Packet Sea Foam: Short story a message of family, service

Thanks to John Hock of Sun City Hilton Head for sharing a story about service to our country.

John produced this essay as a member of David Kerins' memoir writing group.


By John Hock

The mailman left the package at the door of our apartment. A light snow had fallen. I brushed off the flakes and looked at the label. It was for us, all right, in Beavercreek, Ohio. The return address read Fort Carson, Colo. I reached into my pocket for my knife, cut through the packing tape, lifted the top and removed several sheets of crumpled up newspaper. Our daughter had sent a videocassette tape and a note. In neatly printed letters, her note read, "Dad, I knew you couldn't be here so I had this done for you. Love, Monica."

I pushed the tape into the player, pressed play and waited. For several seconds, the camera focused on a sign that read "Fort Carson Field House" then panned down to a small crowd, American flags and a formation of soldiers. Someone barked "Atten-Hut!" and heels popped together. Over the PA system, a voice asked visitors and guests to please stand. Metal chairs scraped against concrete.

A trim young woman in a starched and pressed Army battledress uniform marched toward a podium set up on the gym floor. Her camouflage Kevlar helmet sat squarely on her head, the chin strap tight. No loose ends or straps dangled from her load-bearing web gear. Her combat boots sparkled with rays of reflected light. She halted, did a right face and paused.

From off camera came the command, "Parade Rest." The same voice that had asked the audience to please stand now invited everyone to please be seated. I plopped myself into my easy chair to watch Monica's change of command ceremony.

Monica was the premature little one we called our "Minnie Mouse." The meek and mild baby of the family, she could spend hours playing by herself, arranging and rearranging her doll house, toy dishes and stuffed toys. She was so quiet, we frequently had to ask ourselves if she was even there.

Monica behaved in school just like she did at home. At her grade school and middle school conferences, we routinely heard glowing reports. That's probably why we were dumbstruck when a high school teacher told us, "Don't expect Monica to go to college. She just has to work too hard to complete her assignments. Everything she does takes her a long time. She'll never be able to keep up at a university. Maybe you should look into an alternative for her, perhaps a vocational school."

Despite the dire prediction, Monica did go on to college -- the University of Wisconsin. One of her freshman electives was a physical education class called "Military Conditioning." She told us the course seemed a good way to get in shape, maybe lose a few pounds. It was run by the Army ROTC Department and couldn't have been a more obvious recruiting ground. The one many would vote least likely to wear Army green surprised the world by signing up. Four years later, she had a bachelor's degree and a commission as an Army second lieutenant.

Now she was a captain. It was time for her to turn her unit over to another and to say goodbye. The tape rolled. Monica's remarks were brief and to the point. She thanked her officers and non-commissioned officers and expressed appreciation to all her charges. She told them she was certain they would give their new commander the same level of cooperation and support that they'd given her.

In closing, Monica said, "I'm borrowing something from my dad." I sat upright and muttered to myself, "What?" She continued, "He really liked the '60s movie 'Soldier in the Rain' and used to quote Jackie Gleason saying to Steve McQueen, 'We won't say goodbye -- let's just say, "Until that time, until that time.'"

"Today, we won't say goodbye, either. We'll just say until that time ... until that time."

I felt a tear. Monica took one step back. Her old unit was called to attention. The visitors and guests were asked to stand. Metal chairs scraped against concrete. Monica did a right face and marched off. The picture went to a blank blue screen.

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