According to the newscasts, it had just been two weeks ago that the armistice treaty was signed, stopping the fighting that had consumed most of the world for the previous four and a half years. It had started as one nation trying to expand its territory by taking control of and dominating one of its weaker neighbors. One by one other nations had jumped on their bandwagon or been overrun by the war machine. Only gradually had opposing nations began to band together to fight back, many waiting until it was almost too late for them to muster any kind of power to contribute to the resistance.
Of course we had jumped in near the beginning, trying to be the world's police force, attempting to stop the onslaught with a handful of resources, such as we had done in the desert wars that were so short lived. But this was not a war run by shortsighted zealots; rather the heads of state had put their best soldiers in charge and committed all their nations' resources to the effort.
Reluctantly our government reinstated the draft and began to convert domestic manufacturing into weapons generation machinery to rival anything our nation had ever done. I'm convinced that the only reason I was not drafted was that I headed up a critical production effort in the midwestern states, creating the most effective electronic devices for locating and pinpointing enemy resources that our armed forces had ever used.
Now, with the uprising by the greedy country-states having finally been quelled and agreement for unconditional surrender having been reached, I wanted to visit the actual sites where the physical battles took place, to see for myself the damage to friend and foe alike. Like many other industrialists of our country, I had been asked by the government to make recommendations on how best to help all involved countries begin their recovery. Several of my fellow leaders were also taking similar tours but we were all starting at different locations so we could maximize our coverage of the affected area.
Now, having been landed on a rubble-strewn beach of one of our allies, I was alone in a Hummer with supplies for two weeks, a bedroom-type pop-up tent, and several cans of gas. I had a satellite phone so I could contact the outside world as well as occupying forces when I got into enemy territory but I was basically on my own.
I had mapped out a plan to drive inland just a short distance to one of the country's major cities and spend at least a day checking it out. As it turned out, I spent a week there.
Even on the outskirts of town, I was appalled at the destruction. It looked worse than the most calamitous hurricane site that had hit our own country and the closer I got to the heart of the city the worse the destruction appeared. Almost every major building had significant damage, even those that were centuries old and made of extra thick stone walls. Gaping holes had been blown in most of them, often filled by the rubble that came tumbling down once the supports had been bombed out. Individual residences, retail stores, commercial buildings, high-rise apartment complexes, office skyscrapers: all had been treated with the same contempt.
People were, for the most part, busy trying to clear the rubble, some already in the process of rebuilding smaller buildings, although their tools were very limited, making progress slow and it seemed like there was little in the way of organizational support so far. Apparently any rebuilding plan had been thwarted by the decimation of teams that might have planned and coordinated such efforts.
Most everyone I saw was ill-dressed for such endeavors. Obviously the war had taken a great toll on the people's ability to obtain new clothes and patches were everywhere. People who should have been wearing cool weather gear were making do with summer weight clothing. Some had made warmer outer wear by cutting holes in blankets.
Even though the majority of the people were at work trying to rebuild, dig out usable salvage, or just trying to clear space, there were people who seemed to be wandering around in a daze, not sure what to do. I suspected most of those had lost their homes, their families, and were probably at their wit's end trying just to live from day to day.
I knew that our own government had mounted a massive war relief effort in an attempt to get food to people who needed it but without a doubt most of these people had missed out on the handouts, for whatever reason. I finally found the remains of a grassy park area that was being used as a campground by people who had been forced underground for many long months. I found a place to set up my own small tent and wound up inviting a group of about 30 nearby people over to talk and help me drink my coffee, which was a real treat to most of them, although they would have preferred tea.
As we talked, I made notes about the things that seemed to be most pressing needs (drinkable water, food, warmer clothes, mortar for stonework, lumber, etc.). At a prearranged time, I sat in the Hummer and used the satfone to call in my daily report. I requested the list of Must Haves and also suggested that several tractors on tracks, such as Caterpillar bulldozers, would be most beneficial in speeding up the rebuilding process.
The next day I continued my travels, only to see more of the same thing, just in different parts of the city, and there was more of the same on the third and fourth day. However by the fourth day, I got notice that the Corps of Engineers was bringing in a C5 "pregnant roller skate" plane loaded with heavy equipment, with more to follow. They also had three C130 cargo planes filled with urgent supplies and had arranged for the army to provide duece-and-a-half trucks to distribute the goods to all parts of the city.
Since I was always running into needy people, I met the planes at the nearest R.A.F. base and replenished my own supplies as well as loading down the remaining space in the Hummer with even more. Then I resumed my tour of the city.
The following day it was time to broaden my research into outlying areas so I went back to the air base and replenished my supplies from a hangar where they were storing incoming goods until they could be distributed. Then following a detailed map I had obtained from the army, I started out to investigate the smaller towns to the west.
At least once I got outside the major residential areas of the city and its suburbs, things were a little less chaotic, with fewer buildings demolished. I was a little surprised at how much farm land had been cultivated this past spring and was now approaching a bumper harvest, in spite of the devastation in the city.
I was maybe eight or nine miles out of town when I overtook and passed a solitary figure trudging along the side of the road. At the last second, I realized it was a woman and came to a screeching halt. Carefully I backed up to where she was still walking. Lowering the electric window, I asked where she was going and if I could offer her a ride. It would be a little crowded but I could move some of the boxes of supplies and make room for a needy passenger.
At first she shied away from me but, when she saw the labels on the boxes, she got a hungry look on her face. She was covered in a hooded jacket that looked like it might have been handmade from an old army blanket and she was pretty much hidden. It was only when she pushed the hood back that I could tell that she really was a fairly young woman, probably somewhere in her late twenties.
Sticking her head just into the window, she asked, "Do you have anything to eat?"
I smiled and replied, "Yes. Let me move these things," as I moved a couple of boxes and piled them on the stack behind the front seat, just barely squeezing them in but leaving the front passenger seat open. "Come on. Get in," I said, scrounging through a box that contained MREs... military use Meals Ready to Eat. I dropped the glove box lid for her to use as a table, popped the MRE open and, as she settled into the seat, showed her how, with a little pop of the fist you could burst the little chemical bag that reacted to generate heat around the plastic-encased foods. Within just a couple of minutes, I was opening different bags of foods and handing them to her, amazed to watch her scarf them down mostly without the use of the utensils. She was obviously very hungry.
Again reaching into the back, I extracted a bottle of water and opened it for her. She gratefully accepted it and thanked me. Only then did I think about how nice her voice sounded, with the accent of English spoken in another country from my own. As she finished the last of the food, she leaned back and sighed. I offered to open another one for her but she shook her head, saying that she was full.
But when I reached into the console between us and picked up a couple of small candy bars from the package I used to provide myself with quick energy, she squealed with delight and snatched them from my hands, quickly popping one into her mouth and savoring it like it was the best thing she had ever eaten.
Meanwhile I started to drive again. I said, "I'm Tom Remmington. I'm on a mission to help with rebuilding."
"Oh... oh," she said, shaking my big rough hand with her small one. "I'm Tammie Carstairs. Nice to meet 'ya."
Pointing behind us, I asked, "Are you from the city?"
"Oh, no," she said. "Well... I did live there for the last five years but I'm a country girl. I moved to the city after university, got a job and got married but I'll always be a country girl."
I laughed. "I know what you mean. Still married?"
"Huh?... Oh, no. He was killed nearly four years ago."
"I'm sorry. So... where are you going today?"
.... There is more of this story ...