My Dear Darling,
How is my beautiful wife doing? I hope everyone is well. It is such a relief and comfort to be able to write to you again after such a long time. More than a month has passed by too soon and yet so slow. I wish I could tell you I was thinking of you all the time, but I cannot. You know it and I know you would understand.
My squad and I, raided an enemy camp in the past weeks. If it is any consolation, it was only soldiers this time. No innocent children to chalk up as collateral. But the enemy is wise. They set up their camp far away, with miles of dangerous swamp between us and them. They must have thought we would not risk sending our men through there, or even if they did, we would not make it out the other end alive. They thought wrong. It was hell twice over, but we made it.
My heart stays heavy my dear. I lost one good man to this mission. It was not the journey forward, or the enemy guns that killed him, but our attempt to come back home. Going forward, we marched across those marshes for more than a week. Can you imagine miles of it? Ground cannot be seen anywhere. It is murky water, damp stench and green trees all over. Some of those trees we could climb to have a place to sleep. The first night, we thought we were lucky, as we were able to stay out of the stagnant water during respite. We were naive. Mother nature would just not give us break. She brought down heavy rain upon us every night.
The cold started settling in the second day, feet swollen inside the soaked boots to the point they turned an ugly purple. There was no way to dry our clothes. Our provisions were soaked. There was nothing to hunt. We had to ration our food supply quite cruelly, starting with the ones that were spoiled, so the ones that were not can last longer. By the time we reached the camp, we were shaken, sick and starving.
When all was done, we thanked our dead enemies for the food they had left behind. We could not stay there long though. They knew we destroyed their place and would come looking for us. Besides, with the state of our personnel, the longer we stayed, more were the chances of us dying. We had to start walking if we wanted a chance at living to see another face again.
The return journey took a lot longer than we expected. We were weaker, of both spirit and body. What food we brought back would not last long. The bread was stale and damp no matter how much we tried to cover it. It began moulding first so we started with that. The small careful sips of one bottle of wine among the ten of us kept our hopes high that it helped warming is up when it really did not. We kept at it for two days and then the corn went next. We carefully divided the husk, silk and the kernels, saving the stripped down cob to chew on later when we had nothing else. By sixth day through the return journey, my men had become half the size they were a month ago, now almost only skin and bones. I dare not imagine what I look like.
Our skin was shrunken and wrinkled like an old man on his deathbed. Our feet were numbing and too swollen to get the boots off and were covered in wounds and blisters. Soon one of our man talked of unbearable pain in his foot. We found that his leg has begun decaying inside his boot. The wounds were infected and the constant exposure to the muddy water was spoiling the flesh. We had no choice but to hold him down and saw his leg off. What little wine we had left we sprinkled on his foot that was only a raw, red stump, in hopes of stopping the infection. But it was a dead man’s hope. We knew his blood was poisoned already. We took turns carrying him to keep him out of the water. It was not long before he drew his last breath, confused, scared and in tears, yet relieved to be finally freed from the pain.
His death shook us all. It gave us the last shred of energy, so we could return his body to his family. He deserved at least that much. This is the true reality of war. Now I do not know what I am fighting for any more.
Soldier in love.
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