Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Write a Coming OF AGE short story (11/20/14)
- TITLE: Thank you James
By Clyde Blakely
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We had the same Army recruiter in 1970, went to the same swearing in ceremony, and flew out to Fort Jackson, SC, for Basic Training together, yet we never knew each other until we were in processing at Fort Jackson. James was from a small town, Myrtle Point, Oregon, south of me. Processing gave the thirteen of us from Oregon a chance to get acquainted.
Thirteen! We were young and had time to think while preparing for war, thirteen was in our mental considerations. I was a Christian and believed in God’s sovereign power, yet as I would discover about myself, I often would try to take things under my control.
Thirteen! Not that I believed this was bewitching or something. I didn’t believe in broken mirrors or black cats either. James somehow got separated from us during processing and was two weeks behind us in training at another company. Now there were only twelve of us but we never forgot James. He came over often to visit with his big smile, always with a smile. I didn’t know anything about where James ended up after Basic Training until I was in Vietnam for about four months and that contact would change my life.
I picked up a Stars and Stripes, the military’s newspaper at the time and for some reason looked at the obituaries: “James Calvin Tubb, Jr. killed in action.” The thirteenth recruit from Oregon. I put the paper down and swore I’d never picked up another Stars and Stripes.
I visited James at The Wall when I went back to Washington, DC. We cried, James and me. I visited him there again a few years later; more tears. When the Traveling Wall came to the Roseburg, Oregon VA where I worked I wanted to be a guard for it – “No!” was the VA’s answer. Okay, could I be a guide and help others find names on The Wall – again, “No!” I knew the VA system well having been there for about twenty years, “Can I be a helper and take others to counseling or wherever they would like to go?” “No!” No Vietnam veteran was allowed to do anything with The Wall while it was here; in other words, “Don’t be seen in public, we don’t want you.” I did not cry then but vowed I would not be “second classed” again. I left my Vietnam medal, with his name on it, at The Wall.
Years later the Roseburg VA gave in and allowed the items left at The Wall to be showcased. James’ medal is right in the center of the exhibits. When I taught clinical nursing at the VA I always stopped by the display on their first day with the students. “This is why you are here, these are the heroes. You will be treating the others who came home. They fought for freedom. Treat them as heroes also.”
I’m retired now, James was 19. I served in Vietnam for over a year, James for only six days. My father hugged me when I came home, no one knew where James Sr. was when he came home. James and I run into each other often. He has served me in more ways than I can count; just a few are: life is short no matter how old you are, make friends – for life, smile even when things don’t seem to be going your way, and most importantly – know Jesus as your Saviour. Some may say this is survivor’s guilt. Perhaps it is but frankly, I could care less. James was and is my friend. I was able to find his grave site about a year ago; there was a cross on it. I suspected there would be. I’ll see you again my friend, James Calvin Tubb, Jr. You helped me to come to this age in my life and look forward to spending the age to come with you.
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