There’s a saying we use for a time like this: “War turns the heart to stone.”
Let’s say you are just a young eighteen-year-old kid off the streets who claims he joined the war to get away from his old man. Then you experience combat and just freeze; incapable of doing anything -- move, aim, shoot and even speak. All you can manage to do is cover your ears to prevent the horrifying screams of your comrades getting plowed by Fritz’s MG-42 machine gun. When that happens, you’re considered a coward - a bad soldier.
Or, you can be a good soldier. You can aim down sight, despite the zipping sound of bullets flying through the air, and fire upon the enemy, take their life, and not feel a thing. My best friend, whose name happened to be Jerry, told me a good soldier doesn’t see the enemy as another human being. He sees himself as a good soldier. I could sit here and tell you…I was a good soldier. But I was somewhere in between.
I knew what I had signed up for. I knew that I was gonna take down Germans. If they are willing to kill me, I must be prepared to kill them. I knew it was my duty to fight, and not back down. I knew my job was to kill the enemy; but I also knew my job was to see the enemy as human. I’ve killed before. Plenty of times. Too much, as a matter of fact, and I remember the faces of every single enemy soldier. When the combat settles, I always remember where I dropped them. The least I could do is get an idea of who each of them were.
I’ve killed many Nazis, and unfortunately, a lot of them were just kids not even old enough to buy themselves a beer. At the moment you have to pull the trigger, you will freeze, I don’t care what kind of soldier you are. Instead of being at home, at school with friends, you are forced to fight the horrors of war - and die. Just think about that - I have to live with that. For the rest of my life, I have to cope with the fact that I have killed boys - kids!
To a good soldier, “this is war,” is an excuse to get away with killing. To me, it’s just a freaking phrase. Before they send you off to your death, you’ll be telling yourself “this is war,” and you will have to kill. When you finally take someone’s life, it feels as if the devil took a shot at you, and he’ll take another shot after every kill.
Things change once you serve for Uncle Sam. You can be known as the local paperboy; friendly to everyone. Then you come home, and you’re a new person - someone who has probably seen things that they regret seeing in the first place. You can go from this kind-hearted person to a stone-cold war hero. Everyone will see you differently when you return, everyone will know your new character. But in the end, what I - we - can’t change, is that it is just the heart of a soldier.
Sam Schmidt is 18 years old; he lives in Bozeman, Montana. Sam is pursuing a career in piloting and he spends summers playing American Legion baseball.
image: SatikevaElenaS @ Pixabay