Mercy’s First Semester
by W.M. Bunche
Mercy’s First Semester is about the ramifications of war and the perplexing impulses which lead to obsession and peril in the lives of all.
Set in Brooklyn, “Mercy’s First Semester” brings together four improbable individuals: Mercy, an Iraq war combat veteran suffering from PTSD; Mr. Mina, a compassion fatigued social worker who refuses to give up on his patients even when his livelihood threatens his marriage; Dr. G, an atheist professor, who is fond of Mercy in ways he cannot comprehend; and Eva, Mercy’s childhood crush who reconnects with him on Veteran’s Day.
Mercy saved his men. Can he save himself?”
How do combat vets re-integrate back into society after deployment?
How do families make adjustments to returning vets who have obviously been affected by the war?
A Message from the Author
I was granted the opportunity to understand the perspective of a combat veteran (“Mercy”) who was trying to get back home. What is home? In Mercy’s case, home meant not only the physical locale but the mental and spiritual states of normalcy. Through writing Mercy’s First Semester, I learned firsthand that for combat veterans, returning home can be complicated.
Mercy offered to help me complete a writing assignment by sharing his experiences. He was battling PTSD and felt that sharing would help him heal. We hit it off right away because as we shared our respective military experiences, we realized that we worked together on several joint service operations.
Emotionally, it was difficult to digest Mercy’s graphic and detailed combat experiences. As I replayed hours of our interviews, I wondered how does anyone get back to normal after combat. I had a vague idea of what my grand uncle experienced during World War I. I cannot imagine what my great grand uncle experienced during the Civil War. Today’s weaponry is far more sophisticated than the Civil War. However, the carnage of war was probably very similar. Sitting with Mercy, I learned teamwork on a whole new level.
About the Author
WM Bunche is a cold war veteran and Commendation Medal recipient. He attended public schools in Brooklyn. He is a fourth generation veteran and his military roots trace back to the Civil War. A wannabe athlete, he will compete in the 41st Marine Corps Marathon. He is an honors graduate of Columbia University. For more information, please visit Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or Goodreads. Mercy’s First Semester is his first book. Website: http://www.wmbunche.com
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FIRST CHAPTER EXCERPTS
Amazon Review Written by NY Hank
Beautifully Written, Mercy is a Hero for Today
What a gritty, emotional roller-coaster that forces us as Americans to look at the results of the choices that our society makes: war, peace, isolationism, involvement, God, no god, education, loneliness. Through Mercy, we see and confront ourselves and what we collectively value and where we want to be within the family of man (and women). The unbearable burden we place on young kids who go to war must never be forgotten and we are too quick to sweep away these men and women when they return because they remind us of something that is so unsettling and difficult.
In our disposable world, it is simply easier to forget about them and return to a computer game on a tablet. We’ve let these veterans down, and we know it. So ignore them; that’s the easier path. While not doing enough to integrate veterans back into our national community, Mercy gives us renewed hope. Through a circuitous route, Mercy let’s us know that one must never give up, must always believe that the sun will rise and there is a way to becoming whole.
And that is a lesson for all Americans, war veterans or simply an individual trying to navigate an increasingly more difficult society where more and more challenges and obstacles are placed in front of us each and every day. Mercy is truly a hero, both on and off the battlefield. Beautifully written, Mercy’s struggle will stay with you long after you turn the last page.
The Golden Hour
SPRING BREAK 2013
Joshua Toussaint Mercier (aka Mercy) remembered the golden hour. The critical life saving hour following a traumatic injury. With proper medical treatment, there is a great possibility of survival. Without proper medical treatment, Taps. He remembered the roar of the medevac chopper’s blades rotating overhead, kicking up desert dust. His bullet riddled body lay on a gurney. It was shuffled onto the chopper by four armed soldiers. He never thought he would be the patient. He thought he would die by bullet or bomb, not feeling a thing. He would awaken when Jesus resurrected him.
His vision hazy, he recognized the outlines of a white cross and the colors of an American flag. As his mirage continued, the ambulance drove him to the ER. He never heard the siren blaring. Juan Pablo, by his side, rode with him in the ambulance. He told the EMTs Mercy was his best friend. Mercy faded in and out of consciousness as the EMTs treated the gunshot wounds in his chest. According to the EMTs, Mercy was in critical condition.
In the OR, on the operating table, the intensity of the overhead surgical lights blinded Mercy. It was no different than the triple digit noon sun in Iraq, except this time his body shivered. The gloved surgeons with surgical gowns seemed like adults leaning over an infant. Nausea set in. His airway was safe but there were internal chest injuries. His breath was shortened and it hurt to inhale. He breathed easier with the oxygen mask.
The fentanyl IV drip made the pain dissipate. Fentanyl was twice as strong as morphine he remembered from his medic training. He stared up at the ceiling. The metallic scent of iodine assaulted his nasal passages. All sounds disappeared around him except his own heartbeat. He reached for his chest but his hand fell to the bedside. The luminous room darkened like an eclipse.
HARMONY FUNERAL HOME
A FEW HOURS BEFORE TAPS
In the front parlor of Harmony Funeral Home, a short copper toned young man stood at the podium. His skinny black tie divided his white shirt and stocky chest. He adjusted the microphone and glanced out at a sea of black dresses, suits and somber faces. He cleared his throat and swallowed. He ran his fingers through his short black curly hair. He licked his thick lips and scratched his bent nose with his finger. He paused before speaking then turned his head in the direction of a family sitting in the front row.
“I’m Juan Pablo. Thank you Mercier family for allowing me to speak.”
He glanced back at the unfamiliar faces in the audience. He forced a cough to conceal his anxiety.
“We first met at Daysi’s Diner on Halloween. He had just got back from Iraq. He was wearing this amazing sombrero. I was working as a delivery boy on the midnight shift. I had just arrived to Brooklyn three weeks before.”
His English had a slight Mexican accent. He paused between his words as he tried to understand how this moment had ever happened.
“He was battling insomnia. He was anxious. It was about three in the morning. I was smoking a cigarette listening to some old school hip-hop music. I like break dancing. So I was break dancing in the patio of the restaurant in the back. I felt someone watching me. I looked over my shoulder and there he was. Mercy spotted me on his way to the bathroom.
He corrected me on a few moves and offered me some pointers. Mercy had moves. Later that morning, a drunken gringo picked a fight with Mercy. I got in between the two of them. The guy was no match for Mercy. Mercy thanked me. Two nights later, I was sleeping on a park bench in Prospect Park. It was my first night off in three weeks. This was my usual spot. A V-shaped shadow of a man with no neck, all head and shoulders, wearing a combat uniform walks up and stands over me.
All of sudden I hear this raspy, deep voice say, ‘Did you stop me from knocking out that drunk guy over at Daysi’s?’
‘You don’t have to sleep on the bench.’
I responded in Spanish. My English wasn’t that good at the time. I answered back in my broken English. So Mercy started speaking to me in Spanish. We clicked right away. Mercy told me he visited Mexico when he was training at Fort Irwin. I told him I was heading to a shelter. I was lying. He said he would loan me the money for a hotel. I couldn’t stay at a hotel or a shelter. I had no papers at the time.
With just a rucksack with a sweater, sneakers and one change of underwear, I left my world behind. I had twenty dollars in my pocket. The coyotes wanted to charge me eight thousand for a one way trip to the United States. I swam across rivers. I rode freight trains. It took me two weeks to cross two thousand miles to Brooklyn. Along the way, I passed the corpses of people who had died of hunger and didn’t make it to the border. The reason I’m here today after being deported three times is God. When I looked up from that bench at Mercy’s face, I saw God’s angel.”
Juan Pablo swallowed, bit his bottom lip and fought back tears. A few audience members wiped their tears with handkerchiefs and tissues.
“Mercy offered me, a total stranger, new to this side of the world, one of his studio apartments. Besides my boss, I didn’t know anyone in Brooklyn. Mercy knew where I worked. We met only once and he trusted me. Stay as long as you need, he said. But he warned me, ‘If you damage my place, I will hunt you down. There is no place on this earth you can go that I couldn’t find you. I am a professional recon specialist. One of the best. We cool?’ If you knew Mercy, you knew he meant what he said. I believed him. I promised to pay Mercy rent two months in advance. I asked him how much. Whatever you can afford, he said.
He respected me because I am a survivor. I am fluent in English because he practiced with me. He corrected my pronunciation. I’m doing well in college because of him. He helped me write my papers. I just don’t understand why God would let a man like Mercy leave this world so soon.”
FALL 2007 – FIRST DEPLOYMENT
We were in the outskirts of no man’s land in the Diyala province, northeast of Baghdad, somewhere near the Iranian border. We were searching for insurgents on a night ops mission with the 25th Infantry unit. The cool darkness was so thick outside, it felt like a demonic supernatural being that breathed and hovered around us, waiting to exhale evil. The eerie silence intensified all suspicious sounds, unfamiliar scents and random movement. The sole light source was from our night-vision goggles.
As we closed on one house, a Hajji dog barked, disrupting the calm. The Hajji houses were constructed out of dense mud and straw. The dog was protecting the sheep from night thieves. Our commander gave me orders through my headset: “Mercy, stack your squad on the door. You do the kick-in.”
Armed, trigger fingers ready, we stacked, man to man. I ran my finger tips along the door’s edges, top to bottom, checking for trip wires. The door was clear of explosives. I flashed hand signals alerting my team. Suddenly, a man burst out from the back of the house with an AK-47 and just opened up on us: Pop-Pop-Pop-Pop-Pop-Pop-Pop! The infantry boys laid down fire. We blasted him and the house with 240 Bravos.
Once the dust settled, the smoke cleared and the rounds stopped pinging, we kicked the door in. Inside was just as dark as outside. Absent was any sign of life. It was so quiet I could hear my own breathing rhythms. A seven-year old boy’s last gasps and groans diverted everyone’s attention.
An entire family, men, women and children, lay shot up. Their bodies were spread out around the house bloodied and motionless. Some bodies’ positions appeared as if death froze them in place. Some of their faces wore relaxed emotional expressions. Others’ eyes and mouths were gaped open as if they were shot in mid-sentence. We did a button hook and ran right back outside. I shouted, “Lieutenant! Get in here! Get the Docs in here, all the Docs! Civilians shot up!” Our commander, a butter bar second lieutenant, dashed in and slid in his tracks. He glimpsed the bullet-riddled bodies.
“Oh God, no, please.”
Our commander shook his head and smacked the side of his helmet with his hand. He yelled, “My career is over!”
All Iraqis were allotted one AK-47 to protect themselves. When you witness, up close, dead women and children, killed from your team’s superior fire power, you wonder if any of your bullets killed one person or everyone. Gunning down a terrorist, even a female suicide bomber, or whoever aims to kill my men is not a problem. You shoot. You forget. But killing an innocent family is unforgettable.
( Continued… )
© 2016 All rights reserved. Book excerpt reprinted by permission of the author, W.M. Bunche. Do not reproduce, copy or use without the author’s written permission. This excerpt is used for promotional purposes only.
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Combat Vet PTSD Struggles and Re-integration into society