Little Valhalla by Matthew S. Johnston

Here we sit.  Camp chairs, some camo netting, a few pallets.  The mail has come in so the boys have their cigars.  Some like myself prefer to chain smoke Camels or Newports.  No luck smuggling any liquor or beer this week so we content ourselves with the all the Kuwaiti Mountain Dew and Coke we could snag from the chow hall.  There is gravel and sand too, an endless  amount. Paradise.

We sit and talk story or bullshit about home.  The guys with kids talk about them, the guys with wives talk about them.  The guys with pending divorces talk about their wives too.  We all nod our heads somberly.  Soon we are saved by a joke and the laughter returns the near permanent smiles to our faces.  The older boys talk about what they’ve done, who they’ve fucked, before the war.  The younger boys talk about what they will do and who they will fuck.  We believe about half but smile and nod and say “Fuck yeah man” We raised our cans in a toast to the old and the new.  “To good times”.  Behind the smiles, some of us know these are the good times.

Around us all the sound of the machinery of war.  Trucks and tanks drive by endlessly.  Here and there a plane takes off.   The endless droning of rotors from helicopters prepped to fly has become almost unnoticeable.  It is the sweetest background music to best of days.

Today no one got hit.  We went out and no one caught shrapnel, none of ours were shot, if the road decided to blow up, the gods decided it would miss.  We’ve come back with our job done and everyone walking.  This is reflected in our eyes and smiles, nothing can pierce the joy for long.

Later we will think of other days and give a toast or moment of silence to those too wounded, sick or dead to be here and the smiles will leave us.  Those who were not here will stay with us.

The smiles will return, but not as strong.  Eventually the boys break up in bits and pieces.  Some to email or call family if the internet is up.  Some to clean their weapons and prepare their kit.  Most simply to bed.   Another long day is coming and we must come back reality to meet it.

When this is done, when we are older men, we will repeat this scene in bars and halls across the country and the world.  We will toast the dead and the grievously wounded.  We will miss our brothers living and dead.  Mostly we will get back to the world and carry on with our lives, some better than others, some times better than others.  For all of us there will be the times that we miss the desert and the crappy chairs, the dust storms and the Kuwaiti coke.  A toast boys, here’s to you.



Editor’s note, This story is published under my name, but it is not mine. It belongs to a combat vet who does not want his real name used. Photo Credit  J.G.

Thomas Ulch II

Thomas William Ulch II is an instructor at Eastern Michigan University, a veteran of the U.S. Army and a photographer with a passion for immersive travel. He has traveled to over 35 countries in the last 7 years. He is the founder of the Hive and the Warehouse and is the editor in chief of Body Electric. He also, on occasion, speaks of himself in the third person.

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