Bedford, Virginia – November 11, 1997
‚??A man is his own easiest dupe, for what he wishes to be true he generally believes to be true.‚?Ě
Demosthenes (384 BC – 322 BC)
J.P. Kilroy made a left turn at the small school that served as his landmark.¬† He drove slowly up the gravel road, which elevated as it proceeded toward the eighty-eight acre tract of land that would contain the National D-Day Memorial on Bedford‚??s highest hill.¬† The small Blue Ridge town lost twenty-one of its sons on Omaha Beach.¬† It was the highest per capita loss in the nation.¬† Only twelve of thirty-five members of its Able Company survived the War.¬† They could not have picked a better day, Veterans Day, to break ground for the ten-acre memorial to be built there.¬† It was a symbolic day for this most solemn yet uplifting event.
Senator John Warner and Governor George F. Allen were speaking at the dedication.¬† Senator Warner had pushed the bill through Congress resulting in the selection of Bedford as the site of the National D-Day Memorial.¬† The bill was signed into law on Veterans Day, 1994.
As J.P. traveled south on Interstate 95 that morning his mind mused over the events that had brought him to this point. He reflected back to the beginning as the milepost signs of I-95 whispered by.¬† It all started with his mother asking him to reconcile with his father who had abandoned the family nearly thirty years before.¬† She told him about a family secret and that his father should be the one to reveal it.¬† To his everlasting regret, he dismissed the idea and procrastinated long enough to see his mother pass on without ever fulfilling her last request.¬† Time passed, life took over and the entire matter was about to be shoveled into the deepest recess of his mind when Colonel Chase called out of the blue.¬† Would he receive his father‚??s Medal of Honor?¬† Was this a coincidence or was the spirit of his saintly mother working overtime to compel him to face the consequences of his negligence?¬† But then Colonel Chase perplexed him with the news that his father had passed away.¬† That revelation, coming as a complete shock from a stranger, spooked him.
Once he agreed to attend the ceremony, his conscience and curiosity coerced him into a simple plan to seek out Lincoln Abraham and determine if there was anything between the two men that might help him get to the bottom of the mystery.¬† It might require a bit of amateur detective work and some research but since he would be there anyway, he had nothing to lose by trying.¬† When he spotted Lincoln speaking cordially with three other veterans, he became confident that if they knew anything at all, he ought to be able to get them to reveal it.
J.P. also met Cynthia Powers, a colleague of Colonel Chase.¬† Her assignment for the day was to keep him occupied so she latched onto him so tightly that he missed his chance to speak to the four veterans.¬† With her help he invited them to dinner that evening.¬† Sky Johnson, Frank West and Harley Tidrick accepted but Lincoln couldn‚??t attend.¬† The men seemed to enjoy talking about their experiences during the War but were somewhat evasive when J.P. probed about his father.¬† He wasn‚??t even sure they knew anything at all until he left his recorder running while he went to the rest room.¬† When he played it back later, he discovered there was something they all knew.¬† While he didn‚??t learn of any specific secret, he understood the men were engaged in a conspiracy to withhold information they swore never to reveal.
J.P. continued probing at Frank, Sky and finally with a visit to Lincoln‚??s cabin in Michigan.¬† Initially Lincoln was no more forthcoming than his buddies.¬† However, one thing became clear.¬† The old men knew J.P. was aware of their collusion but remained persistent despite their alliance of silence.¬† But then Lincoln stunned him when he told J.P. his father was alive.¬† His initial reaction was to drive directly to Bedford but then the same old familiar fear paralyzed him into inaction.¬† He returned to D.C. to mull over his next move.
J.P. took I-95 straight through Richmond as he looked carefully for his exit in the maze of intersecting roads.¬† He finally found State Highway 360 and took it west.
After he left Lincoln‚??s cabin in July he called Cynthia.¬† He wanted her to find out how Colonel Chase knew his father had passed on and how Chase knew to contact J.P.¬† After a few hours she called him back while he was driving home from Dulles Airport.¬† Cynthia told him Chase found out about his father‚??s passing from Harley, who also told of the existence of a surviving son.
When the Pentagon began reaching out to the survivors and family members of the Medal of Honor awardees, they sought out military service records indicating next of kin.¬† That otherwise simple task was more complicated than it should have been.¬† The service records of more than 16,000,000 veterans, many from the Second World War, were destroyed in a fire at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri on 12 July 1973.¬† The army lost eighty percent of the records for personnel discharged between 1912 and 1960.¬† Colonel Chase had to employ alternate sources such as reaching out to veteran‚??s organizations and associations.¬† It was the only way he was able to locate the family members of the honorees.
It didn‚??t make sense to J.P. that Harley would have been the one to pass information on to Colonel Chase.¬† Either Frank West or Sky Johnson was more likely to have contact information for his father.¬† So why was it that Harley provided the information to Colonel Chase?¬† Besides that little ambiguity, Harley also lied about his father‚??s death.¬† He sat across the dinner table, never said a word and seemed determined to keep the others silent as well.¬† What was he hiding?
J.P. knew Harley lived in Bedford because his mother once told him his father had moved there but this still didn‚??t explain why Harley would be playing such a prominent role in his father‚??s affairs.¬† J.P. would soon confront Harley and his father about all these nagging questions.
J.P. also asked Cynthia to check up on one other thing.¬† Was a John Kilroy buried in the Henri Chapelle Cemetery in Belgium?¬† Nobody wanted to tell J.P. how Jake died in the War so he wanted confirmation.¬† Cynthia checked with the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) who administers, operates and maintains twenty-four American burial grounds on foreign soil.¬† She received verification from senior executives of the ABMC who consulted their official records.¬† At least this piece of information was accurate.
J.P. navigated the turnoff to State Highway 307 bypassing the village of Farmville.¬† The countryside was a beautiful scene of rolling hills dotted by small farms and old wood frame barns.¬† It would be a straight shot into Bedford.
Following Lincoln‚??s advice, J.P. decided to search through what possessions he already had.¬† Sitting on the living room floor of his condominium, he and Cynthia turned over the small box of memorabilia for yet another time.¬† They carefully poured out the precious cargo of the shoebox on the rug and sat around the contents as if sitting around a campfire.¬† Every article had a history or its own little story.¬† They went over the items one by one, held them, shared them, treated them with reverence and speculated about their origin and purpose.
They quickly discussed and dismissed some of the more routine items they were familiar with.¬† J.P. picked up and held the two sets of jump wings.¬† Obviously, his father had saved some of Jake‚??s memorabilia as well as his own.
‚??Frank said these are very rare,‚?Ě he commented as he handed them to Cynthia.¬†¬† She gently wiped them clean with a small cloth before placing them on a fresh white towel.¬† The towel would go back into the shoebox when all the contents had been inspected.
Next were the patches for the three different airborne divisions in which the boys served.¬† J.P. handed them to Cynthia.¬† Before placing them on the towel, she turned over the Golden Talon patch of the 17th Airborne and scraped off a sticky substance.¬† ‚??Chewing gum, I‚??ll bet.‚?Ě
J.P. reached into the shoebox and handed her the photo of Jake and Johnny in Oujda.¬† The two boys looked dangerous with grim shadow-covered faces as they held their deadly weapons.¬† ‚??It‚??s hard to imagine those nice old men in their youth when they were all full of piss and vinegar,‚?Ě she muttered as she placed the picture aside.
The other photograph was more interesting.¬† His mother, father and Jake were posing on the roof of their apartment building in Washington Heights.¬† They were all smiling.¬† One of the towers of the George Washington Bridge could be clearly seen in the background.¬† On the back of the picture was written, Johnny, Rose and Jake, September 1943.¬† J.P. didn‚??t realize his father had brought Jake home with him until he saw that picture.
‚??He was only home for about a day,‚?Ě J. P. handed Cynthia the picture.¬† ‚??The day I was conceived,‚?Ě he added wryly.
She looked at the picture and studied it for a moment.¬† ‚??It‚??s kind of weird to know that,‚?Ě she smiled.¬† ‚??I mean‚?¶to know the specific day you were actually conceived.‚?Ě
‚??I suppose,‚?Ě he acknowledged.
He picked through the small pile and handed her two medals.¬† One was a Bronze Star and the other was a Silver Star.¬† The Bronze Star was a five-pointed star, deep bronze in color and attached to a ribbon that was mostly red with a white-bordered blue stripe down the center.¬† The Silver Star was actually gold in color with a red, white and blue ribbon.¬† He handed her the two medals and the lapel ribbon bars that matched them.¬† ‚??I don‚??t know about these,‚?Ě he confessed.¬† ‚??I‚??ll have to remember to ask the next time I talk to one of the guys.‚?Ě
Cynthia nodded, took the medals, wiped them, held them for a moment and placed them on the towel.¬† ‚??You don‚??t get these for just showing up for work!‚?Ě
Next he handed her two sets of dog tags.¬† The tags had name, serial number, religion and blood type.¬† There was a set for John NMI Kilroy and John P. Kilroy.¬† The information on the tags was not a surprise.¬† Jake was Protestant and Johnny was Catholic.¬† Both were blood type ‚??O‚?Ě.
She straightened out the long link chains used to hang the tags around the neck and said, ‚??It seems like your father took back a lot of stuff that belonged to Jake.‚?Ě
‚??It certainly seems so,‚?Ě he answered.¬† ‚??But I guess you would do that if your best friend was killed.¬† Perhaps he couldn‚??t get Jake‚??s personal belongings back to his family though I‚??m not sure Jake had any family besides Harley.¬† Who knows why he kept most of this stuff?‚?Ě
He handed her one Combat Infantryman‚??s Badge.¬† It was a silver musket on a rectangular blue field superimposed over a laurel wreath.¬† The musket was awarded to any soldier completing Advanced Infantry Training.¬† The laurel wreath was added after the soldier saw combat.
‚??Now these are really special,‚?Ě he picked up three Purple Heart Medals along with the bar ribbons and handed them to Cynthia.¬† The medal was a heart-shaped device of deep purple trimmed in gold.¬† A brilliant raised white cameo profile of George Washington was inscribed in the center.¬† The ribbon was deep purple with slender light blue stripes down both side edges.¬† ‚??My father never talked about any of these.¬† But I think one or two belonged to his friend.‚?Ě
‚??Probably.¬† There is so much other stuff from Jake in here.‚?Ě¬† She reached in to retrieve the next item, which was a pocket bible in the King James Version.¬† It was stained, dog-eared and the back cover was torn in half.¬† It obviously had been through a lot.¬† On the inside cover was the name Clyde Kilroy.¬† She thumbed through the pages and a marker fell out of Luke Chapter 20. ¬†She carefully placed it back and closed the Bible.
J.P. took out the last items.¬† They were the Medal of Honor and the citation.¬† He opened the citation.¬† ‚??Lincoln told me I already had what I needed to figure out the secret.¬† I‚??ve read this citation a dozen times and it really doesn‚??t provide any insight.‚?Ě
She took it from him.¬† ‚??Let me try.¬† I‚??ll read it aloud.‚?Ě
The citation was written on a piece of letter-sized paper.¬† The top of the letter had a color picture of the Medal of Honor.¬† Directly under the picture, centered in the middle of the page, was his father‚??s name in big bold letters.¬† JOHN KILROY.¬† Then there was a paragraph for Rank and Organization administrative information and then the actual citation.¬† Cynthia began.
‚??Rank and Organization:¬† Corporal, Unites States Army, Company E, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment.¬† Place and Date:¬† Near Noville and Foy, Belgium, 19-20 December 1944.¬† Yada, yada, yada.‚?Ě¬† Anxious to get on to the actual body of the citation, she skipped the rest of the prologue.
‚??Citation:¬† He displayed conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action against the enemy near Noville and Foy, Belgium on 19 and 20 December 1944.¬† Volunteering to secure arms and ammunition for his regiment, he commandeered a truck and requisitioned supplies from the 10th Armored Division near the town of Noville making numerous trips to supply his airborne comrades in Bastogne.¬† On the last trip, superior encircling German Panzer forces cut him and another soldier off from friendly lines.¬† Mounting a halftrack, he used the weapons aboard the vehicle to hold off the enemy forces and, knocking out a .20-millimeter enemy flakwagon, allowing his comrades to escape encirclement.¬† Still surrounded himself, he drove the vehicle through the enemy force and escaped into a thick blanket of fog.¬† He took refuge in an abandoned farmhouse with enemy patrols all around his position.¬† He then killed four Nazi soldiers masquerading as Americans.¬† Had they not been discovered, they would have been exceedingly disruptive to retreating American forces.¬† Some time later he heard the sound of engines.¬† The American force at Noville was conducting a fighting withdrawal to the village of Foy and back to Bastogne.¬† There were dozens of wounded men on this evacuation convoy and it came under enemy attack.¬† Without regard to his own personal safety, he attacked a superior enemy force with his vehicle and drew fire allowing the convoy to proceed.¬† Undaunted by this enemy fire, he closed with the enemy and knocked out two scout cars.¬† He also caught a company of infantrymen in the open and drove them back inflicting heavy casualties although wounded himself.¬† While the enemy infantry retreated, the convoy continued toward Foy with its wounded.¬† Finally, using the fog for concealment, he knocked out a Mark V Panther tank, as it was about to attack the column approaching Foy.¬† Had the tank attacked the column, hundreds more soldiers would have become casualties.¬† Corporal Kilroy‚??s intrepid courage and superb daring while vastly outnumbered during his all day action of engaging and distracting enemy forces at grave risk to himself enabled the successful evacuation of over fifty wounded and more than 500 soldiers safely to friendly lines.‚?Ě
She looked up at him.¬† ‚??This is remarkable. ¬†But I don‚??t see anything revealing in here.‚?Ě
‚??Like I said, I‚??ve read the citation over and over and I can‚??t derive anything from it.¬† Except that my father was a crazy son of a bitch who never talked about anything that happened in the War.¬† Not with me, anyway.‚?Ě
Cynthia Powers gently lifted the towel and placed it and all of the contents back into the shoebox.¬† ‚??What makes you think there are any clues in here?‚?Ě
J.P. pulled his recorder from his pocket and hit the play button.
Keisha: Are you going to tell him about his father?
Lincoln: I don‚??t think I‚??ll need to.¬† He‚??s smart enough to figure it out for himself.
Keisha: Are you going to tell him anything at all?
Lincoln: I might tell him something but I‚??m not breaking my promise.
J.P. pushed fast-forward on the recorder.¬† He stopped it and hit play again.
Lincoln: The first is that you already have everything you need in your possession, right now, to uncover the secret.¬† Letters, papers, memorabilia, citations‚?¶all the information you need to figure it out.
J.P.: And the second piece of advice?
Lincoln: There is someone living in Bedford, Virginia, who knows everything, more than the rest of us, and you need to talk to him face to face.
J.P.: Who?¬† Harley Tidrick?¬† I plan to visit him next.
Lincoln: No.¬† Not Harley.¬† Your father!¬† He‚??s not dead but rather very much alive.‚?Ě
Cynthia placed the cover on the box.¬† ‚??Okay.¬† Let‚??s go over it again when you get back from Bedford.‚?Ě
There was a large group of cars parked on the grass and two volunteer firemen directing traffic.¬† He parked next to a Ford pickup and walked toward the large tent and temporary platform.¬† From this vantage point the background of the Blue Ridge Mountains was breathtaking.¬† It was a wonderful, reflective and inspiring location to honor the fallen.
Inside the tent was an artist‚??s conception of the finished memorial.¬† He spent a few minutes studying it.¬† It was both compelling and unique.¬† A large drawing of a thermometer on an easel marked the level of funds raised for the memorial. ¬†The red line was filled in up to the four and a quarter million dollar mark and the thermometer topped out at fourteen million.¬† The table next to the easel contained a pile of programs and a large glass jar filled with green bills.¬† J.P. added a twenty-dollar bill.¬† He picked up a program and meandered toward the stage.
The crowd numbered about 1,000 and he mingled freely among them looking for familiar faces.¬† There were some dignitaries on the stage and a number of older veterans.¬† J.P. recognized Harley.¬† He was wearing his Stonewaller windbreaker and a dark blue overseas cap with the American Legion Post 54 designation on it.¬† The other older veterans wore an assortment of uniforms, brightly decorated caps and medals.
After a time, Governor Allen was introduced.¬† He made a short but heart-rending speech.¬† He ended it by saying,¬† ‚??Time has washed away the blood of our fallen heroes from the beaches of Omaha and the cliffs of Normandy, but time has not washed away, and must not dim, our memories of those horrific and heroic events.¬† By breaking ground for this National D-Day Memorial, each of us is doing our duty to help insure that the eternal flame of freedom will never be extinguished by force from without or neglect from within.‚?Ě
J.P. recognized Charles M. Shultz, the creator of the popular comic strip Peanuts.¬† He was sitting on the platform.¬† The program said Shultz, a World War II veteran, was to head up national fundraising efforts for the memorial.¬† It also said he personally donated one million dollars.
Finally, Senator Warner took the microphone. He was the second ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee and a veteran of World War II and the Korean War.¬† His speech was a little longer.¬† “This event marks a milestone in what has become a final campaign for the surviving veterans of the greatest military operation of all time,” concluded Senator Warner.¬† “The National D-Day Memorial will ensure that the lessons of that historic event will never be forgotten by future generations.”
When the speeches were concluded, the dignitaries took turns being photographed pushing a silver shovel into the soft earth.¬† After the symbolic groundbreaking, the crowd began to disburse.¬† J.P. stood in the field, taking in the moment when he saw Harley heading his way.¬† As frustrated as he might become, J.P. promised himself to always treat these men with respect.¬† All the cards were on the table now.¬† They pledged to keep a secret he was determined to uncover and he would engage them politely though firmly in an effort to trip them up.¬† He had to remind himself these were fine men and whatever their reason to keep their oath, it must be a good one.
J.P. extended his hand as Harley approached.¬† Harley shook it vigorously.¬† ‚??Well, kid, we‚??re finally going to get the memorial we deserve.‚?Ě¬† There were tears in his eyes.
‚??Congratulations,‚?Ě J.P. smiled.¬† ‚??This is a wonderful spot.‚?Ě
Harley took a deep breath and seemed to compose himself.¬† He leaned over toward J.P.¬† ‚??I know why you‚??re here.¬† I got a call from Lincoln.¬† I expected you sooner.‚?Ě
‚??I had to decide if I really wanted to do this,‚?Ě J.P. confided.¬† ‚??My life is a bit more complicated than I‚??d like and my job keeps me hopping.¬† I had to figure out if I really wanted to jump into this right now.‚?Ě¬† J.P. was unconsciously making excuses for not coming sooner.
‚??No need to explain, kid.¬† We haven‚??t exactly welcomed you with open arms.‚?Ě
J.P. nodded in affirmation.¬† ‚??Tell me one thing, Harley.¬† Why did you tell Colonel Chase my father was dead and then tell him about me?‚?Ě
Harley looked around and whispered, ‚??That‚??s the way your father wanted it.¬† He didn‚??t want the notoriety or the publicity and he wanted you to have the Medal.‚?Ě
‚??I get that.¬† I got the Medal.¬† But why was it you?¬† As far as I can tell you only met my father a few times.‚?Ě
‚??Let me explain, kid.¬† Your dad‚??s records were lost in the big fire.¬† Colonel Chase contacted all of the veterans‚?? associations for units your father served in.¬† The colonel was asking if anyone had any information about his whereabouts.¬† Sky is on the Board of Trustees of the Eighty-second Airborne Association and got the request.¬† He called your father who asked me to call Colonel Chase and tell him what I told him.‚?Ě
J.P. nodded.¬† ‚??I hear what you‚??re telling me but faking being dead is kind of extreme.¬† It makes no sense to me.¬† Why would he do that?‚?Ě
‚??Well, kid, you probably came all this way to ask him that question.‚?Ě¬† With that Harley raised his arm and looked at J.P.¬† ‚??Are you ready for this?‚?Ě
J.P. sighed. ‚??Ready as I‚??ll ever be.‚?Ě¬† He felt like a kid again, about to be spanked.
Harley waved and a man came out from behind the platform.¬† At the sight of his father, his knees buckled slightly.¬† J.P. touched Harley‚??s sleeve for balance.
His father walked slowly with a slight limp.¬† He had an unlit pipe in his tightly clenched jaw.¬† His hair was all gray and short cropped.¬† He wore no unit insignia or association cap, his collar was upturned against the breeze and his hands were stuffed deeply into his coat pockets.¬† There was no discernable expression on his face as he averted his son‚??s eyes.¬† J.P. would have recognized him anywhere even though his features had aged considerably after thirty years.
J.P. swallowed hard.¬† What was it about the relationship between a father and son that drove a son to seek his father‚??s approval?¬† It was more than seek, J.P. thought.¬† More like a psychological imperative.¬† J.P. dreaded this moment and had often prayed he would be fortunate to pass from this earth without ever having to see or confront his father again.
His father stopped a few feet away and stared blankly at him.¬† J.P. simply looked at him.¬† It was an awkward moment.
Harley coughed, ‚??I‚??ll leave you two alone,‚?Ě and walked away.
The two men looked at each other for a time, neither wanting to break the silence.¬† Finally, his father said, ‚??You come all this way just to stand there and stare at me.¬† I knew this was a bad idea.‚?Ě¬† He turned to walk away.
‚??No, please wait,‚?Ě J.P. pleaded.¬† ‚??It‚??s just‚?¶well, it‚??s just hard after all these years.‚?Ě
‚??On both of us.‚?Ě
‚??Of course.¬† Can we walk and talk a little?‚?Ě
His father nodded and they began walking slowly, aimlessly toward the open field where the cars were parked.¬†¬† J.P. broke the silence.¬† ‚??You look well.‚?Ě
‚??I‚??ve been better.¬† How are you doing, Son?‚?Ě
‚??It‚??s all good.‚?Ě¬† J.P. suddenly stopped.¬† ‚??I have a million questions.‚?Ě
‚??A million, huh?‚?Ě the old man smiled.¬† ‚??Okay.¬† Let‚??s take them one at a time.‚?Ě
J.P. began walking again.¬† ‚??I know why you left.¬† You left because I disappointed you.‚?Ě
‚??That‚??s not a question.‚?Ě
‚??Is that why you left?¬† Because I took off for Canada rather than be drafted and go to Vietnam?‚?Ě¬† He turned to look directly into his father‚??s eyes.¬† He finally summoned the courage to confront his nightmare and needed to know the truth.
‚??You‚??ve got it all wrong!‚?Ě¬† His father took out a package of nicotine gum and popped two chiclets into his mouth.¬† ‚??Trying to quit,‚?Ě he muttered by way of explanation.
‚??C‚??mon Dad, you being a war hero and all.¬† I‚??m sure you were angry and disappointed that I chose not to serve.‚?Ě
‚??I didn‚??t agree with your decision, Son, but I fought for your right to make it.‚?Ě¬† He was looking directly into his son‚??s eyes.¬† His gaze was firm and truthful.¬† ‚??I served with wonderful, honorable guys.¬† In our darkest hours when we had no hope and we despaired for our lives, we all agreed it would be worth every drop of our blood if our children didn‚??t have to fight in another war.‚?Ě¬† He paused.¬† ‚??If there be trouble, let it be in our time, so that our children will have peace.‚?Ě
‚??Thomas Paine.‚?Ě¬† J.P. remembered the paraphrased quote.
‚??So you see, I fought so you wouldn‚??t have to.¬† So why would I be angry?‚?Ě
J.P. considered the logic.¬† ‚??It‚??s hard to believe you‚??re not holding me accountable.‚?Ě
He smiled again. ¬†‚??It would have been better for you if you felt the obligation to serve your country.¬† But you have to deal with that within yourself.¬† President Carter gave you amnesty.¬† I long ago forgave you if there was ever anything to forgive.¬† Like I said, I fought so you wouldn‚??t have to.¬† It‚??s time you let it go!‚?Ě
They walked on a bit further.¬† J.P. felt the weight of the past gently lifting from his shoulders.¬† This brief conversation expunged demons that he rarely acknowledged.¬† ‚??So, if not because of me, why did you leave?‚?Ě he found himself asking.
His father seemed to struggle for words.¬† ‚??I‚??m not going to make any excuses.¬† It‚??s way past that point.¬† What‚??s done is done.¬† But I will say this.¬† I made sure you got your education including law school and that your mother was taken care of financially.¬† I sent her money regularly until she told me she didn‚??t need it anymore.‚?Ě
‚??She never remarried,‚?Ě J.P. volunteered.
‚??I know.¬† We stayed in touch.‚?Ě
‚??And I still don‚??t know how you paid all that tuition on a teacher‚??s salary,‚?Ě J.P. said referring to college and law school.
The old man smiled.¬† ‚??I just finished paying off the loans a few years ago.‚?Ě
J.P. was stunned.¬† He always thought of his father as a selfish man who just decided one day that he didn‚??t like his life and quit.¬† His assumptions about his father were totally wrong.
‚??Why did you leave?‚?Ě¬† The question was serious and direct.
‚??Does it matter?‚?Ě
‚??Of course it matters.¬† Please, I really need to know.‚?Ě
His father stopped, shoved his hands deeper into his pockets and shuffled his feet.¬† ‚??When a man gives his word, makes a promise, he has to keep it‚?¶even if it‚??s hard‚?¶especially if it‚??s hard.¬† You can only become free of a pledge once you‚??ve kept it.‚?Ě
J.P. shook his head.¬† It wasn‚??t making sense to him.¬† His father continued.
‚??When you take on obligations, you have to fulfill them.¬† It doesn‚??t matter how long it takes or even if others get hurt.¬† A man is only as good as his word.‚?Ě
J.P. tried to finish the thought.¬† ‚??So you left us and came here to fulfill a promise you made involving who‚?¶Harley?¬† Macie?¬† Did it have anything to do with this memorial?‚?Ě
‚??I‚??ve said all I‚??m going to say about that.¬† Just know it was nothing you or your mom did.¬† That‚??s all you really need to know.‚?Ě¬† The old man started walking again.
J.P. took a deep breath.¬† It was exasperating trying to get these old veterans to give him a straight answer.¬† He would have to get more creative to try to figure out this mystery.¬† No matter how much his father skirted the issue, his gut told him to keep pushing.¬† He caught up to his father and steered him toward a mobile canteen truck parked at the edge of the parking lot.
‚??How about a cup of coffee, Dad?‚?Ě
‚??Sure, Son,‚?Ě he agreed.
J.P. looked up into the side window of the truck.¬† ‚??Two coffees, please.‚?Ě¬† He looked at his father.¬† ‚??Still black?‚?Ě
‚??Black.¬† No sugar.‚?Ě
‚??One black, one regular with milk and sugar.‚?Ě
After a moment J.P. handed his father the coffee in a cardboard cup.¬† It was hot and steaming.¬† They walked along together, sipping their coffee.
‚??Mom sent me all your old war mementos before she passed,‚?Ě J.P. broke the silence.
‚??Keep them.¬† They‚??re supposed to be passed on.‚?Ě¬† He paused.¬† ‚??Any more questions?‚?Ě
‚??I believed you were dead.¬† What was that all about?‚?Ě
His father stopped again, spit out his gum and took a sip of coffee.¬† It was cooling off a little and he took longer slugs.¬† ‚??I didn‚??t ask for the Medal, I didn‚??t want the Medal and I felt foolish accepting the Medal in a ceremony for African-Americans who got screwed during the War.¬† I got the Silver Star for that day and Lincoln got shit.¬† The only reason I got the Medal of Honor after all these years was because they gave one to Lincoln‚?¶after all these years.‚?Ě¬† There was an edge in his voice.¬† ‚??I thought it was best not to rain on Lincoln‚??s parade and let him have his day in the sun.¬† He damn well earned it!¬† The only way I could think of to do that gracefully was to be dead.¬† So I told Harley to tell them I passed away.‚?Ě
J.P. nodded.¬† ‚??I understand now.‚?Ě¬† They walked a little further, almost to where J.P. had parked his car.¬† ‚??And this secret that mom wanted me to find out from you?¬† She pleaded with me to work things out with you and find out about a family secret you were supposed to tell me.‚?Ě
His father stared at him blankly, shrugged his shoulders and shook his head.
‚??Come on, Dad.¬† Mom told me to seek you out.¬† I‚??ve been speaking to all of your old buddies.¬† They already admitted to me they‚??re hiding something.‚?Ě
His father averted his eyes and then looked squarely at him.¬† ‚??If your mother thought I knew something that you should know, she never told me about it.¬† It went with her to her grave.¬† Perhaps it was her devious little plan to get you and I together.‚?Ě¬† He shook his head.¬† ‚??I‚??m really sorry, Son, but you‚??ve come a long way for nothing.‚?Ě
J.P. let out a huge sigh.¬† His father was part of the conspiracy!¬† But there was one more thing he had to do so he decided to play along.¬† ‚??I wouldn‚??t call it a wasted trip, Dad.¬† If you and I are speaking again then mom‚??s last wish would be fulfilled.‚?Ě
‚??That‚??s fine with me.¬† I always wanted to remain close to you.¬† I followed your career and read all the stuff you published.‚?Ě¬† He drained the coffee cup and looked around for a garbage can.
‚??I‚??ll take it,‚?Ě J.P. extended his hand.¬† ‚??I have a trash bag in my car.‚?Ě
‚??Then we‚??ll stay in touch?‚?Ě he asked as he handed J.P. his empty cup.
‚??Of course.‚?Ě¬† They hugged briefly and J.P. got into his car, started it, strapped on his seat belt and drove slowly down the road.¬† He left his father standing alone at the top of the hill.¬† Through his rearview mirror he noticed Harley walk up alongside him.¬† J.P. could barely make out the Cheshire cat-like grins on their faces as they faded into the distance.¬† Soon, only the animation of their gestures was visible.
J.P. pulled up to a stoplight, opened his glove compartment and pulled out a plastic bag.¬† He carefully slipped his father‚??s cup into the bag and gently placed it back into the glove box.