Before the 187th Airborne Regiment dropped down
at Sunchon without incident and took the town, his division
was ordered to Nevada, where atomic bombs glittered
over the desert. Six miles out from ground zero, they dug trenches
and camped for days. When Shot Dog went off at 1,400 feet
and the soldiers curved themselves against the trench
like babies in a womb and covered their eyes, he saw the bones
of his hands through his flesh and the flash of light. When static
from the control room ordered them to stand and witness
the cloud, the heat waved across the desert and knocked him
on his back, then knocked him forward on his stomach
after he stood up again as the air was sucked back in.
His helmet and one army boot were gone; the roily spectrum
of the mushroom spread above him, not black like a thundercloud
but churning with light, red and red and orange and blue
like colored water inked across the sky. He tried not to think
it was, but it was beautiful. Before they got their orders to march out
for maneuvers, an officer strapped a film badge to his chest to test
the levels of exposure on his skin, and then he boarded a truck
filled with soldiers. As they neared the heart of the explosion,
he saw sand burned to glass, Sherman tanks submerged into earth,
and structures of steel and concrete vaporized into jagged remains.
But the dogs were still alive. Half-burned, blinded, skin and hind-
quarters missing, the bars of their cages bent and smoking
against their bones, lying on their sides, unmoving, not even the eyes,
except for their tremors of breath. When he saw the dogs he thought:
of course. Of course there would be dogs, he accepted this as readily
as he accepted his own dog-march into war, and yet, he stopped.
As he reached out and laid his hands down against their heated flesh,
the breath of the dogs slowed in expectation of release, but the veterinarian
in the control room with his euthanistic needle would wait another day
for the radiation levels to die down before he did his work. Most of the dogs
would be dead soon anyway, dead from the toxins, dead from the burns,
but animal need is futureless, immediate, inapplicable to science or war.
As he stood up and moved forward to follow his ordered path
across the drop zone, the pathetic wail of dogs rose up behind him,
desperate, incredulous, insistent that the broken bond of skin against skin
be unforgotten, and by the time he made it out to the perimeter where an officer
waved a Geiger counter over his fatigues and professed him clean,
he had come to hate those dogs, and he continued to hate them
as he showered off in the makeshift latrines of Desert Rock, and he hated them
while he vomited for three days after the explosion, and he hated them
while his nose and gums continued to bleed for months after that,
and he hated them while he shipped out for Korea, and he heard
the wail of dogs in the rushes of rain while he lay in the rice fields,
and he heard the wail of dogs in the mournful marches of civilians
on dirt roads, in the windblast of a cargo door opening over Munson-ni,
in the graze of a bullet against his ear before it pierced the helmet
of another soldier, and as the fallout from Shot Dog continued its journey
eastward over North America on drifts of wind, and Iodine-131 rained down
on farmlands from the thunderclouds for months after the blast, he learned
that in the absence of mercy, he would always hear the wailing of dogs.
:speechless: :ravaged: :amazed at how you drew this incredibly detailed picture of what happened there that day, and what happened for the rest of his life:
OMG…… I was just sitting there in those sands of Nevada, just a moment ago as I read your poem. You took me there.
Thank you – this was partly a story told to me by my father-in-law, and partly a compilation of eyewitness accounts.