March 1991 Iraq
They belonged to the Second battalion of the Marine Regiment of the United States of America and were sent by President Bush to free Kuwait from the Iraqi invasion. As a hyena Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had attacked their neighbouring country. He had checked out their weakest point and waited patiently to strike in the hours of darkness.
Their journey had been short, from their temporary home base Aalst in the Netherlands to Al Maqwa in Kuwait. Or that was where they supposed to have flown. Five and an half hours into their journey they had been hit by a scud fired by the enemy. They were just six mile from the town of Fahaheel on the Persian Gulf. From the 44 marines aboard the plane only four had survived the crash. Within no time the enemy had captured the four survivors.
After a long ride which felt like an eternity, the four marines were brought into a room, or this is what they thought it was as they were blindfolded and bound by the hands. The marines were escorted by as many men as themselves. The captures were dressed in sand coloured uniforms and pushed the prisoners with Kalashnikovs. When the party came to a still stand one of the Iraqis said, “On the floor.” The man spoke English with a heavy accent.
“Yes come on we haven’t got all day.” Another of the Iraqis said. Rudely he pushed his prisoner, as a result the marine fell to the floor. A painful grunt escaped the victim’s mouth. “You bastard.”
“Ha I’ll give you a bastard. Here is another one.” Firmly the Iraqi kicked the man on the floor a second time.
“Leave him alone!” One of the other prisoners exclaimed. He had no idea where his assailants exactly were. He knew took a risk by shouting at the enemy.
“Shut your mouth,” said the man who had kicked the marine on the floor. “Quick, sit down on the floor and don’t let us ask you again.” The sound of safety pins slipping from the Kalashnikovs filled the air.
As fast as they could the prisoners sat down on a cement floor. The coolness of the material was a welcoming change from the heat they had been experiencing. Then they felt hands on their faces and their blindfolds were taken off. All they could see were four silhouettes. Their faces were hidden by masks. Without speaking the men with the Kalashnikovs disappeared through the same door as they had entered, leaving the hostages in a semi dark room.
Slowly the prisoner’s eyes got accustomed to the little light that was entering the room through a tiny window at the top of one of the walls. It couldn’t have been bigger than two kilo bags of sugar in total and in the middle sat an iron bar.
Looking up at the window one of the hostages said,” How long will it take before one of us is tin enough to crawl through that?”
“Whoever has strength left to climb.” Another of the hostages said. They knew they were only joking and that was the only thing they could do in a dire situation like this.
They could be anywhere, anywhere in Iraq by now as the truck they had been transported in had driven for hours on end. To show their hostages that they were humane the hostage takers had given them water and some flat bread, but that was hours ago.
“It’s probably going to be me.” The tallest of the four said. “I’m absolutely starving. “
“We have been without food for nine hours and 15 minutes.” The man beside him said.
“Do you expect us to be here long than, Sergeant,” one of the other men asked.
“I have no idea, Collins, but we have to be prepared for the worse. We are in no position to gamble here.” The Sergeant answered.
“It must be day because otherwise we wouldn’t have any light, or did anyone of you see a light switch?” The tall man said.
“Never mind that, let’s find a way to untie each other first.” The man sitting across from the Sergeant moved around and said, “We can help each other by working together a third person has to tell one of us what to do and viola we have ourselves freed in no time.”
“Sounds like a nice game the way you say it, Clark,” the tall man said.
“So you go first than isn’t it, Brown?” Clark said laughing.
“Ok don’t be silly boys, let’s get to work,” the Sergeant said.
They were lucky the knots in the ropes were easy to untie and before long all four men were free to inspect the room. Except for the small window there was nothing, no furniture, not even a cranky kitchen chair or rotten mattress.
“Let’s try if we can make that hole larger,” the Sergeant said pointing at the window.
With no tools but only stones it was impossible to make any progress.
“It’ no use,” Brown said while he stood on Clark’s shoulder.
“We need to find another way out,” the Sergeant said.
“There is no other way,” Collins said. “The only thing we can do is wait.” His coloured skin was disguised, now they were all imprisoned in the half dark room they were all equal.
After several hours the prisoners finally heard footsteps. The room was now completely dark and the men had to find their way through the room by counting the number of steps. There had been nothing else for them to do so each of them knew exactly where he was. Clark and Brown had even managed to free a large stone that was nearly as big as the window. All the time they had been locked in the room they’d heard explosions, sirens and the screaming noise of cars driving too fast.
When the door opened they could see one man standing in the faint light of an oil lamp which he’d placed on the floor. He held a basket and a flask in his hands. Not suspicious of anything the man moved closer and put the basket and flask on the floor. Just as he was doing this Brown put his arm around the man’s neck. Not knowing what was happening to him the Iraqi was an easy prey and within seconds the man was lying lifeless on the floor.
“Let’s go,” Brown said. “Before the others find out what happened.”
“Search him first,” the Sergeant said.
“There is not much here, Serge, only a pistol and some monopoly money,” Collins said after he went through the dead man’s pockets.
“All right so, one pistol is more than nothing and we might need all the money we can get. Now strip him,” the Sergeant said.
“What?” Clark asked.
“Do it, we can’t show ourselves in the clothes we’re wearing. We’ll be death or captured in no time,” the Sergeant said.
The night was cool and they could hear the sound of rockets whistling in the distance. The sky appeared orange with a grey tint of dust from the falling bombs. The town they were in seemed to be deserted, if it wasn’t from the occasional gunfire it could have been a ghost town. Now and again bullets were fired which were answered, however no one showed himself. For the rest night was quiet, every sensible living person stayed inside their houses.
When the men reached a niche between two houses, the Sergeant said, “There must be western army men around here. We must try to make contact with them.” He was wearing part of the clothes of the man they had killed.
“That is not going to be easy. How can we do that without the enemy hearing or seeing us?” Clark asked.
“That is where the clothes come in,” The Sergeant answered. The men were sitting squat and were whispering.
“So that means only one of us can full fill the assignment,” Brown remarked.
“Yes, someone who speaks both English and fluently Arabic,” The Sergeant answered.
“Count me out,” Collins said with a smile.
“Actually you wouldn’t be such a bad candidate, because of your skin colour,” Clark said.
“Except that I don’t speak a word Arabic.”
“I think the whole thing is too risky, whoever is going,” Brown said. “I don’t like the idea of splitting up at all. It goes against everything I ever learned.”
“I do agree with you there, but this is not a normal situation. We are in the middle of a war zone, on the enemy’s territory, we have to take risks,” The Sergeant said.
“Ok, listen up men I am not asking for your permission. I know that no one of you speaks Arabic, but I do. However it’s not my intention to get caught.”
“What will we do in the meantime, play hide and seek?” Clark asked.
“Of course not, we will need to find a shelter first, somewhere you’ll be safe and can wait for help.”
“I don’t like the idea. These houses seem empty, but I’m sure there are people inside, people we can’t trust,” Collins said. “It is highly likely that the civilians are hiding in their cellars. So we might find an empty house which in reality isn’t.”
“If we only knew where we were,” Clark said, “Things would be a lot easier. We would be able to calculate how far we are from a friendly base.”
Allowing his men no father debate, the Sergeant bode them farewell and crossed the empty road. The three marines stood for a moment and then they silently went their way. Keeping low and hiding in the shadows of the damaged buildings. Then Collins turned around to see if he could spot the Sergeant, but the man was nowhere to be seen anymore. Collins didn’t dare to call out his name in fear of alarming the enemy. It was the last time the men had seen their superior.
Not long after they had separated from each other the marines were able to steal a car. The vehicle stood with one of its back wheels on the pavement. The side windows in the front and back were smashed and the men were obliged to sit on the pieces of glass. In the process of driving off they got rid of most of the fragments by wiping them on the floor with their bare hands.
“Shit, I caught myself,” Brown cursed.
“Don’t be a sissy,” Clark answered from the driver seat. He had wired the car and was steering the car in the direction of where he thought might be a way out of town.
There were only a few cars other cars in the village. Most of them were Mercedes from the early seventies. The marines were also driving a Mercedes.
“How is everything in the back?” Clark asked.
“Not too bad,” Brown answered. “I think I found something. It’s something hard, let me see.” As good as he could Brown held the item in the available light. “Ah, it looks like a coconut.”
“Nice one”, Collins said from the front passenger’s seat. “Now use his head to crack it open,” he pointed at Clark.
“Ha, that is not such a bad idea, I don’t mean use it on my head, but we can use it as a projectile,” Clark remarked.
“You are reading too many fantasy stories, you must know better, things never go like they are in the books,” Brown said.
“Books or no books, lads, I still don’t like the fact that the Sergeant went off on his own. What kind of behavior was that? I seemed almost to me that he wanted to get rid of us,” Collins said.
“Yes it was odd what he did, however we make more change to survive when we stay together, we also make more change to die together,” Clark responded.
“But what change would he have on his own?” Brown asked.
“He can use his Arabic for a start,” Collins answered.
“There is always an accent; they pick him out in no time and then what?” Brown asked.
“You speak of the man as if he is already dead and buried,” Clark said. “He made the decision and he has to deal with it. It is our duty to find the save haven by getting the hell out of here.”
“If it were me, we were still together; in fact we were all sitting in this car. Am I stupid, or did it seem to you too that he wanted to be on his own?” Collins asked.
“Next you’re telling us he is on their side,” Clark said.
“You mean Saddam?” Brown said.
“Yeah, why not, you’ll be surprised what some people do for money.”
“Could he have sabotaged the plane?” Collins asked.
“Then we were a liability he had to get rid of. But why not keep us close so he could see what we’re up to?” Brown asked.
“That is the $64,000.000 question,” Collins answered.
While they were talking they had left the village and were now driving through a barren landscape. The petrol light on the dashboard had been burning for nearly ten minutes.
“Any minute now, lads, any minute now,” Clark said.
“What is happening?” Brown yawned from the back seat.
“We’re running out of petrol.”
“Well, I hope the Sergeant hasn’t been able to get a car and follow us,” Collins said.
“I would have noticed him,” Clark said.
The car began to prattle and after another few yards it came to a complete still stand.
“Piccadilly Circus, all for Washington DC swap trains here,” Clark said.
Reluctantly the Brown and Collins stepped out of the Mercedes, the soil of the land stirred up dust under their army boots.