By Audrey W.
Chet sat alone in the dayroom watching a Memorial Day parade on television. With Marco and Mike in the back lot playing catch, Captain Stanley busy in his office and the paramedics out on a call, the curly haired fireman felt relieved that he was able to have this time alone.
Kelly stared at the TV screen, a solemn expression on his face, as memories of Army buddies he once knew came to mind. There were many that were sent to Vietnam when, for what ever reason, he wasn’t. Some of those he’d never heard from again. Chet wasn’t sure his friends he had now would understand the guilt he still felt from time to time at having not been sent into combat. Although he supposed Roy might, being that the paramedic had connections to the Vietnam War. But Chet wasn’t ready to show this vulnerable side to any of his shiftmates yet. To expose this part of him would ruin his reputation as a sometimes overzealous prankster and thick skinned person. He’d shown enough of his sensitive side when Gage’s life had been on the line a couple of times and he let on just how worried he was.
Chet wondered sometimes why Roy didn’t talk to him about his experiences in Nam. But the fireman never pried. Maybe it was better he didn’t know all the details. He might place Roy’s experiences on his friends who went over there, and that was more reality than he was prepared to deal with. Also, if he didn’t want to show his vulnerable side, it only stood to reason that Roy may feel the same way.
Suddenly Chet felt a hand on his right shoulder. He startled,then straightening in his chair, looked up to see Captain Stanley with a concerned expression on his face.
“You okay, pal?”
“Yeah, Cap. Sure,’ Chet lied. It was time to put up the wall again. The inner wall that hid his vulnerability.
Hank studied his crewman for a moment, then looked to the television as a female vocalist began to sing The National Anthem while she rode on a float.
“You know, this song never fails to make me proud to be an American.”
Chet waited until the emotion he was suddenly overcome with passed. Feeling more in control again, the fireman smiled.
“I know what you mean, Cap.” Something about the music, the parade and the spectators lining the street to watch it gave Chet a united feeling. The fact there were people who probably had as little knowledge as him about what it was like to be in a war or may have lost a best friend to an unknown enemy while they stayed safe and sound at home, now paid tribute, just as he was.
As Chet and Hank Stanley continued to watch the TV with interest, a reporter interviewed a woman who was one of the spectators at the event. She was the sister of a young man who’d been sent to Vietnam. She briefly spoke of the guilt she felt about enjoying the liberties in the United States and the many luxuries here while her brother was in a living hell, not knowing if each day would be his last, or that he’d be forced to make it someone else’s last.
She quickly added that what helped her was that she knew her brother would want her to go on living life to the fullest so as not to make the soldiers’ sacrifices be in vain. Wiping tears from her cheeks, she smiled and said, “I used to wonder why my brother had to be over there while other military men and women got to stay in the states. But when I wrote a letter to him expressing my anger, he answered back that the ones who stayed here were doing their jobs just as much as he was. If all our servicemen and women left, our country would be left vulnerable to the enemy. We need them here.”
And with that, Chet felt a little bit of guilt lift off his shoulders. He got up and turned off the television, leaving the lady’s words fresh in his mind. He thanked the captain for his concern and trotted to the back lot where Mike and Marco were still playing catch; where he could enjoy the beautiful weather in a country he had been proud to serve. Chet knew the feelings of guilt would once again return. But if he could keep in mind the words that came from the soldier who was in the middle of the war and who accepted it as his duty to be there, with no resentment to those who stayed behind, Kelly could deal with the easier burden of reliving the feelings of being left behind.
Thanks, Peggy, for the inspiration and ideas for this story. And thanks, Kenda, for the beta read. And thanks to all our military for all they do :o)