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“Junky Requiem” an essay on life being what you make of it, even for a “junky” (about a 5 min. read).


by Kelson Hargis

Copyright 2017 Kelson Hargis

Shakespir Edition


Kelson Hargis

How many of us can say we survived a several megaton nuke from less than two miles away? My father did. Is there even a comparison? He always spoke about the perspective it afforded him. He met every seemingly insurmountable challenge with, “Well Uncle Sam dropped a nuke on me and I survived that. How much worse can this be?”

Sometimes when alone in silence a spontaneous reverie overtakes me. And though he is long gone, I can still see his sun worn, ruddy face, and gray hair perfectly. Once again, he’s peering over his bifocals, relating the story as he so often did after ridiculous post-apocalyptic television movies, or stock films of nuclear blasts.

Dad imagined hell to be a lot like the Nevada Desert Proving Grounds in July 1957. The barren landscape extended endlessly for miles in all directions as if existing only to utterly ruin any hope for an escape from his fate.

His dark fatigues, boiling helmet, and combat boots only served to further dehydrate him in the desiccated surroundings. His M-14 was useless for the exercise. So he propped it in the foxhole, he was certain would become his grave, sweltering in the unforgiving sun while awaiting further orders from his sergeant.

Then the order came, shouted from afar: “In the hole! In the hole!” Distant air-raid sirens sounded from somewhere indiscernible in the desert landscape.

He and his brother, Tom, there by mere happenstance, piled into the six-foot-deep foxhole, shielding their eyes, gazing up at the silver dot of the bomber glinting in the sun as it passed overhead.

“Duck and cover!” was the second order.

They’d been instructed to remain standing, forearms shielding their eyes, chins on the hot sandbags surrounding the hole. He always said the following silence was the most deafening he’d ever experienced. The world just stopped. Then came the flash, “Like God before Moses on The Mount.” Even the Nevada desert sun relented to the brightness of humanities greatest monstrosity. For a microsecond, he easily saw his radius bone and brother’s skeleton beyond it upon instinctively turning his head slightly from the light.

All of reality rippled like waves of heat escaping distant highway roads. Then the blast hit. And his eyes always fell away from you to some far-off place after the glint in them while describing the light. He always spoke absently of the way he and his brother desperately clung to each other, not wanting to die with some great unspoken fidelity after being slammed against the back of the foxhole caving in around them.

Then the final order came, “Forward!” as they were all commanded to “dig out” and rush ground zero, bayonets extended, screaming like madmen toward an imaginary enemy combatant as if anything could’ve survived.

Marine personnel came around every few years to interview him and serve examination orders over the course of our lives. Decades separated from the U.S. Marine Corps and he still dutifully reported for the voluntary, sometimes invasive medical testing that was a lingering artifact of the Eisenhower era experiments subjecting thousands of U.S. Marines to deadly radiation.

Our family was once approached by a group of people attempting to get a monument erected in Washington D.C. called “The Atomic Heroes of America,” asking if he’d like to be on it. Dad just laughed hysterically from the kitchen table of our modest tobacco farm asking them, “What’s it going to be, and effigy of guinea pigs?” Yet he relented, signing the petition saying that he had only for all of those, “poor bastards” that, unlike him, died of cancer while still fairly young men afterward. Once they left he turned to me on the porch, lighting a Pall Mall with a pained expression saying, “Survival does not a hero make. Especially for a Marine. Remember that boy.”

We never heard from them again.

Many years later his 21-gun salute jolted through me on a cold and rainy September day. His fellow Marines presented the flag from his coffin to his wife. That’s when the measure of our lives finally occurred to me.

This was the man who sacrificed his whole life tirelessly for his family and country.

The man who rolled me out of bed well before dawn every morning to work the farm before school whether I wanted to or not (and belting out the Marine Corps Hymn as he did every November 10th).

The man who was at every one of my football practices and games.

The man who didn’t yell, scream, or even punish me after I vomited down his back when he retrieved me from a drunken high school party by throwing my limp body over his shoulder.

The man who punched me in the chest upon discovering my thieving of his cigarettes saying, “Keep it up and that’s how you’ll feel every morning in a couple of years!” before walking away with tears in his eyes.

The man who casually stated, “You’re the one that’s going to have to shave your face in the mirror every day for the rest of your life,” without looking away from his paper when I relayed an ethical dilemma, I was grappling with to him.

My father was the man who often shared his father’s wisdom, including that, when things get tough, “Men don’t cry. They do something about it.” He was also a man who, like his father, could admit when he was wrong. He noticed, I wasn’t grieving when, at 18 years old, my mother died. I reminded him of grandpa’s saying.

He took a seat next to me on our front porch after the wake. He let me know of the time he wrote an exuberant letter to grandpa about how proud he was of his first kill of a communist guerrilla in the Philippines. He ended it on a somber note writing his father that, “There seems to be a hole somewhere inside of me now and a deep depression, I can’t seem to shake.” He said grandpa wrote back, “Allow me to modify the advice, I gave you about men crying… I should’ve said, men don’t cry where others can see them.”

“I took dad’s letter and wondered out as far into the jungle as I dared alone and cried.” He said, his gaze still fixed on the acres of tall feed corn across the small county road our farm was on, throwing the butt of his Pall Mall, rising, leaving me alone there with the clapping of the screen door shutting behind him.

My father was the man who didn’t follow me when I went off to be alone after that.


How many of us can say we survived a several megaton nuke from less than two miles away? My father did. Is there even a comparison? He always spoke about the perspective it afforded him. He met every seemingly insurmountable challenge with, “Well Uncle Sam dropped a nuke on me and I survived that. How much worse can this be?” Read it and find out!

  • Author: Kelson Hargis
  • Published: 2017-03-11 02:05:09
  • Words: 1348
Nuked Nuked