Tuesday, August 26, 2014
I had labored long and hard in the forest, cutting and stacking firewood. My muscles ached as I undressed and unzipped my sleeping bag. I sat upon the lower bunk and turned down the Coleman lantern. The last waves of it’s light, like ripples in a pond, traveled to the walls of my cabin, where they disappeared into the infinity of the night.
I stretched my legs down into my sleeping bag, and propped my head up with my pillow. My eyes opened just a little, seeking to answer the question of why the cabin seemed to still be unusually bright. My query was answered as my eyes were filled with the beauty of a rural Pennsylvania night sky shining through the cabins only window--with ten-thousand stars illuminating the heavens.
I closed my eyes and drifted off into a deep, restful sleep. A kind of special sleep granted by Mother Nature, only to those who labor long and hard in the wilderness of this earth.
Then, it started. After too few hours of this wonderful reward of deep sleep, it started.
“Who. Who-who-whooo.” Please go away Mr. Owl. “Who. Whoooooo. Whooooooo.”
“YOU, that’s Who.” Uh, I am not going to put up with much of this.
Still in my long johns, I slipped into my work boots, grabbed an empty bean can from the trash, and stumbled out into the crisp early morning forest air. “Whoooo.” I turned to face my nemesis. There behind me, on a branch of a tall, old, Hemlock tree, was an owl, a pure white owl.
I was about to toss the empty bean can at him, but it abruptly started to snow, quite fiercely, and the icy crystals stung my sleepy eyes. The owl took flight and disappeared deeper into the mystical, moonlit-snow-globe of the forest.
I turned to scurry back inside, but as I did I was struck with fright as I saw a rather large creature lumbering down the streambed on two feet, some fifty yards away. It did not turn to look at me, and I dared not take my eyes off of it. I fixed my terror struck gaze at the wall of reeds where he disappeared into the swamp.
I did not get much sleep for the rest of the night. It’s hard to get comfortable with the cold barrel of a loaded shotgun, lying in bed next to you.
I knew that as soon as it was eight o’clock, Old Lester at the General Store would have his door open and coffee brewing. At seven-thirty sharp, I started to make my way up the forest trail to the road. I followed the road down the mountain to Lester’s General Store. When I was ten feet away from his front door I saw him turn the door-lock and a dirty old sign, to OPEN. In the course of our morning conversation, we determined that it must have been a bear walking on two legs, maybe it had cut it’s front paws and couldn’t walk on them. Either that or it was a bear that had escaped from the circus… yeah, right.
What it is, is a great story about an owl, and maybe, it’s about that big hairy thing that lives deep in the back woods of rural Pennsylvania. The big hairy thing that the locals don’t talk openly to city-folk about, or maybe, it was just the icy snow in my sleepy eyes.
Wednesday, August 13, 2014
It has been over a year since we said goodbye at Fort Benning, Georgia. I'll never forget how proud I was to be there for you, standing next to your Mom and Dad. Watching you walk up to your Commanding Officer and exchanging salutes. You were the most handsome man I ever knew in my entire life. I don't remember who cried more, your Mom or me.
I know you said that because we had only been dating for six months that it was too soon to get engaged, even though you knew you would love me forever. I swear, if you had asked me then, I'd of said yes and ran right off to a Justice of the Peace, or the Company Chaplain and married you right on the spot. But you were the one that said it wouldn't be fair, because you were so certain that you would be sent off to Afghanistan or Iraq or some other hot spot in the world.
It was your idea that, only if we wanted to, we could see other people. I swear John for this past year the thought of ever seeing anyone else never entered my mind. Every night in my dreams I can still see your lips moving, saying those words over and over again, " It isn't fair, it isn't fair."
Those words were playing in my mind when your Mom called this past weekend. She told me you got hurt. You were the only member of your squad to survive one of those IED things. Your Mom and I started to cry over the phone. When we hung up I could hardly see through my tears. I jumped into my car --determined to drive all the way to Indiana to be with your folks, but I stopped when I almost hit a little girl waiting for the school bus at the corner. All I kept saying to myself was. "It isn't fair, It isn't fair." I just couldn't do it. I was too upset to make a drive like that. I turned around. Went home, went to bed, and cried myself to sleep.
And again last night, I didn't get to sleep till after five in the morning. The next thing I knew the phone rang about eight am, and it was your Mom again. She said you were in a hospital in Germany. She said you would be home in about three or four weeks.
She told me about your legs. The Doctors told her you were depressed and that you weren't talking to anyone on the phone, not even her. She was getting all her information from the hospitals communications officer.
John, I know you are depressed, you have the right to be. I know, it isn't fair. But I also know I love you, and your Mother and I are flying to Germany next week. I hope you read this letter before that. I love you more than anything, and I will always be there for you.
All my love.
Friday, July 25, 2014
Her auburn hair, green eyes, and tiny turned up nose told Mrs. Jones that the new student sitting in her third grade classroom was certainly the transfer student from Northern Ireland, Rebecca McGuire, whom she had been told to expect this morning.
Becky as she liked to be called, was a quiet little girl, she rarely opened her mouth at home, and she was not about to begin chattering away in front of all these strangers here in America. After all, she had no idea who was Catholic, and who was Protestant.
The teacher asked her to stand up and introduce herself, and she dutifully obeyed the teachers command, but alas she did so with such a thick Irish accent that some of the boys snickered loudly. “Boys! That will be enough!” Mrs. Jones commanded.
“Welcome to America, Rebecca. You may be seated.” Then class resumed.
At recess Becky was off by herself in a corner of the playground when a young boy with dark hair and brown eyes approached her. “Hi, I’m Joel. Do you like to play marbles?”
“Yes, marbles. Here. See?” Joel held out a small glass ball, a “cat’s eye” as it is known in the terminology of marbles. Becky picked it up and gazed deeply into the marble as she wondered aloud, “It’s so beautiful. It looks like a four-leaf clover.” Proudly Joel continued to hold out one marble after another, each more beautiful than the last. For a while Becky lost all the painful memories she had carried with her from “The Troubles” back in Ireland as her eyes drank in every detail of the beautiful glass marbles. Her daydream was only interrupted when Joel said, “Come over here, we’ll shoot them.”
“Shoot them!” Becky exclaimed. “You have a gun? I hope you’re Protestant!”
“No, I’m Jewish, and guns are not allowed at school, silly. Do they bring guns to school in Ireland?”
“The soldiers do. They check your books for bombs as you queue up for school in the morning.”
“Does it bother you that I’m Jewish?” Joel asked.
“No. I mean …er…I don’t know. I’ve never… Well at least your not Catholic, me Mum and Dad would have a fit.”
“Oh, OK. You want to learn how to shoot marbles?” Joel asked. Then he added laughingly, “Without a gun?”
Joel dumped his bag of marbles on the ground and gave Becky six to start her collection with. By the time they had finished their game Becky had won six more. As the end-of-recess bell rang, Becky handed the marbles back to Joel, but he just smiled and said, “Keep them, we’ll play again tomorrow.
Friday, July 4, 2014
The Pursuit of Happiness
The Coast Guard gets little respect. Few people consider us a vital part of our nation’s defense, but in peacetime as well as in times of war, the Coast Guard is constantly involved in keeping our country safe, from the perils of the sea, and from foreign invaders. We are Semper Paratus, Always Ready, to protect our citizens Life, Liberty, and their pursuit of Happiness.
I am assigned to one of the larger cutters. I spend more time in the open waters off of Long Island than the smaller boats do. The smaller boats are better known for inspecting private pleasure boats, and handing out fines for things like not enough life jackets on board, or a dead fire extinguisher. These are all things that are intended to save your life, while you are pursuing happiness out on the bay. But most people on Long Island hate us for that. We just don’t get any respect. Thank goodness I will be spending this year on a bigger ship out in the open water.
This past Saturday night we received a report from a maritime reconnaissance drone that an unmarked cargo ship was stopped dead, in international waters, due south of Democrat Inlet, and that a forty-foot long “Cigarette boat” was heading towards it at a high rate of speed. That could mean anything, but everything it could mean was some kind of trouble.
We received a second report from the drone that the Cigarette boat had indeed rendezvoused with the cargo ship and was taking on a large quantity of cargo. We were a big fast cutter, but we were no match for a cigarette boat in a race. We asked the Navy drone controllers to make one more pass and see what kind of radar the cigarette boat had mounted. They reported sighting no radar at all on the suspect vessel. The bad guys were taking every measure possible to keep from giving away their position. They were relying on their speed alone.
The Captain of our cutter set an ambush, two miles south of the inlet. He called Fire Island Station and ordered the smaller cutter stationed there to linger just inside the inlet, in case the bad guys got past us. Then the Captain sounded Battle Stations!
I was in charge of the forward 20mm auto-cannon. It was originally a world war two left over antiaircraft gun with a lot of miles on her, but she got refitted with a new barrel just last year, and she shot straight and true every time.
We could hear the bad guys coming before we could see them. The Captain gave the word and our searchlights lit up the bad guys, our sirens started to wail, and the engineer blasted open the engines lifting our cutter out of the water and charging at the bad guys full steam ahead! They turned and started to run. The Captain squawked in my headset, “You’re cleared to fire, put a round over their bow!
The sea was rough, both my cutter and the target were bouncing wildly. I aimed over the targets bow, but just as I pulled the trigger we hit a wave and my first round penetrated the rear-end of the target, hitting her square in the engine. High performance fuel, air, and hot lead don’t mix well. The resulting explosion blew the transom right off the cigarette boat. The transom flew through the air and slammed right into the gun shield of my 20mm.
The cigarette boat was burning wildly and sinking at the stern. We could see four crewmen jump from the burning wreck into the water. The Captain maneuvered us to the windward side of the wreck and we rescued the cigarette boats crew, and took them into custody. The cigarette boat’s cargo was burning wildly.
Then the wind changed direction. We all got a whiff of eighteen bails of marijuana, as it burned and laid down a smoke screen that put a smile on the face of everyone on board, and any fishing boat that happened to pass within a mile of us to the leeward. That is when I looked down at the transom of the cigarette boat as it lay against the gun shield of my 20mm auto-cannon. My single 20mm round had dotted the “I” in the cigarette boat’s name, “Happiness.”
Friday, March 14, 2014
A stroll down the driveway on the third day of spring
I walk in cold mist.
Above me, a sky of gray.
The world is vacant.
It should be Springtime.
Winter, please go away now.
Dampness chills my bones.
Spring tries to come forth.
Winter refuses to leave.
Cool air surrounds me.
Blanket of flowers.
Quietly you are waiting.
Hidden by moist earth.
I hear you call me softly,
“Please make me ready.”
Look, there, Daffodils.
Too soon I say, it’s too cold.
Chills still embrace me.
Patience, patience all.
Summers toil comes soon enough.
We will yearn for rest.
Let us all relax.
Enjoy this spring transition.Be still, and at peace.
Saturday, February 15, 2014
Fourth Down and Two
A child looks into a camera lens,
so sadly with his big brown eyes.
Eyes that are filled with tears,
and devoid of hope.
I see him for only a few moments,
and then he is gone.
In the warmth and comfort of my home,
the football game returns to the TV screen.
It’s fourth down and 2. Will he make it?
I can remember the 800 number, how strange, how haunting.
It only flashed on the screen for a few seconds.
under the picture of the boy with the big brown eyes.
Out of body I see a hungry man walk past the telephone
to his refrigerator. Turkey, roast beef, salami, or bologna;
his choices are too many, what will he chose?
Turkey and American on Rye with mayo.
His plate full, he turns and sees the telephone again.
He pauses and remembers. The phone call…
The game is now over, we won, they lost.
I look at the remaining pieces of my sandwich on the plate,
once again my eyes were bigger than my appetite.
I walk to the trash, open the lid … and stop.
Will he make it?
I put down the plate, and pick up the phone.
Life changes for a boy with big brown eyes.
My life changes for the better as well.
He will make it after all.
Thursday, January 23, 2014
As I close my eyes I see the pages of my diary.
A diary I have never put to paper,
it is written deep within my soul.
I thumb through its pages and read memories of you.
Though you are gone from mortal sight,
you are still with me.
The memory of you is written here,
deep within me,
and I can visit my fond memories of you whenever I wish.
I turn page after page,
read smile after smile,
then suddenly I find many blank pages.
I am startled until I realize these innumerable blank pages have been given to me,
and it is up to me to fill them with memories,
tomorrow, and tomorrow, and the day after that.
My minds eye drifts from my diary to the night sky.
There I see a thousand stars.
Each star becomes a blank page.
Not a page in my diary,
but in yours, and his, and his, and hers,
and that little one over there -hers too.
I wonder why these pages of other people’s diaries are here in my mind,
and soon I understand that I was not the author of all the pages in my own diary.
Many of my diary’s pages were written by those souls I had known.
Those I loved, and those I loved not.
The star-like pages in the night sky of my mind,
and the blank pages at the end of my diary…
They belong to you.
They belong to me.They are waiting for us all, to write them.
Wednesday, January 1, 2014
The laser weapon burn on my right foot was enough to get me taken off the line. It will take six to eight weeks for it to heal. That is what the Space Marine Surgeon said when he discharged me from Earth Orbital Hospital number 23. It’s going to feel real good to spend a few months recuperating from my battle wound at my home on Long Islands Great South Bay.
When I left this community a few short years ago, people cursed me for keeping my electric car under the speed limit, and for stopping at the stop signs. But today, after the victory over the Naspern Pirates on the planet Remson 7, now they stop me on the street just to shake my hand and to take a picture with me, so they can boast of our Friendship on every social media network known to man. Their children, with bright beaming faces, smile broadly as they ask me, How many Nasperns did you kill on Remson 7? What is the color of their blood? Do they really eat humans? With a distant look I answer them: Countless thousands. Iridescent blue. Yes, they do. That is why you must never surrender.
All this came to an abrupt end. I was at home for less than a month when a hovercraft came swishing into the neighborhood and deposited two Space Marines in full dress uniform on my doorstep. One look at them told you they were politician’s sons, each of them with a chest full of ribbons representing everything imaginable, that is to say, everything except combat in the Naspern War.
My wife, Helen, was deeply saddened when I told her the message the two well-dressed boys at the door had delivered. My new orders; I was being recalled early. The Nasperns had counter-attacked in the Blue Quadrant, and we had to stop them on the outer ring of Ice Desert Planets, or Earth itself would be threatened by their long-range battle cruisers. I have been promoted to full Colonel, and will take command of a Replacement Battalion near the front.
Helen and I made love on the night before I left, and I fell asleep in her arms. Our marriage was a good marriage from the start. I was twenty-two, she was sixteen, perfect for a Space Marine marriage. Now, after decades of off planet duty, jumping through space at speeds tens of thousands of times faster than the speed of light, I was in my forties. Helen was closer to 60. While many Space Marine marriages fall apart when time dilation starts to rear it’s ugly head, our marriage did more than just survive. We were still in love.
In the morning she made me apple crepes with fresh cream. She packed homemade peach turnovers in the same thermal travel bag that I have used for the past twenty years. She handed that special travel bag to me as I left. She bravely fought back her tears, just as she had done all the times before as we kissed good-bye and turned away. “I’ll be back, fit but drunk,” I said. She answered, as she always did, “Make sure you still love me when you do, or I’ll turn you out with the dogs.” Strange as it sounds, this was our special good luck blessing. The dogs had died years ago, but we dared not change a word of our lucky good-bye.
The bullet train ride to Dahlgren, Virginia took a half hour. Then a limo met me at the station and shuttled me to the Space Marine Operations Center.
“Welcome to SMOC Colonel.” The guard handed back my ID and I returned his salute.
“Driver, take me directly to Departures. I’m already checked in.”
When we got to the Departure terminal my driver carried my bags to the spray station.
“Kick ‘em in the ass once for me Colonel. Vincit Omnia!”
“Vin-om, Seargent, vin-om.”
I turned and slid my badge into the appropriate slot on the Departure kiosk, put my bags on an auto cart and followed it down a lighted pathway to my assigned spray station. Then came the computerized female voice;
Please stand on the yellow footprints with arms held tightly to your side.
Open your mouth and wait for the breathing tube to be inserted.
Close your mouth.
Bite down… now.
Take a deep breath and hold it.
Close your eyes.
With that final command I was sprayed with the worst smelling goop mankind ever invented. You couldn’t smell it during transport, but when you arrived at your destination, and they peeled it off of you, you stank for days. I know it was designed to protect your skin from radiation during Uber-Licht transport, but you’d think the crazy bunch of German scientists who invented the thing could have put a little fragrance into the goop mix.
Thus, in less time than it took to get from Long Island to Virginia, I was transported to planet M-286 to take charge of the Mobil Infantry Replacement Battalion. M-286 was a frozen wasteland. As my combat hovercraft moved me toward my new command I could tell we were getting closer and closer to the fighting as well. At first we passed neat stacks of coffins, waiting in queue to be compacted for transport back to Earth. Then we past rows of frost covered body bags. Finally we saw the field hospitals with their disorderly piles of bodies, and small mountains of arms and legs that were once connected to the bodies of young Space Marines.
That’s when my driver spoke up, “They are from the battle of Two Glaciers. The Naspern Positron Bombers caught us in the open. Thirty thousand of our boys bought it. Your replacement Battalion is an empty shell. Most of our boys have been assigned to 1st Brigade, 2nd Mobil. Ain’t nothin’ waiting for you at HQ except a Laser-Log full of forms to be filled out and filed with 3rd Field Army HQ. Oh, and a bottle of Scotch to help fight off the cold of this snowball planet, complements of, yours truly.”
Luckily my driver was exaggerating, a little. My Battalion was down to its skeleton strength of a little over two hundred Space Marines. Luckily most of them were combat veterans. As such they were resourceful in gathering weapons from the battlefield and getting them back into serviceable shape. My command was small, but experienced, well armed, and well supplied. I could handle the form filing, but could I earn the respect of my men? Much was expected of me because of my reputation. As I looked at the men of my command I could see they had an all to familiar battle hardened toughness in their eyes, and that made me feel safe. I knew from that cold steel look, that these Space Marines could handle anything. No matter what odds we might have to face in combat on this block of space ice.
This assignment was more of a paperwork position than it was a combat command, but there was more danger in being in the rear, than there was up front. The Naspern’s were genetically closer to ants than humans, yet the adult males stood nearly eight foot tall. I had learned from experience that their favorite tactic was tunneling under us, and infiltrating large numbers of troops behind our maneuver armies. Then stealthily, they would unleash thousands of giant warriors into our rear.
On my third day with my new command on this frozen planet, I was ordered to move my Battalion to the south pole of M-286; to seek-out and destroy a suspected Naspern supply base. My reconnaissance patrols found it easily, and I reviewed their long-range infrared photos of the place. There were thousands of heat signatures, all identified by the computer as Naspern, but most were much smaller than the adult male warriors we were hunting. The area was surprisingly not well fortified, and the larger male warriors we counted were few. They obviously were not expecting us this far south. I ordered my men to attack the supply base, and eradicate it.
The operation was a success, and now they are going to give me a medal for that action, as a crowd of civilians cheers wildly. The citation I am to receive is for bravery, for valor in defense of our home world, that’s what they call it. In the midst of wholesale slaughter, eight hundred Naspern warriors were among the thousands of Nasperns that died that day. They died bravely. You would have expected them to. They were all that were left behind to defend eight-teen thousand of the Naspern army’s women and children, as the bulk of the Naspern warriors had marched north to intercept the bulk of our army.
I’ll never forget what the President told me as he pinned that Onyx Cross on my chest, “Colonel, you have had quite a year. The battle of South Pole M-286, is your finest hour. Congratulations, good show.”
This may have been my finest hour, my finest year. It certainly was not my proudest, or happiest. Perhaps when I retire from the service. I will be able to find the happiness that has eluded me all these years.