December 21st, 1980
Silence took over the battlefield.
After hours of meticulous planning, careful concentration, and the finesse and endurance of a child’s patience, the set-up was finished. As one grows older, things like setting up hundreds of soldiers becomes tedious and meaningless. Youth gives it meaning.
The Green men were all aimed at their respective Tan men. The field of war had been set. Beads of sweat began to form under the beating of the burning heat of summer’s fluorescent sun. Small plastic rifles quivered in the hands of the young men of war. Some Tan soldiers looked displaced, as if they had no idea where they were… what their purpose was. Then all at once, it erupted.
War cries and bullets ripped at the little plastic men, damaging their brains both metaphorically and literally. Green men shot down Tan men in a rain of tiny itsy-bitsy plastic bullets. Tan men destroyed Green men with the explosive tools glued to their hands. The fear had left each and every tiny soldier’s eyes. It’s like they say, “War never changes.”
In a small corner on one end of their rectangular mahogany battlefield, a makeshift tent was pitched. The tent’s material was sturdy for its purpose and it held well against the rubble building outside. The innards of the shelter read “Nestle Drumstick Original Vanilla Flavor”. The men took this as a sign of hope and a reminder of home.
Inside the tent, the chaos almost matched the battle outside. At one end of a small white plastic table was a Green soldier, barking orders. He distributed his orders as best he could with a rifle pointed in his hands. One that he simply couldn’t rid himself of. He was a useless mean old man who did nothing but yell at his hardworking troops. “Meanie face.” His soldiers hobbled around the room in a panic, making radio calls, tending to wounded soldiers, and making sure their reserves of plastic were still in order.
“Carver! What’s our status on that artillery strike?!”
“It’s coming sir…”
“You better hope so, kid!”
Back on the battlefield, the Tan men were getting the upper hand. Nothing seemed to go wrong for those Tan bastards. Their tiny rifles were shot with precision, their grenades tossed by pitcher’s arms, and their morale rose higher than ever. It was madness. Green soldiers found it hard to push on, but they had to. It was all they had left. “It’s what Dad would want.” There was only one thing that could break them from their war fever and it came in the form of a low hum and a big crimson blot in the sky. Both Tan men and Green men alike stopped, turning to their demise. One Tan man recognized what it was and voiced its significance quite well. “Well, we’re fucked.”
Mere seconds after this utterance, dozens and dozens of pebbles fell from the sky. The artillery strike. Each pebble hit the table with precision and thunderous strikes. Each blast destroyed groups of Tan soldiers, dozens at a time. The tables had effectively turned. But the artillery men seemed to have grown a bit overzealous. Soon after it started, the artillery pebbles began striking all soldiers, regardless of their color. Green and Tan men alike found themselves victim to the monstrous blot and its seemingly unending supply of ammo. The artillery strike lasted for a good five minutes.
When the dust settled, there was one man left on the battlefield. Breathing heavy amongst a pile of still plastic figures, the bodies of both friends and foes was, not a bazooka wielding Green soldier or a mortar operating Tan soldier, but the Gray radio man.
“Only one way to deal with something that never changes… you dest-.”
Before finishing, Father entered the room in his olive drab uniform. With his piercing bombardier eyes, broad shoulders, buzz-cut hair, and abundance of medals, it was easy to get intimidated. And as if the man could see into the child’s mind simply by looking at his scrunched-up face, his booming voice promptly filled the room.
“Lance! What did I tell you about playing with these toys? And look at all the crap you’ve got on the table! Rocks, ice cream wrappers. Clean that shit up!”
“But… dad, aren’t you happy? I’m playing war!”
“That isn’t war, goddamnit. That’s child’s play! And look at you! You don’t even have any proper soldiers on that battlefield anyways! USELESS PUSSY!”
Through burning tears, the next few hours consisted of haphazard cleaning that only the finesse and endurance of a child could handle.
After he was finished, he curled up under his bed and pulled out a small plain white box. Inside, nestled safely against red vinyl lining was a small CB radio with his name etched into the side. He pressed down hard against the button on its side and the steady crackling emitting from it told him it was on. “Private Johnson to base. I still miss Mommy. Daddy still hates me. Nothing to report.”
December 21st, 2003
The boy, now a man, stood on the frontline with his “brothers”. Years of drills, meaningless cleaning, and endless practice led to this day. The real-life battlefield. The man saw it no differently than from his days of playing with his toy soldiers. One man organized each soldier’s position with careful planning, another told them when to shoot and when to stop. It was all relatively normal. The man also recognized the realities of war and how little would be comparable to his playtime of the past.
But the man made sure to reclaim one piece of his childhood when he enlisted. Rather than carrying a heavy rifle or bazooka, the man made sure his corporal knew. “Sir. I’m not some He-Man warrior, I’m a radio man.”
“Well that’s great, Private. But that will not do us any good unless you can kill terrorists. Can you kill terrorists?”
The gruff scratchiness of his corporal’s voice brought back memories of a man he used to know. Brushing them off, he nodded slowly. “I may not look it, but I’m damn fine at killing terrorists.”
March 9th, 1999
Private Johnson had been on base his entire life. His father was a general and maintained the major operations of nearly the entire base. Private Johnson was not exactly enlisted, but everyone knew him. At 4 A.M., Johnson awoke with a yawn and the mustiness of morning breath rose to his nostrils. His bed was adequate for its purpose and was one of the various gifts he gathered from his “elevated status” as the general’s son. The room he called home was little more than that. His entire shack of a house was made up of one fully furnished room with a sink in the corner. No shower or bathroom, he had the on base facilities to appease him there, he did not mind. Shaking himself awake, he wasted no time in lacing his cracked Army-ordered boots, tossing on a flimsy jacket, and exiting the shack.
Johnson hurried his way down the dew-covered lawn to a much larger building a few hundred feet from his shack. Built of solid wood and put together with as much love and care as a convict cellblock, this building is where the magic happened. Upon entering, the warm chocolaty smell of hot cocoa filled his senses and he almost hovered towards its source. A young woman with stringy sun-sparkled hair and stunning evergreen eyes sat on his desk, a playful smile on her face. “G’mornin’, John-John.”
“Hello Elise. Are we all set up for the morning broadcast?”
A few firm nods and another sip of the cocoa confirmed it for him.
“Good. If you could do me a favor and…”
“Get you some cocoa?” she responded with an airy giggle.
“Yes, Miss Elise. If you’d be so kind.”
Another giggle marked her response as she hopped off the desk and left, wiggling her hips in just the way that drove Johnson crazy. Clearing his mind, he settled himself at his desk and cleared his throat. Dozens of papers were scattered over the desk, some propped up to gain his attention, others unimportantly hanging off the edges. These papers served to either help with the daily broadcast or remind Private Johnson about what needed to be done that day. The walls around him held pictures of his family. A photo of his four year old self being held by his mother’s delicate hands hung on a wall on its own. The wall across from it held photos of his father. The army general with the piercing bombardier eyes and broad shoulders watched over him, even now when he was grown. Even in his comfort zone.
Johnson spent that morning the same way he spent every morning. Much like Robin Williams in “Good Morning, Vietnam”, it was Johnson’s job to lift the soldier’s spirits as they went through their day to day tasks. Today was just as ordinary as any other day. Music and talking. The radio was his life. Talking into the microphone was when he felt most at home. It also helped him feel accepted amongst the people who once taunted and teased him on a daily basis. They enjoyed his broadcasts and called him the “Radio Man”. He had run the radio station on base for a few years now and was starting to get a handle on his work.
“… so that is the scoop on the missing rations from the cafeteria. Keep an eye out for Larry or he may snatch up your daily slop. Next up, we’ve got a classic from the 80’s, Queen’s ‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love’.”
Cutting his microphone, he looked up at Elise who had entered the room a few minutes ago, worry wrinkling her face. “I feel good today. The broadcast is really going off well. I’m just… in that zone, you know? It’s great. So what do you have for me, Elle?”
It was only when he stopped to look her in the eye that he noticed the buildup of tears and the smeared makeup sliding off of her face. “John… I don’t know what to say… y-your dad…”
Elise did not need to finish her sentence for him to realize where it was going. His dad had been on the battlefield and was in the middle of a hotbed of terrorist activity. Dozens of men had already been lost. Private Johnson’s eyes softened as the information made its way through his brain. His mind didn’t seem to process it at first and he simply shook his head. “No. No. Can’t be true.”
Private Johnson continued to shake his head as he slipped his headphones off and stared into the mesh covering of his suddenly interesting microphone. Deep in between the darkness of his microphone, he swore he saw the green plastic head of a toy soldier. Elise took a step forward, much more confident in her demeanor. “It’s the truth, John. H-he’s gone.”
The silent tears rolled down his cheeks as he grasped the armrests of his chair as tight as he could, his knuckles pearl white. “No. There is no way. Just shut up.”
“I SAID SHUT UP.”
Elise jumped at the sudden outburst and stood silent for a minute. She wanted to yell out at him, she wanted to slap him, but she understood him and she left the room. Once she did, the room seemed to close in around Private Johnson. He sat there in silence, tears continuing to make their way down his face, his grip tightening as much as they could around the armrests of his chair.
With the swiftness of a man on fire, Johnson pushed himself out of his chair and towards his father’s photo. Those blank, emotionless eyes looked straight into Johnson’s mind as they did when he was a kid. Those eyes that called him “pussy” and hated him for being a child. Those eyes that berated him every chance they got. Those goddamned eyes. “How could you… HOW COULD YOU.”
Grabbing hold of the photo, he took a minute to look at his father one last time. “You never cared…”
His grip tightened around the edges of the photo and using all of his strength, he tossed the photo frame with the intent of demolishing it into tiny pieces. “FUCK YOU.”
Immediately after his outburst, Johnson sunk to the ground. “Fuck you…”
The silent tears continued as he hung his head. The odd cheeriness of Queen continued in the background as Johnson crawled over to his desk. Opening a drawer, Freddie Mercury hit the chorus and Johnson pulled out the plain white box. Uncovering the CB radio resting inside, he wiped at the tears on his cheeks and grabbed hold of it. “Goodbye, father.”
That night, Johnson submitted his papers for his deployment to the frontlines. He never quite explained where the sudden desire came from, but he did cite one thing behind his reasoning. “Only one way to deal with something that never changes… you destroy it.”