“Kitty…you awake?” The soft knock on the heavy hospital-room door awakened Kitty Wingo from the drug-induced nap. Not expecting or waiting for a response, Michelle entered the room to see her life-long best friend struggle to sit up.
“Here, I’ll get that,” she said as she pushed various buttons. “These hospital beds need an engineer to operate them. That better?”
“Jack is an engineer. He could figure this thing out with his eyes closed,” Kitty stated. “Michelle, I told you I don’t want you spending your days in this stinky old hospital room. I’m just fine. You need to be at Bobby’s basketball game!”
“I’m going. I just wanted to drop these magazines by and see if you need anything. How about I drop back by and bring you a sandwich from The Beacon?”
“The Beacon Drive-in… I think we’ve eaten more cheeseburger-a-plenty’s over the years than we can count. Jack loves their sweet tea. Oh my, how he can wolf down a large order of onion rings!”
Shaking her head, she continued, “Don’t bother getting me anything. My appetite is not much today. Maybe, tomorrow. Now, hug me and run on.”
Michelle knew better than to argue with Kitty. These two had shared over fifty years of friendship beginning in Mrs. Wilson’s fifth-grade class at Roebuck Elementary School.
Kitty fell in love with Jack Wingo that year and Michelle was head-over-hills in love with Ronnie Bruce. The following years they were in and out of love with a number of southern boys; but, in the end Kitty walked down the aisle with Jack and she walked down the aisle with Ronnie.
It’s amazing how fast the years fly by when you think about it. Now, Kitty was fighting for her life. The cancer had returned, widespread and wicked, sapping vitality from her. Tears ran in rivulets down Michelle’s cheeks as she cranked her van and laid her head on the steering wheel. So unfair… this shouldn’t happen to Kitty… vivacious, loyal, loving Kitty. Why God? She loves You so much!
“Captain Jack, here try a little bit of this broth,” the young man turned the cracked bowl with its watery contents up to the mouth of the shabbily-clothed, white-haired old soldier.
Jack Wingo smiled as he thought about sweet tea, not just any sweet tea…the Beacon’s sweet tea. When I get to heaven that’s what I’m going to drink…with a cheeseburger-a-plenty and extra onion rings. Lord, when the time comes, seat me at the table with Kitty, Michelle and Ronnie. We have some real catching up to do.
The Vietnam War had been over so many years. Operation Homecoming had taken place in 1973 and all the POW’s had been repatriated, restored to their homeland.
Captain Jack Wingo had been left behind. After spending two years in ‘Hanoi Hilton’ in solitary confinement, he had been taken by convoy to a Soviet prison camp in the Ural Mountains. There he had been wasting away since 1972. Soviet Intelligence knew which POW’s had national security information and what methods to use to gain it.
Death was the only release for those held here.
Jack had used those years to tell anyone who would listen about Jesus. Today, he would hear, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”
Kitty Wingo went home to be with the Lord that day.
She never remarried or gave up hope even after they changed Jack’s status from MIA to PFOD (presumed dead). Ronnie had come back to Michelle in 1973. Kitty always said, “He’s alive as long as I remember him.”
She babysat Michelle and Ronnie’s children and grandchildren. She taught high school English for forty years and Sunday School for almost as many. She never quit loving Jack.
Snuggled back deep under the tall evergreen is a headstone. It reads:
The Repatriation of Kitty and Jack Wingo
March 3, 2008
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