on the night air, in the drifting sands that had covered so many bodies and so much tragedy down the aeons, I thought I heard Flynn's voice, just one last time. It was very soft, very distant . . . but very real. "No, she won't get it. She can't . . . but we get it. We understand. We remember."
And I looked up, suddenly alert, and listened . . . but there was only the soft sigh of the wind in the branches of the thorn bushes. And I whispered, "Flynn, you got that right. We remember. I'll remember."
As I turned to go back to my tent, I murmured, "Sleep well, buddy."
The silence was like a soft, gentle kiss of farewell on my wet cheek.
. . .
And so to Flynn, and Marvin, and Koos, and Thabo, and David, and those others whom I can't name here because even to this day there are those who might try to take revenge against their surviving families . . . I remember you, friends and comrades.
Sleep well, buddies. I'll be along in due course. Save a beer for me.