"A veteran is someone who, at one point in his life wrote a blank check made payable to ‘The United States of America' for an amount of ‘up to and including my life.' That is Honor, and there are way too many people in this country who no longer understand it."
~ Author Unknown
The book is dedicated to ‘The Quiet Professionals' who have all written that blank check to the people of the United States of America in the defense of our freedoms. All they ask in return is the respect and honor of the people and nation they serve.
Rest In Peace
MSG Ed Sprague
SFC John Francis (Murph) Murphy
CPT James Amendola
SGT John William (Bac Si) Whisenant
CPT Frank McNutt
SFC William R. Brown
SSG Roy P. Benavidez
1LT Loren D. Hagen
COL Jack Moroney
SGM Bradly D. Conner
SFC Tung M. Nguyen
CPT Charles Robinson
SSG Brian C. Prosser
SGT "Doc" Roy Wood
MAJ Paul R. Syverson III
"Somewhere a True Believer is training to kill you.
He is training with minimal food or water,
in austere conditions, training day and night.
The only thing clean on him is his weapon
and he made his web gear.
He doesn't worry about what workout to do -
his ruck weighs what it weighs,
his runs end when the enemy stops chasing him.
This True Believer is not concerned about 'how hard it is;'
he knows either he wins or dies.
He doesn't go home at 17:00, he is home.
He knows only The Cause.
Still want to quit?"
"My first wish would be
that my military family,
and the whole Army,
should consider themselves
as a band of brothers,
willing and ready
to die for each other."
~ General George Washington
I don't like cold. I mean I really hate it. Generally the mean temperature here on the Olympic Peninsula is well above freezing. On this dark Saturday morning, however, it was miserably cold when I started Bessy for the fast trip to meet Jimmy. Damn! Even the sun hadn't come up yet.
Other things I detest are the smell of burning houses, before I've even had breakfast. And crowds. At least I'd had a smoke and coffee on the way. Maybe I'd better slow down and backtrack a bit, before I get too far ahead of myself.
I'd been peacefully asleep in my warm snug cabin buried deep in the trackless forest of the Pacific northwest, when the phone cheerfully chirped me awake. My dreams haven't always been peaceful, but lately they'd been getting better, so I was enjoying my zzzs more. Also the sound of my land line's so rare, it's a bit of a shock when it happens. It tends to spike my adrenaline, and I get real grumpy fast.
"What?" I growled as I picked up on the third chirp. I was also realizing the cabin wasn't all that warm. Standing there buck-ass naked with a cold phone to my ear, before daylight, was dropping my mental attitude to a level of pissed-off-ness that was going to take some serious recovery time.
"I need some help." There was a desperation to Jimmy's gruff voice that snapped me out of my blue funk, like a slap in the face.
"Talk to me."
"Gotta call my sister's house's on fire, ‘bout four. When I get here the guys are just puttin' it out. Dave, the Sheriff's Deputy's here. Now they're tellin' me Carmen's car's gone... and... there's a body inside!" Jimmy was unraveling. That really got my attention. He's not the kind of guy to come unwound.
"Where're you at?"
"Out on the road in front. They... they won't let me in her house!" The normal rasp of his deep voice was bordering on hoarse.
"Don't leave that spot. I'm on my way. Thirty-forty minutes, tops." I hung up.
Now, I'm a diabetic and rushing off anywhere takes a bit of planning, no matter what time of day. At 0540 dark in the morning, I was about three hours away from my first shot of insulin, and food.
I punched the coffee pot on, let Black Dog out and as he left the porch with a leap, stepped to the side to drain my radiator. The mercury in the thermometer was nudging the lower side of 15 degrees. Very cold for a temperate rainforest. Even the goose bumps were trying to crowd themselves together for warmth.
By the time I'd shook it off, so had my faithful companion of eight-plus years. He didn't like the cold any better than me. Back inside I opened the wood stove, raked the embers forward and tossed in a couple of large pieces of dry hemlock. Widened the draw to get it going, and headed back to the bedroom.
Dressing in thermal underwear, flannel-lined jeans and a wool shirt, OD wool socks and my Red Wings took me all of five minutes. I slapped a mag into the butt of Thor, the custom-tuned 9mm Browning HP I carry, racked the slide to chamber a round, snapped on the safety, leaving it cocked and locked. Popping the mag back out, I thumbed the lone round sitting on the shelf into it, replaced it and slipped him into a paddle holster and got the rig settled on my right hip. Two more 15 round RamLine mags clipped on the left side of my belt. Another went in my left pants pocket. Sixty one rounds should be enough. There was a box of Hydro-Shocks stashed in Bessy.
The coffee was done when I was. I realized it wasn't going to stay very hot as I poured the entire pot minus a mugful into the cold quart stainless steel Stanley Thermos. "Dems da breaks." You don't have to like some of the things that happen in your life, you just "gotta do ‘em" as The Rogue once said. A friend had called, and that was enough.
The new wood in the stove had caught, so I slipped in one more piece, closed the door and shut down the draft. I had no idea when I'd be back but with the fire banked, it'd keep the chill out for about eight-ten hours. It would have to be enough.
It took me another five minutes to pop my morning pills, drink a full glass of cold water, doctor my no-spill coffee mug with sweetener and half-and-half, grab my old Woodland cammie field jacket, boonie hat and gloves. Once I was buttoned up, the dog was bouncing on his three good legs at the door, ready to go.
I gave the cabin a last once-over to make sure I'd turned off and on everything: the coffee pot, answering machine, lights. Then pocketed one of my plain jane cells, the Blackberry and a combat flash. That would give me communications. Deciding to be safe rather than sorry, I got my blood testing kit from next to my recliner, stowed an insulin injector from the fridge in the thermal pack from the freezer and dropped it into my left jacket pocket. Time to get this show on the road.
As I closed the cabin door and secured the alarm system, I realized I hadn't seen this time of day since last hunting season. The absolute stillness of the unusual cold spell in the forest was striking. Nothing moved, and dawn was still more than a hour away. The security floods came on as Black Dog and I moved down the porch steps in to range of the sensors. The only sound was my boots crunching the frozen moisture in the gravel.
Bessy, my old ‘73 GMC ¾ ton 4 wheeler, was covered with frost. She may look like she's dying of a terminal case of rust but under the covers she's nothing but sweet. The engine turned over the first time and settled into a quiet purr. I got back out and scraped the windows clear. Telling Black Dog to load, I climbed in behind the wheel, turned the defroster on high and waited for her to warm up. Cold starts and driving does more damage to an engine than years of normal wear and tear.
Five minutes later, I turned on the driving lights and tripped the security floods on the workshop and woodshed as I cut the circle around the yard to the road leading out. My drive is almost a mile long, winding its way out of the middle of my 640 acres of timberland. I unlocked the inner gate with the remote fob on my key ring, and nudged it open with the bumper. My fingers were like ice as I crawled back in the warm cab after shutting it. Shit, I hate cold.
A quarter mile later, I was back in the freeze to open the outer gate, shut it behind me and secure it with the chain and lock. I don't like leaving an open invitation and I wasn't expecting any company as Blon had driven her year-old Subaru Outback into Seattle to visit her mother, and no one else had any business coming into my place while I was gone.
About twenty minutes after the phone had chirped like Jiminy Cricket, I was headed north up the Hoko-Ozette Road toward Clallam Bay, and Jimmy's problem. Black Dog lay beside me on the seat, his head resting on my thigh. He knew this was no normal wake up.
Most everyone around these parts knows me only as Major Westfall, a long buried cover that pays tribute to the only grandmother I'd ever known. I'd been one tired runaway when that logger's widow saw me on her doorstep on the outskirts of Forks, and took me in. I keep myself and my life simple.
For twelve years my self-imposed hermitage had been my comfort zone then, last Fall, it'd been invaded when my Montagnard War Brother, Y'Ang Boun Dhung, was kidnapped, tortured and killed almost on my doorstep. They say every cloud has a silver lining. The ray of sunshine slipping through those overcast skies had been Ang's daughter, H'Blon. She'd escaped her captors, run into the forest and almost died from exposure before I found her. Or rather Black Dog did. Got to give a good dog his due.
Before she entered my life, I'd spent thirty-five years grieving and raging for my Montagnard wife, H'Sung, our daughter and unborn child, all lost in the jungle of Vietnam. Blon had squirmed her way into the depths of my frozen soul, warmed my humanity and was still teaching me how to love again. I'd killed four men to repay the blood debt owed my War Brother and my Rhade family. They were the only family I had. Getting ‘em out of ‘Nam before the war ended had been the one good thing to come from three years of fighting a war the politicians lost.
I don't have much of a formal education, however, I do have several advanced degrees in the killing arts. Killing the evils of this world's never weighed much on my mind. It's the ghosts of unnecessary kills that follow me around. Three of those dead men had been as necessary as wiping crap off my boots. One had been an unnecessary waste. By the time the mess was cleaned up, I hoped I'd gotten back some of the honor due him.
As I drove the winding road over and along the Hoko River I wondered what was going to invade my zone again. I'd hoped to leave trouble far behind when I'd taken myself out of the game all those years ago. I'd given more than a quarter of a century to killing my country's enemies.
I'd seen the writing on the wall and didn't like what was being written there. ‘Slick Willy's' administration and the ones before his were ignoring the signs of the coming terror. I'd watched my War Brethren, from Lebanon to Sudan to the USS Cole being killed unnecessarily. My teachers in the art of war had taught me: when shot at, kill the motherfuckers doing the shooting. To get up-close and personal. Don't just sling a few million dollars' worth of missiles at ‘em and strut around on the world stage mouthing platitudes. Everything I'd seen coming happened on 9/11. Now a new messiah had risen on America's political stage proclaiming he was going to fix it once again. Yeah, and that 20,000 acres of verdant farm land I've been hanging onto in the Mojave Desert can be yours for a handful of change. You can't negotiate with mad men or terrorists. Period.
Little did I know what the next twenty-four hours was going to bring. Of course, it wouldn't have mattered if I had. The only way to fight war is win it or die trying. No quarter.
When I got to State Highway 112, I turned left to the west. Jimmy's sister lived another six miles up the coast in a waterfront enclave overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca. I'd met her on many occasions when she was working with Jimmy at his Spring Tavern. Carmen had gotten all the beauty in the family: a natural blond with fine chiseled features although her personality thawed most of her ice queen exterior. Come to think of it, I didn't know her last name. I did know she was married to a Marine Corps officer, currently on his third tour in Iraq, and they had a couple of kids.
Jimmy's also an old combat Vet from the ‘Nam era. A bit before my ‘68-71 tours. Not a snake-eater like me, but he'd seen some pretty heavy fighting in his year in hell. I'd helped him before, and he'd watched my back a time or two. He doesn't spook. As I said, he didn't get any of the good looks when God had been handing ‘em out to the Crae family. Dirty blond hair, five foot ten and well over two hundred-fifty pounds, he had a face an English Bulldog would have been ashamed of. The heart that beat inside had fixtures of pure gold.