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Hunter's Lair

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The Crowd was Just for Him - master
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The Crowd was Just for Him - master

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The corporal checked his line of Marines again. The plane was heading to another landing, another family waiting for their loved one. It was his duty to ensure that his men and women looked their absolute best.

These were Marines, after all. The best the military services had to offer. The best they had to offer America.

A quick sleeve over a highly polished shoe to catch a trace of dust, a slight twist of the USMC emblem, the Eagle, Globe and Anchor at the color, each little detail important, perhaps not to an outsider but to a Marine facing their family or inspection, it meant everything. The rows of green and khaki, broken by shiny brass and polished shoes always impressed the corporal.

He was proud of this bunch. They were more quiet than the usual Marines heading home, home into the arms of their families after a long tour. This bunch had seen the worst of it, he thought. Door-to-door fighting, snipers, hostile civilian and the road-side bombs. Homemade devices that threatened to take arms, legs and send shrapnel through any helmet, possibly leaving the body alive but stealing the mind and soul of a soldier. His men and women had seen the worst and had performed like Marines.

The Lieutenant walked over with a frown. It was always his place to worry how his troops looked. The officers always depended on the NCOs to set things right but it was the officer that took the flak if things went SNAFU Situation Normal, All Fouled Up was the polite translation.

Which one for the next landing? the Lieutenant asked the Corporal.

Rodriguez, Sir, the Corporal responded. He always said that one day the crowd they showed on TV at the airport would be waiting for him.

The Lieutenant inspected Rodriguez and smiled at the young man. They are, they're waiting just for you.

He glanced at the Corporal. Prepare for landing, secure your troops away.

Yes, Sir, the Corporal responded and moved to secure everyone. Wouldnt do to have someone or something slip when these men and women were heading to their families.

# # #

The Corporal watched from under the belly of the plane, watching the family and friends as they waited for their Marine. Some waved flags but the heat of the California sun bouncing off the black tarmac made things seem oppressive, almost surreal.

He watched as the family waited anxiously, as if they didn't believe that their young Marine was finally coming home for good. Coming home with medals, even. A Purple Heart, Combat badge, Deployment and more on that OD green jacket their Marine wore. They would be proud.

The Corporal sighed as the Marines came forward to claim one their own. A detachment from the local Naval base or Reserves, he wasnt sure which. It was almost always the same. The nameless, faceless men in uniform moving to the plane and slowly bringing the casket down, quiet and solemn as they walked in rhythm. It took time to learn the men and women in those uniforms, the Corporal knew. They wouldn't know his boys and women, they'd never have the privilege of serving with these Marines like he had. Learning about their families, their hopes, dreams and fears, learning their names, even their first names. Trusting each of them to be there when a door was kicked in on an insurgent bunch and bullets started flying.

No, they wouldn't have the honor but they family would be proud. Hed tell them later. The Corporal knew the Lieutenant, Captain or someone always wrote a letter to the family saying how proud the Marine Corps was of their son, daughter, husband or wife and how they regretted their loss. The Corporal also wrote a letter to each family, adding personal details that he remembered of his boys and women. Each letter killed a small part of his soul, each death took another piece from him.

As a mother wailed, supported by a man that looked much too old to be the father in the picture Rodriguez had shown the Corporal, the young NCO sighed.

The Corporal wondered if there would be anything left to him when the action was finally over and all the Marines could come home on a plane to cheers, to flags waving frantically, to ribbons and ceremonies honoring their service to their country. To something other than a metal box, a flag draped over that box and the sound of Taps. To tears and sorrow from family and friends.

It was going to be a long Stateside tour taking his boys and women home.

Kicking in doors, putting up with sand spiders, heat and sand wasn't hell this was.

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