The Thrill of Being Shot At
What it's lke to be shot at
We great authors sometimes write for fun but even then we still like to be read and noticed, so when people do not bother to read us and to comment on our Classic Works of Art, we wilt. Our ears droop down to our forelegs and we tend to bray in anguish.
So, to avoid this painful and unmanly condition, we try to find subjects which can somehow interest, elevate and amuse, though regrettably as a general rule there is a distinct shortage of subjects encompassing all three conditions together. So, I thought I would dig into my memory bag to see if anything of interest can come out of it and I came up with the time when I was used as a live target for shooting practice.
The novice writer should note that, as a general rule, the reader tends to find such adventurous situations to be of some considerable interest, because the reader is able to participate in the excitement of the adventure through the hero without having to actually risk life and limb by playing a part in the actual event personally.
In consequence, I shall tell you of a David and Goliath conflict in which I participated, with the only difference in this case being the fact that Goliath actually won. It is needless to say that I was on David’s side of the conflict.
In 1974 a country with 70 million citizens (the more observant amongst you will rightly deduce that this is the Goliath of the story) decided to invade a small island of 700,000 people, a.k.a the David of the same story.
The brain surgeons running the David part of the island needed time to run for the hills to hide so they wisely had their “army” stand up to Goliath in order to have time to pack their bags at leisure and not to leave anything of value behind.
I was in the reserves of the David army and, as is the custom in all such cases, being the original cannon fodder that Napoleon referred to, I reported for duty as the actual invasion was taking place. Regrettably those I reported to did not have any weapons to hand out, so I and large numbers of other David sportsmen spend the first part of the proceedings playing cards and listening to the pandemonium of explosions, machine gun fire and whizzing of bullets taking place about 200 meters away. We also listened to the radio for as many lies as we could comfortably digest.
We were pleasantly surprised when a cease fire was announced for 4 pm that day and since they had no guns to give us and nothing to feed us with, we were all told to go home immediately after the cease fire came into effect.
My house was thirteen miles to the North, in the direction of the invasion taking place, but since I had a five month old baby and a wife there, I was determined to go and see them. In order to get home I had to drive on a road which passed between the airport and an army camp.
When I reached the airport it was obvious that someone had stupidly omitted to tell Goliath about the cease fire, because Goliath’s airplanes were merrily diving onto and bombing the airport on one side and the army camp on the other, with admirable gusto. Huge colourful explosions and pillars of black smoke were evident on both sides of the road I was travelling and the combination created a strangely lovely work-of-art style appearance. I was driving this Mini with a sliding fabric sunroof, so I pulled the sunroof back in order to add a better view of the diving airplanes to the overall scenery. Certain that Goliath would feel a perfect chump once he realised that there was a cease fire on, I slowed down to a crawl in order to better enjoy his embarrassed look when realisation sunk in and he felt silly.
Those with a military background will know that it is customary for army barracks to be vacated during such spats, in expectation of inevitable bombing raids by the one side on the other. In this case, since Goliath was the only one with airplanes, the David barracks on the other side of the road to that of the airport, had been vacated in expectation of the ongoing courtesy visit. However, a company of soldiers remained behind to guard the road, taking cover on either side of it. In order for the reader to fully understand what followed next, it is important to visualize events from those soldiers’ point of view.
What those soldiers saw was a Mini approaching them at a calm, leisurely pace, completely ignoring the explosions going on all around it, heading towards the invading army. To them the Mini must have appeared as if it was yawning with boredom. Not being in a position to know that the De Greeks are not known for winning intelligence competitions or breaking IQ records, they could not believe that this was done out of, let us say, a misunderstanding of the situation. So, despite the continuous bombardment and in serious risk to life and limb, they all stood up as if someone gave a command, and cheered wildly as I passed them smiling and waving at my still leisurely pace. Those who have seen action will understand why the tears are running down my face as I write this.
I reached my home without meeting anyone on the road and found both the village and my home empty. Everyone wisely had moved to a safer place. I had a quick shower and a change of clothes and started back. I hardly left my home when a shell from a mortar exploded in a field about 50 meters to my left. Apparently the visitors wanted to welcome me to their new property. I increased speed to get out of there, something which I believed to be a reasonable and sportingly acceptable act. What I cannot understand to this day is why at the same time as I sped off, I closed the sun roof in the innocent belief that this would prevent a mortar shell from dropping into my lap.
Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is apparently an emotional illness that usually develops as a result of a terribly frightening, life-threatening, or otherwise highly unsafe experience. Following this and my subsequent adventures I am quite convinced that in order to suffer from this condition, one must have a measure of intelligence and imagination, an ability to see oneself after a direct hit from a shell or a bullet. Thankfully for me I had neither in any quantities to count against me. The result was that at the time I did not feel the slightest sense of fear. In fact in my mind there was a well established belief that I would die in my bed at a ripe old age and the exhilaration I felt was devoid of any negative feelings.
On my return, I again had to pass by the soldiers on either side of the road outside the barracks, but this time I was prepared and I felt that I owed it to those boys to deliberately slow down only this time not out of ignorance. Again, they all stood up and cheered wildly the nutcase casually cruising in the middle of a deadly bombardment and waving at them with a smile. I learned later that they all died there.
Moving on briskly through the boring stuff, we reach the last day of the conflict and another cease fire is pending, again at four pm. The brain surgeons at HQ were no fools though. This time they suspected that Goliath’s communications might not be up to scratch and their front line might not be informed. So they send orders to our front line to hold on, as eventually the information would reach Goliath and the cease fire would actually take place. They also knew that whoever held land at the implementation of the cease fire would likely hold on to it permanently after that.
The area was (and still is) called “Domes” and I realised why it did not require any great imagination on the part of the godfather who named it, when I looked around me. Smooth dome-like hills dotted all over the place, like a lunar surface, without any cover. In 40 C (104F) August heat we lined up to attack the visiting team in order to take back one of those hills the visitors had unsportingly occupied after the cease fire. I knew from exercises we had done how difficult it is to run up hills loaded with gear, so I dropped everything to the ground except my rifle, my bayonet and my bullets. Despite the merciless heat, I made the conscious decision to drop my water canteen as well. I figured that in the unlikely event that I made it to the top of the hill alive, someone on the other team would have a canteen of water and that he would not object to my taking it off HIS dead body.
The signal was given and we moved on. Immediately the most exhilarating sounds erupted. We could not actually see the visiting team, as they were wisely dug in on that hill, thinking that we might even have artillery to support our attack. I imagined how red faced they would be when it downed on them that we were simply walking up to them "al fresco", without any artillery or any other support whatsoever.
We must have been quite close though, because we could actually hear the popping sound the mortars made as they left their tubes. A popping sound, a long screeching, wonderful whistle and then the magnificent explosion. What amazingly wonderful sights and sounds! You could actually see the direction of the gasses from the explosions, as they carried dry earth with them in needle shaped form on their upward travels, with the dirt partly hiding the reddish colour of the explosions and then showering us on its way back to earth At the same time the visitors' machine guns were firing without stop. We knew they were the visitors', because we did not have any ourselves. As the bullets hit the ground around my feet and ricocheted off in all directions, I was actually surprised that the ricocheting sounded exactly like in the movies. Zinggggg.
As I walked on I remembered the many discussions about the existence of God I had with two good friends of mine. One was religious, the other an agnostic and I was the atheist. At least I was an atheist in daylight. Sometimes on a dark scary night I could be flexible in my approach to the subject. All discussions would stumble and end on my friends’ expressed belief that if my life was in danger, I would call on God to help me. I thought that the position I found myself in at that moment qualified under the heading of life endangerment, so could I actually say it? I tested it out and whispered: “There is no God”. To be fair to my friends, I admit that at that exact moment, I involuntarily ducked. And because I ducked, I laughed at myself for it out loud.
Take it form me that it is not a good idea to laugh when you are being shot at. People tend to frown at what they feel is unbecoming frivolity in serious circumstances. As if laughing at a funeral, is a simile that comes to mind. I looked to the guy on my right with an apologetic smile at the ready and I saw the bravest man imaginable staring back at me in curious pazzlement at what I could possibly find funny in the circumstances. He was deathly white and his hands holding the rifle with the bayonet at the end across his chest were shaking and I could see terror in his face. Terror because of the surrounding violent death and destruction. Yet he walked on! I was so impressed with that man and I was filled with the utmost admiration and affection. I realised that he was cursed with imagination and he could envision the likelihood of not coming out of this alive. I really wish I knew who he was, or at least knew his name.
To my amazement I found myself at the bottom of the hill still alive and completely unhurt. An army Major to my right pointed upwards and shouted “take the hill boys!”
A curtain of reddish explosions from mortar shells went off in front of us at the speed of a machine gun and we walked on…