CombatDo you think about dying when you’re in combat?

You think about it more before the action begins. The tension, the heightened alertness, the focused awareness, like being endowed with senses of both predator and prey simultaneously—which is what you become. And then, suddenly, when it begins, there is no past, no future. Your total life is lived moment by moment as in an eternity of moments, and for the rest of your life there will never be a time when life is so concentrated with both meaning and non-meaning.

The prospect of dying is always there—but mostly you think about your comrades, your brothers-in-arms. It’s more about feeling than actual thinking. Will I not let them down? Will I do what is expected of me? Am I capable of courage? Am I not a coward? Please, God, don’t let my brothers-in-arms die.

During it, you function on training, on raw action and reaction, on animal instincts of survival. There is no time to think about dying.

I was a bit disappointed after my first fight. I had read about the drama of combat; perhaps I expected too much. Perhaps bugles and background bands and thunder and lightning from the sky. Instead, it was all so simple—two sides shooting at each other.

Death was almost unreal during it. I shot a man and he fell flat on his face. It stunned me.

“I killed a man, Miguelito! I killed him!” I shouted above the clatter.

Later is when you think about death. Had the man I killed thought about his dying? Who was he? What was he? What were his thoughts? How would he have reacted had the outcome been different and he killed me instead?

It was quiet afterwards, very quiet. And in that quietness is when your soul cries out to you.

“There are, according to an old saying, no atheists in foxholes. Even atheists and freethinkers find compelling reasons to seek spiritual solace whenever bombs start falling and bullets flying. . .” From God In The Foxhole, by Charles W. Sasser. Gold Medal Winner from Military Writers Society of America. Available in hardback, paperback, and audio from or through most bookstores.