9 More Than Just a Memory

More Than Just a Memory

By Julia McBride

It’s been 199 days since you died. We’ve been on Okinawa for 27 days now and every step I take I can’t tell if it’s a dead rotting body or mud and blood. There hasn’t been much rain for a while and it makes me worry, I probably shouldn’t but I can’t help myself to think of what’s coming. The civilian women still roam the island and hide behind rocks with their children, I don’t want to shoot them but I fear that I have to eventually. Me and Snafu have been sent new, greener marines including one that’s been drafted, they don’t know shit. Their first taste of combat included a woman blowing up in a suicide run– she had tried to give us her infant. I don’t know how I’m gonna survive this, even after the war.

The squelching of footsteps nearing him caused Sledge to quickly turn over the paper he was writing on, for it was sad enough that he was writing to a dead man. Sledge leans back on the rock he was previously hunched forward on.

“Are we moving out again?”

Snafu half-smirks half-grimaces down at him, “Yea.”

Sledge nods and grabs his rifle, slugging on his back over his back and pocketing his bible and letters to a lost love. He can feel the weight of his words as he treks through the mud, sloping into stone. They move forward. Sledge sometimes find it hard to though. Leaving the past behind like it didn’t matter at all and that it doesn’t still have meaning to anyone.

He had felt an intense limerence for his captain and was quietly surprised when it had been reciprocated, but now he was dead, covered in the blankets his father worked gruelling hours to provide for his country. But his feelings weren’t a vestige, if anything they had grown stronger for the dead man. He had watched the other man pull up the blanket and finalize Ack Ack’s life. It was like Sledge had been forced to watch, a ghost turning his head rightly. He blinked away tears, no time to dwell on any of it. He could do that in death.

It’s been hard without you, and I find it difficult in its own right to admit that. There seems to be no end in sight to this war and no news from outside of the hellhole of Okinawa. I try and remember the words you’ve said to me, and keep going for you more than anything. But I don’t know if I have it in me, because I feel as though God has turned his back on us, looking towards Europe and the people there. I dreamed for the first time in a month. I was holding my soul in my hands, it was so bloodied and dirty, I didn’t think that the human mind could create such a sight as that. I find that I sometimes forget your face, your voice is slipping from my mind as we trek through the mud. It’s been replaced by the screams of the civilians and the ringing of mortar blasts. I want to remember you, I don’t like that my fate has been signed like this, I miss you, and I love you still.

The war was over, but Eugene was still on the other side of the ocean away from all that he knew. It’s… better. He feels better physically, no more dirt and blood caked to his skin and explosions high off in the night as he sits in his foxhole embellished with corpses. He’s left all he can behind, except for the letters to his dead man. He still has so much to tell him.

It’s pouring rain outside and Eugene has barely a lick of combat in him as he lays on his Captain’s cot, the pattering of rain and the gentle strokes of Ack Ack’s hand running through his hair slowly coaxing him to sleep. It’s been two weeks since Sid had shipped out, leaving Eugene to fend for himself in the unfamiliar landscape of the Marines. He had found himself stumbling into a crush by the first words his Captain had spoken, quietly confiding himself in his friend later, as they spoke on the beach. He smiles to himself thinking of how he was here now; Ack Ack fondly chuckled above him.

Eugene leans his head on the window pane separating the heavens from where man treks land. He pulls out the lighter that Gunny had given him, flicking it open to flame and watching the reflection dance in the moonlight streaming through the curtains. The ache that he had so strongly felt on Okinawa, like a limb was missing, hadn’t faded whatsoever over the months between. The absence of Ack Ack still stabbed his heart and the nights he found himself able to sleep were filled with the last memory of him, a blanket being pulled up to cover the blood seeping out of the bullet hole in Ack Ack’s head.

The clattering of drunk Marines sounds from under the floorboards where he stood, he listened for a second, then two as he remembers the laughter he was so happy to get out of his Captain during nights in his tent, it was so far away now, and Eugene found himself rubbing his eyes. He takes the Bible out from his pocket again.

Some days are easier than others, I know you would understand and be able to find some words to bring comfort to me, I wish that you could, I really do. You would be happy to hear that the war’s over, even though we are still far from home. I find it hard, thinking of going back home and pretending like none of this happened– like all the grief is useless. I don’t want to forget, I don’t know what I would do with myself if I woke up one day and didn’t remember your face. I recently found a picture of you, I don’t know who had given it to me but I find that it gives me comfort, to put it in my breast pocket, near my heart. I feel as though it brings me closer to you.

I wonder if people back home will understand.

Eugene’s pencil snaps, and it brings him out of his depressed stupor for a moment. He feels the tear tracks down his face and finds them on the words he has written, smudging them this way and that. Ack Ack had told him not to dwell on any of it, but now Eugene found it hard not to think of the moments they had shared secretly.

“I miss you Andy,”


Anoka County Library Write On! 2023 Short Story Contest Winners Copyright © 2023 by Avrie Siedschlag; Ella Howard; Greta Graham; Renad Taher; Rachel Mueller; Daniel Gbati; Julia McBride; Audrey High; Lucia Floan; Rhett LeBeau; Anna Moline; Hannah Jemming; Valomi Lewis; Fen Hendren; Kathryn Downs; Megan Nguyen; Lizzie Elsenpeter; Sophia Accord; and Sophia Acord. All Rights Reserved.

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