Birth Of A Hero

Birth Of A Hero

5 mins 17.6K 5 mins 17.6K

The war was over. Or was it? Well it certainly was for Oleg.

At 23, he had dueled with death and emerged victorious a few times more than what one could call ordinary. Well at least the newspapers had everyone believe so. He had turned a national hero overnight. His photograph wearing the ceremonial parade uniform holding his standard issue Mosin-Nagant 91/30 rifle and sporting a proud smile had become an iconic image of the nation’s victory in the wretched war that lasted for over four years and killed thousands of young and brave souls on both sides. Most of who were not even sure what they were fighting for, just like Oleg.

“Yefreytor Oleg Orlov – The man who can dodge bullets”, the headlines read. He had been commissioned to seven different war-fronts with his regiment. No front-line soldier would survive more than two. He came out unscathed from all seven. He killed numerous enemy troopers and had portrayed tremendous courage in combat. Men who had served by his side mentioned that his bravery border-lined madness. They said he would throw himself recklessly in front of enemy guns and would often charge to secure machine gun bunkers all by himself.

There was a rumour that he would be bestowed the highest honour of Hero of the Soviet Union by the government. Ever since the war ended, he was immersed in a deluge of interviews, conferences and charity balls organised to raise funds to assist the families of dead and wounded of the war.

His simple upbringing in a shepherd family of the Urals was a stark contrast to the limelight he had been living in, post war. He didn’t know whether he enjoyed it. He certainly didn’t like the copious amount of public speaking and socializing he had to do. May be for the same reason he refused to pursue a political career, which a lot of highly placed officials and diplomats had suggested him. He was also embarrassed by the advances of a lot of young ladies he met at various social events.

He had fought for so long that most of the war had become a blur in his memory. He could only recollect specific incidents when a fellow soldier narrated any of his countless acts of valour. However there was this one particular incident that was vividly etched in his memory. It disturbed him a lot. It kept him awake and restless at nights.

It was in the Battle of Stalingrad on his first day in war zone. Oleg’s company were joining as reinforcements to their injured and worn out fellow soldiers fighting in close quarter combats in the heart of Stalingrad. Most of them were fresh from academy like Oleg himself.

They had a bumpy ride of sixteen miles in semi armoured trucks through the rubble of what was left of Stalingrad to the centre of the town amidst heavy shelling from both camps and occasional air raids. The town resembled the ruins of an ancient civilization. They were to disembark in the portico of the town hall which once used to be a public square with all important government buildings surrounding a paved open space with a fountain at its centre.

The instructions were simple. “Jump off the truck and run left. Run for your lives until you find cover or you are dead.” the commanding officer had ordered.

There were three trucks carrying troops and replenishment in front of Oleg’s truck. They were particularly troubled by an enemy machine gun strategically placed on top of a damaged clock tower across the square. The casualties were high. A senior ranked soldier in Oleg’s truck had hence instructed Oleg and another soldier to provide cover fire aiming at the clock tower from behind the truck while others jumped and ran towards safer grounds.

Oleg’s hands were shaking. He was just as frightened as his fellow recruits. As the officer shouted instructions to jump off the truck, Oleg took his position and started firing. Couple of shots whizzed past his ears. Oleg ducked. He clasped his rifle hard. His hands were still shaking. A chill ran down his spine. By the time he gathered himself and looked up, he saw his rifle pointing in the wrong direction. He realized while ducking in fear he had fired a stray shot. It hit Dmitri on the back of his head and came out of his forehead right between his eyes. He lay lifeless on his stomach, a few yards from Oleg. His face buried in dirt.

Dmitri and Oleg were as thick as thieves. They had instantly hit it off when they first met at military academy. Oleg was shattered. He could not move. He had to be finally dragged to cover by another soldier. No one else realized what happened in the whole fiasco. But Oleg knew what he had done.

He didn’t speak for days. Men close to him in his unit thought the war and bloodshed had got better of him. They also suspected the loss of Dmitri was too massive a setback for him. Everyone knew they were best of pals. No one would ever know what Oleg knew. It was a huge secret he had to bury in his heart. Oleg could not ever stop blaming himself for what happened. He cursed himself for being such a coward. It cost him his friend’s life.

Oleg had made up his mind. He had decided whenever he would be involved in an assault; he would be the first man to charge. That way the only direction that his rifle would point to, would be at the enemy ranks.

Everyone thought he wanted to take a bullet in his chest protecting his brethren. That is how the story of his valour spread from unit to unit until it became a legend in the entire red army and even back in Moscow. Oleg however did what he did in fear and remorse. Fear of killing another comrade. Remorse of failing his friend. He knew no soldier deserved a death like Dmitri. He knew he didn’t deserve to live with such a dark secret in his heart.

But as fate would have it, no bullet could ever touch him. No shrapnel could ever kill him.

He kept surviving. He kept charging. Until the war was won. Until he became a legend.

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