FIRST TO FIGHT
‘From the halls of Montezuma
To the shores of Tripoli;
We fight our country’s battles
In the air, on land, and sea;
First to fight for right and freedom
And to keep our honor clean;
We are proud to claim the title
of United States Marine.’
-First stanza of the Marine Corps Hymn-
March 25, 2003 –
The digital screen on the camera flickered and then came to life. In the center of the frame was a white male in Marine Corps desert trousers. The man rested on his knees, his chest was bare and bleeding, with arms sporting two tattoos. An eagle, globe, and anchor on his right bicep and the Captain America shield on his left. Around his neck dangled two silver dog tags. The young man’s head rose and his haunting blue eyes stared, without emotion, directly into the camera lens.
Two men, faces concealed with black head wraps, flanked the Marine. One clutched a machete while the other held an AK-47 to the Marine’s head. A third man, the leader of the group, entered the frame with no mask to hide his identity. A large scar ran over his left eye, down his nose, stopping at the bottom of his chin. He shoved a piece of paper at the Marine.
The Marine squinted through swollen eyes at the single sheet of white paper before turning his attention back to the camera. Scarface ordered his hostage in heavily accented English to take it, but the Marine looked back at the man with the AK-47 and studied him instead.
The safety on the rifle was in the off position and the Marine assumed a round was in the chamber. The round was meant for him, his death bullet, the one that would finally end his life. The Marine knew exactly how the bullet looked and wondered if there were any scratches or markings to make it individual among all the other brass bullets in the world. His thoughts were interrupted by a blunt pain as a hard sandal connected firmly with his shoulder. He slumped forward onto his hands, while Scarface placed the paper gently on the floor in front of him.
“State your name and rank, and read this message,” Scarface demanded. The Marine spat a stream of blood into the loose dirt next to the piece of paper. With bloody fingers, he rose to his knees, bringing the piece of paper with him.
Scarface waited, but the Marine’s lips never moved. The whiskers of his mustache flapped as he exhaled with frustration and then motioned towards the insurgent holding the AK. The man kicked the Marine once again, but this time, the Marine refused to fall.
“State your name as it appears on dog tags,” Scarface ordered through clenched teeth, but the Marine ignored him, his gaze purposely defying the leader. His bruised face lifted to find the camera still on him as the taste of copper caused a half smile to cross his face. The Marine enjoyed the sick sense of pleasure from his own blood.
Taking in a deep breath, the hostage said, “Gunnery Sergeant John Basilone.” His voice boomed in the small room, his chest expanded with pride.
Scarface shook his head, his lips curled, and several wrinkles furrowed his brow. The heat radiated from the leader’s face as he glared at the Marine before his closed fist connected with the man’s jaw. The captive’s head snapped to the side, slinging blood from the corner of his mouth, yet the Marine didn’t hesitate to turn his face back to the camera. He tongued the tear on the inside of his mouth, spitting more blood onto the ground.
“I don’t know Basilone, but this not your name. State your name as it appears on dog tags,” Scarface demanded, speaking rapidly. He grew impatient watching the Marine rub the side of his jaw, massaging a lump growing under the skin.
“My name is…” His chest heaved up and down. “Gunny Carlos Hathcock.”
He hoped that if there were other Marines still being held prisoner, the sound of these great Marine names would encourage them to fight and resist. Scarface grasped the Marine by the throat and squeezed, digging his nails into the soft flesh, forcing the airway shut. Scarface’s breath stung the hostage’s sense of smell as he looked into his eyes, but not once did the Marine wince or show signs of pain.
“I grow tired of this. Your real name or we will kill you.”
“You’ll kill me anyways, so in the words of my forefathers,” the Marine gritted his blood stained teeth. “– fuck you.”
The defiance in this particular warrior brought a hint of enjoyment to Scarface. It was the eyes, both blue and deceptively hollow, which were focused on the leader and brought him a dread of discomfort. Scarface motioned to the man with the machete at about the time the Marine returned Scarface’s smile. The man raised the bladed weapon above his head and swung it with all his might.
For only a heartbeat, the Marine held his stance, feeling the force which parted the air as the machete flew towards his neck. Images of beheaded reporters danced through his mind with their long-silenced screams vibrated in his ears. The Marine’s superior combat knowledge recognized the need for him to get the drop on the three men. If he had any chance of saving not only his life, but the lives of his fellow comrades captured with him, this was it.
The blade neared his head at the speed of light while his eyes, blazing with sinister intent, glared at the anticipating Scarface. The leader didn’t know why, but he wanted and needed this Marine dead before something happened. His intuition was well founded when he realized the Marine was in the process of unleashing his own form of terror upon them.
The Marine ducked as the razor sharp edge of the machete sailed over him, clearing the back of his high and tight haircut by mere millimeters. The man holding the AK was startled by the blade flashing towards him, out of control, having missed its intended target. Before he could feel the smooth pull of the trigger, which would have killed the hostage, the machete slammed into the rifle’s barrel, forcing two rounds from the rifle to impale the dirt floor in front of the Marine close to Scarface’s feet. The recoil caused the insurgent to lose his grip and drop the rifle as all hell broke loose.
Mustering all the strength his battered and beaten body could, the Marine slowly ascended from the kneeling position to his feet like some demon rising from the pits of Hell. Shock and panic swept over the three insurgents. They had beheaded men before, but were never engaged with this level of resistance. In one fluid motion, the Marine seized the man’s hand that held the machete, while simultaneously kicking Scarface in the chest. The air gushed from the leader’s lungs as he tumbled to the floor, stunned.
The modern-day Spartan stepped back and smashed his elbow into the nose of the man still clinging to his machete. Blood splattered as the insurgent’s hands grabbed for his face, releasing his hold on the blood stained machete. The remaining insurgent dove for his AK-47, digging at the dirt to gain traction and reach the weapon. The Marine pivoted, rotating the machete up and over, and then buried it deep into the man’s rib cage.
The blade chopped through the third and fourth rib with a sickening thud, striking the left atrium of the heart and separating it from the left ventricle. The insurgent’s fingertips touched the stock of the rifle as blood gushed from the wound, and though he tried to scream, he was dead before his body settled into the dirt.
The Marine jerked the blood and flesh covered machete from the dead insurgent as its owner with his face and hands smeared with blood, charged the Marine. The Marine didn’t deter at the furious sight of the charging man, but instead, he pivoted and drove the point of the blade into the insurgent’s stomach. The man halted, fear and shock took over him as the Marine forced the blade into a downward motion, opening the terrorist’s abdominal cavity and allowing his intestines to spill onto the floor.
The disemboweled man dropped to his knees, wailing in pain, and frantically trying to collect his guts. The hot, slippery organs continuously slipped through the insurgent’s fingers while a growing pool of blood surrounded him. He continued to gather his organs in an effort to shove them back into the cavity before fear overcame him and death overtook him.
On his hands and knees, Scarface hustled across the floor to the assault rifle. The Marine punted the rifle away, and the leader froze when he felt the tip of the machete’s blade caress the nape of his neck. Scarface looked up in horror at the man standing like a god glaring down at his minions. The light above the Marine blinded most of his features from the man’s vision, except for the snarl upon his lips.
“Who are you?” Scarface graveled, his body trembling, voice shaking at the thought that he would die with urine running down his legs.
“A Marine,” His voice was calm and lacking any hint of compassion. Endorphins masked the pain he was feeling as his chest swelled and then contracted with each breath he took. Exhaustion never crossed the warrior’s mind as he towered over the coward.
The machete was steady in his hand; drops of blood falling from the tip, making dark circles in the dirt. A whimper escaped Scarface as he pleaded with his former hostage. His head dropped and he closed his eyes, praying to Allah to spare his fate.
“Don’t do that.” The Marine ordered, moving the tip of the machete under Scarface’s chin, forcing the insurgent’s head up.
“When you get to Hell, tell them, Jack Harris…” He paused, shaking his head as if something in his mind interrupted him. “No, you tell them the Berserker sent you.”
Tears flowed from the man’s eyes like a child awaiting punishment. The pain and suffering of the insurgent filled the Berserker with pleasure, knowing this scarred man had killed untold numbers of innocents in addition to his fellow Marines. Gripping the handle with both hands, the Marine lifted the blade high above his head.
“This is your zero hour,” the Berserker hissed. Scarface glanced up, his hands coming up to protest his own decapitation. For a moment, he wondered if the men he had beheaded felt the way he was feeling. The Marine’s chest swelled, his nostrils flared, and his eyes widen like eyes of a demon, filled with hate and discontent. With sealed teeth, he snarled, “Embrace it, motherfucker.”
It took one swing. The insurgent’s head fell from his shoulders and rolled across the grimy floor.