THE SANDS OF NORMANDY slide down inside the legs of my camouflage trousers as rubber erasers zing past. Crawling along golden sands; sunbathers glare at me and return to their umbrellaed mai tais. Now chalkboard erasers are incoming fired from booming cannon miles inland. As the black felt erasers strike the sun-drenched beach, puffs of white dust rise up.
A baseball cracks off of George’s bat and he ambles to first base. The ball bounces off a tree in the infield and it’s foul. Disappointed he returns to the dugout nervously watching for snipers. We take our platoon into the forests of Verdun. But we are in the Pacific, an isolated atoll watching for enemy aircraft. We take some casualties and call on our walkie talkies with giant whip antennas for air support. But it doesn’t come. It is time for dinner.
ON PATROL WE WADE ACROSS a shallow stony creek. Minnows peeking at us from behind dark green slimy rocks. We see a break in the undergrowth ahead and there is a fenced compound full of screaming children dive bombing each other in the sloshing waters of Guy’s Pool. On a hill we see the enemy watching us furtively. Holding sticks and stones in their hands. We know we are not prepared to engage at this time and we duck into the protection of a cinderblock enclosure.
Later we hike, shoulders hunched down to avoid detection, near a fuel dump guarded by German Shepherds. We do not find our enemies so we turn back to our hideout right on the edge of a large refugee camp filled with recently returned war veterans and their families. We dare not share our suspicions with the residents of this camp but confer quietly among ourselves planning our next patrol and readying ourselves for a fight we know we will not win.
WITH SO MUCH OF OUR ARMORY damaged and out of service we have limited mobility and are reduced to using bicycles obtained from the refugees. Meanwhile we send patrols into uncharted enemy territory. They slip under a crumbling stone bridge hiking in the creek to avoid a barbed wire fence. Clearly the fight has not come to this place. There are trees and fields, domestic animals, the rare barn and farmhouse. But it is too far. We cannot leave for this place in the morning and return in time for lunch and so put off explorations for the time being.
Newsreels tell us of growing tensions and we look to the skies in fear of a new kind of military strike. School children practice by hiding under their desks and some of the refugees are building shelters under their backyards. There is no safety we know even deep in the forest we control but we go there anyway in the hope that we can do something that will help civilization survive.