The Bullet


I think that each of us is born with a destiny, a mission to fulfill.  I believe that our lives are the result of painstaking creation and that there is a purpose which has not been divulged to us.  Sometimes there are happenings around us that reflect this need for each of us to fulfill some special task before we can die.  In this story, I will tell about a man who dodged a bullet.

When I was a young man, I was in the army and stationed in Vietnam.  I was assigned to a unit that maintained a communications facility on a mountain top.  We facilitated communications between solders in the field and their headquarters, which might have been scores of miles away.  In addition to maintaining the equipment, we had to defend our facilities from enemy troops.

Around the perimeter of our facility, we had guard posts made of concrete.  During the daytime, only one guard post was manned, but at night most or all posts were manned by one or two men.  At the post closest to the operations center, we usually mounted an M-60 machine gun.  In the nineteen months that I was at the facility, it was never fired.  For those not familiar with an M-60 machine gun, the rounds are clipped together to form a belt.  When the M-60 is loaded, the first round is detached from the belt and forced into the chamber by the gunís mechanism.  At that point, the gun can be fired by removing the safety and pulling the trigger.  When the gun is unloaded, the bullet in the chamber goes flying and is usually lost.  In this case most bullets went to the base of the guard post.

One of the soldiers with whom I served was named Raymond.  Although he seemed to have higher than average intelligence, he did and said stupid things.  Most of us considered him obnoxious.  In his defense, I often do and say stupid things.  Being obnoxious was probably because of his youth and his reaction to the circumstances of being in war.

He was told to clear out the brush from the base of the guard post near the operations center.  So, he got some diesel oil and spread it over the brush, then threw a match into the oily mess.  I am sure that you can guess what happened.  A round that explodes in a fire is not very dangerous, unless you are fairly close.  Most of the velocity of a bullet is gained as it is forced through the barrel of the rifle by the exploding gun powder.  A bullet from a pistol will have far less velocity than the same bullet shot from a rifle because the pistolís barrel is shorter and the gasses as still expanding even after the bullet has left the barrel.

But Raymond was well within the lethal range.  Nobody knows whether it was the bullet or the shell, but he got hit.  He came away with a burn about three inches long on his neck.  It really hurt, but had it pierced his skin, the jugular vein could have been severed and he would have died instantly.

I remembered that he went to the site commander and requested a Purple Heart.  I am not sure if his request was serious or a joke.  The commander declined his request and suggested that he could be court-marshaled for stupidity.

I do not remember which of us went home first, but I never saw Raymond again.

Last Memorial Day, I heard conversations about Purple Heart recipients and I thought about Raymond.  I wondered what had become of him.  Just a few months earlier, I had put the name of a long lost acquaintance into Google and got quite a surprise.  What would happen if I put his name into the search?

I got a surprise that was beyond what I could have expected.  I found transcripts from his murder trial.  His girlfriend had put a bullet into his head approximately thirty years after he dodged the bullet in Vietnam.  I found an internet memorial site established by his friends.  Obviously, he was not obnoxious, and was well liked.

As I pondered his untimely death, I wondered what he had accomplished during those intervening years.  What mission had he accomplished or destiny fulfilled during those years between the time he was shot by that stray bullet and the day that a bullet hit its mark, only inches from where he was wounded in Vietnam?

None of us know where we fit in the scheme of mankind and the plans of the Creator.  Is it possible that we cannot die until our mission has been fulfilled?  Perhaps the five-year- old child who dies, without ever having really lived, has already fulfilled his mission.  And the ninety-year-old man has yet to fulfill his own mission.  We do not know the effect of a seemingly insignificant act to the future and the overall scheme of the universe.  Maybe somewhere in eternity we will see the answer or perhaps not.

In my time in Vietnam, I had some close calls.  On a few occasions, I heard bullet whistle by my head.  I remember carelessly handling a grenade launcher without realizing that it was loaded.  I get goose-bumps every time I think about it.  I also remember driving a truck, on a mountain road, about a foot away from the edge of a cliff, and then the wheel fell off.  There were so many close calls and yet, I came home without a single scratch.  Other men came home badly injured or dead.  I wrote it off as my good luck.

I have had other close calls where I could have died, but instead walked away without a scratch.  I can only wonder what my mission is in life.

I do not believe that any of us can seek our destiny.  We can try to seek a path and follow it, but without a map, there is no way that we can know where that path will take us.  No matter how carefully we plan our lives, we cannot be certain what will happen tomorrow.  Contrary to what we are told, we do not have free will.  We have to let life carry us where it will with some, but little control on our own behalf.  We have only one real choice in life:  whether we are good or evil.  A man who is good considers the welfare of others, often ahead of his own interests.  A man who is evil puts his own interests first, without regard or even the detriment for others.  Good and evil are not conditions of life, but they are a mindset, a way of thinking and a way of life.

We each take our own path in life.  Some of us take the well-travelled path and others take the less-travelled path.  When we reach a fork in the path, we have to take it, but without a map of our life, we cannot know if we have taken the correct path.  There are times when we can look across the abyss and see where we might have been had we taken the other path, but we cannot go back.  We cannot change our past.  Once we embark upon a path, we have to follow the path to the very end.  No matter which path we take, we do have the choice of good and evil until the day we die.

© 2014 Frank Karkota