ORIGINAL FICTION: The Paratrooper

Wil Avitt
Wil Avitt's picture

82nd Signal Battalion
Fort Bragg, NC
May 23rd,2000

Private Sam Anders was going to officially be part of the grand military tradition that was the 82nd Airborne Division. Quite possibly the greatest unit in the entire U.S. Army, except maybe for the 5th Special Forces Group, which also called Fort Bragg home. Maybe one day he would get there too, or at least that was the plan. Sam wanted to be everything the military was willing to make out of him. A military hero that would go down in history, if that was in the cards. But for right now, he was going to start that illustrious career here in the 82nd and for right now that was enough.
It was SSG Michael Bacon who was showing him around. He was sort of a fat man, not grotesquely obese but he had a bit of a spare tire. He was also dirty, with camo paint on his face. It was obvious that this unit had just come back from being in the field. Sam was shown the barracks, introduced to the First Sergeant, who also had camo paint on his face, and was shown the office where he'd be working. Sergeant Bacon even introduced him to PFC's Hinkle and Hopkins, although they were already cleaned up and changed into civvies. Then he was shown his room and told that formation was at 0630, but that the platoon met down in the office at 0600. Sergeant Bacon bade him goodnight and left him to get used to his new home.

The next morning Sam reported to the office before PT formation, just like he was instructed. Down there he noticed a large framed painting of a set of Airborne wings. Stapled on the painting were many name tapes from combat uniforms. Four of them, right in the middle of the thing, had their jump wings stapled above their names with gold stars embroidered into them. The gold stars indicated combat jumps.
"What's that?" Sam asked, indicating the painting with the names.
"Those are all the people who used to be in the platoon," Sergeant Bacon explained. "We'll all have our names on that board when we leave."
PT was what PT always was. Some push-ups, some sit-ups, a run. The run was a little longer than Sam was accustomed to. Those Airborne guys sure did like to run. It took some getting used to, but Sam didn't really mind it much. He enjoyed singing the cadences, and usually lost himself in the singing so that he hardly noticed he was even running. He sure was tired and sweaty when it was over with, though.
Sam liked it in the 82nd, and he was proud as hell to be wearing the same shoulder patch as Alvin York, William Westmoreland and John Wayne (in the movie The Longest Day). His first few days there went by without much incident, but it was near the end of that first week when the weird stuff started to happen.
He was working in the Motor Pool, where most of the work was done when they were in "the rear," which meant they weren't out in the field. He was pulling out and testing the radios assigned to his squad, known as the "Sharks." They were called that because they ran the communications systems in the back of Humm-Vees and when their antennas were tied down they looked kinda like shark fins. He was testing one of the radios, making sure it was "combat ready," when he heard the voice. It was a male voice, calling out names like from a roster. The voice would call out the last name and then other voices would call out their first names and middle initials.
One of the names called out was Sam's.
"Did you hear that?" Sam asked Hopkins, whose first named was Anthony. That was the
cause of more jokes than Hopkins cared to hear, so he liked to go by his middle name, Carrey.
"Hear what?" Hopkins asked, thoroughly confused. He looked around to see if maybe he could hear something.
"Never mind," Sam said, shrugging it off. He went back to checking radios and the day continued without further incident.

The next day he was down in the office when the next strange occurrence happened. It was not quite quitting time yet, but it was real close. Everyone was waiting for COB, that was military jargon for "close of business", or quitting time. COB was the last formation of the day. Usually the Commander and First Sergeant would put out whatever information they had to impart, turn the ranks over to the prospective Platoon Sergeants, and then everyone would be dismissed for the day.
While Sam and the others were waiting for the COB formation, something happened. All of a sudden, Sam wasn't sitting in the office anymore, he was sitting in some sort of shed. He, along with everyone else in the shed, was wearing a parachute, as though he were getting ready to make a jump. No one around him was wearing the uniform Sam was used to. Sure, they all had the familiar AA patch on their shoulders, but their uniforms looked like something out of an old John Wayne war movie or something. Sam could see through a doorway on the far side of the shed that it was dark and raining outside. Jumps were usually scratched (cancelled) when it was raining that badly.
Someone came into the shed. "Alright, men," the man called out. "On your feet! Let's get loaded on that plane. We've got a job to do."
Sam, still not quite sure what was going on, stood with everyone else...

...and was suddenly standing out in front of his company building on a bright spring day. The First Sergeant was up in front, standing on the front steps of the building, talking about something or another. Sam was overcome with a sense of disorientation and was shaking his head to get over it.
The formation was dismissed and Sam started walking toward the barracks, lost in thought and still trying to figure out what happened.
"Are you alright, Anders?" Hopkins asked, coming up from behind Sam.
"Huh?" Sam was startled out of his thoughts. He hadn't even noticed Hopkins come up behind him.
"I asked if you were alright," Hopkins repeated himself. "I saw you in formation back there. You looked like you were getting dizzy, ready to pass out."
"Oh," Sam said, still half out of it. "Yeah, I'm fine. Musta' just had my knees locked or something."
That seemed to be as good an explanation as any for Hopkins who just patted Sam on the shoulder and went about his own business. Sam, curious as hell and wanting to find out what was happening to him, went up to his room in the barracks and jumped on his computer. He logged on to the internet and called up the search engine. He typed in "Out of Body Experiences" and waited to see what came up.
He read several articles on the subject, most by scientists or psychologists who seemed to have had some extensive experience on the subject. He read that at least five, and maybe even as much as thirty-five, people out of one hundred have an out of body experience in their lifetime. He also read that most out of body experiences were of a spiritual nature. That is, they mostly concern a person's essence or consciousness becoming separated from the body and moving about in the physical world as something of a wraith, before returning to the body. He didn't read anything that sounded like what he'd experienced. Nothing about hearing phantom voices and certainly nothing about people actually finding themselves in a completely other time and place. Were both instances nothing more than elaborate hallucinations, he wondered to himself. If so, what was causing them? Sam wasn't on any kind of drugs or anything of that nature. He hoped he wasn't losing his mind. What was it that was happening to him? And more importantly, what did it all mean? He had read that sensory impulses, such as hearing or smelling things that weren't really there were sometimes signs of a brain tumor, but that wouldn't have explained the shed incident.

The next few days went by without incident, and Sam was beginning to think that whatever it was had passed. Unfortunately, as he was soon to understand, it hadn't. As a matter of fact, it was going to get worse.
A few days later Sam was working in the motor pool again, this time performing Preventive Maintenance Checks and Services on his Humm-Vee. Most of the work of a soldier during peace time was mundane. Performing the same checks on the same equipment week in and week out.  There was nothing wrong with the truck, same as every other time he'd checked it, what would have changed between then and now, especially since it hadn't been driven?. Every once in a while he'd change the fluids or have the mechanics take her in the bay and rotate the tires, but that was about it. It was really nothing more than busy work.
He'd finished performing the routine checks on the truck and filled out the required paperwork. That was all there was to it, really. Nothing exciting.  
The PMCS usually ate up half a day, and that day was no different. Lunch was coming up Sam was ready for it.  The rest of his platoon was finishing up their vehicle maintenance too and he was waiting for everyone else to walk back to the office as a group, which was the norm for them. The 82nd Signal Battalion's Assault Command Post, that was what they called Sam's platoon, was a very tight knit organization.  They were like a family, not just co-workers.

It was while he was sitting on the floor of his open connex that the next "event" happened. He was once again on the plane, parachuted and surrounded by paratroops in antique uniforms, but he was now standing up, static line in hand. The Jumpmaster at the front of the plane was giving a speech, the kind you give men who are going off to die in glorious battle. That was unsettling. Sam gripped his static line tightly, unsure of what was going to happen next. He hadn’t yet had a real jump. He’d jumped five times, that was the requirement for Airborne School, but he hadn’t yet had a real jump with the 82nd. He wondered if he’d just been blacking out and that he hadn’t remembered getting on this plane, like he hadn’t remembered getting in formation. He tried to rationalize, but his pathetic attempts at logical explanations didn’t explain the strange uniforms.
He kept his eye on the light. There were two lights on paratroop transport planes, red and green. The red stayed lit through the entire flight, and when the light turned green it was time for action. He usually tried not to look at the light, because he didn’t want to know when the jump was coming, but this time he just stared at it. It changed from red to green and he could hear the Jumpmaster yell “Go!” The line in front of him started to move and the training took over. Almost on instinct, he moved to the front of the line, handed his static line off to the Jumpmaster and went out the door of the aircraft.
He counted, 1... 2... 3... 4. He felt the opening shock of the parachute and reached up to grab the risers, just like his first five jumps, except this time there were bullets whizzing past him.
He reached into the pouch strapped to his side which housed his weapon. When he pulled it out he wasn’t holding the M-4 he'd been issued his first day in the division, instead it was an older weapon. An M-1, just like the rifles that were still being used in WWII.

Once again he awoke with a sense of disorientation. He was now sitting in the Mess Hall of the 82nd Signal Battalion, and once again he had no memories of how he’d gotten there. He was in the Motor Pool, then an aircraft on a jump, and now he was in the dining facility. He started to believe he was losing his mind. When lunch was over, he’d gotten permission to go see the Chaplain.
The Chaplain was a short and thin man and his hair was thinning on the top. He wasn’t too old, maybe in his early forties, and he wore glasses. He was sitting behind his desk, reading some thing or another, when Sam walked in and knocked on the door.
“Yes?” the Chaplain said, not moving his eyes from whatever it was he was reading.
“Um, Chaplain,” Sam said timidly. “Could we talk about something?”
This time the Chaplain looked up. “Sure,” he said with a smile. “Private Anders, isn’t it?”
“Uh, yes sir,” Sam replied. “It is.” He walked into the office and sat down.
“So, what was on your mind?” the Chaplain asked, folding his hands on his lap.
Sam looked at the floor and shook his head. “I’m really not sure how to say this.”
“Just say it,” the Chaplain assured him. “Anything said in this office stays in this office. There’s nothing to fear here, and I’m not going to judge you.”
“It’s not that,” Sam said. “I really just don’t know how to explain what my problem is. I don’t understand it myself. Something strange has been happening to me, and I just don’t get it. To be honest, I don’t really even know if you can help me.”
“Well, you’re here,” the Chaplain said, “so let’s give it a go. If I can’t help you, I probably know someone who can. There are no problems that can’t be helped by someone.”
Sam just took in a deep breath, and on the exhale he started spilling his guts. “I feel like I’m being transported through time and space by some unknown force.” He paused for a moment, thinking if there was anything to add. “There. I think that about covers it.”
“Wait,” the Chaplain said, his eyebrows scrunched up in a confused manner. “What do you mean, ‘That about covers it?’ That doesn’t cover anything. You’re going to have to tell me some details about this, uh, ‘problem.’”
Sam had a sneaking suspicion that the Chaplain wasn’t going to believe him. But that was his job, wasn’t it? Still, Sam couldn’t have blamed him. He was experiencing it and he didn’t believe it himself. Maybe he came here just so the Chaplain could confirm that his cheese had indeed slipped off his cracker. But Sam didn’t want to believe that. That was a one way ticket out of the Army, or worse, into an Army mental hospital. Neither of those options sounded particularly pleasing.
He was committed now, though. He had to explain something. Maybe he could pass it off as all being a dream? That he needed help with a dream? Would that work? Probably not, he decided. He was going to have to finish the story, the true story, and take whatever was coming. If he was going insane, it was probably best he find out anyway.
“I don’t know,” Sam finally spat out. “One minute I’ll be going about my day, and the next I’m somewhere else. On a jump with other soldiers dressed in World War II uniforms. Then, just as suddenly as I was taken, I’m back here going on about my day as though I were never gone.”
The Chaplain eyed Sam, not quite sure what to make of him. There was something in his voice, a terrified tone, that made the Chaplain believe him. At least, the Chaplain believed that Sam believed it, even if he didn’t believe the fantastic tale himself. “Well,” the Chaplain began, “if you’d like we can pray together that God take whatever burden this is away from you. And if it continues, then we’ll deal with that when we need to.”
Not sure what else to do, and not even sure why he'd come there, Sam agreed. They prayed and Sam left, not really sure that the prayer was going to help any. To be quite honest, he wasn’t sure the prayer wasn’t going to help, either. He just didn’t know what was happening to him, and he was starting to believe that he should probably turn himself in to the men in white coats. Or do they wear green coats in the Army? Yeah, like that mattered.
He reported back to work, and went on about the rest of his day without incident.

After COB formation they were released. Sam decided to get out of the barracks, maybe clear his head. He hadn’t yet been to the 82nd Airborne Museum, just down the street from his barracks, so he decided to go. It was a warm North Carolina day, and the walk felt good. He noticed that the building seemed pretty small on the outside. He’d been to the Air Force museum in Drury, Oh, and it was three or four times bigger than this place. He went in anyway.
It did seem a lot bigger from the inside. It was dark inside, not pitch black by any means, but the lighting was great for atmosphere. He followed the history of the 82nd from its founding in WWI and the heroic Sergeant York, before they were the 82nd Airborne, all the way up to now.
When he got to the vast section on WWII, he felt a chill run through his spine. He felt like a vet must feel walking through this place. Now, it’s true that these things happened forty years before he was even born, but the visions, or whatever they were, really made him feel as though he’d been there.
He saw the life-size diorama set up to look like the invasion of Normandy. Then he was over come by a weird sensation and he felt like he was about to black out. He didn’t, but when he opened his eyes and regained his composure, he wasn’t in the museum staring at the Omaha Beach recreation anymore.

He was on Omaha Beach, hiding behind a barricade of sand bags and barbed wire. Bullets whizzing past him. He saw mines going off and American soldiers being blown to bits by them. He saw others being shot and falling dead. He’d seen movies about this battle, and even the most graphic couldn’t hold a candle to the real thing. He was scared, but he was also a trained soldier and he was going to do his job.
He started returning the enemy fire. It took him a minute to get used to the bolt action M-1, but a gun is a gun. It was almost as though his training had taken over his body. He was fighting like someone who had spent most of his adult life in a war. He hadn’t, of course. He was the greenest of green Privates and he still wasn’t sure how he’d gotten here. It sort of reminded him of the Night Infiltration course in Basic Training, where you crawl under the live bullets being fired over your head and there are explosions going off. The only difference was that, in Basic Training, if you followed instructions you were going to make it out alive. Here, in Normandy, he had no such guarantees.
He saw soldiers from the amphibious assault dying almost the minute they stepped foot on the beach. An explosion went off and two soldiers fell. They were still alive, but they were immobile. They were going to be dead any minute. His body began to move, on instinct and before his mind had even thought about it. If he had thought, he might not have done it. He ran over to the two fallen soldiers, grabbed them on in each arm, and dragged them off to safety. He wasn’t a medic, but they had taught him first aid in Basic and he used it. He stopped most of their bleeding and told them not to move. There was still a war to fight here and they were in no condition to fight it. Sam slammed a fresh magazine into his M-1 and started firing again. Probably it was the adrenaline, but he hadn’t even noticed he’d been hit. He noticed the second time, though. He was hit right in the stomach, but it didn’t hurt. He coughed up blood as he lay face up on the beach, a beach he had no business being on in the first place. He laughed, just a little because he wasn’t capable of any more, and then he died.
 
 
82nd Signal Battalion
Fort Bragg, NC
April 15, 2000

The Assault CP platoon members were gathering in the office before PT formation. Everyone except Private Anders. Sergeant Carpenter had sent Hopkins and Hinkle up to his room, naturally thinking the lazy Private had overslept. That was the main reason for mustering in the CP before the official formation. Sergeant Carpenter liked to know that everyone was going to be there before they were all out there in front of the First Sergeant and the Commander. Hopkins knocked on the door to Anders’ room, but there was no answer. He checked the handle and it was unlocked. They went in. There was no one in the room and the bunk looked as though it hadn’t been slept in. The two soldiers reported back to their Platoon Sergeant.
“What do you mean he’s gone?” Sergeant Carpenter asked.
“I mean he’s gone,” Hinkle said. “And no one has seen him since yesterday.”
“Well shit,” Carpenter said. “The son of a bitch went AWOL.”
Deciding to deal with the matter later, after PT was over with, the platoon went up to formation. No one noticed a new name tape stapled to the painting in the CP's entrance. It had a pair of jump wings with a combat star attached to it. The name read simply ANDERS.

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