At the end of every war there are soldiers left behind. Sometimes they are left behind because they were presumed to be dead or missing in action and sometimes because they chose to stay behind and start a new life. After operating in four different theaters and dozens of battles, I thought that G.I. Joe had decided enough was enough and wanted to start over in what was to become enemy lands. I should have known better.
It was the last trip I had to make across the Demilitarized Zone. I was going behind enemy lines to deliver the last portion of payment from the peace accords. After today, the hostile forces would no longer be forced to have any contact. The chances of trapped soldiers getting free were less than none. Parking a few dozen meters from the compound’s perimeter, I could
see the commandant pacing the yard, inspecting the supplies and equipment about to be auctioned. I stepped through the hedgerow and something grabbed my bootlaces.
It was the Kung-Fu grip of my childhood NCO. He had done what every fighting man should do when caught behind enemy lines. He had hidden himself in the camouflage safety of newspapers, cardboard boxes, dust, and cobwebs while waiting for a chance to escape. Now he found himself in the dew of the Saturday morning grass with freedom only a few feet away.
Joe was there amongst all the gear he had ever had on hand receipt. The scuba tanks, night vision goggles, radiation suit, plastic maps, and weapons surrounding him. His slate blue eyes begged in silence to be liberated. I knew that I had to act fast.
The camp commandant was across the yard, busy negotiating with some locals about the number of ration coupons an end table was worth. According to the peace accords, she was supposed to have turned over any captives she still held. Now it was clear she had violated the terms of our truce. It was well past the deadline for reclaiming the lands and possessions the treaty had granted me. Anything that had been left behind was now hers. Still, the hero of so many backyard battles and adventures was laying there waiting for his rescue. Dammit, I couldn’t let the man who single-handedly recovered the golden Buddha-like idol thingy stay a prisoner of war.
In a blur of motion, I scooped up the fallen hero and launched him into the roadside ground cover. A moment later, a dirty-faced young boy caught me retrieving Joe’s gear. His mere presence was a threat to my hastily-constructed plan. The flowing adrenaline made me reach for my trusty Hasbro® Ka-Bar battle knife (with survival tools in the handle), but my heart stopped my hand. Instead, I reached into my pocket for a chocolate bar to offer him. Finding none, I gave him a handful of shiny coins instead. With a wide grin, he took them and bounced away.
Then the camp commandant turned and saw me stooping over my buddy’s new place of concealment. I was on dangerous ground, and caution had to be my watchword. If she found me out, GI Joe would be sold off like the rest of the camp. I stood up and turned to face her in a single motion.
“What are you doing in the ivy patch?”
“Just tying my shoes,” I lied. “I brought over your part of the equity check.”
“Why? It’s not due for a few more days.” The enemy is clever. Even when she appears friendly, her devilish mind is still plotting strategies. No wonder her side won the war.
“I’m headed out of town on business for a week or so and didn’t think that you wanted to wait until I got back.” I pulled the folded bank document from the left hip pocket of my jeans. Extending my hand towards her, I was careful not to make contact. I didn’t have any protective gloves with me, and her side was very crafty with chemicals.
At the far side of the compound, more locals were approaching. Every moment spent within the enemy's camp brought Joe closer to being discovered. Getting him out had just become a now-or-never event.
“Look, I’m sorry to be rude, but I’ve gotta run.” I was close to breaking out in a cold sweat. “There are half dozen things that need to be done before I can leave.”
“Sure. I understand." The commandant grinned as she looked at the check. "Looks like I’m going to make a killing today. Between this check and the garbage sale money, the last installment of mine and Rick’s honeymoon should be covered.” More than two minutes of conversations had passed before she fired her first shot. My enemy had begun to learn the art of patience since the formal cease-fire had been signed.
“Glad to have been of service. Looks like you’ve got more customers,” I said, pointing across the compound yard to where a handful of scavenging locals were moving in a modified wedge formation. Her inability to bypass a single sale would give me the break I needed.
When she marched off to meet the horde, I all but sprinted to Joe’s hiding place. Thankfully, he was still okay. Joe and his gear got stuffed down the front of my sweatshirt as I crossed back through the hedgerow to my car. First, there would have to be a thorough debriefing. Then, after a few weeks of R&R, the hero of my boyhood would be ready for more action and adventure.