“Are you telling me these kids are our additional troops?”
“Was our company was supposed to be the elite corps? Aren’t we famous against the Japs? Didn’t some news article come out too?”
“That’s why we got these many kids. The battalions in some of the other units only got one or two people for reinforcements.”
“This is driving me crazy.”
Joon-young clicked his tongue and looked at the kids who weren’t wearing a uniform and hardly looked older than 15 years old. Watching those kids nervously looking at their surroundings in fear immediately brought out a deep sigh.
Beginner soldiers…. Needless to say, any man in the vicinity who could hold a gun faced forced recruitment and were dragged here. He wondered how many of these kids had actually applied to come.
Joon-young spat uneasily, took out a cigarette and bit it. He had managed to save the cigarettes from a supermarket that was already emptied out by the refugees.
“Hehe, Captain commander.”
Sergeant Min Won-hoo, who was the leader of the first platoon, called out to him while rubbing his hands together and Joon-young threw the cigarette pack in his direction. The supplies were cut off a long time ago. You had to get everything yourself, even the food and clothes you had to steal from the nearby private houses and stores.
“Oh! I’ll enjoy a smoke!”
“Don’t hide them, share with the kids from the platoon before their last moment.”
At these words sergeant Min’s expression darkened for a second but he smiled again almost immediately.
“Is it the last time?”
Joon-young nodded his chin towards the volunteers.
“The only higher ups left are telling us to fight with children. There’s no place to run anymore and according to the rumors from the headquarters we’ve already been prescribed the role of the rebel forces. Still, the fact that the Japanese are personally taking action in fear that the surrendered armies would switch sides to us, is a relief.”
Sergeant Min frowned at Joon-young’s words and cursed. He then lit a cigarette and said:
“When is it?”
Joon-young said this as he took out another cigarette pack.
Sergeant Min looked at the pack and his eyes sparkled but Joon-young ignored him, lighting another cigarette and looking around.
After the great leader of the North had died suddenly, their armies suddenly invaded southward The Chinese had used the alliance as a reason to engage in warfare, and the Japanese had used the South Korean aid as pretext to strike.
Even though it was an ambush, it felt as if a promise had been secretly made between the US to throw away the Republic of Korea. The American troops in South Korea protected the Embassy only, taking in the politicians and the rich to the US, while the swarming refugees were fired at.
The President was also the supreme commander surrendered unconditionally and defected as soon as the war broke out. Ironically, the war clearly separated the patriots and the traitors. The minority of politicians and the army generals who opposed the decision to surrender formed a provisional government and maintained the front lines. At first they showed their abilities and won a few battles but that was it. Forget about keeping the front lines in place, after constantly being attacked they became too busy retreating. The politicians were also split into 2 factions, even if the whole nation worked together in unanimity the political scene was split between capitulation and desperate resistance. In the whirlpool of war, they couldn’t work together even if they tried.
The people leaving South Korea crowded the ports and the airports, and while the Great Powers were ignoring the blood and screams of the politicians begging for help, the South Korean army was fighting a lone battle against North Korea, China and Japan with no reserve forces available.
Thanks to the volunteers and the draftees, the soldiers were able to replenish their forces to an extent but most of the high-quality manpower, namely the military officers, were killed in battle. There’s no place to go or an operation objective anymore. While the remaining military forces were being reorganized in various places, Joon-young who was an active sergeant was temporarily promoted to a captain due to a shortage of senior executives, and became a company commander.
The Expo Plaza, where the line of defence was spread, didn’t have a single untouched building due to the bombing that occurred sometimes. The shell holes on the ground looked very much like Go* pieces.
The new recruits made retching sounds at the sight of the remains from the corpses of the soldiers who had suffered a direct hit from one of the Japanese self-propelled guns. Joon-young felt a bitter taste in his mouth.
The officers who had sung about offering one’s life to the country had really lost their lives, and all who were left lost the chance to leave, only thought of survival remained. The army, crying about a second Independance war, soon became corrupted. They became a group of bandits, having to pillage and force conscription in order to replenish their supplies.
“How many bullets do we have? Do we have some coal left?”
Min Won-hoo gave Joon-young a helpless look and ruffled his greasy hair.
“We even have to rummage through pieces of corpses to collect ammo but even so, after fighting one battle we will need to use bayonets. You just have to hold a gun and fight.”
“What about hand grenades or launchers?”
“Same thing. Barely three shots returned for each squad.”
“What about the anti-tank weapons?”
“They were heavy so we threw them away a long time ago, didn’t we?”
“This is insane.”
Joon-young sighed. The situation was the worst. It had been a long time since they received ammunition supplies but the higher-ups were still fussing about resisting by all costs. You could still find food but seeing how well the new recruits digested their lunch not too long ago just didn’t feel right.
Their defeat was assured. The Japanese, armed with the latest high-tech weapons, were charging with armored cars, tanks and air support. Facing them with just the jingle of rifles was pretty much like shouting Tenno Heika Banzai. Joon-young had no intentions of witnessing that.
“Get the kids ready.”
Sergeant Min seemed to understand what Joon-young meant, smiled slightly and asked:
“Which ones exactly?”
“Kids who still have a long life to live, not crazy ones like you or normal but old one like me. Tell the rest they can leave on their own.”
“But this way the battalion will lose significant numbers? The battalion commander won’t like it.”
“How do you know the battalion commander that even I don’t know? Is there a new commander in the place of the one who ran away and surrendered to the Japanese?”
“I haven’t seen him either.”
“Then do as I tell you. Ah! Give this to the platoon leader too.”
Joon-young fished out two packs of cigarettes from his clothes and threw them to Sergeant Min. The Seargent looked curiously at Joon-young who kept producing cigarette packs from somewhere and ran to the defense grounds. Not long after that about thirty squad members hesitatintly approached Joon-young.
From high school students wearing only jeans, white T-shirts and helmets, to middle school students wearing trainers and combat uniforms composed from an odd combination of different layers, since the actual uniforms didn’t fit them. They were children with more days left before them than days that were already left behind. They all had conflicted eyes as they looked at Joon young.
The war deserters were immediately given the death penalty. Especially in a hopeless situation like this deserting was treated even harsher. The soldiers who had personally witnessed that were anxious even when it was an order from the company commander. Joon-young handed a roughly made white flag to a senior student who had dressed himself properly because he was the eldest.
“Hold this and cross that bridge over there. If only the young ones surrender, the Japanese will let you live if they have any conscience left.”
“What? Don’t tell me you wanna stay and fight till the end, hurry up and get lost.”
“Come on, go!”
Just as Joon-young was shouting at the wavering students, they heard the sound of a car.
Turning their heads, they saw a commander’s vehicle approaching them.
“What is this? Is it the new battalion commander?”
The soldiers were nervous and didn’t know what to do but Joon-young didn’t bat an eye.
The car stopped right in front of Joon-young and the angry face of a lieutenant-colonel wearing two hibiscus shaped epaulettes on his shoulders emerged from the passenger seat and started shouting.
“Why are you not preparing for battle? Who is the commander here?”
“That would be me.”
Joon-young moved closer to the lieutenant-colonel with an amazed expression. It was odd that there was still a senior commander around. After studying him for a while he noticed that everything from his uniform and combat boots to the epaulettes was brand new.
“Heh, so the rumors were true.”
Joon-young muttered this quietly while giggling inside his head. There was already a rumor circulating among the army executives and the soldiers. It said that the resisting executives were protecting their pension and status by means of the conciliatory policy. After that rumor spread, an army general and a field officer who had disappeared suddenly returned again all of a sudden. The war would be lost anyway. Forget about war crime trials, by joining in at the last moment their lives would be secured until their death.
The lieutenant-colonel before Joon-young wasn’t someone he’d seen before. Joon-young had been here since the very beginning of the war. It was true he didn’t know personally all of the senior officers but at this point he could tell if a person had fighting experience or not just by looking at them, which is why he could confirm the rumors were true.
Possibly because Joon-young was leaning on his foot, with one hand in his pocket, not even attempting a greeting, the colonel frowned at him and approached, fuming.
“So you’re the famous sergeant Kim Joon-young who made a significant contribution to the guerilla. They call you The Crazy Terrorist. Hmmm. Even if that’s the case, how can a mere noncommissioned officer be a company commander?”
“I am a captain now though.”
“Tsk. Do you think you’re more important jjust because you are a higher rank? Anyway, the attack of the Japanese is drawing near so what do you think you’re doing instead of frantically preparing for battle?”
Suddnely the white flag in the senior student’s hand stood out to the colonel who was still frowning and demanding an answer from Joon-young. The student met the colonel’s eyes, startled and threw the flag. The colonel’s face contorted and he reached to his waist for his pistol.
Before he even got to it, the platoon leaders standing next to Joon-young had taken out and loaded their rifles, and were aiming at the colonel. You could call it telepathy. To the platoon leaders Joon-young wasn’t just a nobody with a doubtful origin but a soldier who had destroyed battlefields together with them. They figured out his intention immediately.
The newbies watched the colonel and Joon-young’s party nervously but the soldiers who had fought with Joon-young just giggled as if they were watching some fascinating spectacle.
“A...are you revolting?”
“What revolt, why are you saying such disappointing things? Since we’re all going to die, I’m just trying to save the kids who still have some time before them.”
The colonel was flustered from the sight of all the rifles pointing at him so he shouted, without changing his stance, as if he still intended to take out his weapon. Joon-young’s tone was relaxed. The colonel stared at him and shouted again:
“You should know that none of them will be forgiven if they desert!”
“What do you mean, desert? These kids have received the order to surrender by me, their commander.”
“Instead of thinking about giving up your life for this nation, you’re trying to run away like a coward!”
“We’ll lose our lives for the motherland but they are still children. Student soldiers...I don’t know what you guys were thinking. They were forced to come here, weren’t they? They don’t even have proper field training; we’re just using them to fill in the numbers. Burden is all they will be. We’re fighting a war but all they’re doing is being in the way.”
“Do you think you can use such a reason as an excuse?”
“Such a reason? Then why did all the aristocrats run away? There’s a already a rumor we’ve been labeled as the rebellion army, we can’t let the kids just perish like that now, can we? If they die here their families won’t even get compensation, since their children were the rebellion army. If they surrender they can still get money and be well off. I guess it doesn’t matter for you since you still get your pension after the surrender.”
“Bullshit! Whatever you say, you’ve committed an unforgivable sin. No matter how high your rank is I won’t let this one slide. I’ll bring you to court-martial. It’s the death penalty for you!”
At the colonel’s words Joon-young scratched the back of his head, took out a cigarette and lit it. He inhaled deeply and then exhaled, looking at the confused kids through the cigarette smoke.
“Death penalty… It’s a nice day to die. Damn. I don’t know whose words these are but that bastard is probably in hell.”
He then took out his rifle and pointed it at the middle of the colonel’s forehead.
“What do you think is the reason people call me crazy?”
The colonel glared at Joon-young and he began to say something, but at this moment Joon-young’s gun fired. Bang! Along with the bouncing cartridge, the bullet entered the colonel’s forehead, came out the back, and his brain scattered everywhere.
The children screamed, unsuspecting that Joon-young would kill his superior.
The body of the colonel fell to the ground and Joon-young threw his cigarette aside. The blood gushing from the colonel’s forehead put out the fallen cigarette and Joon-young took out a new one. He turned to the senior student.
“Are you gonna take the death penalty for harming a superior and for a desertion attempt? Or do you wanna surrender to the Japanese?”
The kids only had one choice.
With a duty to defend the squadron to the last, they crossed the bridge. The rest of the soldiers gave them indifferent looks.
“Hey, brats! Don’t be discouraged and be well!”
“Be strong! You have to live for us too!”
“Are you filming a goddamn war movie?”
The kids, feeling an odd mixture of guilt and relief, kept moving with a confused expression and tears streaming down their faces. The ones who stayed behind were shouting a little regretfully. Joon-young was observing all of this with a calm face. His eyes had dried out a long time ago. He’d lost too many comrades and had stayed alive through a lot of people’s sacrifices. He felt somebody watching him and turned around. The platoon leaders were surrounding the colonel’s corpse and grinning at Joon-young.
“You can’t be the only one.”
Joon-young smiled at Min Won-hoo’s words. The platoon leaders were the survivors from the already wiped out main forces and were Joon-young’s only followers. They were comrades who had been together for so long that they would readily die for each other.
“What are you gonna do?”
After looking at the body on the ground, Joon-young asked the driver of the vehicle. The driver looked very familiar and was actually one of those who had survived on the battlefield. At Joon-young’s question, he simply shrugged his shoulders and said:
“Should we decide on a sniper or an accidental firing?”
“What about suicide?”
“Let’s go with the sniper. Not that they’ll believe it.”
“Got it. I will report that the Japanese sniped at the battalion commander who came out to inspect the front lines.”
The driver ignored sergeant Min’s suicide proposal, loaded the corpse in the car as if it was something insignificant and went back to the rear command post. Sergeant Min came over to Joon-young who was staring at the rear end of the car.
“We’ll get in trouble if they investigate.”
“The battle starts tonight or tomorrow, will they have the time to investigate?”
“But are we really going to give up our lives for the motherland?”
“Are you nuts? Let’s just stay alive until the authorities surrender. I’ll be damned if we die here. Our families won’t even be compensated. If you have any left that is.”
Joon-young’s family had lived in Busan. Busan was burned to the ground by the Japanese landing operations. To make these operations quick, the Japanese had gotten their hands on the so-called “mother of all bombs”, the American super bomb, and had used it.
The area where Joon-young’s family lived happened to be in the center of the explosion. It was such a sudden ambush that running to the shelters wasn’t even an option. The mushroom cloud it created disbanded the nearby armies as they thought a nuclear bomb had exploded.
Joon-young’s family turned into dust, they couldn’t find any bodies. That kind of became his reason to wander around looking for battlefields. He didn’t have a reason to stay alive. He didn’t really have any desire to die or be a suicide attacker, he was just fighting day after day, like a machine.