Camouflage

Camouflage
At the picnic after the parade, while vets still in pieces of once-better-fitting uniforms hugged and slapped backs, laughing or whispering recollections, my cousin Brian sat at a table away from everyone drinking two sixes of Miller he’d lined up in columns of two, holding each one up in front of him before he chugged it down.

When I asked him if he was okay, he just shrugged and said, “Billy, this is what I do for the real heroes every Memorial Day…and for a few days before and after.”

“Man, you’ve gotta be kidding, what with all that heavy-metal certification of your courage — pulling your buds from a burning Humvee and fighting off bad guys while you’re burned and wounded from the IED yourself — right there on the front of your jacket,” I said. I pointed to a pile of camo wrapped around a Distinguished Service Cross, a Silver Star and three Purple Hearts.

Brian said in his scorched-throat rasp, “Bein’ a hero sometimes ain’t more than a roll of the fuckin’ dice, Billy, a guy doin’ what he has to do when shit happens, just bein’ scared enough to run in the wrong or right direction — it don’t really matter at that moment — and bein’ lucky enough to make it out with a beating heart and most of his original parts.”

He popped the top on another Miller, lifted it above his head while murmuring something that sounded like “Ramirez,” took three long pulls on it. Then he said, “Sometimes what folks who were never in combat call a hero turns out to be not much more than a wind-blown empty potato chip bag chasin’ a squirrel up a tree.”

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8 thoughts on “Camouflage

  1. Great story – I love the verbs and adverbs you use. Some of them I had never heard used and suspect they are words used by males when they are together. I would love to be able to go inside a male brain to experience your thinking patterns for a day or two – and this story served as a hint of what I would experience. Thanks.

  2. A boss prose poem, slice/of/life, peek at our Veteran’s winner; & it is rife with metaphors like /a hero turns out to be not much more than a wind-blown empty potato chip bag chasin’ a squirrel up a tree/. On Flag Day, my birthday, I was recruited to read the Hx of the Star Spangled Banner in our City Park, part of a Smithsonian salute. Aug 2, myself & another poet will be performing our poetry as a benefit raiser for The Old Soldier’s Home in Orting, WA.

  3. Such a perfect write, Joe. Anything having to do with vets gets to me and this says so much. You’ve given Brian such a well-defined character and strong voice that I have to think this is more than fiction. Wonderful write.

    • It’s just the folks in my imagination, Victoria. I just have what you might call a cinematic imagination when I write. Always have. Your comment is the best thing this old hack could have hoped for. Bless you! 🙂

  4. As a woman who has known a lot of veterans, this of course caught my attention. His individual need to drink to them, to honor them in a tribute that is personalized, seems so touching; though his need to discuss them, however briefly, is something I wish the real members would do more frequently.

  5. So realistic and appropriate! My brother Joe was in the Army in Vietnam. He survived, but he regularly spoke of buddies who didn’t come back and one young man in particular who died in Joe’s arms. He had survivor’s guilt to this extreme also. Your language and usage portrays exactly the tone we heard in his voice.

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