George Downs stood bent slightly forward in front of an officer. “You’re supposed to stand at attention, soldier, not tilted forward.”
“I have arthritis, sir, and it prevents me from standing up straight.”
“Sir, I’m eighty one years old. Why am I still in the Army?”
“We need all the able fighting men we can get, soldier, – so you will not be discharged from the Army.”
“This is crazy. I was discharged from the army almost sixty years ago. How could I possibly be standing here in an Army uniform. I must be dreaming. I must be having a nightmare,” he said and slapped himself in his face several times. “What’s going on? I’m still here. I should be in my bed waking up from this nightmare, but I’m not.”
“You will be sent to an infantry outfit where you will train for the next war.”
You don’t want someone as old as I am. I couldn’t endure the physical training.”
“We’ve dealt with soldiers like you before. We’ll make sure you endure the physical training if it takes five years.”
“Five years? I’ll probably be dead between now and five years from now.”
“The new Army doesn’t allow death unless death happens in combat.”
“No, no, no. This isn’t happening,” he yelled and sat up in his bed after being shaken by his wife. “George, you were having a bad dream. Are you okay?”
“Oh, it was terrible, Mary. I dreamt I was back in the Army, and they were going to send me to an infantry outfit. It was so real. I told them that I was eighty one, but it didn’t matter. The officer said I was going to be trained for the next war. Mary, it was terrible.”
“You go back to sleep, dear. Think about your great grandson, and you’ll have pleasant dreams.”
The next night was a repeat of the night before. George was sleeping in a barracks, and a sergeant entered the barracks at 4:00 and screamed. “Okay, scum, everybody up. After breakfast we’re going on a nice twenty-mile march,” he yelled. “We have to be combat ready.” Then he went to George’s bunk, which was a top bunk. “What are you still doing in the sack, private,” he yelled.
George opened his eyes and looked around. “What am I doing here, and how did I get in this top bunk?”
“You’d better get moving, private, or you’ll miss breakfast. You won’t like to go on a twenty-mile hike on an empty stomach. You can’t fight a war on an empty stomach.”
“Twenty-mile hike? Are you crazy? I can barely walk twenty feet. Jesus, I’m eighty one. Look at me. Do I look like a kid?”
“Do you want special treatment because your eighty one? Ha. You’re in the Army. Age doesn’t get you special treatment, now get out of the sack,” he yelled.
“I don’t know how I got in this top bunk, and I’m damn sure I’m not going to be able to get out of it.”
“I’ll show you how,” the sergeant said and grabbed George and lifted him out of the bunk and put him on the floor. “Now get your walker, get dressed and get to the mess hall.”
“My walker? How did my walker get in my night mare? Why am I having this night mare?” he complained and looked around at all the young soldiers cleaning their rifles. “Why are you cleaning your rifle?” he asked a private.
“They keep telling us we gotta be ready for the next war, old man.”
“I’ve been watching too much news.”
The sergeant entered the barracks and screamed at George. “Why aren’t you cleaning your rifle? Why? Why?”
“George, wake up. You’re having another night mare,” Mary said and shook George, who sat up.
“It was like the night mare I had last night. I thought I stopped dreaming Army dreams years ago. For twenty years after I got out of the Army, I dreamed that the Army wouldn’t let me out. I don’t understand why they’re starting again. They don’t care that I’m eighty one. One more night mare like these and I’m going to see a shrink.
The next night, he was holding his walker as he walked in a field. Where am I? Why are bombs falling? Who are those people running toward me? They’re shooting at me. I can’t get away, they’re shooting and…oh, my God, my stomach. They shot me in my stomach. I’m falling. I can’t move. Now, everything is black. I’m dead.”
Mary woke up in the middle of the night and reached over to touch George and felt wet. She jumped up and looked at George, who was bleeding from his stomach. “George,” she yelled and fainted.