Lieutenant Jack Walker and marine Jeff Dunlay never met on American soil, even though they were both young military men in 1967. Instead, they met in Viet Nam. They didn't have much in common; military service was their strongest link. Even so, through time spent as prisoners of war, the two men became less separate, more whole.
Friendships blossom under strange conditions. For Jack's wife, Sally, and Jeff's sister, Susie, the most important men in their lives left them to fight a battle on the other side of the world. In their distress, the two women also formed a bond. When each missed her loved one, they comforted each other. They had little in common beyond the fear of loss, but it didn't matter.
One More Sunrise is a story of war, but it is also a story of friendships built through unlikely situations-friendships with the power to last a lifetime. Surrounded by the violence of Viet Nam, it would be easy to lose hope, but hope was all they had. Sally and Susie must await the return of their brave men; Jack and Jeff must pray for One More Sunrise.
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.42(d)|
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ONE MORE SUNRISE
By D.J. McPherson
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2012 D.J. McPherson
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Pan Am flight circled over Saigon waiting to land. The Pearl of the Orient wasn't very impressive from the air with its sprawling, low-lying buildings and the muddy Mekong River lapping at its doorstep. Ships were offloading cargo for the war in a never-ending procedure to feed the muscle of destruction.
The landing was quick and efficient and the captain gave his usual greeting to the new guys arriving at the busiest airport in the world. The airfields in most cities handle civilian aircraft. Tan Son Nuit added fighter jets, helicopters, and military cargo planes to the mix. It was a giant anthill with a swarm of wasps thrown in to add to the confusion.
The hot, humid Vietnamese climate flooded the big jet the minute the flight attendant opened the door; it was an unpleasant welcome to a hostile land. Officers debarked first, and Jack was third off of the plane. His group was led to the terminal by a Vietnamese woman in some sort of uniform carrying a sign that said PLEASE FOLLOW ME. On the way they passed rows of aluminum boxes holding the remains of those going home early. It was a grim wakeup call for the new arrivals. Every man in line made a silent vow that he would not be one of those.
Amid the chaos of Tan Son Nuit, Jack wondered if he would ever find his way out of the place. To his surprise, he was handed a boarding pass and directed to gate 7. " Your flight to Da Nang is boarding now, Lieutenant. Your baggage is already aboard. Welcome to the war."
Jack and about 20 others were hustled aboard a C-47 cargo plane. They had to step over and around boxes of ammo, cases of beer, and medical supplies that covered every spare inch of space in order to get to their seats. He hoped his luggage made it aboard.
The old plane virtually groaned its way into the air and climbed to 5000 feet for the flight north. The pilot came on the intercom and announced that they were going to make a brief stop in some place called Cam Rahn Bay, whatever the hell that was.
After a brief stop to drop off some supplies and take on new passengers, they were on their final leg to Da Nang. They followed the coastline with broad sandy beaches that met the lush green jungle and sometimes broad fields where farmers worked their plows behind slow moving oxen. Suddenly, with no more warning than "Fasten your seat belts" the plane dropped like a rock to the earth, flaring out at the last minute before hitting the runway that went dark as they rolled out. A crew member explained the maneuver as a way to avoid ground fire when landing.
Everyone was hustled off of the plane with no ceremony or privilege for rank and directed into the terminal. Passengers were told that they could use the lavatory, but "don't dawdle or you might miss the bus and have to spend the night in a chair".
Jack took advantage of the facilities and went back to take a chair. He started to doze off when his name was called. He was led to a waiting bus and told that it made a loop of the base. "The driver knows your destination, so just listen for your name and don't worry. We'll get you home to bed." Fifteen minutes later Jack was sound asleep in his cot. His baggage was in the corner and two roommates were snoring peacefully across the room.
The next morning, Jack had a quick breakfast in the mess hall and arrived at staff headquarters early. He set his briefcase down on the steps leading to the building entrance and squinted toward the center of the compound. The sun was slightly above the horizon and directly in his eyes; he used his hand as a shield. His attention had been drawn to the ragged looking, yellow dog that shambled off the porch and wandered out to the flagpole.
There were thirteen rocks in an evenly spaced circle around the flagpole, each about the size of a basketball, and painted white in accordance with unwritten military tradition. When someone suggested that the rocks represented the original thirteen American Colonies, the petty officer in charge of maintaining the compound just shrugged. There were thirteen rocks because that's all they could find on the day the commanding officer said he wanted the place spruced up.
None of this tribute to pageantry and legend was of any interest to the shaggy dog lifting his leg on the flagpole, nor to the chattering little monkey that bounded from a nearby tree and hopped on the dog's hind quarters. One could almost hear the little creature saying giddyup as the dog trotted off to the perimeter fence to begin his morning inspection.
Each fence post was carefully checked and marked. The dog appeared satisfied with conditions as they were, but the monkey kept up a constant barrage of discontent.
After circling the entire boundary of the compound, the dog collapsed and rolled over into a satisfied heap in front of the headquarters building to begin his morning nap. The monkey jumped safely out of harm's way and scurried through the dust and disappeared into an open window.
"They do that every morning, Lieutenant. We call it the Sunrise Patrol."
Jack felt his ears get red when he realized that he had just spent several minutes engrossed in watching an old dog, with a monkey on his back, peeing on fence posts. He tried to cover with a lighthearted comment. "Are they attached to the staff?"
"Yes, sir. The dog is attached to intelligence and the monkey is our liaison with the White Mice."
"Yes, sir. The gooks' National Police."
Jack winced; terms of degradation bothered him. He wasn't even fond of most nicknames. He gave the enlisted man a hard look, but there was no malice on the man's face. "You call the local police gooks and white mice?"
"Sir, I was here for six months before I knew they had any other name."
Jack let the matter drop. "What time does the boss get in?"
The yeoman's familiar approach became more formal. He didn't know the lieutenant, but he knew that some new officer was due to report, and whoever it was would be his boss. It wouldn't be smart to get off on the wrong foot. "Commander Parks doesn't keep regular hours, sir. Most of the staff gets in about 0700. In fact, that's the Admin Officer coming now."
An amiable looking, redheaded, Lieutenant j.g. ambled up and tossed Jack what passed for a salute. With an easy drawl he asked if he had the honor of addressing Lt. John Walker, U.S. Navy.
Jack could see that this wasn't a spit and polish outfit and he fell in with the routine. "The name is Jack, and so far it's U.S. Naval Reserve, mister. You admin?"
Lt.j.g. Quincy wasn't sure how to read Jack. He seemed friendly enough, but something in his manner suggested he had a ramrod up his ass. In a distant naval orientation class there had been a remark about a good offense being worth two in the bush, or whatever. "Lt.j.g. Francis Xavier Quincy, of the St. Louis, Missouri Quincies, at your service, sir. My initials have led to the nickname Fixcue. After a couple of beers one might rearrange the pronunciation to something less desirable in mixed company. But I take no offense. And I hope you take no offense at my offering this unsolicited background information, you being our new intelligence officer and all."
Jack chuckled. "No offense taken, but a cup of coffee would do wonders for my disposition. Any inside?"
Jack picked up his briefcase and followed the officer into the Quonset hut. Other staff members began gathering around the coffee pot and Jack was introduced. The skipper and X.O. weren't in yet. He met the Supply Officer and was told that the medical officer spent most of his time at the hospital. The maintenance officer was a crusty mustang lieutenant who considered it below his dignity to report to the coffee pot area. He had spent nearly twenty years as an enlisted man before most of these young officers were out of high school. He watched them come and go with the timeless disparagement of the old veteran. If this new guy wanted to meet him, he could walk over to his desk. Jack made a point of breaking away from the gathering around him and strode over to Brick Schwartz' desk with a big smile and his hand outstretched. It worked. The maintenance officer even managed to stand up to shake hands. They both felt that protocol had been observed.
Jack was taking over as Ops officer. His predecessor had failed to follow medical procedure and resisted taking the weekly "horse pill" to ward off the malaria bug. He had developed some complications and was shipped back to the States on short notice. Without that personal contact about the job, Jack hoped that the enlisted members of the staff were up to speed so he could get to work without having to run to the X.O. for everything. He did know for sure that the big yellow dog was in his department. He would have to check on the monkey.
Introductions over, everyone fell into the daily routine. Fixcue showed Jack to his desk near the back door of the Quonset hut. While he was cleaning out the drawers and putting the desktop in order, Jack wondered if he had made a mistake volunteering for Viet Nam. He started navy life with intentions of doing the three years of service that his naval reserve officer candidate school training obligated him to. Then he would get out and find a good job. Despite the rigors of destroyer life, he enjoyed his first tour of duty. The travel was interesting. The sea duty was exciting, and for the first time in his life he had more money than he needed. When his tour was coming to an end, his detail officer in Washington, D.C. offered him a split tour of duty on a cruiser followed by a chance at staff duty in Washington, or possibly even the Naval War College. He would have to obligate for three more years. It was a good opportunity for a reserve officer, especially if he decided later to apply for a regular commission. It was too good to pass up.
While he was growing up, Jack's family lived close to the poverty line, partially because of the circumstances of poorly educated parents and mostly because his father drank up more of his paycheck than he contributed to the family. His mother worked hard as a part time waitress to keep the family together, but her meager earnings didn't contribute much beyond the basic necessities. She loved her husband, in spite of his failings, and she loved her children; that's why she kept trying. Jack worked regularly while he was in high school at the expense of never being able to participate in the sports that he loved. He gave his mother money whenever he could. She always tried to refuse his offerings telling him to take care of himself and buy some nice clothes for school. In the end she took the money because she needed it. She didn't expect anything from him; her goal in life was to see her children free of the existence she had to bear. Jack's older brother had taken his mother's advice and left home when he was sixteen years old. To this day Jack had no idea where his older brother was.
Jack's mother lived to see him graduate from high school. It was the proudest moment of her life. His father had planned to come to his graduation, but he stopped on the way to fortify himself at Kesler's Bar. He never made it to the ceremony. It was a blessing to Jack because he lived in fear of his father showing up drunk and embarrassing him the way he had so many other times. Jack's mother died that summer after graduation. She had been living with a painful breast cancer that she allowed to get out of control before going to the clinic for help. She knew that it would cost money and she had none. By the time she finally sought help it was too late. She endured two operations. The doctors were planning other treatments, but in her heart she felt she couldn't go on. It didn't have to be that way. With the additional treatment she could have continued her life for several years; perhaps it was that possibility that made her just give up.
Jack moved away from home right after the funeral. His father lost the house to the bank within a year after his wife died. Jack found a room to rent and worked wherever he could. He clerked at the drug store days, took tickets at the theatre evenings, and did odd jobs on the weekends. He made enough to pay his rent and other bills, but he wasn't able to save anything. He had a vague idea about going to college, but all he really knew about college was that it would cost more money than he had. His boss at the drug store appreciated Jack's hard work. One day he introduced him to Max Welt, business secretary at the local laborers' union. He didn't want to lose a good employee at the drug store, but he knew that Jack could make twice the money he was making on all his jobs if he got hired on through the union. It was a good opportunity and Jack told the union boss that he would do his best if he would just give him a chance.
Max took Jack under his wing and started him in the direction that was to give meaning to his life. He put him on the best jobs and coaxed the foremen to throw some overtime his way. Jack responded by being the best worker on every job he was sent to. Around the union hall there were the same faces every morning. Workers who would go out on a job and last only a day or two before quitting for some imagined reason of mistreatment. Some didn't even make it to the noon whistle. Jack was never one of those. In fact, some of the old timers on the jobs told him to slow down and pace himself; he was making the rest of them look bad by comparison. But he didn't slow down and the foremen noticed him. He moved into better jobs with better pay and by the end of the year Jack had saved two hundred dollars. The following summer he had enough of a nest egg to start college. Max Welt couldn't have been happier if Jack were his own son. Like the drugstore owner, Max didn't want to lose a good worker, but he knew that his young protege was destined for bigger things.
Jack's first choice was the University of San Francisco, a Catholic Jesuit school with a great basketball team. But it was a private school and tuition was high. At the state college, tuition and books were affordable and a dorm with kitchen privileges was available at rock bottom prices. There were jobs available through the school employment office, and he could work summers on the union jobs. If he stuck with what he could afford he could make it through college.
When he went to San Francisco State College to apply for entrance, he wasn't sure what subject to major in. College prep wasn't even a topic of conversation in his family, and no one had ever taken the time to discuss the matter with him. His counselor at high school judged him by his family and wrote him off as a college prospect. His high school background was weak in math and science; in fact, academically, he didn't have much at all going for him. It was luck, not planning, that he managed to squeak by with enough prerequisites to be admitted to college. But there was more to education than what was covered in the classrooms. While he was still in grammar school he had read an article in the newspaper about Harry Truman, the new President of the United States. The article said that Truman wasn't much of a student at school, but that he was self-educated through a habit of reading. There was a list of books that Mr. Truman recommended. Among them Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. The title made it sound like a rip- roaring adventure tale and Jack went to the library to check it out. The book came in two volumes and he could barely carry them. The librarian knew that he wouldn't make it through the long, dry passages, but she encouraged him to try. Just checking out such classical literature was a step in the right direction, she thought. His first encounter with Gibbon's tale ended much as the Roman Empire had. It sort of petered out. Throughout his high school years he kept at the great "Decline", checking it out from the library from time to time, and eventually he felt that he had read the whole story. Time and again he found passages that inspired him or made him think. It was a worthwhile endeavor. He enjoyed reading and developed the habit of trying to read a new book every month. It was a discipline that educated him in a wide variety of subjects that didn't show up on his high school transcript. He had done fairly well in the few English classes he had taken and he enjoyed history, but his true education, his logic, and his ability to sort out problems and correct them came from his outside reading.
The guys hanging around the union hall all seemed to agree that politicians led a pretty good life so Jack decided on Political Science as a major. Political Science had a nice ring to it and there was the added advantage that with a few extra credits he might be able to earn a teaching credential to fall back on.
Excerpted from ONE MORE SUNRISE by D.J. McPherson Copyright © 2012 by D.J. McPherson. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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