Army Captain Mary Murphy marches her troops into an airport lobby. Family members and other onlookers applaud the troops. Her troops join the rest of the unit. The unit has returned from Afghanistan. The commander says a few words then dismisses the troops. Family members rush to the troops.
Mary’s parents, Bill and Carol, make their way to her. Mary exchanges hugs and greetings with her parents.
Bill asks, “How was your flight over?”
“Long. How was your flight?”
Carol answers, “It was good.”
It’s early evening on December 31. Inside the Murphy house there is a banner which reads “Happy New Year 2020!” The house has a mixture of Christmas and New Year’s decorations. Carol decided to go all out to ring in Mary’s first year as a civilian.
The guests include Joseph Rossi, who is Carol’s “Uncle Joe”. Carol has rarely seen Uncle Joe in recent years. Joe’s wife passed away a few months ago so Carol felt she should invite Uncle Joe to ring in the New Year with them.
The guests are eating from the buffet food she ordered from an upscale fast food restaurant. “Dick Clark’s Rockin Eve 2020” is on an 86-inch flat screen television set. Mary is talking with one of her cousins and Bill’s brother about an incident in Afghanistan. Uncle Joe sits alone within hearing range of Mary’s voice.
Captain Murphy is walking inside a compound. Some Afghan soldiers and an American soldier are guarding the compound’s entrance. One Afghan soldier shoots the other soldiers. The Afghan soldier fires his rifle inside the compound as he runs towards a parked vehicle. Captain Murphy and the Afghan soldier exchange shots. Her first rounds strike the Afghan’s body armor. The Afghan reaches the vehicle as Murphy’s rounds hit his neck and face. The Afghan falls dead.
Airman First Class Joseph Rossi and his working dog Mike are patrolling the base perimeter in South Vietnam. Mike alerts and Rossi scans the perimeter. He spots some sappers inside the razor wire. Rossi opens fire with his rifle. The underbrush at the edge of the “kill zone” comes alive with gunfire. Rossi continues firing until his magazine is empty. A sapper emerges from the razor wire, Mike attacks the sapper. Rossi locks another magazine into his rifle and resumes firing. There are explosions from incoming and outgoing shells. There’s an explosion nearby. Rossi feels intense pain in his torso. Despite the pain Rossi continues firing until his magazine is empty. A North Vietnamese soldier takes aim at Rossi. Mike attacks the soldier before he can fire. Rossi struggles through the pain as he locks another magazine into his rifle. There is screaming and shouting in Vietnamese. He fires two rounds before losing consciousness.
He is in a state of semiconscious and hears men shouting in English. He hears, “He’s still alive!”. He goes in and out of consciousness. He regains consciousness in a hospital. There’s a man in the ward cursing and screaming in pain. A cheerful med tech comes over to Rossi.
“Hey Joe how are you feeling?”
“I’ll get the nurse.”
Moments later another man comes to Rossi’s bedside. Rossi is surprised when he learns this male second lieutenant is a nurse. The next day three of his friends come to visit him. The friends act cheerful. They greet Rossi. The first thing Rossi says is, “How’s Mike?”
“Sorry, Mike is dead.”
“He saved me.”
“Mike and you saved us all. Mike killed three of them before he bought it. We found another Charlie, badly chewed up, outside the wire.”
None of what they said was a consolation. Mike, his partner and friend, was dead.
Airman First Class Rossi is on a litter in a C-9 Nightingale. The C-9 rumbles down the runway and Rossi is on his long journey home.
Rossi is in a C-141 Starlifter. There is a retiree and a few dependents on the plane. All the other passengers are military, mostly Army. One Marine is on crutches, he is missing a leg. A soldier has a prosthetic arm. These amputees make Rossi realize he is lucky to have his arms, legs, fingers, and toes.
Rossi and the other passengers on a commercial jetliner exit the aircraft. There were a few military people on the flight. When Rossi exits the jetway he sees his parents. His mother gives him a long hug then his father gives him a hug.
There is a homemade sign at the family home that reads “Welcome home Joey!”. When they step inside the door Joe calls out “Rex!” His mother tells him; “Rex died a few months ago. We didn’t want to tell you while you were away.” The news sucked the joy out of his homecoming.
Rossi is in the pass and ID section. He has a box with his Silver Star inside and a blue folder that contains his citation. The Airman First Class at the other side of the counter hands Rossi his ID card. Typed on the card is DAV, which stands for “Disabled American Veteran”.
It is the family home. There is a party in progress. Many people are sitting around a large table nibbling at the food on the trays. A few people are dancing. The 25-inch color television set is showing Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians playing. The banner on the wall reads “Happy New Year 1970”. Joe is sitting at the table next to a couple of his uncles. The uncles are drinking beers and smoking Marlboro cigarettes.
Uncle Tom, “So this is going to be your first year back in civilian life.”
Uncle Dick, “Have you joined the VFW?”[i]
Uncle Dick, “You should join.”
Joe, “I don’t think so.”
Uncle Dick, “Why not you should?”
Joe, “Ok, I’ll think about it.”
Uncle Dick, “You do that.”
Joe has no intention of joining any veterans’ organization. He couldn’t picture himself wearing their organizational hats and showing off his medals. The uncles talk about their military service during World War II.
At the corner of the table is Grandpa Rossi. He listens to the conversation as he smokes a Camel cigarette. He understands English much better than he can speak it.
[i] Veterans of Foreign Wars
Private Giovanni Rossi enters the barracks. He just returned from leave. His sergeant shouts, “Rossi you’ve got guard duty.”
“What do you mean I just got here?”
“You are here. I want to see you on guard duty in five minutes.”
“Yes, five minutes.”
The sergeant leaves the barracks. “What am I going to do? My gun is locked in the armory?”
A soldier at the other end of the barracks says, “Here, take mine.”
Rossi is standing guard. He hears a noise. He raises his rifle to his eye and shouts, “Who goes there?” His gun goes off and there is a searing pain on the right side of his face.
“Mannaggia diavolo! Mamma Mia!”
Rossi is writhing on the ground in pain when his comrades rush to his aide.
Rossi, with a bandage on his face, stands before his First Captain. Rossi’s Lieutenant is in the room. The First Captain explains the situation:
You have a self-inflicted wound. You were standing guard duty with another soldier’s rifle. A self-inflicted wound is a court marital offense. You could be executed for this.
The Lieutenant advocates for Rossi:
Private Rossi is a good soldier. He never gives any trouble when given an order. He has never hesitated when ordered into battle. The rifle was dirty. Such accidents have happened before.
The First Captain relents. “Very well, but I don’t want to hear of any other accidents.”
There are a bunch of adults sitting around a table in a dimly lit room. They are speaking in Italian as they drink liquor, smoke cigarettes, and nibble at the food on the table. The grandfather clock in the corner gives the time as three minutes to twelve. Giovanni is the youngest person at the table. The oldest person at the table is 35. One of Giovanni’s cousins pours anisette into a glass then stands.
“This is Giovanni’s first year that he is going to begin in America. Salute!”
Everyone around the table answers “salute” then takes a drink. When the clock strikes 12 everyone fills their glass to toast the new year. Someone says, “Cento anni!” and everyone else returns the toast and takes a drink.
The party is winding down. Grandpa and Grandma Rossi are leaving with their daughter and son-in-law. As Grandpa is saying “good-bye” he gives Joe a hug and a kiss. The last time Grandpa did this Joe backed away. This time Joe went along with Grandpa. Grandpa Rossi tells Joe, “Glad you are back home. You did the right thing by going.” Everyone Joe knows had told him they were glad he was back. Grandpa Rossi was the only person who told him he did the right thing by going.
The party is winding down. Uncle Joe is getting ready to leave. He says “good-bye and happy new year” to everyone. He gives Mary a hug and she gives him a faux kiss on the cheek. Uncle Joe tells Mary. “You have a lot of benefits coming to you. Make sure you get everything you’ve got coming to you.” Mary intended to use her benefits. Uncle Joe did give good advice.
© 2019 Robert Sacchi