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Marine Corps Stories: The Fight for Selfishness

A Medal of Honor recipient presents a radical theory.

By Skyler SaundersPublished 2 months ago Updated 2 months ago 10 min read
Marine Corps Stories: The Fight for Selfishness
Photo by Joel Rivera-Camacho on Unsplash

“I’m telling you. It should be an American bulldog, sir,” twenty-five-year-old Staff Sergeant Winston Wells chimed. He had skin the color of the night and starry teeth.

“The Marine Corps mascot has been and always will be an English bulldog,” twenty-four-year-old Second Lieutenant Corey Glover replied. His skin looked like a maple tree. They sat behind a humvee in Fallujah, Iraq on November 9, 2004.

“You two lay cover fire down right now!” twenty-six-year-old First Lieutenant Ryquasia Penderton commanded. She was the color of elderberry.

The two Marines snapped into position with their rifles and aimed at a stronghold with about four or five of the enemy. The sound of rounds ricocheting off of the vehicle didn’t startle them although they were scared out of their minds. Their minds, in fact, drove them to be cool and relaxed under such a barrage of fire against them.

They saw her. Like a tiger, she leapt into action and pulled Sergeants Ashley Meadows and Roderick Fole, twenty-two and twenty-three, respectively. Their skin looked like raisins in the desert sun. Not from injury but their blackness. They had been hit by a small IED in a humvee a few yards away from theirs. Wells and Glover’s eyes glazed. They felt emboldened to continue to lay down fire, despite the risk to their own lives as well.

Just as Ryquasia crossed over to her humvee, she felt a sharp pain in her wrist of her non-firing right side. She was hit. As blood issued from her wound, staining her cammies and those of the sergeant in her arms, she never relented. She didn’t stop to take a breath or rest or anything like that. Her wound wasn’t painful yet. It felt like a throbbing drum beat that reached all the way up her arm. But she kept going. Finally, she rested at the humvee where Glover and Wells persisted with their own fire.

“Are you okay?” Wells asked Ryquasia.

“This feline is on life number six,” Ryquasia smiled.

Twenty-two-year-old Navy Corpsman Marna “Doc Maggie” Huff, Who looked like a cinnamon runway model, addressed the wounds of the sergeants and Ryquasia. The injuries were serious but not life threatening.

Twenty-one-year-old Corporal Qadim Salaam announced, “Ma’am! There is still someone in the truck!”

Ryquasia ripped her arm away from Doc Maggie. She again instructed for cover fire and commenced to the nearly abandoned humvee. She scooped Private First Class Jill Verdeen out of the vehicle and returned to the other humvee, this time without a scratch.

The other Marines marveled at Ryquasia. She just asked for her pistol. She waited. Waited. And when an opponent popped his head up, she shot on site. An eerie silence fell over the dusty desert terrain. They wanted to clap but that would’ve given away their position. They wanted to hug Ryquasia, but thought better of it considering the wounds that still needed to be addressed.

Back at 4th Platoon, Company K, Third Battalion, Seventh Marines base, other docs including both enlisted and officers addressed those struck. None had fallen. Everyone made it out alive. No one suffered immense damage…or so they thought.

In 2020, some of the Marines of Company K participated in a conference call.

“Who’s got the ‘rona?” Jill asked. The other Marines laughed softly.

“Now, let’s all think of the moments that got us here. In reality, we’re not all here. Let’s have a moment for Jill and Roderick. It will be three years since her death and twelve years since his.”

“Suicide,” Wells announced. “Goddamn suicide.”

“This all could have been avoided,” Qadim mentioned.

“What does your Medal of Honor plaque read, Ryquasia?” Glover asked.

“What part?”

“The last of it….”

“‘For conspicuous service in total disregard for her own life and safety….’”

“Stop right there. I think you had a great regard for your ‘own life and safety.’ Go on, please.”

“For her unselfishness and selfless self sacrifice….”

Glover chimed again. “Those words right there are part of the reason why so many of the servicemembers either self-medicate, kill themselves, or both. The idea that we’re just knobs on a reactor as part of a bigger machine is what is doing us in, now. Probably, it’s been like that ever since the inception of war, and especially in this country.”

“I disagree, Corey,” Ashley said. He was tallish and had almond colored skin and non-regulation Afro. His retirement papers read 2011.

“Why is that?” Glover asked.

“We have to be selfless. We have to be willing to risk life and limb for our fellow compatriots. That’s the whole point. We’re out there for the ones who express their commitment to each other under the banner of the scarlet and gold and the red, white, and blue.”

“I can’t agree with that,” Glover replied. “We’re here for our own troops, yes, but what does that mean? The emphasis is on our fellow Marines and other servicemembers. That’s selfish. And that is what we have to implement in the wording of not only the Medal of Honor citations but also the rhetoric that is drilled into us at Boot Camp and OCS.”

Doc Maggie cleared her throat. “First Lieutenant Penderton reflected great credit upon herself and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service.’ That’s pretty selfish. That they single out individuals and speak of the ‘great credit.’ I don’t know. Maybe you’ve got a point there, Corey. Still, far too many people feel like there’s nobility in sacrifice. Whether we get it from faith or passed from secular sectors of the culture, sacrifice is still seen as the go-to ‘virtue,’ especially for those who engage or are engaged in our line of work.”

Ryquasia looked at her fellow Marines. She glanced at the plaque in her Wilmington, Delaware home next to her citation that signaled she retired as a lieutenant colonel in 2019. She returned her gaze to the men and women with whom she served.

Salaam spoke next. “I just want Jill and Rod’ back. I knew they were taking the guilt thing kind of hard, but I never expected them to…anyway, there’s got to be a change.”

“I said boot camp and OCS,” Glover said. “But it really starts at the war colleges and the universities. It stems from ideas. Before you can make any action, it is your brain who is controlling the shots. It is your brain housing unit that you must use to do anything. For us to be here on these Web cams, it takes a tremendous amount of thought. Are those thoughts all wrangled together in some amorphous consciousness floating over all of us? No. The individual ideas from individual men and women guide us to the right path.”

“I say we just use Generals Sherman and Patton as examples. People thought they were nuts because they revolutionized and reconfigured what war really means. It is vicious, bloody, and dirty. It should be fought, if it must be fought, with as much attitude and precision so that there are as few casualties as possible on your side and even on the other side in some circumstances. The way Sherman ordered his men to disrupt Southern rail, telegraphy, factories, and homes should motivate. Patton’s victories in Tunisia ought to perform the same feat in the soul’s of men and women.”

“You’ve gotta go, ‘Quasia,” Doc Maggie suggested.

“Go where?” Ryquasia asked.

“You’ve got to petition Congress on how to change the culture of the warfighting arm of the government.”

Ryquasia looked pensive. She considered the option.

“I’ve still got some lives left. Ashley?”

“Yes, Quasia?”

“Do you still find it within your spirit to say something that is adverse?”

“I do.”

“I want you to accompany me. In fact, all of you should accompany me as I lay out this plan to bring the fight for selfishness theory to life.”

“Roger,” they said. Even Ashley.

In the Congressional testimony, all of the Marines wore suits. Ryquasia had on a blue and green top and a black bottom with pert patent leather shoes. She poured herself a glass of water but didn’t drink it.

“Ladies and gentleman, I am Lieutenant Colonel Ryquasia Penderton. I have come to present a radical way of saving human lives who have served in the most dangerous places in the world. For far too long, there has been a dark pall or pallor placed over the heads of servicemembers. They are drilled and instructed, they must alter their lifestyles, they must fall in line. That is if they want to be an exemplary soldier, sailor, coast guardsman, airman, guardian, or Marine. The United States has the most robust and dedicated military in all of human history. Yet, once the war fighter gets home, he or she is faced with the prospect of what they stand for in this life.”

“Sadly, I’ve witnessed Marines in my own unit fall to the hands of drugs and drinking and even extinguishing their precious life. A friend of mine pointed out that it’s the school system, from pre-K to post doctorate where we must illustrate the importance of rational self-interest with an emphasis on the rational. Selfishness is never doing what one feels like but what one wants to do within the bounds of reason. Selfishness doesn’t mean you abandon your post because it was too hard or that you leave your friends in harm’s way in order to save your own backside. All of that are caricatures and fallacies related to selfishness. When I was awarded the Medal of Honor, I thanked my fellow Marines not out of selfless self-sacrifice but because they earned their place alongside me. Only I received the citation. That’s a clear example of selfishness. The committee which bestows such an honor found it in their minds to recognize me. I, in turn, would not have earned it without my fellow Marines. That’s the trade. Because being an ‘individual’ is looked upon as despicable at best and potentially hazardous to your health at worst, we must challenge the schools of instruction. We ought to toss out stale university professors and rid ourselves of bloviating college presidents who speak the fetid notions of unselfishness and altruism.”

“That’s a word. Usually, it is bandied about to denote a kind gesture or an act of politeness. In reality, altruism is a virus that infests and infects the soul. Though not often mentioned among the ranks, its venomous sting and wretched stink still compels commandants and chiefs of staff and the president herself.”

“What we need is an awakening to the sweet scent of the self. Since conjoined twins can share the same brain tissue but not the same thoughts, it is with this same principle that we discover a radical new way of looking at the world. Iraq and Afghanistan were not failures because of the men and women in uniform. They were failures because of kindergarten teachers and high school hockey coaches. We didn’t fail, the novelists, dramatists, and moviemakers all disappointed us. Ideas like the very names of the wars. Afghanistan was supposed to be Operation Infinite Justice. It changed, though, because it might’ve offended the believers of the Islamic faith who felt that only Allah could bring infinite justice. And my war: Operation Iraqi Freedom. This blatant and swift knock to the mind only shows the extent of selflessness. Instead of Operation American Freedom, we chose to placate to the Iraqis and deliver ‘democracy’ from a country that is actually a constitutional republic. Those purple fingers actually stood for our own moral decay. Did we have a right to enter and remove a bloody dictator? Yes. Should we have done so? No. Our main enemies are Iran and Saudi Arabia. Our politicians felt like this would be too ‘selfish.’ Instead, they chose Iraq out of a sense of desperation and over four thousand men and women perished with thousands more injured. Still, even more suffer from mental illness and commit suicide.”

“This is actually an easier fix, though. All we have to do is demonstrate that virtue is found in egoism and is our only means of fighting proper wars. Thank you.”

Raquasia could hear muffled applause as well as some faint boos. She still continued about her day with the full knowledge of her powers as a speaker.

HistoricalYoung AdultShort Story

About the Creator

Skyler Saunders

I am a man who claims his father as his only inspiration.

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  • Lisa A Lachapelle2 months ago

    This is really great writing with depth in meaning and characters.

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