61. Paranormal


I have seen everything in this meaningless life, including the death of good young people and the long life of wicked people.

Ecclesiastes 7:15 (NLT)

Our rosy cheeks turned ashen as the radio continued to project the shrill voice. When the .50 caliber cut off, the shaken Marine’s plight transitioned from a cease fire to a casualty evacuation.

This is Raven 2, we have one urgent traumatic head wound.”

Snipers. The tanks shot at our snipers. 

O positive, Sierra,” the transmission continued.

“Shit, could it be Smith?” someone said.

“It probably is,” another groaned. “Who else could it be?”

Not Smith, it can’t be. Please not Smith.

Helicopter rotors fluttered in the distance.

Please come quick. Please don’t die. But it was a freaking .50 cal, who could survive? God help him, please.

The distant hum of the propellers remained constant for a minute, and then quickly faded. Still sitting in silence, I surveyed Marines around me and the hill from which we came. Everything looked different now. Everything was ugly… polluted. The day’s success turned sour. Gloom wiped away our smiles. Tragedy blotted out the sun.

When we returned to the hill, I sat down to eat alone amongst the others and their indistinguishable murmurs. Soon thereafter, the snipers arrived. Smith didn’t get hit, it was Schmidt.1,2,3Though I hoped against all odds that he might make it, I knew he wouldn’t. I knew he didn’t.

I saw Smith, his vacant demeanor and icy complexion matching that of the other snipers. He sat down the hill not far from me, staring at the setting sun. I looked at him from behind, wondering what happened, what he saw, what terror he must have felt, wishing I could do something for him that might be of any use, but there was nothing.

I finally tasted combat, took my much desired drink from the warrior’s well. Now I wanted to spit it out. It wasn’t worth it. No amount of thrill or glory was worth the shame of killing one of our own. But the day could have been a lot worse, should have been a lot worse. I struggled to grasp the short lived excitement of what I considered to be miraculous protection.4 The joy of averted crisis, what ifs and could haves is hard to appreciate when faced with actualized grief, disaster etched in stone. Most of second squad should be dead or wounded, but now I wanted more.

I turned toward the sun. It now touched the horizon. God kept us safe, why not them? I should have prayed for the snipers. They left before I prayed over everyone. Maybe Schmidt would be alive if I remembered.

What if I was there? I could have been. Maybe this is why I God didn’t want me in scout snipers.5

What about the gunner on the .50 cal? What about him, or his vehicle commander? What are they going through right now? If I pulled the trigger, the moral trauma alone would crush me. The overwhelming guilt combined with the punitive repercussions would most certainly turn me into a statistic. God, please help them.

The rim of the sun slipped away. I wanted to rip it back into the sky, but time is indifferent to our pleas to be rolled back. It pulls us ever forward in eternal apathy, unaffected by our joys and sorrows. It drowns us in a sea of futility, destines us to be forgotten, laughs at our pursuits of greatness and forces the honest thinker into submission, either to a higher power, hedonism or hopelessness. Likewise, the enemy gives no intermissions, no timeouts for mourning. So our mission continued. Fortunately the next two days and nights were uneventful and unmemorable. No news certainly is good news.

On October 10th we returned to Panda Ridge. Not long after our return, Jameson,6 one of the guys who knew and worked with Schmidt, approached me.

“Hey Decoup,” he said. “Would you mind gathering the guys at some point for a moment of silence for Schmidt and his family?”

“Of course, I would be honored. Let me think of a good time and I’ll get back with you.”

After hearing nothing from me for a week, on the night of October 17th, he approached me when he saw me sitting on the air conditioning unit for our hooch.

“Hey Decoup.”

“Sup James.”

“You forgot about praying for Schmidt.”

“Oh crap, you’re right. I’m sorry I keep forgetting. What about tomorrow after chow?”

“Can we just pray right now?”

“Yeah, lets do it. Do you want to start us off?”

“No man, I can’t.” He turned his gaze to the dirt.

“Why not?”

“I’m not worthy. You’re close to God, you do it.”

I exhaled softly, looking at his bowed head. “I’m no more worthy than you are.”

He chuckled. After a short pause I put my hand on his back and bowed my head.

“Heavenly Father, we come before you because we need what only you can give. We need your presence, your peace and your Spirit. Please be with us as we continue to seek to do your will here. Please keep us safe. Please keep us close. I want to lift up the Schmidt family. I can’t imagine what they are going through right now. Please be with them in their mourning. Send the Holy Spirit to comfort them in their grief. Make your presence known to them. Remind them of the truth of who you are, that they may turn to you in faith and that they will never lose hope that they will see their son again. Thank you for promising to hear us and for sending your son to die for us so that we can be raised with him and be reunited with those whom we love. We pray this in Jesus’ name, amen.” 7 Not long after we prayed, things got weird, dare I say paranormal.

  1. I wrote about my brief interaction with him in my post 59. Into the Darkness.
  2. Photo below taken from Texas Christian University’s website: The LCpl Benjamin Whetstone Schmidt Symposium on War, Conflict and Society. Click here to view.
  3. LCpl Schmidt assigned 50% of his $400,000 life insurance policy to the TCU history department. There is a TCU page dedicated to honoring him, telling some of his story and offers a link to donate to a fund named after him, here.
  4. See post 60. Fire. if you don’t know what I’m referring to.
  5. Once again, see post 59. Into the Darkness for more details.
  6. Name changed for anonymity unless/until he gives me permission to use his real name, for reasons that will be apparent during my next post.
  7. For an article outlining some of the details of the incident and the investigation, click here

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