Who's To Say?


I was asked once, "What use is a fly?". . . . . why, in the Infinite's great wisdom, did he create them?" I had been then tempted to reply, "What use is a human ?" and in truth, there must be a myriad of advanced life-forms throughout the universe, could ponder the same question. But looking down upon the enquirer - a most beautiful curly-haired moppet, barely out of mid-childhood, I was struck by the significance of it all.
I was a teacher in those days, working at a State High School in small-town Iowa. Perhaps with less inclination to air my views publicly in the presence of Governing Bodies, I could have held on to my earlier role as Deputy Principal at San Manaleus High near Sausalito, maybe even the top job was mine, had I put my mind. . . . and gag, to it!
Thus the Spring of '81 found me atop this grassy knoll, behind the baseball square, looking over acres of swaying cornfields across from the highway, surrounded by twenty-eight vitally interactive year nines, including miss curly hair!  It was the last day of term and the traditional school-picnic was underway. So too was the exhuberant behaviour - I had just called 'full-time' to an impromptu game of gridiron wherein six of the larger boys had been using one of the girl's hockey-bags as a ball, when Callie (she, of the curly hair!) popped the aforementioned question.
I looked down at her, exquisite features set in a strong face. Blue eyes framed by long lashes that would have been the envy of every girl at Prom Night - you couldn't buy natural innocent beauty such as this! I smiled at her.

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"Callie," I said, " Everything has a purpose. . . . toothache, death, acne, missing the bus. . . . . whatever! Whether or not you know that purpose, is another thing though! You asked me about flies . . . well, let me answer you with this tale. "
Some years ago, seems an eternity now I guess, I had the misfortune to have been sent out to Da Nang Province at the height of the Vietnam conflict. Hell, all of us knew we had no right being there, but we'd been conscripted and not one of us was about to stand up and insult the US flag by beefing about it.

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   We had each other to look after, and for more than four months we did a damn fine job. Ed had been wounded, but I'd seen him take worse at a schoolyard beating near Fort Worth. Ricardo I'd known him years earlier on a local baseball team. . . he was the comedian of the group - kept us laughing with his impressions of Nixon and John Lennon. Smithy was the quiet one - a chemical engineer before he was called up. He spent most of his time dreaming up the most God-awful biological weapons you ever saw. The enemy was better off having him in our platoon than in a Pentagon Laboratory back home implementing his nightmarish concepts.
Aussie Jack was my best friend, born in Sydney, Australia. His father was Texan, and he'd come home when he was 12. . . . .

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  took a hell of a ribbing over his accent, till he lost it round about Boot Camp. Then there was 'Long' John, one-time cook who worked at a roadside diner on the Boulder Highway out near 'Vegas. Must have been six foot seven. If his burgers weren't so damn good, any basketball promoter would have signed him up.
Lastly, it was my great privilege to know Simon, who came to be known as `The Weasel' This guy was good - he had the ability to crawl within fifty yards of an enemy encampment without being detected. He had developed an unequalled knowledge of trip-wires and land-mines and was responsible for getting us to pole-position in so many operations. It was rumored that the 'Cong had a $100,000 price on his head. Gives you some idea of his value to us groundies.
Late '69, Base-Command had us moving in on a ‘Cong stronghold at Muang, less than 100 miles from the Laos border. Two Marine battalions had been wiped out by guerillas in the area, our enemy-warning system having no indication of their presence there. We were dropped in by chopper and dug-in for the first night or so.
Long John had made Captain and Ricardo Second-in-Command. Drenching rain made progress slow and difficult, so none of us spoke much, but I guess we all had our minds on the job in front of us. 'Weasel' was sent on ahead to spy out the territory and we made maximum gains during the next twenty four hours. Round about this time I had a bad feeling about the operation - don't ask me why, we'd been on a hundred such missions before, but I remember asking Ed one night if he ever regretted not having gotten married earlier - he'd looked right back at me and said, "Plenty of time for that ol' buddy.

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  . . . . plenty of time!".
Shortly after dawn the next morning, 'Weasel' brought news that the ‘Cong camp was no more than a mile to the north east. We checked our equipment, took a quick briefing from Long John and headed off. Base Command had promised all of us a two month furlough if this was pulled off successfully. We crawled up to the perimeter of the camp, 'Weasel' having by-passed several of the outer trip-wires, and took inventory of enemy numbers. There must have been twenty or so!
Fanning outwards, we covered the encampment from a 360 degree vantage point, and on Long John's signal, let rip with everything we had. Half of the guerillas were dead before they even knew where to shoot. The ‘Cong managed to fire off three or four mortars, and both Ricardo and Smithy were slightly wounded by shrapnel. . . other than that, it was over in less than five minutes.

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After securing the area, Long John called us down. He had kept a couple of Budweisers in his kit, as well as a rolled-up flag which he now unfurled and jammed fast into the roof of the ‘Cong's hut. "Bastards" he said, tears of utter emotion running down his cheeks - "You think you can stand up against the power of this?. " he leaped down. "C'mon in boys - have a drink to a job well done. "
Everyone filed in behind Long John, I was furthest back having taken top tree position. Just twenty yards from the cabin, the biggest damn blowfly you ever saw flew straight into my left eye. In surprise and pain, I dropped to my knees. Less than a second later the explosion tore the roof off the hut. It would have decapitated me if I had been standing. Heat from the blast hurled me back into the jungle but otherwise I was uninjured.
As I sat there crying, I knew "Weasel" was around somewhere cursing the fact he'd missed one last booby-trap. All but Aussie Jack were dead – he died in my arms within ten minutes, leaving me no answers, but so many questions. . .

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  . . .
But for you Callie, you have your answer don't you?"

Copyright: Noel Bailey 1995
I wrote this because two years later, a pretty blonde girl was found face down in those distant cornfields. The girl had, according to forensic reports, been multiply raped by at least six males, beaten repeatedly, sodomised and burned beneath both nipples with what appeared to be a cigarette-lighter. She had been put out of her unimaginable misery when they finally cut her throat. It was Callie, she was just 16. No arrests were ever made.
Although I can never again travel to Iowa and put right what God was unwilling to prevent, she can now live again, if only for a few fleeting seconds, everytime someone in the world reads this. It is all I can give her.