North Africa in the 1940s...

I've been thinking about the Second World War lately, and more specifically, my family's involvement in it. I've been tracking down things like my grandfather's unit designations, where he fought, where he was wounded, etc.

Because of this, I've also been thinking about other war stories regarding my family. My grandmother had four brothers (I believe), and none of them made it back alive. All but one died in combat. This is the story of that one.

His name was John*, and he was eighteen years old. He had enlisted as soon as he was able, having had to watch his older brothers go off to war. John went through basic training, and was assigned to a rifle company. He found himself on a transport ship, and wound up in North Africa.

This made him happy, as one of his brothers was serving in North Africa. This brother, by the way, was the guy who would introduce my grandmother to my grandfather, but that's another story for another time. Right now, we'll deal with John.

John found himself at the depot, his company loading onto trucks. Jack was the last person on the truck, which let him stare out at the desert landscape as they moved towards the front. No doubt John was nervous - would he get hit? Would he be killed?

They heard the artillery shells in the distance, low thuds that sounded like rolling thunder. The truck bounced along the hastily constructed road, and everyone bounced in their seats with bone-jarring regularity. Potholes were par for the course, and those who tried to power nap met with little success.

John was talking to a friend when the truck hit the mother of all potholes. John flew up, and hit his head on the ceiling with such force that his neck snapped. He was dead before he hit his seat.

I mention this because whenever we think of deaths in war, we always think of someone getting shot. Or bombed. Or somehow doing something that could conceivably result in a death. We don't remember that there are still fluke deaths in war. There are still accidents, falls, heart attacks, and even death by potholes.

My great uncle lies in a war cemetary. He never made it to the front, he never had a chance to fight for his country, and he never once fired a round in anger. But if you ask me, he deserves to be there. Because he still paid the ultimate price.

(*not really his real name)

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