Tuesday, June 14, 2011

PART 5 "My Haunted Life": The Spirit In the Storm

"My Haunted Life"
Part 5: The Spirit In the Storm
Based on True Events by Chris Matheny


“When you find yourself going through hell, keep going.”
~ Winston Churchill
The Last Postcard I Mailed Home to Mom
Before I Came Home for Good.
I have shared very little of these events with anyone in my life. This marks the first time that I have related any of this tale publicly. This, for me, is a very difficult subject to write about. I have had immeasurable trouble in my life after returning from combat. For me some wounds are still fresh. I will try to relate to you as much as I can. However, there are things that I am still not prepared to talk about. As my recovery progresses, I will endeavor to face them and write about them.   

Continuing the Tradition
 of U.S. Military Service
 (Please note, this segment is a bit graphic in nature However, it is a necessary evil in order to understand what happened during this part of my life and its significant impact.)
In the fall of 1988, I enlisted in the U.S. Army as an Infantry soldier. The years of nightly torment had taken their toll on me, and my grades had bottomed out. There had been little choice, but to quit school. so that is what i did. within a few days of quiting school i was enrolled in a local community college. Attending school in the evenings, I earned my high school diploma in only six months, and even graduated top of my class in night school. I realize that’s not saying much, but I always like to think that at least I got my diploma.

I left home on November 1, 1988, and headed for basic training at Ft. Benning, GA. That would be my new home for many months to come. During the months I was training, I neither experienced nor noticed any “activity.” This was a tremendous relief to me. Maybe there were things that I should have been more concerned about, like going to war, or not doing well in the military. However, these were not my concerns. My biggest worry was whether Red would make an appearance or not.

Time with the Family
Before Leaving for Germany.
 I had come from a military family, and all I had really wanted to do was be an Infantry soldier. After all, I had been born at Ft. Bragg, N.C. and reared on Smoke Bomb Hill. Why shouldn’t I be a soldier? Maybe I was trying to connect with my father, whom had been overseas during a large part of my childhood. Who knows why I do anything?
Feeling as though I might have left my nightmare behind me, I began my new assignment at Ft. Riley, KS. The post had been using an outdated armored personnel carrier. My job was to help in rearming the post with the newer and more effective M-2A1 Bradley Fighting Vehicle. This meant many months of offloading the vehicles and preparing them for service. Then we had to train all of the Infantry soldiers, some of the Cavalry guys, and a battalion of Marines on how to use and fight with the Bradley.

Tower of Castle
Friedberg, Germany
During this time, I lived in a large barracks with several hundred other guys. There were four of us living in my room when I got there. When I left for Germany, I had my own room. This wasn’t just because I had been promoted rather quickly, and was now a corporal. Rather, it was because no one wanted to sleep in the same room with a guy that sleeps with his eyes open, and has a dark figure standing by his bed whispering till the wee hours of the morning.
Before I was moved into an NCO’s single room, I was living in a four-man room. All three of my roommates had requested reassignment. New guys would be brought into the room. Usually within a week or two, they would be sleeping in the day room awaiting a new bunk. This made it difficult to make friends, even among those in my own team. No one wanted the haunted guy as their team leader. 
Castle Entrance
Friedberg, Germany
 
Thank God for such a thing as “time in grade.” This means that I had been a higher rank than the others for longer. The job was mine. as long as i did a good job there was nothing that they could do about it. OK, there was one thing they could do.
I was the first person in the unit to be given transfer orders. They had decided that my services could be of better use to them in Germany. It seems as though they wanted me as far away as they could get me.
Entrance to Ray's Barracks
Friedberg, Germany
Friedberg, Germany was to be my new home for the next two years. Arriving at the small post in southern Germany, I was impressed by its beauty. There were big trees and flowers everywhere. The posts in the States had been nice, but this was incredible. I knew I was going to love it here.

When I was finally settled into my new home, I was shocked to discover that the barracks I was to live in had been a German WWII barracks. The building was very haunted. I felt that the place was inhabited by two sets of soldiers. There, of course, were the American troops; then there were the “German troops.” One set of living, breathing soldiers, and one set of ghostly warriors that didn’t know the war was over.  

Ray Barracks on Army Base
in Friedberg, Germany
Became My New Home
 There was a silver lining to this cloud. There was so much activity in the barracks, that no one could connect anything to me. Therefore, my friend and I went largely unnoticed. When anyone did notice a figure by my bed or an object moving on its own, it was chalked up to the “Gerries.”
Then all hell broke out. A mad man invaded a small helpless country. My life was about to change forever. We went into rapid deployment phase and got ready for the dance. It occurred to me at this point that I had joined the Army, not the Cub Scouts.
Barracks Similar to
the Ones I Lived In.
War had always been a possibility. A possibility that I had never once considered. Now, here I was, an Infantry soldier on the brink of war. I was nineteen, and still only shaved once a month. What the hell had I been thinking? I was going to have to lead men into combat.
My moment of doubt lasted as long as it took to think it. Then I was back to business as usual. We had a war to prepare for. It looked like it was going to be a bad one too. I knew that if I didn’t believe in myself, my men would know it. That would be the end of my command.  
"Out there in the desert,
I almost lost my life
a few times."
 Team leaders might not get any glory, but we get the respect of our peers when we do a good job. By the time, we rolled across that distant border we were a well-oiled machine. Each man knew his duty, and would do it without hesitation.
(On a personal note, I would like to comment that the United States has far and away the best military in the world, comprised of the best people and the best equipment. God bless them all.)
Out there in the desert, I almost lost my life a few times. There were two incidents, in particular, in which I feel that Red may have saved my life. The first incident is still too much for me to speak of at this time, but the second event I will now attempt to wrestle onto the page. 

After the fighting stopped,
we occupied a small area
outside of Baghdad.
 After the fighting stopped, we occupied a small area outside of Baghdad. I had received some minor wounds during the fight at Medina Ridge, and was recovering well. We had taken up road guard duties at the Kuwait/Iraq border. This was a very dangerous and nerve wrecking duty.
We also had to guard our own perimeter. It was during perimeter guard that tragedy struck me in the form of a very large, rabid dog. At the time, I had been using my night vision goggles to watch a large pack of dogs running around between the dunes. Suddenly, a beast attacked me from the side; a classic flanking move. He had been large, but oddly quiet. The animal never made a sound until it was on top of me. 
This T-72 Tank was Captured from
the Iraqi 52nd Armored Division
on February 28, 1991.
 My rifle was knocked from my grip on impact. My night vision went flying into the darkness as well. I was slammed to the ground with tremendous force, and the air was driven from my body.
Keep in mind that I was a staggering 5’9” and 165 lbs at that time. I felt its rotten breath on my face as its gleaming teeth snapped at me. That was the last thing I saw as my helmet slipped down and covered my face. I heard the crunching as the beasts teeth tore into the camo cover on my Kevlar helmet. Pain ripped its way through my body as claws and teeth tore into me down to the bone in some places.
My rifle lay just out of reach, not that it would have done much good at this point. However, I did carry a hatched that I had found in the desert. A mechanic had loaned me a carbon file to sharpen it with. Believe me when I say that you could shave with it. I know because I tried it. The monster was having the best of me until I got the hatchet out.
I felt its rotten breath
on my face as
its gleaming teeth
snapped at me.
 Amid the flurry of teeth and claws, I began to swing my weapon. Being on my back put me at tremendous disadvantage. My strikes didn’t have a great deal of force behind them. My blade flashed through the dark to strike home again and again. At some point, the top of its head came apart, and I got a face and mouthful of blood and brains. Finally, the creature lay still.
Others had heard the commotion and came running to see if we were under attack. They found me laying, blood soaked and gasping for air. A replacement was found for my guard shift and I was treated by our Squad medic. Our medic was just an Infantry soldier with a two-week First Aid class. In other words, my care and treatment was minimal, to say the least.
After being bandaged and given a slight painkiller, my Platoon Sergeant informed me that he couldn’t spare the men to escort me to the Aid Station. If I felt that I needed to go, I was more than welcome to walk the two kilometers to it by myself. He would not allow me the use of a Hummer.
It was too dark to travel alone. Therefore, I decided to try to get some sleep, and see if I needed further treatment in the morning. How was I to know that by morning, I would be at the brink of death?
The sun wasn’t up yet when I felt the first stirrings in my gut. Quickly, I gathered my gear and got dressed on the run. The latrines were just outside of our wire perimeter. 

Standing in his
entire overdressed glory,
he wore his usual
red velvet long coat
and top hat.
My gut was on fire, so I was forced to quickstep it trying to make it to them before it was too late. It soon became apparent that I would not make it. Between the gate and the John, there was a stand of trees. Yes, there are trees in Iraq.
 When I finished my business behind the trees, I stood and made ready to go back to my rack to try to sleep. A very bad feeling was coursing through my body now. As I was getting my things together, I just happened to shine my light where I had relieved myself. I saw a pool of blood and passed out.
When I awoke, again my bowls were being wracked with pain. It felt as though broken glass was churning in my gut. As my senses began to return to me, I became aware of a distant droning noise; a muttering, if you will. My sight began to clear and there he was.

Standing in his entire overdressed glory, he wore his usual red velvet long coat and top hat. His face was just a blur, as expected. This apparition stood over me in the growing light of dawn as solid as you or I.
He stood over me muttering as he always did. This time however, I could hear actual words mixed in with the noises he normally made. He was saying the same word repeatedly. Try as I might I couldn’t understand what he was trying to tell me. He leaned over and took my arm in an ice-cold grip that was as hard as steel. Energy shot from him and ran through my arm into my heart. Then I heard his words.
"...A Deathly Ill, Young Man Crossed
Two Kilometers of Deadly
Iraqi Desert by Himself."
“You are going to die.”
The words shattered my delirium. He spoke to me. He told me that I’m going to die. The words had no real meaning to me at that moment. then the gravity of the situation began to set in.
“Get up. You’re going to die,” he said with many voices as one. The words seemed to coalesce out of a swirl of “whispers,” then sank away again to be replaced by the next. His voice was that of the soothing waters. My rising panic was washed away like foam on the morning tide.
With strength immeasurable, he gently lifted me to my feet. “Get up...Walk.”
I'm a Proud Operation
Desert Storm Veteran.
“Who are you?” I asked him in stunned amazement.” Who…"
“You’re going to die. Walk!”
My consciousness began to fade again.
“Walk!”
“Walk or die!” He raised his arm and pointed with a long thin finger toward the horizon where the sun was beginning to show itself. The world became a spinning black mass flecked with tiny points of light. Then everything went dark.
The sensation of traveling began to stir me from my stupor; and I felt that I moved without effort of my own. I can offer no better explanation than that.
A shape swirled in the dark. It rose and fell, then spun in on itself. Slowly, it coalesced into a recognizable form. The gate to the Aid Station was right in front of me. I began to crawl…..
Again, my memory grows vague as to the details of my plight. There was a man trying to stick me with needles repeatedly in both arms. There was a helicopter ride to a real field hospital. Where, I ran a fever of 105.6 and slipped into a coma. It would be nine days before I regained consciousness.
The doctor later told me that I had been infected by a severe case of hookworms that had done a great deal of damage to my internal organs. The infestation had begun in my digestive track and move to my kidneys and liver. The worms were working their way to my heart and lungs. If my treatment had been delayed even an hour, I would have died crawling on my hands and knees in the unforgiving Iraq desert.
The doctor also commented, as an afterthought, that the only explanation he had for my survival was, quote “I think that you were just too stubborn to die, because you should have.” Then he walked away.
You can say that Red was just a hallucination brought on by high fever. However, the alternative is that a deathly ill, young man crossed two kilometers of deadly Iraqi desert by himself. Then remember that, if I had traveled in any other direction, I would have surely perished. Yet somehow, I found myself, against all odds, standing in front of the gate to the Aid Station. Your conclusions are your own to make. As for me, I know what I saw and heard.
Please, understand that this has been the most difficult piece that I have ever written. I have gone back to places I would rather avoid. I have been forced to confront uncomfortable memories. I feel as though by finally putting this story where it belongs in the pages of history, I can move on to better thoughts and happier memories.
Thank you for taking the time to go with me on this little trip into “My Haunted Life…”


PART 6: "Return to the Darkness" NOW POSTED!




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5 comments:

  1. Thank you very much for the story. I've really enjoyed it.

    Gladis Simonian Minassian

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  2. Wow, I'm speechless! That was without a doubt one of the most moving stories I've read yet. Excellent writing, Chris.

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  3. WOW!! thanks so very much Chris for letting us take a peek inside your life.. I am honored knowing someone that has overcome as much as you have.. May God continue to Bless u my friend...

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  4. Great Story and I truly believe everything you wrote.

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  5. Such a great story thank you so much for sharing it. I have the utmost respect for you as a Vet!! Thank you and others like you who continue to make this country proud!!!!

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Chris & Kim