No greater love: a short story (Part 1 of 3)

Commotion in the auditorium aroused the attention of Dan Douglas. He was here by special invitation, though he has never done any public speaking.

What am I going to say?

The pastor said there was no reason to prepare. But this was a full house. Surely they want something more than just winging it.

Dan is a Vietnam veteran. He pulled two tours in Southeast Asia in the early seventies. And, though he was highly decorated, he would gladly return them all, considering the lingering effects spawned during incidents which garnered him three purple hearts: but left him partially disabled.

Likewise, at times like this, when an abundance of ambient sounds cannot be easily discerned, and his own state is agitated, he finds his focus reverting back to those earlier days when friendships forged in preparation and survival of humanity’s worst become life-long bonds.

 

Fort Dix, New Jersey, 1969: a Southern California surfer, a West Texas cow puncher, and a combination street smart, holy rolling, blues boy from New Orleans are thrown together. Yet how they ever became friends is still up for debate. Even their barracks buddies swore they were three aliens jabbering away in different languages. Dan was always “stoked,” and talked about “righteous waves,” and “bikini babes with legs for days.” Mad Dog Mason countered with rodeo exploits, how he missed his horse, NASCAR racing, and unfettered pride in the Lone Star state. And James Waxton, known as Rev, because of his habitually reading the Bible, was a living archive of Delta Blues and Bourbon Street Jazz: and he would gladly sing it any time of the day or night.

Yep, the trio took to claiming their friendship was forged through heaven, hell, and eight downbeats from Basin Street. And a boot camp officer, noticing how the trio was inseparable, called them a “reverse Oreo:” two vanilla cookies on the outside with a little chocolate in the middle.

Dan could not help smiling as the memories began to cloud out the auditorium, and all things present.

Yep! Two glorious weeks of leave before shipping out overseas, and I’m going home.

“Danno.”

Dan looked up and saw Rev staring at him with a concerned look.

“You alright?”

“Yeah,” said Dan. “Why?”

“Cuz’ you haven’t responded to our last three questions,” Rev said, “or to Mad Dog calling you a love-struck fool.”

Dan glanced toward Mad Dog, who saluted him with the wrong hand, while giving him ‘the bird’ and gulping down the last of his brew.

“Well?” Rev said.

“Well what?”

“Are your parents going to meet you at the airport tomorrow?”

Damn! Dan thought. I guess I had daydreamed a bit, because I don’t recall that being asked.

Mad Dog cut in before Dan could respond. “I told you he’s not going home to be with his parents. He’s gonna’ try out some of my roping and riding techniques on Diane.” And he blew a kiss in Dan’s direction, and fluttered his eyes.

Dan let it slide. After all, Diane was the major theme of most of his thoughts. His arms ached to hold her. And if it’s this bad after five months, how bad will it be after a year in ‘Nam?

“You’re doin’ it again,” Mad Dog barked. “Maybe we should’ve gone out to celebrate.” No response from his friends. “Come on you two, we just graduated for christsakes!”

His slip of the tongue drew the appropriate glances from his buddies, so Mad Dog, upon realizing what he had said, apologized to Rev. It was a rather unique sight to see in a military barracks. Rev is all of a hundred and fifty pounds, dripping wet. Mad Dog is well over two-hundred. Yet out of his respect for his little buddy, he will watch what he says — and he will only curb his tongue around Rev.

Rev has that distinct quality. He somehow attracts an unusual loyalty from anyone who takes the time to get to know him. Most of the GIs laughed at him initially, with his Bible reading, going off to pray, or nursing a soft drink while the rest of them polished off something more substantial. Yet he hung in there when many macho-fakes dropped out. He earned their respect.

However, the trait was just a part of Rev’s personality. It was prevalent even before he became a Christian. Since his father was imprisoned for life, and his mother was a Beat Street whore addicted to “H”, he grew up on the street. And his ability to gain loyalty from the dishonest, and often dangerous, street element helped him survive, and even thrive in the shadowy recesses of New Orleans underworld.

Hell, even the drill instructors fell under his spell, Dan recalled.

He was remembering how the DIs enjoyed calling the new recruits derogatory names upon their arrival.

“You will answer to Ass Digger,” a barrel-chested runt of a DI told Dan.

“And you’re the resident Steer Queer,” the DI informed Mad Dog.

Mad Dog then earned a hundred pushups for snapping back: “Do I get first dibs, or is it sloppy seconds after you?”

Before the vertically challenged DI selected a name for Rev, he overheard him tell another recruit that Christians are Spiritual Jews. So the instructors began to mock him with the title of “Little Chocolate Jew Boy.” But it changed within weeks.

Rev saved the life of a walking clusterfuck: a raw recruit whose IQ was ninety-nine cents short of a dollar. Just the type of draftee you want to bring to the artillery range and hand over explosives to.

The SOB fell asleep during the lecture, then tried to fake his way through the exercise, and set up a claymore mine in his own direction: a feat in itself, since claymores have front and back stamped on the casing. And, though the DIs missed it, Rev didn’t, and tackled him just as he depressed the clicker. Neither was injured, but they finally booted the Jughead out, since he blew a dozen holes in the Company Commander’s jeep. And the DIs took to calling Rev “Preacher Man” and “Little Samson” after that.

The trio continued to reminisce about the graduation, the course, and what they would do on leave. And, instinctively, they continued polishing brass and spit-shining boots during the conversation. Drilled in habits are hard to break.

They were soon joined by three other barracks buddies: J.J., Rico, and Tommy “the Chinaman” Lee. They had just come from the enlisted man’s club. The military is big on keeping the hierarchy strongly ingrained. Everyone has to work together, but you live and play with your peers. That’s why most military bases have three clubs: an officer’s club, an NCO club, and an enlisted man’s club.

“You guys didn’t hang around here all night, did ya’?” Rico said spitting out half the words in his over lubricated state.

“You shoulda’ joined us,” J.J. said. “It was funny as hell to see the Chinaman puke all over his date.” A comment that sparked GI laughter and it would permeate the rest of their bullshit session.

“I thought it would improve her looks,” said the glassy eyed Chinaman.

“It was a her?” Dan said with mock surprise.

“The jury’s still out on that one,” J.J. said. And the BS banter continued to steam forward as they continued to imbibe while packing their personal belongings and military issue for their upcoming departures.

When most their gear was ready and the night was winding down, Rico began to stare at Rev through clouded thoughts and bloodshot eyes. And it took nearly ten minutes for his alcohol dulled senses to formulate something to say.

“Hey, Bible Thumper,” he began slowly. “You ain’t said shit hardly.”

“Shit hardly,” Rev said while burping up his soft drink. And everyone except Rico laughed.

“Listen — listen — Bible Thumper,” Rico said. “I bet when you go home you pray for the war to end before the rest of us — heart-takers and — women-breakers — get a chance to be heroes.”

“I ain’t never broke a woman in my life,” Dan said.

“I broke a cherry,” the Chinaman said while crunching a beer can on his forehead.

“Don’t you mean popped?” Dan said.

“Like popped goes in the weasel,” J.J. said, and laughed himself to tears as his fermented brain caught the image he suggested.

Mad Dog had not cared for the insinuation of Rico’s remark, but had to wait until he vacated the latrine to reply.

“Watch out, Rico,” Mad Dog said as he made his way back to the group. “Rev has a mainline to heaven. He might ask God to keep you overseas permanently.”

Rico’s eyes grew wide, and his head bobbed in his intoxicated condition, while trying to contemplate the ramifications of Mad Dog’s comment. And the others laughed for the umpteenth time: though J.J. was still laughing at his weasel popping image.

As the laughter subsided Dan began to wonder: Why doesn’t Rev ever get pissed off at Refried Rico for his stupid badgering?

“Listen up, you clowns!” came the familiar voice of Corporal Lewis. “Privates Waxton, Mason, and Douglas: if you can get your gear together asap, you can leave. The military hop bumped three off for disciplinary action. You can take their places.”

The immediate hooting and hollering from the trio ignited jealousy in the three who would remain, but not enough to stop them from well-wishing and the usual farewells. Neither trio believed they would ever see the others again. Rev, Mad Dog, and Dan were the only ones shipping out to the same unit.

 I’m glad my pals are going with me overseas, Dan thought, as the trio exited the barracks. But right now, all I want is to get on that hop and go home.

 

A pat on Dan’s back returned his thoughts to the present. It was the pastor.

“Are you ready for this?”

Dan shrugged.

“Don’t worry. You’ll do fine.”

Another shrug.

“I’ll signal when we’re ready.”

As the reverend departed Dan rescanned the auditorium with a hint of admiration. The Reverend has come a long way. He has a large church, wonderful family, and thousands of friends. It’s hard to believe this all came about because of a friendship over thirty years ago.

 

[*See what happens to the friends when they finally get to Vietnam in Part 2.]

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31 thoughts on “No greater love: a short story (Part 1 of 3)

  1. Mary Cathleen Clark February 3, 2016 / 8:04 pm

    Very enjoyable story. I would imagine parts of yourself are imbedded in your characters; all writers tend to do that. I would ask which one most resembles you (Dan the surfer dude?) but you probably wouldn’t tell. 🙂
    I’ll be watching for the next installment.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jwtatfbc February 3, 2016 / 10:27 pm

      Thank you for the response. Yes, we writers do tend to write what we know. And yes, there are parts of me in the story. I was born in So. Calif., but I’m a country boy at heart, and now live in a small town in Oregon. But I also love playing the blues (along with country, rock, gospel, and the oldies). So I guess you can find parts of me in all 3 main characters; not to mention I’m a partially disabled Vet.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Mary Cathleen Clark February 4, 2016 / 12:14 am

    I’ve never been to Oregon, but I have a niece who, with her husband, lived in Eugene for a number of years. She loved it there, and though her husband passed a few years ago, she continues to visit their friends who live there. She says Oregon is a beautiful place. I’m a country girl, in heart and reality. I grew up in–and until about 15 years ago when I married for the 2nd time–lived in the country in the Ozark/Boston Mountain area in the South. Hence my rural, Southern settings. 🙂
    Since you fought in the Vietnam war, I figure we are close in age. I’m 62. I would wager we like the same oldies. Sometimes I still find it hard to believe that the music I love so came into existence 50 years ago. Where do the years go?
    It’s been nice getting to know you here, JW.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jwtatfbc February 4, 2016 / 3:09 am

      I’m in Central Oregon, about an hour north of Bend (which is about the only town around here you might have heard of). I hadn’t even planned on coming here. I was actually heading back up to Alaska, which I love, but one unexpected thing led to another and I’ve been here 19 years now. And yes, it’s a beautiful state. And I’m a few years younger than you. I went in the military 5 days after I turned 17.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Mary Cathleen Clark February 4, 2016 / 4:11 am

        My brother, who is 5 years older than me, was drafted right out of high school, and after basic training was shipped off to Vietnam. He was a teletype operator, spent most of his time there near Da Nang. (Think I have the spelling right.) I sure was a happy girl when he served his time and came back home. I adored him and still do.
        That was a hard time in our nation’s history. So much unrest regarding the war. All I knew was I wanted my brother home. 🙂
        He never talked about his time there, but it must have been pretty bad. He had nightmares about it for years.

        Liked by 1 person

      • jwtatfbc February 4, 2016 / 4:29 am

        I’m glad your brother made it back. Yes, it was a bad time. I was a recon scout, and cross-trained in search and rescue and POW-rescue.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Mary Cathleen Clark February 4, 2016 / 4:39 am

        Sounds like it was no cakewalk. I know enough about the military to know what you did was high-risk.

        Liked by 1 person

      • jwtatfbc February 4, 2016 / 4:45 am

        I won’t deny it. But it was also a rush: something a 17-year-old adrenaline junkie craved. And I made friendships that have lasted forty years. Of course, getting my body messed up wasn’t in my plans. But I was one of the lucky ones. I still function… for the most part.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Mary Cathleen Clark February 4, 2016 / 3:18 pm

        My oldest brother, 14 years my senior, joined the Navy when he was 17, served for 20 years. I know he made friends he kept his entire life. I think he enjoyed military life, whereas my other brother did not. Though my brother who was drafted has worked hard his entire life, he suffers from health problems that may have been caused by Agent Orange. And I know it affected him mentally. To cope, he drank heavily for years, and almost destroyed his pancreas before quitting.
        Were you able to work in spite your disability, or was it too severe?

        Liked by 2 people

      • jwtatfbc February 5, 2016 / 6:01 am

        Thank you for sharing about your brothers. It definitely leaves its mark on us in different ways.
        Yes, I was able to work. However, I was foolish enough to choose careers that exacerbated the military injuries: stunt work and private investigations. So I could not do them as long as some friends that got me into them. It’s my own fault for being an adrenaline junkie when I was young.

        Liked by 1 person

      • jwtatfbc February 5, 2016 / 6:10 am

        Yes, until we find the chink in the armor: usually the hard way. ha, ha

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Mary Cathleen Clark February 5, 2016 / 1:39 am

    Reblogged this on Building Castles In The Air and commented:
    I love this three-part story by fellow blogger, JW, so much I want to share it with everyone. A Vietnam vet, JW injects the harsh reality of that time in our history into his tale in a way only those who experienced it can do. And on top of that, he’s one hell of a storyteller. Please read all three parts (you won’t be disappointed) and show some love.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jwtatfbc February 5, 2016 / 6:07 am

      Thank you very much for the reblog, Cathy. I appreciate it more than you can possibly know.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Mary Cathleen Clark February 5, 2016 / 6:19 am

        I seldom do a reblog, if that gives you any indication of how good I think you write.
        If I knew your email address, I would pass on an observation or two. If you are ever interested in hearing a couple of my thoughts, drop me a note at: marycathleenclark15@gmail.com
        It’s after midnight here. I’m off to bed with my current book. 🙂
        Goodnight, sleep tight, don’t let the bedbugs bite–as my mama used to say.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. ajppobrien February 5, 2016 / 9:41 pm

    A great piece of writing.
    Really enjoyed.
    Looking forward to the next instalment.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jwtatfbc February 5, 2016 / 10:32 pm

      Thank you for the response AJ. All 3 parts are posted on the blog in succession if you care to view them all.

      Liked by 1 person

      • ajppobrien February 5, 2016 / 10:52 pm

        Oh. I didn’t realise. Sorry.
        I read your reblog on Cathy’s site.
        I will visit again shortly.

        Alan.

        Liked by 1 person

      • jwtatfbc February 5, 2016 / 10:57 pm

        I’m just glad you enjoyed the part you read so far. Thanks again for the comment.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Mandy February 12, 2016 / 6:57 am

    I enjoyed this piece, JW. I read you’re from Oregon. I’m from the Portland area, but my favorite getaway place is Sisters, near Bend. Beautiful country, and being from Montana as a kid, I can’t seem to get the love for country out of me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jwtatfbc February 12, 2016 / 7:01 am

      Thank you for the response. I lived in Bend from 1997-2000, but now I’m in a small town about an hour north of it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Mandy February 12, 2016 / 7:07 am

        You really can’t go wrong no matter where you live in our beautiful state! ☺️

        Liked by 1 person

      • jwtatfbc February 12, 2016 / 7:09 am

        So true! I was actually heading back up to Alaska when I stopped in Bend… and decided to stay. It’s amazing how life’s plans change without warning sometimes (hopefully for the better, ha ha).

        Liked by 1 person

      • Mandy February 12, 2016 / 5:51 pm

        Isn’t that the truth–we never know where we’ll end up. Alaska is a dream trip for me–my bucket list 🙂 I watch the Alaska shows on Discovery and can hardly stand it. I’m really intrigued by the growth of McCarthy. It’s having to get in those itsy bitsy planes to get anywhere that freaks me out, lol.

        Liked by 1 person

      • jwtatfbc February 12, 2016 / 10:17 pm

        Yeah, it was beautiful, but my family didn’t love it as much as I did. They couldn’t handle the long winters. And I did more boating up and down the waterways (though, as a ex-airborne soldier, I also enjoyed the flying).

        Liked by 1 person

      • Mandy February 12, 2016 / 11:49 pm

        Lol, yes I’d probably go mad with so little daylight in winter!

        Liked by 1 person

      • jwtatfbc February 12, 2016 / 11:52 pm

        That’s why God invented cuddling… ha ha

        Liked by 1 person

      • Mandy February 13, 2016 / 12:26 am

        Lol 👍🏻

        Liked by 1 person

    • jwtatfbc February 17, 2016 / 6:08 am

      Thank you for the response. All 3 parts have already been posted, so you can view them whenever you choose.

      Liked by 1 person

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