The elves mentioned that it was Veteran's day. I knew that. Duh. They asked if anyone was writing a story for the holiday and I went, Oops! I forgot about that! Well, I'll try and get it done in time. I should be ashamed of myself for forgetting. For those of you who only want Jim and Blair, you can stop right now. This is written in first person from Rafe's point of view. No action, mostly introspection. Since I now know that some of you don't like it, I'll warn you in advance and save you the time and effort. For those of you who like character studies, here's a little insight into what makes some people tick. My opinion, only.
The standard disclaimers still apply. They aren't my characters and I won't make any money from this. Thank you for not suing me over it.
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On the eleventh day, of the eleventh month, at the eleventh hour, the treaty was signed, bringing an end to the first world war. I'm not nearly old enough to remember it. Hell, I wasn't even around for the end of the second world war, even. But my grandfather was there, in Europe. He fought. He still remembers...
His English isn't very good, even now, when he's lived here for almost seventy years. He was a Boer. I suppose that makes me one, too. Our family helped, well, I guess we invaded South Africa, rather than settled it. But he still went to fight against the Germans in what they once called 'the Great War'. They thought at the time that no war could ever be as bad...they had no idea... He still talks about it, once in a while. In November. He tells us again, how it was. The trenches, the mustard gas, the cold and the wet. Hard times. Fearful times. I've been lucky. I haven't had to serve in the military. Although, as a cop, I suppose I'm a soldier every day. But at least I've managed to avoid killing anyone...yet. I hope I never do. But I'm prepared to do it if I have to.
I'm looking around the bullpen. Realizing that some of the people I work with are veterans. They have been soldiers. I wonder what they think of this holiday? "Hey, Jim?" I'm headed back to my desk with a fresh cup of coffee. He looks up from his report, curious, I think, interested, anyway. He doesn't show much, except when he's angry or upset. That's easy to read. You only have to see him clench his jaw a time or two to recognize the signs and steer clear of him. He's here alone, today. His partner's at the university, getting ready for mid-terms.
"What is it Rafe?" His voice is soft, always so soft. It amazes me how he can use his voice in so many ways without ever raising it. He sits back and focuses his full attention on me. That can be scary, but he's in a good mood today; of course, the Captain has given him and his partner Thursday and Friday off as well as the holiday and the weekend. Five days. Bet they go camping or something. Well, maybe not. It's been snowing for the past two days, and Jim's partner hates the cold.
"I was just wondering." I stop talking. I'm not sure I have the right to ask the question that's on my mind.
"Wondering what?" His voice is still soft, patient, even. I take a deep breath and plunge in...
"I was wondering. You're a veteran. What do you think of the holiday?" I watch as his brow lowers and his eyes focus on something I can't see. Memories, I think.
"I...it's like Memorial Day, as far as I'm concerned. I-I-I think of all the guys I knew in the Army. My team that I lost in Peru, mostly. Sometimes, I think of some of the missions I was on. Once in a while, I remember some of the funny or crazy stuff. It kinda depends. You know?" He looks up at me and I nod.
"Sorry. I didn't mean to drag up unhappy memories." I start to turn away, but he calls me back.
"No. It's all right. It's kinda like, well, as long as I can remember them, they aren't really dead, that by keeping their memories alive, they didn't give their lives in vain."
"You completed your mission, even though you were alone. So, they didn't die for nothing." I know I'm not saying it right, but he smiles. He does understand.
"Yeah. You're right. Blair pointed that out to me over Memorial Day. It helped a lot. What about you? What does the holiday mean to you?"
I know he knows that I've got no military background. So, I decide to tell him about my grandfather. "My grandfather was in the First World War. He still calls it 'The Great War'. Every year, he tells us about what it was like. The cold, the fear. The trenches, bad food, or no food. How cold and wet it was. How he spent three days up to his knees in freezing water in a foxhole with three other men, all of whom died. How he was the only man in his unit to come through the war unscathed. How that was why, when he got out of the Army, he went to school to become a minister. Why it was important to him to tell people how he found his Faith in a foxhole." I look up to see that Joel Taggart and Captain Banks have stopped by to listen to my story. I can feel my face flush. I'm embarrassed at being the center of attention.
"I've known a lot of men who found God in the heat of battle." Joel says softly. He's smiling at me, I can see he understands. The Captain nods his agreement.
"Most of those who do, tend to remain pretty faithful to their beliefs, afterwards, as well." I can tell that there's a story there, but I'm afraid to ask. As the newest detective (Although Megan Connor hasn't been here as long, she's still got a lot more experience than I do. My partner has more experience than I do...Hell. Jim's partner has more experience than I do.) I don't feel right asking a lot about their pasts. Especially not the military. I've heard the stories about Jim. He was a Ranger, did a lot of covert ops. A very dangerous man; but that's obvious to anyone who looks at him.
"Is that where you found yours?" Joel asks. I can tell he's curious, too. Good. I can step back and watch them, now.
"As a matter of fact, it was." There's something introspective about his smile. Like, even though it had been a bad time, he had fond memories of it, as well.
"Want to tell us about it?" Taggart asks, he looks at me and smiles. Like he knows I really want to know, but was afraid to ask.
"Actually, it was back in boot camp. I had been raised in church. My mother was adamant that we all go. We made up nearly a quarter of the choir." He chuckled at the memory. I smiled, too. I wonder what it's like to have a big family?
"Anyway, there I was. Tall, skinny. First time away from home. There was this other kid, had the bunk next to mine. Whenever we had a little down time, there he was. Nose buried in his Bible. The other guys called him 'preacher', even though he didn't actually preach. Real quiet kid. Intense. We had just gotten back from one of those really horrible forced marches. Full packs. Out all night. It had started raining early in the trip. By the time we got back, we were cold, wet, miserable, and sore. We'd barely gotten back, just dropped our packs and fallen on our bunks, it seemed. This kid, he was just about the smallest guy there. There were times that I thought he'd collapse from the weight of his pack. But he never gave up. He was limping pretty badly, but instead of just falling down on his bunk, he changed from his wet clothes, sat on his bunk, and pulled out his Bible and started reading. I remember how I looked over at him, amazed. I couldn't help but ask why he wasn't even trying to go to sleep. He looked up at me and he smiled. It was weird. He looked like he'd just gotten a good night's sleep, instead of marching twenty-five miles through freezing rain with a fifty pound pack. He said something that stopped me cold, made me think, and rethink my beliefs. He said, 'My rest is in the Lord.' and went back to his reading." He shakes his head. "He really made me start thinking. Later, when we finished and several of us were assigned to a combat unit, lucky enough to not actually see any action, but lots of training, anyway, he still kept his nose buried in his Bible. Never preached to us, but wouldn't go out on the town and get drunk. But he would go if he was asked to be the designated driver. Never said a word about anything we might do. I found myself doing less partying and more talking to him. He was quiet and soft-spoken, nothing ever got him mad. His faith just, well, it was like a beacon. A lot of guys in the unit ended up changing their ways."
"Do you keep in touch with him?" I ask. Curious about someone who had managed to affect so many lives.
"He was killed in Desert Storm." He looks away. "I still keep in touch with his family, though. They're close friends, still."
I don't know what to say. What can I say? I'm sorry? Sometimes, it just isn't enough. Joel reaches over to pat the Captain's back. I'm too embarrassed to even look at him, so I stare at the floor. I wonder if anyone ever noticed that there's a faint gray pattern in the white tile? It's a sort of geometric design, a diamond, and...oh, it's squares, tilted ninety degrees from each other, each one inside the next. Hmmm. Interesting.
Jim's looking uncomfortable. I've noticed that whenever the talk drifts around to religion, he gets a little squirmy. I figure I owe him for starting all this, so I ask Joel, "What does Veteran's day make you think of, Joel?" He gets this far away look, like he can see something way far off. Only I know that it's time, he's looking through, not space.
"I think of the day I found out I was coming home. It's true, what they say about war. It truly is hell. Constant fear of being hurt or killed. Watching, helpless as those about you are. Friends dying in your arms...We'd just gotten back from three weeks of constant fighting. We never actually got anywhere, just kept fighting over the same ground over and over again, it seemed. We were hurting, tired. Beyond tired, exhausted. There were less than half of us left. They actually had a hot meal for us. And real coffee. Hot and strong. They even had sugar for it..."
I can see him remembering. He's got this funny little half smile. I glance real quick at Jim and the Captain, who have the same kind of smile on their faces. Like, I guess it's a military thing. Something they've all been through, share, even if they never served together. I guess it's the same way when we discuss stuff that happens around here, on the job. Common ground. I can see that there's something bittersweet in the memories, more from the people they've lost I suppose.
"Anyway, we'd been there about a day when our mail finally caught up with us, they had handed out the letters, I guess there was a batch of messages for the C.O., too. I had three letters from my baby, one of them was the announcement of Cecilia's birth. With pictures."
His smile must be the same as it was when he got the letter. The proud new papa. It amazes me how he so...well, he's always the same. Steady, constant. I've never really seen him angry. He's always the calm voice of reason, it seems. I'd like to be like that. I try, but it doesn't always work. He's so proud of his family. It's so obvious how much he loves them all. It seems to spill over on us here, too. It's like he's everybody's favorite uncle. I can't help but grin at that thought.
"I'd read through my letters once when we were called back up. The C.O. had some papers in front of him. He announced that we were withdrawing. That we were going home. That the war was over, at least for us. There was dead silence for a minute, then everybody started talking at once. I could see that there was something bothering the C.O., so I made my way up to him. When he noticed me, I asked him what was wrong, and he told me. That we were giving up, and that we hadn't won the war, but lost it. It made me kinda sick. Knowing that so many men had died, and for what? Then, the way we were treated when we got home..."
He turns away from us. Even now, after what, twenty-five years? Even now, it still hurts him. The way they were treated. I can see the Captain and Jim looking down, with nothing to say. "I'm sorry, Joel. They were wrong. You simply did your duty, to God and Country. Somehow, I don't think it would have been any different even if you had won. Everyone was messed up back then. They had no understanding of honor or commitment. They were too stuck on themselves then. I remember being told by other kids terrible things. But I also had my grandfather telling me how it was for him with his war. I guess I got a little different perspective than a lot of people." He's still looking down, I can tell it still hurts him. I move up behind him and put a hand on his shoulder. "Thank you. For being brave enough to do the right thing at a time when it was so much easier to run away or do the wrong thing. Thank you for your honor and commitment to duty. Thank you for your service to your country and service to the ideals we have been taught to hold dear. Thank you for protecting us, even when we were cruel or unkind to you for your stand. Thank you." I don't quite know where those words came from, but I can see that they were the right words to say. Not just for Joel, but for Jim and the Captain, too. I can see it in their eyes, the way the tears glisten. I just realized that I'm crying, too. Joel turns to look at me, I'm so embarrassed. Men aren't supposed to cry. But he smiles at me and gives me a big hug, and whispers in my ear for only me to hear,
"Thank you for that. You're only the second person who has ever welcomed me home from the war."
He lets me go, and I can see that there are tears streaking his face, too, as well as Jim's and the Captain's. I think I understand, now. It isn't so much that people in the military like fighting, although I'm sure that there are some who do. It's more a case of doing what they feel is the right thing; to stand on the front lines to defend those of us left behind, and all they really want is for us to say 'thank you' once in a while.
I can't wait to get home and talk to my grandfather. I have so much I need to say to him. Things I doubt anyone has ever said before. Who would have thought that something as simple as a 'thank you' could mean so much to someone. Especially so many years after the fact.
To all veterans everywhere. In every country. Whether you served in peace time, or in war, even if it wasn't called a war (we all know better), thank you. Thank you for standing on the front lines. Thank you for choosing to protect us, your countrymen. Thank you for giving of your time, your effort, your lives. Thank you for the courage to stand for what you believed in, for being the bulwark between us and whichever enemy you may have faced.
Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.
R. I. Eaton November, 1998
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