Nuelle and the carriage had been cleaned and polished as if for inspection. Griffin was amused by the care the trio of young angels, sent to help him, put into their work. Griffin took a look at the name in the book. His entourage chattered about his background as they worked.
Griffin watched his fare approach. He and Nuelle stood by the curb outside the Washington National Cathedral. The young man wore crisp Navy whites. His shoes were spit shined and his eyes sparkled like his naturally friendly smile. When he approached the carriage, he slowed and admired Nuelle. “I see you are wearing your Navy whites also," he kidded and gave Nuelle a pat on the cheek. “You are a beauty.”
Griffin retrieved an apple and handed it to John. He produced a small pocket knife and quickly cut the apple into four pieces. He fed two to Nuelle and handed a quarter to Griffin, who smiled and ate it in two bites.
“You look like a military man,” John said to Griffin.
Griffin again smiled, “Yes that was a long time ago.”
John acknowledged that fact with a smile. “When I was a boy, I thought I had it tough. My father was a Naval Aviator, and he was strict, to say the least. He expected big things from me. I was just a kid like all the other boys. I never went hungry and all-in-all had a good home life, so I never complained. The older I got, the more I appreciated the lessons my father taught me. They helped me a great deal. After High School, I went off to the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis. This was right after the Korean conflict. The culture of the United States was changing. Many of the younger generation, my generation, were restless. Since then they have been labeled, ‘The Beat Generation.’”
“Some of that spilled over at the Academy. I thought those days were pretty rough. There was a regime to be adhered to. Up before the sun. Grueling physical training, and the classes were never ending. I was ‘yes sir-ing’ from dawn to dusk and beyond. My Father was an Admiral by that time and some days I thought that helped, some days the other cadets really laid into me. Yes, sir, I thought those were some pretty tough times. I made some friendships there during that period of my life that lasted until their dying breath. You look back on your life and wonder just how you managed to get through it all.”
Griffin leaned against the wheel of the carriage. He got comfortable, not wanting to interrupt John telling his story.
John continued, “I came out of the Academy, then was sent to Pensacola where I trained to become a Naval pilot. We were all hot shots, or thought we were. We were warriors. We were invincible. We flew the fastest planes, always had the best equipment the taxpayers could buy. Basically, we were the kings of the world; the elite in a military hierarchy still struting from the victory of World War II. The Cold War was raging, and we were the eyes in the sky. I got married to a model from Philadelphia.” He paused, reflecting those times. “The training was never ending, we prepared for war. Then our war came. I learned many valuable lessons during that time, in both my personal life and my career.”
“Being a pilot was great duty. Compared to the guys on the ground, a Naval Aviator ate hot meals, slept in his own quarters on board. On board we had access to hot water. Then one day, I am assigned a bombing mission called Operation Rolling Thunder. That mission changed everything for me. Flying over Hanoi, that’s a city in Vietnam, my plane was hit and I went down. I survived the crash and was taken as a prisoner of war by the enemy. Understand, that I was not famous, but my Father was a big shot in the Navy, so I was offered my freedom. It did not take me any time at all to refuse the offer of going home early. Many fellow officers were suffering it what was known as the Hanoi Hilton, where we were housed.”
Griffin said, “Just before my men and I were killed, stories about a place called Andersonville were circulating among the officers. The last place any of us wanted to be was held as prisoners of war.”
John looked at Griffin. He was aware of Andersonville from his studies. He wondered about this man to whom he was telling his story. “I was held by the enemy for five and one half years. It was 1973 when I was released. Luckily, I missed the protest marchers in the streets, which angered me, the Kent State shootings, which angered me more, and I damn near missed miniskirts. I thought those were tough times.”
“You pulled some pretty tough duty that is for sure.” Griffin tossed in, doing some reflecting of his own.
“The war injuries I endured slowed me down. They reduced my swagger. That feeling of invincibility was gone. I lost my assuredness about things. My first marriage fell apart about that time. I retired from the Navy with a drawer full of medals and no direction. I sure felt like those were tough times, but the lessons I learned helped me.”
“I headed out to Arizona, got married, to a fine girl, and looked around for something to do. My new father-in-law advised that if I had no civilian talent, then I might be perfect for politics. So, I ran for a seat in the House of Representatives. I made a lot of friends, but it was much different from streaking through the sky at 695 miles per hour.”
Nuelle whinnied hearing the number.
“My time in the Senate is where I feel I did the most for the country. There is a good deal of infighting that goes on, but over time you begin to know the people. Just like all walks of life, there are good people and bad. By this time I had a truly unique perspective on life. It seems I had been kicked around the block plenty of times, so I was oft times unwilling to kick someone else or whole portions of the population, just because I could.”
“To tell you the truth,” he paused. “I didn’t get your name.”
“Captain Griffin Chaffey,” he smiled, I am here to take you anywhere you want to go.”
“You mind if I call you Griffin?”
“Not at all.” Griffin answered.
“To tell you the truth,” he began again. “Each phase of my life prepared me for the next stage. Each time, ‘that happened’ I thought, OK, what’s next. My father was strict, that made me tough enough for the Academy. The Academy was so tough, that I survived the war. The war was so tough I survived the House of Representatives, and the House prepared me for the Senate. The Senate prepared me for brain cancer. So, you see, I was a character of fate. I got out of life what I put into it.”
“You certainly did. Now do you have an idea of what you would like to do next? Have you given it any thought?” Griffin asked.
“You’ll take me wherever I want to go?”
“That’s right.” Griffin liked this man. His heart knew about both love and happenstance.
“I can go somewhere and then at a later time go somewhere else?”
“That is correct.”
“Then take me where you took Aretha Franklin. I bet it is the best jazz club in the universe.”
John Sydney McCain III climbed aboard.
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