The Wounded Warrior
Barely alive, the soldier was dragged into the makeshift hospital and laid on a faded green stretcher. His hair, graying at the temples, was matted with blood. Painful attempts to draw life-giving air into his lungs filled the room with a rasping sound.
Half-healed scars crisscrossed his chest bearing silent witness to the soldier’s many battles. The enemy always aimed for the heart.
Sounds of the fighting nearby shattered the relative quiet of the sanctuary. The incessant bombardment caused the soldier to close his tired eyes and wish for peace. However, he knew that his fight was far from over—only the dead were excused from battle. All others were patched up and sent back to the front lines to slow the onslaught of the enemy.
He slowly raised himself up to look at his companions strewn around the hospital. Some were white, some black; others had brown, red, or yellow skin. Some were in their seventies and others were barely eighteen. All were in great pain, but few even uttered a sound, choosing instead to suffer in silence.
Sounds of surgeons at work soon mixed with his quiet meditations of the war. Healing hands cleaned, stitched, and soothed his broken body and damaged soul. In a dark vision, the soldier replayed parts of his past. Mistakes made. Harsh words from his superiors. Abandonment by those closest to him. The leering face of the enemy closing in for the kill. Fear—always fear. Mercifully, sleep came and brought rest to his troubled mind. Then, all too soon, he heard a familiar voice. The voice of his commander. Immediately, the soldier struggled to rise from his creaking cot.
The voice was a mixture of compassion and urgency.
“Soldier, can you stand?”
“Yes, sir,” the wounded warrior painfully replied.
“Soldier, things are not going too well up at the front. We have lost many good men and I need you to get back to the fight. Can you do it?”
“Well sir, I am pretty beat up and could use some rest,” the seasoned soldier responded. “It’s my heart, sir. I’ve been wounded pretty bad and could use some time to heal.”
“I understand, soldier,” the commander said quietly. “But we have a group of new recruits that just arrived. Without your leadership, many of them are going to die. You have been up there and you know what it is like. Without you, I have to send them up to face the enemy alone.”
The commander’s words hit with the power of a hollow point. Alone. The veteran remembered what it was like to be alone. No one had been there for him during those first fierce battles. Many of his companions had been killed or maimed within weeks of being on their own. More than one had taken his final breath cradled in the arms of this broken warrior. Their names were lost to him, but he could never forget the anguished looks on the faces of the young as they slipped into eternity.
“Now,” continued the commander. “With your wounds, no one would blame you if you had enough…but I...No...they need you, soldier.” Without another word, the hero slowly, painfully, pulled on his uniform, now pressed and clean, and struggled toward the door. The young recruits outside snapped to attention when he first appeared. Their eyes filled with amazement at the sight of the veteran. Hidden from view, they could not see his scars, nor could they feel his pain. Instead, they simply drew comfort from one simple fact—he had been there before.
Stepping into the sunlight of a new day, he stretched his hands toward the heavens and noticed that his pain was subsiding; his wounds were healing. The loving doctors and nurses had worked their wonders once again. Now alert, the veteran surveyed the new troops and quickly concluded that they were of good stock. Potential, he thought. A lot of potential. With a little training and encouragement, they will do well in battle.
He then turned his face toward the fight and gave the orders the young ones had waited all their lives to hear.
“All right,” he said. “Follow me.”