Web Site: Pvt. Jung
Jasper Jung loved two things in life: smoking cigarettes and his girl, Marne; but, his abhorrence of living under his brother's shadow takes him across the ocean and onto foreign soil. There he fights in a war that he knows little about and while Jasper longs to return to the things he loves, his hatred won't allow it.
The cacophony of the machine gun roared throughout the blackened valley. The fading sun looked like a red glass eye glaring down through a haze of smoke and death. Soldiers hid within the trenches, surrounded by the stench of ruddy earth and piss as bullets whizzed past them. One bullet from a German rifle found its target and sent a spray of blood and brain matter splattering against a young man's face.
The boy reached up with a shaking hand and smeared the blood against his ashen skin. He shuddered and sunk lower against the earthen wall of the man-made shelter as the war raged on. His name was stenciled on the lapel of his green uniform: Jung. It was pronounced with a soft "J" so it was actually Young. He looked barely old enough to shave let alone fight in the Great War (as the politicians called it).
"Jasper!" A soldier with a blonde moustache hollered at the trembling boy. "Goddamit, Jasper, fire that fucking rifle!"
Jasper Jung tensed as he looked over at the Lieutenant. He nodded mechanically and fumbled with his M1903 Springfield. Without even looking up, Jasper lifted his gun backwards over his shoulder and out of the trench. He awkwardly pulled the trigger a few times as the damnable contraption tried to fly out of his sweaty grip.
"You fucking coward!" The lieutenant roared as he crawled over Jasper's legs. The private sobbed as he withdrew his rifle and fought the urge to suck on his thumb.
Truth be told, Jasper Jung was not old enough to serve in the Army. He enlisted to prove his brother wrong. Jonathan thought he was so much better than his little brother. He could run farther, he could dive deeper and he was old enough to fight in the War. So when Jasper signed up, he lied about his age and the recruiter bought it.
Now he found himself up to his elbows in blood, sweat and shit and he wanted nothing more than to be back home with mama. He pictured himself sitting on the porch with the sound of buzzing cicadas echoing through the hazy summer afternoon. A cold sarsaparilla in his hand...and a cigarette. God, did he want a smoke. He knew it was a filthy habit but the Army could be blamed for his new addiction.
At boot camp, Jasper learned that smokers got special privileges. The sergeant would come in barking orders. He would say, "I want all you pussy willows to clean the latrines! If you smoke, you can go hang linens outside!" After a couple days of cleaning toilets, Jasper bought himself a pouch of tobacco and some papers to roll his own cigarettes. He got to stay outside with the other smokers after that.
A stray bullet pinged against the top of his helmet and Jasper screamed as he scrambled to the bottom of the trench. He tentatively reached up with his free hand and felt a dent in the top of his Doughboy. Laughing and crying, Jasper hugged his rifle close to his thin chest.
Screams from across the field and a cheer from his company gave Jasper a momentary jolt from his cowardice. He straightened as best he could in the fox hole and turned about. Struggling to a kneeling position, the private from Kansas City peered over the trench line. Through the trodden grass, he saw a battalion of German soldiers fleeing from the field.
"We got 'em on the run, boys! We got 'em on the run!" Someone yelled down the line and Jasper couldn't help but smile.
Without thinking about it, Jasper lifted his rifle and pressed the butt against his shoulder. He lined up one of the Krauts in his sight and let go a couple of bullets. The projectiles missed their mark but to his satisfaction the Lieutenant saw his valiant effort. Jasper got a big thumbs up from the man.
The sixteen year old soldier continued to take aim and fire as the Germans ducked back into their own trenches. They'd managed to drive them back into hiding as the sun set over the Western Front. Rations were handed out and for a bit they enjoyed a momentary reprieve from the chaos. Jasper ate from a can of corned beef and took a gulp of water from his flask.
"Tastes like dog shit, doesn't it?" One of the guys quipped and Jasper laughed, nodding in agreement.
In all reality, it didn't taste too bad to him. He did wish that he could be back home though, spending time with his best girl...Marne Wilson. She was a vision with red curls silhouetting a baby doll's face and, man, could she cook. She was an even better cook than his brother's wife. That woman could burn water, Jasper thought.
"Marne..." He whispered as cannons fired off in the distance. Their short break was about to come to an end but not before he closed his eyes and pictured her freckled face one last time.
If Jasper had read up on his geography of Europe, he would have realized that he was fighting in a place that shared his beloved's name sake. But, he didn't care because Jonny didn't care. So there was no need for him to obsess over his grades. He only competed with Jonny over the important things like women, fast cars and athletics.
Screams from within the trench made him open his eyes. Flashes of light filled the otherwise blackened network of tunnels. In horror, Jasper watched as German soldiers broke through the trench line and mowed down his comrades. He frantically reached for his gun still not quite understanding what was happening.
"How'd they get in here?" He kept wondering as his fingers ensnared the rifle.
A soldier next to him gasped and gargled. Jasper looked over his shoulder and in the brief light from the gun fire, he saw a gaping hole in the man's throat. A fountain of blood sprayed out as he tried to breathe. The soldier frantically clawed at Jasper as he fell on top of him. The warm liquid saturated the front of Jasper's uniform and he wanted nothing more than to push away the dead man and run off into the night.
The ground started to shake right then and Jasper thought for sure the end was near. His mama told him about Armageddon and how the Lord would send down his angels of death to fight the denizens of Satan. Jasper swore that this noise must be the sound of God walking across the very earth. When a large shadow passed by overhead, illuminated by the pink flares cascading across the heavens, Jasper thought it was the Lord.
What poor Jasper did not realize was that this vision driving over the American trenches was not God. This was a metal monster built by the Germans and it meant certain doom for any infantry man in its way. Fortunately, Jasper was out of the way of the Sturmpanzerwagen as it caved in a portion of the tunnel and crushed any survivor beneath its girth. The tank rolled onward seeking the lives of any remaining Allies.
In the wake of the German onslaught, Jasper somehow lived. He lay in the same spot in the trench, his comrade face down on his chest. Fear made him lay there, barely breathing while the enemy soldiers finished off his company with bayonets, billhooks, spades and hatchets. Maybe it was luck but when the Germans swept past him, they let him lie.
Jasper almost breathed a sigh of relief until he saw the glimmer of steel. He glanced up and saw a lingering German soldier looming over him. In his hand, he held a shimmering hatchet. Without a noise, the soldier swept it down at Jasper and sunk it into the dead man lying on top of him. Jasper would have felt grateful except for the fact that he fainted soon after.
When he finally awoke, it seemed as if only minutes had passed. In the darkness, Jasper pushed the body off him. Flares continued to illuminate the sky overhead and he glanced up furtively. The sounds of battle were farther away now. It seemed as if the warmongers had taken their party elsewhere across the valley. They'd left little helpless Jasper to fend for himself while they played with the big boys.
Another onslaught of flares lit up the trench and this time Jasper looked around his immediate surroundings. He saw the pale faces of his fellow soldiers, their glazed eyes staring at the heavens as if they too watched the pretty flares arcing across the night like overgrown fireflies. He pinched himself to make sure that he was still among the living. Pain proved that he still survived.
As darkness descended over the trench, Jasper sniffled and longed to have a cigarette. Without thinking about it, he reached up to his breast pocket and searched for his bag of tobacco. To his dismay, he felt nothing but torn cloth dangling from his chest.
"Dammit." He swore as another round of flares lit up the area. Jasper wanted to cry right then until he spotted the Lieutenant lying just a stone's throw away. Jasper knew that the Lieutenant also smoked and he kept rolled cigarettes in a dent-proof tin.
When the lights went out once again, Jasper crawled toward the Lieutenant. He carefully maneuvered himself over the corpses of his company. Part of him realized this was ridiculous but he didn't know what else to do. He was alive and he planned to stay that way. Remaining in the trench seemed the logical choice. He would just sit and wait and smoke a cigarette until help arrived.
The flares helped him spot the Lieutenant and feeling around he quickly located the tin of cigarettes. With a victorious glee, Jasper opened the tin and pulled out one of the intact smokes. He placed the rolled tip in his mouth and patted his pant pockets for his matches. Once he found them, he leaned down and lit the cigarette fearing that the wind would blow out the flame.
As he leaned back, that first drag made him feel dizzy. It immediately settled his nerves and Jasper knew the struggle had been worth it. Sure, his brother would disapprove of his smoking. Jonathan didn't smoke but what big brother didn't know wouldn't hurt him.
Jasper Jung sat there in the darkness smoking his cigarette, grumbling to himself about his brother. He never once wondered where Jonny might be right at that moment. His jealousy would not allow that. Instead he thought, "When I come home a war hero... boy, will Jonny be envious." As Jasper took another drag, he thought he heard something.
"What was..." He started to whisper until something bit him in the eye. Jasper jerked once, his hand flailed into the air tossing away the cigarette. The young soldier took a frantic gasp of air and fell over lifelessly onto his side.
About a kilometer from where Jasper Jung fell, a German sniper leaned away from the telescopic sight on his rifle. He grumbled something about "Dummkopf" as he tried to find a comfortable position lying on his belly. He too longed to have a cigarette and that burning ember had given him the target he needed to kill the enemy. Instead of smoking, the German withdrew a stick of chewing gum. Gum that he'd stolen from a dead American soldier just a few days ago. He took the confection from his pocket and irritably tore off the wrapper before shoving it into his mouth.
He chewed it bitterly while waiting for reinforcements to arrive...
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