Germany. October, 1944. Battle of Aachen.
The smoke was so thick he couldn’t see past the business end of the M16 rifle he clutched in his bloody hands. The acrid smell of cordite and methane gas made each breath feel like a hundred razors cutting through his lungs, but he didn’t have much choice except to take the pain—not breathing had never been an option, not even for a tough guy like him.
He kept low, moving slowly, deliberately, on his belly, the broken concrete ripping through his uniform, matching in real blood the imagined razor blades tearing him on the inside. An hour later he made it to the wall. He lay on his back for a long moment, breathing pink, dirty tears that rolled down his cheeks between the cracks of dirt caked on his face. He wiped them away and looked up.
It might have well have been the Empire State Building as far he was concerned. He took a quick self-inventory, two broken ribs, at least. A hole the size of a dime went through his right forearm—lack of bone fragments and the clean exit of the point of the bullet about the only good news there. His tourniquet had already turned red. His feet were bloody, sprained and practically useless.
“Right,” he said to himself, “If I can only get over that wall.”
Carefully, Corporal Johnny Stone of the 26th Infantry Regiment, United States Army Corp, started his slow, painful climb.