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Four Years at the Mount

Junior Year

The Forgotten War

Michael Kenney Jr.
MSN Class of 2019

(7/2017) January 23, 1951: They say this war, like all others, is a spillover from the last. But Iím not too certain about that. Iíve thought about it a lot but thatís not what keeps me awake tonight. I canít stop thinking about how weíre finally here. Iíve tried nearly everything to still my nerves and get some form of sleep, but alas, all has proven unsuccessful.

I finally decide to creep over and snatch the newspaper lying beside Martinís rack. Maybe reading will tire me out. The paperís front headline screams in big, block lettering: Boy Takes Contentious National Spelling Bee Title. Itís meaningless to me, but I suppose it must have meaning for others. Why else would it be on the front cover? I skim through the article not because it interests me, but because I canít sleep, and I hope reading will do the trick. An 11 year old boy won the National Spelling Bee by correctly spelling the word "halcyon," which as a noun means a tropical Asian kingfisher and as an adjective denotes an idyllically happy and peaceful time in the past. Though particular words were randomly selected and administered from a pool of possibilities, critics contend that the 11-year-old boy from Los Angeles was given substantially less difficult words than the runner up, and thus, called into question the validity of the random process. Shouldnít everything be calculated? Shouldnít everything be fair? It would make sense.

I slip the paper back near Martinís rack, curl back beneath my blanket, and try to shut my eyes. But I canít. Iím not sure how the others can. In too few hours we will land someplace I canít pronounce to do whatever it is we do here. Iím not entirely sure, if Iím being honest. My thoughts about the unknown keep me awake. I begin to wonder about the inevitably less troublesome thoughts that swirl about the heads of my sleeping comrades. Theyíre a random bunch. Martin, he was an accountant for 18 years, not a soldier. Maybe heís dreaming about sitting on piles and piles of money, about the spoils of war he can win in a few days, how this war effects the stock he bought way back when. The man in the rack above him, George, he is not any sort of soldier either. Married three times and woke up one day and thought of why not join the war effort. Maybe he dreams about his kids or of falling madly in love with a Korean woman in a few days. Don says heís 18 and has convinced no one, but Uncle Sam. No one knows much about him, other than the fact that this is his first rodeo. Maybe he dreams about holding a rifle for the first time and becoming a man. Thereís only one real soldier here, and even sometimes I question if heís here entirely for "the Great Cause." Could he just love carnage? Or perhaps he wants reparation from something he did in the last war. Maybe heís got nothing better to do. Who knows? Everyone is here for their own reason. Iím neither entirely sure how I got here in the first place nor could I adequately describe the objectives of our war. Certainly, we hope to contain communism, whatever that is, but then what? Do we just go home happily ever after? Start new careers and join right back in with our families? And what if none of that happens? What if everything turns for the worst...? No. I stop this thought upon its conception.

I stop thinking about the thoughts that have kept me tossing and turning for weeks. I drift back to the newspaper article. Halcyon. How do you even pronounce that? Halcyon, halcyon, halcyon. I wonder if halcyons look different than regular American kingfishers. I suppose Iíll find out soon enough. And boy oh boy it also has a random adjectival definition: an idyllically happy and peaceful time period in the past. I bet Iíll hear a lot of that in a few days too.

I donít really think they should change the rules. Sure, the runner up didnít have such great luck, but thatís life. Lifeís all about throwing random bits of good and bad and not bothering to wait as you readjust to the new state of things. Youíve got to learn and learn fast because sooner or later the penny drops and everything comes at you in one definite stroke. Sometimes you lose and sometimes you win. But youíll always have bad luck. Think of the citizens in South Korea. Think of the midshipmen on this boat!

Iím quite frankly impressed by my ability to come full circle and conflate a stupid spelling bee to the deep thoughts that provoked me earlier. I get up and accept the fact that I wonít sleep tonight. I walk to the bathroom and rinse my face off. As I pat my face dry with my shirt, I decide that I can consider my correlation between my anxieties and halcyons to my own advantage. When I become fearful of the unknown, Iíll think about the idyllic experiences Iíve had. When I see the bird, Iíll think of it as a placeholder for the bald eagle and a representation of the universal right to freedom. When I fail, Iíll think of the advice Iíd tell the runner up, that life sometimes is a lot of "random," but resilience is key. This plan already proves to be tremendously rewarding. For some reason, without even knowing exactly what problems I will face in Korea or why Iím even fighting, Iíve just decided how I will cope with the unknowns, my fears, and my anxieties: halcyon. This revelation puts me at tremendous ease, and finally, I can fall asleep for a few hours.

Read other articles by Michael Kenney Jr.