Monday, April 26, 2010

Part I 'The Dialogue' continues...

I made this picture of Jimmy sitting on the wall of our trench in January of 1991.
The jingling sound of Gunny Demby's deuce gear clips came louder out of the darkness as he walked in long strides across the desert floor. He was a cat in human form that knew how to walk upright. Back at Camp Lejeune I had witnessed him on several inspections run at and leap onto the top of a wall locker in a triple bound landing on all fours in that small space above the locker but below the ceiling. His African American heritage gave him light brown skin and the physical build of an unusually tall long distance runner. The three of us watched Gunny jump down into our hole out of the night with his M-16 rifle slung across his flak jacket covered back. I could make out his wide and very much awake eyes that looked out from under the rim of his Kevlar helmet which was strapped tightly onto his bald skull. Gunny D was the machine gun section leader for our platoon and without prior announcement he would randomly walk the line to check on his Marines.

Tonight's visit was different, he was about to reveal a side of his life learning that he had not shown us before. Come to think of it, that night Gunny was around the same age that I am now. The first thing he said was his standard, "How are you Marines doing tonight?" I spoke for the three of us by letting him know that we were just counting north bound planes and wondering what would happen tomorrow. Tomorrow we all knew would be one day closer to our inevitable confrontation with the 'enemy' who was sitting in their holes in the sand facing south towards us a few hundred miles north of where we were sitting facing them.

It was at that moment that he reached into his cargo pocket and pulled out a small hard bound book which under the dim light of the desert night sky looked older than he was. It was a copy of Michel de Nostradame's Les Propheties of which the first edition appeared in 1555. Then he asked us if we knew about Nostradamus' prophecies or if we had seen any of his sketches. I had heard the name but until that night I had never read or seen any of the 16th Century French Apothecary's work. Gunny sat down on a sand bag in our hole and went on with his story of how he came to understand the works of Nostradamus. Hearing this translation under the stars in a hole in Saudi Arabia towards the end of the 20th Century was quite the crack out. No matter if you believe your own beliefs or not, reality is always something that is constant and directly in front of you. It's just a matter of accepting it without judgement based on where it fits in against your own expectations. He opened the book and started reading from certain pages under the low beam of his flashlight.

Of course I do not remember everything that he transferred to us that night but some of what he said soon became apparently real as we moved our way north over the next month and then on with our lives years later straight through the present now. Gunny read to us about fire breathing locusts, religion, Persia, Iraq, Iran, the leader with the purple turban, rocks shaking, leaders from the west and an empty book representing the future of mankind. After each subject Gunny D would show us these little bizarre sketches that represented Nostradamus' visual reference for the words that he expressed. He went on for awhile trying to connect for us the relevance of Les Propheties in the context of historical events up until that place in time where we were sitting in our hole about to face the leader with the purple turban.

The real question Gunny posed to us was specifically related to our presence in Arabia as active participants in the first of three wars that will be fought between the Christianity/the west and what could be understood as Islam. When he finished the readings he put the book back in his cargo pocket and asked us if we had any questions. I remember saying something along the lines of, are you saying that Nostradamus' prophecy has us participating in the beginning of the end? He thought for a minute answering with another open ended question, "What else could all of this be for?" Gunny chatted a little while longer then pounced up and out of our hole to the desert ground above us. His form disappeared into the night accompanied by the jingling chime of his H-Harness clips. For the rest of our tour between Saudi Arabia and Kuwait none of us ever talked any more about Nostradamus' Les Propheties, not even the Gunny.

1 comment:

Robert said...

Billy, Man, that brings back some memories my friend. Good stuff. Whatever happened to Gunny Demby? Later. Bobby.