Bringing back memories

Writing about the stars the other night prompted this response from Ron. I am including it in its entirety with his permission. We worked together at Heidelberg MEDDAC; he and his wife provided just about our only local support network while I was in Kuwait. He has since left the service, and is now in Orthopaedic practice in Nevada. Their gain, unfortunately – our loss. He spent a year as an Armor BDE surgeon at the start of IFOR.

I can relate to the night sky while deployed. When we crossed the Sava River on Jan 1996 it was bitterly cold and overcast. Light rain falling and freezing on contact with everything. Our convoy was a tactical movement with a high degree of vigilance maintained by all. We were anticipating land mines, IED’s and snipers that did not materialize until the weather got much warmer. The elements were our biggest enemy that day.

The Serb forces had been celebrating New Year’s Day with random automatic weapon’s fire into the air. They were mostly drunk and appeared not to understand how tense their presence made our people. At about dark someone decided to open up with a 20 mm antiaircraft system about 200 m away from our position. They were wildly firing tracers into the night sky. It sounded like they were firing directly at us. It took a lot of self control for the 18 and 19 years manning 50 cals on top of our vehicles not to return fire. They were on their side of the zone of separation and there was nothing we could do about their stupidity. The decision was made to put a lot of distance between us and them. We started moving and kept moving, pushing for a position on a map. The quality of the maps is a whole other story.

We had be moving all day, 0330 to 2300… just looking for a secure position to lager. We stopped on what was eventually designated “Desolation Blvd”. It was a cluster of villages in the Posavina that had been ethnically cleansed. A house or two would have a main gun round wound in an outer wall, roof collapsed with the windows blown out. The product of using tanks to motivate the locals to leave and be ethnically cleansed. All the homes abandoned and stripped. No power. No people. Ghost towns. Random livestock wondering through mine fields. Unharvested orchards covered in snow. About a foot a packed snow and ice on the ground. It was an apocalyptic scene.

I dismounted my vehicle for the first time in hours. Looked up and the sky had cleared. It was about zero F. I had never seen so many stars. You could see individual stars, planets, constellations, even satellites moving across from horizon to horizon. It was amazing. When I finally looked away everyone was still looking up at the sky. Mouths open with a look of wonder and fascination, as if seeing it for the first time.

With no background light pollution and no clouds, the atmosphere was perfectly crystal clear. I have never see as beautiful a sky as that night. I was not warm or happy. I was grateful to be alive.

I am not complaining. Just relating events that are burned into my memory. The comment on crystal clear sky tripped my recollection. If you have not been in that environment and trying to stay alive, you would not understand.

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4 Responses to Bringing back memories

  1. Helen says:

    Last night I walked outside onto our back lawn. There was a cool breeze brushing the surrounding trees. As I looked up at the clear sky I wondered at the magnificence of the constellations – and the madness of war on the other side of the world.

  2. Mark says:

    I was first there a little earlier with some SAS/10 Grp folks preparing the battle area. SAS/Brits defined 2 types of ethnic cleansing. The one Ron described(soft cleansing) and hard cleansing. I still can’t get the sight and smell out of my mind when we uncovered the mass grave sites outside of Zvnorick in 98′.
    Wouldn’t forget celebatory gun fire.

  3. Carmen says:


  4. Bruce says:

    These stars are somewhat more enduring than those in a rock band

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