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Summary: I wrote a poem earlier this year and it evolved into a fic. This is
the result. If anyone is interested in reading the original poem, let me know
and I'll be happy to send it to you.
Dedicated to my grandfather who lost his eye in WW1 but was able to come home.
Donna stepped out into the early morning light. She was excited to be spending
the day touring the nation's capital. Her father and his friends had told her
numerous stories about times spent in
from the hotel and purchased a map of the city from a young boy. She paused to
study the map, wondering where she should go first.
A voice to her right startled her. A man wearing fatigues was smiling at her.
"First time in DC?"
"Yes, it is. Have you been here before?"
He chuckled lightly. "I know my way around. You need a guide?"
Donna studied the man. She could tell by the dogtags on the chain around his
neck that he was a soldier. The tattoo on his arm was partly covered by his
sleeve but she could make out the words
and considered his offer. For some reason, she felt she could trust him.
"What's your name?"
"Joe," he replied.
Together they walked through parks, across streets and around memorials. Joe
was an excellent guide. He took Donna to see the
memorials for the soldiers of World War
Donna noticed Joe staring at the statues, his eyes unable to hide the sadness
he felt. He had a haunted look on his face. Donna knew the memorials brought
back memories for him.
"Come on, there's one other place we should go." Joe turned and began to walk
away. He led Donna past a school yard filled with children playing. They
stopped and watched a group of them caught up in a game of Red Rover.
Donna asked, "Do you have any kids, Joe?"
He shook his head. "No, I don't." His voice was tinged with regret.
They continued on, silently walking side by side until they reached their
destination. Before them stood a long, black wall. Donna stared in awe at the
vast number of names listed there. She saw Joe shudder then he silently walked
up to the Wall.
He lightly touched one of the names. His eyes were bright with unshed tears.
"Hello, Bill. I never got the chance to thank you. You saved my life. You took
the bullets meant for me. We hid in a rice paddy and you died in my arms. You
asked me to tell your wife how much you loved her. She knew you died to save
me. She was very proud at the funeral." Joe paused to wipe his eyes. "I won't
forget you, Bill. You will always be my hero."
Donna was too overwhelmed to speak when Joe returned to her side. Slowly they
walked beside the Wall. The names of hundreds of soldiers sat in silent
remembrance as tears streamed down her cheeks.
Joe quietly spoke, "We lost so many of them. But if they hadn't been there, we
might not be here today. It's important to honor the veterans, both the living
and the dead. They left home and family behind to fight for freedom; to fight
against tyranny. So many left as boys and came back as old men. Some of them
were never the same after it was over. People say was is hell on earth. It
really is. You grow up quick or die. If you're lucky enough to live, you have
to fight to keep your sanity."
Donna pondered all the things Joe had told her during the day. She walked
mutely, lost in thought until Joe stopped. She looked around in confusion. She
could see the rows upon rows of white markers showing the grave sites. She
didn't understand why he had stopped at
live around here, somewhere?" she asked.
Joe shook his head. "This is home." They began to climb the steps but stopped
at the landing half way up. Joe faced Donna. "It's time we go our separate
ways. But remember what I've told you. If you value your freedom, don't forget
the people who fought and bled to give it to you. They were willing to give up
everything, the least you can do in return is say thank you." He smiled and
Donna watched him climb the remaining steps. When he reached the top, he simply
disappeared. One instant, he was there and next, he was gone. Donna ran up the
steps shocked to see Joe was nowhere in sight. Before her was a pale stone
building. She walked over to a nearby grounds keeper. "Excuse me, sir. Did you
see a man up here just now?"
"No, ma'am. I haven't seen anyone except you in almost an hour."
Donna turned back to the building, perplexed. Joe had vanished before her eyes.
She gazed at the writing chizelled in the stone – the Tomb of the Unknown
The grounds keeper saw her staring at the tomb. He knew what she has seen. A
soldier who'd been to
spirit still wandered the earth. He had seen him before. He'd seen many things
over the years at
He glanced at his watch, almost quitting time. He gathered his rake and shovel
and set them in the wheelbarrow. He picked up his jacket and slipped it on. The
brown leather was worn and the tiger on the back was faded. He pulled off his
old blue baseball cap to wipe the sweat from his brow.
As the sun sank in the west, he scanned the sea of headstones. He had friends
buried here. In time he would join them. But for now, the least he could do was
remember them and be proud to say he had fought with them.
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