Culture

Blessed Are the Peacemakers

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Here’s an excerpt from “Blessed Are the Peacemakers.” Also check out the new Liberty Island story featured on Friday, “Woody” by Audie Cockings, excerpted here.

Clack-CLACK, Clack-CLACK… The corporal lifted the bolt of his rifle, pulled it back, then pushed it forward and down again, ejecting the empty casing and putting another round in the chamber. This is too easy… he thought, as he scanned the top of the trench works about twenty five yards away for another German helmet to pop up. Was God testing him? Was he doing His will, or failing the test? He hadn’t really meant to be exactly where he was, doing what he was doing; it just sorta happened. “Thou shalt not kill…” his mind whispered every few minutes, and he couldn’t stop it. Another helmet came up on his right; he sighted and squeezed the trigger. He heard the death grunt, saw the blood vapor, and heard that high pitched foreign yelling from the other men. He didn’t know what they were yelling, but they was powerful scared.

Clack-CLACK, Clack-CLACK… He thought about exactly where he was; lying prone, where he could clearly see all the trenches and the pits for about a dozen machine guns, all chattering away. But they had to keep looking over the top to get the drop on him; and they couldn’t just start spraying them guns every which way, else they’d get some of the prisoners he and the boys had just captured right before all this shooting started that were behind him on his right. What made him land just here in this perfect spot when everybody that wasn’t hit took cover? He didn’t rightly know. He saw another part of a helmet and one eye appear on the side of a sandbag next to one of the guns… and again he squeezed the trigger.

Clack-CLACK, Clack-CLACK… He looked for a second at the rifle breach just ahead of the bolt that was getting too hot to touch with a bare hand. “U.S. Model of 1917 Eddystone” it read. He never did figure who, what or where Eddystone was, but it was a right smart rifle. Much better than the .303 Lee-Enfield he had for a while when they was training with the British after they got to Le Havre. The .30-06 bullet had more punch, and the longer barrel meant better accuracy. It wasn’t nothin’ like the homemade muzzle-loaders back home, but he got good with it right quick back at Camp Gordon, so they asked him to help out some of the city boys with their shootin’. He’d have felt pretty poorly about himself if he hadn’t – shootin’ was about the only thing he could do that he was right proud of, even though pride could be a sin. Some of the boys complained the rifle was too heavy – about eleven pounds with the strap, kit, bayonet and all. But he was a big fella, and being heavy like that meant the rifle didn’t kick so much. He stroked the smooth wood encasing the barrel with his callused hand, licked his thumb to wet the far site to cut down on the haze, spotted a target, and fired. Another poor German boy was sent to his maker.

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