The Carriage Driver³ - The Silver Star
At sixty-six there was a slight tremble in his fingers and his voice. He took his pills to help with his diabetes and his blood pressure. He whispered prayers before meals. The once proud high school athlete had traveled far and wide over the decades of his life. Patriotism caught hold of him early and the call to duty beckoned him. He told his stories in low tones while wearing his ball cap with both Vietnam and Desert Storm embroidered on it. A reservoir of unwept tears lurked behind his mask. He did not laugh much. The world was a serious place.
He rode the pendulum of history. The Navy was his first choice of duty, offering the high points of his career. Serving as Search and Recovery, his crew plucked Apollo 10 out of the Pacific and tossed Commander Thomas P. Stafford into a basket for good measure. His ship roamed the Mediterranean and the Sea of Japan. In port towns he and his buddies roamed the streets of Italy, Lebanon, Turkey and Tokyo.
The Army offered a different taste and perspective to military life. The safety of his ship while serving in the land war in Vietnam was quite different than serving on the ground in Desert Storm. He had sought out special skills, and that meant a switch of military branches. He felt he had the aptitude and fortitude to be part of The Army Medical Corp.
A unit of the Iraqi Republican Guard returning from their invasion of Kuwait caught his small undermanned Medical Unit. Their contingent faced the challenge that lay ahead of them. As the leader of the unit, he made the decision to buy some time. He ordered seventeen of his twenty-seven man unit to bug-out. Ten men stayed behind. As forward scouting parties approached the ten men, with only small arms and rifle propelled grenade launchers on hand, offered resistance. Their efforts stopped the scouting parties. When the main force of about one hundred Republican Guard arrived, he ordered seven of the men to head out on foot on-the-double. He remained with two volunteers to give his comrades as much of a lead as possible.
As night fell, he looked up in the sky and picked a silver star to be his guide. In the ensuing running retreat, the two men with him were killed. While in High School, he was the strong third man on the Cross Country team. Finding himself alone, he tightened his boot laces, shouldered his weapon and ran through the desert, toward the silver star. At sixty-six, he carried the weight of that day squarely on his tired shoulders. He left the military behind and began the impossible task of forgetting.
His combat experiences had rewired his thinking, as it does with many military men. His relationships suffered, wives seemed to come and go. The children stayed. The children were treated well; as best he could. He reacquainted himself with old high school friends. He played golf on Fridays with one of his former football team members. His parents, in their nineties relied on him. He carried his responsibilities like badges. He worked the front office of a Maryland sports team and then did the same in Cleveland. Though he never found what he most wanted to find.
Captain Griffin Chaffey readied the carriage. He spent extra time with Nuelle. He and Nuelle were never in a hurry. With the leather polished, the wheels greased, and Nuelle's coat gleaming they set out to the designated hour. Griffin parked the carriage between two gas street lanterns and waited. The night sky was clear, filled with stars. Griffin spotted a smartly dressed man, carrying an attaché case approaching. Griffin guessed his height about six feet one inch, but the man carried himself well, making him appear taller. Griffin knew a military man when he saw one.
He stepped down from the carriage, reached into his pocket and retrieved an apple. He cut it into four pieces and fed two to Nuelle and ate the other two while watching the man march forward, to his destiny. Griffin wiped a bit of apple juice on his pant leg.
“Are you my escort?” He asked, reaching the carriage. “She is a beautiful animal.”
“Thank you. I do agree with you, she is a beautiful animal. She and I have worked together for many years now. Every fare is special, but I’d like to shake your hand. If you don’t mind?”
“Why would I mind?” The two men shook hands.
Griffin said, “If you are ready,” he extended his hand, “please step inside.”
“I have a question first.”
“Where are you taking me? I just ask because I have to make a stop first, maybe two. Do you think that will be alright?”
“We are here to take you wherever you want to go. Do you know where you want to go?” Griffin asked.
“Well, I don’t exactly know where I want to go. But, I do know who I want to see. I have something to deliver.”
The two men stood looking at each other.
“What are the names of the two people. I hope you are not looking for movie actresses, or something like that?” The two men laughed.
“The first man is Corporal Charles Lawrence and the second man, Sergeant John Spear.”
Griffin reached under the seat of the carriage and flipped through the pages. “When would they have arrived?”
The man wiped away the beginning of a tear. “The night of February 19, 1991 about 8 p.m. Arabia Time Zone.”
Griffin closed the book. “They are not going to be in my book. But I know just the man who takes care of these things.” He extended his hand, “If you are ready to go, we can get started.”
The man hesitated. He thought of his children and wondered if they would be alright. He thought of his parents, and how his sister would step up and take them the rest of the way. He thought about the women he had loved. Then he turned his attention back to Griffin.
Griffin extended his hand and Gary reached for it. He stepped in the back and made himself comfortable.
“Now, who is it that will know how to find these men?”
“His name is Lt. Colonel James Wickerson. A few discrepancies in his record prevented him from a full ride. A place was found for him in the records department with the Hall of Heroes. He’ll know, he has a mind like a computer.”
Griffin gave Nuelle her rein. It seemed only a few moments when the carriage stopped in front of a building with marble pillars. Griffin climbed down and gave Nuelle a pat. When he went to the carriage Gary had stepped down, holding on to the attaché case. Gary followed Griffin up the steps to the Colonel’s office, where Gary came to attention and saluted.
The Colonel got to his feet and returned the salute. “We dispense with the formalities here. Have a seat.” He gestured towards the chair. “Griffin, it has been a long time, good to see you.”
Griffin thanked him, “This man has two people he is looking for. They are not in my book, I told him you could help.”
“Sure, that is why I am here. Let me have the names.”
Gary handed over a slip of paper with the names and dates. Colonel Wickerson stood and walked to a book shelf. There were ten volumes with Desert Storm on the spines. He scanned the dates and pulled down a thick volume. “Ninety-one was a busy year.”
“Sergeant John Spear, Spear, Spear,” He repeated as he ran his finger down the page. Here he is.” He took a note sized sheet and wrote something on it. “Now, Corporal Charles Lawrence.” Again his lips moved as he scanned for the name. “Ah yes,” and he smiled while writing down the names.
“Griffin are you going to escort the Sergeant First Class, or shall I make other arrangements?”
“I have three appointments scheduled. So, if you don’t mind, perhaps one of your lovely assistants can escort the Sergeant.”
Wilkerson pressed a button on the desk. A Polynesian beauty walked into the office. “Would you mind escorting the Sergeant? It seems two men he knew are now enjoying a stay on the island you once called home. He wants to catch up with them before he continues his own journey. If I guess correctly, he wants to deliver to the men he felt earned them, two Silver Stars.”