(Dedication for this write goes to Freq Media brother Alex Green.)
The year was 1996; the place was Croatia; the conditions were post-fall of former Yugoslavia (Jugoslavia). “Yugoslavia”… that country belonged to an exclusive (and very sparsely-numbered) league of nations that I never thought I would find myself in while serving with the Army’s Delta Force. But there was a war there, you see, and where there was/is war, you will find Delta.
We Delta pukes came to serve as a small personal protective force for the NATO Commanding General. The incumbent wanted army boys at his six, but he didn’t want his boys from Germany where he came from, he wanted Delta because the situation in Yugoslavia was just too… real.
A Serbian M-84 tank put out-of-action by a mine during the 1995 siege of Vukovar
“He asked for you men by name,” consoled our operations officer.
“I didn’t come to Delta to be some old fucker’s butler!” bitched one of the men assigned to the 12-man detail that we comprised.
“You’ll do as your told, Mike!” warned the Major.
“I’m not taking a bullet for that guy,” the Sergeant rejected.
The Major was silent and grim, irritated but silent still. I wasn’t of the mind to complain about where I went or what I did with Delta. I was never the guy in the gym who got all shitty about the weights… I was just happy to be there and ready to work, all the time, and didn’t mind doing it, even if it meant taking a bullet while butlering around the old fucker.
I was the Advance.
The Advance was the guy who traveled out to locations a day before the general and the boys of the detail to scout routes, collect environmental details, handle logistic essentials and the like. I wanted to be with the boys in the detail, but Advance was a singleton gig. I liked working alone, for there was nobody there to see me screw up, and I could cover up tracks if the need reared its head.
“Never say anything to make yourself look bad,” rang the words in my mind from my best friend in Delta, Samuel Booth Foster.
“What they don’t know can’t hurt them,” chimed the words in my head from some genius on the playground of my junior high school days. I was full of all these acquired pearls of wisdom, and the Balkans would provide the scenarios to put those pearls to sensible use.
So I advanced
I found myself in the city of Vukovar, Croatia. Vukovar was sieged by Serbian forces and was ruthlessly shelled by Serb gunboats from the Danube River. In all of my time in the Balkan states, I had never seen such a granular instance of war destruction. The city had the appearance of a wax city that was built to close to the sun. My, but even the shrapnel holes had bullet holes in them. The whole enterprise seemed to just melt into itself from hate-rendered damage.
I learned to say Vukovar-specific phrases in the language because of my time there:
“Ja sam bio u Vukuvaru jedan put; Bože… puno šteta je bila tamo. Nije poznato koliko boli mi srce zbog toga.”
The Google translator, to my glee, translates my words in such fashion:
“I was in Vukaruara one time; God… a lot of damage was there. It’s not known how much my heart hurts because of it.”
Destruction in the Vukovar city center
So the general, the boss, wanted to see the violated crypt of a Roman Martyr, St. Bono, the patron Saint and protector of the city of Vukovar. In 1995 Serbs reportedly broke into the crypt of St. Bono, doused the mummified remains of the Saint, and set it ablaze. Where’s the love, right?
The crypt was in the Church of Sts. Philipp and James, up on a hill above the city. I got a U.S. Army driver and the Army’s version of an SUV. We two drove up into the hills to the church, the driver grumbling and complaining every cobblestone of the way.
“I dunno why the old man thinks he wants to come to this miserable shithole and gawk at some dead guy. He must think he’s gonna see skulls and bones and creepy Halloween shit… claw hands sticking out of the ground. That dumbass. Why don’t he jus park his stank ass in Sarajevo and sip some milk.”
When he got too out of line in his rant I stopped talking to him at which point he would shut his pie trap for a breath. I got it; the regular army was miserable in the Balkans. Well, I had 99 problems to solve and his morale sure as hell was not one of them. Regular army grunts had zero responsibility and bored me. That’s just how it was.
Damage to the city water tower by Serb gunners from the Danube River as it remains today a monument to the siege
I stepped from the SUV and pushed my way through the front door of the church. I didn’t know what I expected to find there either, though I was at a minimum less irreverent about it than my driver… oh but, there it was, painfully apparent in the heavy masonry wall to my left.
A large man-sized hole was fractured into the wall of the crypt. I drew near and gazed into the expanse. I saw only shapes wrought by the ambient light. Raising my M4 Carbine I washed the inside of the crypt in halogen white-light with my SureFire gun lamp… I scrolled it slowly to the right, to the left.
There he was; there was good ol’ Svijeti Bono in all his demise.
The interior was dank and stank and was dirty and burnt. There were bones and shreds of cloth, broken timbers and… clay pots… receptacles of a sort? In the center of it all lay the charred remaining thorax of the saintly saint. His rib cage was intact and vertical, still attached to his spine which ended abruptly and morbidly where his head once was.
Ovčara barn Vukovar was the sight of the massacre of 260 citizens of the city
“Be careful what you ask for,” rang the words in my head. At least I had a head, and then there was poor ol’ headless Bono, there. “Be careful what you ask for,” a brother had told me when I left my then assignment to go join Delta. “Be careful what you ask for,” and at that moment all I wanted to do was punch that guy in the face as hard as I could. At least that guy had a face, and then there was poor ol’ faceless Bono.
“Soooo… here be the tomb of Sony and Cher Bono… kkkkkkkkkk,” my driver smirked as he be-bopped his way toward the saint’s improvised front door. He held a Stanly thermos with one hand and balanced the cap/cup in his other hand, sipping and be-bopping. He did a penchant at the waist to lean in and gawk into the crypt.
“I ain’t see shit!” he bawled.
I raised my gat and gun-lighted the interior. The driver froze. “Mmm… my Lord what the… oh dear God, that’s a body there!” he dropped the cup and put that hand over his mouth as vomit sprayed through his fingers. He dropped the thermos and put that other hand over his eyes as he flailed himself and his vomit out through the front door of the Church of Saints Philipp and James… and Bono.
Casualties of the 1995 siege of Vukovar as they lay in the municipal cemetery
I looked at the thermos on the ground and I was put immediately in mind of the fact that the morning coffee at the TOC had run out unusually early that day; why had that been? I recover the cup and poured it full. I sat on the edge of the waist-high breech in the walled crypt of Mr. Bono and sipped. It (coffee) was toward the south end of hot and smelled a hint of vomit; everything did, you see.
In my mind’s eye I closed my eyes and “said”: Dear Saint Bono, you just made a man puke and cry and stumble away from your tomb. Were you really that revolting just now or was that a man weak of spirit and intent? Me, I’m not a man who believes in Gods, spirits, ghosts or saints… but I do thank you for the coffee.
The good general did advance to Vukovar that day, and he saw… skulls and bones and creepy Halloween shit… claw hands sticking out of the ground. That dumbass.
The charred remains, mainly ribs of the thorax, as they appear today in St. Bono’s sarcophagus
By Almighty God and with honor,
A local Vukovar vessel on the Danube River bears the name of St. (SV) Bono
Photos courtesy of Wikipedia Commons