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LAST FLIGHT

2012

© 2012, by Dale Archer
USMC, 1st LAAM Battalion, Echo Battery
Vietnam, Feb 1967 - July 1968
Hill 55 and Dodge City

There was this bar I used as my living room when I was single. I¹m not talking my twenties but my mid thirties and of course being self-employed or more mostly self-unemployed it wasn't unusual for me to close the bar. There was this one bartender that frequently had the late night so he and I became well acquainted. Often it was just he and I at the bar at 1:30 am, just talking while I nursed a potent coffee drink we had come up with.
One night there was another guy that I had seen in there before but other than say hi, I hadn't talked to. The bartender whom we can call Doug was about twelve years younger than me and knew I was a vet.
What I didn't know was that his dad had been killed in the war and this late night for some reason he decided to tell me about it. He came out of the blue with ³You know my Dad was killed over there." That statement pretty much caught me flatfooted and I took a second to look him in the eye.
That was when I realized he had something to get off his chest.
"No I didn't know that. I¹m sorry. Do you know what happened?" "Ya he was a helicopter pilot and was going in on a night mission with another helicopter and they were supposed to rescue some guys that had been trapped and surrounded by the enemy. My Dad's helicopter was shot down as they came in for the rescue. He flew a lot of medevacs."
"There was more, so I asked, "How old were you when he died."
"I was ten." And there it was; a flash of anger, he was really deep down mad at his dad for dying and leaving him. A normal reaction, we all tend to have a bit of anger at those that die. We feel deserted, left alone to shift for ourselves without their support. When you are a child that feeling of being deserted causes considerable anger. After all you¹re a kid, how are you supposed to make it without your parent.
Okay flat footed again. Doug's anger at his father is causing him to suffer. I can't stand to see people suffer, feel like I have to do something and in this case I had nothing to give.
Sometimes the universe steps in and lends a hand instead of making your life worse like it usually does. Remember the other guy in the bar? A few seconds of silence and then in a quiet voice he tells Doug; "I want you to imagine your nineteen years old away from home for the first time and like many kids at that time you¹re in the military and in a war.
Your out with a patrol and it's so dark you can't hardly see your hand in front of your face. A much larger force of enemy soldiers has ambushed your patrol. A few of your guys are already down and your squad is fighting for its life. Your crazy scared and you hear the radio operator calling in for help. He's told there is no help. You realize your squad is gonna be left out there in the dark to die, nobody cares enough about you to save your life. The child in you shrivels into itself in horror. You don't want to die and death itself is out there in the dark trying to get at you.
Hope is gone; there is nothing but despair.
At this point he is no longer looking at us or anything in the room. He is seeing another time and he's not just seeing it he is living it.
His eyes are glazed with a tear in the corner of one. He pauses for a second before continuing.
"So there you are and it can't get any worse." At this point our storytellers voice starts cracking and he obviously having a hard time controlling his emotions.
Suddenly the radio crackles and the voice that comes out is like the voice of god himself promising salvation. It said, "hang on we¹re coming, there are two of us and we can get everybody out!" It was the pilot of the lead helicopter and he somehow had heard about us and just couldn't leave us out there to die. I don't know who that pilot was, but I¹m telling you kid whoever it was, that was your old man.
And with that he got up and left.
Doug looked like he'd been clubbed. There were tears streaming down his cheeks and he seemed incapable of movement. After a bit he turns to me and says, "I didn't know, I didn't know." I told him there was no way he could know. "I think because your dad was a dad he placed more importance on the lives of others than he might of otherwise."
We have a memorial in our town to the dead of that war and the names are engraved in the granite. Doug told me his dad's name was on there and asked that I give him my regards.
I did that the next day and told him that I was glad he got his relationship with his son back. A boy needs his father even if it is the memory.

Dale Archer

 
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