Pfc Shane M. Reifert

Pfc Shane M. Reifert
Shane during a sweep of the Shuryak Valley, approximately 3 weeks before he was killed. Photo Credit: PFC Sean Stromback

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Cornfield

A heavy mist has set in. Usually it wanes and fades as the sun comes up. But today, it seems as if it has settled in to stay. The weather and I are finally on the same page about the proper mood and atmosphere for the situation at hand. 

If I were a child right now, I would be very afraid of what lies behind my house. We have a backyard with a fenced in area for the dog, some apple trees, and beyond our property line, a cornfield. 

When Shane and I were kids, the cornfield was a place of mystery. While we did not understand what property or trespassing was, we knew the cornfield did not belong to us. But on rare occasions, when the geese next store did not scare us back into the house, Shane and I would venture out into the cornfield. 

One day, when the spring thaw had set in and the temperature had risen enough to create rain instead of snow, Shane and I decided we were going to play outside. We must have been 3 and 6 at the time, respectively. Even though there wasn't snow on the ground, it was still bitter cold and mucky from the rain, so my mother bundled us up in our snow pants, winter jackets, gloves, books, and hats. In other words, the works. She anticipated the possibility of us getting a little dirty if we played in the cornfield, warning us not go too far. 

Shane and I trekked out back to the edge of our property, which seemed like miles to our stubby legs but was really only an acre. The cornfield stretched out in front of us. There is a small drop between our property and the cornfield and we helped each other make it down into the field. At the time it felt like we were wilderness explorers, discovering uncharted territory. 

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The corn stalks were cut down to the ground,  harvesting long over. And the ground was muck. As soon as we stepped beyond the dip, our boots began to stick. Something in my stomach that I didn't yet know was my instinct told me that we should go back, but we kept going. Our feet began to sink into the mud deeper and deeper as we headed farther into the field. Shane and I were walking hand in hand, partially out of fear, partially because his legs were wobbly. 

And then our boots sank so deeply into the mud that when we attempted our next steps, our boots would not lift out of the ground. We looked at each other with fear in our eyes. I felt like the Nothing was going to get us. 

The Nothing was an all-consuming void, a darkness, that was taking over the world of Fantasia in The NeverEnding Story. The warrior-boy Atreyu was the only one who could save Fantasia, but he was not alone in his journey. His faithful horse, Artax, was there with him. On their journey, the pair enter the Swamps of Sadness. The Swamps are a desolate, dreary place. As Atreyu and Artax make their way into the Swamps, Artax falters. He stops, overcome with the sadness of his swamps. Atreyu pleads with Artax to keep going, but the horse sinks into the Swamps, and the Nothing claimed another victim. 

My little brother started crying. I started crying. I didn't want us to sink into the ground and be claimed by the Nothing like Artax. We started screaming "MOM! MOM! HELP! MOM!" at the top of our lungs. But we must have been too far out for her to hear or see us, not listening to her instructions to stay where she could see us. Our boots were sinking deeper and deeper. We stood out of our boots in our bare socks. Snot poured out of our noses, tears streamed down our faces. We thought that the Nothing was coming. 

I looked at Shane as our stockinged feet began to sink into the muck. I was 6 years old and not very strong. In my young mind, I knew what I had to do. I had to save my brother's life. So I picked him up out of the Nothing as he howled. I began walking, very slowly but very determined. I was still sticking in the muck. My socks came off. I knew I would let the Nothing take me before it took my brother. 

I don't know how Shane never felt heavy in my arms. I don't know how I managed to carry my brother over the dip. But it happened, and I continued to carry him all the way back to our front door. 

Our boots were never recovered.

Looking back on things, I know that we were never in any real danger. We were not in the Swamps of Sadness. The Nothing was not really going to get us. But none of that mattered at the time. 

Saving Shane from the cornfield is one of my most vivid memories. I hold it dearly and at the time felt as if I had really saved his life. 

Sometime in between basic training and deployment, Shane and I reflected on our time in the cornfield. He told me that he no longer needed my saving. That he was a man. It broke my heart but I did not let him know. 

I often feel helpless and wish that I could have done something to prevent Shane dying. I want to have been at Able Main with him. I want to take his place. I want another chance to save him from the Nothing. 


  1. Dear Beth,
    Thank you for sharing heartfelt childhood memories of you and Shane. Even though we're a generation apart the story is quite the same, except the geese were pheasants and the cornfield muck was in a vegetable garden; our ages were the same, the anxiety the same, the call for Mom the same and even the boots left behind. The beauty lies in the fact that you were not alone and these memories remembered during this stressful time will be replaced with more comforting ones for you. Mostly these memories that you so selflessly share will keep Shane alive in your heart and ours. Keep on keepin'on Elizabeth.
    F. Neale

  2. I don't know you, your brother or your family. A friend of your father directed me to your blog site about the loss of your dear brother. I am grateful to him for doing so. Please know I share your grief. Your great love for Shane shows throughout your writing, but particularly in in the cornfield story. We lost a child to another form of the Nothing: breast cancer, at age 35. Young kids are not supposed to die before their parents and older siblings, but it happens. In time your pain will diminish, just as it has for us, but it will never go away. My wish for you is that it becomes softer, more tender.

    A Friend from Northern Michigan

  3. Dear Beth, I just wanted to let you know what an honor it was for me to be there today at Great Lakes National Cemetery for the final goodbyes to Shane. I presented the poem "When Tomorrow Starts Without Me" to your family and hope in the days to come you will have time to sit down and read it and know that the Patriot Guard will hold you in our hearts and prayers through the rough days ahead. Our heart are with you, and know if there is anything the PGR can do, you only need to contact us. Each family that loses someone in that terrible war has and always will have a special place in all our hearts. God bless you and your family.
    Mike Deline
    Ride Captain PGR

  4. Kara (Westrick) Zweng and FamilyNovember 18, 2010 at 8:52 PM

    Dear Beth and Family,
    Wow! What an awesome story you wrote. I do not know you, but I know the exact cornfield that you write about. My parents have owned that cornfield (property) since the late 1970's and my sister and brother-in-law built the house where the big red barn once stood. (Krutz' barn). Which I am wondering if that is where the geese were? Regardless, I truly appreciate you sharing that story with everyone and opening up your thoughts and memories for all to read about. The pain must feel so raw and you are wearing your heart on your sleeve for all to see. I cannot imagine the hurt and the loss you must feel. It sounds like your brother died doing what he lived for if that makes any sense at all. When I was in town yesterday during the funeral, my heart ached for all of you inside, and you should know that outside, was a true sense of american pride and spirit. The silence was actually "deafening" for as many people were there in support and I can say that anyone there was willing to do whatever it took to defend the family of our towns fallen hero Pfc. Shane Reifert. I would also like to say that my sister, brother-in-law and myself will all miss hearing Shane play his guitars. Personally, I have only heard him a few times when I was over at their house, but I thoroughly enjoyed listening to him.
    God rest his soul and help you, your Mom and your Dad get through this. You are all in my prayers.