Episode 33 - Mysterious haunts of echoes old and far, the voice of human loyalty.

After the National Geographic photographer left, things got pretty laid back here at base camp. The Sarge even let us play cards at night a little later than usual. Last night he even joined us for a game or two. But just when things started to get back to normal, this morning Roy received a radio message from Jill (our helicopter pilot), informing us that Major Munsch was arriving at 1000 hours at the Mulberry Ridge Base Camp. - Oh, for goodness sake!!! - said the Sarge worried. - Harris! Get the Jeep ready! Harvey and Kaplan! Clean up this table and get rid of the deck of cards! Private Uchena...UCHENA! Get me the radio! On the double ladies!!! - yelled Sergeant Palmer irritated. Dr. Johnson kept watching us from his tent. He couldn't stop giggling at the whole scene. I filled up the tank of the Jeep and made sure all the seats were clean. The sarge grabbed his beret and off we went to the landing site. Wearing his "USMC winter service green uniform" Major Munsch carried a brief case and looked as serious as ever. After the usual greetings, the Major instruct Jill about time and location of his departure. While the Sarge and the Major discussed the surprised visit, I went to speak with Jill. - Sorry, John. I only found out about his visit a few hours ago. I didn't have a chance to warn you boys. - said Jill apologetic. Before I had the opportunity to say anything else, I was called by the Sarge. We got in the Jeep, the Helicopter took off. We drove by the watchtowers and through the valley. - Private Harris, have you checked the air filter and carburetor of this vehicle lately? - said the Major referring to the heavy smoke coming out of the tail pipe. - I'll take care of it right away Sir! - I responded. We arrived at base camp not long after. Upon arrival I noticed our table still had a few items left from the night before sitting at top. I tried to get to it before the Major but he was way ahead of me. He actually didn't get bothered. Ben, Roy and Brian were already in formation by the center of the Camp. More of the usual greetings, then I helped Major Munsch to his seat. - Let's get to it, shall we? - said the Major while opening his brief case. He grabbed some papers and passed them to Sergeant Palmer. Silence took over Base Camp, we were all curious. - So what do you say, Alan? - asked Major Munsch to the Sarge. The Sergeant just kept looking at the letter. As it turned out, we all received a "Joint Service Commendation Ribbon". It was hard to believe. I felt unworthy of such Decoration. I think the sarge felt the same way. He didn't say a word for a while. All I could think was about thousands of Marines sent to Iraq. Have they got such a ribbon as well? It felt more like a pat on the shoulder: "Keep up the good work...thank you very much". It's the way Staff Officers thank us jarheads, doing the hard work for them, while they sit in front of computer screens all day. I looked around. Roy and Brian were extremely happy. On the other hand Ben didn't look so good. Something was bothering him. The Major complimented everyone, even Professor Evgeny who had just joined us. Congratulations apart, everything felt awkward. Later on, after the Major's departure, I found Ben by the Jeep out on his night guard shift. - The photographer must've said pretty good things about us...- I said to Ben. He didn't respond. - What's wrong, man? - I asked him. He mumbled. Spit it out Private! I ordered him. And so he said: - Listen, I don't know what to do about my itching problems. I washed everything in my tent. I'm not allergic to anything. Could you take a look at my back and tell me what it looks like? - He sounded almost embarrassed. I nodded. He took off his jacket and I nearly chocked. His back was covered in scabs, some bigger than a quarter size. - What in the hell, Ben? - I asked him. I picked up my first aid kit. - Do me a favor John, don't tell the others just yet. I'm afraid they're going to send me back to Twentynine Palms again. - Pleaded Ben. I nodded again while cleaning up some of the pus coming from the scabs. - Now, you do me a favor, stop scratching yourself, alright? - I told him. I send him back to his tent and offered to take over his night guard shift. I grabbed my rifle and sat by the fire. Dammit Ben.

by Corporal John Harris, April 27, 2006