Forgotten Heroes is a story based off the music and lyrics performed by the metal band Severed Fifth in their album Nightmares By Design. Severed Fifth’s philosophy is to change the music world by providing their music under a Creative Commons license. Please take the time to see the site and download some great music at: http://www.severedfifth.com Join the forum and help change the music world!
The old man walked slow. His brown overcoat was dusty, his dull black shoes caked with the same orange-red dust. As he walked he kept his eyes to the road until a sign post loomed over him. His hand twitched in the overcoat pocket. Mechanically he removed the hand and touched his face consideringly. He seemed hesitant. From under his beaten hat his gaze was tense. He almost turned away but stopped, dropped his hand, and returning it to its place in the overcoat pocket, continued on his way. He reached his goal late in the mid-afternoon. Three white crosses stood on a hill overlooking a town no bigger than a postage stamp. Walter S. Reed stood gazing down at the crosses. From a plum tree, purple and white flowers drifted down to dust the graves of the forgotten heroes.
It was 1942 when I received a letter in the mail from the U.S. Army. I had just turned nineteen. My brothers and I sat around the fireplace, my mother clutching her lace shawl so tightly I could see the white of her knuckles. The letter was yellow and on the top written in bold block letters was written:
Order to Report
I read no further. I could hear my mother crying softly. My older brother Tom put his arm around our mother’s shoulder. He was twenty and married. My younger brother was sixteen. As I stepped onto a bus the next day I had no idea all my friends too had received letters. We were all going to war.
It’s been six weeks since we got here into North Africa. It is so hot that no self-respecting cow from back home would dare survive more than ten days. We marched to the front, but since no one had told us what to do we had to wing it. The first mortar destroyed our units tank as if it was a bundle of matchsticks. After two hours of fighting we were forced on a fifty mile retreat. We sure don’t know much. I hope we learn fast. -Yours, the colonel.”
The colonel’s reports made me feel glad I was an airman. A tour of duty for an airman was twenty-five missions. My job was to try to keep our B-17 safe with a fifty caliber machine gun. All I had to do was survive and keep the big bird in the air with our ten man crew. In the long flight to the target I would sit back and read the letters that came from my friends.
It’s been two months now that we’ve been stuck in these holes here in Italy. We were supposed to strike fast, but in the ten days we spent building up the defenses, the enemy dug themselves in like a prairie dog town. They’ve been hitting us so hard we can’t go back and we can’t go forward. All we can do is sit in these holes like animals. They never stop, not for a minute. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to hear anything but bullet and mortar fire again. – Yours, Lloyd”
We began our bombing run with the afternoon sun behind us, hoping that the Germans wouldn’t see us coming. It was a poor hope of course. Way up in the air we had fighter planes dodging in between the bombers, trying to take us out. You would think, “Oh he cant touch us!” and then you’d see the plane next to you fall away out of the sky like a toy in slow motion. Down close to the ground the anti-aircraft guns would be blazing away. We’d be really vulnerable then, having to rely on our own fighter planes because the fifty calibers just couldn’t reach them. BOOM would go an explosion and you would have to keep your mind on what you were doing and not wonder if it was your own plane that got hit. Make sure the bombs were ready, that they would slide out of the hangar bay in order, and then when the run was over, pray that those enemy planes had better things to do than to chase us.
I went down to the recruiting station today. They said that I have all the right know-how to join the military in its fight against those damn japs. I asked them, then why does my paper say I’m rejected? They said I have everything but the right color. I’m going to move on to Mobile and see if I can work in the shipyards. Stay safe, Jim”
It happened today. The firefight was vicious. I heard an explosion from the cockpit area, the pilot jerked. I felt something ping off my steel helmet and when I looked down, there was a red hot piece of shrapnel lying on the floor. The plane shuddered and I heard the co-pilot yell “BAIL! BAIL!” I plugged into a portable oxygen can and then realized my escape route was blocked by the bodies of three crewmen. I had to turn for the bomb bay doors instead. I climbed down onto the turret as the plane started its noseward tumble toward the ground and let go into the slipstream.
I hope this letter reaches you. I am trying to get out of Austria and into Switzerland. There have been nice people along the way. If all the people were like them, we would not need wars anymore. They have shared food and scarves and let me sleep in their homes even though I am the enemy. I think they know I am only trying to get home and that my fight is not with them. Sincerely your loving son Walter”
Walter removed his hat as he looked down at the crosses. His lined face and wisps of white hair gazed down in regret. No one would really know what each of them had endured.
The colonel, their bold leader in childhood became just as much of a leader in North Africa, teaching what he learned as he learned it, finally succumbing to the shrapnel of an exploding tank trying to protect one of his men who had a broken leg. The man with the broken leg made it home.
Lloyd made it out of the hole in the ground after being pinned down for over three months. For two whole days he got the chance to lay waste to the enemy until he was shot through the heart and died instantly.
It was Jim that had fared the worst. After he had been told that he wasn’t allowed to defend his country, he went down to Mobile and worked in the shipyards for a year. The white folks began to resent him for working so hard and knowing so much and one day as he was welding, he was harassed, beaten, and then thrown off the ship to his death a hundred feet below, all for being a “negro” trying to help his country.
“They made us fight the world. They made us fight the Germans, the Italians, the Japanese, and who ever else they could get at. We all got so turned around, we even fought between ourselves. Then they forgot us and the world kept turning. The machines that we used are all silent now, and the world seems almost normal, but I can still hear you, all of you. I’ll never forget and I’ll see you soon.”
Walters voice faded into the quiet of early evening. He laid a small flower on each grave. The crosses that he left behind were marked only “Forgotten Hero”.